Thursday, July 2, 2020

Sections 3 of the Great Basin Trail

Sections of the GBT: Sections 3

Section 3: Tonopah Cache to Sevenmile Wash
(approx. 140m)

Section 3, Segment I: Toiyabe Crest
HIghway 376 at Tonopah Cache to Highway 376 at Big Smoky Valley Cache
(approx. 50m)

The Toiyabe Crest is arguably the top highlight of the Great Basin Trail. The Toiyabe Range is the 120m long and one of the largest and longest mountain range in the state. The high point is Arc Dome at 11,788ft and the GBT passes just below the peak. A GBT hiker can easily attain Arc Dome via the saddle about a mile north of the peak in which the GBT intersects. The range is managed by the USFS and has a great trail network that is highlighted by the Toiyabe Crest Trail which runs 72m across the crest of the range from Twin River Road to Kingston Creek Road. I chose the GBT to utilize the TCT because of the sheer beauty of the range and the high crest trail. But, I chose to utilize 20 or so miles of the TCT for the GBT because of the effort to get east and to massively swing back towards the Alta Toquima. Because of the remoteness of the GBT I felt the need to keep sections achievable for hikers. Another advantage too for the departure of the TCT at Ophir Summit is that at Highway 374 where Ophir Road terminates in the Big Smoky Valley the GBT is within 10m of the small town of Carvers, which has all, although minimum, amenities. 

I met my buddy Pepperflake at Peavine Campground. Our timed planning linked up my Great Basin Trail and his version of a Great Basin Traverse where the trails would coincide for some 400 miles. Toms Canyon was in good condition and climbing up to the pass we were afforded views of Arc Dome. Below the Reese River flowed in an otherworldly presence. We were in high country and deep in the mountains. As we set up camp that night the wind howled and we used the willows as buffering from the wind. I wondered if a storm system was coming in. The next morning Arc Dome stood smothered in clouds. We picked our way up to the spine of Arc Dome and the wind screamed from the western skies. Puffy stratus clouds and mist made the air smell like water vapor. We did not dilly-dally along the crest as the biting cold penetrated our skin through our clothes. After a speedy push we finally were awarded with a spot of sunshine and wind coverage. We warmed up for a spell, then moved forward. We could see the range to west draped in rain clouds and we suspected that the Toiyabe Crest was next. At Ophir Summit we left the wilderness boundary and took a quick second to look below at the Big Smoky Basin. We could not look to the Reese River Valley to the west because the storm hit the crestline. Instantly the sky went dark gray as clouds slammed into the crest and waved over into the Ophir drainage. Huge drops of rain fell and we descended quickly. After an hour or two we hiked on soaked and cold and I found an old stone hut once used by miners near the mining ghost town of Ophir. The dilapidated roof kept somewhat intact from the thick beams of wood spanning the hut's walls. The hut felt instantly warmer than being out in the rain. In the center at the rear wall a rusted and smoke-stained chimney connected to the fire pit below it. Somewhat fresh ashes laid in the pit and Pep started a fire. We crouched close to the flames and warmed and dried our sopping wet clothing and skin. The rain pelleted on the tin roof. We hunkered down, ate lunch, and I almost fell asleep in the crouch position. Clearly we were safe and warm. After a couple hours the sky felt more stable and we took off, dry and warm, to the highway to gather our caches.

Section 3, Segment J: Alta Toquima
Highway 376 at Big Smoky Valley to Monitor Valley
(approx. 40m)

The Toquima Range is very tall in stature, abruptly tall. The range is characterized by a very large plateau of subalpine tundra on the 3 summits of Mt. Jefferson. This is spotlight of the Alta Toquima Wilderness which culminates at the southern high point of Mt. Jefferson at 11,949. This is also the Great Basin Trail high point. Views from the summit are absolutely spectacular as one can see all the way to the Palisade Glacier are of the Sierra Nevada. The views are so vast that one can see the high point of Death Valley NP at Telescope Peak to the south and the high peaks of the Ruby Range to the north. These distances span an incredible distance as compared to other vistas in the Great Basin. The lead up to the Alta Toquima one crosses the wide Big Smoky Valley and contours steeply up through the mesas that lead up to the Alta Toquima. Once atop the high alpine plateau a trail plummets down Andrews Basin and the hiker ends up in the rugged and choked Trail Canyon. Trail Canyon starts off as easy cross country but once the canyon squeezes the hiker is then thrashing the way down the rest of the canyon to the alluvial fans above the Monitor Valley.

The extreme exposure in the Alta Toquima is clearly palpable, not only in the vistas and the high plateaus but on your skin. You are either hot or cold, wind-thrashed or cold-bit, tramping on good trail or bushwhacking through a tangled mess. The rewards are very fulfilling once through the traverse of the Alta Toquima. You feel accomplished yet lucky in being able to get through usscathed although your scratched shins and sunburnt cheeks and nose may say differently. For us, we experienced extreme cold and camp on crusty snow at around 9,800ft. We set up our tarps close together and as a windbreak for the fire we started. We gathered firewood for the night to keep us warm as we expected temperatures to drop between 15-20 degrees. As the sun sank a pink glow shimmered in the Moore Creek Basin and we felt toasty sitting on a rock near the fire. In the freezing morning we broke camp quickly and began the slow plod up to the large plateau of Mt. Jefferson. Once atop the plateau we observed the panorama of many mountain ranges. The Toquima Range continued in a crooked northern line that felt to be a molded topography of a different range because of how high we were. We hiked atop crusty snow and the sun's refulgence warmed us up. We summited the high point of the broad peak and soaked up the views. 

Then, we picked our way through the talus fields to Andrews Basin and followed the ribbon of snowmelt roaring in the small creek. I had been waiting for Trail Canyon since I had scoped the route out in 2015. I wanted to efficiently get through without suffering because of how constricted and choked the canyon got. After a lunch in a shady alcove I felt ready to tackle the obstacle. We meandered down the curves of the canyon as the tall and chunky cliffs loomed above us. We even found a bighorn sheep skeleton with the skull still attached to the spine. Some mummified fur still clung to the facial curved of the skull and looked eerily gaunt and alive. As soon as we came to the choke point my memory became flooded of my past experience bushwhacking through here. We strove on and I picked the way efficiently and climbed up a gully, over an overlook of the u-bend, and skidded down another talus-filled gully. As the canyon widened and juniper and pinyon became more present I could see the Monitor Range across the basin. Trail Canyon wasn't as bad as I thought.  

Section 3, Segment K: The Monitors
Monitor Valley to Sevenmile Wash
(approx. 49m)

The Monitor Range finishes off the rugged succession of the Toiyabe-Toquima-Monitor trio which presents brutal elevation loss and gain, extreme climate and exposure, and incredible remoteness. These central Nevada ranges form a curve within the Great Basin Trail's loop and to complete the route in full one will exert a ton of effort. Caching food, timing the weather, and snow conditions need to be considered. The hiker needs a bit of luck too on top of the preparedness. Both the Toquima and the Monitors are in the rain shadow of the Toiyabe. So, if the Toiyabe receives a snow dumpage the Toquima will receive snow because of the range's high elevation but will have slightly less, while the Monitors will hardly get any precipitation. That being said all 3 ranges are cold and windy, although incredibly beautiful. The Monitors are the easiest to travel in of the 3 ranges although one may be more exposed along the lengthy crest of the Monitors. 

The Monitors are incredibly linear and the heart of the range lies in the Table Mountain Wilderness. High plateaus resemble a large table where you trod on alpine grass. The wind shapes the trees out on the high plateau and although the tableland is 1,000ft lower than the Alta Toquima the area presents the same starkness and aridity. That being said, a couple large creeks flow from the plateaus. The forested environs are a noticeable change as compared to the other 2 ranges and the hiker feels the more northerly push of the Great Basin Trail. Wildlife is abound in this range, in particular large herds of elk. Hunting camps reside creekside along Barley Creek and the hiker begins to see the etchings of a sheepherder's past on the aspen. Once the experiencer travels through the high plateaus the crest becomes narrower and lower yet one feels farther 'out there.'
We scampered atop the plateau with ease despite the bone-chilling wind. Small alpine flowers braved the elevation and exposure to flourish closely to the ground. A brief encounter with these little flowers only blinded me from the stinging cold and the notion of an impending storm and cold front. We hunkered on the leeward side of the range that abruptly fell off down the cliffs of the eastern side. We rested our feet atop a cornice leftover and wind blown from a Winter's havoc. Then, a few hours later, we scoped out the route along the crest as the clouds slammed into the tops and then dissipated into the emptiness of the drainages to the east. No trail existed and we picked our way between mahogany and pinyon. I turned to Pep and shouted: We are being 'mahoganied!' ----the phrase I created for the unworthy way across the 8,000-9,000ft level where if you hit a forest of mahogany the hiker became entangled in a leafy snare that would catch and grab the hiker's clothing and shred the skin of the shins and forearms. 

We pushed on vetting a route that I believe is probably not too enjoyable for the GBT. Later on I scoped out another way around the 5 mile stretch, which took us 3 hours to do 4 miles within the snare. The way around we had travelled down a creek on elk paths to attempt the snarled traverse. We should have kept down the creek and wrap around the unpleasing way to Dobbins Summit. From Dobbins we would then follow what Pep had mapped out, which looks very doable from satellite imaging and from one's view from the basin floor. I don't think we stopped up on the crest as the cold weather pushed into us. We sat under a juniper below the crest to decide our way next. We chose the way down Dobbins Summit to the Little Fish Lake Valley. We walked on shivering and found camp in the pinyon flats feeling fortunate to be out of the brittle wind.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Sections 2 of the Great Basin Trail

Sections of the GBT: Sections 2

Section 2: Crystal Springs to Tonopah Cache
(approx. 195m)

Section 2, Segment D: Basin and Range National Monument
Crystal Springs to Joe Barney Pass
(approx. 45m)

This segment highlights the Basin and Range National Monument. Although the route through the area is probably not the most scenic I could come up with, the route is still rugged, remote, and is a lead up to the Quinn Canyon Range. A feeling of emptiness is eminent and is enhanced here in the southern portion of the Great Basin Trail. The mountains you begin to see in distance are now becoming bigger and taller, the night skies are becoming darker, and the basins are becoming longer and have a spherical bend as one feels to be underneath a vast and open sea. The monument was established in 2015 by President Obama under the Antiquities Act due to the geographical, cultural, archaeological, and geological significance while protecting the area from mining and other environmental hazards.

The Mt. Irish Wilderness is highlighted by the dominant limestone peak surrounding a basin filled with house-sized boulders etched pictographs. The GBT utilizes the open steppes of sagebrush from Crystal Springs to Logan Pass Road. Quickly the hiker takes a lesser road up Silver Canyon and remnants of old mining activity scar the surrounding mountainsides. The road ambles gently once up below the crest and a series of springs are encountered with Little Cut and Cold Springs being the most reliable. A faint two track crosses Wild Horse Valley before cutting behind a massive and lonesome rocky outcrop at the edge of Garden Valley. 

The Worthington Range sprout nearly vertical from the valley floor and etch out a craggy horizon. I relaxed under an alcove in the shade on a bench to while away the warm afternoon. As I felt the temperatures drop milder I took off down the wash leading towards a corral in the distance. The mirage of the corral felt closer and I sipped my water freely as I meandered along cattle trails criss-crossing many washes feeling confident the corral would have a full tank of clear water . A few hours later I swilled away near the cattle now 'real life' in front of me and no longer a black dot in the distance. I pointed my way towards the mountains and where I could spot old mining activity. I passed shafts and adits, old scarrings of a past boom-time. Towards the top I find where miners had shacked up and had better water above the mining tailings. I found a housed spring erected with wooden planks probably milled from the surrounding hill sides and dipped my bottles into the cold water. Some algae floated atop but a bottom could not be seen. The spring felt like a pitted black eye, an oracle into the life that once tried to survive in such a harsh environment. I sauntered on and after descending steep slopes and rocky canyons I easily hiked on alluvial fans until I found camp. The night fell quiet and a chill sunk and I slurped the cold water that trickled into my beard and rolled down my neck. 

Section 2, Segment E: Quinn Canyon Range
Joe Barney Pass to Abel Spring
(approx. 55m)

The Quinn Canyon Range is in central Nevada and is highlighted by the namesake wilderness. The range is encapsulated in an extremely remote area with the nearest town being 100 miles away. The crestline topples over the surrounding basins at over 10,000ft while sharp and deep canyons have small creeks running throughout the year that eventually drain into the basins 4-5,000ft below. Views abound the hiker among the ruggedness that may be unparalleled on the Great Basin Trail. The rushing sound of the creek is music to one's ears especially after being deprived of running water for the first ~225m of the Great Basin Trail. The sweet and crisp taste of cold running water just rejuvenates the spirit and one begins to forgive all the driest stretches and barren basins.  After a melting of the soul under the shade of a tree while my feet soaked in the cold water I felt cleansed of some hidden guilt I had been holding onto, a selfish one where I felt too damn lucky to be out here. If one is grateful does that then mean one is ignorant? Either way, I hiked on gluttonous on fresh water. 

My route through the Quinn's zigzagged up and down a couple canyons on faint two track that had been draped over with a wilderness cloak. Wild horses scampered up the isolated drainages tangling their necks in a playfulness vying for dominance. The horses looked at me strangely as if my human presence had been unrecognizable or unfamiliar. The north fork of Cottonwood canyon climbed steeply as the lushness of Spring encroached over the trail forming a tunnel-like canopy. Eventually, I reached the high basins where snowmelt flowed the small streams and I hiked straight up the gully on last years stale plant life. Then, I attained the jagged and chunky crest and berms of snow and leftover cornices showed the scarring of the wind. Unnamed conical peaks towered over the basins some 5,000ft higher. From my looming lookout I observed the passage of days and nights in the form of mountainous layers in the eastern horizon. Faraway storms venturing across the enormous expanse, both dusty and wet, even electric, set the stage for the curtains of night or the drapes of virga that would instill the rejuvenation of the basin aquifers with moisture.

I camped on a rocky outcrop at around 9,000ft. The wind howled and I slept in fits and dreamt of route directions, of insects crawling all over my skin, of unrecognition of my sun tan as in a deep relation of not being acknowledged for my hard work, as if I was born with the wrinkles of time. I felt lonely in the Quinn's despite feeling inspired. I missed my partner. I missed the twinkling of lights of civilization. The morose dreams came from exhaustion. I knew once my physicality got tired, then a straight path led to the exertion of the mental. And I knew I had been replaying the scenes of the day: the giant at hills, the bushwhacking, thinking of my partner back home and wanting to share these experiences with her, and the constant thoughts of of the isolation I was in away from the world during these strange global times. In between my restless sleep I gazed up at the Milky Way and let my imagination run free. I thought I could see hundreds of miles away the lights of Las Vegas. 

The route continues through Little Cherry Creek which reminded me of the rocks in the Fortification Range. Following cattle trails instead of the old tread occasional present I made my way up and over into the Willow Creek drainage. Almost sliding down limestone talus I eventually hit the canyon floor and found cairns that led me to the old mining camp. The creek roared as I fought my way through thick willows. As I hit the jeep track the long Railroad Valley posed the next challenge of getting around crop land and private property in the heart of the basin. The cross country across the basin felt sensible, easy. This basin made me feel even smaller than the other basins probably because the Quinn's and the nearby Grant's toward over the valley and the length of the valley. I was a speck in a desert globe within the sagebrush steppes.

Section 2, Segment F: Lunar Crater
Abel Spring to Highway 6 at Blue Jay Rest Area
(approx. 25m)

The Lunar Crater and the Pancake Range deserves its own segment despite the lower mileage. This unique area is so different than any other area on the Great Basin Trail. Volcanic cones strew the barren landscape. The Lunar Lake is a stark expanse of sun-baked mud as white as salt. The Pancakes are as the name implies and the cliffs provide the legs for which the tables to stand on. All these characters provide the smooth angles of the Lunar Crater especially seen from a distance. These smooth angles are the hardest for me to describe, hard for me to analogize, hard for me to analyze, yet easy for me to gaze at, to recall, to dream into. 
The Lunar Crater is a large area composed of mesas, basalts blocks, synclines and monoclines, and is a National Landmark that was once used by astronauts for rover training in what the astronauts might have expected at the Apollo 17 landing site. To further bolster the stark and barren landscape I had a full day of hiking with no trees. Nothing. No shade. Thankfully the cooler temperatures and cloudy skies made the trek comfortable. As I hiked up to The Wall, the rim of the crater, I miraculously found a roll of paper towels. Brand new. Even though I was on a two track no new fresh tracks existed, so I pondered the absurdity of finding such a startling find in such a remote area and even more the absurdity of finding something I could wipe my ass with in the TP shortage of the Covid-19 Pandemic. I swooped the roll up feeling fortunate to have a surplus of ass tissue. 

At the Lunar Lake I crossed the white expanse of salt flats. Really the flats were mud-caked but the refulgence held a white brilliance. Migratory bird claw prints froze in time in the middle of the lake bed embedded in mud-caked tiles. My mind migrated to fantasy of trampling worlds afar. I could not help it. I was drifting off despite being as present as possible. Navigating through the volcanic cone alley ways I eventually stumbled upon the actual Lunar Crater. The crater plummeted 700ft into a pit. Seemingly out of nowhere this area has a past of volcanic eruptions and I stood on the rim of proof.
As the wind howled, I moved on. The lenticular clouds mirrored the table lands and I felt free despite the taste of freedom tasting funny. I could not help to continue migrating in the mind of distant lands, even the moon. I wondered if one day I could ride a lenticular cloud like a flying magical carpet. But I thought: I would rather walk. The landscape felt unknown, unhinged yet in a vacuum. Down Monocline Canyon I transported to a random Utah canyon with blocky sandstone lining the canyon. At the mouth I looked over a towering dry fall and felt the heat emanating from the next basalt layer of rocks. I found a way around and stumbled onto a faint two track. I kept stumbling onto fortunate finds, I thought. The Great Basin continued to surprise the hell out of me at this point. 

Section 2, Segment G: Hot Creek Range
Highway 6 at Blue Jay Rest Area to Bunch Brush Canyon
(approx. 29m)

The brief experience through the southern tip of the Hot Creek Range is Tybo, an old mining town with relics in good condition and shows the past boom times of what made Nevada a hot bed for folks trying to strike it rich back in the mid to late 1800s. Now a bust, The old silver mining town feels like a living museum, or in a much more stark reality, a ghost town. Through this are I found the old mining two tracks now resemble a trail corridor through a high desert wilderness. Sure, ATVs and side-by -twos frequent the area but the GBT hiker can eschew the popular routes for the more remote one that crosses the range into the more remote and seldom visited East and West Stone Cabin Valleys. The highlight of the are is the Tybo Charcoal Kilns which are still standing after having been erected in 1874. The first two are off the main jeep track in Tybo Canyon while the other two inhabit Kiln Canyon. These kilns burned pinyon pine to charcoal so the mining company could fuel its smelter. 

Nevada has an infamous and rich history in mining which I really do not want to get into. Visitors from all over the place frequent Nevada and the Great Basin to explore these historical scarrings of human endeavor, both culturally and on the land. The mining roads provide access to the GBT and the ranges that otherwise would be a bear to get into. The feel of these places are of the more wild sort nowadays. I think this area shows the bonanzas and the borrascsa ---the fat and the lean, of what we have constructed within our country and continue to due so. It seems humans and their endeavors are not always sustainable. It certainly seems wilderness is, that is wilderness will adapt a way to continue to exist.  

Once out of the range wild horses roam the East and West Stone Cabin Valleys. purple mountains and blueish-green sagebrush dominate the skyline and lowline. I witnessed a few band of horses, all separate yet within close proximity of each other, banty up in a combination of defiance and curiosity towards me. Then, as in complete admonition of my existence, the horses turned their attention towards each other and galloped over towards each other in a stand-off of some sort. Their fiery disposition fiercely positioned the horse in a fighting stance. Their hooves lumbered up at paddled at the air in front of the next horse. Then, like that, poof, the war was over and you could tell who won the competition. They proceeded to focus their attention back to with glaring eyes and snorting in abhorrence. I felt the wild spirit within and they zoommed right off back to their respective bands. I laid up that night having chosen the tougher path. I laid down that night feeling stronger, wilder.

Section 2, Segment H: McKinney Range
Bunch Brush Canyon to Highway 376 at Tonopah Cache
(approx. 41m) 

Bunch Brush Canyon felt thick and wooly with shrubs of all sorts--chamise, mahogany, bitterbrush. The sweet grass bloomed, the sagebrush stood tall and fragrant. The pinyon showed off green springs, the juniper bragged its ashy blue berries. Because of this the canyon air had a redolence of sweetness. I had not planned on this 'way.' I went off feel; I went off the inspiration of wild horses. I had noticed something out here on the Great Basin Trail: where I found wild horses good things happened---which meant no people, wild trails, water, and a way through. At the end of that evening I camped at a piped spring where the overgrown two track became indiscernible and the largest pinyon I have ever laid eyes upon grew. I guzzled much as I had the surplus to do so. 
At the crack of dawn I maneuvered through the esses of the canyon and as the canyon became narrower the canyon became choked with plant life. I picked my way through and keep persisting towards the saddle between some rocky turrets. Atop the broad flats I scanned the hillsides that had veins of rock ledges sticking out of the pinyon and mahogany forests. Little Cottonwood Canyon plummeted into a narrow squeeze of pinched crimson rock, the drainage lined with the canyon's namesake. I side-hilled  over to a low pass on the ridgecrest and found tread to trample on that led right to the canyon's headwater spring. From there a lengthy and exquisite traverse on PCT style tread ensued. Not on a map, this is what is special about the GBT---the free form nature within a wild nature. Under the range's high point plateau I finally hit the broad ridge above Big Cottonwood Canyon. I felt very fortunate to have ambled through an area otherwise unknown, for an unknown path became a clear path. I had many cows and wild horses to thank.

In the wee hours of that night I woke up shook up in Ralston Valley. An earthquake moaned and groaned in the basin. I had laid down in an indiscernible wash lined with saltbrush. I groggily lifted my head and noticed the light blue glow of the eastern horizon as the sun thought about rising. My first thought became washed over by my realization that I was experiencing an earthquake. I thought the tremor felt small but I knew immediately I had no frame of reference. The trembling continued on for a few long seconds and I laid my head back down on my sleeping pad. Surreal. Utterly surreal. I must have feel quickly back to sleep after being somewhat Los Angeles apathetic---I grew up in earthquakes. But couple that notion with being in the middle of nowhere I just did not tie the impact of what had just occurred. A few minutes later I woke up in a different type of silence---an earthquake silence, which if you grew up in an earthquake zone you would know--- coyotes yipped and barked like domestic dogs and I instantly knew what was about to occur. The moment felt like Northridge 1994. The groaned moaned again, bellowed as the ground rolled; no walls, no edifications, and I thought: 'Well, I'm ok as long as the ground does not open up.' 

I rolled over and went back to sleep feeling so isolated and apathetic, simply feeling a different yet non-threatening experience. I woke up at dawn and began the ramble to my pick-up point with my moms who was driving up from LA ironically. The terrain lazily rolled up over a small range, the southern finger of the Toquimas. Up wide washes, grey with rock, almost ash like, until I saw the grand Toiyabe beckoning in the distance.