High Roads Project 2020

While 2020 is far from over, I haven’t come close to the peaks I had climbed in 2019. But it was not from a lack of trying, resources, or motivation. When it comes to wrapping-up 2020 for Bikepacking Northern Nevada it will have been a great year of exploring Nevada’s backroads. The highroads attempts look something like this:

High above Walker Lake and Hawthorne Army Depot

Buller Mountain 9,445, Wassuk Range August 10 I biked Corey Peak (10,520′) in 2019 and have had one other adventure biking from the Walker River State Park over the Wassuk Range to Walker Lake. I have since poured over the maps looking at peaks over 9,000′. There is quite a concentration of area above 9,000′ in the Wassuk Range as shown on the map made for me by Marc Pfister, Nevada 9k. One such island was around Buller Mountain and the USGS Topo showed a road to it from the southeast. Satellite view confirmed a road, I built my route in Ride with GPS and I was off! It was a short route, 19 miles out and back with 3,700′ of climbing. So I made a second route to explore Powell Canyon to the south. If I rode all I proposed I would double the day’s metrics – a great day by any standard!

My turn-around point in the thick of Jim Canyon, this spring attracts the noisiest birds

The ride starts on a gravel road carved out of the alluvium of Whiskey Flat off SR 359 south of Hawthorne. Approaching Jim Canyon in the sunrise was spectacular but already I knew I was in for a struggle when there was no distinction between creek bed and road entering the canyon. I struggled a mile into the canyon before I decided to head over to Powell Canyon.

Leaving a washed out Jim Canyon in warm early light

While I had these as two separate routes in my Garmin I loaded my Powell Canyon Route and found a dirt road that skirted across the range as high as possible. Powell Canyon road is a well maintained route I assume to facilitate mining, ranching and recreational opportunities across the range. Linking to Lucky Boy Mine Road would make a grand loop.

Each sub-canyon has its own character

Climbing Powell Canyon I found a road that would take me above Jim Canyon and put me back on track for Buller Mtn. It passed a few old mining interests which really is the focus of the area. Just to state the obvious, these high road adventures are all about the climbs, steep, loose, and twisty. When I started exploring backroads I told myself I wasn’t going to seek out the biggest climbs, yet here I am. I enjoy the climbing, I enjoy the physical and mental challenges but I super enjoy the vistas and the crazy high altitude terrain shaped by mountaintop forces. I can’t apologize for trying to get you to follow.

That faint road cut was my goal. It would take me above 9,000′ onto Buller Mountain

I made my final turn onto a road cut I had been focused on for the last 500′ of climbing. Only it wasn’t there. Up close there was only a hint of a road. I thought maybe it was only out for a short section so I started my hike-a-bike across loose granite sand. The traverse was on such a steep slope every step caused you to slide downhill. It was a constant struggle to maintain elevation. After an hour I had to question my progress.

That faint road cut was closed, nearly erased by time, and too slow to make a go of it.

These evaluations come up on most rides. Where am I on this ride? How far have I come? How long has it taken? How much is ahead? How much riding do I have left in my legs? How late will it be by time I make it home? I calculated I had multiple hours to go to arrive at Buller Mountains peak. Double that to get back on a road that I could descend with little effort. This day was getting too long. I could see Powell Canyon below me, what if I could descend this slope into the drainage below, could I pop out on that road below me?

My short-cut: what if I make a bee-line to Powell Cyn Rd?

There is always a voice in my head warning me about unknown short-cuts. Especially cross country, on loose, steep, sandy terrain, through unknown vegetation. But if the short-cut works I will save hours of out and back travel and get to extend my ride on Powell Canyon Road. I took a chance, hiked a biked down 40% grade scree slope. I found a clear path through the Pinyon-Juniper forest and into a drainage I could ride down. I t worked! I eventually made my way along a few roads that had seen too many heavy winters without repair and onto the well maintained Powell Canyon Road.

Walker River Basin

I climbed to the saddle with views into the Walker River Basin. This gave me the perspective to link together routes including the Walker River State Park, Pine Grove Hills, Lucky Boy Mine Road, and beyond. Each trip expands the network of backroads through northern Nevada.

More canyons to explore of Powell Canyon Rd

The return trip was a quick zip down Powell Canyon Road. There are still a handful of side roads to explore. One gets onto the shoulder of Powell Mountain, 9527′. Maybe it is in the cards as a bike and snowshoe adventure this winter. As far as Buller Peak goes, it looks as though there is a road from the Walker River Basin side of the mountain. I will put that on the calendar for High Roads 2021.

How did I get here? Looking to the west at 500′ ridge in Buena Vista Valley

Mt. Tobin 9775′, Tobin Range August 17 The Tobin Range seems like one of the more difficult ranges to get to in our state. It is equidistant from Interstate 80 and US 50 surrounded by alkali dry lake beds, tracts of sagebrush grasslands, and beckoning dirt roads connecting ranch lands in a cold desert. Though in the middle of August the desert was anything but cold.

McKinney Pass separates the Stillwater Range from East Range and Buena Vista Valley from Pleasant Valley

I was inspired by riding along the western shoulder of the Stillwater Range to look at routes around the north edge of the range. I planned on driving out I-80 to Lovelock, then heading south on Coal Canyon Rd. Once I was within 30-ish miles of my Tobin Peak goal I figured my adventure could begin.

No lack of choices on premium gravel roads

Thunderstorms had knocked down the dust on the road over McKinney Pass. The drop into Pleasant Valley was a fantastic. I rolled through juniper forest and past rocky arroyos into an agricultural valley at the base of the Tobin Range. Groundwater and vernal creeks have created a verdant basin. I passed a handful of canyons before I started to climb Golconda Canyon.

Heading into Golconda Canyon

The canyon is a patchwork of private and public land. Thankfully the land managers have kept the route open. I treat access like a gift and cross private land with great respect. I was most in awe by the rock outcroppings and water in the canyon. Water was flowing and had created a lush and flower filled meadow. The ranch outbuildings left me envious of being able to call this landscape home.

Remote rock climbing potential
Looks like the ranch is in need of a caretaker

Eventually I made it to the last pitch on the shoulder of Tobin Peak. It started with an extended hike-a-bike but eventually I was on the spine of the Tobin Range. There are so few great ridge top rides but I had views of both Pleasant and Buffalo Valleys. I knew the road ended short of the summit at the edge of the Wilderness Study Area and I figured I could hike the rest of the way. At 30 miles and 5 1/2 hours into the ride I decided to turn back. I had almost made it to 8,000′ in elevation. But not even close to my otherwise arbitrary elevation requirement of 9,000′ for High Roads. But it was a spectacular attempt.

A small refuse pile, some archaeological goodies I’m sure
Relic of a cattle chute

The return ride was hot. I definitely did not have this planned correctly. The 30 miles back to the car was grueling. Through Pleasant Valley I was passed be a motor home and a semi. On the climb to McKinney Pass I was pased by a BLM fire truck. I always have a fantasy that a vehicle will pull over and offer me a cold beer. It hasn’t happened yet.

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