By Daniel Montero
“Up and down the rugged mountain side I searched, with always increasing interest and always augmenting gratitude that I had come to Humboldt and come in time. Of all the experiences of my life, this secret search among the hidden treasures of silver-land was the nearest to unmarred ecstasy. It was a delirious revel.” Mark Twain, from Roughing It. While in this passage Twain is really setting up a joke, I can’t help but feel what he feels in this passage when I am in Nevada’s desert mountains.
Especially in the two Renee and I visited in the late spring of 2016: Star Peak in the Humboldt Mountains and King Lear Peak in the Jackson Mountains. Both of them are true guideposts to this vast part of Northern Nevada and had long beckoned us, especially the imposing volcanic rock faces of King Lear. I grew up looking at it across the desert valley. It always was there on the periphery of my life and with its imposing faces and with its suggestive and romantic name, it always lit my imagination.
Star Peak, and the Humboldt Mountains, was famously visited by Mark Twain and written about in Roughing It. While Twain had only comic luck in his prospecting attempts in the mountain, the mountain did have important mineral discoveries, and it was from the heart of this, the ghost town (well, not even really a ghost town although there are some mining remains and stone foundations) was where we started the hike, going past the big tailings, pits and shafts of the Queen of Sheba Mine. It was a beautiful spring day and we climbed the mountain in grand fashion and high spirits, with Twain’s “unmarred ecstasy.” On the descent it was hot enough that we shed our shoes and soaked our sore feet in the cold rushing water of Star Creek. Many many stars on this one!
After a rest day in between, we set out with a friend to climb King Lear. It is a glorious majestic and steep climb (well, Star Peak was no slouch in that either). We approached it from its western face, off of Jackson Creek Road, and despite sneezing fits with the newly emerging summer pollen, we also climbed it in grand fashion, especially the breathtaking cliff faces of the upper summit climb was, as Twain wrote, “a delirious revel.”
From the summit the vast Black Rock Playa spread out below us and peaks ringed us, including, off to the southeast, Star Peak, but peaks, peaks all around. King Lear is of course, a literary reference. But why King Lear? In Nevada Place Names, Helen Carlson refers to its Shakespearean origin, but to me that only begs the question. Why among all of Shakespeare's hundreds of characters, why King Lear, why the betrayed father driven mad? I don’t know the answer to this, but in the imagination of Gloucester, who, blinded, believes he will jump from the heights of the cliffs of Dover, there are descriptions that do seem to fit King Lear Peak:
“There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
Looks fearfully in the confined deep:
Bring me but to the very brim of it,
And I'll repair the misery thou dost bear
With something rich about me: from that place
I shall no leading need.”
And later, Edgar’s description to the confused Gloucester:
“Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles: half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fishermen, that walk upon the beach,
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminish'd to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight: the murmuring surge,
That on the unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more;
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.”
I can feel some of King Lear in these descriptions, but I don’t know. Does anyone out there have any ideas?
We started down into the afternoon and, as a writer for the WPA Guide to Nevada wrote in the 1930s about the Jacksons: “At sunset in this silent land, light changes so swiftly that one evening may be filled with 100 variations of color and pattern. Occasional quivering mirages project themselves against the hills.”
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