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.

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