Monday, July 20, 2020

Sections 5 of the Great Basin Trail

Sections of the GBT: Section 5

Section 5: Jacobs Well to Wells
(approx. 155m) 

Section 5, Segment N: Southern Ruby
Jacobs Well to Harrison Pass
(approx. 36m)

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 significant climate than the burlier 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. 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 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 and yet bounding with an ancient life. Hard-worn trees inhabit the precarious ledges and slopes and are mangled from the incessant wind. White pines are also wind mutilated, however, whatever crumpling and warping that suggests the stumps and limbs are soft are 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 of bark and the twists of springs 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 a day of 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 wid-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 amd 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 camped and admired the haboob still from afar and waited for my buddy, Handy, to join me and resupply me the next day.

Section 5, Segment O: Ruby Crest
Harrison Pass to Lamoille Canyon
(approx. 46m)

Ah yes, the Ruby Crest. Probably the most well known mountain range in Nevada to most outdoor enthusiasts including hikers, skiers, and equestrians. Most of this Segment O follows the Ruby Crest National Scenic Trail for 36 miles. From Harrison Pass the GBT hiker jaunts along a rugged jeep road to the trail head for a couple miles, while the end of the segment follows the a paved secondary highway in the glaciated and spectacular Lamoille Canyon. For most of the Ruby Crest Trail the hiker stays high in the 'Swiss Alps of Nevada' topping out at Wines Peak at 10,893 feet, which provides the hiker with an expansive panorama of the surrounding Great Basin and the Ruby Valley below. One feels to be in the High Sierra at times near Tuolumne Meadows for the polished granite walls sheen in the bulky distance and the alpine lakes shimmer in the warm sun. Numerous lakes dot the high country and snow lingers into July on some shaded aspects. The Ruby Crest trail has frequent visitors along the well groomed trail which makes this an enjoyable treat for the Great Basin Trail hiker who has seen a lot of rugged country and scant trail thus far. 

I had the great fortune to rendezvous with my buddy Andy of Pa'Lante Packs. He met me at Harrison Pass with a trunk full of food and resupply and a brand new backpack from Pa'Lante called The Desert Pack. We left after a big breakfast and basically skipped along trail with our yapping conversation. It felt good to have company again. And it felt good to watch such a talented hiker Like Andy scoot through the snowy terrain. At Overland Pass, the cirque completely filled with last Winter's snow and Andy just shoe-skied with the ease of a soaring bird flying through a narrow channel. I picked my way down the mix of boulders and snow. We walked along the banks of the lake still partially frozen. After a day of pure bliss in the mountains we found a ridgeline camp with a couple mangled bristlecones as barriers from the chilly wind. We had a hot meal of pesto pasta and aged white cheddar cheese. Down below to the east the end of the day rang in a purple demeanor that had not a dark semblance but rather a rosy purple, one of glee and exuberance, as if the day had danced.

The next day we skirted through the Ruby Crest and shoe-skied and skidded on our butts through the lingering snow. The alpine lakes of Favre, Liberty, and Lamoille remained cloistered in ice with the slushy banks adorned in a glacial blue. From Liberty Pass I could see cars in the parking lot, Lamoille Canyon being a popular day destination for the folks of Elko. The craggy Verdi Peak sprouted up over the canyon to the north and I pondered: which way through now? I felt fortunate to have Andy along side as to help me scout a way through north without road walking. I knew the section north, the way through to Secret Valley, but I wanted to find a cooler and more enjoyable way through or around Lamoille Canyon. In the end, chilling in the parking lot observing families and day trippers do their thing, we vied against doing something too craggy and technical. So, we walked the road for 8 miles. The glaciated walls and deep canyon of Lamoille did not disappoint at all. To be honest, that was probably the best and prettiest 8 mile road walk I have had on a long distance trail.

Segment 5, Section P: Northern Ruby
Lamoille Canyon to Secret Valley
(aprrox. 32m)

The Northern Ruby is a tricky section. Limited access to public lands is the main obstacle. The narrow range is flanked by private land to the west in the Lamoille Valley, to the east in the northern Ruby Valley, and to the north in Secret Valley. I had this same access problem in 2015's Great Basin Traverse and while I found a way through I did not find the most attractive way through. In 2017 while on my bikepacking trip through Nevada I stopped in Elko. At the local bike shop I had heard of some aspiring trail projects, including the one I paid most attention to: a connection via trail from Lamoille Canyon to Secret Valley. So, when we encountered the craggy crest surrounding Verdi Peak and saw the challenging task ahead of us and we rambled on down the highway for 8 miles within Lamoille Canyon, I set our sights for the old ruins of the powerhouse at the mouth of the canyon hoping that that trail project had progressed further along than what I had seen in 2015 and heard about in 2017. My guess figured right, and at the powerhouse trail head I found the beginnings of a thoroughfare that extended around private land and connected Lamoille Canyon with Talbot Creek. From there the not so difficult task of navigating cattle trails and flowery slopes took us to the roaring north fork of Cold Creek. Ambling along the north side of the creek we followed a cut-corridor that led us to nearly the headwall of the Northern Ruby crest. After a short jaunt straight up through sagebrush we attained the craggy crest and had an expansive view of the high plateau dotted with the Soldier Lakes. I felt content and satisfied with what we had established through the Northern Ruby. And then Andy said, 'Which way now?' I pointed and spoke about the way through. He pointed too but in response, 'What about traversing that?' Slopes leaning up from the Soldier Lakes basin topped out at an abrupt edge that teetered over the Ruby Valley below. 

We made our way over to the rim and felt the yawning vacuum of the immense drop off from the rim. Sheer cliffs fell straight down among pillars and couloirs of rock. Bristlecones literally laid on the ground sprawled out in a malleable nature against the force of wind. The ancient trees grew all gnarled and coiled in leaning with what I could imagine being gale force winds. We marvelled at the trees, we admired the craggy crest in our rear view, we gaped at the plummeting cliffs, and I gazed towards the verdant East Humboldt Range looming in the north. I needed another set of eyes and Andy's suited the situation well. Fresh eyes and fresh legs kept the route legal, achievable and 'likeable.'

Section 5, Segment Q: East Humboldts
Secret Valley to Wells
(approx. 41m)

The East Humboldt Range is the lushest range the Great Basin Trail hiker will encounter. The range runs nearly 30 miles from Secret Valley in the south that bridge the range with the Ruby's to Interstate 80. These mountains are lush with greenery that show a wetter characteristic than the ranges to the south. The mountains here are rugged and lonely, the trails are overgrown and untrampled, and the valleys are scarred with glaciation--- these mountains, in essence, are old and wrinkly. As with the Northern Ruby, public access is limited with the main access points a lone trail head at Secret Valley and the well-visited Angel Lake just outside of Wells. The hiker will hike strenuously and will need to be mentally focus to keep up on the difficult navigation. Progress through the range will be slow, sometimes down to a slog. But the GBT hiker is rewarded with high elevation views. The main thoroughfare used along the GBT in the East Humboldt Range is the East Humboldt Highline trail. This trail was once a corridor for Peruvian and Basque sheepherders and I imagine the old and tall rock cairns had been stacked the majority of the time by those sheepherders. Evidence of these mountain herders also remain etched in time on the aspen trees. Some markings signify where water is, where the shepherd came from, what year, and who. Father and son and so on are lineaged etched in the aspen trees. To find these markings one may be in an old camp or on the obscure route high in the range. Tread is nearly gone, a footprint a rare sign, to follow this corridor instills a refreshing wildness to the movement of humanity down below in the basin.

This segment is challenging and taxing both mentally and physically. The hiker must have a keen eye for waymarks carved in trees and a sharp eye for toppled over cairns. One must employ a feel for the contouring of the route and an intimacy with reading a landscape which both relate to understanding what is in front of you and what is on the map. Finally, the hiker must have an adventurous spirit patient with slow progress. Immerse yourself here, take your time. Once you round the bend of the northern tip of the range near Greys Peak and you see the shimmering town of Wells in the distance, a giddiness consumes the body, overwhelms the experiencer with immersion as you know you will take the route southward from this point. You are now at the head of the route and you can look south back at the heart and you feel being swallowed up by the big emptiness, a powerful void of soul seeking and replenishment through solitude and isolation. I found myself occasionally bringing my hand to my brow, flattened out, to gaze out at the vista and looking deeply into the ocean of land before me. I squinted and tried to focus to see where I came from, from where the Great Basin Trail began.

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