Wheeler Peak Nevada In Great Basin National Park

  • Updated: August 06, 2016
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 6th, 2016
Wheeler Peak (13,063')

I've been close to finishing the Sierra Club Desert Peak Section list for the last few years but only recently got serious about finishing it off.

I have all the hard ones (most done twice over) and most of the ones that require a really long drive.  However there were two that I've been staring at on Peakbagger for a while now due to the distances involved.

One is Wheeler Peak In Nevada.  It's the second highest peak in the state and really should be the state highpoint considering that Boundary (the actual highpoint) puts you just down a ridge from a higher peak right over the border in CA.

The other is the Arizona state highpoint Humphreys Peak just north of Flagstaff.  Easy hike, long drive.

Since the peaks are in the 12,500-13,000 ft range they are a bit easier to do in the summer.  They are also a long haul from Orange County but it seemed logical to try and knock them off together.

It was going to be a long weekend...

I took three days off work and managed to leave work a bit early.  We were on the road at 2:30 pm and promptly sat around in traffic on the 91 for a hour or two.  We drove out the 15, through Vegas, and then into the remote reaches of Nevada before reaching the Wheeler Peak Campground around 1:30 am.  Unfortunately for us there were no sites available and we had to settle for sleeping on the side of the road.

We woke up early feeling slightly exhausted and eyed the weather wearily.  There was a strong chance of thunderstorms and then two days of clear weather.  Oh, and as an added bonus I'd been feeling low grade nausea since the last weekends trip to Kennedy Mountain.

The clouds didn't look promising and we even drove down the mountain a short ways to get cell signal and double checked the forecast.  After much consideration and chatting with another guy there at the trailhead we decided to hold off.

We tried to do the Lehman Cave tour but they were all sold out.  In the end we ended up mostly just enjoying the day and catching up on sleep after finding a newly vacated campsite.

The weather was variable but in the end we probably should have gone for it.  Thunderstorms did finally hit but not until late afternoon and there was decent visibility off and on.

When the storm did hit we went from relaxing by the fire sipping brazilian rum drinks to running for shelter as thunder cracked right above us.  It was quite the show.

We woke up the next morning much more rested and were once again at the trailhead a little after dawn.  Having used our fudge day we now had to climb the peak and drive 450 miles or so to Humphreys that night.

No thunderstorms were in the forecast but there were a lot of clouds.

The trail starts out really gradual until you reach the ridge and I loved the aspen groves along the way.  Also note it looks like you can start from the lot at the campground and save a short distance vs using the official trailhead like us.

The clouds were getting thicker and lower as we crossed the meadow and gained the ridge.  And that's where it got a bit unpleasant.

The wind was strong enough to almost knock us over and visibility was nil.  My eyes were watering from the wind and the combination of tears and fog being blown horizontally along the inside of my sunglasses made it so I couldn't have seen very far anyway.

We ran into a few other folks up there at least one whom turned around due to the weather.  There was a family up there with a 6 year old though so Jen and I couldn't feel too tough.  My favorite moment from them was the father asking the kid "Other than the fact you're cold and don't want to be here what's wrong" "Well, nothing..."  Also the dad had packed a beer up there which I was rather envious of.

We finally started to get a little sunlight filtering through the clouds and brief snatches of a view though the wind was still unrelenting.

What we could see of the view was quite nice.

We spent most of the time on the summit huddled in the shelter out of the wind.

Coming down the weather was rapidly improving.

We actually would have been better off sleeping in and doing the peak a little later but ah well.  There were a ton of people on the trail now including a fair number of kinds that looked to be in high school.  We also chatted with a pair of older gentlemen who told us they had first climbed this peak 50 years ago to the day long before all the road and trail improvements had existed.

We made it back to the cars by 1 and started driving.  455 miles, 8 hours, and a rather entertaining electrical storm later we pulled off on a dirt road (FR151) along the 180 just north of the turnoff to Humphreys snow bowl and passed out.

Welcome to Milford.  They're really proud of their Saddle Bronco Riders

Long exposure of an electrical storm from the side of the road where we cooked tamales
Next up, existential discussions while running up the Arizona highpoint!

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