Sat, May 29, 2010
Late season storms had kept Tioga Pass closed, which meant I could not use that route to reach Central Nevada near Tonopah, the last city of much import on the way to Jefferson. What would be a 6.5hr drive through Tioga became an 8.5hr drive via Reno. Luckily I managed to escape San Jose at noon, avoiding traffic in most areas with the exception of Sacramento. It was a very pleasant drive once past Sacramento, going over Donner Summit with a great deal of snow still, through Reno, Fernley, and Fallon, south on US95 through Hawthorne and Walker Lake on my way to Tonopah. Nevada is very green and quite beautiful this time of year, the roads well-paved and the scenery with one range after another, immense beyond words.
It was dark, windy, and quite chilly when I finally pulled into our roadside destination meeting spot near the junction of SR376 and SR82. It was a wide dirt area that I had picked out from Google's satellite view and would fit the purpose nicely. I found Adam and Laura already there, conversing in Laura's car to stay out of the cold. We moved the small gathering to the more spacious room of my van, cracking open a few cold ones in celebration of the peakbagging weekend at hand. A full moon rose to the east just after 9:30p and I took the opportunity to try some new settings on my new camera in a weak attempt to capture the moment. Bill would show up shortly after this to make our small group complete.
When we got up just before 6a the sun was already up and shining brightly on our little encampment. We needed to unload a fair amount of Bill's gear into my van in order to make room for all four of us in Bill's Subaru for the drive to Mt. Jefferson. It took us more than an hour to drive to the end of the pavement just past the old mining town of Belmont, down into Monitor Valley, and then up the not-so-bad dirt road to Jefferson Summit. We encountered a short section of snow near the top that proved somewhat tricky, but luckily another vehicle had already set some tire tracks through it, saving us the trouble of slipping off the road and down the steep embankment on the opposite side.
Though one of the highest peaks in the state, this high pass made accessible to vehicles makes Mt. Jefferson only a modest endeavor compared to what it might otherwise be. Our starting elevation of 8,300ft meant we had only 3,600ft more gain to reach the nearly 12,000-foot summit. To compensate for this easy effort we intended to climb Shoshone Mtn on the south side of the pass once we were done. Though only Mt. Jefferson appears on the DPS list, both summits are on the Nevada Prominence list which made Shoshone a perfectly acceptable bonus peak, at least for Bill and myself - I doubt that Laura or Adam cared much one way or the other.
Because the route to Mt. Jefferson climbs the broad, south-facing ridgeline, there was only a modest amount of snow to deal with. The boggy section near Jefferson Summit at the start was mostly frozen when we passed over it on the several mile stretch to reach the steeper portion of the climb. About the halfway point, somewhere around 10,000ft, we encountered the thin layer of snow left over from a weak storm the previous week. This turned to snow on talus and eventually snow on rocky ridgeline and then just snow, but none of it presented any real impediment. It was a nice hike with swell views off both sides of the ridge the whole way that took us anywhere from 2.5hrs (Adam and myself) to 3hrs (Laura and Bill) to complete.
The summit is large and flat, home to a few old and decrepid antenna masts, a couple of utility buildings, one with a solar panel to provide power, though to what ultimate purpose was not immediately apparent (nor later, since we weren't all that curious). Looking north, the high ridgeline stretches out across the Middle and North Summits, the latter more than three miles away. I had been planning to forgo the climb to Shoshone in favor of a trek across to the North Summit and back which I thought a more worthy and picturesque effort, but the postholing we encountered at the summit to depths of about a foot took the romance out of that idea. A modest cairn marking the highpoint was found to contain the DPS register after a bit of kicking about in the snow to discover it. It did not date back more than a few years and contained little of much interest.
After lunching and lounging for almost an hour in fine summit weather that was pleasant enough to hang about in, we started back down via the same route. We did a better job of finding the trail that runs from the end of the Jeep track to the summit, though the cross-country was easy enough without it. We also found a few cairns lower on the route where talus does much to obscure the trail, the cairns presumeably helpful in inclement weather to follow the correct ridgeline back to Jefferson Summit (not to be confused with the summits at the top of the mountain, btw). We were only two hours in returning the five miles to the car where a second break was commenced primarily because I needed a potty stop.
When it was time to head out again, we decided to take our snowshoes with us since the north-facing route to Shoshone held a good deal more snow than the earlier route to Mt. Jefferson. Laura had left her snowshoes back home in Bishop, undauntedly following behind us without them, and ultimately proving they were of no great utility as she fared just fine without. We found a use trail leading down into a shallow canyon just west of the main crest. Animal trails led through the snow-free but brushy lower reaches until we reached the snowier portions a few miles up. Three of us paused to put on snowshoes here. I was out in front of the others and saw them only briefly until the summit, once we were on snow. Laura was bringing up the rear, having stated she may not go all the way to the summit, depending on how she felt.
I followed easy snow slopes up the canyon, soon growing steeper and brushier with snaggy little aspen groves slowing things a bit, all the way to where the canyon topped out on the main crest. Where the snow gave out I took off the snowshoes and carried them across the ridge to the southeast side. Here one can see the snowy summit less than a mile further. After traversing about 100 yards into the drainage on the east side of the mountain, I climbed the snow slopes leading up to the broad plateau area. It was not immediately obvious which of three or four possible bumps was the highpoint as indeed the topo map shows four points with the same number of contours. The southern pair appeared higher (and are listed as the summit on the map), so I made my way for those, stopping first at the southwest summit marked with the spot elevation of 10,907ft. There was a small cairn among the summit rocks here, but no register. It looked as though the two northern summits were certainly lower, but as the nearby southeast summit looked to be of similar height, I paid that one a visit before the others had arrived to the summit area. There were more rocks piled up and some wood left over from a survey party, but I gleaned no further insight into which was the higher summit.
Adam was the first to arrive about ten minutes later, by which time I was already back at the southwest summit. Bill came up a few minutes later and not five minutes after that Laura made our little group complete. Evidently the lack of snowshoes had hardly slowed her down despite some modest postholing. There was some discussion about the various summits, an unsuccessful search for a summit register, the consuming of a specially formulated Summit Snacks (Wheat Thins, in this case), photographing of the broad panoramas presented, and general lounging. My duty, of course, is to prevent too much of this last item as I always find myself either getting too cold or too antsy after 15-30 minutes. We all agreed that the climb of Shoshone was better than that of Mt. Jefferson.
Bill and Adam decided to also tag the southeast summit since it was not provable by any means to determine which was highest, Laura and I then starting down. We slopped our way down the eastern snow field and the traverse back to the NE Ridge where we briefly regrouped. Adam, Bill, and I decided to follow the ridgeline down so we could tag Bull Frame Mountain along the way. This peak name does not show up on the USGS topo, but it does appear on Google Maps which presumeably gets its data from a more up-to-date source. The peak has barely 300ft of prominence, but it looked decent enough from its highest saddle on the SW side. There was very little snow remaining along this ridge and the cross-country was straightforward enough that we were on the summit less than an hour after leaving Shoshone Mtn.
Dropping down from Bull Frame to the north and continuing along the ridge, we were treated to a good deal more snow amongst the trees found there than we might have guessed. The snow was very sloppy by this time, having warmed all day in the late Spring sun. We did not switch back to snowshoes and relied on the soft conditions to keep us from sliding out of control. I was uneasy with this bit of boot-skiing in the trees and was happy to let Bill and Adam go first, neither of whom seemed to share my trepidation. With only a few short slips and some minor post-holing plunges, we managed to get ourselves in one piece down to the drier lower stretches where we found Laura only a few minutes ahead of us. By 5:30p we had all gotten back to the car. Laura was happy to find that we weren't worried in the least to let her get back from the summit by herself. Other partners may have been uneasy and made her feel less than capable, but on an outing with Bob the assumption is that you can take care of yourself. Laura seemed to like this arrangement. She would do just fine, and was coming to learn that she was aptly capable of holding her own in this group that she had joined not without some small trepidation.
On the drive back to camp we stopped at one of the few businesses in Belmont that is still open - Dirty Dicks Belmont Saloon. Small and quaint, the place had been build only about ten years earlier, in contrast to the 150yr-old town. Beers were available in cans only, served from a cooler behind the bar. There were almost a dozen folks inside, ourselves included, half of these were setting up for a local country band in the way of nighttime entertainment. We met several local characters who gave us what turned out to be bad advice on various roads and access. Seems they thought our puny Subaru Forester had little chance of fording the various high-water creeks this time of year, let alone managing on the treacherous dirt roads. It didn't seem that they were intentionally giving us bad advice, more like they just didn't trust a foreign car to do what a truly 'Mercan truck was built for.
We left in a good humor after our beer and drove back to our other vehicles near SR376. As we had little daylight left we decided to make camp there a second night, circling the wagons so to speak, to block some of the afternoon wind, then set up for dinner in the middle. Laura had been kind enough to cook chicken dinner for us and we dined in unusually fine fashion. Chips and guac, salad, garlic bread, more beers. Mmmm... One could get used to this, I'm afraid.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Jefferson - Shoshone Mountain
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