Bob and I recently dayhiked a South to North traverse of the Sweetwater Mtns. We sauntered over Mts Patterson (11,673 feet), Wheeler (11,664 feet), South Sister (11,339 feet), Middle Sister (10,859 feet), East Sister (10,402 feet), and all the intervening bumps on the ridge. It was a delightful deathmarch.
We set up a car shuttle north of the East Sister, at the junction of the excellent dirt Risue Rd (FS050) with the obvious, unsigned turnoff (FS014) for the Rickey Mine, 3.3 miles west from Hwy 338. We then drove on towards Lobdell Lake, to the established DPS Route A trailhead for Mt Patterson. This was accomplished by heading west on the Risue Rd to the unsigned fair dirt FS067 south. One first passes through two wire gates, continues onward to pick up FS116 at Sheeles Camp, and then follows FS115 to the trailhead parking. Allow up to an hour for this slow, rough 4wd ride. The Toiyabe NFS map, Bridgeport District, is definitely needed to negotiate these roads. The shortest alternative shuttle would be to drive back south from the car drop, on Hwy 338 through Bridgeport and then up to Lobdell Lake.
Starting out in the morning chill (hell, it was freezing), we were over Patterson and atop Wheeler in two hours. Returning past Patterson, we continued along the undulating ridge to scale the barren summit of South Sister, occasionally tracing intermittant mining or motorcyle tracks, and traversing remnant patches of snow. The cold autumn wind blew constantly throughout the day.
We then dealt with the drops of roughly 1700 feet and 1200 feet between the South, Middle, and East Sisters, respectively. Trivial. Middle Sister has a nice, long boulder scramble of a summit. Ascending to the left of the south ridge on East Sister avoids much of a heavy brush band down low. The summit offers fine views towards Lake Tahoe and Reno. A 700 feet scree run on its north slope quickly brought us to the old jeep trail leading north out of Little Smith Valley.
The trail drops alongside a creek bed and eventually turns into the good dirt Rickey Mine Rd at a corral. The road passes through a wire gate before intersecting the Risue Rd within a mile. We earned valuable additional exercise by parking at the Risue Rd. Dinner was later served up at the fine Rhino's Bar and Grill in Bridgeport (well, they do have hot food and cold beer).
The beauty of the Sweetwater Range is its endless variety of terrain and vegetation. And the solitude. Only a few fisherman and campers were encountered on the roads. We had clear views of the northern Sierra, the White Mtns, and relatively unfamiliar ranges to the northeast in Nevada. This rambling traverse of the Sweetwaters was approximately 18 miles in length, 6500 feet gain. Most all of it cross-country. Bob and I took a leisurely 9 hours. Your mileage may vary.