Monday, July 6, 2020

Sections 4 of the Great Basin Trail

Sections of the GBT: Sections 4

Setion 4: Sevenmile Wash to Jacobs Well
(approx. 95m)

Section 3, Segment L: Antelope and Fish Creek Ranges
Sevenmile Wash to Eureka
(approx. 47m)

The Antelope Range is an overlooked range in a very remote area. While you are more likely to encounter ranch hands and hunters in the rugged jeep track meandering through the lower parts of the range, Ninemile Peak remains lonesome and solitary. The primitive area surrounding the peak is now a Wilderness Study Area. Most visitors to this isolated area frequent the more popular ranges of the Toiyabe and the Toquima as well as the many hot springs in the area. So, if seeking solitude in a section of the Great Basin Trail, the Antelope Range fits the bill.

The cruiser ridge line stemming from the high plateau of the range to Ninemile Peak is windswept and rocky. Elk roam the high parts and as I rambled through here I ran into a couple bull elk laden with enormous antlers. The final push up to Ninemile Peak is among a loose talus field which tops out at over 10,000ft. The surrounding views are breathtaking and the feeling of emptiness is profound. That being said, I summited the peak on the same day another fellow had done so. Through the small summit register I saw that over the years only a couple hikers visit the the lonesome peak. So, having two peakbaggers unknowingly top the peak in one day seemed like such a rare feat. Out here on the Great Basin Trail there is a semblance of randomness that is more perceptible than in crowded areas. Maybe the feeling of randomness is heightened because of the isolation. I am not entirely sure, but it is there. It is the mystery of a vast landscape where you recall what draw you were in in a snowstorm or what basin during a windstorm, or you can observe from a distance a storm system move hundreds of miles across the landscape and you just instinctively know where that storm system is going to. Without a tremendous feeling of civilization surrounding you the world feels closer, feels more connected. Almost like tied to spirits of the past, some hidden wavelengths parallel from our reality aside a mirage or a dreamscape. From Ninemile Peak the heat waves of the basins below shimmer and the clouds push through the sky at a ferocity spurred on by the wind. Far down below a wisp of dust tails a car speeding along a dirt road. I know a connection exists and I long for a random conversation where we can search out the meaning of it all, of whatever the meaning of it all feels like in an immense abyss like the Great Basin.

The segment explores the Fish Creek Range as well. Wild horse rove the lower parts among forests of pinyon and juniper. Basically disappeared mining track weaves along the foothills ducking in and out of drainages. After an easy traverse the route encounters McCulloughs Butte which one finds the boom and bust past of gold and silver mining. Old track switchback and explore the hillsides, rusty pieces of metal strew the area, and wild horse take advantage of the isolation here to have established a new territory. I clambered my way up the weaving old mining roads before wrestling briefly with a mahogany thick. Once atop the range the aerial towers of the flat tops finally gave me an unwelcomed hope of a sight of civilization. From Prospect Peak I could see even more scarring from mining, more adits and more dirt roads. Most importantly, I could see from my perch the small town of Eureka, the first town since Pioche some previous 400 miles. I had gotten used to not being around people for so long the sights of massive structure appeared so foreign to me and not like the basin and ranges I had become so accustomed to. I started to think how I would interact with people and would I have the same voice and tone like I had had with the wild horses which had been my main companions thus far.

Section 3, Segment M: Diamond Range
Eureka to Jacobs Well
(approx. 48m)

The Diamond Range is probably my favorite range that is probably the most overlooked within the Great Basin Trail. I understand that is a tall statement especially since the Diamond Range is smack dab between the Ruby's and the previous sections big 3 ranges of the Toiyabe, the Alta Toquima and the Monitors. The Diamond Range is as remote as any range in Central Nevada although from the peaks one can see large agricultural fields down in the basins below. The range is long and thin and is accessible at two points: Newark Summit in the southern end and Overland Pass in the northern end. The high point is Diamond Peak at 10,614ft that towers over the Newark and Diamond Valleys. This is where I will start: Diamond Peak.

I left Eureka with a full belly and ambled through the highlands above Eureka to Newark Summit. I met Squatch there, a well-known hiker known for his documentaries. Coincidentally as I started my Great Basin Trail Squatch had begun to take occasional trips to Nevada to film a documentary about Nevada about how beautiful, weird, remote yet overlooked Nevada is. We met at Newark Summit for an interview. The more we explore the hinterlands of Nevada as hikers the more treasure we receive. After our interview, we parted ways, Squatch by vehicle and me by foot. Late afternoon began to color the skies in a cloaked purple and a deep pink. The peak hovered above me and I found wild horse trails that would take an easy gradient line against from climbing the peak. I climbed the peak as the sun touched the western horizon and I found a nestled spot under a wind-warped white pine and hunkered down for the night. I gazed at the dark sky enveloping the entirety of the Great Basin. The Milky Way began to smear the expanse of blackness and lights from civilization flickered from the basins some 5,000ft below.

Up Early the next morning since I had a bird's eye view of the sunrise, I began the day-long scramble along the ridgecrest. Fortunately for me I was at the high point of the day but I could see the long undulating ridge that spanned seemingly endlessly to the north. Quickly, the wind began to blow, and just as quickly, I found wild horse trails that weaved along the crest. I cruised along but then slowed once the crest became more pointy. But the wild horse trails persisted. I worked hard, exuberantly hard. I felt ecstatic being up so high and traversing a range so long and rugged while having unmarked trail. I attained a hidden pass where in one go I saw more wild horses than I could count. That being said, astonishingly I saw more wild horses in this one day than the whole trip length of the GBT. Bands of horses huddled together in muddy swales on the leeward side of the range. Snowfields had recently melted and the horses took advantage of the newly sprigged grass and the melting water. Nearby on another snowfield a couple deer laid about cooling off. I gazed at the bands of horses, some 60-70 I imagine, from a short distance and watched them become aware of me and begin to move in unison. Every minute or so a lone horse would break from a band and gallop towards me to inspect me. More and more of the horses became aware of me and a long procession moved up to the pass from the muddy swale. I moved towards them as my route dictated and the horses kept a wide berth of me. At the pass, I noticed a couple hovering mosquitoes. Flummoxed by the appearance of the mosquitoes up so high on an exposed and windy crest, I slapped them away from me. Seconds later, I kept slapping. I thought maybe that hidden muddy swale held mosquito coverage for the horses. 

I continued on with the mosquitoes in tow. The conditions worsened as the technicality and my enjoyment of the range increased. I floundered in exhaustion in the increasing temperatures and rugged terrain of the crest. I could not break for a rest because the cloud of mosquitoes became to thick and harassing. The sage-lined crest had that greenish blue tint and soft fuzzy appearance that zigged with the crest. The crest lined so sharply it looked like the sagebrush could not be shaken off the top, like the sage stuck to the crest like Velcro. I felt mesmerized by such a beautiful crest, especially so with wild horse trail traversing just underneath in perfection of gradient. For a trail lover like myself I was in heaven. 

Nevertheless, the mosquitoes could have gone to hell. The day barely cooled off as late afternoon finally arrived. My mosquito annoyance felt worse than ever and I broke off the crest north of Christina Peak to find water. I found gushing spring water after switchbacking down horse trails. The mosquitoes swarmed me in a frenzy as the sky became majestically draped in the purples and pinks of sunset. I moved on quickly trying to get lower in elevation to find the 'sweet spot' of where the mosquitoes are not. I must have encountered a hatch at the most particular day of the year in the Diamond Range---randomness in fullness once again, empty in meaning but powerful in memory. I found a low saddle and set up camp. After some futile attempts of staving off the mosquitoes I began to break mentally. I was extremely tired after the rugged day, but more so mentally broke from the mosquitoes. After an hour in the darkness trying to sleep amid the roar of flying bloodsuckers I broke camp and walked on in the night. After a half hour I heard a dog barking and I knew I had neared a sheepherder's camp and I knew that that dog would not be friendly. I stumbled in the sagebrush and found a small clearing just enough to throw down my sleeping quilt. The temperature had finally dropped to the point of chilly and I unrestfully slept for a few hours before waking up at 5am to the buzzing of mosquitoes. I had about 5 hours of reprieve. Now, I trotted onward across the Huntington Valley along the Pony Express Trail towards the Southern Ruby.

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