17 July 2017

On the border of California and Nevada, where gold meets silver, lies the Nevada highpoint. I find it funny how Nevada’s license plate touts second place. Who wants the silver? Regardless, the road to the highpoint was littered in abandoned mines. I assume they weren’t gold.


It was Independence Day weekend and it was about time I took advantage of the highpointing scene on the West Coast. I grabbed a buddy and a Jeep and hit the road to cap Nevada. Seven hours from San Ramon with holiday weekend traffic, we didn’t catch a glimpse of Boundary Peak until mid-afternoon. The roads en route were interesting: steep, curvy, and desolate. Shortly after crossing the state border and fifty miles from the nearest services–gas, water, cellular–was a little unnamed road. Two-track, dry as dirt, and littered in loose rock; the trail to the mountain gave the Jeep Patriot a ride for its rental car insurance.


I maneuvered through the red rock and narrow pass alright, but eventually reached a point too steep for the Patriot. We parked before an abandoned mine and hiked the last mile to the trailhead. It was hot. It was steep. By the time we reached the register, it was four o’clock in the afternoon. A pair of Wranglers were parked at the trail and their owners were pitching tents. They said there’s no way we’d summit before sundown. We shrugged and signed the register. A wedding party had beat us. Apparently a mountaineering-loving couple was tying the knot atop their final highpoint today. A novel idea for a wedding–one I’d be lucky to ever have.


We started the ascent. The going wasn’t easy between the heat, rocky terrain, and occasional pile of wild horse feces; but we managed to reach the base of the mountain–several miles in–before six. The wedding party was descending as we began the climb. They wished us luck against time and the dark storm clouds overhead. I emptied my bota to finish my water and we began. False peak after false peak, we reached the top of the first shoulder before seven and got a clear glimpse of the summit. Traces of snow covered parts of the shadowed rock and the sun was dipping low. My partner and I were pretty spent, but we had made good time. I estimated we’d peak around eight and get back to the base before nine. I had a headlamp and we could make the off-mountain return after dark. My poor friend listened to me. So we went for it.


After losing track of the trail among the boulders and scrambling our way to the summit, we were cutting it close. My friend threw in the towel around seven thirty and said he’d wait for me at the base. Neglecting mountaineering law, we parted ways and I summited minutes to eight. Thrilled, I snapped pictures and watched the sun dip below the mountainous horizon. Legs shaky and throat dry, I began my descent, slipping and stumbling over the loose rocks. Halfway down the mountain, darkness fell and I toggled my headlamp. The going was rough and I nearly twisted an ankle on several occasions, but I managed to reach the bottom by nine. I looked around and called out for my friend–who had agreed to wait there–but turned up nothing. So I carried on.


I knew my friend didn’t have a headlamp, so I could only hope his phone battery lasted long enough to function as a flashlight. The trail was relatively easy now–over scantly vegetated rolling hills–but I had to keep a sharp eye on the path. With no cell service or landmarks to navigate by, I had to stay on trail. Walking along, I started to see a small white light in the distance. I called out. My friend must be holding his phone. Picking up a jog, I moved toward the light, calling. No response. Soon the light multiplied. First there were two, then four, six, eight, ten…several pairs of white lights along the trail. They were about eight feet off the ground and quickly approaching. My heart thumped and I slowed to a halt. The lights were coming up fast. Squinting, I saw they were attached to large, dark bodies. The lights were a reflection of my headlamp in their eyes. I toggled to a brighter setting. Ten wild black stallions, like the horsemen of the apocalypse, were charging toward me. ‘Shoo!’ I yelled, as if they were stray cats. ‘Shoo!” The horses whinnied and scattered about me, rushing past so close I could feel the breeze. I froze, watching the large bodies run an arm’s length away. It was beautiful. And terrifying.


With an adrenaline rush, I made it the rest of the way to the trailhead, arriving around eleven. The Wrangler people were playing cards at a popup table. My friend, bloodied, was collapsed in a chair beside them. Laughing at our misfortune, they told us to sleep in our Jeep and drive down in the morning. We agreed and walked the last mile to our car. We hopped in and turned on the lights. The empty mine stared back at us. The poltergeists of passed prospectors were certainly waiting in the darkness. Bloody, dehydrated, sore, and spooked; we decided to go. Why start heeding advice now? After an hour of treacherous rocky cliffs and limited visibility, we sighed relief and returned to the highway.


With a quarter tank of gas, no service, and no maps; we took a lucky guess on direction and drove fifty miles to a gas station. It was closed, but the pumps ran. Still no water, but at least a full tank and some cell service, we set our sights for the next motel…another hundred miles away. We trucked on, through winding mountain roads, until we reached Mammoth Lakes. It was nearly two in the morning, and no signs advertised vacancy. Desperate, we approached every hotel in town–Best Western, Travelodge, Motel 6, and–but to no avail. Independence Day left no room free. There wasn’t even a stable.


So we doubled-down. We found a twenty-four hour grocery, loaded up on energy drinks and Slim Jim’s, and drove seven hours home. After a shower and some breakfast, I fell into bed. It never felt so good.


You put up a fight, Nevada. But you lost.


Boundary Peak. 13140 ft / 4005 m. 1 July 2017.