What's left to do after Arc Dome?
Spend the rest of the day driving and end in Peavine Campground on the opposite (southeast) side of the Arc Dome Wilderness.
Next day I'm mostly lazy. Peavine has hummingbirds, delicately and precisely moving from one columbine flower to the next. One of them hovers about two feet in front of my face for about ten seconds, staring at me as if trying to figure out how to extract the nectar from this strange flower. Not sure I wanted it any closer.
Two men — looks like man and son — spend several hours setting up camp across the way. Elaborate campsite, with a large canopy covering two picnic tables, two fair-sized tents, several coolers, several 12-packs of soda, some beer. This is Friday, so I figure they are the vanguard for a large party coming for the weekend, and hope they are quiet.
Weather has truly changed; a thunderstorm blows in and rains on me! Rain in central Nevada in the summer! Looks ferocious, but in fact the rain is little more than a drizzle. Try to drive up to the Peavine trailhead to check out the trail, and get the car stuck at a stream crossing. After spending an hour digging it out, I have little interest in anything besides going back to camp, eating some supper, and building a fire.
Drive up the basin to check out a couple of other trails. This basin, the Big Smoky Valley, is not nearly as remote as the Reese River area. I find a telephone in Manhattan, and phone, food and gasoline at Carvers. I take a couple of short hikes, hopping across streams and sometimes wading.
Keep my camp at Peavine to avoid trying to find another campsite over the weekend. Find out later that this is probably the only full campground in all of central Nevada. (Good campground and only nine miles from a paved road on a good gravel road.) I leave on Sunday. The two men with the elaborate camp are still on their own. Why so elaborate? Guess that's just how they like to camp.
At noon I get to the North Twin River trailhead. One book implied that the South Twin / North Twin River loop was a total of 8 miles, which sounds like a good afternoon hike. On more careful reading I realize that the combo is actually 13 miles. Well, say I, I'll see how far I get, and set myself a turnaround time of 4:00 — if I haven't made the saddle between the North and South Twin Rivers by then, I'll come back the way I went. Soon swap my boots for sandals, as the trail makes not the slightest attempt to stay on one side of the large creek. The canyon is spectacularly rugged. A long way up the creek I think it looks like the trail won't be crossing the creek for a while and change back into my boots. Of course it crosses a quarter mile later, but I manage to make the rest of the crossings without getting my feet wet.
At a quarter till four I know I'm close to the saddle. Suddenly, for the first time, the trail becomes faint. It seems to go up a wet drainage. By now I'm out of the rugged canyon and the ground is confused by hooves — first horses, now cattle. Track fades. I go back to where a track crossed the creek. I follow it only to have it fade too. It's 4:00 and I'm desperately trying to figure out what point is the saddle — I established earlier that if I could actually see it and be sure it's where I'm going, I could continue. But I don't see it. As soon as I make the decision to turn back, the desperation disappears and I concentrate on enjoying the return hike.
Get to the car at 7:00 and drive across the Big Smoky Valley, over a gentle pass in the Toquima Range, into the Monitor Valley and up to Pine Creek Campground on the east side of the Toquimas. Set up camp in an enormous campsite as daylight fades. I'll end up staying here five nights, the longest camp of the trip.
I fiddle around for the next three days. I organize. First day: I rinse out my clothes. I gather firewood. I walk up the Pine Creek Trail to the second stream crossing, where it looks like I'll have to trade boots for sandals again.
Second day: I walk farther up the trail, in sandals, but start learning the system. At most crossings there are small logs, typically 3" to 4" diameter, laid across the creek. With care it's possible to walk on these, thus keeping on boots and keeping boots dry. I add a few of these stick/logs. I have little energy and I get maybe 3 miles up the trail and turn around. Drive back over to the Big Smoky Valley and have some fried chicken. Pretty good for western stuff. Make a loop through Manhattan, across the southern end of the Toquimas, and through Belmont. Manhattan and Belmont are both small towns started in the mining rush era and still alive. Nearly back to Pine Creek, I see a homemade marker on the side of the road. Stones and mortar, and a cross and flowers, and a label: Shannon Kathleen Lusk, 6/27/79 - 5/10/97. Not quite 18, probably just before high school graduation. Was she driving home late at night? 5/10/1997 was a Saturday. Passenger? Going where? What happened?
Third day: wake up to rain, stay mostly in tent reading until it clears at noon. Drive across the basin to the Monitor Range and check out a trailhead there. Thunderheads start building from the clear sky and I head back. Next to my tent are strange piles of white beads: hail. It all melted already except where it bounced off the tent and formed piles.
Fourth day, finally decide to see how far I can go. But I still don't have the real motivation I did for Arc Dome, and I leave camp at 7:00. I go, I think, about 5 miles. From the campground, I get up about 3000', just above timberline. But I'm still about 600' vertical from the saddle where I would have a better view, and more than that from the summit of Mt Jefferson. I'm not interested in being totally exhausted, so I turn around. This would definitely be a place for backpacking: set up camp about where I turned around, and then spend an entire day exploring the large plateau around the top of Mt Jefferson.
All seems anticlimactic. "Camping and dayhiking" is not quite enough to keep me exercising hard day after day — which was a major part of my reason for this part of the trip — and having reached the top of Arc Dome on the third day, it's difficult to keep up the momentum. I would do better with a more clearly defined goal (such as backpacking a long trail) or with a group. I need to kickstart myself, and the idea of exploring Green Monster Canyon on the other side of the Monitor Range just isn't enough.
I've seen several mentions that some bristlecone pines grow on the upper slopes of these mountains, but I haven't seen any. At least I don't think I have. I don't know what they look like. I've long been aware of an area in eastern California, near Bishop, called the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. The road maps I've seen it on have always implied that the road in was a poor dirt road. For some reason I pull out an old map of the Inyo National Forest. It clearly shows a paved road going to a visitor center right up in the bristlecone forest. I know where I'm going. Next day I strike camp and drive through Tonopah and Goldfield, across to Big Pine and retrace back up to Westgard Pass, up the road to Grandview Campground. And camp. Like Columbine at 8500', but this time near a paved road, and above a valley that's 4500' below.