Ascent of Bunker Hill on 1992-08-28
|Other People:||Solo Ascent|
Only Party on Mountain
|Date:||Friday, August 28, 1992|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||11473 ft / 3496 m|
Ascent Trip ReportAt the junction I turned north on NV 376, and thought about what to do next. Although I enjoyed my backpack to Spanish Peak, I still felt I wanted to climb a more major central Nevada peak. While I drove on the flat, straight, and virtually deserted road I leafed through the photocopies of pages from Kelsey's Hiker's and Climbers's Guide to the World's Mountains, which included a description of Bunker Hill, at 11,474 feet the highest point in the northern half of the Toyiabe Range, the one just west of the Toquima. It looked like the access to it was pretty good by Nevada standards, and it seemed possible to climb it in half a day, which is what I had, provided I didn't mind returning just as the sun was setting or maybe a little after. After only a little thought I decided to go for it.
Therefore, I turned off of NV 376 before U.S. 50 and took a paved road to the mining town of Kingston, NV, sort of like Round Mountain--highly isolated, dependent on a large mine, and definitely not much of a happening place. Kingston was in hillier terrain and more strung out than the grid of Round Mountain, and the main road was very clear as it passed through town and became dirt. Although washboarded in places, this was a fairly good dirt road, and I had no problems with my car on it despite the occasional rock kicked up into my undercarriage.
My destination was the Kingston Guard Station, a Forest Service facility of some kind, and signs in Kingston had told me it was five miles up the road, making me happy that I knew where I was. I came to the guard station, a house/ranger station on the right side of the road, and just beyond that the road crossed the outlet brook from the great western cirque of Bunker Hill. Just beyond this there was a grassy area to the right of the road, near the brook the road had been paralleling up from Kingston. I pulled in, turned around, parked, and went out to check out the area.
I was in a dry, scrubby desert valley, with lush vegetation bordering the brook area right behind my car. Beyond that rose the gigantic mass of Bunker Hill, rising abruptly from the valley. The mountain was shaped like a giant cirque, with two huge ridges reaching out to the road enclosing a steep-sided bowl. I carefully studied the ridges, and it seemed to me that the northern one (on my left as I stared at the mountain) would be easier going than the serrated southern ridge. My guidebook seemed to indicate that the southern ridge would be easier, but also showed a route of some kind near the northern one--this book wasn't full of detailed route descriptions, just general suggestions. I decided on the northern ridge.
I very quickly threw clothes, food, my first aid kit, and other sundry junk into my small daypack, made sure I had lots of water (always important when hiking in Nevada), and set off at about noon, maybe a little worried about my late start but realizing I had over eight hours of daylight to make my climb. I started out by hiking up a flat, rough road that led into the main Bunker Hill cirque, directly at the cliffs of the headwall between the two encircling ridges. Once this dusty, rocky, narrow road entered a grove of trees I left it to head for the scrubby foothill to my left that would take me up to the crest of the northern ridge.
After fighting some brush and crossing a dry stream bed I emerged at the very abrupt base of the foothill, and started my slow uphill hiking on the tussocky grass and sagebrush so typical of the Great Basin. It was brutal, and as I staggered up I unfortunately realized I had to take a crap, which I did after a spurt of energy took me up to a small rocky area. I hadn't seen anyone since leaving my car, so wasn't worried about being out in the open the way I was. More uphill toiling brought me to the crest of the little foothill I was climbing, and ahead I saw what from below looked like the main problem on my visual reconnaissance: a band of cliffs, with thick forest crowding its base. It looked like there was a way around them, but now I wasn't too sure.
I had climbed a spur of the main northern ridge, which was totally blocked by cliffs. My only option was to traverse around to my left, by skirting the head of a small ravine the cliffs towered over and hoping that the next spur, on the other side of the ravine, presented a way around behind them. So I plunged into the horribly dense thicket of mountain mahogany at the base of the cliffs, fought my way to their base, and then worked left, staying as close to the sheer walls to avoid losing unnecessary elevation. I was doing serious bushwhacking in this forest of small but annoying trees, whose dry and matted branches were so close I had to crash through them like a bulldozer. The footing was rough, too, very rocky on the steeper parts.
After some up and down I was finally able to head up through a talus chute in the cliffs, steep and still thickly vegetated, and I made progress by probing for the easiest way up, even though I couldn't see where I was too well, the steep talus was treacherous, horrible trees blocked my way often, and I seriously began to wonder if I was going to make it to the summit, let alone find a way back down. I didn't relish descending through this hell. Also, the hot early afternoon sun caused me to sweat profusely.
After too much miserable climbing I finally was able to slab over to my left through a break in the trees and cliffs to an open tussocky slope with very occasional bristlecone pines, and I was happy to be out of the mess I had plunged into. Now I just had to climb uphill on the steep slope, putting one foot in front of another as I ascended the main crest of the northern ridge of Bunker Hill. I fell into the familiar pattern of saying I'd rest when I got to a tree or rock ahead, and, when getting there, seeing another high point ahead, which I'd push myself to, and so on, becoming more and more tired as I postponed my big rest, instead settling for occasional stops to drink some water and catch my breath. After clambering over a series of these false summits, checking out the footing on either side of the prominent ridge, meandering through trees and rock outcroppings, and cursing the steepness, I, exhausted, arrived at a very high rocky knob of the ridge, its highest point before terminating at the main bulk of Bunker Hill.
Here I at long last took my long rest, knowing for the first time that I was going to make it without any problems, the hard work of the climb being behind me. I was above the trees and grass, and all I had to do was climb down a little bit to the col between the ridge and the main summit, and then climb a steep wall of talus, and I'd be there. Rested, I crossed the rocky col and attacked the talus, which soon wore down my resolve due to its steepness, but it wasn't too bad--after a bit it started to level out, and I could see an antenna of some sort ahead. Exhausted but happy, I arrived at the antenna, put on my warm jacket to combat the summit wind, and sat down to rest.
I looked around and it seemed to me that maybe the highest point was a little bit further along the serrated ridge, which actually had a bunch of antennas on it, together with a small blockhouse in a col. So, after catching my breath, I climbed down to the col, then up to a very narrow section of ridge, being careful not to get blown off, until a cairn at what was obviously the actual summit. There was even a section of pipe there, holding a register. I had ascended Bunker Hill, one of the major summits in Nevada, in just 4 hours, and without any trail whatsoever for 95% of my route.
I rested, ate, and drank, but didn't take any pictures because I had left my camera in the car--I wanted to experience this peak without the burden of feeling I had to record my exploit on film. The views were expansive--I could even make out Mt. Jefferson, near Spanish Peak, to the southeast. I also wrote an entry in the register, and was amazed to see that this peak received only about three recreational ascents per year--I was the first in well over a month. I wrote some notes about my route of ascent, advising against the north ridge, since it seemed that most others did the same. The comments seemed to indicate that the south ridge was a better bet, but that the easiest way was to use a trail that passed through the low col to the north of Bunker Hill, north of my north ridge. I put the register away, tapping the cover of its pipe-shaped container against a rock to close it securely (since it might not be used for a while), and continued my summit sojourn.
At this point I had by far the worst misadventure of my two-month trip. After a little more rest I decided to read the register again, since I hadn't read all the entries, and I figured I'd never get the chance again--I wanted to do a better count of how many people climbed up, and see if there any more route descriptions. However, I found that the cover to the container was now very securely on, certainly due to my tap against a rock earlier. I simply couldn't get it off, and I was upset that I might have made it impossible for the next party to check out the register. So I had the brilliant idea to pry the cover off, using my swiss army knife. I tried a couple of the blades, to no avail, and finally tried with the biggest blade, jamming it in the crack between the white plastic pipe and its cap. While I was applying force the knife slipped, and it sliced into the back of my right index finger, almost cutting it off and sending a fountain of blood up into the blue Nevada sky.
I used my left hand to try to stem the flow of blood while I rummaged through my pack and found my bag of first aid stuff, glad I always brought it despite the limited use it got. I got out some band aids, but they were as useless in stemming the flow of blood as if I had been applying them to a fire hose. I finally got out an ace bandage and wrapped it around my finger as many times as it would go, about twenty, and this seemed to stop the hemorrhaging. There was blood all over the summit cairn I was sitting against and the neighboring rocks.
I still hadn't finished the pack of Fig Newtons I was eating, so I continued my meal with my bandaged finger, then made a couple more attempts at getting the cover of the register cannister off, using just my feet and not my knife--I was mad at the damn thing, but it still didn't come off. For all I know, it's still up there, too tight to ever be opened again. I then packed up--I hadn't gotten much blood on my pack or clothes, fortunately--and decided to get back down the mountain. I thought I had better get to a doctor, but this would be a problem, since I was 5 miles and 4000 tough downhill feet from my car, which itself was miles up a dirt road in perhaps the most remote area of the entire contiguous United States. It was also late on a Friday afternoon, and if I arrived at my car by 8:00 P.M. it would probably then probably take another five hours to drive to the nearest place where I could get emergency medical care, either in Reno or Las Vegas. Towns like Kingston or Austin didn't look like they even had a regular doctor's office. I decided to first get back to my car, and then see what time it was and how I felt.
My descent was easier than my ascent because I found a much better route that didn't involve any bushwhacking. I first climbed down the talus slope to the north of the summit ridge, slowly and gingerly due to bad loose rock, then, instead of taking a left on to the ridge I had ascended I continued straight ahead on the main north ridge of Bunker Hill. This was easy going, and it led to a grassy col, where supposedly there was a trail heading down the ravine to my left, leading to the road my car was on, only north of it. I couldn't find any trail in the scrubby grass and sagebrush, so I just started hiking down the gentle slopes of the ravine.
The footing wasn't the greatest, though--the tussocks of dry grass and sagebrush that reached halfway up to my knee were troublesome, and I zigzagged my way down in search of easier areas of this parched field. I was aiming for a prominent knob I could see below me where it looked like there was a trail or sorts leading away from it. However, while forcing my way through a particularly annoying section of grass (the slope had been getting steeper, too) I suddenly stumbled onto what seemed like a faint path through the scrub. It was so faint that unless you were on it it was invisible, but its almost hidden footway provided excellent footing, and, as I got the hang of following it, brought me down the slope in nice, big, gradual switchbacks. After swinging wildly across the slope like a pendulum, but always going down, I arrived at the prominent knob, where I rested.
From there the trail slabbed off down the suddenly very narrow ravine, and I was extremely grateful for the way the path, probably an old miner's track used by mules, switchbacked down the precipitous walls. It was difficult to figure out when the trail made a switchback, it was so faint, and it was often washed out or eroded, but all in all it was a lifesaver, making my decent at least twice as easy than if I had come down the steep, brushy slope on my own. It finally led out to the sharply V-shaped floor of the ravine, where it became an extremely rough and rocky road, and I easily followed this down for a mile or so and, as expected, came out onto the main dirt road. Here I did a good deed by replacing the Forest Service sign that marked the road/trail from its fallen down position, figuring that the faint trail needed all the usage it could get before it disappeared totally, and a sign would help the few travellers who penetrate the northern Toyiabe Range find it.
It was now about 7 P.M. and all I had to do was hike south on the dirt road back to near the Kingston Guard Station, where my car waited. I figured this couldn't be too far, and, as usual, I was wrong. It was over 1.5 miles of dusty walking, easy but not very enjoyable. I thought that the ravine I had come down was next to the big central cirque, but there were a couple ravines between them, and I had to walk past all of them. The brook that paralleled the road was even dry for a long time, and I knew that my car was parked beside it where it flowed. I hoped a rancher in a pickup would come by and offer me a ride, since I had seen a couple while driving up the road, but I saw no one. Indeed, I hadn't seen an entire soul for my whole time on Bunker Hill.
Weary, at last I arrived back at my car, at 7:30 P.M. My first order of business was to wash of my finger in the burbling brook, and when I squatted at brookside in thick brush I was perturbed when I removed the ace bandage and my wound started bleeding like crazy again. This time, though, four band-aids were able to stop the flow after I had washed it off. It didn't look too bad, and I still had full feeling in the tip of the finger and full use of the finger (the cut was on the back of the middle segment of my finger, about half an inch long), so I decided that getting to medical care wasn't urgent. Besides, I was dead tired, it was late, and my car was parked in a great place for just crashing out.
Therefore I had dinner from the food I had in the car, organized my stuff for a while, and (of course) saw a couple pickups pass in front of me on the road, heading downhill, that could have given me a ride if they had been a little earlier. The ranchers waved to me, not bothering me at all. I did go for a walk down the road to the Guard Station, to see if there was a ranger there who might hassle me, but the cabin and surrounding area was deserted. Once the sun went down there was no more traffic on the road, and I crawled into the back of my Volvo, warm and cozy as always in my sleeping bag, and slept off a lot of the fatigue inflicted upon me by the rugged and untracked mountains of central Nevada.
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