Johnson: Making our way through Wheeler Peak
I thought, “Nobody likes a quitter,” when Mark told me he was quitting. I yelled into his face, “You can do this,” knowing we only had a quarter of a mile to go to reach the summit. Sure the winds were howling and visibility was zero, but when the goin’ gets tough, the tough get going’, right? Mark was ill-equipped for the hike.
He had no wind protection. In an alpine setting you NEVER hike without wind protection. The hike was short, only 4 miles one way with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. I gave Mark my wind parka and an extra stocking cap. He put them on but he would not continue. Nothing I could say or do was going to change his mind. I pressed on without him.
Arriving at the trailhead after driving all night, I was a little disoriented. I surveyed the surroundings. Another vehicle pulled up and outstepped Mark. He was an anesthesiologist from Reno. He had come to the trailhead the day before to scope it out and met some people coming off the summit. So, he knew his way around and though I had just met him, I said “Yes,” when he asked if he could hike with me. He looked to be about 10 years younger than I, so I hoped he was up for the challenge.
Wheeler Peak, Nevada, is not the state’s high point. That distinction belongs to Boundary Peak, on the other side of the state. Boundary Peak is about 100 yards inside the Nevada/California state line and is 75 feet higher than Wheeler Peak. Although the distinction of being the State’s high point belongs to Boundary Peak, as a summit it is not very distinctive. It is more like a ridge. Wheeler Peak is lofty and rises out of the Great Basin Desert as a classic Sky Island.
In planning for this hike, I thought it would be reminiscent of hiking Mt. Charleston (near Las Vegas), which I had done at the same time of year, one year earlier. However, the differences were like night and day.
The weather on Wheeler was bad, primarily due to high winds and low clouds. As I approached the summit, visibility was still zero. I had to rely on my GPS unit to tell me that I was on top. I did not poke around to make sure since there is a drop off of several hundred feet on three sides of the summit. Since I couldn’t see anything, I took a selfie and made a hasty retreat.
The weather improved briefly as I descended. Returning to the trailhead, I expected to find my jacket left in the back of my truck, hoping that Mark had made it down OK. Instead, I found Mark waiting for me. He wanted to make sure I got back OK. I appreciated that. I don’t know if he made another effort to reach the summit.
I can’t begin to count the number of hikes where I too quit. Those are the primary regrets I have in life.
Like this hike, sometimes I pressed on. Like Mark, sometimes I quit. I am glad I did not quit this time. It was worth it. What’s that saying? Discretion is the better part of valor. What about? When the goin’ gets tough, the tough get goin’. You decide.
Next: Hiking Cross Mountain, Colorado, beyond 11,000 feet.
Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.