Granite Peak (Nevada)

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By: Bob Michaels


Granite Peak (9,732’)
Santa Rosa Mountains, Nevada
Humboldt County High Point

This particular Granite Peak (one of the commoner names in the West) is a delightful summit in some of the prettiest country in Nevada — a cinch for the List if it weren’t so far from LA (no further than Ruby Dome, come to think of it). Vegas George Quinn and I climbed it on one of those vast, luminous September days on the cusp of summer and fall.

From pastoral Paradise Valley north of Winnemucca, paved Nevada highway 792 heads north. The pavement ends after four miles and the road becomes Forest Service road 84, excellent 2WD dirt. Twelve scenic miles puts you atop 7,900’ Hinkey Summit. The peak, while craggy, has a broad aspect from the south, but seen “edge-on” from the pass it is a sharp, symmetrical glacial horn — we are so far north here that there was intense Pleistocene alpine glaciation on desert peaks below 10,000 feet. The pleasurable route begins on a moderate 4WD road which heads due west from the pass (we could have driven it, but we preferred to hike on such a perfect day). The jeep roads ends at an elaborate rairi/ snow gauging station in an aspen grove at 8,500’; the route goeswest up a broad ridge with alternating steep and gentle stretches to a wide saddle below a knob at 9,400’. The last 300’ or so of gain looks nasty, brushy and bouldery from here, but it’s not as bad as it looks; a route through the brush and boulders opens up pretty well as you make an ascending traverse towards the granite (natcherly) summit crag. There is some routefinding and a bit of easy but exposed third class near the summit as you climb a short trough which opens at its lower end onto a several-hundred-foot cliff; easy enough climbing, but a fall would be fatal. The spiky summit has a defunct solar-powered electronic gizmo and a strange little “micro-Quonset hut” partially buried in the rocks (apparently helicoptered in). The enormous view to the north takes in a big stretch of the emptiness of southwest Oregon all the way to Steens Mountain, past a huge north-opening glacial cirque at your feet. A totally new and strange (to us) panorama of the mountains of northwest Nevada receded to the southern horizon. We thought we discerned Star Peak, King Lear and Mount Tobin. (So many peaks! So little time!)

We drove out the north end of the Hinkey Summit Road, which in itself is quite a scenic adventure before it eventually joins US 95 south of McDermitt. North of the pass, we dropped down into one of the most beautiful forests of almost pure aspen I’ve seen anywhere. Flowing out from the base of the high peaks was an undulating carpet woven out of changing aspen leaves in every color of the rainbow except blue and violet. Continuing north, the road drops down on the eastern side of the range, and then turns west to climb once again to a second pass over the northern extension of the Santa Rosas, finally descending the steep and forbidding west side of the range in a series of spectacular switchbacks, pas an old mercury mining district. This northern portion of the road would not be the place to be after a rain, as it is in volcanics which weather to clay... and it’s a i~.g way to the bottom.

We celebrated our first northwest Nevada peak with a steak dinner in the (surprisingly) good restaurant in the one casino in the otherwise rather forlorn little town of McDermitt, Nev., on the Oregon line. What a border-toborder garden of desert peak delights is Nevada!

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