Currant and Duckwater Peaks, NV

H.W. Stockman
Saturday July 23, 2005

These peaks are on the LVMC "50 Classic" list.

Accumulated elevation gain was ~5000' over 10 miles, and took ~8-9 hours. Pierre did the trip cold -- he hadn't had time to exercise in 4 months previous (this amazes me). We chose some class 3 sections, but one could climb the peak totally class 2, simply by walking to right or left around dryfalls. Most of the route is rough and trailless, with some nasty talus on the west side of the peak. Bring a lot of water; there are NO dependable streams on this trip.

The 4WD drive road is blocked by several recent deep stream cuts, perhaps only 0.6 miles from NFD road 407 (the 2WD road).

A full GPS track, in gpx format and RELATIVE TO WGS84, is here. Just waypoints (WGS84) are available in two text formats: CSV and MXF. Here's a map to show some waypoint locations (note the ROADSWITCH and DROPNEOFFR waypoints are covered by other labels).

Use these gps files at your own risk.

A road log is below.

A narrative of the trip is at the end of this page.

Click the small images below to see larger versions.


GPS trace Here are some detailed views of the route: [1] [2]


View WSW from early on in hike. The blue-magenta dotted line shows the route.


Purple penstemons.





We are on dotted ascent ridge in a previous photo. View NE down major gulf just east of Currant.

View SE as Pierre and Nick come up the ridge. Near this point, one must downclimb NE off the ridge into the avalanche chute.


Same view, more ESE.





View SSW from top.


View NE from near top. Duckwater is visible in distance at left.


NE from top. Look at me!







Parry's Primrose


These look like simple phlox; but ~1/3 have 6, rather than 5 petals. I suspect this may be a mutation, like 4-leaf clovers.





View S to the Currant Ridge. The highpoint is not visible in this photo.


View S to Currant.


View S from peak 11154.





On Duckwater, view S to Currant Ridge.


View NNE from Duckwater.


View to the west, taken from the road east of the mountain range, after descent from Duckwater. The camera is actually angled UP about 20-30 degrees. In the center distance are several peaks of Currant.




Road Log

From i15 and i95 intersection in Las Vegas:
- take i15 for 22 miles NNE
-then turn west on i93
-take i93 for 85.3 miles N
Near Crystal Springs is junction with 375/318
-take left toward Hiko
(375 and 318 are together for ~0.7 miles)
From that junction, travel N on 318
-take rte 318 for 111.5 miles N of the junction to intersection with rte 6
-Turn left (SW) on rte 6
-take rte 6 for 5.35 miles
-take right (W) turn onto White Pine Road (WPR)
-take WPR for 10.6 miles
-make left turn (SW) on rougher 2WD road ("Nfd 407"), take for 1.73 miles.

-make right turn on 4WD road, immediately cross stream carefully (roughest part of road).

-travel ~0.4-0.5 miles up 4WD road and park before stream cut. As of July 2005, there were several deep cuts in the road near this point, making it impassable to all but ATVs.

Trip Narrative, and More Info on the Climb

We left Las Vegas about 1:30 PM Friday, and drove north (see road log). Finally we reached the 4WD road, but traveled up this rougher path only 0.5 to 0.6 miles before our progress was blocked by a stream. Normally this stream would be negotiable in a 4WD vehicle; however, all the rains and snow melt in 2005 have sharpened the banks, and for now the road remains impassable to all but ATVs. Here we camped; there is room for one car and perhaps two tents, so a larger party might do well to stay at the maintained White River campsites several miles back. (There is also an area that looks suitable for camping on the N side of the last 2WD road, perhaps 0.8 miles on Nfd 407 from the junction White Pine Road.) The valley at our campsite was crossed by a buttress of rhyolitic rock, which made for a distinctive landmark; quite unusual, as most of the rocks one sees on this trip are limestones or lightly cooked shales.

We got up early Saturday, and were on the path by 6:20 AM. Our plan was first to go up Currant by a southeast ridge route (see map), then if weather and time allowed, head north to Duckwater, then down east to the old logging road, thence back to the car. We followed some old logging roads southwest. These roads are not on the USGS topo, but are on the Garmin GPS maps. We dropped into a drainage, and almost immediately, we were on snow, perhaps as low as 8500'. This snow was the remnant of a serious avalanche this last winter, and was almost covered with conifer boughs that had melted out and collected on the surface in the warm weather. Eventually we cut right (WSW) into an adjoining drainage, which we followed up towards the ridgeline. The footing was good; there were several mild class 3 dryfalls, but one could reduce the travel to class 2 by simply going to right or left of the falls. Along the way, I saw fossils of pentamerid brachiopods. Eventually we climbed up on the ridge north of the valley, just to gain a better vantage. The upper part of the valley is loose and steep, and it is wise for a large party to spread out in several parallel paths to reduce the danger of rockfall. We followed this minor ridge up to the main N-S running ridge of the White Pine Mountains*.

After gaining the top of the main ridge, one gets a view of the south "face" of Currant, as discussed below.

Above is a view (looking N) to the south face of Currant. Ascent routes are shown here. We took the red route. The dotted red line shows where the route drops to the far side of a rock ridge, out of sight; one must downclimb the ridge, by cutting NE off the ridge down to the avalanche chute (not visible in this photo -- in back of the ridge). The downclimb is short, but a bit steep and slippery. The blue dashed line shows and alternative way to climb up and avoid the downclimb on the back side of the ridge. (Photo courtesy of Nick N.)

After we reached the summit of Currant, Pierre heard the sound of hooves kicking up rocks. We looked to the west, and saw three deer (elk?) running off down the slope. I had seen elk-sized prints earlier in the day, and there were scats all over the top of Currant.

Now it was time to head north toward Duckwater. The question was, could we head directly north over a narrow "catwalk" to the next peak, then down to the ridgeline, or did we have to descend west to the talus, and traverse the talus north? We chose the latter option, and found the talus rather miserable. It was, however, the more certain option. The section on Duckwater has this to say:

"From Currant Mountain, you must downclimb, from the Currant summit, on scree to the west, then sidehill for about a half-mile north, along continuously angled, loose, rubbly, slopes. Head for the lower part of the north ridge of Currant. Some high rock crags prevent a direct traverse. Regain the ridge, and follow it north toward Duckwater."

The book "Hiking the Great Basin" by John Hart, seems to imply that the talus is the only option for avoiding the very steep (and presumably impassable) north side for one of Currant's many peaks. The Currant page implies there is a gap in the ridge, north of the Currant high point, which is essentially impassable. However, in chapter 19 of Hart's book, at the end of the chapter, there is a contributed route description by Richard E. Johnson, implying that it is possible to traverse this gap, at least by one route**.

Ah, but we opted for the known, and chose the miserable traverse. Actually, I almost enjoyed this part of the hike, because many of the best flowers were in the talus on the west side of the peak. In addition, I had relatively stiff-soled boots, which allowed me to kick-step into the talus; my compatriots had lighter, stealth-rubber-soled shoes, which (in my humble experience) tend to round and slip on talus slopes. Finally, we came around the slope just NW of the 11413 peak, and had easy walking back to the ridge.

Now we continued on the ridge north, with rather easy travel. At the top of peak 11154, Nick opted to head east by himself, as he had previously been to Duckwater, and had ascended this very route before. Pierre and I continued north to Duckwater.

The route to Duckwater was uneventful, but interesting. There had been snow banks throughout the day (this was a very wet year), and the lowpoint before Duckwater afforded me another opportunity to add snow to my Powerade, to increase my remaining water supplies. We headed up the ridge, often walking along a mini-knife edge, which would never be suspected from a distant view of the peak. The limestone had a bioturbated appearance in many places. The peak has many false summits, but one finally espies the summit cairn. There were few signatures in the log, perhaps just a bit more than on Currant.

We headed back south on the ridge. We saw a lot of footwear off to the east of the ridge, and decided to see if there were a use path. Alas, the use path was probably made by animals, as these mountains get few human visitors. We continued down the avalanche-cleared drainage, often traversing north or south to avoid dryfalls. In retrospect, it would have been smarter to stay on the ridges north or south of our drainage, as they were made of a loose talus that might admit plunge-stepping. The drainage was full of loose, large rocks in the upper part. The most recent avalanche was probably at least 5 years ago, so brush has grown up in the lower part of the drainage. In all, the descent was like a 90 minute obstacle course. My boots were constantly full of rocks, and ants kept crawling up my legs and biting me.

Finally we reached the logging road in the scrub just east of the range, and followed it south. The fields were full of petit lupines and other flowers, and butterflies were incredibly abundant. Eventually the road turned east, and we saw the rhyolite buttress that landmarked our parking space. Nick was resting on his sleeping pad. By the time we were out and driving south on route 318, we could see storm clouds sweeping over the range, and we drove for 5 minutes through a fierce hailstorm.


*Fun facts about the White Pine Mountains and Currant Mountain:

1) There are no white pines in these mountains, to my knowledge. There are, however, lots of white firs. The needles of the firs are rather flat and flexible (compared to spruces), and the light-colored bark often has sap blisters as seen in balsam firs. I tried in vain to see cone spikes on standing trees.

2) There seem to be some currants on Currant Mountain, on the SE side -- at least, there are Ribes genus members, be they gooseberries or currants.

**Richard Johnson later contacted me, and pointed out that is possible to traverse the entire crest, S to N. But the traverse just north of Currant seems tricky, and was made possible by his very detailed knowledge of that terrain. Furthermore, the route he described in Hart's book actually avoids the sharp gap, coming in to the south of the major declivity.