Great Basin National Park Highpoint Trip Report
Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet)
Date: August 22, 2002
Author: Adam Helman
Wheeler Peak is the "deserving" highpoint of Nevada given its altitude,
prominence, and the fact that Boundary Peak is in truth a subpeak of
Montgomery Peak on the California side of the Nevada-California border.
Wheeler Peak is very impressive as one approaches it from the west.
The mountain seemingly "jumps up" out of the basin and reaches a full
seven thousand feet skyward from the valley floor.
Wheeler Peak is the centerpiece of Great Basin National Park (GBNP) in
From Las Vegas drive north on route 93 until a
nondescript junction ("Majors Place") with no services. Take route 50
east at this point (Ely is some 30 miles west on route 50 while the
Park entrance is some 40 miles east). Once east on 50 proceed over a
pass and drop down into the next basin - turning right (southeast) onto
From Reno drive east on I-80 to Alt-50 near Fernley. Take Alt-50 east
to route 50 proper and head on this, the "loneliest highway in America",
clear through Ely to the junction with route 487 some 60 miles east thereof.
Turn right (southeast) onto 487.
From Utah take route 50 west across the Nevada border and look for
Nevada route 487 perhaps less than ten miles from the border. Turn
left (southeast) onto 487.
Once on route 487 south, arrive in
Baker after some five or so miles from the junction
with route 50. Here one finds a cheap motel, a cafe, grocery store, and a
Sinclair gas station at the south end of town.
A sign and paved road lead one west some six miles to the Visitor Center
for GBNP, climbing from roughly 5,500 to some 7,000 ft in the process.
As of August 2002 there is no entrance fee for the Park. However there
is a $10 per night use fee at the Wheeler Peak Campground that one may
pay at a self-serve kiosk located therein.
Access to the trail for climbing Wheeler Peak is achieved by driving the
Wheeler Peak Scenic Road for its 12 mile length. This road begins some
one-half mile before the Visitor Center and heads north from the Park
access road coming in from Baker.
The road climbs to 10,000 ft in some
eight miles and is paved yet narrow in some spots. It forms no problem
for the seasoned western highpointer. The road levels out and proceeds
to meander towards the Wheeler Peak Campground (some 9,900 ft) after
four additional miles.
See the map provided for the following description.
About one mile prior to the campground ("C" on the map), the road reaches 10,160 ft - at which point
there is a large day-use parking area for the Wheeler Peak trail (shown as "P" on the map).
Beginning the hike here (as I did) shaves off some 300 vertical feet of gain
relative to the alternative of starting the hike from the campground at C
(a trail leads from the campground to a confluence with the Wheeler Peak trail
as the latter wends its way from the trailhead parking lot).
In compensation for the additional required gain, beginning at the
campground shaves off perhaps one-half mile from the one-way hiking length.
The route leading from the campground is indicated with blue dots while
the route leading from the parking lot trailhead is indicated by yellow dots.
After they converge the (combined) trail leading to the summit is indicated
by alternating yellow and blue dots.
From the trailhead parking lot (P), the round trip hike is eight miles and
involves a 2,900 ft vertical gain.
The first mile has one hiking roughly southwest - eventually reaching the
aforementioned confluence with the trail coming from the campground.
After this confluence one walks a further 0.2 mile until a second junction
("J" on the map provided). This junction lies
at roughly 10,400 feet and is just 0.2 mile via a separate trail (south) to Stella Lake.
For Wheeler Peak take the trail heading north (the summit is indicated
as 2.9 miles distant from "J" if memory serves me correctly).
Eventually you form a counterclockwise semicircle, heading west and then south up a ridge
towards timberline. Commencing at perhaps 10,800 ft the trail zigzags just below timberline up an
increasingly steep slope.
Starting at about 11,000 ft (timberline),
the wind may pick up considerably in strength. According to rangers at the
Visitor Center, it is commonplace for the pass you are on to create a funnel effect
for the wind coming up from the basin to the west. When I was there at
about 7 AM the wind was sufficiently strong that I had to don my parka, gloves,
and hood to even consider pressing onwards to the summit.
There are a few windbreaks in this area just alongside the trail. Use them
if you feel like changing clothing or resting while in the high wind.
When I was there the wind subsided as I approached 12,000 feet - and, on the summit,
the wind formed no problem.
The trail trends south and southeast up a most prominent ridge -
becomes steep at times - and, on occassion, tends to get lost
among the rocks and scree above timberline. Simply be on the lookout
and you will not stray more than ten or twenty feet from it before realizing
that you are "off trail".
As an indication of your vertical progress, use as guide the summit of
Bald Mountain (11,562 feet) to your north.
The final one or two hundred vertical feet has more level terrain - and you
will enjoy the thrill and anticipation of nearing your goal.
Here is a map of the trail and summit area
On the summit area the highest point is located immediately adjacent to
where the trail tops out - points further east are a few feet lower and
are nevertheless marked with large artificial windbreaks.
While on the summit area you will not see the glacier (shown as "G" on the
summit map and as located on the
north face of the mountain - it is located at too steep an angle below you.
In truth the glacier contains more moraine than moving ice, the ice
somewhat hidden by all the rocks which collectively form the moraine.
Nonetheless the ice does move - so making for the only true glacier in Nevada.
Starting at dawn, I was up and down by 11:45 AM - and then enjoyed a sixty minute
tour of the Lehman caves after driving back to the Visitor Center.
With Wheeler Peak behind me, the stage was set for a Nevada co-completion
with Jobe Wymore three days later on Ruby Dome of Elko County.