Mount Jefferson & Arc Dome Long Haul DPS

  • Updated: June 10, 2013
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

  Arc Dome (11,773')
  Mount Jefferson (11,941')
When: June 8th & 9th, 2013
Where: Central Nevada
Who: Matthew Hengst, Jen Blackie, Amin Faraday, Mark Butski, Jeff Atijera, Gracia Delavida, Wasim Khan
Pictures: [Matt]
GPS Track: [Arc] [Jefferson]

If you look at the geographic locations of peaks on the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section list you'll see two peaks located in central Nevada far from pretty much everything.  That would be Mount Jefferson and Arc Dome.

I'd been staring at those for some time and after having knocked off the even further north Ruby Dome (700 or so miles from Los Angeles) last year after two tries.  At 11,000 ft they seemed perfect for a late season desert trip.  (Granted if I'd known how nicely things would be shaping up in the Sierra this year I might have chosen otherwise...)

While not as far away as Ruby they were still a good 400 or so miles from LA and even better there was a 3 or 4 hour drive between the two trailheads.  So of course we set out to bag them both in a quick two day.

Jen, Gracia, Amin, and myself met in Orange County and left at 3:45 pm.  After hitting an unfortunate (but not unexpected) amount of traffic on the 91 and making a quick dinner stop at the always excellent Domingos in Boron we finally arrived at the trailhead around 2:30 am.  Ouch.

But it gets even better!  Sometime after 1 am we were bouncing down a dirt road passing through what appeared to be a mostly abandoned old mining town when some lights appeared on a hill off to the side.  They appeared to be cab lights of a truck.

Sure enough after we drove past I could see headlights behind us.  There were a ways behind but were sticking with us past any of the turnoffs.

We arrived at Columbine Campground and found all but one of the four sites full and the remaining one too small for our uses.  It was too bad since it's a pleasant little campground with fire pits, a pit toilet, lots of trees, and a stream near enough to provide background noise.

We went through the campground twice, identifying what we thought was Mark Butski's jeep (having left earlier they arrived at a far more reasonable 11:30 pm) but not really wanting to risk setting up camp in the middle of a group of strangers.  Instead we decided to head back down the road and look for a pullout with a bit of flat space.

As we came back to the intersection at the entrance to the campsite the truck that had been following us pulled across the front of us and stopped.

We both rolled down the window and I responded to a "You lost?" question as neutrally as I could before inching around them and out of the campground in a rapid fashion.  (I really need to keep banjo music queued up on my phone)

We drove back down the road and found a pullout maybe 1/4 of a mile away.  As we threw out sleeping pads the truck came by and stopped right past where we were.  They stayed there maybe a minute then drove further down the road and stopped right before they would be out of view where they stayed for a while longer.

Everyone was slightly creeped out.

Sadly I was also wired from about a pot and a half of coffee, soda, and everything else I could chug down to keep myself awake for the drive.  While Gracia and Amin set up their tent / bivy and wondered if they were about to be the inspiration for the long awaited sequel to Deliverance Jen and I briefly explored the stream running nearby before she too decided it was time to pass out leaving me with the company of my all but cripples by the lack of internet access iPhone.  I soon gave up and dropped off for a brief and fitful few hours of sleep.

Saturday: Arc Dome, Beautiful Downtown Gabbs, and Close Encounters of the Bovine Kind

One advantage to going to sleep after having drunk that much coffee when you only have a few hours to sleep is you wake up needing to pee so bad you practically vault out of your sleeping bag.  Sadly my three compatriots didn't seem to have the same level of enthusiasm...

They did emerge if somewhat reluctantly and we went about packing up.  I'd let them sleep in a bit since we arrived so late and I wanted to make it over to where Mark and company were before they got too antsy.

Turns out we should have moved a little faster.

(The windshield reads "Matt, left for the peak!  6:30)

Later we found out they woke up and checked the campground twice before deciding that something could have happened and heading up the trail.  We missed them by about 10 minutes or so.

We set off up the trail at a fast clip figuring we'd probably catch them along the way.  That hope soon faded when we reached the first trail junction.  Looking at the map there was a direct route to the left and a more roundabout way to the right that ran along a ridge and seemed like it would have better views.  My plan had been to go up the longer and down the shorter but Mark and company didn't necessarily know that.  Ah well, maybe we'd see them on the summit.

Our trail jumped out of the drainage above Columbine Campground and we soon found ourselves in a small meadow with a rather confused looking cow standing on the other side of a fence with an open gate watching us as we approached.

The incident last year on approach to Spanish Mountain was still fresh enough in my mind I'm somewhat wary of cattle encounters and I made a comment about the cow heading off to get friends when it finally spooked and started trotting away.  As it turned out they were going to do a nocturnal ambush that night...

We continued to gain altitude following a gentle ridge and sure enough we had a good view off to the west.  It was a bit more arid than the first drainage but everyone commented on how it was so much prettier than the desert they expected.  (Guess that's what 11 hours of driving buys you...)

We came across some unhelpful signs (each direction of each fork seemed to be marked TCT) and took the branch to the east to rejoin the more direct route.  After a steep climb we plateaued and could see three figures in the distance along the ridge leading to the peak.  We yelled but they were too far away.

We strolled after them.  There's actually about a 600 ft drop before climbing back up Arc Dome itself but there's a trail all the way (And everyone knows trail miles are almost free!)

We arrived at the summit and found Mark, Jeff, and Wasim waiting for us.  Sure enough they'd taken the more direct route up.

With our party reconstituted it was time to head back down since we had a good 3 or 4 hours of driving to the Jefferson trailhead, both Jeeps were in need of gas, and we were damned if we weren't going to find somewhere to burn all the firewood we'd brought along.

Mark and Wasim took off first while the rest of us followed along a bit behind.

We had one minor miss-route where we took the wrong trail fork and dropped down to the east a bit before petering out amid some moderate brush.  We realized the mistake and started to side-hill around before deciding that was going to be too much work and just climbing back up and over.  On the plus side we found a camera tripod and an arrow...

Regaining the trail at the top of the the drainage above Columbine Campground it was again surprisingly green down below.

The trail dropped steadily and became increasingly pretty the further down we went.  It was a dry day though not oppressively warm and I was happy to take advantage of the running water in the creek on the way down.

We arrived at the campground a bit behind Mark and Wasim due to our little side exploration.  The biggest concern was the gas situation since Nevada can be a bit unforgiving about distance between fill ups.

We decided to err on the side of caution and head back the way we came checking along the way for open gas pumps since the shortcut route toward Jefferson trailhead looked to be a bit remote.  (In hindsight we probably could have taken it and then headed south to Tonopah to fill up)

Passing through Gabbs we saw a sign promising gas and turned off.

Gabbs is an old mining town that's been in decline for some time.  Less than 300 people live there now.  They do however have a gas station.  Of sorts.

We asked a somewhat interesting looking individual giggling his way down the street and were directed to the pumps with the admonition we needed to over to the cafe and get the owner.  We mistook the bar across the street for the cafe but one rather short bartender, a one eyed man, and a few other interesting sorts of folks later a call was put in to the right person.

We strolled back over to our vehicles and were soon met by a rather nice gentleman who pumped the gas for us out of the old style pumps.  Interestingly enough gas was only 1 cent more ($4) than what we'd pay in Tonopah the next day and he even took credit cards though we had to tail him over to the cafe to run them.

Feeling much better and with several hundred more miles range in the Jeeps we set off south taking the 95 to the 6 over to Tonopah before striking out north on 376.

So here we were three+ hours later driving through open range country in complete darkness lit only by the Wranglers slightly less than effective stock headlights in the lead.  Two people were asleep in the backseat and the front passenger was dosing.

Then out of nowhere we had cows shoot out in the middle of the road.  I reacted automatically and managed to jam on the brake while threading in between two cows.  Meanwhile the people dozing were slightly less than gently awoken by a swerve and the sight of cows immediately out the front window.


On the plus side it did break up the drive a bit.

Driving a bit slower after that we continued on following Eckert's trailhead directions through a a series of seemingly endless turns and dirt roads.

We didn't have any more cows but we did see a bobcat at one point who was trying to drag off a piece of roadkill, a few deer, and a near endless supply of suicidal bunnies.

We finally arrived at the JEFCMP waypoint and soon after found a road heading off a bit to a suitably flat spot.

We dragged out our things, set out the fire pit, and had a pleasant if somewhat short happy hour.  Even I didn't last long.

Sunday:  Mount Jefferson And A Long Drive

We woke up and got moving slowly.  It started to get light at 4:30 am but most of us didn't want to be stirring quite that early.

Jen made some rather yummy egg and sausage breakfast burritos while the rest of us milled around and slowly got our things sorted.

The previous night it had felt like an endless progression of winding dirt roads.  In the light we could see we were above a rather pretty looking valley with a few scattered buildings / ruins visible here and there.

We were in the jeeps a bit before 7 and drove a short way further to the 2wd / 4wd "trailhead".

It wasn't so much a trailhead as a place you stop along an increasingly steep and vague old jeep road.  At one point you have the option of driving through an open gap in the fence with the road continuing on both sides.  We stayed left.

I pulled us over on a small rise a bit before we actually had to (see the GPS track Park vs Actual.)  I never touched the 4wd but Mark and I both bottomed out once coming out so normal vehicles are much better off stopping at the bottom of the hill.

There really wasn't anything to the route other than running up the ridge a few thousand feet until we reached a few metal boxes and some poles.  There was a strong use trail for most of it and large ducks scattered around.

We did the only logical thing.

There were a huge amount of bugs on the summit of the not biting but still annoying variety.  We enjoyed the views, including Arc Dome off in the distance, but we all knew the drive we had ahead of us and soon headed down.

If you look close you can see the Jeeps.

The route down was just an uneventful at the route up.  Several of us commented this peak must have been added just so you didn't feel so foolish driving out all this way for just the far more awesome Arc Dome.

We arrived at the cars, loaded up, and headed for Tonopah.  (It was on the way out we hit the bottom out point)

The drive seemed somewhat shorter on the way out and we didn't have any near cow collisions.  We were soon at Tonopah and stopped at the most awesome thing I've seen in a middle of nowhere desert type town.

Even better (if it can get better than a Clown Motel in the middle of nowhere) was that it was right next to an old dilapidated cemetery.  We didn't go in but I'd like to think there's a creepy clown painting above every bed and the mirrors are all fixed to periodically show clowns with glowing red eyes watching you in the middle of the night.

One can dream.

And finally while making a quick gas and ice cream stop in Tonopah we saw what quite possibility might be the most attractive man in Nevada if not all of America.

  • Long blond stringy mullet (check)
  • T-shirt saying "Strippers Love To Climb My Pole" t shirt (check)
  • Gut hanging below said tasteful t shirt (check)
  • Bright green shoes (ok, I might have been a little jealous of that)

Sadly he drove off into the sunset but I like to think maybe he was the owner of the Clown Motel.

The drive back from Bishop was uneventful if long and we had a bit of a windstorm whipping up.  After 3 weeks of trying we were finally able to meet the always awesome Stephanie Gylden at Amigos for dinner.  (Yea, I pretty much have a mental catalog of every post trip Mexican location at this point)  6 -ish hours later we arrived back at the carpool point at an almost reasonable 12:30 am.

Pretty peaks (well at least Arc Dome), a long drive, and next time I'd totally try and stay at the cemetery close Clown Motel.

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