Day Hiking Nevada’s Highest Mountain

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Nevada’s highest mountain, Boundary Peak, lies on its border with California in the White Mountains in the middle of the aptly named Boundary Peak Wilderness within Inyo National Forest. It’s elevation is 13,140 ft, depending on where you look, and it’s one of the more challenging peaks we’ve summitted so far. Not just physically, but because of the effort one must make to get to the trailhead(s).

 

Boundary Peak

BP isn’t a popular hike due to its remoteness, so the other people you’ll see hiking are most likely there for the high point cred. There’s ongoing controversy about Boundary Peak being Nevada’s highest mountain because the summit shares a mountain with another summit- Montgomery Peak- which is 200 ft higher and located in California. The name Boundary Peak comes from the state boundary running between the two summits. Some people say Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park should be considered Nevada’s highest mountain because it’s located entirely within the state. I’m not here to debate elevation, I’m just here to tell you about getting to the highest point in the state of Nevada, which happens to be Boundary Peak.

Note: For good measure we hiked Wheeler Peak a couple of weeks later.

 

Routes

There are two major trails up Boundary Peak- the Trail Canyon Trail and the lesser used Queen Mine Trail. After reading web descriptions of both, we decided on the Trail Canyon route, which I will describe here.

summitpost.org has a short trail description and directions on getting to the Trail Canyon trailhead, but only from the Trail Canyon road, which is where we went in.

 

Distances from major airports to Trail Canyon Trailhead via Trail Canyon Rd:

Reno, NV (RNO) – 220 miles, 4 hr 15 min
Las Vegas, NV (LAS) – 272 miles, 4 hr 40 min
Sacramento, CA (SMF) – 315 miles, 6 hr 15 min
Fresno, CA (FAT) – 260 miles, 6 hr 15 min

We drove from Tucson and spent the night in Las Vegas, which is nearly halfway between Tucson and Boundary. Vegas is a great choice for staying the night before you drive to the trailhead, and during the week you can always find great deals on nice hotel rooms. Generally the hotel/casino’s own websites offer the best prices, but if you have no loyalty to one property or another, you can book through Hotels.com and earn credit for their Stay 10 Nights, Get 1 Night Free rewards program.

When we aren’t booking a room through one of our preferred hotel chains- IHG, Marriott, Hyatt, Radisson- we use Hotels.com after going through a cash back portal like Ebates or TopCashback (those are all affiliate links) to save even more money. At the time of writing Ebates was offering 1% at Hotels.com and 2.5% at Caesar’s properties. TopCashback was offering 3% at Hotels.com and 5% at Caesar’s. We got a room and two breakfast buffets at Main Street Station on a Wednesday night for $56.49. It was an easy drive from Vegas after enjoying a leisurely buffet breakfast and a bit of gambling. With our personal allowance money, of course. 

 

Directions

Be aware, whatever direction you’re coming from, that there aren’t any services within 20 miles of the trailhead, and coming from Vegas we encountered a few gas stations that only took cash. Of course we prefer using only credit cards because we love miles and points, and credit card spending is so much easier to track. Luckily we had enough gambling money to see us through in case of emergencies. If you are going in from the south like we did, there’s a shorter route and a much better road than going all the way up to the 264/773 junction for the Trail Canyon Rd.

Our gps showed us the better road but we ignored it for the web directions to Trail Canyon Rd. After having driven both Greg said he definitely preferred the smoother Chiatovich Creek Rd off of Nevada 264. It’s about 12 miles north of Dyer, NV and clearly marked. Like Trail Canyon Rd, it’s also gravel/dirt but better maintained albeit slightly longer. The gravel part is longer, overall it’s a shorter approach. There was only one hairy section on the Chiatovich Creek Rd that crossed a wash, but nothing a car couldn’t handle. The Trail Canyon Rd was rougher and more exposed, with bigger rocks. I think a car would ultimately be fine to take the Trail Canyon Rd, but we were both glad to have our 4WD truck. Note: We never needed the 4WD, just appreciated the higher clearance/beefier tires.

 

Being National Forest, you can camp wherever you’d like for free. Just be sure to pay attention to current fire dangers and obviously clean up after yourself. Leave your site better than you found it, that’s what I always say. From the Trail Canyon Rd/Chiatovich Rd junction there are plenty of places to pull off the road where others have obviously camped before. We wanted to make sure we knew where to start so we drove all the way to the trailhead, then camped just shy of it. On the map view Google Maps doesn’t show the trailhead, but if you switch to satellite view you can see a narrow dirt road going up Trail Creek to a small parking area.

 

 

The Trailhead

The Trail Canyon trailhead is around 8500 ft, depending where you look, and we always like to stay at elevation the night before a mountain. We camped at the bend in the road just before the trailhead next to a small meadow and a babbling brook. A doe visited us in camp and there was cow poop all over the place to let us know we were on open range.

In late August there was still enough water in Trail Creek to drink, but knowing all those cows were around I definitely would not drink it until filtered and/or boiled. Preferably both. After moving to Arizona we invested in this 7-gallon water jug because we never know where we might find potable water.  In addition to our water jug, we also never leave home without our 4-liter Platypus water filter and at least one MSR stove, if not two. Old Lady Warcken is one prepared woman, I tell you what. I welcome the thought of a zombie apocalypse.

Mountains are always unpredictable in regards to weather and are notorious for afternoon thunderstorms. Wait, I guess that’s actually predictable. Our goal is always to be up and off the summit by noon, and to wake up and start hiking accordingly. The moon was nearly full when we went to bed so we woke up at 03:30 to hike by its light for a bit. I absolutely love hiking in the dark. I find instead of worrying so much about what’s around me, I concentrate more on what I can see just in front of my face. That mountain in the distance doesn’t intimidate me, I’m not discouraged about trudging through mud or over boulders, and I don’t fear what I can’t see. That said, we weren’t in the dark for long before a faint glow crept up the horizon behind us.

The Hike

There is a huge sign at the trailhead with information about the area and a generic map, then a short ways up the trail there’s a register to let someone know your plan. After that the established trail turns west and all but disappears, and you’re forced to choose your own adventure along the many, many cow paths alongside Trail Creek.

If there’s one piece of advice I can give you for hiking Boundary Peak from the Trail Canyon trail, it’s “Don’t expect a trail and you’ll be just fine.” If you don’t expect one you won’t be disappointed, and if you do find one it’s like, totally awesome! Win win. Wait, another piece of advice would be to wear long pants. We both started hiking in long undies and I honestly can’t believe both of us got out of there without tearing holes in them, due to the sage and wild rose you have to hike through.

Having no clear path there’s some web confusion about the easiest way up the peak. You can see Boundary, clearly, along Trail Creek, and on the eastern flank you can see the slightest of established trails. Do not be deceived. That is NOT the trail up the mountain, but a great alternative for getting down. More on that later. From Trail Creek you can also clearly see a saddle to the north of Boundary. That’s where you want to go. Go to the saddle. The northern saddle. You can’t miss it. Somehow multiple people have ignored common sense for the promise of an established trail and have had a terrible time going straight up scree (a mass of small, loose stones covering a mountain) to reach the summit. Hike smarter, not harder. Just commit to a side of the creek (we chose the north) and carry on toward the saddle.

Boundary Peak saddle
The Siren Trail will try to lead you astray. Tie yourself to your backpack and don’t listen. Go to the saddle.
Boundary Peak
On the drive in the sun itself shined favorably upon the saddle route. That’s Montgomery to the left, Boundary to the right.

 

It’s a snaggy, but easy bushwhack to the saddle where you get killer views of California and Nevada and it’s a good spot to take a snack break. Be sure to look longingly at the very established Queen Mine Trail meandering off to the north. Trail schmail. There’s a clear path heading south from the saddle up the unnamed peak that I shall refer to as ‘Mt. Warcken’, but the path is easy to lose among the boulders. Don’t be discouraged. It’s steep and rocky but as long as you continue going up you’re going to be just fine. There were some times we used our hands to get us up and over boulders, but nothing technical. Just hands-onsy.

 

 

You won’t summit the unnamed mountain but will veer west again toward another obvious saddle. From this second saddle you can see the summit of Boundary as well as a clear traverse to the second ridge. The second ridge after the traverse is only slightly more bouldery and hands-on than the first. But at no point is there any scary exposure like you’re going to take a tumble off the mountain. It’s stable ground all the way. Just up up up with plenty of opportunities to stop, catch your breath, and admire the fine views in all directions. The third and final ridge is practically a cake walk to the summit.

 

The Summit

The summit of Boundary is just beautiful- huge, and not at all exposey. That’s not a word but you know what I mean. I’ve been on some summits where I’m scared to look over the edge for fear of falling off into an abyss. There’s plenty of room to move around and hikers have built a rock wall surrounding a wide seating area where you can eat lunch and read logbook entries from other summitters. I love reading what high point this is for others, especially if it’s their first. Boundary Peak would be a great introduction to high pointing. It’s just hands-onsy enough to be considered challenging, but still totally safe if you’re not a complete buffoon. We were the first to summit that day and we had it all to ourselves for the 45 minutes we stayed there soaking up the sun and enjoying the slight breeze. There were a few flies at the top but none that even landed on us, and nary a mosquito to be seen.

From the top we could see two other groups heading up who we would run into on the way down, otherwise we didn’t see another person all day. Compare that summit to say, New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington, and its hordes. And cars. And train.

We started from the truck at 05:00 and made Boundary’s summit by 09:45. At 10:30 we headed down, stopping to talk to the two different groups headed up. The first, two dudes, had come up the Queen Mine Trail and were going to bag Montgomery Peak as well, another mile past Boundary. We talked about it, but G.Hammer and I just didn’t have it in us. Besides, we had Bristlecones to see.

The second group was a mother, father, and adult daughter out to nab Nevada on their way to hiking Mt. Whitney next week. What studs! The husband and wife celebrated their honeymoon on a high point just like us! They did Mt. Washington and we did Montana’s Granite Peak.

Back at the third saddle (from the bottom) there is a bowl to your right (east) and a path down the scree. THIS is where you can go down (not up). The path was a bit worn and the loose rocks made it feel like roller skating, but you can choose your own path away from that one and it’s actually a lot easier and a lot faster sinking down into the scree. One might consider putting on gaiters for this section, but we didn’t use any and at the bottom the rocks poured out of my shoes like water.

About halfway down you can start to see some gnarly looking trees to the north (left) so we traversed the slope to get a closer look. I stepped on a boulder wrong and it rolled underneath me and I felt like I fell about 13 times from one rock. A few scrapes, a big bruise, a ripped shirt, and a significant tear in my hand, but I had to get to those trees!

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines are the oldest of the Bristlecone family and can live up to 5000 YEARS!! Their wood is very dense and resistant to rot so oftentimes they will remain standing thousands of years even after they die. Instead of breaking down like other trees, their wood is sculpted and shaped, like a rock, from wind and erosion. They are incredibly dope.

From the pine grove it’s an easy bushwhack back down to the Siren Trail. From there you can pick and choose your path back to the creek. We stuck to the south side of the creek this time and found some easier paths than the north side had to offer. Still a lot of cow paths to choose from and we even came across a big bloated dead cow! I wanted to poke her with sticks until she ruptured but my husband wouldn’t let me. That’s a life dream of mine, to see a rotted carcass explode. Can you imagine? The stench. The gore.

dead cow
Look out for Bloated Bessie!

After getting ourselves back to the trailhead we couldn’t believe we had navigated any of the first part of the ‘trail’ in the dark. It’s a bit tricky! But like I said, just commit to one side of the creek and point ‘er toward the saddle and you’ll be fine.

Altogether my phone gps showed 7.75 miles in 9 hours, including our time on the summit and the Bristlecone detour.

Ever summitted a high point? What’s your favorite?

 

Other posts you might enjoy:

Arizona’s Highest Mountain
Hawaii’s Highest Mountain
Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail

 

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