Stillwater Mountain Wilderness
Two Falls Loop Backpack


8/31/2012


“Look, Bob” Pov exclaimed excitedly. I turned around to see a rattlesnake coming from under a bush onto the trail between us.

The purpose of this trip was to make a second attempt to do a loop backpack from Mississippi Canyon, across Stillwater Crest and down Ramparts Canyon. Both of these canyons have flowing waterfalls with intermittent water above and below the falls. The unresolved section was from the falls in Mississippi Canyon to the crest. Martha and I had previously explored a likely route that followed a ridge that starts going east from near the falls and curves around to the ridge. We went far enough to see that there was an impressive loss and regain of elevation on this path and decided not to try it on that trip. This time we were going to explore a route that goes more directly to the crest which is a steeper than the previous route but could be passable.

The distance between the trailheads to Ramparts Canyon and Mississippi Canyon is 5 miles. We stashed our packs at the Mississippi trailhead and drove the car to the Ramparts trailhead and started walking from there. Thundershowers were predicted over most of Nevada. We started our hike with clear skies but carried rain jackets just to be safe. As we walked we first saw dark clouds behind us in the south. As we covered the easy desert ground distant thunder developed and the clouds came over us. Then heavy rain came down and continued for about half of the distance. Lighting approached though fortunately for us the path of lighting was on the Clan Alpine Mountain side of the valley. We considered hunkering in place but settled for separating fifty yards as a reasonable defense from lighting strikes.

The sun had appeared as I was looking for the place where we had stashed our packs. Pov call to me to look back. She had stopped when she saw a black tongue flicking at the edge of the trail. She was a few steps back from a moving snake which it struck across the trail about 45° away from her. Then it turned back across the trail and briskly moved into the brush while rattling with its raised tail. It was a Mojave rattlesnake. It had demonstrated typical rattlesnake behavior in that it gave warning when alarmed then retreated rapidly. The Mojave is famous for have venom with both neurotoxin and cellular toxin. Rattlesnakes can strike about half of there length. Full-grown Mojaves reach three and a third feet. Nevertheless, when I saw the strike it appeared that the snake flew through the air its full length and it appeared to be about six feet long.

Near the mouth of Mississippi Canyon there is a small corral of rusty barbed wire and hand cut wooden posts. There is a similarly constructed fence that uses rusty barrels filled with rock for gateposts. On our hike in light rain to the waterfall an owl flew right over our heads as silent as a falling leaf. We saw a horned lizard just before we reach the falls. The falls had a very small stream of water flowing.

We located a campsite just as another downpour began. After a hasty shelter setup we strung drying line inside, had enough of rain break to boil water for dinner, ate and settled down to sleep. I was relieved that my sleeping gear had been kept dry by my new combination pack liner, stuff sack, and air mattress pump. Then approaching lighting disturbed us. We were in a narrow canyon that provided some reassurance from lighting strikes. A startling simultaneous boom-flash shook the ground. This must have hit the ridge above us.

Next a downpour tested our seam seals. Water ran down the seam at the ridge of my tarp but did not drip on me. The storm moved off as rapidly as it had appeared. It was quiet the rest of the night with one exception. There was a great rumbling crash of rocks falling then several rounds of falling gravel, reminding us why we do not camp beside steep canyon walls.

The next day we started up the ridge we had come to explore. As we rose we were treated to great views of sinuous Mississippi Canyon with a strip of green trees in the flow steam and with Dixie Valley and Clan Alpine Mountains in the background. Higher on the ridge we could see a lake that had accumulated in the salt flat in the valley. The lake reflected cumulous clouds over the Clan Alpines.

There were several places on this ridge where rock outcroppings appeared to block our way. By going around or finding a way over we made our way without difficulty except for two spires with impassable steep sides. There were faults in these spires that allowed us to rock scramble but would require a rope to haul packs for a group.

Between these two spires I found a very conspicuous anomalous object. It was a cream colored mildly curved rock that was smooth and flat on one side and rounded and rough on the opposite side. I was thinking it was unusual petrified wood or a very unusual rock and picked it up to determine more about it later. Later the opinions of experts from seeing photographs started with mammal tooth but then settled on a mammoth or mastodon rib fragment. When I found that it was a fossil of a mammal I contacted the BLM responsible for that area and gave it to them. It will go to a museum where further evaluation will be done.

It was slow going on this ridge. We did not reach Eagle Springs at the top of the ridge before we needed to camp. The next day we found five springs at the same elevation in a series of ravines near the crest. All has some water. Two had small pools of clear water near their sources that were large enough to allowing collecting water.

During the third day we traversed the crest. We did not see any large mammals but there was evidence of cattle and a few equine road apples. An earless lizard posed for us nearby during a rest stop and later we saw a zebra tail lizard. We saw several cottontail rabbits. We had seen animal droppings that were orange with black seeds that we thought were compatible with coyote. When we found ripe wildrose hips and ate a few we had found what the coyotes were eating.

As we turned onto the ridge that leads to Ramparts Canyon we found a rusted smoke grenade canister, a reminder that we were close to the Fallon Naval Target Range. We worked out way down a steep ridge to Ramparts Canyon. There was no water in places it had been on previous trips. The first water we found was a short distance above the falls with several pools big enough to allow collecting water with a cup. We crossed over the steep ridge on a loose rock surface that is the best way found so far to get around this waterfall. There were 7 or 8 soda straw size streams of water falling from moss at the bottom of the falls.

We found a good place to camp in Ramparts Wash for our fourth night. Pov was distressed to find a tick attached behind her knee. It was not embedded. Bill’s Tweezers made short work of removing the tick intact. Pov then delighted in terminating the tick. Nearby we saw deer hoof prints in the mud from the recent rain.

We decided from our experience on the second day that this trip was not just strenuous or even extreme but it would have to be listed as arduous. As we drove out of Dixie Valley a pair of attack helicopter gun ships with side doors open came toward us then circling around us. We were relieved that we did not hear the Ride of the Valkyries at full volume as we turned onto the highway for home.