Interceptors Scale Reveille Peak, Nevada (September 6, 1999)
by Steve Hauser


Interceptors Scale Reveille Peak, Nevada; Look Straight Down Main Runway At Groom Lake; and Live To Tell

A special operations unit of the Groom Lake Interceptors completed a successful ascent of 8910' Reveille Peak, Nevada on 4 September 1999. The team consisted of the Swiss Mountain Bat, Navigator, and AF-2. The adventure commenced in Rachel, Nevada on 3 September, where, in a misty-eyed ceremony, the Bat gave Swiss Mountain yodeling cows to both Navigator and AF-2 as a gesture of goodwill and international cooperation.

Once the team regained its composure, it proceeded north from Rachel on the Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada 375, to the newly chip-sealed Interceptor Highway, formerly known as the dirt road proceeding west to the Cedar Pipeline Ranch and Cedar Gate of the Nellis Range. From the dirt road heading north from the ranch on the east side of the Reveille Range, the fearless threesome, with the Bat in the lead, blazed a road to basecamp in their off-road vehicles to a point where no vehicles had gone before.

The team spent the afternoon watching mock dogfights over the Railroad Valley and scanning the appropriate radio frequencies. Of particular interest was one pilot's report of a flame-out and inquiry as to the availability of a fire crew at Groom Lake. No fire crew was available or the relevant actors were unwilling to make a fire crew available, so the pilot was instructed to land at Nellis AFB.

Thereafter the planes disappeared and a cool wind soon filled the air as the shadows of the Reveille Range grew long across the Railroad Valley. As night fell, the team exchanged anecdotes over a campfire, then retired early. AF-2, however, was not quite ready for bed, and stayed awake watching the skies from within his vehicle. And then he saw something. He saw something big and bright and then it started to move around the Railroad Valley. He could hardly contain himself and he climbed out of his vehicle to arouse Navigator from his tent. Navigator, showing great restraint, kindly informed AF-2 that the light in the sky was not the mothership but the planet Venus. Having been humbled by the bumblebee effect (autokinesis), AF-2 climbed back into his vehicle, discretely wiped the foam from his mouth, and went straight to sleep.

The group awoke at sunrise the next morning, determined to reach the summit within the window of optimal viewing conditions. The mountain had other plans. A flock of buzzards circled overhead as its lunch that wouldn't be slowly ascended. Navigator boldly led the way as best anyone could but the trek proved treacherous as the slopes were covered with loose rock that gave way with every step. The mountain left its mark on the team. In order to save himself from slipping, the Bat was required to shake hands with a cactus. Navigator, aside from his lobsterization by the unforgiving Nevada sun, was relatively unscathed. Not only did AF-2 scrape his leg as he slid on loose rocks but he also boldly participated in the same UV radiation experiment as Navigator (desire to attain the summit expeditiously silenced the inner voice calling for sunscreen). AF-2 spent the subsequent 2 weeks living inside the tormented body of "The Incredible Shedding Lizard Boy." The climb to the top took some 3 hours and had a difficulty of 4 to 5 Tikaboos.

The view from Reveille Peak made the effort worthwhile. Portions of both Groom Lake and Papoose Lake were visible from the summit. The team was staring straight down both runways at Groom from a distance of 45 miles, while Papoose was 54 miles distant. With their optical arsenal the Interceptors could see the red hat hangars at the northern end of the Groom Lake base. Unfortunately, the team did not attain the summit until late morning, by which time the haze, coupled with smoke from forest fires in California, was already thick, dampening the view. Team members believe that on a clear day one could roughly see an airplane on the main Groom runway with good optics. No features of Papoose Lake or structures thereon were apparent. The portions of Papoose Lake generally provoking the greatest interest were not visible.

A log at the summit indicated that the mountain was last scaled in 1995, making it one of the lesser frequented destinations on Earth. The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey benchmark medallion at the peak indicated it had been emplaced in 1933. In its vicinity the Interceptors found four old metal cylinders and what appeared to be graphite cylinders, which fit inside the metal cylinders. The device apparently was a type of early battery and may have been used to power a lamp by the person who emplaced the USGS medallion some 66 years ago.

The hike back to basecamp lasted about 2.5 hours and was more perilous than the climb up, but at least then when the Interceptors fell, they landed closer to their destination. To everyone's surprise, upon return to basecamp no men in white coats were found to be waiting to remove portions of the team members' brains for study.

That evening was spent much the same as the night before. The next morning gifts were left for the base authorities and cammo dudes. To the Groom Lake base commander a message was written. In spirit it said, "Your planes are worthless in their hangars. And when you fly them, we will be there. Watching. Forever watching." The team members then exchanged goodbyes and resolved to convene again when and where they are least expected.


The interceptors scan the sky from their Reveille Basecamp* (from left to right: the Swiss Mountain Bat, AF-2, Navigator) (photo courtesy of the Swiss Mountain Bat)

Reveille Peak As Seen from the Railroad Valley, Looking West (it's the tall one): normal resolution, high resolution*

140° Panorama of the Railroad Valley As Seen from the Reveille Basecamp, Where the Interceptors Parked Their Vehicles: normal resolution, high resolution*

The USCGS Medallion Emplaced Atop Reveille Peak

The View from Atop Reveille Peak from SSE to SSW, Including Groom, Papoose, and Kawich Lakes: normal resolution, normal resolution with labels, high resolution, high resolution with labels*, super-high resolution with labels

Panorama of Groom Lake As Seen (with telescope) from Atop Reveille Peak: normal resolution, false color normal resolution*, false color normal resolution with labels, high resolution, false color high resolution, false color high resolution with labels. Groom Lake is 45 miles SSE of Reveille Peak.

Panorama of Papoose Lake As Seen (with telescope) from Atop Reveille Peak: normal resolution, false color normal resolution*, high resolution, false color high resolution. Papoose Lake is 54 miles SSE of Reveille Peak.

Bear Paw (Mud) Lake in the Railroad Valley As Seen from Atop Reveille Peak

The Intrepid Interceptors Unit At Their Reveille Basecamp (from left to right: AF-2, the Swiss Mountain Bat, Navigator)

Each Team Member on the Summit Individually: The Swiss Mountain Bat, Navigator, AF-2

*Denotes author's pick.

(Many thanks to Navigator for so scrupulously recording the information necessary for the replication of the ascent of Reveille.)


(Or, How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love Tikaboo)


Written and humbly submitted for your perusal by Navigator

Please feel free to redistribute or forward this report to any interested parties, and feel free to copy, edit and/or add this report to any interested web sites.

The weather was perfect for a mountaineering expedition as our forces, one by one, found their way to Rachel, Nevada. The sun, however, was already diving for the hazy western horizon as we gathered in the Little A'Le'Inn, so time was not ours to spare. With maps sprawled across the pool table and curious European tourists trying to look over our shoulders, we decided on our ascent route, furrowed our brows at the prospect of miles and miles of roadless terrain, and gulped down Alien burgers in an attempt at a decent meal. Within no time, watches were synchronized and our two expedition vehicles were headed northwest on Highway 375.

What we believe to be the easiest way to approach and ascend Reveille Peak is described here, but there are other options, some of which will be mentioned later. Our approach was from the east side of the Reveille Range, in the Railroad Valley, and our established base camp and ascent route are on the southeast flanks of the mountain.

Reveille Peak lies at approximately Lat 37.828 Lon 116.129. Required maps are the Reveille Peak and Reveille Peak SE 7.5 min series USGS quads, and also helpful is the Cactus Flat USGS 1:100000 scale quad.

From the town of Rachel, Nevada, drive north on State Highway 375 for 15.9 miles and turn left on the Cedar Pipeline Road. Head west on this road for 8.2 miles to the Cedar Pipeline Ranch. To our surprise, this road has recently been widened and chip-sealed (blacktopped) from its eastern terminus with Highway 375 all the way west as far as the eye can see to the Cedar Pass in the Nellis Range! This now makes Cedar Pipeline Road an all weather, permanent highway capable of supporting heavy truck traffic. A civil engineering project of this magnitude in such a remote location was no doubt an expensive one, but hey, we were able to enjoy our tax dollars at work by driving to the Cedar Pipeline Ranch without even having to worry about spilling our drinks!

At the ranch, you will see a corral on the right, and two dirt roads leading off to the north. One of these heads northwest into the Reveille Valley, the other heads northeast back into the Railroad Valley. Make a sharp right turn onto the road heading northeast, and reset your odometer. Mileage for this route follows:

0.0 - intersection with Cedar Pipeline Road at Cedar Pipeline Ranch

0.1 - corral on left

1.6 - fork in the road, go left. This is a much less traveled dirt two-track, which is rough and sandy in spots. It also has a strip of high gravel and vegetation down the center, which would give low clearance vehicles a tough go and would be easy to high-center on. For this reason, high-clearance is recommended, but we've seen sedans make it into much rougher places. Continuing the mileage onto this two-track road:

1.8 - hill down

2.3 - cross over the Railroad Valley wash

2.7 - hill up

4.4 - old, dry reservoir on left

6.0 - stop here!

Okay, from here, things get a little tricky. Following our exact vehicle route to our exact base camp is not necessary for a successful ascent, but finding our ascent route to the summit, at least if approaching from the east side, probably is. For that reason, its important that you at least get to the correct area at the base of the mountain before attempting a climb. I'll explain how to get there as best I can.

From your current position at mile 6.0 on the dirt two-track, look west. Reveille Peak is the tallest peak in the mountain range directly west of you. Looking WNW, you can't miss it. From here, the peak is about four miles away. Now, look below, and slightly to the left of Reveille Peak. Just where the foothills begin to rise out of the alluvial fan plain, you will see a very prominent lone tree. It is a Pinon Pine sitting all by itself on the side of a wash just north of some low hills. We came to call this tree Lone Pine. Lone Pine sits on the north side of a shallow wash, and immediately south of this wash, adjacent to Lone Pine, is a low hill with a large field of light colored grass on its side. That is your landmark! Your goal is to eventually drive along the south side of that shallow wash, through the field of light colored grass, with Lone Pine on your right.

Now, this is where things get fun, because there are no roads that approach the base of Reveille Peak on the east side of the range. Trust us, we searched. So, from mile 6.0, simply (yeah, right!) head WNW across the desert brush toward the landmarks described above. Keep Lone Pine in your sights, and watch out for cacti and very large rocks hiding behind small bushes. We marked the point where we turned left off of the dirt two-track at mile 6.0 with two piles of dirt, topped with dry cow pies (hey, there weren't any big rocks). If you can find this, you may be able to find our tracks up to the hill, but at any rate, don't give up. Despite the numerous boulder fields, it is possible to drive to the area on the hill with the light colored grass just south of Lone Pine.

Keep in mind, this is off-road travel at its roughest, and high-clearance, four wheel drive is mandatory! To be safe, it is best to have at least two vehicles in your party, because the chances of getting a couple of flat tires or hung up on a large rock are very good. Carry with you all the water, equipment, and supplies you might need to survive in the desert for two or three days. Always prepare for the worst, because if you get into trouble out here, you are going to be the only one around to get yourself out of it. Help may be hours or days away. Perhaps most importantly, let someone staying behind know where you are going.

Once you make it to the area near Lone Pine, find your way down into the shallow wash that lies between Lone Pine, which is on its north bank, and the hill, which is on its south side. Continue to drive west up this dry wash and around the north side of the hill. After only about one or two tenths of a mile, the wash will split into three. The three tributaries form three shallow valleys, and are separated from each other by two ridges. Make sense? Think of a three pronged fork, and the ridges are the two spaces between the prongs. You want to drive straight up the ridge on the left (the one between the left and middle forks of the wash). Continue driving on this ridge as far as you can. We made it all the way to the rock outcroppings to the southwest, and there we established Reveille Base Camp.

If you make it this far, congratulations! Pull out the lawn chairs and make a toast to a life full of adventure. The views from base camp into the Railroad Valley are truly majestic, and well worth the effort put into getting there. As I watched the evening shadows slowly slither across the valley to eventually swallow the distant mountains, reflecting in brilliant pastels the light of the setting sun, a lump welled in my throat and a tear almost found its way out of the corner of my eye. Are not moments such as this reason enough to venture into the desolate corners of our world and seek a bit of solace from things simple?

The total driving distance off road from mile 6.0 on the dirt two track to base camp is 3.4 miles. To find our base camp on a map, look on the left side of the Reveille Peak SE 7.5 min quad. Just to the right of the word REVEILLE, there is a hill marked with an "X", labeled 6607T. Our base camp is 100 yards north of that hill.


After a beautiful evening of black aircraft and desert adventure stories, MREs, and hot Swiss meatball soup cooked over an open fire, we turned in for an early night. Our hope was that, upon rising with the sun, we could make the summit before the afternoon haze and flat mid-day light. The mountain, however, had other plans for us!

Let me just say right now, Reveille Peak, no matter how you climb her, is HARD! The climb is about two miles one way, with an elevation gain of 2212 feet from our base camp. We debated on just how many Tikaboos we should rank her, but the numbers four and five were tossed around quite a bit. Mount Charleston might be a lot higher, but at least it has a trail! To get an idea of the difficulty of Reveille, think of the steepest, loosest, most frustrating part of the Tikaboo climb, and imagine doing that for over a mile! Reveille is extremely strenuous, and should be attempted only by experienced hikers in good physical condition who are familiar with the desert environment. [editor's words: NO ONE inexperienced in backcountry travel should attempt this hike. NO ONE uncomfortable with the prospect of frequently slipping on loose rocks should attempt this hike. If you have climbed Tikaboo and found the most challenging parts of that hike well within your ability, then you likely have the requisite skill to climb Reveille, BUT expect it to be much longer. If you had any difficulties climbing Tikaboo, those would be significantly magnified in climbing Reveille, and climbing Reveille would likely not be prudent. Or, more poetically, you would have to seriously desire to end up in the belly of a buzzard a la the visions of Edward Abbey in "Desert Solitaire":

When you reach this point you are doomed. Far better to have stayed at home with the TV and a case of beer. If the happy thought arrives too late, crawl into the shade and contemplate the lonely sky. See those big black scrawny wings far above, waiting? Comfort yourself with the reflection that within a few hours, if all goes as planned, your human flesh will be working its way through the gizzard of a buzzard, your essence transfigured into the fierce greedy eyes and unimaginable consciousness of a turkey vulture. Whereupon you, too, will soar on motionless wings high over the ruck and rack of human suffering. For most of us a promotion in grade, for some the realization of an ideal.

Do NOT attempt to climb Reveille Peak without detailed maps of the entire area. There are no trails here, and some route-finding skills will be necessary to find your way to the summit. Map references here are to the Reveille Peak Quadrangle and Reveille Peak SE Quadrangle 7.5 min series USGS topographic maps.

From the area of the Reveille Base Camp, as described in Part I, hike west then northwest in or near the wash that passes by base camp. This is the same wash that you drove up to get here, and the same wash that passes beside Lone Pine. This wash is on the southeast side of Reveille Peak. Its beginning is shown on the Reveille Peak quad just to the right of the word RANGE in the upper right, and it continues onto the Reveille Peak SE quad, flowing southeast then east, passing next to base camp at the point labeled 6607T just to the right of the word REVEILLE on the upper left side of the map.

Hiking up this wash will lead you into a sort of box-canyon, and eventually the wash will disappear and you will be faced with steep slopes on nearly all sides. As you hike up the wash into this canyon, observe the terrain in front of you (facing northwest) carefully. You will see a ridgeline with a low saddle above the point where the wash begins. This saddle is marked on the Reveille Peak quad with an "X" and labeled 7818AT (next to the R in the word RANGE). Your goal now is to climb to any point on this ridge to the right of the saddle. Simply choose a route and start climbing, but it will be treacherous and exhausting any way you do it. The slopes are very steep, and the rocks are incredibly loose. Be careful, and choose your steps wisely!

This first climb to the first ridge is the hardest part of the ascent, and it nearly broke our souls. But, upon making it to the ridge, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of Groom Lake! This part of the Reveille Range lies directly in line with the runways at Groom, and, with good optics, the view is quite interesting. Although the distances involved are great (Groom lies some 50 miles away), with the right equipment even individual structures can be seen. Since you are looking at the base lengthwise from the north, most of the interesting buildings are hidden from view behind those facilities on the north side of the base. But the perspective of peering right down the barrel of the two runways is unique, and the view through a good set of binoculars sent a chill down my spine. Those with a good knowledge of the base layout and who are familiar with the popular views from the east may find this northern perch an intriguing change of pace. Using image stabilized 50 power binoculars, I have no doubt that had an aircraft been on the runway, I could have spotted it.

If your only goal is to get a view of Groom, then you need not climb any higher. But, as we soon discovered, with each hard won foot of elevation gain, an even greater reward gets closer to fruition!

From this ridge, you can see Reveille Peak to the northwest. There is another ridge that drops down from the summit of Reveille Peak to the southeast, with yet another saddle at its lowest point. Climb northeast up the ridge you are on for about 200 yards, then contour to your left and climb up to the saddle on Reveille's southeast ridge described above. From here, simply climb this ridge to the summit. The rocks on this ridge aren't as loose as elsewhere, but the trees become rather thick, and it is easy to loose sight of the summit and wander too far off the ridge. Stick to the south facing sides of this ridge near the top when the going gets tough. Just when you begin to wonder whether all of this is worth it (or did you begin to wonder that long ago?), climb the last 20 feet of rock up and onto the summit. The climb took us four hours, with plenty of breaks for water and rest.

At the top, as you catch your breath and take in the view, it is almost impossible not to let out a loud "Yeeeaaaawwwwooooohhooooo!!" You've made it! The summit is large and flat and free of trees, and the views are spectacular! Unobstructed for 360 degrees is a view of thousands of square miles of central Nevada wilderness. The restricted airspace over the Nellis Range is visible in its entirety, and a large chunk of the restricted area on the ground is visible, as well. One can see northeast up the entire length of the Railroad Valley, including The Wall, Lunar Crater, and even the area of the Project Faultless site and Moore's Station. The radar site on the hill east of Basecamp Airfield is visible, although Basecamp itself is hidden behind some hills. To the west, the entire Reveille Valley is visible, but the peaks of the Kawich Range beyond block all view into Cactus Flat. Unfortunately, the secrets of the Tonopah Test Range and Site Four won't be discovered by climbing Reveille. Looking to the south into the Kawich Valley, however, provides some neat views of the Kawich Dry Lake environs, full of radar sites and bombing targets. On the distant southern horizon are Pahute and Rainier Mesas in the Nevada Test Site. On a clear day, one should be able to see the lone emplacement tower on Rainier Mesa, still frozen in time awaiting the end of the test ban treaties.

But the real reward for climbing so high is the view to the southeast, for as you near the summit and peer beyond Groom, another splash of white becomes visible. This distant dry lake, shimmering in the sun and partially hidden beyond a ridge of hills south of Groom, is none other than our enigmatic, reclusive friend, Papoose Lake! Yup, Reveille provides those who venture to its summit a bonus prize: a view of Groom and Papoose Lakes. Again, the distances are great, and any amount of haze will ruin the view, but there you have it.

On the summit we found a register under some rocks near the USGS survey monument which marks the peak. Left on 17 Dec 1988, it indicates that there have actually been seven documented ascents of Reveille Peak prior to ours. We also discovered that there is a dirt two-track road that approaches the peak from the west side. This track heads east from the Reveille Valley Road at Willow Witch Well, and winds its way to the foothills due west of the peak itself. It is not shown on any maps. We suspect that most ascents are made from the west side, utilizing this road to gain access to the base of the mountain, but the climb from that side looks even steeper than our route listed here. We also pondered some other possible routes on the mountain's east side, but after looking at them during our climb, we are glad we chose the route we did. The other ridges and slopes that we could see all looked very steep. Study the maps and weigh all the alternatives before deciding for yourself on which route to take.

To return to base camp, simply retrace your ascent route. Going down is a lot quicker, but not much easier. All told, give yourself one full day to climb Reveille Peak from base camp.

Exhausted and sore from our climb, we collapsed into our lawn chairs back at camp. And although the view of the heavens that moonless night was breathtaking, it was not long after sunset that our desire for sleep overcame our search for the profound truths that might be held in the night sky.

The following morning, on our way back to Rachel, we found ourselves at an impromptu highway christening ceremony. It seems that the endless jet black ribbon of the newly surfaced Cedar Pipeline Road called to certain members of our group like a blank canvass. Besides, a road so obviously important needs to be properly identified. We name roads after our visionaries, after our leaders, and after our heroes. The new Cedar Pipeline Road is now no exception. With a day-glo palate of the spray variety, the proverbial ribbon was cut on the newly named Interceptor Highway. The location is a shady spot, with a beautiful view of Reveille Peak in the distance.
Lurking about the American West.

The text, html, and photographs herein, excluding those portions contributed by Navigator and the Swiss Mountain Bat, are copyright Steve Hauser. All rights reserved. Reproduction thereof is strictly prohibited without express written permission.

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