Trip Report
New/Old Obscure Nevada Wonderland: Elephant Land
Tuesday October 6, 2015 9:28am
A few of the fascinating granite spires in Elephant Land
A few of the fascinating granite spires in Elephant Land
Credit: Ney Grant

I looked out the airplane window to the north and saw in the distance spires rising out of the Nevada desert. Are those granite? That close to the Black Rock Desert (aka home to Burning Man)? I looked at my watch to make sure I had enough time before my meeting in Salt Lake City, then banked the plane and descended for a closer look. The spires were indeed granite and looked tall enough for some interesting climbing. I thought it must be a known area, so I took some photos then banked away towards my meeting.
Lonely granite spires, seemingly known only to 4x4ers and Chukar hunte...
Lonely granite spires, seemingly known only to 4x4ers and Chukar hunters.
Credit: Ney Grant

Research turned up very little and a photo I posted on the ST "Obscure Nevada" thread didn't turn up any comments from anyone that knew of it. So that settled it. Betsy and I had to go to this remote area of Nevada and find out what is really there.

We headed out after work on a Friday, stopping in Reno for dinner and then out into the Nevada wilds. We first ran into a rainstorm and flash flood, and wondered why every time recently when we drive into the Nevada desert where it never rains, it rains. However soon we were on a decent mud-free dirt road, heading into the darkening desert.

Credit: Ney Grant

In spite of GPS and modern Google/Bing Satellite previews of the roads, at one point during the evening we took a wrong turn and drove down to a gated private ranch - and we couldn't back up in the mud nor could we turn around. We could only go down but were block by a gate. We crawled through a barbed wire fence, a cattle dog warily circling and barking, and slowly approached the ranch house using our headlamps. It was surrounded by corrals, pickup trucks and long multi-horse trailers - so I felt better that it was probably a cowboy's bunkhouse rather than a private ranch with an old rancher sitting on his rocking chair with a rifle in his lap. Sure enough a couple of guys answered the door and said the gate wasn't actually locked, it just looked like it and we could unwrap the chain and drive through. In fact, they said we could drive though a road on the ranch and meet up with the correct road later.

We spent the night just off the dirt road before we hit the "less traveled" road in the morning. It was definitely less traveled.
Lots of superb Nevada emptiness
Lots of superb Nevada emptiness
Credit: Ney Grant

Road / Creekbed
Road / Creekbed
Credit: Ney Grant

I had learned a well-known 4x4 technique after being stuck in the mud previously. Let the air out of your tires, all the way down to 25 lbs or less (from 50). It works! Which means we have a new air compressor for the van.

Speed is your friend
Speed is your friend
Credit: Ney Grant

The soft-tire bit really did the trick! Until it didn't.

Pretty darn stuck crossing dry creek bed
Pretty darn stuck crossing dry creek bed
Credit: Ney Grant
Credit: Ney Grant
Need more air!
Need more air!
Credit: Ney Grant

Turns out the long wheel base doesn't just make parking harder. We bent the propane filler attachment and crammed dirt into the van's battery box but didn't seem to do other damage. We do have a satellite emergency beacon and lots of extra water but getting stuck out here would not have been fun.

We finally make it. Not to where I had planned because another dry creek crossing scared us, but we certainly can't complain about the camp site:

Nice!
Nice!
Credit: Ney Grant

However we did have a welcoming committee. Right to the left from where this photo was taken Bodie, one of our dogs, leapt straight up like a cat and a buzzing sound ensued. Betsy and I stepped forward to inspect the rattlesnake under the rock, but not until I later looked at the photo on the computer did I see the second snake! We were so close to that snake I dont think he needed to strike, he could have just leaned over to take a bite.

Where is Waldo, the second snake?
Where is Waldo, the second snake?
Credit: Ney Grant

Betsy found a really cool spot where perhaps Indians made arrow heads. There were flakes of obsidian everywhere. We collected some of it for this photo, then spread it out again.

Arrowhead factory?
Arrowhead factory?
Credit: Ney Grant
Location of arrowhead pieces
Location of arrowhead pieces
Credit: Ney Grant

Oh yes, we came to climb. It was great and we did some probable first ascents. Betsy ended up leading the first crux pitch of a delicate climb called "South Spring Arete". There were places for natural pro but you had to seek them out. The rock is rough and a little crumbly in spots on this spire.

What we call Spring Spires
What we call Spring Spires
Credit: Ney Grant
South Spring Arete, 5.9, 1.5 pitches or perhaps one full 60 M pitch
South Spring Arete, 5.9, 1.5 pitches or perhaps one full 60 M pitch
Credit: Ney Grant

There are many springs in the area which cows, wild horses, wild burros and one small fawn enjoy. We saw a lot of burros on the way in and out.
Never saw mom
Never saw mom
Credit: Ney Grant

We also put up "Lava Lightning" on what we call "Sky Spire" the largest spire in the area. We did find a top anchor on top so it has been climbed (I would have thought so) but the anchor was over on a route to the right where some large flakes and cracks are. We placed two bolts on the lower face (5.8+) and then the climb moves straight into a finger crack which disappears (5.10a) and then into a main crack and back onto the face for a direct finish. It looked like a difficult walk-off so we put two ring-anchors there for a two-rope rappel. We found the rock to be excellent here.

Lava Lightning, One pitch
Lava Lightning, One pitch
Credit: Ney Grant

Having abandoned the drill, Betsy is at the end of the face section an...
Having abandoned the drill, Betsy is at the end of the face section and is now contemplating the finger crack. Since we were sharing leads, I led the crack.
Credit: Ney Grant

We also put up a couple of shorter fun climbs.

Shangri La
Shangri La
Credit: Ney Grant

No Bodie, it doesn't go.
No Bodie, it doesn't go.
Credit: Ney Grant

Road to Ruins (5.6)
Road to Ruins (5.6)
Credit: Ney Grant

Road to Shangri La (5.7)
Road to Shangri La (5.7)
Credit: Ney Grant

The Road to Shangri La has two bulges and we put in one bolt at each bulge to protect the moves. You can also get small cams in at other places. Both climbs share a new two-bolt anchor at the top.

The grassy, green springs of Shangi La seem like a sensitive place that couldn't withstand much traffic so we are not going to provide directions. If you find Shangi La, and you'll know it when you find it, then you'll probably see the short, fun climbs Road to Ruins and Road to Shangri La.

We were so tired at the end of the weekend we didn't even make it home. We pulled over in Tahoe Sunday night at a hidden spot to sleep, then continued on early Monday.

Elephant Land (aka The Lava Beds) isn't likely to be a climber's destination but it is a fantastic place for a multi-day remote climbing adventure.

Credit: Ney Grant
Dark storm clouds behind spires
Dark storm clouds behind spires
Credit: Ney Grant
Whaaaat?  We didn't have time for this.  Next time. (You would hav...
Whaaaat? We didn't have time for this. Next time. (You would have to assume Alvin McLane climbed this. In any case there is an old sling near the top so it has been climbed)


Credit: Ney Grant

Some Beta

The area can be found on maps as "The Lava Beds" (though its all granite) in Pershing County Nevada. Two roads approach from the south. We took the more eastern road although it is high clearance / 4WD whereas the western road, Trail Springs, is an apparently better road but with a longer walk to the spires.

In the aerial photo we parked at P1, which is the near Elephant Head rock. You can keep going with a 4x4 and end up on near the top of the ridge, near the highest spire at P2.

We visited several spires but the two climbs we detailed are on "Sky Spire" (S1 on the map) and "Spring Spires" (S2 on the map). For all we know there was a kiosk with a map of the spires and names for all of them. We didn't see the kiosk, so we named these two spires for reference. There are more spires to the left and right of the photo!

Credit: Ney Grant

We don't want to mislead anyone. It is a hike to any of the spires over difficult terrain with sharp sticky things everywhere and, obviously, rattlesnakes. It was really hot, and the rock was inconsistent - great in some places but crumbly in others. Having said that, it is a wonderful place to visit climbing or not!

Why did we call it Elephant Land? See below.

Some History

The name Elephant Land comes from research that shows that desert rat and well known Nevada climber Alvin Mclane (passed away in 2006) discovered this place in the 60s. He was known for keeping secrets but for this place he didn't. He brought National Geographic out here and the results were published in 1983s "America's Hidden Corners: Places off the Beaten Path". I found an old copy on Amazon and bought it. The article's author calls it a climber's paradise and Alvin names it Elephant Land. It is better known as The Lava Beds for 4x4 enthusiasts and Chukar hunters, although it is misnamed as a miner looking for Tungsten in 1921 said, "...but so far as has been ascertained there is not a pebble of lava in the range".

Alvin mentions it again in a 2004 Reno Gazette-Journal article, and says the crumbly nature of the rock makes it less than ideal for climbing.

Scans from the book I bought:

photo not found
Missing photo ID#429867
photo not found
Missing photo ID#429868

  Trip Report Views: 5,949
Ney Grant
About the Author
Ney is a trad climber from Pollock Pines.

Comments
looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Lassitude 33
  Oct 6, 2015 - 09:39am PT
Very cool. Nice to see someone explore the more remote regions.
EdwardT

Trad climber
Retired
  Oct 6, 2015 - 09:39am PT
Very nice trip report. Props for taking the road less traveled. It's always nice to learn about out of the way places with so much climbing.
climbski2

Mountain climber
The Ocean
  Oct 6, 2015 - 09:41am PT
Cool!..not that far away from Reno either...Guess I will have to check it out sometime.

L

climber
Just livin' the dream
  Oct 6, 2015 - 09:41am PT
Wow! Awesome write-up, Ney.

Great photos, too.

Those were two very well fed rattlesnakes.
Brandon-

climber
The Granite State.
  Oct 6, 2015 - 09:41am PT
Really cool, makes you wonder what else is out there...

Thanks!
skcreidc

Social climber
SD, CA
  Oct 6, 2015 - 09:44am PT
Cool beans! Out by yourselves and mingling with the natives. Thanks for posting up!
pvalchev

Social climber
Truckee, CA
  Oct 6, 2015 - 10:05am PT
awesome, thanks for sharing, have to check that place out!

no nearby dry lake bed to land the plane on, eh? :) that would make for a sweet approach...
Cragar

climber
MSLA - MT
  Oct 6, 2015 - 10:07am PT
Awesome! Godd'onYa for leaving the flakes too!

Might have to add this zone to my list of NV goodness. Love that place! Looks just S. of Winnemucca and on the way to the lonely zone. Good DuelSport ride zone.

Thanks for the beta and report!!
rick sumner

Trad climber
reno, nevada/ wasilla alaska
  Oct 6, 2015 - 12:35pm PT
Good exploration Ney and Betsy. Complete with seat of pants fourwheeling with a not so off road rig.

I've been in the area before looking for the misnamed lava beds and the reported population of chukar. Didn't touch the larger formations you were on but grappled with some shorter rotten stuff.

You guys need to come out with us to Dome of the Rock area a little later in the season. You'll be blown away with the sheer quantity of quality granite. Complete with long pinnacle ridge technical traverses. About 80 air miles S.E. of your rediscovery.

See you two at the get together. Happy trails.

And yes, I too have followed in the footsteps of the prolific Alvin. Once rapping off some of his 30+ year old gear.
jonnyrig

climber
  Oct 6, 2015 - 04:21pm PT
Very nice. Have heard of the Lava Beds, but never been there. Been on my list of things to do for some time now. Deer hunting this weekend, maybe next, then hope to see some of you guys at the other semi-obscure camping trip.
Great TR, nice pictures!
limpingcrab

Gym climber
Minkler, CA
  Oct 6, 2015 - 04:31pm PT
That place looks awesome! A few more pics like these and maybe I can finally talk my wife into taking a tour of Nevada road trip.
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
  Oct 7, 2015 - 12:00pm PT
As dreams turn to nightmares of how to afford two kids in college, this is the sort of thing that gives me hope. And a ton of stoke! Great adventure to be had for sure.
By the looks of it it will remain fresh and unspoiled for years especially with such caring visionaries leading the way. By the time my fortunes can be turned that way I'm sure the approach will have been both established, and closed - but no matter, the ability to get in will be there.
Thank you for sharing and for showing how to be the best stewards of adventure .
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Oct 6, 2015 - 05:42pm PT
Thanks for sharing your adventures in exploring Terra Incognita in northern Nevada.

No better fun than that, for just a few of us.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Oct 6, 2015 - 05:59pm PT
Haha looks cool, thank you for sharing!
NutAgain!

Trad climber
https://nutagain.org
  Oct 6, 2015 - 06:42pm PT
Proud contribution to the collective! Nice detective work, cool looking spot.
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Oct 6, 2015 - 09:08pm PT
Nice lookin' spot!
kpinwalla2

Social climber
WA
  Oct 6, 2015 - 09:31pm PT
FYI "P1" on map is at:

40.573031, -118.987314

Looks great.
crankster

Trad climber
No. Tahoe
  Oct 6, 2015 - 10:26pm PT
An excellent adventure.
adventurous one

Trad climber
Truckee Ca.
  Oct 6, 2015 - 11:20pm PT
Thanks for the cool photos, especially the aerial views. A nicely done TR. Regarding buzz worms in that region; Came across the largest rattlesnake I've ever seen not to far from there. It was HUGE and looked like it could easily eat a whole rabbit.... a worthy Smithsonian specimen...
T H

Boulder climber
ne'erdowell
  Oct 6, 2015 - 10:40pm PT
Careful, cuz everybody in the whole world might want to go climbing there on the same day now.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Oct 7, 2015 - 06:26am PT
Fantastic Ney! Love those big wide open spaces of sage, rock and sky, thanks for posting.
rbob

climber
  Oct 7, 2015 - 10:27am PT
I have definitely seen this area flying back and forth from CA and wondered what it was. It does seem a little bit lonely out there!
Ney Grant

Trad climber
Pollock Pines
Author's Reply  Oct 7, 2015 - 10:45am PT
Thanks everyone for the comments. It is definitely a special area. Solitude is part of the experience but I'm pretty sure it isn't going to be overrun with climbers - it takes some effort to get out there.

Rick and the Egyptian Ridge gang - we are looking forward to the outing although our van can't make it the final 1/4 mile or so. We'll walk.


mooser

Trad climber
seattle
  Oct 7, 2015 - 10:50am PT
Very nice! Thanks for bring us along!
mrtropy

Trad climber
Nor Cal
  Oct 7, 2015 - 11:36am PT
Thanks looks like fun
rick sumner

Trad climber
reno, nevada/ wasilla alaska
  Oct 7, 2015 - 03:40pm PT
Wasteland? Yeah that's what I thought as i traversed the state, pedal to the metal, as a young man so long ago. Actually there is tremendous beauty out there in the driest state in the union, although it is subtle and takes some slow investigation to reveal itself. As far as climbing, there's tons of it on all rock types and from short dangerously loose short choss to fairly solid big walls.

Ney, you are positioned well, with your plane and appetite for discovery , to take up the investigation where the great Alvin left off.

See you at the get together. I'll be there come hell or high water, but in what condition I don't know since after medical investigation during multiple joint problems I received a preliminary diagnosis of Lupus. Through me for a loop, but that's life.
Ney Grant

Trad climber
Pollock Pines
Author's Reply  Oct 8, 2015 - 10:38am PT
Yes, sorry to hear that Rick. Hopefully that isn't the case. I was hoping to get on the future-classic Dreamliner and hopefully you'll be up for doing it with us.
Branscomb

Trad climber
Lander, WY
  Oct 9, 2015 - 08:53am PT
Nice looking place...you two really get around, but I'll never tell where else...hehehe..............Bobbo
Ney Grant

Trad climber
Pollock Pines
Author's Reply  Oct 9, 2015 - 11:30am PT
Hi Bob,

You are referring to another place Betsy and I have been spending time. A place you obviously know of that right now feels surreal - like an old amusement park where the rides are modernized and back up and running but not a soul is around. Its time will come and the seats will be full...
Branscomb

Trad climber
Lander, WY
  Oct 9, 2015 - 12:43pm PT
I rather hope the seats will never be full, but, like you say, time will tell. Before then, we'll have a great time on the improved rides...I definitely intend to go next summer.
melski

Trad climber
bytheriver
  Oct 10, 2015 - 04:04pm PT
hey ney, i;ve asked before and got the usual seceret fishing hole line,but the rock looked very good from the road [ 3or 4 miles] maybe,,south of austin on 376 close to kingston,,,tell me again how bad it is so i can forget about it,,
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Oct 16, 2015 - 09:57pm PT
Fascinating! I want To go!

Fight the Lupus!
Btw, Manny,who post here as Manny, had a near lethal encounter with Lupus about 1990 or so. Through sheer determination and advances in medicine he got better. Since then he's been awarded an award for being the most fit over forty firefighter in the Phx Fire dept, and, now in his sixties, he climbs more that anyone I know except maybe Donini!

He's also modest and im sure I've embarrassed him....
Hoots

climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
  Oct 11, 2015 - 08:18am PT
Awesome looking adventure!
Ney Grant

Trad climber
Pollock Pines
Author's Reply  Oct 11, 2015 - 09:08am PT
Melski,

The place you are referring to, the place-which-will-not-be-named, obviously has some fine climbing, otherwise people wouldn't demand that it be kept secret and demand that photos of it be taken down.

As you've noted, it isn't that secret since you can see it from the road. You can get the name by reading the Obscure Nevada climbing thread. But details on access and what is really there is hard to find.

I've circled it taking photos from the air and there is definitely a lot there, more even that can be seen from the road. I have a lot of great aerial photos but I don't want to cause a s*storm on ST so I'm not going to publish them. But it is pretty far from anything so it is hard to imagine many folks heading out there regardless of what has been published.

Anyway, I haven't been there personally and am not knowledgeable about what is really there.

Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Oct 16, 2015 - 09:38pm PT
Cool place
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Oct 17, 2015 - 11:45am PT
I put this thread in SuperTopo Climbing News here: >> http://goo.gl/P0Vmxw
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Oct 17, 2015 - 02:41pm PT
Melski sighting!!

Good stuff y'all!!
melski

Trad climber
bytheriver
  Oct 19, 2015 - 04:04pm PT
survival amigo, keep thinking it looks like cosmic bandito country,,bugman says we should get together this next season,[great we have BIG seasons out west ],,as you say ,,cool stuff,,chow
Ney Grant

Trad climber
Pollock Pines
Author's Reply  Oct 27, 2015 - 10:14am PT
Hey, Bob Branscomb,

I sent you an email which bounced, then tried sending you a PM via ST. Are you are around? Wanted to say that if you are coming this way in the Spring by all means let me know when as we may be able to adjust timing.
Go