Mount Jefferson

Mount Jefferson and vicinity.

I left Sunnyvale at around 11 ᴀ.ᴍ. yesterday—a bit later than I had hoped, what with having to deal with rental car confusion. (Turns out just because the repair shop’s paying for it doesn’t mean the rental company won’t put the full price, plus security deposit as a hold on your card!) After a quick stop at the Dublin Half Price Books (they had a copy of the Bierbaums’ Legion of Super-Heroes sourcebook) I took my usual route through the Sierra over Sonora Pass (Yosemite, alas, not even allowing passthrough traffic until late afternoon this year) and sure, it’s nothing I haven’t done a dozen times before, but when I got south of Bridgeport and the High Sierra rose to the left, it felt almost like coming home. It’s been almost ten months since I’ve seen Ritter, Banner, and the Minarets in my rear-view mirror, or Mt. Tom guarding the entrance to Bishop, and that’s way too long. (It has not been too long since I’ve had to refuel at Lee Vining. $98 to fill up, yikes!)

Okay, so driving all the way to Bishop might have been a bit out of my way. I pulled into Tonopah at around 8 ᴘ.ᴍ., dropped some supplies off for Westercon, and then headed out to the Pine Creek Campground. I was not prepared for the road conditions. Route 82 very quickly deteriorates into possibly the most pothole-filled road I have ever seen. I was actually relieved when it turned to dirt/gravel, because that road was actually well-graded. (Today, when returning, I was able to drive a good 40 mph on it. But of course that was during daylight.) I finally made it to Pine Creek just before 11 ᴘ.ᴍ. and went to sleep as quickly as I could.

I’m obviously not completing the Nevada county high points this year (turns out you need a working car for that, not to mention the new dispute about Churchill County) but I’ve been loosely planning on tagging the Nye County high point in conjunction with Westercon 74 for a couple years now. There are actually two ways to approach Mt. Jefferson—the more traditional approach does cut off more hiking mileage but is a lot more of a driving adventure, and I certainly didn’t want to risk a road in questionable condition in a rental. (The Nissan Rogue mostly handled everything I asked of it nicely, although it slowed to a crawl over Sonora Pass—is this the CVT?) Pine Creek, at about 7500′, is a good 4500 feet below Mt. Jefferson’s 11,491′ of elevation and about 6½ miles from the trailhead, as the hiker walks.

So yeah, it was a long day. I got moving at 5:40 ᴀ.ᴍ. and, honestly, after the vim and vigor of the start wore off, made terrible time on account of being really, really tired. I actually lied down on a rock and closed my eyes for a bit a couple hours in (at about 9200′), which helped—I made quite a bit better time after that. Well, until the elevation started to get me. The Pine Creek Trail is straightforward and clear (with a couple of minor exceptions, which are ducked and generally still pretty obvious) up until around 11,000′. It’s got a good amount of tree cover, since it tends near the creek—in fact, there are no less than eighteen stream crossings of various widths (some trivially jumpable, some requiring rock hopping or branch balancing) on the trail—which helped keep the morning heat off. It’s honestly really pretty—not from a scenic vista perspective, but the trees are nice and there are a lot of wildflowers. Predominantly lupines, I think. Shame about the cows audible in the distance at around 9700′, and their fruit.

At 11,000′, the trail ends and you have to make your way up easy rocklined slopes (I’ve seen this described as Class 2, but it’s only Class 2 by the “some navigation required” definition—at no point did I need hands for balance, although I suppose the trekking poles helped with that) to the summit. I was definitely feeling the elevation by this point. To my mild surprise there was a group of two other hikers (from Salt Lake City) already there, who were gracious enough to take a summit shot.

The views are magnificent in all directions, as you’d expect from an ultra prominence peak. (Mt. Jefferson’s the third-most prominent peak in Nevada, and the sixth highest.) Various Nevada ranges rise in all directions, everywhere you look. Unfortunately I was a dumbass and forgot to bring my Nevada county high point guidebook, so I wasn’t really able to identify which parts of the Kingdom of Nye I was surveying. Gonna be fun going over those pictures. (And speaking of looking at my pictures, when reviewing this I realized I was also a dumbass and dated my summit register note the same as the person above me, who I guess I thought was one of the other hikers. Nope, they summitted on the 25th. If you’re reading this and happen to visit Mt. Jefferson, feel free to fix this!)

The hike out was uneventful if annoyingly warm, and the drive out was likewise. (There was one other party—of three—that I encountered on return.) It took me 6:06 to summit and 4:13 to return to the car, including brief campground bathroom stops in both directions. That’s county high point #69 for me (13/17 in Nevada), and ultra #11. Nice.

2021 Highpointing, and What Comes Next

My current county high point completion map.

The original goal for my August highpointing week in Nevada was to ascend five counties and set myself up for a Nevada county high point completion in 2022. Ultimately, I bagged four counties before calling it a trip due to smoke. I added a fifth (the state high point) over Labor Day weekend. So that leaves five county high points to go in Nevada. I’m still hoping to finish them off next year but getting the timing to work will be tricky. Four of the county high points I need are at least somewhat near Highway 50, which makes the drive between them fairly straightforward. (The drive to the trailhead, on the other hand, may not be so straightforward—I’m a bit nervous about the approach to Bunker Hill in my Forester.) I am definitely planning on climbing Mt. Jefferson in conjunction with Westercon 74, which will be Tonopah over July 4th weekend. Depending on snow levels, the lead-up to the convention might be a good time to bag another peak or two or three.

The other three-day weekend I can play with is of course Memorial Day, although that’s riskier given the potential for snow, snowmelt, and related hazards. (Next year’s Worldcon is over Labor Day weekend, so that’s out except for maybe an Illinois county.) And there’s also the logistical issue that Charleston Peak, the Clark County highpoint, is far away from everything else and almost certainly has to be done as part of a separate trip (or at least, not the day after another hike). It is of course also possible in theory to ascend any of these county high points over the course of a single weekend, but that’s a lot of extra driving and tired Mondays.

Outside of Nevada, I hit up the Imperial County high point en route to Loscon 47 over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m putting Orange and San Diego Counties on hold for a bit—the former is still logistically complicated (if doable) by the Holy Fire, and the latter turns out to have a Class 4 summit block that I’m not sure I’d be able to get up. I also tagged Point Reno, the highest point of Washington, D.C., while in the city for Worldcon a couple weeks ago. It turned out to be just a quick jaunt from my hotel.

2021 year-end statistics:

  • New county high points: 7 (68 total)
  • Home glob: 58 counties (+6), 186,208 square miles (+44,412)
  • New 2000′ prominence peaks: 6
  • New ultra prominence peaks: 2
  • New Sierra Peaks Section peaks: 4
  • Highest peak climbed: Boundary Peak (13,140′)
  • Most prominent peak climbed: Wheeler Peak (13,063′, P7563)
  • New peaks (min. 300′ prominence) climbed: 15
  • P-Index: 128