Monday, July 20, 2020

Section 5 of the Great Basin Trail

Sections of the GBT: Section 5

Section 5: Wells to Ely (at Kalamazoo Road)
(approx. 155m)
(section mileage with XC factor: 160m)
(section elevation: 24,850ft gain, 23,775ft loss)

Section 5, Segment R: South Pequop Range
Wells to Goshute Valley
(approx. 61m)
(42m road, 19m XC)
(mileage estimation with XC factor: 64m)
(approx. 5,925ft elevation gain, 5,825ft elevation loss)

The checkerboard patchwork of private property and public lands line either side of the Interstate 80 corridor between Elko and the Utah border. That being said, the advantage of coming this far north is to experience the East Humboldts. Plus, you have the fortuity of having a resupply point on trail that you can walk through in Wells. Despite the trickiness of navigating in this segment, the way across is fairly easy compared to what the hiker has already experienced on the Great Basin Trail. Less elevation gain and loss, flat and soothing basin walking is balanced with difficulty in long waterless carries and exposure. Wild horse trails are present and affords the hiker with a pleasant time in the South Pequops.

Of the 61m in this segment, much of the miles are divvied up with road. The 42 miles of roads are less traveled and hard to reach by vehicle, however, one may not be as surprised to see a dust devil whipping up behind a vehicle miles away. Of the 19 or so total miles cross-country, walking across a barren alkali flat takes up the majority, while wild horse trails meander across the crest of the South Pequops.

The checkerboard ownership in this area refers to the ceding of land during railroad grants many years ago where multiple land owners exist, including the federal government and railroad companies. Because of the checkerboarding, managing a healthy landscape is very difficult as plots of private land are utilized for different uses such as grazing. The checkerboarding, most importantly to a long distance hiker, can prohibit public access and a legal thoroughfare in an area. Most of the hilly land due south and east of Wells is managed by the BLM while much of that land is not as scenic as the surrounding taller ranges. Much of the Wood Hills has scrub land layering the lower rolling hills with pinyon and juniper dotting the hillsides above. Gravel pits dot the northern boundary with the railroad streaming through, while ranches and trailer homesteads dot the foothills to the west and east. I found a 'line' southward from Wells within the checkerboarding that eventually puts you in the Independence Valley, which then lays you up with the South Pequop Range.

Leaving Wells, the hiker embarks on the longest waterless stretch of the Great Basin Trail. For 50 miles water is non-existent and while you may be dragging tongue into Ninemile Canyon, the travel up to that point across the Independence Valley is fairly easy. The 50 mile waterless stretch feels more daunting in theory than what that stretch actually feels like. While that stretch is really rather long, thankfully one can time the travel across a flattish landscape after tanking up with fluids in Wells. Also, the Independence Valley is in the rain shadow of the Ruby Crest and East Humboldts, so the temps in this area are cooler than the basins to the south. This does not mean one can experience warm temperatures through here, though. A cache or two is suggested if one finds that necessary, too. Water caches are suggested in the Independence and Goshute Valleys where dirt roads are drive-able for most vehicles, however, these cache points are some considerable distance away from highway access. 

The GBT hiker for this particular section should be prepared and experienced enough to handle a legit 50 mile waterless stretch.  No joke!

Once atop the South Pequop the hiker will find incredible horse trails to saunter along. High up along the Pequop Crest the hiker can spy the High Schells and Mt. Moriah in the distance. After passing many horse bones and skeletons the GBT hiker will finally slurp up the spring water of Boone Spring. While not an incredibly tough segment, the waterless stretch poses an intermediate challenge to cross a dry area. 

The highlight in this area besides the horse trails of the Pequop Divide is the dry alkali lake beds of Independence Valley. During my crossing of the playa, I walked along in a foggy morning after having camped behind a tall and wide greasewood. A silvery, waning moon shined dimly upon the salt flats making the plant life and salt plates refulgent in a crystally, soft pinkish glow. The thin layer of fog lined the bottom rim of the mountains, and I wondered if I was visible to the outside world in the thick blanket of fog. The cumulus clouds rolled in from the west and roved across the grey sky like an army waging war against the ranges, like the waves of the ocean crashing against the shoreline, pounding and pounding the ranges with wind and sheets of rain with a cold and brittle air. For two days in this segment, I wore all my clothing, cold and clammy. I drank a gallon of water for that 50 miles of no water source. My lips cracked from the cold and the wind, my eyes now pleated from my squinting.

Section 5, Segment S: Dolly Varden Range
Goshute Valley to Boone Spring Hills
(approx. 31m)
(22m road, 9m XC)
(mileage estimation with XC factor: 32m)
(approx. 3,000ft elevation gain, 2,575ft elevation loss)

The Dolly Varden Segment has one roaming through an isolated and little known mountain range with an old mining history. This part of Nevada and the Great Basin is sparsely populated, although wild horses still roam the landscape. Evidence of the wild horses are in the form of braided trails in the juniper and pinyon forests. Of the 31m in this section, 22 miles are on the usual lesser traveled sort. For the 9 miles of cross-country travel, the majority follows the described horse trails. The hiker crosses the Goshute Valley and follows old two track up into the Dolly Varden. As the name implies for fishermen and Charles Dickens's fans, I imagine these mountains were more colorful during the mining days. I imagine the name still holds true with the good looking pink and purple sunrises and sunsets that are unobstructed from any dominating range nearby. In that sense, the views are endless in this area and one can see southward for some 100 miles I bet. This segment has water in the form of maintained springs for wild horses and navigation is fairly straightforward. This segment lays you up for the rugged North Schells.


Section 5, Segment T: North Schells
Highway 93 near Becky Spring to Kalamazoo Road
(approx. 62m)
(47m road, 8m trail, 7mXC)
(mileage estimation with XC factor: 64m)
(approx. 15,925ft elevation gain, 15,375ft elevation loss)

The North Schells are the northern extension of the High Schell range, which in its lengthy totality is vying for the longest range in the state at roughly 135 miles as compared to the Toiyabe Range. This extension range has a skyline dominated by Becky Peak and Lovell Peak. The range towers over the lengthy Spring Valley to the east and Steptoe Valley to the west where one high up in a mountaintop perch can view seemingly tiny toy cars shimmering along the highway down below. The air up on the peaks whistles with loneliness and the GBT hiker is sated with solitude. Point blank, I was completely surprised by this range--- in its beauty, its ruggedness, in its remoteness, and in my enjoyment. The northern part of the range is a high desert mountain range dominated with sagebrush and scattered with juniper and pinyon pines. The Pony Express used to zip through Schellbourne Pass and with the surrounding views and ranges the hiker is instilled with the wild, wild West. Wild horse still roam here, antelope hop through the sage, and elk are found grazing on the high grassy slopes.6

The type of travel and mileage in this range is very deceiving just reading the stats above. the 47 miles of road are mainly two track and border the Becky Peak Wilderness. These two tracks are rough, rugged, and ascend and descend straight up and straight down. The 7 miles of XC follows horse trails, and, finally, the 8 miles of trail are dreamlike that contour deep drainages below the crest. Please, do not take this section lightly. After hiking close to 100 miles from Wells through relatively easy basin and hill walking, the GBT hiker is now back in the normal tendencies of the character of the route.

Update: The Great Basin Trail is now routed from Highway 93 near Becky Springs through the Becky Peak Wilderness. The hiker now has a full length traverse of this part of the range spanning from Becky Peak to Lovell Peak. Water is more available with springs in the area. The chances of seeing anybody up here feels extremely rare. The section is now hillier, more rugged and wild, and scenic.

Besides the meandering highlight within the knobs and cones before Lovell Peak, I found the area just south of Schellbourne Pass my favorite. Hiking up McCurdy Creek I stumbled upon a coyote chasing a deer about 30ft in front of me. The coyote had shooed the deer from the canopy of a juniper but was not quick enough to ambush the deer to prey. The coyote stopped, unaware of me standing there, and glared at the deer with a frumpy and disappointed look. The coyote smelled the air puckering its nostrils, then he caught scent of me. Just like that, quickly, the coyote leapt away. Up further, about a mile away, I found a herd of cows grazing in a lush meadow. Looking down on the herd of cows two or three bands of horses watched the movements of the cows as they reacted to my presence. The cows panicked; the horses observed. Despite the need for the same feed, the animals reacted so differently. I hiked on admiring the wild horses. 

Up at the pass, I found an obscure trail head that my traced route went right along side. I followed the ATV track and within a 1/4 mile the ATV track turned to singletrack. As I stood between two tall rock cairns, a large yellow butterfly landed on my forearm. I had a fluttering thought of love. Then, I stepped onto the singletrack and sped along in glee. As the trail weaved around the bulky hillsides some 9,000ft high, a large shadow developed beneath the range. The conical Becky Peak stood guard in the north and I felt the coolness of the end of a long hard-won day. I found a crystal clear spring and slugged a refreshing cold liter. At a rise on a shoulder of a ridge, I found three bull elk grazing. They immediately took off and sprang away uphill. A few moments later, as the sun was almost, set I pitched my tarp. Suddenly, an elk bugled and broke the stilled silence. Briefly, my adrenaline pumped but I became subdued by my tiredness. I laid down and began to fell asleep under alpenglow of the Great Basin, as another bugle rang through the air.

The next day after a restful sleep I continued along the same singletrack contouring the same beautiful high country. The High Schells came into view. I knew I was closer to the end. I knew I was getting closer to tying off the loop of the Great Basin Trail.

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