Boundary Peak in Tennis Shoes

27 Jun 1998 - by Tony Cruz

Boundary Peak is the northernmost large mountain in the White Mountain chain. The summit, the highest in Nevada, lies less than a half mile from the California border. On June 26, Greg Johnson and I drove over the still very snowy Sonora Pass, over to Highway 395. We traveled around Mono Lake on a beautiful early evening, taking Highway 120 to Highway 6 (it was good to see how healthy Mono Lake looks; it's getting bigger every year now as more of the spring run off is allowed to flow into it). Alternatively one can take 395 to Bishop and Highway 6 east, but that is a longer drive.

About 2 miles east of the town of Benton we reached dirt road called Queen Canyon Road on the right side of Highway 6. Although it is unmarked, this road is easy to spot because it is directly opposite the abandoned "Jamie's Ranch," which was formerly a brothel. Six miles up this rugged road we parked Greg's truck on a flat area next to a ghost mine and tailings at about 9,000 feet elevation. We had an hour of daylight left, so we hiked up a dirt road (suitable for four wheel drives) to Queen Saddle, which is about 9,500 feet. I had left my boots in my van (!) so I had to use my Nike cross trainers. We continued southwest along a broad ridge up a few hundred more feet and bivouaced under a bristlecone pine.

About 6 a.m. the next morning we set off, first traversing the sandy ridge south into Trail Canyon. We traveled slowly over loose dirt and rocks and around the sage brush and other plants. Soon we got our first glimpse of Boundary Peak, which is much steeper and more impressive than I expected. It had an unusually large amount of snow due to El Nino. At about 9 a.m. we reached a stream and a mushy meadow at the bottom of the canyon, where we encountered two other hikers on a narrow trail. Both hikers were originally from Texas. One of them was nearly finished climbing the high spot in every state in the Union, which explained why he was so far from home. He informed us that he had left his rental car about a quarter mile down the trail. I was upset that I had not used their route, because it would have saved us several hours, giving us the opportunity to climb Montgomery Peak.

We hiked the long canyon southwest for a couple of easy miles to the base of the mountains. The drainage curved up and to the left. We scrambled up toward the Trail Canyon Saddle on steep terrain covered with loose rocks, dirt and sand. Just before the saddle, Greg cut south across a patch of snow. He had a sturdy set of boots and kicked some nice steps, for which I was grateful. We continued over some rocks to the ridgecrest. The cloudless view was magnificent. A good part of Nevada lay at our feet. The eastern crest of the Sierra Nevada lay to the west. The enormous, snowy 45 degree face of Boundary/Montgomery, dropped 6,300 feet to the floor of the Queen Valley, less than 4 miles to the east.

Continuing with our ice axes on the narrow ridge, we walked past a gendarme and to a false summit, alternating between snow and rock. We followed footprints and moved past the remnants of cornices. The last hundred fifty feet or so were covered with deep snow. It was about 5 p.m when we finally reached the 13,143 foot summit. We couldn't find a register even though the highest spot on the small summit was free of snow. Conditions were clear and warm. White Mountain was visible several miles south of us and less a mile away the ridge crested again at Montgomery Peak. The route to Montgomery was definitely more rugged than what we had encountered so far that day; so maybe it was best that I didn't try it in my tennis.

We glissaded at least 1,500 feet back down to the canyon bottom. I had read a report in a guidebook in which a couple of climbers glissaded down the same slope on scree. The long glissade saved us a good hour-and-a-half of down climbing, but it was nearly dark by the time we returned to the mushy meadow. I cursed myself again for not having taken the route used by the Texans, which would have allowed us to get back to the truck before nightfall. We decided to use a slightly different route back, going further east to avoid the exhausting traverse we had done that morning.

It was night before we reached our bivouac site and we decided that rather than scramble around in the dark, we should stop and do an emergency bivy. I had less clothing than Greg, but I had an emergency tube tent and he didn't. Fortunately the night was mild and mostly windless. I managed to get a good night's sleep without getting up. Greg got up a few times to get his circulation going.

The next morning we were off at 6 a.m. and walked by two wild horses. We slowly made our way to the bristlecone pine where we collected our sleeping bags and some other equipment. Fortunately there were snow patches from which we could steal some moisture; I have rarely been so thirsty and the three quarts of water I had started with the previous morning were not nearly enough.

At Queen Saddle we met an older man from Bishop who had driven up to inspect the area for game. He was deciding whether or not to buy an expensive non-resident deer hunting license. We had seen deer tracks but no deer. A half-hour later we were back to the truck.

NOTE:

Contrary to the recommendation in another report in this archive called "Boundary Peak Update" by Dinesh Desai, September, 1992, I would not use the route from the north side (This is the route Greg and I took). This route requires one to either climb a mountain prior to the Trail Canyon Saddle or to do a long steep traverse to the saddle. We started using this northern route but switched to the eastern route, losing several hours in the process.

Instead I would take the shorter and more commonly used east route (taken by the Texans we encountered) via SR 264 and the Trail Canyon Road. I believe that we would have saved at least 6 hours if we had taken the East route. An excerpt I have from a guidebook says to allow 10 to 14 hours round trip using the eastern route to climb Boundary.

Kelly Maas adds:

I went to Boundary and Montgomery on a less snowy Memorial day some years ago. Perhaps the less pleasant memories have faded with time, but here are my comments:

> About 2 miles east of the town of Benton we reached dirt road called
> Queen Canyon Road on the right side of Highway 6.

We took the same approach and parked at the same spot.

> He informed us that he had left his rental car about a quarter
> mile down the trail.  I was upset that I had not used their route,
> because it would have saved us several hours, giving us the
> opportunity to climb Montgomery Peak.

I've heard of an east side approach, but I have no experience with it.

> White Mountain was visible several miles south of us and less a
> mile away the ridge crested again at Montgomery Peak.  The route
> to Montgomery was definitely more rugged than what we had
> encountered so far that day; so maybe it was best that I didn't try
> it in my tennis.

It's class 3. It's fun to stand on the top of Montgomery and look DOWN on the high point of Nevada, so close.

> Contrary to the recommendation in another report in this archive
> called "Boundary Peak Update" by Dinesh Desai, September, 1992,
> I would not use the route from the north side (This is the route Greg
> and I took).

> Instead I would take the shorter and more commonly used east > route (taken by the Texans we encountered) via SR 264 and the > Trail Canyon Road. I believe that we would have saved at least > 6 hours if we had taken the East route.

I haven't tried any approaches other than the one Tony and Greg took, but I was actually quite pleased with it. I recall being very glad that I had read Dinesh's report. I think it's a lot less driving than an east side approach, and it takes you reasonably high. If I went back again, I'd still take the same approach.

We had minimal snow, so I was able to go all the way to Montgomery and back before dark, though it WAS a long day.

I'd certainly recommend these peaks as worthwhile.

Eric and Lori Beck add:

> About 6 a.m. the next morning we set off, first traversing the sandy
> ridge south into Trail Canyon.

Lori and I led this as a San Diego Chapter trip in August 95. We camped at the Queen Canyon Mine and in the morning drove up to Queen Canyon saddle. I (2wd ) had to park at the last switchback, others made it to the saddle. We climbed up the ridge toward the peak, shortly picking up an excellent use trail. We never entered Trail Canyon. The climb of Boundary and Montgomery went expeditiously, with much less snow. We also encountered wild horses on the ridge. This seems definitely superior to the Trail Canyon drive which I now believe is done only by those ignorant of the Queen Canyon approach.

Greg Johnson adds:

Tony and I probably took the most arduous of options by starting from Queens Mine and then dropping into Trail Canyon. In this particular instance the Trail Canyon route was the best option because you could glissade down much of the mountain to an easy walk back to the car. I am not convinced the direct route from Queens Mine is preferable. It seems there might be more elevation change than Trail Canyon since the ridge from Queens Mine drops into a saddle before ascending Boundary Peak.

Tony Cruz responded:

I agree with Greg that I screwed up by starting one route then moving to another. I also agree with him that particularly under snowy conditions, the eastern route is preferable (faster and with less elevation gain) and I believe it is as short or a little shorter than the northern (Queen's mine) approach. I actually did half the Queen's Mine route above Trail Canyon a few weeks ago but retreated when my partner started feeling sick. That's when I decided the Trail Canyon approach was better. Unfortunateley I was told by someone that the trailhead was several miles down the canyon, which is why I decided to return to Queen's Mine rather than start in Trail Canyon. In reality you can drive much further up into the canyon than I thought and you don't need a 4-wheel drive.

I hope to return some day to do Boundary again and Montgomery. I will take the eastern route regardless of the snow conditions. Just my opinion. The climb is good regardless of which route you take. The advantages of the Queen's Mine route are that it is a shorter drive to the trailhead, you see more bristlecone pines and you get the great views of the Sierra much sooner. I am particularly interested in Montgomery, which is definitely not the piece of cake that Boundary is.

Owen Maloy adds:

I've done it both ways and I think it's a push. The trouble with the Queen Canyon route is that heavy snow or lots of water can make the road impassable, but if the road is OK it's very direct. When you go up the ridge you can traverse into the saddle N of Boundary,so you don't lose much vertical. There's a use trail. The local Benton folks do it every 4th of July as a sort of village event.

The Desert Peaks Section used to backpack up Trail Canyon to the spring, drop the packs, and then do the canyon, but it's hardly worth the trouble.

The alternative to doing Trail Canyon itself is to go up the ridge south directly from the cars. This goes OK too, and you don't have to zig-zag through a couple of miles of sagebrush.

Some years ago Doug Mantle of the DPS led Montgomery from Middle Canyon. This side has a lot of mountain mahogany on it, and it you choose the wrong route you will spend the day bushwacking to go a mile or so (been there, done that). But once you get above the trees it's very straightforward.

Tony is right, Mono Lake looks great. Visit the Mono Inn, recently bought and renovated by Sara Adams, Ansel's grandaughter. Visit her Ansel Adams Gallery (she has some really good stuff by Ansel and others). Dinner there looking at the Lake at sunset with Boundary and Montgomery in plain view is quite an experience. Dinner is excellent and costs the same as in other better restaurants over here, $12-$20.


To file a trip report, please fill in the
Report Entry form or contact the webmaster.