Boundary Peak Nevada (13,145')
Boundary Peak Nevada (13,145')
|The Boundary of Route Finding Competence|
Boundary Peak (13,146', Nevada #1)
After a very enjoyable morning climb of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, Nevada’s second highest summit, Andy and I headed west across the middle of Nevada toward 13,146-foot Boundary Peak, Nevada’s highest summit. With a stop for lunch in Ely, a stop for gas in Tonopah, and hundreds of miles of desolate terrain, it took us about five hours to reach the intersection of US Route 6 and dirt Queen Canyon Road, just 2.5 miles northeast of the California-Nevada border. As we approached from the northeast, we could easily make out Boundary Peak and its next-door neighbor, 13,441-foot Montgomery Peak, less than a mile away in California.
If Boundary Peak were not one of the 50 U.S. state highpoints, it almost certainly would see far fewer climb than it does. Boundary is somewhat remote and not a particularly scenic climb. But detracting even more from its status is the drop of less than 300 feet between Boundary and Montgomery. Based on the standard prominence rules, this relegates Boundary to a mere sub-peak of California’s Montgomery Peak. But for those climbing all the state highpoints, Boundary is a must climb and often an add-on to a trip to Mount Whitney, just 88 miles due south.
We drove up Queen Canyon Road from the valley floor at 6,280 feet, initially crossing open desert and then climbing through Queen Canyon. The 4WD road was in pretty good shape and only had a couple of rutted sections that would present significant difficulties for a 2WD without high clearance. After about six miles we reached the Queen Mine at 9,100 feet.
While I had planned to camp at the large flat area near the Queen Mine tailings, Andy was game to continue climbing up the road with his F-250. The final 1.1 miles of the 4WD road above the Queen Mine to a broad saddle at 9,780 feet were a little steeper and had two moderately tight turns, but were no problem for the F-250. Most 4WD vehicles with decent clearance should be able make it up to the saddle with little difficulty. In fact, when we arrived at the saddle, we joined a father and son who had rather impressively driven their rental AWD Dodge Journey all the way up to the saddle. There is room for quite a few vehicles to park at this broad saddle.
I set up my tent on a relatively flat spot between the two vehicles and we had time to cook and eat our dinners before dark. We were fortunate to have a warm evening with relatively little wind. On a really windy night, camping at the saddle might not be the best option. Smoke from the fires in California made for a beautiful sunset and a beautiful sunrise the next morning.
I got up at 5:30 am Monday morning, ate breakfast, and packed up my tent before Andy and I started our climb at 6:25 am. The Queen Canyon trail to Boundary Peak starts at the south side of the saddle at 9,780 feet. The primary alternative approach to Boundary Peak starts at the end of the Trail Canyon road at about 8,900 feet, requiring a longer dirt road approach from the east, but roughly the same hiking distance as the Queen Canyon approach.
From the saddle, we climbed the easy-to-follow trail and quickly gained 1000 feet in just over a mile. After the first mile, the trail leveled off and we eventually descended about 80 feet in the next mile and a half to the Trail Canyon Saddle. Along this section, we could see the summit of Boundary which did not look all that far away. We took a short snack break at the Trail Canyon Saddle where the Trail Canyon trail joins the Queen Canyon trail.
From the Trail Canyon Saddle, we climbed more steeply up along a trail through talus.
At about 11,920 feet we crossed a ridge and were treated to a great view of Boundary’s north face and summit under clear blue skies.
From this point a route to the summit seemed pretty obvious. We followed the trail around the west side of a high point and then continued south along ridge leading to the final steep section below Boundary’s summit. At 12,400 feet we came to a steeper section on the ridge where I followed what looked like a trail to the left, the east side of the ridge. What followed was some of the worst route finding I’ve done in a long time.
When it appeared we were off the trail, I studied the small screen of my inReach GPS and saw what looked like the route I had stored for the climb just a little below us. We continued off trail and started following the line I saw on the screen assuming the trail had petered out at this point. It turned out that what I thought was my GPS track of our planned route was actually just the heavier 12,400 foot contour line on the map. We followed this contour line for almost a quarter of a mile in a direction nearly opposite of Boundary Peak’s summit! Fortunately, when we crossed a ridge, the contour line turned back. At that point we decided we really needed to start climbing higher if we were ever going to get to the summit. As we climbed through rocky but not difficult terrain, we closed in on the summit but were further confused by my saved track which showed the summit almost a mile away. It turned out I had saved on my InReach and sent to Andy a GPS track that went all the way to Montgomery Peak! When I finally pulled up the GPS track on my watch, our missteps became obvious and we climbed the remaining short distance to Boundary’s summit, arriving at 10:27 after four hours of climbing, including about half a mile off route. This was my 30th U.S. state high point.
We enjoyed the top of Nevada for about 20 minutes before some clouds blew in from the west and it started sprinkling on us. The 0.6 mile Class 3 ridge to Montgomery Peak looked like fun, but with climbing plans for the next day we took a pass.
Headed back down from the summit the trail through the talus on the north side of the ridgeline was obvious. Not far below the summit, we passed the father and son with whom we had camped on their way up. They actually started on the trail before us in the morning and apparently didn’t take a major detour like us.
When we got back down to where we had left the trail, it was hard to fathom how we could have gone astray where we did. As usual, I re-learned a few lessons from my misstate. I should have previewed the route before starting out instead of solely relying on my GPS track. When we lost the trail, we should have gone back to where we were last on it. And on a small GPS screen, when in doubt, zoom out! Any of these three actions would have prevented the screw up. Nevertheless, our detour didn’t cost us that much time and almost certainly gave us a first ascent route on Boundary.
As we descended, we could see virga to the west, but the skies over us cleared up and we had a mostly pleasant hike down the rest of trail.
We got back to the saddle trailhead at 1:50 pm after 7 hours and 25 minutes of hiking the 9-mile round trip (which would have been 8.5 miles had we stayed on the trail). The drive back down Queen Canyon Road was uneventful. However, Andy’s left front tire must have taken something in the sidewall as the pressure warning light came on at the bottom of the road and we had to replace the tire in Bishop, California on our way to Lone Pine for the next day’s climb on Mount Whitney.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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