Date and Location:
December 15th, 2018.
Southern Snake Range -West Shoulder of Mt. Washington
Snow and conditions:
Snow starting around 6500 ft. on north-ish facing aspects only. Snow depth of around 6-8 inches down low, and 1-2 feet at higher elevations. Depth did not increase dramatically with elevation, suggesting that most of the snow was accumulated in one or two cold storms. Cover was thin, and the snow was generally soft. Temps were moderately warm, but low sun angle was keeping the snow in good condition.
Substantial faceting, and feathery snow could be found at most elevations, especially in wind sheltered areas and trees.
The Snake Range is arguably one of Nevada’s two greatest mountain ranges. Depending on your opinion, the range could either be considered Rubies light -or Rubies grande. The area is home to Great Basin National Park, the massive 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak, and a number of other extremely worthwhile peaks and fantastic wilderness. In general, the entire range is spectacular, but often gets overshadowed by comparison to Wheeler Peak.
I was coming to the end of a spectacular field season, wandering eastern Nevada looking for LWCs (parcels of land that have Wilderness Characteristics). One of the parcels I’d been tasked with examining was the western side of the Snake Range (not currently wilderness or protected lands), which is also contiguous with Great Basin National Park. As a treat for my last day of field work, I decided to check out this amazing part of Nevada -and hopefully go skiing in the process!
The impressive Mount Washington and access road.
Snake Range From the Southwest. Wheeler Peak to the left, Mt Washington and Lincoln Peak on right
I was hoping to find good skiing, but as I drove closer to the range the snow cover began to look thinner that I had hoped. Plan A had been a sweet looking canyon that’s North of Mt Washington, but it’s potential access road ended at a low elevation, and the surrounding hillsides looked bare from a distance. Time for plan B…just keep working and not worry about skiing.
To evaluate land use and wilderness character in the region, I knew I should check out a series of mines and roads on the side of Mt. Washington. How established were those roads, what were the impacts of that mining, how torn apart was the area -or was all that just hidden and covered over by brush in a dense forest? These are the types of questions you ask when performing a wilderness inventory. And so I set out to answer them, turning off from the main road onto the Wheeler Peak Mine Road.
As I gained elevation, the road gained snow. It was well established, and there were several sets of tracks -which helped and encouraged by upward progress. After a few switchbacks and much fishtailing, I arrived at Mount Wheeler Mine ~7800 ft above sea level. An eerie spot with multiple buildings, and an open tunnel that was releasing quite the stream of water onto the nearby hillslope.
Old Buildings at Mount Wheeler Mine
I knew the road kept going -almost to the summit of Mt. Washington. Several parcels of mine land exist there, high atop the crest of the Snake Range at 11,000 ft. Interestingly, those parcels were recently bought by a group who want to place a clock in the Nevada desert. A clock that will keep time for the next 10,000 years. But that’s the topic of another story…
The road kept going, but the tire tracks did not. I knew it switch-backed up the north facing side of the ridge, and was likely to be holding as much snow as anywhere. And so I decided that skins might be the best way to explore it further. Why not go skiing afterall?!
Some of the good skiing near Mount Wheeler Mine. This will be a great spot mid-season.
I cruised up the road, which was coated in about a foot of snow. Conditions held all the way to the top of the ridge, where I was greeted by fantastic views of the Snake Range. Huge limestone cliffs dominating the area, and lots of ski lines that needed more snow to go. Or might never go, as they ended in huge closeout cliffs. On Mt Washington, the forested ridge that the road climbed seemed to be the only access. It too was surrounded by huge cliffs in addition to the possibility of some nearby tree skiing.
I opted to go a little further, enjoying the scenery and emptiness of having the range to myself. I kept my eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, and saw many tracks. Eventually I decided to turn around at the west boundary of Great Basin National Park, transitioning underneath the canopy of a gnarled old bristlecone pine.
Cliffs and pines
The view to the south and Highland Ridge. Needs a little more snow, and watch out for cliffs!
I’ve often thought of road skiing, or skiing your skintrack, to be somewhat lame. I don’t know why I have such a bias against it, but this time there was no other option. And the road actually turned out to be pretty fun, shattering any preconceived notions I may have had! It was steep enough to maintain speed, but smooth enough to not be rocky with the low-tide conditions. It also had several sections of tight switchbacks in a row, which skied almost like turning down an actual slope. Pretty decent for a road. By the end I was all smiles!
Even found some dad-turns next to the road!
In a part of the state that often has difficult access, I think this zone is a gem. The road provides good access, and with more snow there would be a plethora of good tree skiing and storm-riding options. The upper reaches of Mt Washington also provide access to the south, including lines off Highland Ridge and Mt Lincoln. And the north face of Mt Washington itself is a big mountain heaven -a huge steep face with loads of serious potential.
I know I will be back. But for now…we must wait for more snow.
Wheeler Peak and the range.
Good north facing zones off Mount Washington and up Williams Canyon
Lincoln Peak and Highland Ridge. Just needs a little more snow.
Bristlecone at the ridge
West face of Mount Washington
Sagebrush to be shredded!