Nevada High Points #84: Leviathan Hills

Nevada Hill

8,048 ft (2,453 m) — 950 ft gain

2021.06.14

I have been here before, a couple times. On those two previous walks, I have not been successful in reaching the summit of Nevada Hill. It is not a prominent peak; it is not even the high point of this set of hills – Leviathan Peak across the California border has that honor. And yet, Nevada Hill has been a challenge, and because it is so close to home, practically visible from where I write, although blocked by slopes above StoneHeart, I have been reminded almost every day that I needed to get back to this pinyon-covered hill.

What makes it a challenge? I never wanted to take advantage of the road that leads to communication facilities near the summit, so I had twice tried a western approach from Bryant Creek along the Leviathan Mine Road. The western slopes, however, host dense stands of pinyon woodland with a packed understory of mountain mahogany and serial blowdown and snags from a fire many years ago – a few generations of pinyon have grown up around the blowdown and charred snags. The walk should be relatively short, a couple miles at most, and the summit is not high, but previous tries would end up a mess of crawling under boughs and breaking through branches – I might go a quarter mile in an hour, then have to turn back to hunt for a break in the trees.  Another quarter mile, another hour. Bloody and torn, I would be a few hours in with hardly any progress. With day’s light fading, I eventually turned back, never glimpsing the summit until I was a good distance into the drive home.

Lower slopes of Nevada Hill in a maze of pinyon woodland, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Great Basin Desert, Nevada.

So, flash forward a few years, it is Second Friday and we have family in town for my niece’s high school graduation. Darren and I have been on a good run of Second Friday high points and Nevada Hill is close to home and our guests, so Nevada Hill it is. This time I give in to the road and drive to the communication facilities. It is two miles from this pass between Leviathan Hill (the California side) and Nevada Hill. And yet, to no one’s surprise, as we leave the two-track road that skirts around the buildings to some dispersed campsites, we hit a wall of pinyon. We work through the snags and branches to find opening of low sagebrush and scattered mahogany.

It was easy going when in the clearings and then a rough scramble, and occasional crawl, through dense forest. The paintbrush, penstemon, and wooly mule’s ears are in scattered blooms. It does not take long, and we are soon in a long clearing that leads to a small summit cairn, itself hidden slightly among the pinyon.

Sagebrush, ephedra, and mountain mahogany in the open spaces of the summit, Nevada Hill, Leviathan Hills, Great Basin Desert, Nevada
A lonely snag at cliff’s edge caught my eye, Nevada Hill, Great Basin Desert, Nevada.
Darren on the rounded, simple summit of Nevada Hill, Leviathan Hills, Great Basin Desert, Nevada.

Although the summit is not exciting or rugged – now that we are out of the trees, the views of the Tahoe Sierra, Round Top, Raymond Peak, and, of course, the adjacent Pine Nut Mountains that rise east of my home. So often, the pleasure of the small hills are the views of the neighboring ranges and intervening valleys. Nevada Hill is no exception.

The view southwest from the summit of Nevada Hill, Leviathan HIlls (Zunnamed Range), Nevada.
The view toward StoneHeart in the dissected fans of eastern Carson Valley, Nevada.

We work our way down, having to revisit our bushwhacking though we seem to find a few more open stretches than we did on our ascent. Almost the first of summer and already too warm for mid-morning, but it feels good to have completed this walk. We laughed about the drama of having wanted this summit for so long and having been turned back so many times – no other high point has done this to me. Anyway, it completes the high points of Douglas County and good to have visited the small summit of Nevada Hill. It is a short drive home; no overland exploration this weekend as it is time to celebrate Chloe’s accomplishments and the start of her next adventure.

Keep going.

Note: My high points adventures began in the 1990s when Alvin McLane gave me a copy of his book Silent Cordilleras, where he catalogued Nevada Ranges listing the elevations and naming a few himself. I recently came across David Charlet’s Nevada Mountains, in which he carries Alvin’s torch a bit higher. He focuses on the flora and describes the unique characteristics of each range in the most mountainous state in the lower 49 – easy enough to include Hawaii here. I will revisit Alvin’s and David’s books in the near future. By the way, David calls the Leviathan Hills (my name) the Zunnamed Range, a quirk of his system that might just stick with me.

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