Monday, September 8, 2008

Great Basin National Park, Nevada - Backpacking

The Great Basin stretches from the Sierra Nevada in California to the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. Rain and snow that falls in the basin doesn't flow out. Instead, the water collects in shallow, low lying basins and slowly evaporates (think Great Salt Lake). It's not the most scenic place I've ever seen but it is home to Great Basin National Park. Never heard of it? Most people haven't and that's probably why visiting the park actually feels like visiting a national park, as opposed to a Disneyland of RVs and cranky children.

Rob and I spent Labor Day weekend checking out some of the highlights of the park. It's only a 4 hour drive from Salt Lake City, west of Delta, UT across the border in Nevada. Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, and right on queue was the first Pacific storm of the season to add a little extra excitement to the trip.

Saturday started off hot and sunny and we began our adventure by backpacking up to Baker Lake. The lake is just below 11,000 feet and as we approached, so did the first storm clouds. We decided to duck down below treeline to avoid getting zapped by lightning. Fortunately the storm passed quickly and there were just a few tense moments with some awfully close lightning. After the storm we set up the tent in a safer spot and went back up to explore Baker Lake.

the cirque around Baker Lake

me at Baker Lake

Rob playing in Baker Lake

look of concern with storm clouds rolling in

our slopy, rocky (but safe from lightning) campsite

After exploring Baker Lake we returned to the tent - just in time. Another storm hit and continued for several hours. Lots and lots of heavy rain but fortunately not much lightning. We cooked dinner in the tent vestibules and settled in for a night of reading and relaxing before it was time to go to sleep.

The weather was much different the next morning. It was a bit foggy and much cooler. We had planned to hike over the ridge to Johnson Lake but the ridge was in the clouds and wouldn't offer much of a view. We also wanted to get down to a lower elevation in case it snowed or more storms rolled in.

me getting ready to hike down from Baker Lake

Rob with the foggy peaks in the background

campsite for Sunday night around 7500 feet

The weather was pretty nice for our hike down on Sunday. The sun was out for a good portion of the day and the temperatures were much milder in the lower terrain. We set up our tent and had a relaxing rest of the day. Our plan to camp at a lower elevation the second night was very wise. Huge thunderstorms rolled in just after dark with an incredible amount of lightning. The rain and hail came down hard for a while and I was thankful to be off the peaks with so much intense lightning. The storms cleared in the middle of the night and I took a peak at what the park claims as "some of the darkest skies in America". With almost no light pollution the stars looked awesome. Even with totally clear skies I could see brights flashes of lightning in the distance.

On Monday morning we checked out Lehman Caves with a nice ranger lady as our guide. After the cave tour we headed up towards Wheeler Peak (13,065 feet). There wasn't enough time to climb to the summit, but we hiked a trail below the peak to check out some of the bristlecone pine trees. Some of these trees are almost 5,000 years old making them among the oldest living things on the planet.

leftover hail from the night before

inside Lehamn Cave

curtain formation in Lehman Cave

Lehman Cave

Lehman Cave

"the parachute" in Lehman Cave

Wheeler Peak

bristlecone pine (the usually look almost dead)

Rob in front of a bristlecone pine

me on the bristlecone pine trail

looking out on the Nevada/Utah desert from the green "island" that is Great Basin National Park