Apr 21, 2016
I was in Reno for a three day VB tournament my daughter's club team would be competing in over the next three days. I came a day earlier to meet up with Kirk, a local resident, who I'd last hiked with the previous year during this same tournament. This year we would have more time, giving Kirk a chance to show me around the Painted Hills, a hidden gem north of Reno that he's quite fond of. I met him at his home in Sparks at 7a, giving me a chance to see his home and meet his lovely wife Peg before we drove off for the day's adventure, heading north on Pyramid Hwy (SR445) towards Pyramid Lake. The Painted Hills are a subset of the Virginia Range found on the southwest side of this enormous pond. The lake and much of the surrounding mountains, including about half of the Virginia Range, fall inside the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. The Painted Hills and the areas we would be hiking were just outside the reservation on BLM lands.
After about 40min of driving, including a good deal of high-clearance, dirt roads, we arrived at a clearing in a small valley on the east end of the Painted Hills, immediately adjacent to an impressive rock outcrop with a near-vertical wall some 50-60ft high. Bolted sport climbing routes could be found all over the wall, generously dusted with chalk from continuing climbing activity. The rock, like all of the Painted Hills, is volcanic in origin, though from a distance it resembles the sandstone formations found elsewhere in the Great Basin. This first rock was just our parking spot, not really the stuff Kirk wanted to show me. We gathered our gear and headed out, continuing up the deteriorating road that would soon only be fit for hyper-modified rock-crawlers. Above the worst section, the road actually improved, but the washouts below made this moot. We traveled through areas of light, brown and redish rock, all volcanic. Interesting, but the best stuff was found above the road's end.
Some 45min after starting out we reached an area called the Monkey Condos, towering rock outcrops peppered with eroded holes that one could imagine housing a large population of small primates. There were twisty little passages to squeeze through and countless climbing and scrambling opportunities one might discover around each corner. Sand, eroded from the walls over time, covered much of the ground. Some stately old junipers grew from the sand in places, their green leaves in marked contrast to the starkness of the rock. In one alcove we found a geocache someone had left - Kirk had never seen it before despite numerous visits. In all we spent about 20min wandering the halls of this unique place before taking a few final photos and departing for Gin BM.
Gin BM is not the highpoint of the Virginia Mtns. That honor goes to Tule Peak almost six miles to the northwest and more than 2,000ft higher, a summit I had climbed four years earlier. Gin BM is the highest summit in the southeast part of the range and a worthwhile goal on its own. The cross-country here is fairly easy with low shrubs and grasses, unusually green in late April thanks to a steady rainy season that helped the flowers and critters as much as the grass. We spent a second hour hiking from the Monkey Condos to the summit of Gin BM, passing a small pocket of basalt columns shortly below the top. The scene expands as one climbs, providing nice views of Pyramid Lake and the surrounding ranges, even though the day was somewhat hazy (which Kirk felt a need to apologise for). A register left by Sue & Vic Henney in 2014 had only a few entries since, the most recent by Kirk and Peg when he was scouting the area a week earlier (prompted perhaps because he was afraid of being a poor host and guide when we met up? Gotta love this guy).
While Gin BM is an easy walk-up, we next turned our attention to Needle Rock, a prominent tooth-like (not really needle-y) formation about a mile ESE from Gin BM. We returned down the SE Ridge to a saddle between two other unnamed points we didn't climb. From here we sidehilled across the south side of the northern point (avoiding a lot of rock along the ridge) to Needle Rock which we reached before noon. Kirk had no interest in climbing the thing, but figured (correctly) that I'd like to give it a try. Problem was, it was a bit too stiff for me to solo. I explored a number of options on the easiest side found to the northwest from a saddle. The rock rises some 50-60ft from this saddle, comprised mostly of chossy, lichen-covered rock. There is a broad dihedral leading directly up from the saddle which offers one line (a discussion on SuperTopo I found later rates it class 5.5-5.7) that I thought unreasonable. I climbed some class 3-4 ledges starting just left (east) of the saddle, but got up only about 20ft before finding steep, lichen-y rock that stopped my effort there. It took less than five minutes to figure out I wouldn't be climbing Needle Rock today, but perhaps at some future time with a rope and some gear.
From Needle Rock we could see the top of the road we'd ascended about 2/3mi to the southwest. It wasn't hard to talk Kirk into doing a cross-country traverse across a steep slope, then down and up through a dry wash to reach it. As we were climbing up the last section of slope to the road we came across a number of odd bits of refuse, including a weathered Pyramid Lake Resort sign and more than half a dozen rusting chairlift frames. Evidently, someone found this out-of-the-way locale to be a fine place to get rid of this stuff. I often wonder just how a complex sequence of firing (or misfiring?) neurons can reach such a conclusion. Sigh.
Back on the road, we followed it down to Kirk's truck in the little grassy valley we'd started from. A few beers kept on ice made for a very nice finish. Sitting on the tailgate with a view of the green desert slopes made the beer taste even better...
This page last updated: Fri May 6 13:55:06 2016
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