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.

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