Churchill Butte P1K
Peak 5,295ft P900
Peak 5,088ft P500
Rawe Peak P1K

Tue, Jun 13, 2017
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


Today's peaks were all located along the Carson River south of US50, between Silver Springs and Dayton, including a P900, two P1Ks and a bonus peak. The Carson River has its headwaters in the Sierra Nevada between Monitor Pass and Lake Tahoe, then winds its way for more than 130mi across the Great Basin before ending up in the Carson Sink north of Fallon and Carson Lake to the south. With a bumper crop of snow in the Sierra and high temperatures around the summer solstice, the river was running near capacity. This has the farmers, ranchers and landowners a little anxious about flooding events for which there is almost no controls along the length of the river. The river is named for famed explorer Kit Carson who guided John C Fremont's expedition along this valley in 1844.

Churchill Butte

This standalone mountain lies southeast of Silver Springs and the US95A/US50 junction. A dirt road, aptly named Micro Rd, winds its way to the tower-topped summit in about 5.5mi from US50 west of Silver Springs. The telecom installation includes microwave relays dishes and cellular units and was nicely built just below the highpoint leaving that spot unmolested. Any high-clearance vehicle can drive to the top. I found some rocks and ruts that were a bit much to push through with the van, so I stopped less than two miles from the highway, spending the night camped on the road. In the morning I got out the bike and used it to ride the remaining 3.8mi to the fence surrounding the telecom tower. The gradient was gentle enough to allow me to ride the whole way, taking about 45min. I then walked around the edge of the fence to reach the benchmark at the highpoint just north of the tower. I took some pictures looking north to US50 and the Virginia Range, as well as east to Churchill Valley and Lahontan Reservoir, through which the Carson River flows. The ride down was a delight, getting me back in short order before 8:30a. I could do peaks like this all day.

Peak 5,295ft - Peak 5,088ft

These two summits overlook the Carson River on the north side, about 9mi west of Churchill Butte. The higher one is a P900, but the lower one still has more than 600ft of prominence. The dirt Fort Churchill Rd runs along the north side of the river and can be used to get within half a mile of each summit. The road is decently maintained for the ranches and residences found along the river though it can become quite muddy after rains or floods. I made the mistake of approaching off Chaves Rd from US50 and finding the road there too rutted to connect me to the better road along the river. Not knowing about the better access found 2mi further west on US50, I simply parked where I was and got out the bike. In this case I was grateful for the mistake because I found the 4mi bike ride each way quite delightful, an easy stretch between the parched brown hills and the vibrant green along the river channel. Deciding to climb the first peak from the southwest, I stashed the bike at a nearby powerline pole off the road and headed up on foot over steep but open terrain. It took about 40min to climb to the top with nice views east and west along the course of the river. Rising higher to the south was Rawe Peak which would be the last outing of the day. Finding no register atop Peak 5,295ft, I left one before heading back down. I retrieved the bike and returned west about a mile and a half before stashing it again and starting up the south side of Peak 5,088ft. The tattered remains of a flagpole were found among the summit rocks, overlooking the Carson Plains to the west. I once again retrieved the bike upon descending, then returning to the van just after noon.

Rawe Peak

I knew that Rawe Peak would be the most work of the day's outings, but I somehow underestimated it by a good amount. Luckily I had plenty of daylight so and I would use up much of the remaining allotment. I had not done any research on how others have reached this peak. Had I done so, I would have learned that it is a pretty straightforward affair, utilizing a dirt road that leads to the radio facility on a lower summit, half a mile to the southwest. I might also have learned that this is a high-clearance affair which disqualifies my van, so perhaps the research would have led me to the same choice. I chose a route from the northwest, starting near the Dayton Airport. Dirt roads from there get one to the base of the mountain, a thousand feet higher and almost 3mi closer. These, too, require high-clearance, leaving me with an outing of more than 11mi.

Starting off around 1p, I attempted to use my bike once again, this time with limited success. The road grew increasingly rocky, making it difficult to stay on the bike and I abandoned it after less than a mile and half. Continuing on foot, I followed the various roads until I reached the base of the NW Ridge leading to the lower summit with the towers. It took only an hour to the start of the cross-country and up to this point I felt I was doing quite well. The ridge rises some 2,500ft over the course of a mile and a half, steep but not unreasonably so. The problem was not evident at first as I made good progress up the ridge, dodging brush and trees, both of which grew more densely here than on other mountains I'd climbed during this trip. As I gained altitude, the stuff grew thicker and more problematic, eventually bogging me down, sometimes to a crawl - literally. I struggled for about an hour to cover maybe half a mile, eventually getting some open room when I neared the towers. Even then, it took a good deal of navigating to avoid more heavy brush which covered large swaths of the hillsides. From near the towers I caught my first glimpse of the higher summit and the terrain surrounding it. Taking stock of where the heaviest brush appeared to be, I charted a path to the saddle between the two summits, then a redirection right to avoid the heavy stuff in the direct line of ascent. I later read on SummitPost that a series of ducks can be used from the saddle to avoid bushwhacking, but I neither saw nor apparently needed these ducks. There are several high rock outcrops, the highest being the first encountered when approaching from the west. Arriving around 4:40p, I found several register jars but no nice booklet like you expect from Gordon MacLeod - seems he missed this P1Ks in his travels through Nevada. One jar contained a collection of old and fragile paper scraps that were barely readable. The second was left by Sue & Vic Henney in 2015, but had just a single page of paper that was already full of entries. I added an entry in one corner and put the jars back where I found them.

Not wanting to repeat the whole bushwhacking non-funness I'd found on the way up, I decided to see if I couldn't find another way off the mountain. I went to the easternmost rock outcrop where I had a better view of a possible route heading northeast off the summit. The brush didn't appear to be as bad as that I'd found on the NE Ridge, so I decided to give this alternative a go. Longer and far less direct, it took lots of route-finding to avoid the brush and thickets found in many sections. Still, it would work much better, getting me back in two and half hours, more than an hour better than the ascent route. The brush relented after dropping half the distance in the first hour, after which it became more enjoyable. Back at the base of the mountain I found some old jeep roads that could be used to navigate back to the original roads I had used on the ascent. I came across some large bones, including a skull, from a horse that had died in a ravine I was crossing. A few minutes later I came across a small herd of horses grazing in the area - three mares with colts, the harem of a stallion who was the only one not inclined to run away when I was spotted. He gave a few snorts while watching me pass by before turning and directing the others to head off in another direction.

Back on the original road, I eventually got back to my bike and began riding it down, soon spotting two trucks making their way up from the airport. One pulled over to let me pass by while the second, a short distance behind, stopped in the middle with difficulties. I stopped to watch them discover a busted exhaust pipe which caused the muffler to get jammed up in the undercarriage after making contact with the ground. The owner was visibly distraught (you could see the dollar signs swimming around his head) while the other driver and myself tried to console him some - it wasn't a fatal problem that would require a tow, just some wire to tie it off until it can be driven back to the shop. After the other driver assured me he had it under control, I left him with his unhappy friend and finished the ride back to the van - sure glad I didn't try to drive up that road further.

I still had almost an hour of daylight, and after taking a shower I spent most of it driving west on US50 to Carson City. I spent a few hours at a Starbucks there uploading photos and making a plan for the next day since I had gotten ahead of schedule. I ended up sleeping on the west end of town where I planned to hike the next morning. It was a little warmer that evening than it had been and I mostly slept on top of the sleeping bag, but still cool enough to be reasonably comfortable...


Kirk D - Gardnerville NV comments on 02/26/18:
Peak 5656 just to the east where you were here is an obscure gem. A stiff and short climb from Ft. Churchill SP, we have called it South Churchill Butte for years. Early Spring car camps to check out gear and stuff made this one worth doing over and over . . . there is a 'window' with binoculars where one can see Tower Peak in the distance.

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