Date: Attempt #1 September 21, 2017
Distance: 7.4 miles round trip via Queens Canyon Trail
Elevation: 13,140 feet
Vertical gain: 4,400 feet
One of the very first notes I made in my highpointing spreadsheet years ago was to make sure I had a 4WD vehicle for the approach to Boundary Peak. Countless blogs and trip reports will echo this advice, so allow me to beat the drum: rent a 4WD vehicle for this highpoint. Don’t feel a sense of complacency with a high clearance front wheel crossover.
Our team of three woke up in Tonopah, NV somewhere in the 3s and was on the road by 4:00 am, aiming to start Boundary Peak at 6:00. As highpointers will likely agree, many of the back roads we travel to reach highpoints are questionable. Out of the 46 highpoints I’ve set foot on, the road to this trailhead was THE most treacherous. No question. USDA describes the trip from US 6 to the trailhead as about 7 miles, with the first six achievable in a high clearance 2WD vehicle. The last mile they reserve for 4WD. I disagree.
In those first 6 miles, we felt like our 4WD SUV was in danger of tipping a few times. On one occasion, it seemed we drove sideways on a wall. On another, two of us helped by leaning left so the SUV had less risk of summersaulting down the mountain. The road was rarely level. In many spots a huge earthquake-type split ran through the middle of the road, so it became a game of straddling the gigantic dips or maneuvering the SUV around them in a tight space. About mid-way up, the vegetation begins to overtake the “road,” so expect your car to experience scrapes from unyielding branches. Half a mile from the trailhead, our SUV got stuck. We couldn’t move forward or backward. Well aware of the steep drop off on our right, we began to smell something burning. We’re still not sure if it was tires or brakes or the engine or something else entirely. Either way, the car was emitting warning smells and it wasn’t about to move another inch up that mountain.
After several forward and reverse thrusts, we managed to get unstuck. A quick look at the road ahead, and we perhaps wisely opted to park about 0.6 miles from the trailhead. This required driving in reverse for a frightening minute or so. I believe I volunteered to jump out of the car to help the driver navigate. But, really, it was self-preservation to avoid falling off the mountain. My request was declined anyway. If that car was about to do cartwheels, I was apparently going down with it. Luckily, we made it unscathed.
The weather forecast had been changing dramatically every 15 minutes. Three days before the climb, reports promised clear weather. Two days prior it called for 2 inches of snow. The day before it promised only 0.4 inches of snow. Seemed promising, so we went for it.
The day started with rain at 33 degrees and quickly turned to snow, then sleet, then later hail with 35 mph winds. We made it to the final saddle at Trail Canyon. At that point, we had no visibility of the mountain and lost the trail in snow cover. Conditions were worsening and we’d already spent a few hours surviving hail pelted into our faces at 35 mph. Reluctantly, we made the tough decision to spin that day. On the way back, only about 25 to 50 yards behind my friend, I couldn’t track footprints as they were covered too quickly by the inches that rolled in. Four hours and 11 minutes from the time we left the car, we safely returned.
The mountain will always be there, but this is still a tough loss. A summer attempt with additional time built in for alternate climbing days is in my future. Stay tuned.
Thank you to Nevada residents Dan and Robert who suggested we try In-N-Out Burger. As a vegetarian, I didn’t think they’d be able to feed me. Turns out, they can accommodate me just fine and this ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip.
Our team also enjoyed driving the Extraterrestrial Highway and seeing the Hoover Dam. If you fly into Vegas, add on a few days for an extra boost to your vacation.