MOUNT GRAFTON & WARD MOUNTAIN
Looking along our ridge route with Mt. Grafton being the farthest bump
Eric hiking up the road at the beginning of our long day
Some of the dead trees and dense foliage we had to negotiate
Wheeler Peak and the Snake Range from Grafton
Beautiful wildflowers along the way
Eric completing the one brief class 3 section we did
Magnificent sunrise from our camp below Ward Mountain
Eric setting out for Ward Mountain
Ward Mountain atop the open sage slopes
Meandering through aspen groves
Charcoal Kilns at Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park dating back to the 1870's
Although many have not heard of Mount Grafton or Ward Mountain, Eric and I made a trip up to central Nevada for the sole purpose of summitting these peaks. As you may know, Eric and I are peakbaggers, tirelessly pursuing peaks on various lists. For me, I am interested in visiting the highpoint in each of Nevada'a 17 counties. It turns out that the highpoint of Lincoln county is actually along the ridge to Mt. Grafton about a mile from the summit. While some (Eric) may scoff at a highpoint that is not a peak, it is actually quite interesting, like a treasure hunt. Finding the exact location in this case was not difficult as it was marked with not one, but two cairns. Incidentally, this was my 13th Nevada county highpoint.
Eric's objective was to summit Mt. Grafton as he had attempted it in early June and was turned back by deep snowdrifts on the north slopes of the many sub-peaks crossed on the summit ridge. After driving up Friday night and carcamping along Patterson Pass Road, we awoke to a beautiful day. We made our long day a bit shorter by driving up a side road for a bit over a half a mile before the road got too rocky and muddy.
From there we anticipated about 16 miles roundtrip and about 5000' gain. As it turned both were nearly correct, although with accumulated gain, it was closer to 6000' gain. However, the terrain turned out to be much tougher than we planned. We expected to follow an old road for the first few miles, then have an easy ridge walk over to the summit. as it turned out, once we left the road it was a combination of bushwhacking through dense aspen groves, climbing over deadfall, wading through fields of thistles, and boulder-hopping on somewhat unsteady talus all the way to the summit. There were several times during the day that Eric and I got separated in the dense foliage, and just had a plan to meet at the next saddle along the ridgeline.
After many sub-peaks along ridge, we finally came to the county line and highpoint. From there we climbed one last sub-peak and scrambled/bushwhacked our way up to the top of Mount Grafton at 10,990'. The views were quite spectacular in all directions. We enjoyed the scenery and tried not to think of the long journey back to the car!
We made decent time heading back, but the bushwhacking was quite tiring, and began to feel endless. Boy, were we glad to finally get to the road. We started at 6 am and got back to the car just about 6 pm. We were happy, but exhausted.
We stopped in Ely to gas up and have an excellent dinner at Twin Wok before making the short journey to the trailhead for Ward Mountain, located just a few miles south of Ely. There is a 4WD road going all the way to the summit, but we were unsure how far we would get in my Jeep. Since it was dark by then, we decided to just look for a good spot to camp and drive farther up the road by morning light. We found a great camp spot at 7700' just off the road (and just before the condition of the road got dramatically worse as we found out in the morning).
I slept peacefully in my car, but Eric put up his tent in a pretty stiff wind. I fell asleep to the sound of Eric's tent flapping in the breeze. I vaguely remembered thinking that the wind must have stopped in the night because I didn't hear Eric's tent anymore. I awoke to a beautiful sunrise. I assumed Eric was already up because his tent was flat, with the poles taken out of the supports. I got up and was eating breakfast, when I saw an amazing sight. Eric's tent stood up by itself! Eric had actually taken the poles out himself around midnight so that the tent would not flap and was still sleeping in his deconstructed tent when I woke up!
By 6:00, we were driving up the rapidly deteriorating road. We managed to drive carefully around 2.5 miles up to 9300'. From there, we had a short 5 mile roundtrip with just under 2000' gain. We reached to summit at about 8:00 passing several groups of elk along the way. There was some interesting equipment on the summit which was weighted down by large containers full of rocks on each corner. I guess it gets windy on Ward Mountain (10,936'), although it was a beautiful morning when we were there.
Odd equipment on summit of Ward Mountain
This historical marker was quite informative.
The kilns were very well-preserved and impressive.
We arrived back in Vegas around 4:00, stopping in Caliente for lunch. Nevada is full of countless peaks like Mt. Grafton and Ward Mountain; they go largely unnoticed, but are beautiful peaks on which you rarely see other hikers.
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