Summiting the Great Basin

Wheeler peak at Great Basin National Park

At 13,065 feet above sea level, Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park is the tallest independent mountain in Nevada (Boundary Peak is taller, but that peak is a sub peak of a California Mountain). The most common route to the summit of Wheeler Peak is via the aptly named “Wheeler Peak Summit Trail“.

To reach the summit, you’ll start by hiking through a unique forest before arriving in a beautiful meadow above the treeline. The summit can be seen from the meadow, but don’t be fooled, you’ve still got a ways to go. Continuing on, the meadow eventually gives way to to a rocky path, which switchbacks up to the summit. If you go mid-June, as I did, leave your ice axe at home and grab your trekking poles, because there’s a good chance the trail will be free of snow and ice (check trail conditions before your trip). From the trailhead, you’ll hike about four and a half miles and gain nearly 3,000 feet on your way to the summit.

On the summit you’ll find a mailbox cache, which, in addition to a trail register, contains a touching photo that a pair of brothers left in memory of their dad. Write your name in the register, wipe away the tears and take in the view, you’ve arrived at the summit of the Great Basin!

Moderator’s Note:

Wheeler Peak Summit Trail is 8.4 miles round-trip with nearly 3,000 ft of elevation gain.  This hike should be started very early in the day because of the risk of afternoon storms.  Along most of the route, the trail follows the ridge up to the Wheeler Peak summit. It is easiest to begin the hike from the Summit Trail parking area.

Known as “Pe-up” by the Native Utes and called “Too-Bur-Rit” by local Shoshone, this great peak was originally named “Williams Peak” by Ezra Williams, a Mormon settler, in 1855.  When the US Army Corps of Engineers came through that same year it was officially named “Jeff David Peak” and held that name despite an attempt to rename the peak in 1859.  In the Summer of 1869 another survey team lead by 27-year-old lieutenant named George Montague Wheeler summitted the peak and renamed it “Wheeler Peak” in their report.  To reach his namesake peak, George Wheeler began near Shoshone Ponds in Spring Valley and climbed 7,000 feet over difficult and sometimes dangerous terrain.

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