Planning to GBNP?

Planning to GBNP?

This is in response to Randy‘s request as she plans a visit to GBNP this spring. I think, this will be of use to everybody who is going to visit that amazing NP, or just curious about it. I love NV and I‘m happy to share my experience with others. I will try to be short, however, I give a few informative links that provide perhaps everything you need to know or even more, unless your interest is very scientific, of course. Enjoy!

First, regarding to Randy‘s intention and direct answers to her questions.

Q: I’m thinking about going there this spring.

A: I think a little bit of history will add its flavor. The original name of the Wheeler Peak is Biap; in Western Shoshone language it means The Big One or the Great One. Indeed, the peak is the most prominent in the radius of 150 miles. In 1854-55, Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Steptoe investigated the murder known as Gunnison Massacre and named the peak Jefferson Davis after the Secession and Confederate leader. Nevertheless to say, Steptoe has never approached the peak. Later stormy debates arose about the name of Jeff Davis peak. Finally, about 1869, it was named after George M. Wheeler, the Lieutenant of the U.S Army Engineers. The Wheeler Peak is 13,063 ft. (3982 m). The neighboring and second highest peak of 12,771 ft. (3893 m) was given the name of Jefferson Davis.

The first non-natives known to have climbed the peak were 3 fellow Mormons including Ezra Granger Williams, their leader and Nioquitch, the native guide and the fourth member of the party. They have made the climb on June 4, 1855.

The next notable person that climbed the peak was John Muir, the renowned naturalist, author and founder of the Sierra Club. He climbed it in October of 1878.

(Reference to the above: Great Basin Drama by Darwin Lambert)

Now it is very important to know what time exactly does your “spring” mean. Usually, people drive up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and start their ascent from the Summit Trail parking area (I usually start from Wheeler Peak campground when I follow developed trails, lol, as it is possible to get atop the peak crawling up the other slopes with no trails at all. I don‘t advise that though). So lets come back to Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.

The spring comes late to the high elevations. It may be hot in Las Vegas, but still a deep winter on the Wheeler peak in the beginning of May. I think the pictures I attach below and short comments on them will illustrate the late spring on high elevations the best. A picture is worth thousand words. Isn‘t it?

5/2/2006. The day was clear and beautiful. Ger, my dear friend, and I have started our way up to Washington Peak (11,658 feet (3,553 m)), GBNP, NV. Here Ger has captured me ready for the adventure. South-western slopes facing Spring Valley seemed to have not too much of snow at lower elevations.

Soon the situation has changed and here was the last spot of snow less place (Ger‘s has captured me again). The snow was deep and soft; and the slopes were steep enough. After a few hours of hard work it was clear that the purpose became Utopian. I have to say it wasn‘t just a blind attempt without having experience, preparation (I had enough of warm clothes, etc. in my backpack and Ger had it too) or required physical shape. F.e. I was on top of North Schell Peak (11,883 feet (3,622 m)) on 4/12/2006 all alone, etc. I just want to say it was too problematic to climb Mt. Washington because of steepness covered by a thick layer of soft-wet snow. I did that a week later all alone though, but snow condition was better then.

5/4/2006. Two days later Ger, Alice, his wife, and I enjoyed coffee and our companionship in the Cafe at the upper GBNP Visitor Center (the lower visitor Center wasn‘t finished in 2006 yet). Soon we got excited after we got the latest information from a park ranger that finally the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive was just opened (truth up to the Summit Trail parking area only, but that was more than enough to us). The picture above depicts Ger and the red monster. Don’t be fooled the snow layer is so thin. This place is just an exception. I have no idea when they would open the road without the help of that road-snow eater. Also I have to say the date they open the road differs in different year and depends on weather condition in that certain year, the mood or how lazy the park‘s administration at that time is, and other circumstances. So it‘s always better to give them a call to be sure the road is open. Even if so, the climbing is difficult until deep soft-wet snow on the trails melts away. Contact information may be found using the links in the end of this writing.

This image illustrates thickness of snow layer at the Summit Trail parking area. Please have in mind that “road-snow eaters” may throw the snow down the slope, but never up.

Here is the start of the trail at the Wheeler Peak campground (which is deep under the snow) on May 4, 2006. So we hardly crawled up the snow wall and started our hike up to the glacier. Here on the North-eastern slopes (just 6-7 miles to the north from Washington peak) the snow was about to keep us on the surface. Not always though, so it was fun, lol. The sky was partially cloudy, but the weather may change rapidly in the mountains. I’ll illustrate that if you follow my next photo gallery uploads.

I highly recommend visiting GBNP and other highlands of NV in September-October. The days are shorter, milder, and afternoon storms are rara avis (rare).

Q: What kinda time frame did this take?

A: That time (6/29/2004) it took me about 3 hours. Then I was shivering under a fir (during the rain). Later I’ve made a Lake Loop and visited the Bristlecone Pine Grove. But the time it took me isn’t a guide to follow.

Q: Do you remember how many miles to the summit or round trip?

Trail: Wheeler Peak Summit Trail
Round-trip Distance: 8.6 miles (14 km)
Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet (890 m)
Starting Elevation: 10,160 feet (3,100 m)
Description: This hike should be started very early in the day because of the risk of afternoon storms. Along most of the route, the trail follows the ridge up to the Wheeler Peak summit. It is easiest to begin the hike from the Summit Trail parking area.
The above information can be found here

Links:

Great Basin National Park – informative issue of 40 pages in pdf format by National Parks Conservation Association
Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park – Plan Your Visit
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive

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