Arc Dome Wilderness Backpack
September 12, 2011


On this trip we went to Benton Hot Springs near the Nevada boarder southeast of Mono Lake for a Desert Survivors annual meeting. Since we were going to be halfway 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. Very unusual 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 lighting 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 the first rain there 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 where we drove 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'. The well-established trails would have required more time. A possible alternative was to try two trails that appeared on some but not all maps that go between the Crest Trail and the valleys to the east.

The forecast was for chance of rain and lighting in the mountains. We were ready to retreat from any ridge if serious clouds developed. The first night we stayed at Columbine Campground with light rain falling. 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', and then along the Crest to the trail that goes 1000' feet up Arc Dome. We did not have time for that peak 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, perhaps 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 stating to fill the sky. We missed the junction to the trail back to the Crest during an intense discussion on ethics resulting 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 a bit off of our expected route. We went back a short way to where the trail was supposed to be and found no trail but easy open terrain for the middle third of the route then steep thick Aspen forest. This last section was slow going requiring several more hours that expected. We expect that there could be an easier way.

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

On our way home we had a gas adventure. We had filled the tank in Bishop, the last gas before Benton, then planned to refill at the next station in one of the several towns over the 130 miles to the trailhead. It turns out the towns were derelict and there were no gas stations on our route. So, at 4:00 PM, on starting back, we had 90 miles of gas and 120 miles to Fallon, the next big town on the direct route home. There were two small communities that might have gas on the way but they would likely to be closed for the day. Our best option was to go out of our way and take a good dirt road 54 miles to Austin, a town that would have an open gas station. On our way, just outside the campground we saw two big horse trailers, a pickup truck, two packhorses, a wrangler and two hunters. They were doing pre-season surveillance. One was an ER doctor from Reno and the other an EMT. We asked if they knew the nearest gas station that would be open late. After some discussion along the lines of "your a doc, I'm a doc; your an EMT, I'm a WFR..." the doctor went over to his truck, pulled out a 5 gallon jerry can and put the fuel in my gas tank while refusing payment repeatedly. Our gas needs were solved. We could get the Bishop for gas and from there home.