Boundary Peak, highest point in Nevada

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Thursday, June 9, 2011

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I've tried to climb Boundary Peak twice. The first time was two years ago whenI was in Nevada with my friend, Jim, from Atlanta. He's the person who got me started visiting the state highpoints. The first day we tried to drive to the trailhead. I was driving my Honda Odyssey and the road we thought lead to the trailhead required 4WD. We got stuck pretty quickly. After digging the car out, we drove back to Tonopah.

We took everything out of the car and tried again the next day. We managed to make it a bit further, parked and walked up the roughly 800 feet of vertical to the trailhead. We continued up the trail to around 12,100 feet. We hadn't intended to climb to the top that day.  We weren't used to the altitude and were just acclimatizing and checking the route. We stopped there, intending to come back in a day or two. Unfortunately, we checked the weather forecast and it was for thunderstorms every day for the next week. Thunderstorms and climbing don't mix, so we gave up and left.

Last year Jim and I tried again. Since our first visit we discovered that the trailhead we used was not the one discussed in the various books about climbing the state highpoints. That explained why the descriptions of the hike didn't match what we had found. We also found out that it is possible to drive to the trailhead we used from the opposite side of the mountain, as well, and that that road was in better condition.

We tried to drive our rental car to the trailhead using the approach from the other side.  While that road is better maintained, it is not plowed and the road was blocked by snow. We parked at the highest point we could reach, again, at about 9,000 feet, and started hiking. We eventually got to a point where it was possible to see the route we intended to climb. Unfortunately, it was entirely snow-covered. We were forced to give up, again.

So here I was back for a third try. Jim couldn't join me so I was alone.  I'm now driving an SUV so, barring snow, I would be able to make it to the trailhead.  I know they got a lot of snow in a least some places in the Sierra Nevadas in California so I was afraid I was going to get snowed out, again. When I drove in yesterday there was no snow on the road I was able to drive all the way to the trailhead for the first time. There was some snow visible but the mountain is totally hidden when you're at the trailhead so I didn't know how things looked toward the top.

I slept at the trailhead to help acclimatize and to get an early start. When I got there I soon realized that all of the acclimatization from my time in the mountains a few weeks ago was totally gone. It sure doesn't take long. I got up and started getting ready although, I must admit, I wasn't very positive about my prospects considering my lack of acclimatization and the possibility of encountering snow. On the plus side, the weather was supposed to be very good: relatively warm, light winds and partly sunny.

Just after I woke up, someone else drove up. He was more prepared than me and started up just a few minutes after he arrived. At least I wasn't going to be totally alone today.

I eventually got ready and headed off about 7:30. My lack of acclimatization really slowed me down but I figured I'd see how far I could get. At the very least, it was helping me acclimatize to try again in a day or two. From the trailhead at around 9,800 feet, the trail zigzags up to the top of a ridge at around 11,000 feet. It then runs along the other side of the ridge at roughly the same altitude for two or three miles. When we walked most of this portion of the trail last year it was snow-covered in many places but this year there were just a couple small patches of snow.

The trail eventually brings you to the bottom of a scree field that goes from around 10,800 feet up to around 12,100 feet. This trail is hard to follow under the best of conditions and making your own path up the scree is extremely difficult, as well as dangerous. Fortunately, unlike last year, it was mostly snow-free, as well.

On our first attempt we went as far as the top of the scree field so that portion of the climb is familiar. The rest of the climb is not. When I got to the top of the scree field I discovered that that part of the mountain did have significant snow-cover. The other person on the mountain was just coming back at that point. He had made it to the summit already (he was much younger, better acclimatized and, judging from the footsteps I saw in the snow, more of a risk-taker) so I knew it was possible. I was moving slowly but I didn't have any symptoms of altitude sickness so I kept going.

From the top of the scree field at around 12,100 feet to the summit at 13,140 feet (or 13,143, depending on which reference you trust) is talus following a ridge-line. (If you look the definitions of talus and scree they frequently say they are synonymous. To climbers, scree is small, loose rocks, that slide when you try to climb them. Talus is large rocks that are normally wedged together and don't slide as much but may shift when you put your weight on them.) This last 1,000 feet of vertical is probably fairly easy to climb when you can follow the trail since the trail likely follows a route between many of the rocks but, with the snow-cover, the trail was hidden and impossible to find. I had to hunt for a route that headed in the right general direction and that looked safe. I could walk across some of the snow fields but, in other areas, a slip may have resulted in a slide over a cliff and had to be avoided. Walking through talus requires a lot of stepping up onto rocks and then stepping down on the other side, making it a lot of work.

I eventually reached the summit around 3:30 after eight hours of climbing. The other guy was probably back to his car by then.  This is a terrible time under normal circumstances but I was happy to have finally made it. I then started down. I expected the trip down to go pretty quickly but walking down the talus safely took as much time as walking up. I got back to my car at 8:30, a round-trip time of 13 hours. I quickly put my things in the car and headed down the mountain, trying to get through the worst sections while there was still light. I drove to Tonopah, NV and found a hotel.
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