Sunday, June 07, 2015

Yosemite Trip With Derek: Days 1 and 2, Wheeler Peak

Derek had never been to Yosemite and was very excited about this trip. He wants to climb El Cap one day and was anxious to get started learning some key skills. This week we concentrated on suffering.

We didn’t leave town on Saturday until nearly 3 p.m. as Derek didn’t get back from the SATs until 1:30 p.m. and I let him have some decompression time. It was the last test in a long string of PSATs, ACTs, and AP tests. He’d done very well in the ones we had results for, including a 35 (out of 36) on the ACT test.

I drove the first two hours and then let the Road Warrior take the wheel. He’d end up driving 70% of our total miles. This is a huge boon to me, as I like to read and write on these road trips. Miraculously, despite our late start, we made our goal of getting to Great Basin National Park - ten hours out. Derek drove until 12:30 a.m. and we threw down the bags to sleep just off the highway.

Suffer-fest #1: Wheeler Peak

This didn’t start off as a suffer-fest…

My buddy Mark had done this peak exactly a week ago on his way to Yosemite also. He’s the reason we were here now. I had wanted to climb Boundary Peak, but this peak has a couple of things going for it over Boundary. First and foremost, it breaks up the drive nicely with some exercise. In contrast, Boundary Peak is nearly to Yosemite. Secondly this peak has much greater topographic isolation. It’s nearest higher summit is over 230 miles away while Boundary’s is less than a mile away and is technically a subsidiary peak of Montgomery Peak (located across the border in California). Hence, Wheeler Peak is the tallest independent peak in Nevada and has a prominence of 7,563 feet, making it the 12th most prominent peak in the lower 48 states. Good enough for me.

We parked at the upper trailhead. The roundtrip was going to be about 9 miles and 3000 vertical feet. Easy peasy, right? It was a bit chilly and we wore long pants, hats, gloves, and jackets right from the parking lot. Soon we had some spectacular views of the Northeast Face. This baby looks to be over a thousand feet of vertical rock. An Internet search revealed an account of the first ascent, but with scant details. I’d be interested in exploring this face for a route.

A mile into the hike we stripped off our jackets, but once we hit the ridge we had to put them back on. In fact, we had to put on all we carried. It wasn't all that cold, but we were hiking up snow-covered rock in a very strong wind and limited visibility. We met a pair of hikers descending. They had turned around about a thousand feet from the top. We pushed on, making fresh tracks in the snow. Five hundred feet below the top, we pulled on our Microspikes. Derek hadn't used these before and was really impressed. 

The final section was a cool, small ridge with a tiny cornice. It was socked in at the summit and we couldn't see much. The summit register is located inside of a mailbox and I was amazed to see it was completely filled with entries. This peak is very isolated, yet it seems to be very popular. I tried to find Mark's entry, but failed. I found a place to squeeze in our names, but it was tough.

Our descent went smooth and soon we could see the surrounding area again. We spotted a wind farm below and green irrigation circles. It's a vast area here and worth visiting. I'll probably make this a regular stop on my treks westward.

Our camp on Tioga Pass Road


Mark Oveson said...

I couldn't find the summit register! Really, it was in a mailbox? Not sure how I missed that.

Bill Wright said...

Yes, check out my photos link at the top. It shows the mailbox.