Skiing Nevada's Highest: Boundary Peak

8-9 Mar 2003 - by Reiner Stenzel


Boundary Peak is located at the northern end of the White Mountain Range and is Nevada's highest mountain (13,140'). It is a frequently climbed DPS peak but, to my knowledge, a first-time ski ascent for the SMS. Probably for a good reason, since it is a LONG drive, a LONG ascent and a HIGH mountain to climb and ski. We had a large group of strong skiers from all over California. These were Alvin Walter and Mark Vogt from San Diego, Stan Huncilman from Berkeley, Steve Stewart from Orangevale, Ted Lenzie from Folsom, and Angel Ocana, Jim DeRose, Chris Lohman, Jason Rivera, Leslie Hofherr, Lorene Samoska and Mike Seiffert from the LA Area. Our plan was to climb/ski Boundary Pk in a long day hike from the east side via Trail Canyon. The trailhead is reached via an 11 mi long dirt road, starting just south of the junction of Nevada State Roads 773 and 246. Nobody could give us reliable information about the backcountry road and snow conditions. Thus we simply had to try it. We had FRS radios in case we would get stuck or lost on some of the numerous side roads. Following the road by darkness with a GPS was no problem. However, the real problem was that snow started at the 7,000' level, well before the end of the road. The first to arrive was Angel. His 4WD truck floored and needed to be shoveled out. Nobody even made it to the B&B mine (UTM 390066E, 4193902N), about 5 mi from the trailhead. We parked at a flat spot near the road (UTM 390579E, 4193722N) and considered the options: Give up the peak or get up REALLY early. The latter was the choice for 10 of us. We retired in our cars and tents. The short night was calm, clear and cold.

On Sat, 3/8, the alarms went off at 4 am. Had breakfast by flashlight, packed, put the skis on and left under starlight at 4:45am. Owls were howling, otherwise it was dead quiet. There were patches of black ice on the road. Ted took a tumble without problems, and then Jim did, hurt his knee and unfortunately had to return. By 6 am we had daylight and saw the awesome snow-covered White Mtn Range in front of us. We regrouped at the trailhead just prior to the Wilderness boundary, signed in and started the XC route up Trail Canyon. Our first goal was Trail Canyon Saddle (UTM 381637E, 4191372N 10,800'). As we ascended, powder snow gave way to hard wind-packed slabs. A cold breeze greeted us on the Saddle. We took a well-deserved break behind a stand of white bark pines. Then we started our ascent up the steep north ridge of Boundary. The only safe way on skis was to ascend with ski crampons. Those who had none climbed over rocks. After reaching the first high point on the ridge (12,150') one could see the impressive, jagged northern face of Boundary Peak. The gullies were all snow filled but the steep ridge was half rock, half snow. There was no way to ski the ridge. However, the east face had solid snow coverage. This would be the obvious descent route. We dropped into a small saddle where we left the skis (UTM 381569E, 4190153N, 12,100'). It was 11 am and we felt that we had climbed already for 6 hours. The summit was within reach but another 1000' climb over mixed rock and snow. Four of us decided to go for it. At 12:30pm we reached the summit. A cairn stuck out of the snow but no peak register was found. So we left a signed sheet of paper in a plastic bag. Peak fever caught on and eventually six of us were on the summit.

The view was fantastic: The Sierra Nevada to the west, Montgomery, Dubois, Pellisier Flats and THE White Mountain to the south, and numerous snow covered Nevada ranges to the east and north. On the radio we spoke to Lorene, Leslie and Mike who skied powder in Trail Canyon Saddle. We overheard many FRS calls at Mammoth Mtn, about 27mi away per GPS. Ritter, Banner, the Minarets, Dana, Mono Lake were all clearly visible. After taking lots of pictures we headed down, the last one at nearly 2pm. At the 12,100' saddle we recovered our skis and started down our >2000' ski run toward Trail Cyn. The upper half had soft snow and was a real pleasure. Then it turned into breakable crust, which got everyone sooner or later down. This was Jay's terrain and he sliced the crust easily with his snowboard. Eventually we all made it down to the trailhead where the road starts. We cruised down in our tracks, which was much faster than on the way up. Occasionally we lost the snow coverage, had to take the skis off and walk through red soft muck which soon covered boots and bindings. Needless to say, all on foot, this trip would have been impossible to do. By 5pm we were back in camp after a 12 hr, 20mi, 6,000' day. Now it was happy hour around a campfire. There were appetizers, red wine, fresh salad, all followed by a wonderful beef stew dinner prepared by Leslie in a Dutch oven. The warm fire kept us talking for a long time. Stars and moon were exceptionally bright. A bird kept singing till late into the night.

On Sun we slept in and got up after the sun was out. The clear weather had changed and half the sky was red at sunrise. Once more we fired up the Dutch oven and prepared a breakfast with fried potatoes, onions, tomatoes, bacon and eggs. With that base everyone was ready for the long drive home. Since we had come in via Bishop and Hwy 6, we returned via Hwy 168 over Westgard Pass, thereby circumnavigating the White Mtns. On the way we saw Nevada's famous wild horses, a herd of elks in Owens Valley, many wild flowers, and the earlier-skied Telescope Peak reflecting in the half-flooded Owens Lake. It was another fine day. Skiing Boundary Peak was a real adventure. The distances are vast, the terrain unspoiled, no humans around, it was a true wilderness experience. Our group was strong, experienced and fun to be with. Thanks to Leslie for all the good food, Jim for the good wine, and special thanks to Alvin for his lead assistance with this trip.

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