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We scale the mountain

by Christy Chalmers

So we didn’t know we were.

We do know the place had one spectacular view, the route matched directions given by four different people and if we did find Job’s Peak, which we were seeking, it’s worth the effort.

The odyssey, undertaken Wednesday, started at the end of a spur road to Forest Road 51, accessed from Highway 89 in Hope Valley. Photographer Belinda Grant and I had consulted several maps and Job’s Peak veterans for directions to the summit.

We were told to plan on bushwacking from the parking spot up to the tree line, where we would pick up an obvious trail that would lead to Job’s Peak. We were also warned of certain landmarks, like a deep ravine we would encounter if we didn’t hike high enough on our way to the treeline. So we thought we were on the right track when we located the ravine and had to hike around it – by going straight up a rock-strewn mountain side.

The landscape up to the treeline is dominated with tall pines, manzanita and wildflowers. The most distinctive was a pinkish-purple variety whose delicate blooms were suspended on long, petite green stems.

The cross-country trek also took us past many trees that appeared to have been hit by lightning. One of these trees, still standing, struck us as a perfect hideout for a villainous cartoon bird. Its gnarled, bare branches were burned black, while shades of red, silver and gray spiraled up its massive, cracked trunk.

After reaching the top of the ravine, the landscape quickly became more barren. We stopped to catch our breath and realized how far we had climbed. To the south, Highway 88 was a shimmering silver ribbon cutting through Hope Valley, a wide, green spot surrounded by trees and snow-stained peaks. Freel Peak and Job’s Sister (based on our interpretation of the maps) rose to the northwest.

We located a faint trail after a few more minutes of traversing through the bare, decomposed gravel that covers the mountain side. The spiny pine trees seemed to crouch close to the ground, like they were trying to duck from the wind.

The wildflowers were much sparser and shorter, and couldn’t be confused with the pampered, domestic specimens that populate the valley. All are miniscule replicas of the daisies, phlox and other genteel varieties that lounge across yards, and these survivors have an iron grip on the ground.

The trail led up to the edge of a bowl that faces north, exposing a slice of the Valley – an appetizer that’s tantalizing for the eyes and disappointing for the legs and lungs when the brain realizes that the trek isn’t over. The trail continued across the edge of the bowl, through one of the patches of hard, icy snow still piled stubbornly on parts of the windswept hillside.

At the other side, another 10 to 15 minutes of steep climbing awaited us. By then, the stiff breeze the trees seemed to cower in had become a screaming gale. Though we were scrambling uphill in sand and I could feel my heart pounding in my throat, I wanted to hurry. I knew I should slow down and wait for Belinda, but I was already feeling the euphoria the top would bring. I began to focus on what I thought was the peak, forgetting the trail ahead until I stumbled over a rock and scraped a leg. The wound should have stung, but I couldn’t feel anything except adrenaline. The summit was close, just around the next rise, or maybe the one after.

Three hours after we started, the trail faded among towering rock piles that yielded to a stunning view of the Valley, a collage of differently-shaded green squares and rectangles, bordered by light gray roads and highways.

Despite a thin veil of haze, a few landmarks – Bently Nevada’s offices, Carson Valley Middle School, the Carson Valley Swim Center – were visible without binoculars. With them, individual buildings and even cars came into focus.

Minden and Gardnerville sat amid a deep green belt of trees. Winhaven was its own island, connected to town by Lucerne Drive, which curves like a flat, gray worm.

It was after admiring all of this that we introduced the wrench. We had looked for the mailbox we had been assured would be waiting at the summit. We could not find one.

We mulled the fact that the peak we were sitting on looked nothing like Job’s Peak appears from the Valley.

The possibility we had hiked to the wrong peak was not one we were willing to entertain.

After an hour of lounging in the sun and speculating on the possible whereabouts of the mailbox, we decided the wind might have blown it away, then began the 90-minute stomp- and-slide back down the mountain and through the manzanita.

We were later assured by the same authorities who had provided the directions that we had reached Job’s Peak.

It was a hell of a hike. With one heavenly view.