Boundary Peak Nevada, 10 miles, 13,140 ft.
Borah Peak Idaho, 7 miles, 12.661 ft.
A Western Highpointing Adventure
August 30, 2014
Boundary Peak Nevada
“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.” Jack Kerouac
There is something about Nevada that brings out the animal instincts – Las Vegas is the State’s southern anchor that defines unabashed hedonism; what happens there stays there. It was the setting of Hunter S. Thompson’s Classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, and is certainly the state that converted the word “party” from a noun to a verb. Jack Kerouac partied his way across it with his foil Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty), in his classic, On the Road. These guys drove around at very high speeds in giant Caddys and Lincolns – convertibles with fins- defining the riotous excess that is the state of Nevada to this day.
I had come west to climb the highpoints of Nevada (Boundary Peak), Idaho (Borah Peak), and Wyoming (Gannett Peak). This involved covering a lot of highway in a short period of time, and I needed something more than my normal sub-compact if I was going to spend 10 days driving around the 80+ mph highways of the Great American West; particularly if I wanted to fit in the state of Nevada.
Fully Insured Ford Fusion – the Off Road Vehicle of the post-Beat Generation
I reserved a full sized automobile – thinking maybe a fully insured Crown Victoria as my ideal on/off road vehicle. Instead I got a Ford Fusion with an 80 MPH top speed, controlled by an electronic governor – the worst of Motor City engineering fused with the worst of Washington over regulation. The thing started to make Japanese sounding warning noises at 75 mph, accompanied by a flashing warning and an electronic lady voice saying – “warning, vehicle approaching top speed”. Based on the California tags, intentionally woeful performance and complete regulatory surrender, I dubbed it the NancyPelosiMobile, and headed for some off-roading in the high country.
Fortunately, the Fusion was to meet its first test right out of the gate, driving up 6 miles of old mine road to the base of Boundary Peak. Boundary Peak is the highest point in Nevada, but is a subsidiary peak to Montgomery Peak in California – less than half a mile away. Boundary Peak is a giant pile of decomposing quartz monzonite. Like much of the rock broadly referred to as granite in the area, it is decomposing chemically through the chemical weathering of the feldspar crystals into kaolin, leaving behind a giant scree pile – resembling a mixture of roughly spherical objects from the size of a pea to a washing machine.
Limits imposed by the NancyPelosiMobile
The journey from Genoa Nevada to Boundary Peak winds through some of the most spectacular scenery in North America, crossing in and out of California, and includes the backside of Yosemite and a sunrise over Mono Lake. Politically, you have prostitution, gambling, automatic weapons and tons of high explosives on one side (Nevada), and Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein imposing an ever more perfect “Mommy Society” of political correctness (with $5.00 per gallon gasoline prices) on the other. On average, the politics of these two states are normal, and that is the problem with averages.
Sunrise over Mono Lake
Almost any fully insured rental car can serve as an acceptable off road vehicle, but I decided to really give the NancyPelosiMobile a thorough evaluation – it had really pissed me off. I found that heavy application of the gas produced a smooth trip up some very rough road – mostly bouncing off the high points, much like a stone skipping across the water. The road was lined with woody sagebrush, which served as an effective bumper – reliably pushing the vehicle back onto the rutted one lane dirt road. I arrived safe and sound at the old mine working marking the trailhead, and headed up the path.
The road up Boundary Peak
Boundary Peak is a high and dry mountain, but with two really interesting natural phenomena – wild horses and bristlecone pines. The bristlecone pines are the oldest living things on earth – some over 5,000 years of age. They cling to the rocky areas just below tree line – where nothing else will grow. The wood is incredibly tough and erodes like rock instead of rotting. The trees go through extremely long dormant periods and can only be reliably age determined using carbon dating. New life springs from old stumps – the whole concept just incredibly cool. It is simply amazing to consider that any organism could survive and thrive as a specie in exactly the same spot since the beginning of human history.
Bristlecone Pine on Boundary Peak
The wild horses out here are equally noteworthy for their history and resilience. Originally descended from horses escaped from the Spaniards in the 1500’s, these horses cling to these remote ridges much like the pines. They are incredibly wary – while I never saw them directly, I saw where they had crossed my path on my way up the mountain, and they left giant communal piles of manure to mark their passing – and perhaps scare me off. These giant piles resembled the “dino scat” featured in Jurassic Park – piles up to 8 feet across and up to 24 inches high. I had never seen anything like these before, and remain quite perplexed as to their purpose – only adding to the strangeness of the place.
Perplexing piles of pony poop
The trip to the summit was an uneventful slog up a long scree slope, but afforded some splendid views. Just as I got to the summit, I was hit by the loudest report of thunder that I had ever heard in my life – despite clouds which really didn’t seem capable of producing much lightning or precipitation. The second thunder clap got me running – rolling really – down off the peak. Such are scree slopes when one is in a hurry.
Summit Ridge of Boundary Peak
The thunder continued until I got down to the false summit, and took a minute to look around to determine its origin. Looking out across the valley, I saw a series of clouds (reaching up a couple of thousand feet) from explosions related to munition testing or aerial bombardment – either way I had missed what was actually going on; this is Nevada, and they love to blow stuff up out here.
I hightailed it back to Genoa, for a delightful family meal at a local Basque restaurant – and a brief night’s sleep before heading NNE to Twin Falls ID, as fast as the infernal NancyPelosiMobile would take me. I arrived at Twin Falls into the teeth of a major cold front coming in – bringing with it golf ball sized hail, and the prospect for grim weather in the morning and my push onto Borah Peak in the Lost River Range of Idaho.
Basalt Lava Flows in the Great Rift of Idaho
Southern Idaho has a small but tectonically active rift zone, which has produced about 65 mi.2 of low viscosity basalt lava flows – most with a typical aa surface. I didn’t even know that this was here, and it was a lot of fun to find a little bit of Iceland here in the middle of Idaho. These lava flows are extremely porous, and actually swallow up the Lost River entirely – depositing it into the Snake River in a series of springs.
Coming into the Lost River Valley – Leatherman Peak
Coming into the Lost River Valley I got a brief view of Leatherman Peak, the second tallest Hill in Idaho, wearing a fresh coating of snow – before more snow obscured the view entirely. This was going to be a long day of hiking alone. Borah Peak has one section just before the summit called Chicken Out Ridge – so named because it offers some class 3-4 scrambles, and a couple of potentially long drops for the incautious. The whole hike is only 7 miles long – but over 5,000 vertical feet – so I waited a while hoping for the weather to change. I finally took off, about 30 minutes after a group of four climbers – I caught up with them just below Chicken Out Ridge.
Three of them were not prepared for the wind and snow that we encountered, but one young guy – a “30 something” dentist named Eric – climbed with me to the summit. The weather was pretty dreadful, and visibility about nonexistent, but it was a lot a fun hiking and great conversation – we share passions for hunting, mountains and medical engineering, and had a lot to talk about.
Eric at the top of the Ridge
The trip out was fast, and gave me a chance to look at the fault scarp from the 1983 earthquake that reportedly lifted up the entire Lost River Mountain Range by 8 feet. This is an amazing amount of energy, and clearly demonstrates that this part of the world remains very active seismically.
Fault Scarp on Borah below the access road.
I never did actually see Borah Peak – maybe just a glimpse of her shapely ankles as I left. The rain across the valley was simply beautiful, and I had a tremendous meal of steak and scones in the nearby town of Mackay, before heading on to Idaho Falls and Gannett Peak in Wyoming.
Rain across the Lost River Valley
Adios, from the ankles of Borah Peak, Idaho
Adios, from Boundary Peak, Nevada