Wednesday, June 24, 2020

GBT Introduction

Great Basin Trail: Introduction 
The Great Basin and Nevada:

The Great Basin is contained in nearly all of Nevada, much of Oregon and Utah, and exists in slivers in California, Idaho and Wyoming. The Great Basin encompasses 209,162 square miles and is the largest area in North America of a contiguous endorheic watershed, which means the geographic feature flows internally and has no channel, flow, or outlet to a major river or ocean. Albeit the region is made up of many basins despite what the name may suggest, most of the water evaporates on the surface of the land or drains to the aquifers beneath the basins. The area is known for a very dry climate, very much high desert like. While much of the precipitation falls in the form of snow, the area also receives intense thunderstorms. 

image from Wikipedia

Bookended by the Wasatch and the Sierra Nevada Ranges to the east and west, the Great Basin is flanked by the Snake River Basin and Cascade Ranges to the north. The southern boundary is less discernible, however, the Colorado Plateau and the Colorado River and the Mojave Desert are the obvious features. The topography is characterized by a basin and range ecoregion and varies dramatically in elevation from as low as -282ft in Badwater Basin to the highest contiguous point of 14,505ft at Mt. Whitney. The area is also characterized by the hot and dry Sonoran and Mojave Deserts of the south, the Badlands of eastern Oregon, and the high desert of the northern Great Basin. Within these desert climates flora changes from Joshua Trees and creosote shrubs to the sagebrush basins of the northern portion. The flora also changes as the elevation ascends from pinyon and juniper in the desert climates to limber and bristlecone pines in the subalpine environs. Temperatures vary greatly from the highs to the lows and from the higher points to the lower points.  In essence, this region is extreme.

The Great Basin Trail of Nevada
The Great Basin is harsh in climate, unforgiving and rugged in topography, and even more intense in its remoteness and isolation. Cities are few and far in between, water is scarce, and roads are rare. The night skies are stupendously black and the wind constant, even incessant. From my past experiences meandering through Nevada on both bike and foot, I found these aspects to be advantageous for a challenging long distance hiking route. So much public land leaves the mind free to wander. And since so much of these public lands are within Nevada, that leaves so much of the Great Basin on public land. I have discovered the Great Basin and Nevada to be an ideal place and region to house the Great Basin Trail.

The Public Lands of Nevada:

Nevada became a state in 1864. Part of the state's constitution said that an land unclaimed would be public lands that would then be managed federally. Today, Nevada contains 48 million acres of public land that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, roughly 63% of the state of Nevada. Over the years, the vast public lands of Nevada have been used mainly for cattle and sheep grazing and mining. In 1971, wild horses were introduced to Nevada and managed under the care of the BLM. Today, Nevada has more wild horses than the rest of the western states combined. Also, the Forest Service manages almost 6 million acres of public land, most of which is in large mountain ranges such as the Toiyabe and Ruby Ranges. These public lands are also used for hunting, recreational use such as biking, hiking, off-roading, camping, fishing, and rock hounding among other uses. Culturally the public lands are rich. Petroglyphs and pictographs dot boulders and paint hidden canyon walls, Burning Man promotes peace and creativity in the Black Rock Desert, aspens hold etchings from sheepherders from Peru and the Basque country that signify a past presence and trail side information; remnants of old homesteads that creak amid ancient cottonwoods, mining roads relics erode and rust in the dry sun, and the Pony Express's footprint still whistles in the wind.

The Great Basin Trail spends most of its route on BLM land, wends its way through occasional Forest Service land, dips in and out of state land, and traverses across the Great Basin National Park and Basin and Range National Monument, which are managed by the National Park Service. The GBT passes through many wilderness areas and study areas managed by the BLM and USFS, while in its entirety the Great Basin Train exhibits a wilderness characteristic that is hard to compare. While none of the GBT passes through private property (although at times a fence line is straddled), it is not uncommon to encounter ranch hands or shepherds out on public lands. There is so much open and public land out here in Nevada folks can share separate experiences yet feel the common bond of wildness and the spirit of freedom.

I have seen various counts of Nevada's mountain ranges ranging as wide as from 150 to 300+ mountain ranges with distinct biomes. I side with the latter. Just take a gander at a topographic map of Nevada and see for yourself. 

The Great Basin Trail:

The Great Basin Trail is a loop route solely contained within the state of Nevada and the geographic feature of the Great Basin. The GPS track I sketched tallies roughly 1050 miles, while I estimate the actual walking, or cross-country factor, to be roughly 1100 miles. The route is in a loop and can be hiked in either direction. The loop gives one the flexibility to not only have an optimal hiking season, as well as when to time that season, but hiking a loop can help one be more self-sufficient in regards to resupply and caching strategies. 

The GBT is more or less bisected by US Highway 6 with the southern half drier and warmer and the northern half colder, higher in elevation, and a tad wetter. You can also walk through a couple towns, such as Pioche, Eureka, and Wells. I achieved a full circuit of the Great Basin Trail starting at Lake Valley Summit off of Highway 93 just west of Great Basin National Park in 44 days and in a clockwise direction. Secondarily, I hiked the GBT again in 2021 going in the the same direction and starting at the same place of Lake Valley Summit. My strategy stayed very similar, yet I adapted to non-Covid situations as well as bettering the route with parts I did not get to last year. Overall, the second time around, I finished the GBT in 47 days.

I vetted most of the trail on the ground after spending the previous Winter researching satellite images, maps, and other websites. In all honesty, I got very lucky in what transpired out on the Great Basin Trail. When I initially started my thru hike, I thought to be on a personally route-driven hike only to find enough sufficient water and trail to consider this a route hikeable and enjoyable for others looking for other challenging long distance trails and routes. Ultimately, the GBT is a suggestion for a deep exploration into the landscape of Nevada. I have heard of other folks piecing together other routes through, around, or in Nevada. This landscape leaves the walker with so many options with all the open space and public lands around them.

Generally, the GBT crosses a basin in either east-west direction and can traverse a mountain range east-west or north-south directions. Obviously, the crossings of mountain ranges pose the greatest difficulty on the GBT, with some ranges being minor high desert biomes and some others, such as the Ruby's, being a mix of high alpine and desert shrub environments. Some of these mountain crossings traverse long and exposed ridgecrests with little or no trail. Almost all of these traverses have a tremendous amount of elevation gain and loss.

Rough estimated mileage of the GBT is 1050 miles and when you take into consideration all the miles walked cross-country the total climbs towards 1100 miles. Of that 1050 miles, and it seems fair to say, about 30% of the trail is cross country with more mileage covered due to navigational obstacles, sagebrush weaving, and direction. This 30% of cross-country travel equates to a very difficult route where that 30% feels more like half of the trail. Over 50% is either faint two track, or jeep track, or dirt road, in which one may feel like a road is non-existent, or just a side-by-side singletrack, or simply not used by any vehicles. These roads, in the end, prove to be more of a way through than actually just slogging along a paved road. The GBT consists of 20% is trail, whether dreamy and cushy trail, or of the sort where one may spend all day navigating along overgrown or non-existent paths. 

Of these estimated percentages, I had occasional full days of nothing but cross-country, encountered myriad systems of horse trails stamped out in BLM managed mountain and basin regions, found cattle trail across some isolated drainages and basins that led to corrals, and sauntered along old mining track that probably hadn't been driven on in many years. In many instance, I tried to avoid the most heavily used dirt roads in stretches. Overall, the cross country travel across the basins is very straightforward, the occasional bushwhacking through remote canyons a bear of a task, while the ridge line scrambles and jaunts were either lined with horse trail or difficult crest hiking. 

Lastly, I estimate between 194,000ft elevation gain and as equal that amount in loss. This is an incredible number over 1100 estimated miles where most of the miles walked are dominated by the cross-country nature of the GBT. Some sections are harder than others due to the sheer climbing of the ranges that stand tall. Other sections are easier due to the southern deserts simply being lower in elevation.

I found water to be plentiful, especially north of Highway 6. The longest waterless carry is about 50 or so miles, but luckily enough that stretch is when you have left a town and should be fully hydrated. Water sources can be a small flow to a trickle to a raging creek. Springs are abundant in the ranges, while in the basins corrals with troughs and tanks are intersected to make one confident in water carriage. Wild horses and cattle are present, more the former than the latter, so, some of the tanks and corrals are maintained for these animal purposes. It is not uncommon to stumble upon large bands of horses, herds of elk, and bands of bighorn sheep. Antelope scurry across the basins, vultures, ravens, and golden eagles soar twirling in the thermals, and coyotes stealthily trot across the barren basins and howl under the incredibly dark night sky. 

Over the next couple posts an in depth description of the Great Basin Trail will contain my inspiration for the route, a resource guide, and details on how to attain the map set and waypoints.

Impressive Facts of the Great Basin Trail:

27 Mountain Ranges: 
Fortification, Wilson Creek, Highland, Chief, Delamar, South Pahroc, Hiko, Mt. Irish, Worthington, Quinn Canyon, Pancake, Hot Creek, McKinney, Toiyabe, Toquima, Monitor, Antelope, Fish Creek, Diamond, Southern Ruby, Ruby, East Humboldt, South Pequop, Dolly Varden, Schell Creek, Moriah, Snake

19 Basins/Valleys: Lake, Delamar, Pahroc, Pahranagat, Garden, Railroad, Hot Creek, East and West Stone Cabin, Ralston, Big Smoky, Monitor, Little Fish Lake, Huntington, Clover, Independence, Goshute, Spring (x2), Snake

17 Wilderness: Fortification, Parsnip Peak, South Pahroc, Worthington, Quinn Canyon, Palisade Mesa, Arc Dome, Alta Toquima, Table Mountain, Antelope, Ruby, East Humboldt, South Pequop, Becky Peak, High Schells, Mt. Moriah, Highland Ridge

****resource pulled from Wikipedia, BLM web pages, and Friends of Nevada Wilderness pages****

Great Basin Trail Media:

  • Katabatic Gear blog:


  1. This looks amazing!! Do you have a GPX file, by chance?

  2. Email me at Thanks!