6617 ft (2017 m) – 2205 gain
It’s hot. The sky is clear, and a parched blue horizon rests abruptly on the dusty brown of the Nevada desert. It is August, of course, when desert landscape photography is a challenge. It’s difficult to think about photography or exploring another high point when the heat is so seemingly relentless. It also seemed I could not escape from work today, so my departure moved later and later, and I considered turning around for home even as I approached my turn-off along the southern margin of the Black Rock Desert playa. I cannot, however, let the noise of the day-to-day get so overbearing that I can’t find rest in the wild. I turn south toward Bluewing Playa and begin to feel better – putting the scurrying activity of the pre-Burning Man busy-ness at Gerlach behind me and going into the quiet lonesome of Bluewing, a metaphor for the seemingly hectic week that was. I won’t see another vehicle until I reach the highway tomorrow afternoon.
I roll through beach lines of pluvial Lake Lahontan and drop into Kumiva Valley where sandy pediments and alluvial fans extend in a broad flat to the playa below Black Mountain, the high point of the Bluewing Mountains. If this basin held a pluvial lake it only filled a shallow pan before overflowing to Granite Springs Valley to the east. I need to spend some more time here when the days are not so hot.
A dusty plume follows until I turn slowly onto a bare two-track that leads to the southern margin of Bluewing Playa. There are a few puddles, surprisingly, but I remember that we had some productive monsoonal storms a few days ago and they clearly tracked across this valley. Feral donkeys stare as I pass slowly by. The playa is dry, and I set camp near the base of Black Mountain, letting the heat seep into every movement; I look toward evening for cooling respite.
Black Mountain rises abruptly, reaching 2000 feet of prominence above the basin floor. Sitting in the shade of the camp-trailer I plot a steep route to the summit, mapping a sloping descent off the backside of the mountain. I’ll leave in the pre-dawn and hopefully beat the sun at the beginning of yet another scorching August day. Night falls and there is some relief, the southerly breeze stays warm but at least there is movement. I wait in perfect quiet as the moon rises, racing its own shadow along a band of light and dark that moves west to east across the playa. When it arrives at camp, the moon practically jumps above the horizon. Sleep comes surprisingly easy as I listen to the desert silence, the quiet only broken by the rare breying of a donkey far off in the valley – maybe they trail to the remnant pool of monsoon runoff on the playa’s northern margin.
I am awake in the darkness of early morning, brewing coffee and preparing a quick breakfast to fuel the walk. It is cross-country from the playa edge, crossing a set of silt dunes before ascending a gently sloping alluvial fan that emanates from a canyon below the steep southern backslope of Black Mountain. I don’t need my headlamp because the moon lights the way and there is little to impede forward progress on the sparsely vegetated fan. A bat flits randomly in front of me and disappears. I turn into the mountain’s rise as get due south of the summit. I worry briefly that I might encounter scree-sheets of colluvial talus that could impede upward movement, but the talus cones are inter-locked nicely and the clasts provide relatively easy steps. Hands are required occasionally but upward momentum is good, and I climb quickly. The views are splendid even if the clear skies show neither depth nor drama.
I move from outcrop to outcrop, skirting scree and talus where I can. Preparing for the coming heat, I reward myself with a good drink of water with each outcrop. I can almost walk steady as the upper slopes begin to lay back, so I work in little switchback to reach the northwestern ridge to look over the full extent of the playa, my camp a small speck on the playa edge. I break over the summit to meet the sun with a vast panorama of hills and valleys. I can see far south toward the Virginia Range above Reno, into the eastern distance beyond the Trinity and Humboldt Ranges, and Granite Peak towers in the north – I’ve attempted Granite Peak previously only to be snowed out, its summit pulls at me once again.
The walk off the east side is gradual and an easy pleasure. I am soon back in the south-side canyon that feeds the fan above my little camp. I have timed the excursion well; the morning is still relatively cool as I return to camp and begin preparations to roll out. It is a short outing, though I will have some time to gouge around the playa margins and explore the overland tracks eastward into Granite Springs Valley. I want to retrace a route to Highway 80 via Ragged Top and Toulon. There are several additional high points to explore in ranges of the ‘Bluewing Triangle’, that vast space between the Black Rock, the Humboldt River, and the Pyramid Lake highway. It’s a lonely, desolate space, precisely why it is such a pleasure to experience. The triangle remains.
Please respect the natural and cultural resources of our public lands.