Ascent of Spanish Peak on 1992-08-27
|Date:||Thursday, August 27, 1992|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||10740 ft / 3273 m|
Ascent Trip ReportThursday, August 27
My plan was to climb Mt. Jefferson, the highest point in the Toquima Range and in all of central Nevada as well. I thought I'd make my ascent a backpacking trip, since I'd be starting in the afternoon. I had good topo maps of Mt. Jefferson, but not of Round Mountain, NV, the mining town at its base, but I knew that the Jefferson Canyon Road began in Round Mountain, and I assumed that it would be the main road out of town.
Therefore I drove up NV 378, the short spur off of NV 376 that led to the eerily deserted town of Round Mountain, right near a massive mine of some sort. I got a little lost in the grid of this small town, which seemed to have no commercial establishments or pedestrians at all, and finally found a dirt road leading out of town and up into the Toquima Range. After ascending up to the abrupt foot of the mountains the road became very rough and narrow as it wound along through a canyon, which I assumed to be Jefferson Canyon. After a bit the road got so bad I simply had to stop abusing my poor car, so just before a ford of a shallow stream I found a dead-end turn-in where I parked, after stopping to clear away some big rocks before turning my car around to face outwards.
It was very hot out under utterly cloudless skies, and flies buzzed around me as I got my backpack packed up for my overnight trip. I took my new MSR X-KG gas stove and the bottle of unleaded gas I had gotten filled at a gas station in Oregon with me, thinking I'd finally figure out how to use the thing, as well as the usual bunch of clothes, food, and camping gear. I did not bring my tent, though, thinking that I'd camp out in the open tonight, given the hot, dry, clear weather. I left a note in the car windshield, since I was definitely not at a regular trailhead, then started hiking up the rough dirt road my car could not have handled.
This was not a pleasurable hike for many reasons. I was hot, there was no shade, I sweated like a pig, my pack was heavy, hiking on a road is never fun, and, most importantly, I couldn't figure out where I was on my Mt. Jefferson USGS map. I knew I was in a canyon, and felt positive it was Jefferson Canyon, but I didn't know how far up I was, and every attempt I made to match the landmarks--mainly the numerous crossings of the intermittent stream in the canyon--to the map failed badly. This failure to locate myself only drove me further up the canyon, where I still couldn't figure out my position, and this in turn made me more determined to hike up on to the map. The only people I saw on my whole trip were a couple in a rugged pickup truck coming down the road, forcing me into the bushes, and they didn't stop.
The road, after many hot miles past thick, dry thickets of high desert shrubs growing due to the precious water of the canyon bottom, came up to a point where it the shrubs disappeared and the road began to switchback up the steep sagebrush hills of the canyon's headwall. Here, determined to get to a high point and orient myself, I left the road and climbed up a very steep scrubby slope to the crest of a minor ridge, and, seeing a rocky outcrop above, rested only briefly before struggling up more trail-less steepness to the rock formation, and then to another more prominent crag above that. I, bushed, finally reached a real high point, giving me a view of the whole upper canyon, and even a bit of the Great Smoky Valley way down below.
While I shed my heavy pack and caught my breath I tried to match my view to my map, and after a bit I decided upon the little high point I was at, but if that was the case then the road I had been on was not on the map at all, and I still couldn't quite place the tributary canyons I could see below me. In other words, I had a vague idea of where I was, but was still pretty much lost. After my rest I noticed that down the other side of my rocky outcrop was a switchback of the road, and I decided to head down and pick it back up and go higher until the geography of this remote central Nevada range made sense to me.
After some tricky downclimbing of the shattered rock of the outcrop I got back onto the road, not knowing for sure if it was the same one I had been on earlier, and continued uphill. The road was steeper now, and when it forked after a bit I took the steeper fork, a switchback cutoff. This was way too rough for even four-wheel drive cars as it slabbed up to what looked like the crest of the whole range at a pass. It took me a while to get there despite my intense curiosity, plodding and resting the way I was. As I approached, I noticed there was a radar station on the low summit I was slabbing under, something else not on my map and another confusing locational clue.
When I reached the pass I rested, noted that there was a road going off to the radar station just a little bit above me to the south, and, after checking my map again, failed miserably to place myself despite the expansive views to the distant dry valleys below. I knew one thing for absolute certain: I was at or very near the crest of the north-south trending Toquima Range, having ascended its western slopes. It looked like the range got higher to the north, and that was the direction where I thought I'd find Mt. Jefferson. So I decided to turn to the north and hike along the crest of the range until I knew where I was, I got to Mt. Jefferson, or it got dark and I was forced to camp for the night.
I left the road at this pass and struck off cross country on occasional very faint paths, following the gentle crest as it proceeded over a couple of humps. The terrain was a mix of bristlecone pine and low sagebrush, not the easiest walking. At one col between two humps I noticed that I had gained the actual crest of the range, and that the first pass had been one in a subsidiary ridge I then followed to the actual crest. From this col a major uphill stretch loomed ahead, and, still curious about my whereabouts, I cranked up this steep hillside, mainly clumps of dry, brittle desert grass and sagebrush. As I climbed I looked back behind me and noticed that there was no peak to the south of me that was anywhere near as high as the one I was climbing in the whole Toquima Range. This got me hoping that maybe I was climbing Mt. Jefferson, the range's high point--as I got higher and I could see that I was definitely way up there my hopes grew stronger.
The steep slope seemed to end up above me at a couple crags, but when I reached those I could see things got flatter and there was a definite summit just a little bit ahead. I plugged on and was soon at the very definite, major summit, with some sort of scientific reflecting device on a tripod on the highest of the little knobs on the edge of the flat summit area of about an acre. I had just hauled my full pack all the way up a big mountain, and, it being early evening by now, was ready to pitch my camp.
As I checked out the wide-ranging mountain panorama on this cloudless, clear day I knew immediately that I was not on Mt. Jefferson, though, since I now could clearly see its prominent tent-shaped form far away to the north, looking like it looked from the road in the valley earlier today. When I checked my map I, for the first time since leaving the town of Round Mountain, knew exactly where I was, at the summit of Spanish Peak, elevation 10,740, about five miles south of Mt. Jefferson on the Toquima Crest. I instantly realized that the canyon I was in was not Jefferson Canyon, but some other one well to the south. My erroneous assumption had been that the road I had found out of Round Mountain led to Jefferson Canyon, when in fact it went up Shoshone Canyon, which wasn't even on the map I had. No wonder I couldn't figure out where I was. I just didn't think there would be more than one road leading into a Toquima Range canyon out of Round Mountain.
I was not really too bummed, since I enjoyed exploring the mountains anyway, and I wasn't really super keen on climbing Mt. Jefferson, 1300 feet higher. I thought that maybe tomorrow I'd hike north some more, at least to Shoshone Peak, the one between Spanish and Jefferson.
I then set about making my camp. I was psyched to be camping out under the stars, since I hadn't brought my tent, and a cloudless, hot, day in the Nevada desert was one of the few places one could get away with this on a 10,000 foot mountaintop. I took out my big blue groundcloth and sleeping bag and laid them down right next to the summit cairn, but found that it was rather windy out, and then decided to move my bed to a more sheltered area behind a small, low clump of pine bushes. I put rocks on the groundcloth to keep it from blowing away, and then tried to cook some food using my new stove. Somehow, though, even though I had brought the instructions and tried to follow them to the letter, I still couldn't get it to work. The instructions said it could burn unleaded auto gas, which was what I had, but somehow I could never get it going, since the jet kept getting clogged. The wind didn't help matters either. I settled for a cold dinner.
Before going to sleep I checked out the view at dusk, and it was rather incredible. Every single light in the entire Big Smoky Valley, from a house, car, or whatever, was visible below. There weren't many of them, though, and mostly I saw expanses of wasteland and the dark hues of desolate mountains--the range I was on, the Toyiabe Range across the valley, and other ranges off to the east. As the stars came out, perfectly clear pinpoints of light from my ideal vantage point in the thin atmosphere of 10,000 feet, the scene was really pretty magical.
I didn't sleep too well, though. It got very cold very quickly as soon as the sun disappeared, a fact few appreciate about the desert, and I had to draw my sleeping bag hood tightly around my face to keep warm. Despite the cold and the wind, I was still bothered by insects, and had to smear DEET on my face to keep them at bay. Also, as usual, I had trouble going to sleep early, so I just lay awake for a while and watched the constellations slowly rotate in the sky above. The constant loud rustling of the bushes in the wind wasn't too helpful either. Despite all this complaining, I did enjoy my night outside, and I finally drifted off to fitful sleep. When I awoke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom I briefly checked out the midnight views by climbing the summit cairn with just my socks on, but the cold forced me back to my sleeping bag after just a little bit, my feet hurting some from the rocks and dry grass.
Friday, August 28:
I awoke with the dawn on the summit of Spanish Peak, easy when you sleep outside, and after putting on my warmest clothes (it was awfully cold out, probably about 40 degrees) I made a second attempt to work my new MSR gas stove and get some hot food into me. Again I failed, and I decided that I'd have to try it with some white gas instead of auto fuel on my next trip.
After a cold breakfast I checked out the expansive views once again from my high perch, then packed up my stuff into my pack and decided to hike north along the Toquima Range crest to Shoshone Mountain, at 10,907 feet higher than 10,740 foot Spanish Peak and separated by what looked like a high, easy saddle. Hiking north to Mt. Jefferson, beyond Shoshone, was out of the question. I set off with only a water bottle, but just below the summit of Spanish Peak I decided to forget Shoshone--I didn't see any point in it, it not being a range high point and not really promising anything much different than what Spanish Peak had already provided me.
So I returned to my big pack, shouldered it up, and started hiking down to my car the way I had come. The only changes I made were stashing my pack and exploring the radar station area for a little bit, and staying on the road and avoiding the detour over the low rock outcropping I had rested at--the road provided a much more gradual and easier route down, and I was pretty positive that the roads above and below my earlier detour were the same. Both the coolness of the morning and the ease of going downhill, despite the upper road being steeper than I remembered, made it a pleasant hike for a while.
However, once below the detour and on the floor of Shoshone Canyon it was suddenly very hot once again, and I had to hike endless miles of flat dusty road that almost alarmed me at its length--I thought I might have passed my car I was hiking so long. After a long, long, long way, crossing the intermittent brook in the canyon many times, each time thinking it was the crossing just before my car, I finally saw my car through the short trees to my left, crossed the brook for the last time, and happily unpacked. I had descended 3740 vertical feet over 6.2 miles in 3 hours, since I was back at my car by about 11:00 A.M.
|Summary Total Data|
| Elevation Gain:||3680 ft / 1122 m|
| Trailhead:||7060 ft / 2151 m|
| Route Conditions:||Road Hike, Open Country|
| Gear Used:||Bivouac|
|GPS Data for Ascent/Trip|
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Peaks: climbed and unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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