Juniper Peak: An off-trail Adventure

After flowing 121 miles, the Truckee River makes its final stand before its terminus at the southern tip of Pyramid Lake. The river here slowly meanders through twisting desert canyons, contrasting greatly with the roaring alpine headwaters in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Although most recreationists are allured by the pine forests of the upper stretches of the Truckee River, the river and surrounding region near Pyramid Lake offer plenty of adventures. The peaks of the Truckee Range, which rise just to the east of the eponymous river, are a great source of these adventures.

Pryamid Lake
Looking towards Pyramid Lake from the summit of Juniper Peak.
(click on the photo for more detail)

East of the small town of Nixon, we drove on little-used dirt roads through Little Valley. With an area of about 20,000 acres, this valley is only little by Nevada standards. Aside from a few transmission lines and an old ranching structure, the valley is untouched by human civilization. As the undercarriage of our car scraped on brush and loose rocks, we timidly looked up at Juniper Peak, the tallest mountain in the Truckee Range and our ambitious hiking destination for tomorrow. Eventually, we decided we pushed the car enough, and at the base of the grand mountain, we made camp. That night, we slept to the song of the valley, the metallic braying of donkeys punctuated by the echoing barks of coyotes.

The next morning, we began our hike in the January cold, and the whole family got to warm up their legs for a half of mile on the gradual piedmont slopes of Juniper Peak. With 3,000 feet above us, 3 miles ahead of us, no trail to the top, and two toddlers wanting to hike as much as they could on their own feet, we knew this would be an all-day adventure. What we had not anticipated was the enormous volume of basalt rock through which we would have to climb. Although the rocks became progressively larger as we ascended, the arduousness was compensated by increasingly grand views of Pyramid Lake, Winnemucca Lake, and the Virginia Range around us.

A few hundred feet from the summit ridgeline, we stopped for a much needed break. It was mid-afternoon now, and our legs were wobbly from all of the rock climbing. Although it was completely calm in Little Valley, the wind was howling near the summit. While Elizabeth cuddled Juniper in the shelter of a rock outcropping, Chris helped Sage collect snow in our empty water bottles.

Climbing Juniper Peak
A beautiful sunset will make us smile, no matter how tired our legs may be.

The snow collection doubled as a source of an entertainment for Sage and a backup source of water. At this stage, we were determined to get the summit, but there were huge boulders in front of us that required us to scramble at a pace of a quarter of a mile per hour. These are the types of off-trail obstacles that are impossible to glean from a topographic map. In our book, Base Camp Reno, we are able to navigate you away from such strenuous sections of orienteering, due to the extensive scouting trips made before writing each trail description.

Finally, we made it to the top and after enjoying the glorious desert views, we quickly spotted an easier way down that avoided the worst section of the large basalt boulders. Although hiking back to our car was generally easier than the way up, we had to make sure we did not trip over rocks as the sun faded below the horizon. The westward return allowed us to fully appreciate a colorful sunset, and by the time we returned to our tent, the light of the rising moon was much brighter than any last patches of light in the western horizon. In our tent, we slept soundly, and this time, instead of awaking from the donkey and coyote music, we joined in with our own snoring.

Christopher and Elizabeth Barile

Christopher and Elizabeth Barile

Christopher and Elizabeth Barile have developed a passion for the natural world through hiking. They have hiked thousands of miles together while carrying their two young children on their backs. In addition to summiting over 150 peaks in the Greater Reno area, Christopher and Elizabeth have visited 40 U.S. national parks. Some of their other favorite outdoor activities include backpacking, camping, snowshoeing, and birding. Both Christopher and Elizabeth have advanced degrees in chemistry from Stanford University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Christopher is a chemistry professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Elizabeth is an artist and educator. "Base Camp Reno: 101 Hikes From Sage to Snow" will be in bookstores and everywhere online April 5, 2022.

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