Jacks Valley

The Jacks Valley Wildlife Management Area is an easily accessible enclave of U.S. Forest Service land, located just ten minutes from downtown Carson City. The area contains several newly developed trails that explore the foothills of the Carson Range. We first decided to explore the area on New Year’s Day, about a week after the Sierra Nevadas received several feet of snow in the largest storm of the winter. Our thought was that the relatively low elevations of the area (5,000-6,000 feet) would allow us to enjoy a hike in the snow without being completely mired in fresh powder.

Carson Range
View of the Carson Range from the high point of Jacks Valley Wildlife Management Area
(click on photo for larger image)

The steeper relief of the Carson Range adjacent to Carson City makes the region much more susceptible to spillover precipitation than Reno. We had underestimated just how much snow Carson City can receive during large storms. While there were about six inches of snow at 5,000 feet, (see the photo above), the depth increased to thigh high in shaded places once we climbed to 6,000 feet. Because we only brought traction devices, hiking was incredibly arduous at the higher elevations due to post-holing. Post-holing is the enemy of all hikers in the snow and refers to when your foot falls deep into a newly-formed snow hole with step. For an analogy, post-holing is to bushwhacking as winter hiking is to summer hiking. In other words, we really should have brought snowshoes.

As we explain in Base Camp Reno, traction devices are like tire chains for your hiking boots and are excellent for slippery, icy conditions or when the snow depth is less than 6 inches. At greater depths, snowshoes are the better option because although they are heavier, they will prevent you from post-holing under most conditions.

Pine Nut Mountains
Weathered granite outcropping with the Pine Nut Mountains in the background
(click on photo for larger image)

After we had burned enough calories lifting our knees above our waists, we turned around just a quarter mile or so from a local high point and returned to our car. In February, we returned though. During this second hike, with little snow on the ground, we were able to reach the high point in one third of the time. What a difference a month can make! The Carson Range summits were still white and beautiful, but our paths through the foothills were clear and straightforward.

Without the snow, we were able to more fully appreciate the granite weathered outcroppings that dot the Jacks Valley area. Far in the east, we enjoyed the views of the snow-capped Pine Nut Mountains. To the southeast, we spotted another set of snowy peaks. Oddly, these peaks form the only unnamed mountain range in all of Nevada. (The mountains are geologically distinct and are clearly separated from the adjacent Carson Range and the Pine Nuts by valleys.) By one count, Nevada has 319 mountain ranges, and it is likely the only state other than Alaska with an unnamed mountain range. That many mountain ranges means endless hiking adventures!

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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