We hiked Boundary Peak this past summer, and to say it was a difficult climb would be an egregious understatement. Since the three people in our hiking party are in various stages of checking off the highest point in each state, we decided to attempt Boundary on a long weekend trip that incorporated a short drive through Death Valley. As a sidenote, Death Valley is beautiful, but it is quite literally the worst place to go when trying to acclimate before hiking a 13,000+ foot mountain. But that’s neither here nor there.
Elevation: 13,140 ft
Difficulty: Very difficult
Time: 7-9 hours round trip
Tips: Rent a high-clearance AWD vehicle; spend a few days getting used to the high elevation
Boundary Peak is in the middle of nowhere. The name Boundary Peak comes from its location on the boundary between Nevada and California. Usually the “getting there” section is easy to just gloss over, but in this case it is of the utmost importance. We hiked the Trail Canyon Trail and accessing the trailhead without a high clearance AWD vehicle would have been an impossibility. I’ve seen some people post online that they were able to do it without high clearance, but I would absolutely not recommend it. You’ll almost certainly damage your car and there are multiple sections of road where you could easily get stuck. Not to mention the road that leads up to the trailhead hugs the sides of a cliff so you probably don’t want to try this in a Prius.
To access the Trail Canyon trailhead, you need to get to Nevada Route 264. If you’re coming from the California side, you will want to take Route 6. Route 6 meets up with Route 264 about 17 miles after crossing the state line into Nevada and the last town you’ll encounter before you get to the trailhead is Benton, California (there is basically nothing in Benton except a gas station). Benton is about an hour from the trailhead so it’s important to keep in mind how far you’ll be from any real civilization. The nearest town of reasonable size is Bishop, California, which is another 40 minutes south of Benton. After you get on Route 264 heading south, you’ll come to the intersection with Route 773 after about 8 miles. At this point you should slow down and look for a dirt road on your right about 200 yards beyond the junction with 773. This is where the drive gets tricky and you will 100% need a high-clearance AWD vehicle. It is also 14.7 miles of driving on steep, winding dirt roads before you even get to the trailhead. There will be a crossroads at the 2.0 mile and 2.4 mile point – go straight at both. At the 11.0 mile point you’ll get to a mine where you will take a right followed by an immediate left. After 13 miles you should pass a reservoir on your left. From here the road will be very rough until you come to a small area to park and camp. It’s not an official campground, but there is enough space for a few cars and tents. The approximate elevation of the trailhead is 9,000 feet so the total elevation gain from here to the summit is 4,140 ft. There was one other person camping at the trailhead when we climbed. Given how remote the mountain is, it is rarely if ever crowded.
Trail Canyon Trail
Not only is it difficult to get to the trailhead, but it’s also very difficult to follow the hiking trail itself. We were up and on the trail before 5 AM and used headlamps to traverse the first stretch of trail through the trees. One perk of getting an early start is the sunrise views looking back to the east.
The first 1.7 miles of the hike are on the Forest Service system trail before reaching a sign in the middle of the meadow that indicates the end of the Forest Service trail. The sign is at elevation 9,800. Once you pass this sign the rest of the trail is unmarked, unofficial, and very easy to lose sight of. The trail winds through the canyon for which it is named and many people see wild horses on the mountainside. We had no such luck; however, there was a family of deer off in the distance during the time we spent passing through the canyon.
The best advice for not getting lost on this trail is to hike directly towards the “saddle”. The saddle is the U-shaped dip between the two peaks that you will see up ahead. We somehow ended up on the descent trail which is too far to the left and we never ended up hiking the saddle at all. The route we ended up taking was much more direct but incredibly difficult. We weren’t the only people who made the mistake, as we ran into fellow hikers going up the descent trail, but we were also told that people who hiked the “right way” also reported that it was a painfully difficult climb. That being said, we would not recommend following in our footsteps so you should play it safe and head towards the saddle. In hindsight, I don’t know how we missed the saddle. It is unmistakably a saddle. It almost looks more like a saddle than some actual saddles I’ve seen on horses’ backs. If you look at the map above, we never beared to the right where the black line intersects with the red line. Instead, we continued straight onto the yellow line. Don’t make the same mistake as us.
Once you get to the top of the saddle, you will be at 10,800 feet. At this point you will turn left and start climbing the rock-strewn mountainside. We never ended up hiking this section, but rumor has it that it is very steep and covered in “scree”. This is a new word we were introduced to that day and it will haunt our nightmares forever. Think of it as gravel on the side of a mountain that makes every step forward feel like you’re actually going backwards. On the bright side, there are some amazing views when you take a break to catch your breath.
After the steep ascent from the saddle you will reach an unnamed peak at 12,200 feet. At this point, the toughest climbing is behind you. You will still need to gain over 900 feet of elevation before reaching the summit, but it is more gradual and traverses a Ridgeline with incredible views to the east and west. You will see Montgomery Peak up ahead which is in fact taller than Boundary Peak but since it is just across the California border, Boundary is still the highest point in the state of Nevada. As you walk across the ridgeline, expect some strong winds and big boulders to climb over. You’ll probably be exhausted, but this is the home stretch before reaching the summit.
This is one of the most challenging hikes we’ve done in recent memory. Part of this is due to being stupid and taking the wrong trail, but from the sounds of it, there is no easy way up Boundary Peak. The trail is extremely steep, and the scree mixed with the altitude adds insult to injury. The incredible views and the ability to check a high pointer off the list make it all worthwhile, but Boundary Peak is a serious challenge not to be taken lightly.