Thursday, July 11, 2019

Ascent of Wheeler Peak in July 2019

 I wanted to get some more high elevation acclimatization to prepare for my mountain marathon. And I just wanted to climb Wheeler Peak, the second tallest peak in Nevada and the capstone of Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada.

I've climbed the peak many times before (for example, 2008 in July,  2013 in August for GLORIA, June 1, 2014, with kids in June 2015, February 2016 Part 1 and Part 2, and with kids in June 2017). Generally July is a good time to go to see lots of wildflowers. But in 2019, a year of high snow pack and a cool and wet spring, the road up to the Wheeler Peak summit trailhead only opened the end of June. I wasn't sure what conditions I would encounter.

It wasn't far above Stella Lake that I started getting into some big snow banks. Fortunately the Nevada Conservation Corps (NCC) crew had been up there and flagged the trail up through the treeline, which helped a lot! I was trying to run hill intervals, but it wasn't working so great through the snow. Fortunately the snow eventually stopped.

And then there were flowers! All sorts of flowers, like this bright sky pilot (Polemonium viscosum), which later starts smelling like skunk.

I did a little happy dance when I saw this spiky phlox (Phlox pulvinata). I'm used to seeing it when it's past its prime, so it was so neat to see it in bloom!

I was up to the ridge with the big windbreaks. This ridge is kind of flat. Keeping in mind that you're climbing 3,000 feet in 4.1 miles. I took a quick break, but since I was trying to make this a fast trip up the peak, didn't stop for long.

This sight stopped me in my tracks--moss campion (Silene acaulis), a beautiful patch of it with Wheeler in the background.

To the west was Spring Valley, with the green pivot-irrigated fields really standing out. The horizon was not very clear, I think because of smoke.

I also enjoyed big patches of yellow Ross' aven (Geum rossi).

 The trail was blocked by snow in a couple more places as I climbed higher. This part was a few hundred feet below the summit. Obviously no one had tried to stay on the trail, as it was too steep. So I headed up the rocks, trying not to trample the delicate alpine plants.

And then I was there! I walked out onto some snow, postholing up to my thigh. Yikes! Then it was time to get some selfies. Here's the rest of the South Snake Range stretching to the south. The North Fork Baker sure has a lot of snow left in it!

I checked the trail register, and it was stuffed full of molding papers. I sorted through some of them and found two nice notebooks that I left in a ziploc bag.

I took the older registers to the Cultural Resources manager for the park.
Then I grabbed a snack and headed out along the summit ridge, glad to have hiking poles to help with the deep snow.

I also had to put on two jackets, a balaclava, and gloves. It might be 95 degrees in the valley, but it was feeling like winter up on top! Here's a view looking west towards the summit.

And looking east to the newly renamed Doso Doyabi (formerly Jeff Davis Peak). Here's info on the name change and the approval on June 19, 2019.

On my way back, I saw lots of green bugs (Hemiptera) on the snow. I was able to use iNaturalist to look up what it was, Say's stink bug.

I couldn't help but take a lot of photos while I was up there. Here's looking north, with Stella and Teresa Lakes if you look hard. Bald Mountain is the nearest peak.

As I was heading off the mountain, I went to the west side and looked back at the peak. Wow, what a snow cornice! And I had been standing on it! If you head up there, be careful.

On my way down, I found this bright flower (maybe a Draba?) way above the other flowers. The bright pink Parry's primrose (Primula parryi) still has a ways to go until it's blooming.

Views of heading down. 

 And then looking back up from the mid-way ridge. (It's about mid-way in time for going up, but for distance it's over half way.)

I kept going crazy over the amazing wildflowers. Here they were, hiding out above the snow level!

And a few more flowers, just because. I didn't manage to get a photo of the people in flip flops coming up the mountain. Fifteen people were heading up as I was coming down, many dressed in shorts and t-shirts. Hopefully they had some extra layers in their packs, as the wind was getting stronger. 
If you want to hike Wheeler Peak now, I recommend sturdy boots you don't mind getting wet, hiking poles (especially helpful for coming down the snowy parts), and several layers. Bring more water than you think you'll need, and plenty of snacks. A good hiker without many stops can make it to the top in 3-4 hours, and back down in 2-3 hours. We did it with kids one year, and it was 9 hours round trip with lots of snack breaks. On this day, it was much faster because I jogged some of it, and even with flower and photo stops, it was about 4.5 hours. Overall, about 20% of the trail is covered with snow, although with more warm days ahead, I'd expect the trail to be snow free in a couple weeks.

Thanks for looking!


Linnea Mae said...

Beautiful photos of the flowers with the peak in the background. Thanks for giving hiking times with kids in tow. This helps a lot...even with teenagers. Linnea

Unknown said...

Really well done. Thank you.

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