First off, please be smarter than me when hiking at higher elevations – do not follow my example.
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive ends at an elevation of 9,886 feet. The Wheeler Peak Campground is located here as well as trail-heads for 4 trails – Sky Islands Forest, Bristlecone, Glacier, and Alpine Lakes Loop Trails.
Looking back, what I should’ve done was keep the elevation gain in mind, eat a second lunch at one of the picnic tables at the parking lot, walked the Sky Islands Forest Trail (a .4 mile nature trail) as a warm up, and then picked one of the three other trails to do. But alas I’m me and get so excited to be wherever it is I am that I throw caution to the wind. I loaded my day-pack with water and snacks, hit the bathroom, bypassed the Sky Islands Forest Trail, and started up Bristlecone Trail.
The Bristlecone Trail takes you up 600 feet in a mile and a half to an isolated grove of Bristlecone pines. Bristlecone pines are currently duking it out with the creosote bush in the Mojave Desert for the honor of being the oldest living thing on Earth. I absolutely loved the Bristlecone pines. They are so interesting both in appearance and in the lives they live – the Bristlecone pines thrive in some of the harshest conditions. These trees are a testament to what can be achieved with the right mindset – a lesson I definitely needed to learn that hike. The elevation gain and altitude were kicking my butt.
The Glacier Trail continues another .9 miles from the grove of Bristlecone pines and gains another 500 feet in elevation to Rock Glacier – the only glacier in the state of Nevada. I enjoyed the view from the trail. It was hazy due to the smoke from the fires in California and I should’ve been wearing my Buff over my nose and mouth to keep from breathing it and the dust from the trail in. It was so windy that it nearly knocked me over a couple times mid-stride. The Glacier Trail was challenging to me because it winds through a Moraine field so I was walking on big loose rocks. I thought the trail would take me right up to the glacier, but it doesn’t, which I was thankful for because I was struggling by that point.
Two things that I was smart about on these hikes was making sure I was drinking enough water and eating snacks whether I felt like it or not. I really think that’s the only reason why I didn’t get altitude sickness.
On my way back down from Rock Glacier, I talked myself into still doing the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail. I slowed my pace and enjoyed going downhill. The Alpine Lakes Loop Trail is in my top three favorite hikes of this trip. It winds in and out of trees and meadows, past Teresa Lake, and Stella Lake, and over and along a creek. I saw three mule deer and some really interesting looking birds.
I highly recommend doing these trails if you’re ever at Great Basin National Park!