By: Rich Henke
A classic high crest ski tour exists in the Toynabe Range, north of Tonapah Nevada. The range extends in a north-south direction for over 100 miles with elevations between 10,000 and 11,000 feet for most of the route. In February 1997, Armando Menocal and I attempted this route - for the second time and failed for the second time.
The timing must be perfect for a successful Nevada ski tour. Often, there is not enough snow cover for an entire season. If you go too early, winter conditions are often encountered which make it difficult to cover long distances. This year, there was a good snow pack, which was verified by Virgil Mink, of the National Forest Service in Tonapah.
I drove to Kingston Nevada about 100 miles North of Tonapah on Feb 26, where I spent the night, planning to meet Armando the following. During the night, about 1 foot of new snow fell which delayed Armando's arrival by several hours. He was driving from Jackson, Wyoming and needed a tow truck to get him back on the road after skidding on icy roads. We left a car at Kingston and drove south to the Peavine Canyon road where we drove as far as Torn Canyon Trailhead at 6,900 feet. We would ski north towards Kingston, planning to ski 60 miles along the crest of the Toynabes in 5 days.
We started at noon following a summer trail up Tom's Canyon, north over a 9,400 foot ridge and down Trail Canyon. We camped near the Reese River on night one. The snow was deep requiring strenuous trail breaking going up but was too heavy for good turns coming down. The end result was slow progress. That night, more snow fell which continued in the morning. This caused us to be less than enthusiastic about an early start, but when we did get going the snow had stopped and the sun was shining. We decided that the winter like conditions we were encountering would not give us time to finish our intended route. Instead we decided to do a loop in the south end of the range, circling Arc Dome and returning to our starting point via a different route.
That night we camped at 10,000 feet on a ridge just east of Arc Dome. The next morning we skied to the 10,700 foot col north of Arc Dome where we had planned to ski to the summit. However, the wind had blown all of the snow off the north slope and was gusting heavily. Since we had skied the peak 2 years previously on our first trip to this range, there was little enthusiasm for slogging up the bare north slope with the wind howling. Instead we dropped west into Big Sawmill Creek which we followed down for 3,000 feet to the Reese River. After spending our third night, we skied upstream on the Reese until the stone cabin which is a ranger administrative site, and is shown on the maps we had. From here we headed south, crossed a 9,200 foot pass which led to Peavine Canyon and eventually, our car.
We are slowly closing in on completing the Toynabe Crest Traverse. Two years ago we started on the east side of the range and ended up doing an accidental eastwest traverse of the range when we had to abort our south to north route. This year we did a 4 day loop from the south. Maybe the third time will be the charm. We will start in the north and go south. At least we will see the north part of the range!
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