Wheeler Peak

Climbing a True Giant

Wheeler Peak has been on my radar for years now.  It’s an Alpine 88 peak, and in the top 10 at that.  It’s huge.  The summit is a staggering 8,000′ above the valleys below.  It’s the Queen of the Great Basin Ranges, second only to the massive White Mountain Peak.  So needless to say, I was thrilled when our Idaho Hiking Club Memorial Day Trip took us to Great Basin National Park

Sun setting on Wheeler from the campground
Sun setting on Wheeler from the campground

We climbed Wheeler via a variation of the standard route, which is a National Park trail.  I wanted to practice snow skills and there is a gully just off the trail that looked perfect.  800′ of climbing, only 19° slope and no avalanche danger.  Bingo.

The peak above Stella Lake, with our gully in the background.
The peak above Stella Lake, with our gully in the background.

The beginning of the hike was really nice.  National Park trails are so cushy to someone used to pounding over miles of broken rock or fighting through willows.  We spotted a herd of deer on the way up.  At Stella lake our group (Tory, Deb, Kerry, Marla and I) left the trail and made our way up to the gully.  The snow was nice and firm still (it was around 7AM) and going up the gully was really easy and fast.  From there, Tory and I went straight for the trail on the ridge (others in our group continued up the talus and snow to avoid the wind).  The wind was howling on the ridge but when we stepped just a few feet down the east slope it became tolerable.

Working my way up the gully, Deb behind me.
Working my way up the gully, Deb behind me.
Working our way up the ridge.
Working our way up the ridge.

Once on the trail it was just an easy hike up the last 1000′ to the summit.  The view was spectacular.  The ramparts of Jeff Davis Peak were impressive and the 300′ high wind turbines in the valley below looked like toothpicks (or, rather, very tiny short toothpicks).

Tory at the top
Tory at the top
Jeff Davis Peak
Jeff Davis Peak
Kerry at the top.
Kerry at the top.

One of the best parts of the hike was the descent.  Tory and I took a detour to an overlook of the east face and then glissaded down the gully instead of taking the trail down.  What a great glissade!  The snow was perfect: not too slick to lose control and not so soft to lose speed.  Descended 800′ in a matter of minutes and were back at the lake in no time.

Bristlecone Pine reaching for the sky--like it has been doing for 3000 years.
Bristlecone Pine reaching for the sky–like it has been doing for 3000 years.

While we were at the park we also visited Lehman Cave, hiked to Teresa Lake, hiked to the Bristlecone grove, and hiked up to Johnson Lake.  All recommended!  Spend a couple days at Great Basin, you won’t regret it.  The following day we went to North Schell which was also great!

Typically wonderful formations in Lehman Cave
Typically wonderful formations in Lehman Cave
Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake

 

– – – – Wheeler Peak – – – – 

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 6.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,000′
  • Prominence: 7,568′ (#2 in Nevada)
  • Elevation: 13,063′ (#2 in Nevada)
  • Highlights: Good beginner snow gully, great views, beautiful lake, HUGE peak.

Driving Directions: Head to Twin Falls, then south on US-93.  Take 93 south into Nevada, and continue south through Wells to Ely.  At this point you can follow signs to Great Basin National Park.  Turn left on US-6 and US-50 in Ely and go 56.6 miles to the junction with NV-487.  Take this road to the town of Baker where you will turn right onto the park entrance road.  From the park, take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive up to the Wheeler Peak Trailhead.

Hiking Directions: Follow the Wheeler Peak Trail to the top.  If you want to detour up the gully we used you will leave the trail at Stella Lake.  The gully is visible behind the lake.  Hike around the lake and up a small talus pile to the beginning of the gully.  At the top, reconnect with the trail.  The gully cuts over 2 miles off the RT distance but is NOT recommended without snow (and good safe snow at that).  Total distance following the trail all the way is 8.6 miles.

Wheeler is surrounded by Alpine 88 peaks – Troy, Ibapah, North Schell, Currant and Moriah are all within 80 miles.  Gotta get to Nevada more! 

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