Top of the Snake Range
This hike will take you to the top of Great Basin National Park, to the top of the Snake Range, and to the 2nd highest peak in Nevada. Many Nevadans consider Wheeler Peak to be the real highpoint of Nevada, as much of the ridge of Boundary Peak (which is 60-70 feet taller than Wheeler) is in California.
Begin the trail from the Wheeler Peak Summit Trailhead, though this makes the hike longer than if you started from the Bristlecone-Glacier trailhead, there is a bit less climbing if you start from the summit trailhead. In addition the first mile of trail from the summit trailhead is exceptionally beautiful.
Begin on the Summit trail from the trailhead and you will be passing through some beautiful stands of aspen. The first mile of trail is fairly flat and easy. Walk it fast so you can get your blood flowing for the climb ahead of you. Before you know it you've hit your first junction with the Alpine Lakes loop. About a tenth of a mile away is Stella Lake, definitely worth the 3-5 minute roundtrip walk from the junction. The summit trail veers right and starts climbing.
It seems as though this part of the trail is one long switchback. You will climb and then the trail turns left sharply and takes you to the Wheeler Peak-Bald Mountain ridge. Before you know it you are directly above Stella Lake and approaching tree line. Take your time and admire the alpine scenery. You are likely to find krumholz in this area (low growing pine trees stunted by wind). Continue your climb towards Wheeler, which at this point still looks daunting. Before too long you will be above tree line and will only be seeing low growing plants and mosses.
From time to time you will come to small structures that you can use as a windbreak if you are unfortunate enough to be climbing on a cold windy day. These structures were created by the first surveyors of the area, or so I'm told. Wheeler Peak was used by early surveyors as a triangulation point to find the elevation of nearby peaks.
You know you are getting close to the top when you reach the never ending switchbacks. At this point many people are huffing and puffing from the thin alpine air. Keep going! You're almost there!
When you are just about to give up and turn around you will come to the sudden summit of Wheeler Peak, 13,063 feet above sea level. If its a clear day enjoy the views of the Snake Range and Spring and Snake Valleys, as well of those of the surrounding mountain ranges. From the summit you get a true grasp of what the Great Basin is, ranges and valleys stretch out as far as the eye can see. Sign the summit register and enjoy the views and your accomplishment. When you are ready head down the way you came. Make sure to notify rangers if you see any notable wildlife like bighorn sheep or mountain lions. Visitor sightings statistics can provide scientists and resource managers with valuable information, since they can't be everywhere at once.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.