6005 ft (1830 m) — 1438 ft gain
I have been turned away twice from Sawtooth Mountain, the high point of the Bullfrog Hills near Beatty, Nevada. Dressed in a crown of radio towers, the Bullfrogs do not seem a formidable obstacle; there is even a road heading up their western side. They are, however, a bit of a puzzle.
My first try occurred in 2014 while I was in Beatty for a project on the Nevada Test Range, mapping a set of archaeological sites on the fans below Black Mountain. Trail running was my focus at the time, longer trail runs having diverted my attention from high points, and my run on that evening took me to the west side of the Bullfrogs. I followed the dirt road to the radio towers; elevation gain still a common goal of any outing. I had already decided, however, that I would run to the high point, my attention to summits remained unflagging. I found a ragged, rocky summit ridge with steep clefts and cracks carving the granitic block into the sawtooth of its name. As it grew dark, I tried to find a break in the cliffs. I could not, however, find a way to the top without some serious exposure, not something I would risk on a solo outing.
McLane only mentions one ‘Class 5’ summit in his review of ranges. Indeed, until now I could confirm that – I have been to the base of that summit block at Jumbo Peak in far southern Nevada, where the solo risk also turned me away, but he did not mention anything difficult about the Bullfrog Hills. I returned for a second try the following evening, but again the late-season darkness prevented me from a complete circle of the summit ridge. I did not make the top. Fooled again.
So here I was, eight years later for another try. Darren was with me, and we a few pieces of climbing gear just in case. I reviewed my memory of previous visits as we walked the road to the towers – not a compelling approach, but I had been here a few times, of course; the pleasant feeling of exploration was lost. I retraced my past steps below the summit outcrop, introducing Darren to the puzzle. Deciding it best to make a complete circle of the outcrops before taking out any gear, we stashed our packs and set out in opposite directions.
The cliffs rise from steep colluvial slopes with stone stripes and talus cones. Interesting alcoves undercut the outcrops and leaning boulders harbor sandy gardens of desert plants. Moving further east and north along the ridge than I had previously, I tried a few benches that followed seams and breaks in the bedrock. Each one terminated in an interesting but overly steep crack or overhang. Was it really this difficult? My technical rock-climbing days are long behind me, and I was not sure I really wanted to give that a go. And I had not seen Darren in a while.
I finally found a faint but safe ledge that led to the northern base of the summit ridge. The views were great in all directions. I could see easy slopes below me but nothing breaking the wall above me from where I now stood. As I turned back, I saw I could take two high steps to access a narrow ledge and, with a couple other moderate steps, I was walking an easy ramp with nice exposure to the summit – not difficult at all, just needed to find the key.
Darren was still working his way along the western cliffs, after following me on a couple dead ends on the east side. I eventually pointed him to the ‘hidden’ ramp at the north end, and we finally met on top. We had an agreeable laugh with a note in the register that read, “Finally found the easy way up.”
I have been thinking about persistence. Good work and creativity take practice, discipline, and determined patience. These, for me, are often hard to come by. But maybe I can take something from continuing my efforts in the Bullfrog Hills. Sawtooth Mountain, their high point, is not an epic pursuit, though it has good prominence over the arid headwaters of the Amargosa River. While relatively easy in the end, it was my persistence – and renewed passion for walking among the Nevada ranges – that finally led to success.