Page Contributor(s): Ron Hawks, Las Vegas, NV, USA; Stacy Topping, Tacoma, WA, USA; Bruce Hamilton, LaQuinta, CA, USA
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Cycling Wheeler Peak - Top 50 US Bike Climb at Nevada-Utah border.
Ride 16 miles gaining 4,970’ to 10,171’ at 5.8% average grade.
The Wheeler Peak bike climb is in a very remote area in Great Basin National Park and starts just 4.5 miles from Nevada's border with Utah in the small town of Baker, NV (pop. 68 as of 2010). Wheeler Peak is the second tallest peak in Nevada and the tallest independent mountain in the state. We enter Great Basin National Park (77,180 acres, established 1986) at mile 5. The park’s name derives from the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada Mountains in western Nevada and Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.
Great Basin NP is home to groves of bristlecone pines (like White Mountain, Big Pine, Owens Valley, CA), the oldest known non-clonal tree (i.e., each tree is the original organism, it is not a clone of a parent organism). The National Park also offers tour of the Lehman Caves - https://www.nps.gov/grba/planyourvisit/lehman-caves-tours.htm
Top 100 US charter member Ron Hawks bringing it strong up Wheeler.
Beautiful scenery on this climb.
Lonely but safe climb.
Steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 11.2 (9.8%) and steepest mile at mile 6.3 (8.5%)
An excellent summary of this ride is found in the blog of Jason White, Garrison, UT along with great photos along the climb.
PJAMM contributor Matt Dupree, Denver, CO provides an exceptional summary of the ride:
Wheeler begins in the morning rush hour traffic of downtown Baker, Nevada at the intersection of NV487 and NV488. As soon as you turn up Lehman Cave Rd, (NV488), the climb begins. You’re in the sage and grassland here at about 5,000’, and the sun is trying to cut you in half. This first part is about 5 miles and 1200’ of climb, much like Lookout Mountain in Golden, CO, or Flagstaff Mtn in Boulder, CO, except it’s more or less straight and deliriously sunny. Even starting early, you’ll be drenched in sweat by the time you get to the turnoff at mile 6. Don’t worry, you’ll cool off soon enough. You’ll pass a ranching exhibit and a lot of charming local displays--Baker has a lot of charm and it extends up this road. At about mile 4 you begin to leave the sage and transition into the juniper and pinon forest. The only thing not charming is that a straight road invites fast traffic, and you’ll get passed by cars going 70, easy. They are courteous and will give you room, but they are moving fast. Wear a red jersey or something to give them a heads up. At mile 6 there is a T-intersection and a right turn and the climb really begins. If you didn’t notice, a sign informs you that you’re looking at 8% grades for the next 10 miles. The park service helpfully provides elevation signs every 500’. You’re going to 10,000. The road here is chipseal but generally well maintained, with very little gravel on the turns because the roadbed is raised up a bit and gravel doesn’t wash across the road much. It’s narrow with no marked shoulder but very lightly trafficked—starting early on a weekday, you’ll be able to count the cars on your two hands. For cars, the road is slow and drivers are awed by the scenery and very courteous. The total lack of cell coverage ensures attentive drivers but means you need to be totally self-sufficient. Looking up from here you’ll see the general lie of the road. Even though the peak is to the south, you’ll see that the road winds its way north quite a bit. From mile 5 to 7.5 or so, you’ll follow Lehman Creek and climb about 1,000’. At mile 7.5ish there is a hard switch and a solid climb away from Wheeler and the creek. You’ll ride along the ridge for 3 spectacular miles and climb about 1,000’. Wheeler and the Snake Range are an “island in the sagebrush ocean” and it really shows along this stretch. The Snake Range is so isolated that it doesn’t have bears—they never made it across that desert. From here you can clearly see Notch Peak to the east in Utah, 95 miles away. Mt Moriah towers to the north across US 50. This is where Wheeler really rewards—you feel like you are in an airplane high above the sage plain. The first washed-out picture is from this section looking down the hill toward Baker. At mile 10.5 or so (about a mile past Osceola Ditch), you encounter a hard left switch and now you’re closed in a bit, climbing toward the south. It’s very steep here, and the only views are of the road far above you to your right. You’re in a forest of mountain mahogany. Psychologically, this is a very hard stretch even though it’s only about 1,300’ of climb to the next section at mile 14.6. At mile 13.3 there is a tiny downhill portion that feels like a huge relief. At mile 14.6 you cross a ridge that is like a gate of rocks. There is a hard right and then you see Wheeler.
You will be knocked out by that view. Stop and take a picture! Strava can wait. You are not going to the peak, but to the campground at the base of Wheeler. In the picture of the peak with my bike, it’s roughly at the top of the thicker pine forest right about where the end of my right brake lever is pointing. Pay attention now to the peak. You might see some sinister clouds at 10AM. Take them very seriously. I have never been on Wheeler in the July-August summer when it didn’t rain in the afternoon. Not once. As the clouds gather it’s beautiful, but it’s also nature’s way of telling you it’s time to go for a PR. You’re very close to the top now and the climb lessens, so gun it. The next 1.5 miles hugs the mountain side with the peak always in view. Now you are in aspen, pine and spruce forest, with some bristlecones. It’s probably getting cool and humid. The road curves to the left and summits at the trailhead, but keep going, why not? It’s another half mile to the campground and about 200’ of descent. Enjoy that little relief and that hint at what you get to enjoy going back to Baker. The campground parking area is the end of the road. There are bathrooms, water, and friendly tourists. Returning to Baker, this descent is not the screamer you might think. First off, the weather may be threatening and you’re a 30 minute descent from Baker. The road is rugged chipseal, isn’t really as forgiving as smooth blacktop on the turns, and it’s pretty technical. You may be shivering from cold, too. Since your heart rate won’t be redlined, enjoy the view. Remember the steep, steep part south of the “gate” at mile 14.6. Remember those hard switches at miles 13.5, 11.5 and 7.5. Once you get past the stop sign down at mile 5.0, you have 5 miles of straight road all the way to Baker, and if you’re one of those people who like to get serious speed this is the place to do it. Downhill cars seem even more courteous than the uphill traffic.
The Strava Segment for the Wheeler Peak bike climb tracks our route precisely, but shows it .7 longer at 16.6 than our MapMyRide and RideWithGPS plots. Note also the outlier nature of this climb - it is THE Top Climb in Nevada, yet has only 7 Strava Attempts.
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