Nevada Prominences September 2009 Trip Report
© September 2009 Adam Helman

Note 1: All GPS-derived coordinates use the WGS84 datum.
Note 2: Click on any image for enlargement.


Six people have climbed all 57 mountains on the contiguous USA (CONUS) ultra prominence list.1 Seeking additional challenges, the bar has now been "lowered" to include the 100 most prominent peaks of that region. The current trip is motivated by Edward Earl's desire to finish that larger list; with Troy Peak and Currant Mountain being our current goals as they are ranked in the top 100 by prominence.

Nevada has more large prominence peaks for most standard cutoff values than any other CONUS state. Indeed, it has 24 mountains with at least 4,000 feet of prominence, of which eight are ultra summits (5,000+ feet). Troy Peak is ranked 14th in the state by prominence (4,794 feet), and Currant Mountain 16th (4,584 feet). The entire list down to 2,000 feet is available.

Some year I will complete the western CONUS county highpoint list - and the summer months will become free to climb the 142 mountains of the CONUS 4,000+ foot prominence list. In other words, I choose to "jump over" the Top 100 cutoff so that while traveling the density of peaks to climb is twice as large. This is a more efficient strategy than traveling far-and-wide TWICE - at first for Top 100 peaks and then for the 4,000+ foot summits.

On writing this story I have 80 of the top 100 peaks (Edward has 93) and 104 of the 142 peak list down to 4,000 feet of prominence. Hence the remaining level of effort is far less than the peak counts of 100 and 142 suggest.

We add a day for bad weather, and will use it to climb a third, nearby mountain in case conditions warrant. Our selection is Ward Mountain just south of Ely, Nevada and with 3,676 feet of prominence (ranked 35 in Nevada).

Edward flies into Las Vegas from Seattle and I retrieve him by driving from San Diego. We will climb three mountains in as many days; and then I leave Edward in "Sin City" for his return flights - so making a five day trip out of San Diego.

1 An ultra is any mountain that rises at least 5,000 feet above the highest saddle connecting it with higher terrain.
    Outside the United States a cutoff of 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) is used.

vanishing point
The vanishing point concept is often manifested
in the wide open spaces of Nevada.
(view south - US Route 93)

Trip Details

Saturday, September 12 - to east central Nevada

A nearly flat right rear tire is discovered while fueling in Primm, Nevada one mile past the California border. I add air from the free pump and drive to Jean 11 miles farther towards Las Vegas. Again, this is not a normal community - only a set of hotels with gambling casinos - so as with Primm there are no repair services.

Last name in the dictionary?
(Interstate-15, Mojave Desert)
I add more air yet estimate that the tire will be running on the rim before Las Vegas in 30 miles (the next community regardless of size). Parked in the tree shade (it is about 100° F) I change the tire; and, being unpracticed, take 40 minutes for the entire effort. Nevertheless I now drive with some confidence to the airport, meeting Edward as he arrives in baggage claim. I had left San Diego one hour early in case the time was needed for sleep. Not using the time for that purpose, it came-in handy nonetheless.

We drive to a nearby tire repair shop and have the bad tire patched - it will now serve as our spare tire for the trip.

We drive northeast on Interstate-15 and then north on Nevada 318. I drive into the setting sun along 23 miles of very good gravel followed by a 7.8 mile side road of lesser quality. We arrive at a pullout with fire pit well after sundown, eat supper, and sleep around ten.

I did not enjoy today apart from Edward's company and his willingness to drive from Las Vegas to Alamo about 100 miles towards our destination. Of course the "Moroccan Fish" at supper was quite nice - poached salmon with marinated tomatoes, bell peppers, some chile pods, and garbanzo beans.

Sunday, September 13 - Troy Peak

We arise at 6 a.m. and prepare to depart. In the backcountry Edward is happy with a simple breakfast that requires no preparation - today it is brown sugar Pop Tarts without an accompanying beverage and served cold (it would be hard to toast it here - the standard and generally preferred method of preparation).

So it is that Edward generally waits for me to eat as I prepare milk from powder to have with a slice of cinnamon babka; and a quarter cantaloupe with honey.

The babka is wonderfully sweet with plenty of brown sugar - a treat brought all the way from New York City via a Jewish bakery in greater Los Angeles. I knew that Edward enjoys it, and so it was taken from home. Later, he finds it a good means of carbo-loading the evening before Currant Mountain.

register entry
Mark Adrian's entry of
August 2, 1999 is too close
for a sharper image.

Edward in mid-ground.
We leave at 7:02 a.m., following an online report by my friend John Hamann of Alamogordo, New Mexico. The weather is beautiful, and we eventually near the route "crux", a steep gully with much loose scree and talus, just as indicated in John's report. One-half hour after that and we are on the summit!

I enjoy salmon and cream cheese on an onion roll as Edward searches for my spare car keys that he somehow misplaced. Turning over rock after rock, they are not to be found - until located caught in the fabric of his daypack.

We search the twin summit registers and locate the entry by peakbagging friend Mark Adrian who requested that I photograph the entry as "proof" of his former climb several years ago.

Descent is rapid as we leave around 11:30 and return to the car at 2:21 p.m. A pain in my upper right leg bothers me for the last mile; and, before driving I have two cans of mushrooms in-case this is a low potassium issue as once happened on Gypsy Peak in Washington.

Mushrooms have a large amount of the essential mineral, and one of the can contents is enjoyed swimming in balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese. Then, during the dirt road drive Edward spreads for me three Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies with peanut butter - which I then eat with a peeled banana for even more K+ ion.

Our car was parked at 7,350 feet, about 1/4 mile shy of the barricaded road-end described in John Hamann's report. Given the 11,298 foot summit elevation this made for a net and total elevation gain of some 3,950 feet.

A roadside stop for refreshments is most welcome before heading the short distance to our next "trailhead" - this time for Currant Mountain. The Starbuck's iced "mocha frappuccino" and cinnamon babka go great together.

Before and during supper we separately climb this rock outcrop just for fun immediately next to the road washout that forced us to camp just shy of it. I then enjoy pastrami with Jewish challah (egg bread), imported olives, and more cantaloupe as dessert.

We will be using Gerry Roach's posted trip report for much of tomorrow's effort.

rock climb
Adam atop the 50 foot
rock climb near sunset.
(Edited to create the "halo" effect.)
Monday, September 14 - Currant Mountain

This morning we efficiently leave by 6:36 a.m. and head up-road past the washouts. Gerry's suggestions save us some thankless bushwhacking; and, after an hour, we are in a gully headed for this pretty alpine basin with its head at 10,400 feet.

We cache a quart each atop this boulder, and turn right to head up the route "crux" as a somewhat steep and loose scree slope to an east-west ridge at over 10,600 feet. The boulder coordinates are (38.90267° N, 115.41515° W) at 10,226 feet. The ridge takes us northwest to an 11,160 foot saddle north of point 11273, and with coordinates (38.90418° N, 115.41980° W). You must return to this point on the descent!! Remarkably, the Nye County / White Pine County line passes quite near this saddle.

We take a break and examine the remaining route.

It's a mess!

Gerry Roach recommends traversing far west of the connecting ridge (see his route map), prior to ascending the west summit ridge. We take a more efficient route that goes west a mere fraction thereof. To reproduce our efforts, descend to the first saddle and then sidehill northwest, passing just under an obvious large monolith. The second, minor saddle is thus not accessed.

Now head directly for the west ridge, rapidly gaining elevation along the western base of a cliff band for several hundred feet. Just before this section is a neat Class 3 "squeeze" that saves all of 50 feet in horizontal scree travel - a cairn is on the opposite (high) side marking this exact path.

Once on the west ridge is is only 100 vertical feet to the summit.

A pastrami and cream cheese sandwich is my secondary reward apart from the all-around views. The weather is still holding even though the skies were overcast at dawn. Edward walks to a second summit, clearly lower, immediately to our north. The short route features this rock ramp roughly shaped as a cylinder!!

Currant Mountain
Currant Mountain has several summits
with the highest being 11,513 feet.
(Gerry Roach photograph)
We are glad on returning to our water cache, and I share a grapefruit with Edward before heading down the curved valley.

This time we avoid a narrow, rock and debris-strewn gully from about 8,800 to 9,200 feet; choosing instead to descend the forested slope immediately west. A portion of our descent route features this drumlin-shaped terrain that is narrow and long with steep slopes on each side. I surmise that it is a glacial moraine from the Ice Age that is now completely covered in forest with all the attendant undergrowth - including dirt and fallen branches.

On our return we find a road-based path that is more efficient than what Gerry R. describes. The following instructions are useful.

From the trailhead at (38.92199° N, 115.38615° W) and 7,790 feet elevation, walk on the road until an obvious bend that has the road shift from southwest to northwest. The road climbs steeply (at least for a road) on the bend's far (northwest) side. This road bend has coordinates (38.92099° N, 115.39600° W) at 7,861 feet, and is 0.51 air mile from the cited trailhead.

From here a delapidated road leads south (or southwest); and a footpath parallels this vehicle-impassible "road" on its east side. Walk either road or path until the former improves after less than 100 feet. Then walk the road, bearing generally southwest, to a remote junction at coordinates (38.91825° N, 115.39923° W) and elevation 8,305 feet. We placed a rock cairn right at the center of this latter junction, one that is 0.26 air mile from the previous junction and road bend.

The junction just described has a second road coming from the northwest - and is actually the road Gerry R. suggests taking southeast from his "fifth bend in the road". Walk south from the junction along the road you came on; and then continue as this road heads southeast to gradually disintegrate in an open field.

Continue as per Gerry R's instructions by hiking to immediately west of the obvious hill to your south, finding a gully, and crossing over to its west side before climbing south through forest past 9,000 feet.

Our net elevation gain is 3,700 feet; our total gain 4,200 feet. Use of the above road-based route lowers the latter figure to 4,100 feet. Here, the 400 foot difference with net gain arises from the roughly 200 foot drop from the 11,160 foot saddle along the connecting ridge to Currant Mountain.

We return to my truck at 2:30 p.m. and head to Ely for refreshments, gasoline, and shopping for tonight's supper.

The drive to Ward Mountain is short, parking at 7,750 feet at a level pullout. It will be 3,200 feet of net elevation gain tomorrow - less than on the other efforts.

Edward and I share in preparing "Cajun" pasta with corned beef and lots of melted butter. The Cajun theme comes in a bottle, and the resulting combination is very delicious and satisfying.

Tuesday, September 15 - Ward Mountain

This is a quite straightforward affair since a mining road leads clear to the summit. Around 9,400 feet the road descends through aspen trees, a kind of mini-ecosystem not found elsewhere along the route.

Interesting roadside geology
along Nevada Route 318.
The weather is a constant threat - and yet never materializes as thunder apart from what we can hear during the night. However on top we are in clouds with high wind; and, heeding the wind chill we spend only ten minutes before descending to preferable conditions.

Those finer conditions are found at 10,150 feet where my "summit" sandwich of herring with cream cream on rye bread is finally enjoyed. With that food combination I might as well be in Scandinavia!

Nevada Route 375
and its dubious connection
with alien lifeforms.
The aforementioned road descent is arguably 125 feet. Hence the resulting extra 250 feet of elevation gain, when added to the 3,200 foot net value, gives a total elevation gain of 3,450 feet.

We consume only 4 hours 50 minutes for the round-trip, including a talk on the descent with a Fallon, Nevada husband and wife looking for grouse.

Not enthusiastic about warm water as our refreshing après-climb beverage, I backtrack five miles to Ely for lunch food. We enjoy pizza slices with Italian sausage, pepperoni and olives; Sprite soda pop (Edward), an ice cream sandwich (myself), and a energizing iced coffee drink so I can zip south without mental impairment.

approach road
How far until armed sentries
suggest a retreat?
Route 318 saves maybe 40 miles of driving relative to US 93. Then, at the junction of 318 and 375 we head west on the latter road, the so-called "Extraterrestrial Highway", on a scouting trip to Bald Mountain. After 11.7 miles, and just after descending into the next valley, is a dirt road heading west-southwest. It may be the principal access road to Area 51.

Route 375 continues northwest to Rachel, Nevada through Tickaboo Valley. After 26 miles from the 318/375 junction is a narrow dirt road, and no negative signage (at least along the public highway), heading almost straight for Bald Mountain. We do not drive this road - although I am tempted to. The 24,000:1 scale topographic chart shows the road ending at 5,780 feet. Given Bald Mountain's 9,348 foot elevation, a climb from that terminus has a net gain of roughly 3,568 feet and a round-trip air distance of seven miles.

A motel in the small community of Alamo is our day's endpoint. After showering, Edward drives my auto to dinner at the Windmill just outside of town on the north side where he enjoys fish. The trip basically finished, I "let my hair down", purchase a 200 ml bottle of Southern Comfort, and enjoy it in our room with several sweets and while sharing a half gallon of milk. The TV History Channel provides entertainment for both of us.

Wednesday, September 16 - Homebound

We enjoy hearty breakfasts at the Windmill. Edward has his usual stack of pancakes (served with bacon strips); and I enjoy a house specialty as "Windmill Hash" - corned beef with potatoes and onions, topped with two eggs sunny-side-up; served with toast and jam, plus tiny cups of guacamole, avocado, and salsa roja. Plus three cups of (refillable) coffee for my driving convenience.

The 100 mile trip to Las Vegas uneventful, I leave Edward at the airport and head for California. I am craving a venti ("large") Starbuck's Java Chip Frappuccino - a most decadent concoction indeed. However in Primm the store is closed for renovation; and in Victorville, just 2 1/2 hours from home, I cannot find an outlet.

Yesterday, the 18th, I enjoyed this beverage as part of lunch - purchasing it at the local Starbuck's at the end of my morning's errands.

desert shadows
Stark desert terrain is
accentuated by shadow.


The truck odometer reads 1327.0 miles on returning home. These "Adam truck miles" are typically one-hundredth more than standard statute miles. At just over 50,000 miles it is now time to replace my tires.

I greatly enjoyed Edward's company, and hope that he will consider attending more of my prominence-oriented trips during the nine month off-season of mid-September through mid-June (when northern state county highpoints are basically out-of-commission).

I don't know when my next climbing trip will be, or even where. However there are several good ideas...