Tuesday, June 30, 2020

GBT Guide Part 3

Great Basin Trail: Guide Part 3

Mileage and Pace:

The tallied mileage from my sketched GPS track for the Great Basin Trail is roughly 1050 miles. Estimating actual mileage with discrepancies, such as adjusting for cross country and horse trail miles ('no line is a straight line'), map application sketch adjustments and errors such as straight lines and not taking into the elevation profile, as well as route-finding travel, I think the GBT hiker would be close to hiking 1100 miles. 

Also, I have some unvetted routes and alternates that I think would benefit the GBT that I did not have the opportunity to vet or hike myself. I feel these unvetted alternates should be part of the actual GBT as I think they enhance the GBT. So, these few alternates would add close to 100 miles. Therefore, I think mileage can gravitate from 1050m to 1200m. But these miles are not your typical, well trod and maintained miles that a typical long distance hiker usually experiences on the Triple Crown trails.

I accomplished close to 1200 miles during my 44 day stint on the GBT. I had a surplus of miles walking into towns or finding water, or route-finding and ground truthing, snow travel, and any other excessive miles walked for the sake of creating the route. This turns into a 27 mile per day average. This is probably on the high end but I think it is reasonable to say that a very experienced hiker can average 25mpd. On average, a 20-25mpd average can be expected. Plus, one's mileage per day may end up being higher if one utilizes caches. This simply just means that the more self-sufficient a hiker is the less time one spends in towns. More time on trail and route means a higher mileage per day. I am stating the obvious here, but I must emphasize the character of the GBT as being wild and remote. Hitchhiking will add significant time to one's daily pace. Also, if many storms are encountered the hiker's daily average will go down. Again, I must emphasize the wild and remoteness coupled with the exposure within the Great Basin one's pace may not be what one usually has on other routes and trails.

Type of Travel:

The hiker on the GBT will experience as much constant change as the climate of the Great Basin. The landscape is enormous and instills a sense of vulnerability and smallness that is humbling yet refreshing. The extremes of the Great Basin keeps one's attention fixated on the task at hand while at the same time a transfixed gaze is apparent on the most hardy hiker as the curvatures and angles of the basin and range feel utterly out of this world. This is the hypnotic charm of a moonscape. Mirages and distance distortions skew one's estimates of time, mileage and elevation. Not only are you pressed into exhaustion from the physical exertion, one is taxed mentally from navigation, from the weavings of cross county, from the terribly prominent climbs, and the incessant wind. To cut this ramble short: the Great Basin Trail is very strenuous and challenging.

As I stated in the GBT Introduction, rough estimates of the tread and corridor are 40% faint two track, little used jeep track, or dirt road, with only pavement being less than 2% of that percentage. Actual mapped, inventoried, tracked singletrack trail is roughly 25%. These sections happen to traverse some of the most beautiful ranges of the whole GBT, like the Toiyabe and the Ruby Crest. Some inventoried trail feels more like cross country travel than anything. But there is actual trail tread where mapped. 

Lastly, 35% of the trail is cross country with 25% of that 35% being horse or cattle trail. I had full days where I had no trail at all and meandered through sagebrush and fairly easy cross country terrain. I also had other full days where I weaved along horse trails that felt constructed with PCT gradient parameters. Now, while these wildlife trails are not inventoried I had to include these type of travel as cross country. The horse trails are not mapped and when I had a chance to take a trail I usually had to take a shot at putting complete faith in where the trail would end up. That being said, most horse trails led to a water source or traversed crest lines. So, the horse trails ended up being such a blessing that I think a GBT hiker may find some of these sections, like the Pequop, the McKinney, and the Fortification Ranges, as some overlooked and highlighted sections. 

I gave those percentages of the roughly 1100 miles of the GBT as educated estimates. My GPS track is a sketched route rather than a tracked route. So, my plotted waypoints and red dotted line show roughly where the horse and cattle trails exist. To compare the Great Basin Trail with other routes, 4 come to mind. 

The Desert Trail (and the Oregon Desert Trail, which is a miniature version of the DT) is the closest route in character that the GBT resembles. I believe that the DT and the GBT are tougher than the Hayduke Trail, which is commonly felt to be the most challenging of the long distance hiking trails. The GBT is longer in mileage, more exposed, and more cross country driven than the Hayduke Trail. Where the Hayduke dips into the canyons of Utah's Red Rock Deserts the GBT scales the ranges that line the Great Basin. Lastly, the Grand Enchantment Trail comes to mind as a comparison to the GBT mainly due to the Sky Island nature of both of the routes.

That's the feel of the Great Basin Trail: wild and remote. Even the old mining track feels wild. Most of those mining tracks still maintain a thoroughfare to attain the high crests of some of these ranges. Hiking the GBT one will look at those old scarrings differently, kind of like how CDT hikers hold a different and tame perspective towards cattle once one realizes the symbiotic relationship a hiker and cattle have towards the necessity of water. I purposely left really good dirt roads for the very attainable cross country of the basins to feel slightly more immersed within the landscape. Some small stretches cross salt flats, some even trample over dunes and visit very isolated and random washes.  


For much of the Great Basin one can see for many, many miles in all directions. At one point, on the High Schells crest, you can see close to 500 miles within the panoramic view of the Great Basin Trail. Sometimes your heart double beats as a sliver of a dust plume spirals behind a vehicle travelling in the distance. The vehicle looks so close and your isolation so grand and imminent you want to yell 'Hello!, Hey, over here!' However futile that imagination and hope of human contact you can trace the presence that other human hours later as you get to the crossing of a wispy dust plumed past. You look down and discern fresh tire tracks, then turn back and scan the 20 miles you have just ambled.

Much of the cross country is very doable and achievable. The landscape is basically unobstructed and free with line of sight of travel. The mountain ranges usually lie north to south and the basins are generally crossed east to west. You can spot the canyon to ascend or the entry gate to a mountain range. You can see a distant water source below from the ridgecrests above. You can visually line the ridgeline scramble for the next few hours of slow going hiking. All in all, the navigation is not confusing and is generally obvious. However, try not to get too complacent with navigating travel. 

While much of the navigation is done by eyesight by the walker, having the proper skill set, tools and maps will lessen one's frustration and help in one's success and efficiency of completing the Great Basin Trail. I utilized 3 tools along the way and I had a strategy of how to determine which way to go in questionable moments. 

First off, I had plotted the initial draft of a GPS track from the Nevada Benchmark Maps and Recreation Atlas and satellite imagery overlaying that draft onto the GAIA GPS app. Secondly, I carried the Nevada Benchmark Maps to have an overview of the route and the route options, as well as to have a bailout prospective. Thirdly, I relied on my phone and utilized two separate apps in GAIA GPS and Earthmate. I had sketched my main GPS track on the GAIA GPS app, which is the main route I followed most. 

Note: because I utilized the phone so much I carried a back-up battery charger and a solar panel. I also carried a mini-InReach satellite messenger for current weather info and for communication with my safety net. Plus, the InReach work by Bluetooth with the Earthmate app.

I had these 3 different sources to help navigate and ground truth the route because I found that not all one method is an end all or the most accurate to find the most attractive way or way through an area. What I found in navigating an unknown section or locating an unknown water source, that if I found 2 of the 3 map sources had written or plotted documentation, then usually the trail or dirt road was there or I found the water source. For instance, since some of the trails in these isolated ranges are hardly used anymore, if I mapped the route along a remote yet marked path, I would not have much confidence if I only had that route marked on the GAIA GPS app. For some reason, the Nevada Benchmark Maps proved to be the most reliable and 'honest' to what was on the ground. Even though I utilized the GAIA app the most, the USGS Topo maps within the app and of Nevada seemed a bit outdated. So, one must have a high level skill set of navigating to get through an area, especially in an efficient manner. 

Having these 3 methods reduced weight from carrying a large set of USFS or BLM maps and a compass. The phone and my back up charging method provided me with what I needed to successfully navigate the area. But, if I was to do it again I would still utilize my phone and the Nevada Benchmark Maps, however, I would definitely be hiking with the GBT map set (which will be created soon). 

I found myself constantly navigating and utilizing my tool-route finding options. A brief note in regards to the time of day to hike. After all these options for tools and utilizing an experienced skill set, I chose to not hike at night or push the dusky limits of visibility due to the constant route finding. I found plenty of daylight to hike in to attain my daily mileage. Back to the main point of having an experienced set of navigational tools ,one must be diligent in phone functionality and battery conservation. On top of that, I think the hiker would behoove oneself to research the route on satellite imagery before embarking on the GBT. Also, if one decides to cache food and water, then that hiker will be fairly familiar and oriented with the landscape of the Great Basin. 

To wrap up this section, I found the navigational part of the route the most fun. I enjoyed and relished living in the moment trying to figure out some wilderness puzzle. The route finding and navigation characteristics proved to be ubiquitous. From literal day one I had to be in the zone and perform efficiently to make safe and forward progress. The Great Basin Trail is a route-driven concept designed for hikers wanting to challenge themselves in the rigors of isolation and exposure, be challenged in route-finding, and to further grow their wilderness skill sets.

Monday, June 29, 2020

GBT Guide Part 2

Great Basin Trail: Guide Part 2

Timing and Seasons:

What makes the Great Basin Trail so cool is that it is a loop route. Since you start and finish at the same point the termini is determined by the hiker. For the same reason, the season is ultimately determined by the hiker. The loop gives one the freedom and flexibility to hike the Great Basin Trail. But, one should not be flippant in choosing a start point or a start date. 

The hiker should be well-versed in the Great Basin, the terrain, the highways and dirt roads, the exposure and isolation, and the preparedness of how often the weather changes. One important thing of note, is that the loop of the Great Basin Trail is bifurcated by the well-traveled Highway 6. Below, I will give my suggestion and recommendation for a springtime and autumn start. 

Although I really believe one can hike in the shoulder seasons, like summer and winter, I think the hiker should be highly experienced in navigation and should be incredibly prepared for either dry and hot conditions in the summer in the basins in the southern portion of the loop, as well as to be prepared for snowy and cold conditions in the winter in the northern portion of the loop. Lastly, one can cherry pick the sections during the optimal timeframe to hike portions of the route or one can hike the hemispheres of the route during the optimal time frame. In regards to the latter point, the southern hemisphere would be very comfortable in March and April, while the northern hemisphere is quite comfortable in July.

Highway 6 bisects the GBT
In summation, a hiker can be very creative in choosing the starting and ending points of the Great Basin Trail. A reminder in planning is that wind is a constant companion and the hiker is completely and utterly exposed in the elements on the majority of the GBT, regardless of the season one chooses to hike in. The southern portion of the loop is the most remote while being the hottest and driest. A good frame of location reference of the southern portion is from points GBNP to Tonopah. Towns are few and far between and this portion lives just north of Area 51. So, not only are the nighttime skies incredibly dark, this means hardly any souls venture into the area unless they are driving through the Great Basin expanse.

The northern portion is unique in that each of the higher ranges are vastly different from each other. In a way, each range is a sky island within a illusory sea of the Great Basin. One can break up the sky islands in large sections. The Monitor and Toquima Ranges are within the rain shadow of the Toiyabe and receive less snow, although all 3 ranges are severely exposed in the higher summits. The Diamond Range lives in isolation and is situated centrally within the loop of the GBT. The Ruby's can be broken up into 3 sub-sections. The Southern Ruby is stark and dry as compared to the lush and green East Humboldt Range, while the Ruby Crest is High Sierra-esque. Lastly, the High Schells are very tall and windswept while across the basin of Spring Valley the hiker attains the Colorado-esque 12,000 foot elevation near Mt. Moriah and Wheeler Peak. 

My recommendations for a springtime start:

Lunar Lake
  • timeframe of a clockwise start is from late March to mid May, depending on pace. Within this timeframe, I recommend starting closer to May.
  • starting point in a clockwise direction on the loop starting is from Lake Valley Summit off of Highway 93, which is just west of GBNP. 
  • this starting location gives one enough mileage to cover within the starting time frame above before hitting the higher and often snowbound ranges of the northern portion of the loop. One should target an entry date into the Toiyabe Range from late May to mid June.
  • this starting location breaks up a very long stretch for the food and water carries. Plus, this location is advantageous to drive the circuit of highways to cache food and water in a very remote area.
  • heading clockwise puts one in the most comfortable and wettest duration of the southern hemisphere of the loop.
  • the hiker would enter the Ruby's, which I consider the most forbidden and difficult zone due to the weather and snow conditions, at a fortunate and lush time.
My recommendations for an autumn start:
Snake Range
  • timeframe of a counterclockwise is optimal in the autumn season, in particular a mid to late September start. One could push a mid October start but then the hiker risks encountering colder and potentially snowier weather in the high central ranges like the Alta Toquima and the Toiyabe, as well as limited daylight hours.
  • starting point would be the Lake Valley Summit area and head counterclockwise on the loop. 
  • this means GBNP and the Snake Range, as well as the High Schells, which are the tallest and some of the most exposed ranges within the GBT, would be ticked off the high point list first.
  • drier conditions are less of concern in the northern portion of the loop.
  • hiking the southern portion of the loop in mid October to late November would be very comfortable with the cooler temperatures.
  • the hiker must be physically fit to start in this direction considering the massive climbs in the Snakes and High Schells.
Blurred image on the High Schells

Examples Getting To/From the GBT:
  • flying or taking a train into Elko. Then, renting a car to cache the GBT loop, and, after the caching, pay for a shuttle or cab to Harrison Pass. One could hitch as well. Another option here is to continue with an arrival into Elko, then take a community shuttle to either Wells or Lamoille Canyon. You could theoretically start in any direction since the GBT is a loop, but you would have to time the seasons correctly. This option is great for a Fall, early September, thru hike in a clockwise direction. Vehicle storage is also available in Elko.
  • start at Highway 6 at the Blue Jay Cache option and hike in a clockwise direction starting in mid to late July. The hiker would need to get dropped off there either by hitching roughly 60 miles from Tonopah. Starting during the mid to late July timeframe puts the hiker in the hottest and most southern stretches in the cooler month of late September. Vehicle storage available in Tonopah, as well.
  • start at Lake Valley Summit in mid April to early May and walk clockwise. The trick here is getting dropped off at this remote place. One could have support, or hitch from Pioche and Ely where one could potentially cache a car. Hitching from either community should not be a terrible issue in regards to wait-time.
  • fly into Las Vegas, rent a car, cache the GBT, drive back to LV, then hitch or utilize a shuttle to Tonopah. Hike out of Tonopah using an alternate and head in the clockwise direction. Good to start this option in mid to late August, or even early September.
  • Fly into Salt Lake City. Find means to get to Baker, NV and Great Basin National Park (I had a friend pick me up from there from SLC once). From GBNP, this start option is optimal for a counter-clockwise direction starting in late August to early September. From Baker, one can hike from the small town utilizing dirt roads to get up into Baker Canyon. 
Of course, the easiest way to start is to have someone support you, help you cache, and then drop you off at your particular starting point, like I had for me. The other easiest way is to utilize two cars and have a hiking partner where having the flexibility of two cars the pair can use the cars as transportation, cache points, etc. The point of these examples is to show the do-ability of accessing the GBT, as well as the versatility of hiking in a loop. The roads are either highways or really good gravel roads that access or intersect remote areas for either water or food caching or having a meet-up point. Try and be creative with your starting point that benefits your hiking experience and timeframe! 


Weather in the Great Basin can be tumultuous, burly, unpredictable, harsh, pleasant, sunny, warm, hot, frigid, and incredibly dry. The flora mimics the harshness of the climate too. Bristlecone pines literally lie on the ground and in the opposite direction from where the prevailing winds gust. Salty shrubs poke up from alkaline flats. Limber and pinyon pines and juniper twist and contort as if shaped by an invisible hand of wind. Nothing but sagebrush grows in most of the basins as if life is too hard to dwell in such a barren environment. 

I have lived in Montana and Colorado over the years and the saying is the same: wait 5 minutes for the weather to change. Nothing is more truer than that notion in Nevada and the Great Basin as compared to those states. The weather feels more unpredictable and changes more drastically. One morning may be brittle and cold while the afternoon sweltering and no shade. One day temps may not rise above freezing with the wind biting through your skin; the next sunny skies and back up to 80 degrees. A ridge crest may be frigid while a basin some 5,000ft and less than 5 miles below may be toasty. 

Partly the reason for this harshness and unforgiving quality is the severely exposed landscape and the intense dryness of the Great Basin. To the west, the Sierra Nevada provides a shade and soaks up most of the precipitation. As the roving storm cells and systems move across the Great Basin eastward water is evaporated from the basin floors making the giant lake beds dry. Eventually, those storm systems slam into the Rocky Mountains to deposit snow and rain. The Great Basin is so large, so immense, that the weather patterns dip coldly from the north, swelter from the monsoonal flow of the Gulf of California, and blow in from the Tahoe area. I will not wow you with data or graphs or charts. I can vouch from experience how dramatically harsh and unpredictable the weather and climate is in the Great Basin, of which within the Great Basin Trail you will have indulged in thorough exposure at bay to the open skies and vast and empty terrain. 

I guarantee you, you will not ever feel so small in an ecoregion. The Great Basin is so hard to conceive of how big the area and region is. The landscape is dramatic and I have seen nor experienced any other area like it other than the Altiplano in Bolivia, an area that lies beneath the Andes. One can see a storm move in from miles away. In fact, one can dodge a storm on foot from miles away and time the dodging of the curtain of water falling from the sky. 

The wind is palpable in the form of the clouds towering above or smothering across the Great Basin. You can visibly eyeball the direction of the wind and brace for impact. Sometimes the wind is so great that one is deceived into thinking a storm is suddenly upon them with the darkening of the bright sky only to have sand pelt the skin and backpack. There is no cover out here, no tree big enough to hide under, no gully deep enough to sink into, no hill tall enough to barricade against. You are at the will of the weather gods out here in the Great Basin.

In all realness behind my hyped-up drivel, the experiencer should be ready for sudden changes and be prepared to potentially sit out a day on trail to let an intense snow storm pass through. One should be ready to wait a sunny day in town to let the snow blow off the ridges and the dry lake beds to bake once again and harden under the intense sun. 

Part of the preparedness is the mental part of what to expect to encounter. The wind will hurt, the cold will sting, dryness will crack your skin, and the sun will chafe. The biggest research you can do is to stay on top of checking the weather out there, as well as to monitor snow levels in the Sierra for the Winter and how the Spring storms are frequenting the Rockies. Lastly, which will lead to the next section, test your gear, check your gear, and even bring a couple extra items for the hike, or at least have a plan to either have gear shipped or cached ahead, or to have someone send you appropriate gear as necessary. Because the GBT is so remote, finding adequate gear in the small towns may not be an option. To think you will not get weather out here in the Great Basin one will be sadly mistaken and uncomfortable.


As a sample, I will do a brief gear list, mainly my Big 3 items and clothing layers, after some brief detail of what to bring and what to expect. Like I said, one is benefited by having appropriate gear for changing weather and sections by having gear shipped or cached ahead. 

Overall, I suggest leaning on supplying yourself with gear that is on the warmer side. So much of the Great Basin is exposed. So, by that notion, temperatures are naturally colder due to wind chill. By that, since the southern portion is much warmer having an extra layer or even a warmer quilt or sleeping bag waiting in Tonopah may prove to be advantageous as you walk in a clockwise direction. By the same notion, to an extent, if hiking counterclockwise having warmer gear from the get-go is a necessity. 

Since Highway 6 is the bisecting line of the GBT be aware of the ecoregion's changes within, above and below that line. The highest mountain ranges live in the northern portion of the loop, so, the basins are inherently higher in elevation and the weather generally cooler. You will frequently be at higher elevations in those sections, as well. In the southern portion I cowboy-camped for nearly 3 straight weeks. I did not set up my tarp shelter until I got to the Alta Toquima in late May where I was camped at nearly 10,000ft and in much colder temperatures than I had experienced up to that point in the GBT.

A hiker must be self-sufficient as recommended because the towns do not have the type of gear that an experienced backpacker may covet, including small items like gloves and ponchos. Besides Ely, Tonopah, Eureka, Pioche, and Wells the next most opportune town that is reasonably close to trail is Elko. You could reasonably find gear there in Elko, but in most other towns you are mainly going to be selecting from cheap hunting gear. 

A hiker may not be concerned as much with comfort if one over-prepares for cold and wind. But, finding a balance between warm, durable and lightweight gear will be beneficial for the rigors of the GBT. When the trail or cross country gets rugged, let me tell you, the trail gets really rugged. These brief yet intense overgrown paths and terrain mainly occur in the canyons. Much of the ranges are accessible from a couple main trailheads. Couple that with less sheepherding than in years past, canyons that once held trails are now completely overgrown by willows or wild rose bushes. So, what I am getting, ensure your gear is at or near bombproof as the bushwhacking in those brief yet intense areas is inevitable. 

My GBT Big 3 and Clothing Gear List:

Big 3:
  • Pa'lante Packs 40L Desert pack
  • YAMA Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform tarp
  • Katabatic Gear 20 degree Palisade quilt
  • Therm-a-Rest UL sleeping pad, size small
Extra Layers:
  • Patagonia Houdini wind jacket
  • Smartwool 200 knit merino wool hoodie or Patagonia R1 hoodie
  • Montbell Superior down jacket
  • Montbell Torrent Shell rain jacket
  • Montbell wind pants
  • Buff
  • Smartwool merino gloves
  • Darn Tough 1/4 cushion hiking socks, 1 extra pair

Friday, June 26, 2020

GBT Guide Part 1

Great Basin Trail: Guide Part 1

Water: (GBT Water Chart linked below)

Water is more plentiful that one might believe on the Great Basin Trail. Three of the longest waterless stretches of the GBT are in the southern section, ~41m, ~30m, and ~25m respectively. The southern half is very much drier than the northern half, although each of those 3 waterless stretches can be broken up by a strategic water cache at a highway crossing or a driveable basin road crossing. The longest stretches of the northern half are ~50m and ~25m. That ~50m stretch is fortunately from Wells, NV, in which one should have their belly satiated with water. The downside is that southward one walks to a questionable source in Upper Boone Springs, which may be horse-fouled. However, a couple of cattle troughs and tanks have been located some 10 miles prior that, at certain times of the year where cattle are grazing, will have water. The latter ~25m waterless stretch has the reliable Corta Spring near Overland Pass in the Diamond Range. A cache can be plotted on the good roads of Huntington Valley, as well.

In total, I found roughly 180 potential water sources and at least 8 cache points. In plenitude are the many types of water sources that exist on the Great Basin Trail. These include springs, creeks, lakes and ponds, corrals and troughs and tanks, wells, the occasional wildlife guzzler, and ephemeral potholes and puddles. Of those sources the springs are probably the main resource for water in which the flow can go from a tiny trickle, slow drops, a seepage, to a spring relinquishing a small creek flow. Even which of those springs, some are piped and either free-flowing, or flowing into various catchments such as tanks or troughs.

As much as the Great Basin is known for its dryness and unpredictability in weather, creeks inhibit most of the highest ranges and are a striking shimmer and sound to the thirsty eyesight and startling arid ear. The first running creek I encountered in the Quinn Canyon Range had me entranced for a long lunch break and nap at the beautiful hymn and harmony of crystal clear flowing water. In the largest ranges, such as the Toiyabe, Monitor, and Ruby creeks are a vital part of the ecoregion and are mainly spring fed in the highest elevations, as well as rapid flows from springtime snowmelt. 

Much of the water encountered is in fair to clear condition. Because human impact is scarce and much of the horse and cattle sources, such as springs and corrals, are maintained by the BLM or ranchers much of the sources look clean or clear. However, despite how one's confidence may appear from one's isolation in the Great Basin one must always be aware of waterborne illnesses and utilize water sanitation treatment when consuming these sources. A couple of these sources will be horse-tainted, even more fouled depending on the time of year and water volume. 

Also, taking care and maintaining proper LNT ethics around these sources are of the utmost importance. Please, ensure these ethics occur, as well as maintaining a proper safety protocol being so remote and far away from rescue and help. Myriad of wildlife utilize these sources such as wild horses, cattle, antelope, elk, deer, mountain lion, burros, coyotes, tons of birds, among other little critters out in the Great Basin.

In the GBT map set and on the GPS file, waypoints and water information will be notated for the hiker. A Water Report is now available with at three hiking seasons of the past 2 years water-scoped and water-proofed. The Water Chart includes notes as to the reliability and conditions of the source. This Google spreadsheet is hiker fed and is a public link.

As a precaution, one must not be too reliant on reported conditions as sources may change, dry up, become non-functional for range use, or become fouled. Lastly, not all water sources are potable. Occasional thermal pools or springs are encountered. I did not utilize any of these potential and precarious sources. 

In summation, I believe it is sufficient to say one can hike the GBT without drinking any of these questionable sources. To double down on this, there are sufficient enough water sources to thru-hike the GBT, especially if one utilizes strategic cache points. Lastly, over prepare on this route to ensure hydration and water availability.   

GBT Water Chart

Resupply and Caching: (GBT Resupply Chart linked above itinerary)

Because the Great Basin Trail is a loop, strategy for resupplying and caching makes one's complete attempt in hiking the loop favorable. Because the Great Basin Trail is contained completely in Nevada and within the Great Basin, section stretches between actual towns are great in distance and time consuming, especially with the rigors of the walking and the difficulty in navigation. Depending on when and where you start in the Great Basin Trail's loop, you can split up the longer sections with more manageable stretches, especially with the use of caching. 

The Great Basin is very temperamental in weather conditions and because the nature of the terrain is so exposed one may be delayed in attaining achievable miles towards a section end. Often times, storms may limit one from traversing a ridge or crest, as well as crossing a basin during lightning storms, let alone trying to cross a basin when the floor is saturated which may pose a 'sticky' situation with the clingy mud. To briefly sum this up, the caches will be advantageous if one has to hole up a day or so on route.

Within the loop of the GBT, major yet isolated highways transect the route. Highways 6, 50, and 93 are the major and most useful to cache. These caches also promote one in being self-sufficient and not to rely on hitchhiking. To say the least, hitchhiking in the remote Great Basin may be time-stretching and may test your limits in patience. Also, the main dirt roads in the basins, which mainly run south to north, are maintained regularly by the counties in which those roads reside in. Usually, one can stash a bucket or bury an Ursack at a summit between two valleys or simply an innocuous highway or dirt road crossing. Lastly, driving around the loop and caching food gets one so familiar with such an isolated route. This helps in not only familiarity of the route, but to become aware of one's bailout options, which are so important in such a remote route.

Buck-30 has an excellent article about caching food and water in the desert. He gives tips, perspective, and strategy. Follow this link:


The longest stretch between towns that are relatively close to or on trail is from Pioche to Carvers at roughly 305m. Although I did not utilize Carvers as a main resupply option, this is reasonably the next closest town from Pioche that has sufficient amenities. I utilized Tonopah because I had an arranged ride from the GBT, and because Tonopah would have more amenities than most any other town on trail other than Ely. In between those two resupply towns, one may have an opportunity to hitchhike to Tonopah twice and have at least 4-5 caching opportunities. 

From my utilized itinerary, I had 3 sections over 185m between resupply with the longest estimated at 210m. For each of those sections, I utilized caches that I placed or had some help from friends that ventured out to central Nevada. Two sections--- from the Tonopah Cache on Highway 364 to Eureka (~185m) and the section from Eureka to Wells (~210m)--- are by far the toughest stretches of the GBT. Not only is the terrain incredibly challenging because you are frequently up high on a crest, but you are immersed in some of the most remote country in the lower 48. So, one needs to have ample food for the miles-per-day average, enough water carrying capacity, and have a little luck with the weather. Detours are available to avoid any inclement weather, but missing the ranges misses arguably some of the top highlights of the GBT. 

Overall, I highly recommend utilizing cache points for both food and water, but mainly food. I have labeled the cache points in the GBT map set and on the GPS file. I recommend also to use the Nevada Benchmark Atlas to have an overview of the highway and dirt road system within central Nevada. 

The GBT does not have very many towns, but of the towns I used I really liked the friendliness and the walking-thru of Eureka the most. Wells has the basic essentials for a truck stop town off Interstate 80. Some may even venture into the fairly large sized town of Elko from the Ruby Crest trailhead. Ely is a decent sized town with all amenities that is spitting distance from McGill, which is where one could only utilize the USPS. Other small towns exist off the GBT, but just remember these towns are incredibly small and amenities may not be up to all of your personal needs. Caliente, Alamo, Carvers, McGill, and Baker are other towns a hiker must be aware of for bailout options or a roofed respite from a storm. 

The Resupply Chart below is a shared public link.

GBT Resupply Chart

Sample GBT Itinerary:
note*** this is my utilized itinerary***

Great Basin Trail Itinerary:

•Lake Valley Summit to Crystal Springs:
- (6 days) (5/3-5/8)
-Crystal Springs Cache
[total: ~146m]

•Crystal Springs to Tonopah:
-(8.5 days) (5/9-5/17)
-(~125m Crystal Springs Cache to Blue Jay Cache)
-(~70m Blue Jay Cache to Tonopah) 
(3.5 days)
[total: ~195m]

•Tonopah Zero Day (if possible)

•Tonopah to Eureka:
-(8 days) (5/19-5/26)
-PO in Tonopah 
-(~50m Tonopah Cache to Smoky Valley) 
-(~135m Smoky Valley Cache to Eureka) 
[total: ~185m]

•Eureka Zero Day (if possible)

•Eureka to Wells:
-(8 days) (5/28-6/4)
-PO in Eureka
[total: ~202m]
[+ ~57,000ft and - ~57,500ft]

•Wells to McGill:
-(6.5 days) (6/5-6/11)
-PO in Wells 
[total: ~166m]

•Ely Zero Day (if possible)

•McGill to Lake Valley Summit:
-(5 days) (6/13-6/17)
-Market in Ely 
[total: ~125m]

Thursday, June 25, 2020

GBT Overview

Great Basin Trail: Overview


I believe my inspiration for route within the state of Nevada began when I was a kid. My family and I frequently traveled between Los Angeles and Las Vegas not only for family visits but for an eventual move as a pre-teen. Then, as a teenager my family frequented the June Lake area which meant taking Highway 395, which is mainly the western boundary of the Great Basin. The basin and range high desert climate is etched in my memory stemming all the way back from childhood. 

Many, many years later in 2015, I undertook a long distance hike across the state of Nevada called the Great Basin Traverse. This route made sense to me considering my childhood and familial memories. I had grown to seek those wide views and isolated and lonesome areas. While on that particular route, I began to understand how undervalued and overlooked the state and region is. In actuality, I felt pretty surprised at how ignored this vast landscape seemed in the long distance hiking community. To me, the spirit of hiking felt focused on the Triple Crown trails. Around this time, and in the background, hiking routes had gathered some steam. Folks gravitated from the Triple Crown trails to more route driven trails like the Grand Enchantment and Hayduke Trails. As I accomplished the majority of these hiking routes, I noticed the lack of a focused route trail in Nevada and the Great Basin. On my traverse, which really had been my first researched and thrown-together route, I started to gather knowledge of what a route consists of, mainly a theme within the landscape that makes sense and flows with the terrain and geographic feature. As I crossed into Idaho from the remote town of Jarbidge, Nevada, I felt underachieved. 

Nevada is temperamental in climate and extremely exposed. Unfortunately, I had encountered quite a number of thunderstorms and snowstorms that greatly altered my route and had me hunkered down in those small dusty towns of central Nevada. Over the years, I thought a lot about this Great Basin Traverse. In fact, some of the Great Basin Trail uses the idea and the basin and ranges that I had thought of in the Great Basin Traverse. 

A few years went on since that Great Basin crossing. Then, I spoke about the route on The Trail Show and The Routes Podcast with John Z. The community seemed to be aware of the route, although I still felt it to be unfinished. But, I felt lucky to have stumbled upon a landscape where such openness exists enough to create a route without relative ends.

Two years later, in 2017, I rode on a bikepacking trip, called the Poop Loop, which is a 5,200m circuit around the intermountains and basins of the West. Part of that bikepacking trip consisted of nearly 600m within Nevada. In this trip, I went through parts of the Great Basin that my traverse did not. The bike also helped me explore more of the Great Basin within a shorter amount of time. What seemed to benefit me the most in regards to the Great Basin Trail, besides the more familiarity of the Great Basin, was the exploration of mining roads, like how these roads characteristically looked on the maps versus how they appeared in the present, how the springs may not be running in these areas due to the past mining history, and lastly, how these roads, if not used, maintained a character of wildness that one could possibly feel on a two track that is hardly ever or never used anymore.

In 2018, I hiked the Desert Trail, a 1500m route-driven trail from Jacumba Hot Springs at the California/Mexico border to Drinkwater Pass in central-eastern Oregon. This route's various ecoregions exist as not too unfamiliar with the Great Basin. From the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts in southern California to the outback deserts of eastern Oregon, sandwiched in between is the basin and range ecoregion of Nevada and the Great Basin. Conceived of in the 1960s by a Russell Pengally in Bend, Oregon, the Desert Trail had the lofty aspiration of connecting Mexico with Canada by foot in an entire desert ecoregion. The nature of the Desert Trail is route-driven with navigation and backcountry hiking experience a must. I found trail tread scarce, yet found undocumented horse trails. I found the creative notions of ridge running very doable and thrilling. I found one could be creative in resupply and caching strategy utilizing well-graded BLM roads and highway crossings. Most importantly, I found water plentiful despite the long, long carries.

Finally, in the Fall and into the Winter of 2019, a couple of friends of mine, Pepperflake and Handy Andy of Pa'lante Packs invited me on another version of the Great Basin Traverse. After a couple weeks of mulling the idea over I decided to join them. Not only did I want to start a new hiking season hiking with friends, especially in a remote and special place, but I really thought about those sections I had to forego in '15 due to severe weather. From that point on, I spent most of the Winter revisiting the route.

Route and Loop Concept:

As I perused over maps and satellite images of the Great Basin Traverse, I began to get more and more excited. My eyes drifted to other mountain ranges and ridge lines. Even remote basins intrigued me. Really, I felt more interested by the isolation and remoteness of the Great Basin. Pepperflake had a tentative start date of May 1st. I had that set in mind too, but as the Winter progressed and as my job became more stressed, I realized I wanted to leave earlier and to spend as much time immersed in isolation within the Great Basin as possible. I developed the Great Basin Loop that instead of staying north above Area 51, like the GBT does, stayed south and skirted just north of Las Vegas and headed west to Death Valley where I was to meet the boys. The original loop pushed 1700 miles or so. But, then the Covid-19 happened. I'll get to that later.

So, because of COVID-19, I wanted to be responsible in my hiking choice. I wanted the route and loop to be contained in Nevada and completely within the Great Basin. I really wanted to hit the mountain ranges that my Great Basin Traverse did, as well as the higher ranges of eastern Nevada, in particular the High Schells and the Snake Ranges. I, then, focused on the timing of such a loop hike noticing the climate bifurcation boundary of Highway 6. I followed mountain ranges and linked them together with basins that followed a more or less direct path within public land. As I followed crest lines of some ranges, I would then zoom in on satellite to see if the ridges could be traversed. If so, I then plotted a line that would follow the crest and then leave the crest in an area where a spring or possibly even a small creek existed. 

More time on the satellite imagery for the water sources ensued. Most water sources seemed reliable and the ridges doable. After drawing a route south from Lake Valley Summit off of Highway 93, I then ventured in a westerly direction crossing some barren and remote country that initially went through the Basin and Range Monument with the idea of meeting the boys at Peavine Campground in the southern Toiyabe.

From Peavine Campground, we would follow the trace of what I had originally drawn nearly 5 years earlier and interweave that line with Pepperflake's newer line. His line made the traverse more attractive and even more challenging. I was excited to see how his route would be implemented with such rigors as isolation and long distances between resupply. 

Both our routes would split up at Wells, NV. Pepperflake's would head in a northeasterly direction to complete a traverse of the Great Basin while mine would loop around at Wells and turn south to eventually complete a loop at Lake Valley Summit.

Besides the characteristics and the draw of immersion in such a grand ecosphere, I really became focused on a loop for a complete thru-hike. Other than the Tahoe Rim and Wonderland Trails, finding a loop on a long distance trail is fairly rare. Andrew Skurka's Great Western Loop, Pepperflake's Greater Yellowstone Loop, Ras's UP North Loop, and my Vagabond Loop are four notable loops that utilize other well-known routes or trails. But, to have a long distance trail in the form of a loop and be greater than a 1000 miles without utilizing any other trampled routes is even rarer and even underexplored. The more research I put into this idea the notion of a loop became my goal. Little was I to know how I would be affected by hiking a large continuous loop in an extremely remote area.

As I began hiking the Great Basin Loop, I noticed that the wildness and isolation is the most apparent trait of the route. Ultimately, as I turned the route westerly and northerly I felt the pull of the core of the Great Basin. It is a big difference to pass through something within a point-to-point trail and to touch multiple pulse-points within specific areas, such as the PCT and CDT. Within a loop, you are constantly in the core of an ecosystem and within that core you develop an intense sense of place where you become part of the landscape. You become immersed in the wholeness of the Great Basin, you become the wild horse, the roaming antelope, and the grazing elk; you become the wind rifling through the warped bristlecones and the tumbling sagebrush; you are the enormous sky, the dryness within the stillness, the ruffling tumult of gusts that deposit sand in plumes; you are the water that flows from the mountain tops down through lonesome canyons only to bubble up or run out into the basins that seep into the aquifers below. 

The concept of the route continued to marvel my curiosity. As I turned south, I found myself, to my surprise, almost doubling back on the route I had just passed through. Although I really didn't get that close to the sections I had hiked, I still felt the pulse of the core of the Great Basin. The heart still felt present. With the deceiving distances of the Great Basin, due to its vastness and enormity, one range felt so close as to travel there on foot in a day even though I had taken 2 weeks to get from one place to another. This sense of place made me feel incredibly small and vulnerable, as well as to feel as a part of the region. To be honest, I felt incredibly connected, clear-minded and balanced while feeling so familiar with the land. I could name every ridge, every drainage and basin; just everything, everyplace.

Then, as I crested the Highland Ridge at 11,775ft in Great Basin National Park, I could see my starting point, the cinch point of my loop, that I started 43 days prior. Lake Valley Summit shimmered in the miraged distance at 5,800ft. I vividly recalled my lead up to that first day: the campfire, the Talking Heads song, my partner Ruta, her smile, her eyes. I envisioned that first day in the Fortification Range: the horse trails, the flowing springs, the intimidating and impenetrable rock walls along the crest, the pinyon and juniper. As I neared the beginning, I felt the end. Like I was actually completing something, like I had come home, that I had re-lived such a familiar experience that I stumbled into a realm of what was real and what was memory. I felt alive within the landscape, simply exhilarated, exactly surreal. One who experiences completing the loop of the Great Basin Trail indulges in such a unique experience where one has attained complete immersion within the Great Basin of Nevada. 

The Foundation of a Trail:

Like I stated above, when I started to create the Great Basin adventure I had initially called the route the Great Basin Loop. Really, in the planning phase, I had not even considered the possibility of creating something for others to hike. I had only been focused on how I had to rearrange and edit the route to fit within the timeframe and the social upheaval of the Covid-19 Pandemic. As with most of the routes I have endeavored on, I had my vision sighted on personal goals. The idea of sharing something that felt intimate to me felt not fair not only to me but to the next hiker. The notion that others would enjoy the immersion in the Great Basin eluded me. I mean, there simply had not been enough buzz or interest in the Great Basin except for how I felt about it personally. Nevertheless, something became apparent as I walked the route. 

By the time I had my first actual town resupply in Tonopah, some 350 miles in, and I had the opportunity to express the experience up to that point, I realized I had been on an actual route that I firmly believed another hiker, whether section or thru-hiker, would want to hike. During that first 2.5 weeks, I found so much more than scenic beauty. As I ground-truthed the route in the field, I discovered the foundation of a long distance trail. I found myself utilizing my research from the past Winter, however, I realized I had been utilizing my Desert Trail experience. That experience provided me with validation in what I found myself creating and discovering. 

So, I decided to change the name from the Great Basin Loop to the Great Basin Trail. I found abundant horse trails meandering the crests of ranges and cattle trails within the basins. Shoot, even on the first day in the Fortification Range I found nothing but horse trail, like close to 15 miles worth. Even the cross country travel had the character of wildlife travel, which meant that most game or horse or cattle trail led eventually to water, especially in the basins. I saw my instincts shift from one of a hobby hiker to one of a tracker and creator as I was seeking and following the lay of the land and wildlife tracks. The cross country travel was still appealing when wildlife trail was absent. This I knew would appease a long distance and route-driven hiker. This brought a wild aspect to the route even if a dirt road is near like in the basins. 

I, also, found the mining two tracks to be very appealing and held a wild spirit. What at one time might had been a blatant scar on the land now held the appearance after so many years of being a part of the landscape. If the road became faint and non-existent the corridor still held its integrity. Plant life grew within the road to become two side-by-side singletracks. And, an important aspect of these mining roads is that they led up into the mountains that otherwise felt untraveled. The mining roads provided a way.

The exhilaration in all of this came in the form of an unsuspecting discovery--- I found most of the foundation of the trail as undocumented trails and in seldom used public lands while also buffering the foundation with the presence of water. The amount of water surprised me greatly. The more I found the more I understood why and how the water is used by the wildlife and ranging cattle. This meant I could reasonably estimate if a water source would be reliable or not. At every high point on crest lines in ranges I would scout my gaze over the next basin to spot the corral and tanks. Sometimes I could see water shimmering in the troughs in the distance, sometimes I could see the stamped out ground from the cattle frequenting the corrals. The more I hiked onward the more confidence I achieved. 

When I got to Tonopah, I believed I was on to something, that I was onto a legitimate route worth sharing. And I knew what laid ahead of me: the Toiyabe, Toquima, and Monitor Ranges section, and the Diamond and Ruby Ranges section-----all would be enticing and incredible. That left the last third of the route. With the high ranges of the Shells and the Snakes, I envisioned something wholly complete. With some luck, research, and my previous experience I stumbled onto the Great Basin Trail.

The GBT in the time of Covid-19:

The Covid-19 Pandemic put a lot of hiking plans to a screeching halt. People lost their jobs, folks sank into a depression, the economy crashed, people fell ill, and life became set in a lockdown isolation. Besides spending considerable time thinking about what it would mean to hike the route during the trying times of Covid, I occupied my time by training with running, walking, and body-weight workouts. I also spent my time refining my Great Basin Trail and trimmed some fat of the route that would fit in a reasonable timeframe with a later start date due to the warming of the weather in the southern half of the route. I looked at reversing the loop depending on the openings. I looked at food and water caches along the route to maintain social distancing standards and respect for others. In a weird way, I felt I had an opportunity during the time of 'stay-at-home' isolation. I planned for the time to be ready when the time of opening presented itself. 

A couple months into the pandemic things began to open slowly. My lease was up on my seasonal employee housing, my partner went back to work, and my job had no start date in sight. I kept my eyes on Nevada's opening and timed it with Ruta's return to work to spend a weekend driving to the Great Basin to cache food and water. I felt comfortable in my plan: head to the most isolated place in the lower 48, be as self-sufficient as possible for 2-3 weeks, quarantine for 14 days in isolation in the Great Basin, dip quickly in and out of town when necessary and utilize the USPS for resupply after the caches, create a safety plan, and refine my route to be attainable. All in all, my plan worked out well and most things played out according to plan. I felt socially responsible for the situation I had planned and created for myself even if the decision to hike might not have been a popular one in the eyes of others.