Tilted Limestone

Currant Mountain Sunrise

Some places haunt the imagination. Ever since I heard of a mountain deep in Nevada formed of massive limestone beds tilted simply and steeply into the sky, I knew Currant Mountain was a place I would have to visit. It captures almost the archetypal form of Great Basin mountain building, directly viewable to the eye without complication: a huge chunk of ancient seabed wrenched from its repose by the stretching of North America, its marine layers forming swooping, angled cliffs high in the desert air.

Marine fossils (upper right) at 11,000 feet

Marine fossils (upper right) at 11,000 feet

After imagining the place for over a decade, I finally found both time and a willing victim who would not only consent to join me in humping directly up a few thousand vertical feet of trail-less mountainside, but would also agree to do it with an overnight pack and two gallons of water for the sake of being there at sunrise. Fortunately for me, Greg Russell is usually willing to be talked into these things. Our approach involved hours of very steep bushwhacking through sage, fir, limestone outcrops loaded with fossils, scree and many wonderful bristlecone pines. Though I had read that they grew on the mountain, the vigor and beauty of Currant’s bristlecone forest was a fantastic surprise. Hundreds of gorgeous gnarled trees grow up there, many of which are surely thousands of years old, though there are lots of young ones and even brand new sprouts as well.

Duckwater Peak and Bristlecones

As we neared the ridge, I was fighting real exhaustion as I felt the stirrings of a cold coming on. We gratefully dropped our packs on a small balcony near the crest, perhaps the only campable spot anywhere near where we hoped to photograph. I was quite concerned about the sickness and what the next day might bring, but we were up there and I was not about miss my enjoyment of the evening and morning.

Greg Russell photographing sunset on Currant Mountain

Greg Russell photographing sunset on Currant Mountain

Most Great Basin ranges tend to be more dramatic on the side that’s been uplifted, but Currant is an exception. The Devonian Guilmette Formation’s thick layers seem to have sloughed off any overlying strata or rubble as they plunge downward to the east. The tilt of the mountain is stunningly obvious and the giant eroded bowls of its east face form some amazing terrain. Currant is the highest thing for many miles around, so its east side is well situated to glow with the morning’s first light.

Flowers, Limestone, Dawn

Early light on tilted strata and bristlecones:

Strata Detail

I had hoped to make the summit that morning, and we gave it a try. But I knew that our photogenic approach did not put us on the standard route. We spent a couple entertaining and spicy hours scrambling around Currant’s high ridges and catwalks, but between the complexity of the terrain, my still present illness and the ticking clock, we left the true summit for another time and headed down. The southern White Pine Range and the Currant Mountain Wilderness are not easy places to visit, but they are a highly rewarding and remarkable slice of Nevada backcountry, and I hope that I’ll be returning.

Sunrise Strata


4 thoughts on “Tilted Limestone

  1. This is a really great collection of images!

    I can see how Currant Mountain has been haunting your daydreams for some time, Jackson. It was a great trip with great scenery, and it fell squarely into the classification of Type 2 fun. I’m looking forward to our next adventure.

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