Monday, July 6, 2020

Section 4 of the Great Basin Trail

Sections of the GBT: Section 4

Section 4: Eureka to Wells
(approx. 205m)
(section mileage with XC factor: 219m)
(section elevation: 56,250ft gain, 57,100ft loss)

Section 3, Segment M: Diamond Range
Eureka to Jacobs Well
(approx. 48m)
(21m road, 27m XC)
(mileage estimation with XC factor: 53m)
(approx. 12,600ft elevation gain, 13,150ft elevation loss)

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. The majority of this section is a very long traverse utilizing horse trails and some rough bushwhacking. Of the 48m in this section, 27 miles are cross-country along the Diamond Crest, however, the estimated mileage may push between 27m-32m depending on navigational skills. The rest of the mileage in this section is rugged ranch roads outside of Eureka and, to the north, one utilizes the old Pony Express route. 

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 took an easy gradient along the crest. I climbed Diamond Peak as the sun touched the western horizon and I found a nestled spot under a wind-warped limber 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 were 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 ultimately surmised the mosquito swarms must be coming up from the agricultural fields down below.

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 fitfully 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 Huntington Valley along the Pony Express Trail towards the Southern Ruby.

Section 4, Segment N: Southern Ruby
Jacobs Well to Harrison Pass
(approx. 36m)
(21m road, 15m XC)
(mileage estimation with XC factor: 38m)
(approx. 10,100ft elevation gain, 8,825ft elevation loss)

If you read from me that I thought the Diamond Range is probably my favorite and most underrated range of the Great Basin Trail, then I changed my mind. I am now saying the Southern Ruby is probably my favorite and most underrated range of the Great Basin Trail. Honestly though, I could say that about a few others as well because the trail is that beautiful! After being ravaged by mosquitos in the Diamond Range I made an early attempt to nearly sprint across the Huntington Valley to avoid the heat. A long ascent up Cherry Creek Canyon and several cooling-offs at the two glorious springs, I attained the crest and started the lengthy and undulating traverse of the high country. 

The Southern Ruby is an extension of the whole Ruby Crest and has a significantly drier climate than the burlier, wetter ranges to the north. Because of the drier and slimmer range the Southern Ruby has limited water sources and is inhabited by wild horses where in the northern ranges access to the high country is limited for the wild horses due to private land boundaries and a different land management agency. The Southern Ruby is almost all horse trail or cross country travel with two track being a distant third. The mileage doesn't quite add up, but the two track you encounter is very rugged and remote, while the cross-country travel is very, very tough besides the occasional excellent horse trail. You may never see a visitor here in this range, although I found 2 older folks up on Cass House Peak traversing the range from the other direction. Once again, randomness bestowed a gift in meeting these 2 folks, for they were the first two people I had run into on the route some 650 miles into the Great Basin Trail.

The Southern Ruby remind me of the southern High Sierra with the barren crestlines and windblown bristlecone. The views of the Ruby Valley and the many lakes below remind me of the views of the southern High Sierra towering over the Owens Valley and Owens Lake. The crest is stark, yet bounding with an ancient life. Hard-worn trees inhabit the precarious ledges and slopes and are mangled from the incessant wind. Limber pines are also wind mutilated, however, whatever crumpling and warping that suggests the stumps and limbs are soft the viewer is completely mistaken. The hard-worn trees are supple in nature and bend with the wind and create an absolute natural work of art. I could sit for an hour or two in admiration of the striations bark and the twists of the trunk and branches, let alone the miraculous labyrinth within an exposed root structure. Despite the raging wind slamming into the crest, the ancient trees are fragrant, gnarled with an aroma of sweet, sweet pines. I loved this range, not only because of one of the largest groves of bristlecone in the U.S. but because of the abruptness, the remoteness, being overlooked, and because of the amazing trails the wild horses have created through their vagabonding. 

I slept on an exposed saddle and let the wind course through my quilt on a warm night. The nasty mosquitoes had since been left behind in the Diamonds, I slept comfortably.  After some wild horse trail, I began to amble steeply up an old two track. Up on Cass House Peak, where the wind kept tripping my feet up, I encountered the older couple. I heard the click-clacking of the their trekking pole tips and glanced over. All three of us walk in a complete bundle of wind-resistant clothes, so we had to yell at each other. After a brief conversation, the encounter was over, although I felt socially rejuvenated. 

Later that morning, I noticed a large plume of dust billowing from the Newark Valley. I knew immediately that the strong and gusty winds up on the Southern Ruby's crest had been careening through the basins as well and had kicked up dust from the Newark Valley's dry lake bed. I sauntered on while keeping an eye to the west and south. As hours went the dust cloud crept towards me I realized the haboob wasn't just a quickly passing dust cloud. The haboob extended all the way to Elko and swamped out the daylight in the valley below. I stood straddling a barrier for the dust to reach and with the winds blowing in from the east I had a clear view of the darkening skies. Impressive nonetheless, I descended from the ramparts of Pearl Peak and picked my way to Harrison Pass, even startling a lone coyote at a flowing creek. At Harrison Pass, I set up an early camp and admired the haboob still from afar and waited for my buddy, Handy, to join me and resupply me the next day.

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