June 1, 2014

Mt. Moriah Wilderness

Have you ever noticed that epic trip ideas are sometimes born on epic trips? In August 2010 Lisa and I sat on top of Wheeler Peak, in Nevada, at 13,000' looking across Hwy 50 at the obscurity of Mt. Moriah Wilderness when the idea to "check it out" was born.

Mt. Moriah from FS road #469

A couple years later we set out in September on a last peak bagging trip of the season starting with Notch Peak. After Notch peak we headed west, bound for a high trailhead off the shoulder of Mt Moriah. We made the long and steep 4x4 ascent up Forest Road 469 to the Big Canyon trailhead where we car camped at nearly 10,000 feet. It was cold so we sat close to a fire and sipped red wine while the pasta sauce simmer on the stove. The reason we were there was to set ourselves up for an early start on what would be the final work of peak-baggery during a summer that wasn't long enough. Instead of getting prepared for an early morning start we filled the cup too many times, and let the pasta go too long.
Sometime in the wee hours it began to rain. I lay awake and listened to the rhythmic pitter-patter of rain on the tent slow to the distinctive sound of snow. At first light the alpine sky was the color of wet concrete and snow flakes were blowing around. The snow hadn't stuck yet, but it looked like the clock was ticking on our escape plans. Lisa packed our stuff while I made a couple cups of coffee. I cranked the old '77 to life and we got out of there before the steep road got too slick. We stopped on the floor of Spring Valley at about 5,500' and had a look back up at Moriah. She was enshrouded in her house of sky, and although we couldn't see her, we knew that we had been denied. It was just as well because the linger of the wine made us feel not, like lithe peak baggers anyway.

Two years later we would make our second attempt. After a patrol float with a crew of archaeologists I wasn't ready to be at home wasting good weather. I thought for a bit about a float on the White River in Eastern Utah, but I was about a week too late to beat the bugs. I checked out the NOAA snow data site and it showed the higher country of eastern Nevada to be bare of snow. This was a surprise for sure. I knew they had a pretty bad snow year over there, but it's pretty unusual to get bare ground access to 12,000' before the first of June anywhere around here. I called the Forest Service over in Ely and they didn't know anything about access. That's what I like about Nevada. It's so obscure over there that nobody knows shit...not the FS, not even the internet. It's obscurity is part of the allure. Even what I write here will be obsolete and useless in a few months.

We rolled out of SLC around noon and after a quick stop at Baker, Nevada for some non-Utah microbrews we turned off the pavement, headed for the Fourmile Road #469 road out of Spring Valley. The 469 was as I remembered it; that is very steep, loose, and rocky. The granny gear low range of the '77 was designed for just this kind of road, although it made a pretty slow trip up to 10,000' where we camped at the trailhead. I was surprised to find no snow or mud on the road, and the closer we got to Moriah we could see the NW ridge was free of snow. Amazing to be able to drive to 10,000' and hike to 12,000' without snow on May 31st!
We got to the TH about 6pm and set about mixing up an order of Mexi-Slop. I must digress. Mexi-Slop was invented on the tailgate of the '77 in Spring Valley actually. It's a good dinner when your in a hurry or when the wind is blowing a gale and it's a big pain in the ass to rig up the stove. It can be done a bunch of different ways, but the way we do it is to mix a can of refried beans and a jar of salsa. Add fresh cilantro, jalepeno, and green onions, then eat it with tortilla chips, and a few beers. Sitting on the tailgate under a ga-zillion stars, or with a 60 mile view out across the Great Basin doesn't hurt either.

Mexi-Slop on the tailgate

This time when we sacked out the weather was beautiful, although windy, and looked promising for the next day. I was looking at the quad and studying our route for the morning when I realized one of the most dreaded mistakes of packing for a camping adventure. Somehow I'd forgotten to pack the coffee....again, having only ever done it once before. After getting up to rummage through the food box, using severe profanity to express myself, I discovered that it sure as hell wasn't there. I was glad I'd made the discovery the night before. Having tried it both ways I can say it sucks worse when you don't figure it out until the next morning when the water is on the stove. I think the thing that pissed me off worse was that we were planning on spending two nights at the trailhead because it was such a slog to drive there in the first place. I guess I'm an addict...so what!

Coffee b'none campsite and the faithful steed

The next morning as a distraction for not having the coffee I wanted to get going. We ate a powerbar and a couple pieces of leftover birthday cake and headed out by 7:30, probably our earliest departure ever. We were on the trail for just a few, then we headed off trail for a traverse of the ridge that would lead us to the NW approach ridge to the summit.

Although the peak was only 2.5 miles from the TH it was about 2,000' gain so it was slow going. Once on the summit ridge, and before we left the treeline, we saw some wonderful old Bristlecone pines. They looked like they'd been standing there for 4,000 years singing the song On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons.

The wind had blown all night and into the morning, and would prove to be the biggest crux of the whole hike. As we approached timberline I anticipated the wind to be pretty hard, but not a problem. Luckily we were able to stay off really exposed edges and away from the still frozen snowfields. A couple times the wind blew Lisa off balance, and once started to peel the sunglasses from her face. I was in really bad wind on Wheeler Peak in 2001 where I had to grab the ground and hold on. On the way down I met the Park Service ranger who was coming up to close the trail. He said it was gusting to about 70mph. It wasn't blowing that hard on Moriah, but it was close. We took a short break in the lee of an outcrop and discussed turning back, we were 400' short of the summit. We decided to go on and it seemed to get a little better near the top. At the top we cleared some debris from the rock shelter wall and huddled into it to eat some nuts and cheese and look at the summit register. We signed in, pretty sure that we were the first on top for 2014. The views were amazing and clear in all directions. I particularly enjoyed the view down onto the Mt Moriah Table, which is a flat bench at about 11,000' off the north side of the summit. Originally we talked about going down onto The Table enroute back to the trailhead, but as bad as the winds were blowing we decided we better get down sooner than later.


The Table - and north to Deep Creeks

South to Wheeler

West to Schell Creeks

East to Notch peak and Zion


  1. Mick - Thanks for taking me where I can no longer tread.... HH

  2. The higher you go the higher you are. Sea level's not so bad either. This has been a good couple of month's on Rhapsody in the Bahamas. Carol leaves on the 13th and I will be solo for another month or so. Not going out of the Abacos this year as there is lots to do and the weather is a little cooler with lots of anchorages for protection from fronts that come through. How the hobo's doing this season? Miss the muddy water!!

  3. Great photos and narrative! Mariah is such an awesome,remote place! I love it.