Mount Jefferson


By: George Wysup


Getting sick of bagging HPS peaks. Aarghh, Need some variety! It's September and gasoline is only $2.90, so I must take a long trip. How about ... northern Nevada? I've already climbed Wheeler and got within 700 feet of Ruby Dome, which leaves Arc Dome and Jefferson. After scrutinizing the DPS guides I think I can drag my old body up these.

I convinced my old (very; he's 3 years older than myself) buddy Joe Whyte to share the experience. Joe is really good at keeping me out of trouble since he balks at doing anything that might be remotely insane. And we share an unmitigated disgust regarding the current federal administration.

Late Monday morning we departed for Tonopah. Going up I-15 through Cajon Pass we noticed a frosting of snow on Mt Baldy. Traveling by way of Baker and Shoshone we quickly arrived in Tonopah. Along the way there was ample evidence of substantial rainfall, to whit: the normally dry washes were running strong with muddy water. As we neared the metropolis of Tonopah we noticed a white mantle on what I believed to be the Toquima and Toiyabe ranges. I realized that the arctic weather that had hit me on a San Gorgonio area hike the previous Saturday had headed northeast and left some precipitation in its wake.

We selected the colorful Clown Motel because of the rate - $34 double for seniors. Bob Hoeven and I had parked ourselves at this place a few years ago and found it a good bargain. It is clean and in fairly good order. It was popular with truckers and bikers. Later we learned hat there is no good place to dine in Tonopah. The only negative was that a few trucks got an early start, at 3 am.

Tuesday morning we departed to drive the 50+ miles to the Mount Jefferson (11,941') trailhead. We parked at the "2WD" spot at 9771', even though I was driving my 4Runner, because the hike looked to be short and easy. The dirt roads were fine, and quite scenic, to this point. Continuing to the "4WD" spot would have been no problem.

We found the first patches of snow at about 10,200' on a south facing slope. The trail we were following disappeared at this point, probably because the broad, easy face does nothing to channel hikers onto a single path. We climbed easily to 10,600' in the rapidly deepening snow, which was soft on this sunny day. Climbing past bump 10973 to about the 11,000 contour we could plainly see that the trail, traversing around the left side of bump 11,5601-, was in deep snow, hiding some large rocks. Realizing that 70+ year old legs break more easily than young legs, we opted to save this peak for another day.

We could see Arc Dome (11,773') and its approaches to the west. It was obvious that we would encounter the same problem, or worse, if we were to attempt that one. The hike is much longer and the final ascent is steeper and is on the north-facing slope. On the return to Tonopah, where we had contracted to spend another night, we passed through the interesting "ghost" town of Belmont, once the county seat before it was moved to Tonopah. We spied "Indian Maggie's" saloon "circa 1866" which appeared to be open for business. I love to visit old saloons that serve beer. I even love new saloons that serve beer.

We checked it out and found a very ancient-looking padlock on the door. Disappointed, we were about to leave when a bearded old (younger than us, though) dude in cowboy regalia sauntered toward us. He was more than willing to unlock the bar and let us in. He sold us beers ($2 each) and we conversed at length as we drowned our sorrow in not bagging Mt Jeff.

We learned that the population of Belmont is 8. There is a church in town that is visited by a preacher every other week. The saloon is part of an operating inn where one can, indeed, score rooms. He told us that the inn recently hosted a wedding party of 300 folks from Kansas. I'm sure they didn't all stay at the inn. There are several campgrounds in the area. It looked to be a good place to have a wedding (are you listening, Wynne?).

Wednesday we departed early for home, via Death Valley. I would have liked to have bagged a peak on the way, but I neglected to bring the guides. It was too hot for the lower peaks anyway. A ranger al the Furnace Creek visitor center recommended a drive up Echo Canyon. Why not? We drove the rather bad road for 1 I miles to a turnaround where further fun by the off road set is made difficult by judiciously placed boulders. Most 2WD vehicles would be unable to drive this road. On the way we passed through some awesome narrows in the limestone cliffs. We then hiked east for about 3 miles, past Schwaub Peak, to the top of an escarpment where we had a grand view of Charleston Peak and much of western Nevada. On the drive back we investigated the Inyo Mine (Google it), which has not been terribly looted or devastated, likely to the length of the bad road.

Not exactly a peak bagging adventure, but it was interesting.

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