After taking a drive east across Nevada on Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest in America”, we arrived at Great Basin National Park. This park is billed as an “island oasis” in an sea of sagebrush. Having crossed most of what is know as the Great Basin on our drive from California across Nevada, we soon understood what that meant. The mountainous park serves as a reprieve for plants and animals where the air is cooler and water is in greater supply. We spent two days exploring this example of an island in a desert sea.
Bristlecone Pine and Glacier Trail
On our first day at the park, we stopped by the visitor center and spoke with the rangers about suggested hikes and current conditions. We then grabbed a campsite at the Upper Lehman Creek Campground and had lunch.
After lunch, we headed up the scenic drive towards Wheeler Peak and upon reaching the end, we parked and hopped on the Bristlecone Pine trail. This hike is 4.6 miles with 1,100 feet of elevation gain. The Bristlecone portion of the trail leads you to a grove of ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees. These trees only exist at elevations between 9,500 and 11,000 feet and have adapted to their harsh environment living to be 2,000 to 3,000 years old! This was yet another unique experience to be walking amongst some of the oldest living organisms on earth.
The trail continues to a glacial area at the base of Wheeler Peak, the only glacier in Nevada. We hiked about a mile past the Bristlecone Grove to a beautiful vista of Wheeler Peak and the glacial cut valley below. Satisfied with the sights, we turned back and headed to the trailhead then drove back to our campsite for the evening.
Wheeler Peak Summit Hike
The focal point of this park is the 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak. Upon seeing there was a trail to the top, I immediately decided we should give it a try and after a little convincing, Ashby was up for the challenge. The summit hike is an 8.6 mile round trip with 2,900 feet of elevation gain. After waking up early so we could secure a parking spot at the trailhead, we ate breakfast, packed our day packs then hit the trail. The initial two miles of the trail were relatively flat and led us through foliage lush with fall color and by an alpine reservoir called Stella Lake.
After the first two miles the real summit climb began as we hiked a long ridge on the north side of the mountain. Because the trail begins at 10,060 feet we were soon out of breath and had to take numerous breaks on our way to the top. The last two miles were comprised of steep loose rock and took us another hour and a half to complete before we reached the summit. After regaining our breath we found a spot overlooking the valley below and ate our lunches then explored the summit for another half hour then began the hike down.
This was the most challenging summit hike we had done to date mostly because of the higher altitude conditions. When we returned to camp for the evening we were tired and our legs sore but also were full of a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
This park was a nice break from the “sea of sage” we crossed to get there. We only explored the Wheeler Peak area this time but hope to return to discover the parks many other wonders including the unique underground world on Lehman Cave. Until next time!
Thanks for reading!