09/12-14/2011  White Mountain / Arc Dome 

    On this trip we went to Benton Hot Springs near the Nevada border southeast of Mono Lake for a Desert Survivors' annual meeting. Since we were going to be half way to central Nevada we decided to continue east after the meeting for a 2 to 3 day backpack. Then we decided we might as well go a day early and take the long hike up White Mountain Peak, the third highest in California at 14,252' and the easiest fourteener to ascend. Stormy weather was predicted. After seeing the clouds building early we decided not to chance lighting on the high bare ridge to White Mountain Peak but to do Bristle Cone Forest hikes instead. There was rain and lightning in the area for the two days we were there. We were in a heavy rain for the last hour on our hike. The ranger later told us that this was their first rain since June. From him we learned that Bristle Cone Pines have four cones, a tiny pollen cone and three stages of seed cones. Also the ancient trees are found on dry and weather exposed ridges. Watered and sheltered Bristle Cones grow fast and die young.
    For the backpack trip we went to Arc Dome Wilderness in the Toiyabe National Forest about 150 miles southeast of Reno and 100 miles northeast of Benton. Our first challenge was to find our way through a labyrinth of dirt roads from the highway to the trailhead. This went well because there were reasonable signs at numerous junctions except for one on Indian land that we missed which caused us to drive into an Indian compound where we were greeted buy several scruffy barking dogs. After a quick retreat we found the right road.

    The objective on this trip was to explore the area on a two night out circumnavigation of Arc Dome at 11,7773'. We needed a shorter route than the well-established trails. A possible alternative was to try trails that go between the Crest Trail and the valleys to the east that appeared on some but not all maps.
The forecast was for chance of rain and lighting in the mountains. We were ready to retreat from ridges if serious clouds developed. We stayed at Columbine Campground with light rain falling the first night. We were the only people there. We started our hike up an old jeep road that lead through Aspen forests to Toiyabe Crest, above 10,000'. Part of this trail reminded us to repeat the steep, high altitude mantra "polepole kama kinyonga." *

    We went along the Crest to where we could see most of the trail that goes 1000' feet from there to the peak of Arc Dome. We passed on the opportunity this time. From there we went down to South River over a little-used trail through sparse woods of limber pine, groves of aspen and small stands of old mountain mahogany. This trail splintered into multiple animal trails, then became an easy cross-country route. We saw two different northern harriers, my favorite raptor. 
    We camped the first night out beside the South Twin River. There was light rain in the evening and that night was cooler than expected. Our wet tarps were coated with thin frost in the morning. We proceeded on the trail along the river. We found a modern steel cage containing an old post that looked as if it could have been cut across with a stone ax. Nearby was another post that was notched more that half way at about the same level as the caged post. This cut was made with a sharp ax. My guess is that the cage protects an archaeological structure remnant.
    We then went over a low pass named North Twin Summit and down to North Twin River. There was clear, vigorously flowing water in both rivers. We were watching cumulous clouds with dark bottoms starting to fill the sky. We missed the junction to the trail back to the Crest during an intense discussion on medical ethics. This resulted in a brief unscheduled side-trip where there were multiple make-shift log crossings of this small river. On returning to the missed junction we found a very good trail. This trail lead to a well established hunters’ camp at the end of a short spur not on our map routs. The trail did not continue past the camp. From there we found no trail at all through easy open terrain for the middle third of the route. We then continued most of the rest of the way through a steep thick aspen forest with brush, taking about twice the expected time. In this tilted aspen forest we found Basque tree graffiti. One old carving clearly read "Jean Pierre Corrine 1948" in big bold script covering half the circumference of the tree. We found no clearings, trails or artifacts near there.

    As we came to the steepest section of the route near the Crest we walked into a well-established campsite that had multiple individual sleeping sites built in among large rocks and trees on small terraces set into a steep slope. From there a good trail zigzagged up a steep section to the Crest Trail. After a short walk we found the trail that would lead to our campsite. As we started down this trail we were greeted by a pair of frenetic Mountain Blue Birds that landed in a small tree for a few seconds. We saw a red, black and white woodpecker several times. It was probably a red-naped sapsucker. We saw multiple yellow and black winged grasshoppers. The lower more level end of this trail led us through a dense aspen forest with many large old trees, some with Basque graffiti.

    There were two auto adventures: gas and air. We had not seen an open gas station since Bishop and knew we were going to have to go out of our way to Austin. Just outside the Campground we stopped to ask three hunters doing pre-season surveillance if Austin was our only option. Without hesitation they put 5 gallons of gas in my tank. A very slow air leak in a tire was fortunately resolved by finding a functioning air pump in Fallon which got us home.

* Slowly, like a chameleon: Swahili wisdom for walking up Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

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