Gold Cross Peak (Nevada)

Oct 2003

By: Gordon MacLeod



THE PEAK: Gold Cross Peak is the high point of the Nevada's Hiller Mountains, which lie on the large peninsula that juts out into Lake Mead north of Temple Bar, Arizona. The summit's attraction is not so much its physical attributes, but instead, the challenge of its remote, difficult-to-access location. Besides, it is one of those summits in John Vitz's compilation of 249 Nevada Mountain Range High Points. Oh! -- and incidentally, the last of the accessible Nevada range high points that Barbara Lilley and I had not yet climbed. Obviously, Gold Cross is a MUST-DO peak.

* ["Accessible" here means that the summit (a) does not lie on a military reservation [note that there are 12 that do] and (b) does not require extensive fifth-class rock climbing [there is one that does -- nearby Jumbo Peak.] APPROACHES: There are basically only two practical approaches: (1) via a "challenging" 4WD road [best to contact John Vitz for definition of "challenging"] from the north or (2) via suitable boat transportation across Lake Mead.

VIA 4WD Road: The 4WD section of the road is along the Scanlon Ferry Road [a branch of a road that originates from Interstate 15 west of Mesquite, NV] and whose crucial portion is called the Scanlon Dugway. [Note that word: "Dugway" -- Read: be wary.] The dugway portion is about 0.5 miles long with an average grade of about 20% [as determined by using DeLorme's 3-D TopoQuads program] and is very narrow and cliff exposed. About ten years ago, while Barbara and I were on Bonelli Peak [which is about 3 miles to the west from the Dugway], we witnessed a 4WD jeep group of 4 or 5 jeeps proceeding down that section of the road. It was obviously they were proceeding very cautiously, stopping every once in a while to remove rocks. A few days later we drove over to take a look at the dugway -- and sure enough it wasn't suitable for our 4WD Suburban or for most vehicles for that matter. The dugway is not the last of the challenge, for the average grade of the subsequent, less-exposed mile is 14%. Be aware that both DeLorme's Nevada Atlas and TopoQuads program indicate that the road is graded or at least a notch above a 4WD trail -- which it is definitely NOT. This approach is likely to require more than a 3-day weekend.

VIA BOAT: This option in itself poses challenges, unless one has his own boat or access to a private one. Commercial boats can be rented from only two practical marinas -- Temple Bar [only 4 boat miles from the appropriate beach in Wild Burro Bay for the climb] and Callville Bay [30 boat miles away]. Only Callville Bay will rent boats overnight. Both marinas require the boats to be returned by 4 PM of the designated return day, and moreover, you can't be sure that you can get underway by 8:30 AM. For Temple Bar, this means that there is at most seven and half hours to cross and re-cross Lake Mead and to climb the peak.

THE CLIMB: The peak is essentially an easy, Class 2 affair with burro tracks providing an assist via either approach. For boat approach, the round-trip distance to the peak from the beach is about 12 miles [actual distance depends on Lake Mead's water level -- which was at its lowest level ever at the time of our climb and resulting in the longest distance], and the elevation gain is something over 2100 feet. For the 4WD approach, the round trip distance is cut to about 4 miles with 1800 feet of gain.

THE CHOICE: In view of these factors, we elected the Callville Bay marina approach with an overnight camp.

PARTY: In addition to Barbara and I, the "we" included Erick Schmacher [who, incidentally, discovered that Callville would rent boats over night via the internet], his wife Ellen, and Tom Roundtree of Minden, NV. Ellen and Erick [long into peak climbing whether via summit face or its slopes were interested in the adventure of the trip and in the possibility of a great camp with a roaring fire on Lake Mead. I recruited Tom because he had not only independently discovered Vitz's list of Nevada Mountain Range High Points and also Alvin McLane's "Silent Cordilleras -- The Mountain Ranges of Nevada", and moreover, was also well along in climbing both lists. McLane's compilation includes over 300 ranges AND hills. Obviously, he would be interested in the trip. By chance, both Erick and Tom were also attracted by the boating aspect of the adventure.

BOAT: A 26-foot "Deck Cruiser" with 250 hp built-in engine was very suitable and very comfortable. It seats eight, has two smallish ice chests, a nice table and adequate storage for camping gear. [Don't ask about costs -- for that's a different kind of challenge.]

THE CRUISE: Erick acted as skipper and Tom as assistant skipper -- both had appreciable boating experience -- and a good thing too, since docking amid the submerged rocks at the beaches where we landed was one more of those challenges. You note and ask: beaches? Yes -- the one from which we climbed the peak and the one were we camped. I acted as navigator -- what with my newly acquired GARMIN GPS V filled to the gills with neat waypoints to point the way for both the boat trip and climb. As it turned out, Enck was already heading in the correct direction whenever I checked the GPS for the direction for the next waypoint. But that's the way it goes On our way out, we cruised comfortably at about 26 mph [speed value provided courtesy of the GPS], and the ride was quite smooth since Lake Mead's surface was quite calm -- except when passing other boats, where their wakes provided a certain level of bumpiness. On our way back, we hauled into Temple Bar marina for refueling because we weren't certain that we could get back without doing so. On the leg home, we cruised at about 28 mph -we had gained a little more confidence. Wind jackets seemed to be the proper attire for both outbound and inbound legs even though the only wind present was what the speed of the boat provided.

LANDING FOR CLIMB: Erick and Tom choose a steep sandy slope upon which to dock the boat in lieu of a much leveler beach-like area close by, because of that area's swampy and muddy appearance. Tom hammered a long steel rod into the soil for anchoring the boat -- the large hammer and steel rod was provided only because we had requested them. The hammer and steel rod were brand new. Apparently, it was unusual for boat parties to dock on land. !!!

THE ASCENT: We started for the peak at about 10:30 a. m. with the temperatures on Lake Mead forecasted to hit the "upper nineties" -- which I translated into 98 or 99 degrees. In anticipation of such a possibility, Erick, Ellen and I had provisioned ourselves with umbrellas, while Barbara and Tom choose to tough it out. The umbrellatoting ones were happy they did so. The brightly colored umbrellas apparently attracted a number of passing helicopters during the day, as judged by their veering off course to view the spectacle. Tom observed that the helicopters were likely carrying sightseers to the western Grand Canyon. We apparently provided an interesting interlude in route. Tom led the way and was very adept at finding burro tracks heading in the desired direction. We reached summit at about 3 p.m. As for the summit, there was, of course, the well-constructed cairn and register placed by John Vitz in 2000. But -- surprise -- someone else had climbed the peak in 2002, approaching the peak also from Wild Burro Bay using the northwest ridge. This "someone else" was from Hurricane, UT, but unfortunately didn't detail his boat approach. John's approach was via the jeep road to the north. We arrived at the boat at about 6:15 p.m. by roughly retracing our ascent route with Tom again finding those nice burro trails. He may have a nose for it.

THE CAMP: The landing spot for the climb had too many aggressive mosquitoes, so we cruised around for about 15 minutes before settling on a little rocky island a short distance from the shore away from those mosquitoes. And it was also a good thing that the little island wasn't too far away too, because it was nearly dark when we finally landed on a sandy patch on the otherwise rocky shore. Needless to say, we celebrated shortly thereafter, but alas, that hoped for "roaring fire" was out. The boat had an adequate table with very comfortable seating. A Coleman propane canister stove and a MSR camp stove were used to prepared dinner. Barbara, Tom and I opted to sleep onboard, while Ellen and Erick elected for a sandy spot between the rocks on that little island. SUMMARY: An excerpt from a thank-you note from Tom Rountree nicely summarizing the trip:

"I just wanted to thank you again for inviting me on the Gold Cross Peak climb. I had a great time and especially enjoyed the uniqueness of the boat/climb combination...."

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