October 5, 2012
Arc Dome Twin Rivers Backpack
Toiyabe Range


This trip was substituted for a Stillwater Mountain Two Waterfall backpack after it was determined that an unusually dry season had lead to low water in the intermittent streams and the two waterfalls there.

On the east side of the Toyabe Mountains and in the Arc Dome Wilderness there are two similar rivers, one from the north and one from the south that have trailheads that are one mile apart. They are North Twin River and South Twin River. Narrow canyons require numerous stream crossings of the North Twin. During a wet season this can be hazardous so this loop hike was a good choice after a dry period.

Nine seasoned Desert Survivor backpackers gathered near the North Twin Trailhead early the first morning following a glowing red sunrise. Our plan was to hike the North Twin River Trail, over Twin River Pass, and return by the South Twin River Trail. A side trip was planned to determine if an old trail to the Toiyabe Crest would be passable.

On the North Twin River Trail there were so many river crossing that we lost count. The water level was low and there were rock steps or small logs providing precarious yet adequate dry crossings.

Fall colors were dramatic. The North Twin River Trail was remarkable for having dense overhead arched passages of dramatic fall colors which varied from shade of green to yellow then to gold as the bright sun filtered through the thick canopies. There were stands of cottonwoods, junipers, and pinyon pines then meadows of grass or sagebrush with wildrose.

We reached our meadow campground by mid-day, had lunch, set up camp and headed out to explore the old trail that follows a canyon north to the crest trail and then goes to Ophir Canyon.

Near the mouth of a major side canyon we found a solidly built log cabin. The roof had been blown away. There were enamelware pots and an intact glass pane window on the floor. “Bills” was carved on the transom above the door.

On the opposite wall of the side canyon there was a large mine tunnel with a wheelbarrow inside near the entrance. A loose keystone at the entrance inhibited exploration. On continuing on our way before losing sight of the log cabin Pov found another mine tunnel that was judged to be stable enough form the group to explore.

We did not have time to reach the crest but went far enough to see that this trail would go through all the way to the crest trail. That night at 8000 feet the temperature fell below freezing in the predawn hours. This was a contrast for most of us since we had left home the day before following a 90º day. From there we went over the Twin Rivers Pass. On the way there were groves of cottonwood, birches, and dense stands of mountain mahogany.

We came to South Twin River where it there were clear rapids flowing over irregular rock suggesting a mountain trout stream. On close observation there were several minnows and a few fingerlings seen. A lovely grassy stream bank was just right for dipping feet in the water and lying back in the sun while nibbling a tasty snack. But then, we needed to find a larger meadow further away from the water for a campsite. Nick Blake volunteered to scout upstream where our topo maps suggested flat open spaces. He found a great place about a half a mile up stream.

We reluctantly left our bucolic picnic streamside bench to set up camp in a large meadow between the river and a large side stream. We were at 8000 feet elevation again and this night was colder than the night before with partially frozen water bottles. We were in a canyon that would have been in shadows for several hours after sunrise so we left camp early to stay warm by moving and allow us to at the trailhead by mid-day. Spirits lifted when we reached sunshine and we could disrobe our cold weather layers.

Alongside the trail there was a derelict and over grown gold ore crushing site with an intact large wooden water wheel, metal gear trains, metal ore buckets on a canvas belt, hoists, remnants of an upstream aqueduct, and the wood floor of a large building. Near the mouth the canyon narrows to become the South Twin River Gorge with towering cliffs, jagged pinnacles, and serrated ridges. The trail bypasses this section by going up the canyon wall to spectacular views of this gorge and then distant views of the Big Smoky Valley and the Toquima Range.

On the walk between trailheads to our cars some were thinking of the drive home while other were planning to go to remote Spencer Hot Springs for a long soak before finding a roadside campsite for a last night out.