Wheeler Peak, just west of the Utah/Nevada border, is the second highest peak in the state of Nevada. The slightly higher Boundary Peak sits just within the stateline from California. At 13,063 feet, Wheeler is an obvious objective for anyone in the area, as it's just a four hour drive from Salt Lake City. The peak is about a 3,100 foot gain on trail in about four miles. I've been to the peak twice. The peak is also home to the only glacier in the Great Basin, as well as bristlecone pines.
Allen and I first attempted Wheeler in September of 1997, driving from Salt Lake to Ely, then attempting Wheeler the next day. By the time we got to the trailhead in Great Basin National Park, it was evident by the clouds ripping over the summit that there was a stiff wind. I've since learned that wind like this is quite normal on this high desert peak.
We followed the well-marked trail in the lower basin, encountering a large group of deer along the way. A small lake adds to the scenery. We ascended to the ridgeline at a little over 11,000 feet, and here the wind increased dramatically. We followed the ridge up a few hundred feet more, but in the strong wind progress was nearly impossible, as was breathing walking directly into the wind. We turned back and settled for a standard tourist hike of Lehman Caves, which was admittedly quite interesting and worth doing in it's own right.
Determined to reach this fairly easy peak we returned in October of 1998 to try again. This time, we left Salt Lake at about 2:00am, Allen just getting off a work shift. We drove to Delta, and then through the desolate desert, complete with rabbits constantly running across the road in the night. We were both fighting to stay awake and arrived at the trailhead around 6:00am. We tried to sleep or rest in the car for a while, but that was futile, it was just not comfortable. Around 8am we hit the trail.
The peak had been dusted with snow from an earlier storm, and the colors had been changing making the lower part of the hike quite photogenic, even if in one part the trail takes you completely away from the mountain. While the sun was out and it was a crystal clear day, it was cold (about 30 degrees). As we approached the ridge we stopped for a breakfast snack and rest. I found laying on the trail more comfortable than being in the car and opted for a quick nap. We continued to the ridge where the wind picked up making the windchill around zero. We put on the gloves and ski masks and continued up the trail. The cold was horrible, and we were grateful for the rock shelters built as they gave us places to warm up along the way.
The trail deteriorates into mostly rocks above 12,000 feet, but finding the way is easy as the peak is so obvious. As we were getting higher the snow started to mix in with the rocks, making some spots tricky. We continued up and up, finally arriving on the well-sheltered summit. Another group of hikers was also climbing the peak in this cold day, also from Utah. We stayed on top for a while, enjoying the views and warming up again. We began the trip down the tricky upper slopes, being careful not to slip in the snow and fall on the rocks. Once we got below the ridge the temperature felt like it warmed up immediately, and the rest of the hike out was a breeze.
The drive home was long, and by the time we got back to Salt Lake around 8pm we were both exhausted from the hiking and lack of sleep, but after missing the first time we had the peak climbed now. Wheeler is surely one of the easiest high peaks around, and not too far out of the way for Salt Lake residents.