Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Hiking in Great Basin National Park, and driving into Utah

Wheeler Peak

Early morning light on Wheeler Peak I was up before sunrise, quickly packed up my sleeping bag in the back of the car and drove the short distance to Summit Trailhead. It was still cold when I started hiking, so I was glad to have a fleece and gloves (in mid-August!), but of course temperatures would gradually rise to high temperatures throughout the day.

On the first mile of gentle ascent, I was being careful - it had been less than two weeks since I had fallen victim to a strained knee; and I didn't really want to repeat that experience. Still, the lure of the mountain was all too tempting not to try and get to the top of Wheeler Peak (13,063ft), the second-highest mountain in Nevada.

I soon crossed the timber-line, and my biggest problem was constantly having to switch between hiking poles and camera as I switched from hiker to photographer and back. The ascent got steeper and the trail turned from earth to gravel.

Deer on the Wheeler Peak slopes I continued hiking, marvelling at the grand vistas of the surrounding Great Basin. Another hiker caught up with me, and we chatted for a bit. He walked on while I still rested for a minute, and higher up on the trail he alerted me to a handful of deer that were heading down the mountain a short distance away.

By and by, a small pain began to manifest in both knees, and I started debating whether it would get worse or not. I pondered this for a while, and finally concluded that it was probably better to turn back before the pain grew worse. I turned around at roughly 12,181 feet; after almost 2000 feet of ascent and with only about 900 vertical feet to go.

Close-up shot of my Garmin eTrex just before turning around on an unsuccessful peak attempt Turning around would soon prove to have been the smartest decision (although one could argue that I shouldn't even have attempted the hike, in the first place), because the pain in my knees grew stronger with every step. Even though I had walking poles and decent shoes, every step down-hill brought a new flash of pain; and quite obviously on 2000 feet of descent there's a lot of those.

I still opted for the very quick detour to Stella Lake (by which time the memory card in my camera filled up, too), and the last part of the hike back to the trail head became very frustrating and painful.

To add insult to injury, by the time I reached the car I was struck with a massive headache. I'm not sure if the reason was a lack of sleep, altitude sickness, or whether I hadn't been drinking enough. Either way, I figured the smartest I could do was to drink more, and to lose altitude.

Into Utah

With a pounding headache that just wouldn't go away, there was little I could do with the remainder of the day. I could have stayed around Great Basin National Park (which had been my initial plan) but I reckoned that the air-conditioned environment of my Blazer would be better than in the sweltering heat of a hot August afternoon

So I decided that I would drive South-East, into Utah. SR 21 was a monotonous drive, and was irritating because long stretches had low "construction zone" speed limits even though I couldn't see any construction for the longest time. When I finally did, it was in the shape of a red traffic light and a short line of cars; which left me stuck for what seemed like hours (and probably was around twenty minutes).

And still, my headache was pounding and the cool air coming out of the vents was a big relief.

I finally ended up in Beaver, a small town along Interstate 15. I foolishly thought a late lunch would cure the headache, but it only made matters worse. In the end, the solution was as simple as getting a room, closing the blinds, and taking a long, relaxing bath.

Too bad I couldn't find much to do in Beaver with what remained of the sunlight after that...

Written 18th December 2004 in Luxembourg.

Miles driven: 140mi (225km)

Motel/Hotel Accommodation: Best Western Butch Cassidy Inn (Beaver, NV): $62.70