Somewhere Between Avocado Toast And Pizza: Backpacking The Toiyabe And Toquima Mountain Ranges In Nevada
Words and Photos by Scott Nechemias
In early June, I found myself putting an ice ax on my pack in 87-degree heat. It actually got hot to the touch just in the time I took my pack out of my car and made my final few minutes of preparation before starting my hike. An interesting week was about to commence.
"If I had to tell someone where I am, how far away would the landmark have to be to register for them?" I wondered in my head. Working backward, I'm 50 miles south of Austin, Nevada, or 200 miles south of Winnemucca. Maybe it's better to say I'm 250 miles east of Reno or a long way from the nearest piece of avocado toast and oat milk latte. I'm in basin and range country, a part of it I hadn't yet had a chance to explore, the Toiyabe and Toquima mountain ranges. These ranges run parallel to each other, with the Big Smoky Valley in between. Map study had revealed to me that I'd like to someday loop these two ranges in a bit more of an epic style trip. I didn't have the time for the research to accomplish that, so I'd take two three-night scouting trips in each range, with the driving in between to give me an idea of how feasible my ideas of connecting them were.
I took in the speedy flow of the North Twin River, marveling at how it would dissipate into nothing in the Big Smoky just a few miles from where I stood at the start of the hike. I started my journey along the river in full sun protection, hoping to quickly escape the convective canyon and make my way towards the exposed areas nearer the crest, where hopefully wind and altitude would make for some cooler weather. It turns out I needn't have fretted too much. The trail crosses the North Twin repeatedly, maybe 20 plus times in the first few miles, getting some much-needed shade and splashing about in the water. I made no attempt to stay dry, figuring the most comfort would come from getting the maximum amount of water on me during each crossing. Any significant time away from the creek and in direct sun, and I was dry in no time, except for sweat.
The canyon holding the North Twin is a marvel, with loose morphic rock in some places and smoother slabs in others. I found myself trying to take in the landscape at a more leisurely pace to process this biome so near the valley's sage sea. Pinyon, Juniper, Mountain Mahogany, Cottonwood, Willow all take their turns as the dominant trees and sometimes mix in small spots. I saw a few wiggly trout along the way and eventually paused at this spot where the water drowns out any other sounds you might hear.
My goal for the day was to broaden the terrain at 9,600 feet below the crest of the range. Four drainages come off the crest there in relatively close proximity, and I wandered in and out of each one, leaving the faint trail behind for game trails that were far more distinct than the trail at this elevation. Finally, I picked out a spot with a good view for camp on a calm night.
I did the final climb to the rim in the morning, the high desert tundra spreading out in front of me on the broad crest, with incredible views in both directions. Just about 250 miles distant, the Tahoe Rim was barely visible, with a plethora of ranges dotting the vista in between. Still dotted with snowfields and cornices along the rim, the crest feels like an island in the sky.
I headed south along the Toiyabe Crest Trail and then left it to Summit Arc Dome, the seventh highest peak in Nevada. The approach from the north side has a switchbacking use trail, but I figured I’d add a little type two fun by descending the south side and maintaining my line of travel. The south side looked to me to be an arete, and though it was slow to travel over broken rock, it turned out to be a great decision.
After descending the arete, I put myself on a shoulder a few thousand feet below Arc Dome to camp for the night, positioned above South Twin for my return to close my loop and then head towards the Alta Toquima.
This is the look of a man ‘returning to civilization’ and discovering that post-hike pizza is at least 50 miles away.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Scott takes wilderness backpacking trips primarily in the Pacific Northwest, but often other parts of the mountain west and abroad. He has a particular affinity for off trail travel, the high desert, and the places in the world less traveled by people. You can find more of his trips at www.alongthewaypoints.com and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/theusesofbruces/