At 13,063 feet, Wheeler Peak is the second tallest peak in Nevada.
The tallest by 77 feet is Boundary Peak on the California/Nevada border, and it’s not nearly as cool looking as Wheeler. The plan was to wake up early, drive to Nevada, climb Wheeler Peak, then drive back. And that’s pretty much exactly what I did.
I woke up at 5:30 and was on the road by 6. I got to Delta, Utah, a couple hours later and had breakfast at McDonald’s, after which I continued heading west. It took me about 4 hours to reach the trailhead, where there were a few other cars already. I’m a fast hiker and I expected to pass some people on the trail, which I did. The trail starts out in a pine forest for a while until the forest thinned and the ground became rockier as I neared the timberline.
The trail eventually led up to a barren, rocky saddle between Wheeler Peak and Bald Mountain. I turned left at the saddle and continued up the last couple thousand vertical feet to the summit on the rocky but easy-to-follow trail. The view from the top was great and I spent about half an hour on top eating and enjoying the view before heading back down.
One of the main attractions (to me, anyway) of Wheeler Peak is its massive, 2,000-foot high northeast face. I’m a rock climber more than a hiker, and this face is one of the burliest around. There are only a couple routes on the whole thing, none of which take a direct line up steepest and tallest part of the face. I obviously wasn’t going to climb the thing by myself but I wanted to get a better view of it (you don’t get a good look at it from the hiking trail).
So I hiked up a different trail that led through a grove of some amazingly beautiful bristlecone pines, the oldest living things on earth. The oldest one I saw had a plaque on it that said it was 3,200 years old! That’s incredible to me. It was crazy to think that it was already 1,200 years old when Jesus was walking around. So cool!
But yeah, the trail eventually led me to the base of the northeast face and the only “glacier” in Nevada. I say “glacier” because it’s not really a glacier but more of a perpetual snowfield. There are no crevasses in it or anything. Still it was fun to see snow in the Nevada desert on early September. Wheeler’s northeast face is big and terrifying and I desperately want to climb it. The only problem is that officially, there are no bolts allowed in the area (which is part of Great Basin National Park, by the way) and especially no power drills. Climbing that huge face (which is larger than Half Dome and with much worse rock) without bolts is a very, very, very scary and incredibly alluring prospect. I’ve been invited a couple times on various attempts on the face, none of which have been successful.
After I had stared at the big cliff long enough, I hiked back to my car and drove out. I got some more food at the McDonald’s in Delta before making it home by about 9 o’clock that night.
I have to go back. That massive 2,000-foot face can’t go ignored, and I’ll have to do some recon trips to check out possible lines up the face. All in all, it was a successful and extremely enjoyable day trip!
Wheeler Peak summit trail
0 miles – Trailhead: 10,040’ @ 10:00
4.3 miles – Summit: 13,063’ @ 11:45
Stayed on top until 12:15, back at car at 1:30
Bristlecone grove/Wheeler north face trail
Left trailhead 1:40, turned around under N. face @ 3:00, was back at the car at 4:00.