Thanksgiving 2007 Trip Report

Piper Peak (9,450+ feet), Grapevine Peak (8,738 feet), Mormon Peak (7,414 feet)

Dates: November 21-24, 2007
Participants: Adam Helman, Edward Earl

Note: True mileages are obtained by adding roughly 0.1 mile for every 12 indicated road miles.


This trip continues Edward's quest for making inroads into the large number of prominent summits that Nevada offers:

Piper Peak

We drive Wednesday via Interstate 15 and Route 395 to Big Pine; followed by Route 168 over the White Mountain Range into Nevada. We have remarkably good fortune in negotiating a good dirt road clear to the highest elevation possible before one heads cross-country to the summit - some 7,250 feet.

Our carcamp is cold, a front having just passed south from Canada. It is disturbing to have sunset at 4:30 p.m., whence we find modest comfort only in my truck's cab. Climbing in winter (or nearly winter) is quite limited by this factor.

By morning the temperature is a chilly 15° F by my estimate based on nearby official readings in Tonopah and application of both a latitude and altitude corrections. However direct sunlight warms us after achieving a saddle with some 1,000 feet of gain.

There are two summit areas, with the western one higher by several feet. However the benchmark is located on the lower, eastern summit and slighly below its very top. As the benchmark cites 9,450 feet elevation, our efforts indicate that the higher, western summit is at least eight feet higher, and possible as much as eleven feet higher. Piper's prominence thus receives the same boost in value.

Edward provides the following details of our efforts, beginning with our driving approach from the town of Dyer, Nevada.

"On NV-264, one mile N of the gas station in Dyer and immediately south of MP 9, we turned E onto Fremont Rd, which is well-graded gravel. Zero your odometer at this turn. At 1.1 miles the road makes a 90 left turn. At 2.1 miles we turned right. At 3.3 miles the main road makes a 45 turn right (a smaller side road continues straight ahead). At 6.4 miles, bear left at a triangle intersection. At 7.8 miles, the road enters McAfee Canyon. At 11.5 miles (7260') is an obscure side road on the left. A good camping spot lies a short distance up this road by two abandoned stock watering tanks. Staying on the main road, at 11.6 miles is an even more obscure side road on the left. It branches off at an oblique angle, is bermed off, and is partly overgrown; only an ATV could navigate it. The hiking route proceeds up this road.

We hiked N up the undriveable side road, gaining a few hundred feet up a canyon bottom until the road ends at a spring at 7650'. Beyond this point we continued through brush, which ended after a few minutes as we continued up the now roadless, trailless canyon bottom. At 7900', the canyon forks; we took the right fork and soon gained a saddle at 8050'. After a short break, we climbed N up a moderate slope, which became somewhat rocky as we approached the rim of the broad, sprawling summit plateau of Piper Pk at 8700'. From here it is an easy stroll to the 9460' summit, which is marked by two rock piles separated by a saddle. The SW rockpile, which is about 10' higher, has a register. The NE rockpile harbors the 9450' benchmark.

We drove away from Piper Peak using a route that would be preferred for someone approaching from the south. For this route, the directions would be as follows. On NV-264, at MP 1 (just 1 mile from the CA border), turn due N on Yolumne Rd. Hi-Bar road proceeds E from here. At 0.9 mile, proceed straight ahead across Windmill Rd. At 1.9 miles, continue straight ahead at a 4-way intersection. At 2.9 miles, Yolumne turns to McAfee. At 3.4 miles, another road joins in from the right at a very shallow angle. At 5.1 miles, bear right at the 3-way intersection (which is at the 6.4 mile point of the north approach). Enter McAfee Canyon at 6.5 miles and find the two obscure side roads at 10.2 and 10.3 miles.

Except for the hiking route, all roads described herein are smooth, graded, and navigable by any street legal vehicle."

Grapevine Peak

We conclude the Piper hike around noon and drive south and east to Grapevine Peak. Departing Route 95 west, our carcamp is located 20.4 indicated miles from pavement at roughly 6,550 feet elevation. A better car park is located maybe 1,000 horizontal feet farther west as a large, flat area at roughly 6,650 feet.

This is Thanksgiving Day, and so I enjoy both tortellini alfredo and lemon chicken with capers before darkness and cold effectively dampen the tailgate experience. Being lower than last night it is not quite as chilly - and my toes don't tingle any longer thanks as well to double socks.

The climb begins with gaining a 7,500 foot saddle where the (now descending) road continues west. In the effort to warm myself we gain this 1,000 feet in roughly 40 minutes. We turn north and follow a ridge which eventually trends northwest to the summit after a series of three hills each with downhill portions.

It is windy at times, and our summit siesta would have been quickly aborted had we not located a sunny, nearly wind-free spot on the south, leeward side of the summit. The ambient temperature is perhaps 30° F - but the wind makes it feel nearly zero at times along the approach ridge.

The round-trip lasts longer than anticipated, and we return 5 1/4 hours after leaving the truck. We drive to pavement and, 2 1/2 hours later, enjoy Kentucky Fried Chicken north of the Route 95 / Interstate 15 junction in the northern suburbs of Las Vegas.

Mormon Peak

The day is too short to approach Mormon Peak while still light. Thereby we decided to neglect a shorter climb that requires negotiating a bad 4WD road at night, with a longer climb, of some sixteen miles round-trip length and 5,200 feet of elevation gain, as it begins from a more developed road.

Unfortunately that road rapidly deteriorates in quality soon after it turns from pavement to dirt at 8.3 miles. It passes west under a railroad bridge at about 10.5 indicated miles; passes back again to the east side at about 14.5 miles (with a wet crossing); and then, at 14.8 miles, features a muddy stream crossing that I refused to drive through in my truck.

My decision was based on probing the muddy section with an extended ski pole, walking gingerly atop marsh-like grass into the "offending area" while coming quite closely to sinking-in myself. The water was only about eight inches deep. However, again, the stream bed is not rocky - only mud that had a good chance of stopping my truck in its tracks. In the absence of more information, neither Edward nor I felt it worth the risk of walking back some 15+ miles to find a tow truck operator on a holiday weekend. We'll be back.

The following UTM coordinates (zone 11S, NAD83 datum) are useful for the Mormon Peak approach drive.

The order in which these waypoints are encountered, traveling from south to north, is 001 - 002 - 003 - 004.

Now that our venue is scrubbed we drive some of the distance to home,
eventually camping just inside California about one-third mile north of Interstate 15.

In the morning we enjoy breakfast at Denny's in Baker.
We arrive in San Diego four hours later around noon, the truck odometer totaling 1,145 miles.