Wheeler Peak

1 Sep 2003 - by George Sinclair

Last week I did a trip into the Sweetwater Mountains located north of Bridgeport and east of Hwy 395. Since I haven't seen many, if any reports on this area, I thought my report may be of interest. Although technically not in the Sierra, a number of the higher peaks in the Sweewaters are described in Pete Yamagata's Northern Sierra Peaks Guide. Armed with both Tony Huegel's book Sierra Nevada Byways, and the Yamagata book, I decided to attempt Wheeler Peak - the second highest in the range - from a dirt road west of the Sweetwater Ranch on Hwy 338 in Nevada. Yamagata's book describes an approach from the Burcham Flat Road off of Hwy 395. However, the Sweetwater Ranch approach had the added attraction of going near some old mining towns. From Sweetwater Ranch a dirt road heads west into the mountains. At first the road is fine, but after a couple of miles, and once the road passes into California things begin to change. The road quickly becomes narrow, rocky, and very steep. I am driving a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, but the absence of a good low range gear makes uphill progress difficult. Eventually I give up after about 6 miles and park near the site of Star City. After about an hour of hiking along the road - which is very steep in places - I eventually reach the abandoned mining town of Belfort. Unlike Star City, there are actually a few buildings here. Belfort is at about 10,000-feet, and Wheeler Peak is just behind the town. After about another mile along the road I decide to head directly for the mountain. Working my way up over some steep talus I reach the summit about three hours after I had left my car. Unfortunately, an approaching thunderstorm prevented me from spending any time looking for a summit register or taking any summit photos. Once I had gotten about 1,000 feet down the mountain the thunder and lightning had started. However, in another hour I was back at my car. For those interested in doing the mountain from this side, I would recommend a sturdy 4-wheel drive vehicle with a solid low range gear. With the right vehicle one should be able to drive all the way to Belfort at 10,000-feet. Road directions: Take Hwy 182 east out of Bridgeport to Hwy 338 in Nevada. About 5 miles into Nevada look for the Sweetwater Ranch and Atchison Road. Follow this road west and eventually work south onto Road 198. After about 2 miles from the highway turn right after passing through a cattle guard. About three more miles turn right again. In another mile you should reach the site of Star City, and another two miles after that Belfort. There are good areas to park and turnaround at Belfort.

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