Monday, July 20, 2020

Sections 7 of the Great Basin Trail

Sections of the GBT: Section 7

Section 7: Kalamazoo Road to Lake Valley Summit
(approx. 125m)

Section 7, Segment U: High Schells
Kalamazoo Road to Spring Valley
(approx. 34m)

Continuing along the Great Basin Trail the hiker once resupplied from Ely or McGill now has the task of venturing up into the High Schells. Still in the Schell Creek Range, the crest now topples out at 11,883ft on North Schell Peak. Bristlecone reach timberline, dwarfed and wind-blown, and after picking your way over a talus-topped crest the hiker will eventually summit Taft Peak and South Schell Peak. After nearly 10 miles of spectacular spine walking (hoping the GBT hiker is blessed enough to have the good fortune enough to amble the complete crest), where lingering cornices hang tight to the leeward facing bluff, I decided to have the route venture into the North Cleve Creek drainage. The basin is in an high alpine environment where spots of tundra exist before you enter the sup-alpine conifer forests. Clear water rages down and easy cross country exists in between the glades of aspen. At a hunter's camp a carved arrow etched into an aspen signifies the way out of the drainage where travel downstream befores nearly impossible (believe me, I tried and did it, although painstakingly). Utilize more or less a cattle and game trail out of the drainage, then once over the ridge again a more discernible path appears to a rugged jeep track below that leads the hiker out into Spring Valley past well-constructed campgrounds.

I'll share my experience:
'I flipped the couple $20 and told them a small party would be on me for the favor of saving me from hot soles. As I got ready to shut the rear door the old man told me to watch out for mountain lions up in these parts of the High Schells. 

"I hope I'm bigger enough. 'Cause I've lost some pounds. Ain't got much meat on me anymore, so I doubt I'll taste good." He smiled with his eyes, his gal with her laugh. Then, we bade each other safe travels and good luck and we split ways, a moment of connectivity in this chaotic world between perfect strangers. Then, in moments, an even older man, a rancher too, stopped by on his side-by-two and asked if I was okay. I hollered at him over the grumble of his engine that I was. He chuckled and zipped off to swing the ATV around. He swung back to me and said, "What did you say your name was?" "Ryan." "How did you know my name," he asked curiously. I said I didn't and he shrugged, so I asked him his name. "Jim!" he blurted, smiling. We shook hands and I thought about getting old. I thought I'd rather wither up and die out here than to wilt in the city. 

As soon as he left a truck rolled on up with two speed-freak looking dudes---no teeth and a strange glare. Pleasant enough, however, they too asked if I was okay. I told them I was and I was 'just walking.' The dudes couldn't wrap their head about what I was doing out in the middle of nowhere on foot, 'just walking.' They offered me water and I assured them I was okay, that I was good, my belly fat with water and food. The waved me onward but stopped shortly thereafter.

"Hey, where's your car??" the toothless driver yelled. "In Colorado!" They roared in laughter, in befuddlement, and the toothless driver laughed, snorted and stuttered: OKAAAAAY! I was on my way, ready to get out of anybody's way, no matter how extroverted I felt during those quick moments. A couple hours later I found myself on the High Schell crest just below a grassy knob that blocked the wind. I watched the sun set, the view enormous and wide, my belly fat with food and water, my head right, and my heart full.'

Section 7, Segment V: Mt. Moriah
Spring Valley to Snake Valley
(approx. 46m)

Mt. Moriah is part of the Snake Range, in which the peak when viewed from a distance looks to be in a completely separate range. Wheeler Peak to the south book end Sacramento Pass wedged in between to the two towering massifs. Mt. Moriah is the seldom visited little sister range of Wheeler Peak and the Great Basin National Park. The peak sits at 12,050ft that spires the top of a large tableland area where a large bristlecone grove resides. Although this wilderness has four wheel drive roads surrounding the area, access is fairly tough. Hikers and peakbaggers usually use the trailhead and well-groomed trail out of Hendrys Creek. The GBT utilizes the seldom tramped Negro Creek where once in the heart of the drainage what appears to be an overgrown path has been cut out underneath the majority of the canopy. Mt. Moriah looms at the head of the drainage reigning court over the high wilderness. Towards the main fork in the drainage the hiker departs from the trail corridor and heads up Deerhead Canyon. The canyon has been ravaged by flooding and you have to pick your way through the debris until the hiker has to ascend up steep slopes to attain the flatter high country. Once atop the hiker has the option of summiting Mt. Moriah, which is clearly the star of the show, or continue on to the broad table just beneath the flanks of the silver peak. From here you can admire the 5,500ft ascent to the west only to un-admire the knee-pounding 5,500ft descent to the east. 

Once you have soaked in the expansive views of surrounding the wilderness and pondered the condition of your tender knees, one will descend into Hendrys Creek where elk roam the higher grassy slopes. Very good tread follows the ribbon of water weaving a lengthy way down until ponderosas appear. Views of the incredible chunky walls are hidden by a thick forest, but the hiker get an opportunity to gander at the high cliffs the further downstream one gets. The east side of Mt. Moriah is so much more dramatic, diverse, and rugged than the ascent up Negro Canyon. From desert to alpine and back again to desert, from sagebrush to bristlecone, from aspen to ponderosa, the incredible difference in elevation is astounding once you stand on top of Mt. Moriah.

The shorn and crumbly walls of Hendrys Canyon shows the preciousness of rock under such geomorphic pressures. The white underside of fallen rock tiles resemble flaky skin after a sunburn and show a striking contrast to the red rock in the cliff faces above. The cleaving of the rock shows the slow widening of the canyon, the slow drag of time and erosion. Thrilling to observe and to inspect the cliff faces, for the ledges and benches and faces play with one's imagination, flirts with the notion that ruggedness is soft, that weatheredness is beautiful and crisp, that although excruciating slow time is swift and ruthless.

Section 7, Segment W: GBNP
Snake Valley to Lake Valley Summit
(approx. 42m)

The Great Basin Trail weaves up and over the Snake Range and through Great Basin National Park. At first I had the route going over Wheeler Peak, which is the proclaimed highest peak in Nevada despite the discrepancy with Boundary Peak which is actually a sub-peak of Mt. Montgomery in the White Mountains along the California and Nevada border; I decided against routing over Wheeler Peak because of the knife ridge above Baker Lake. I have this route as an alternate and while I do believe overall it is a cooler and more scenic way to go I find it unreasonable to ask someone without the skill level or nerve to navigate that knife ridge to be a 'thru-hiker' of the Great Basin Trail. Rather I focus the route up the Baker Creek Drainage, which for an added reward has the hiker passing by the Lehman Caves Visitor Center and the cafe that is there. For once, while I noshed on three separate meals on the patio of the cafe I felt like 'hiker trash' in all my glory and stench. But, in sincerity, the way up Baker Creek is dramatic and eventually reunites the hiker with the Wheeler Peak alternate at the Snake Range Crest. From the pass above Johnson Lake scrambling ensues along the crest and you reach a high point on an unnamed peak of 11,775ft. The views up here are breathtaking and simply awe inspiring. Wheeler Peak's massif dominates the skyline to the north, Mt. Washington flashes a brilliance from its limestone blocked summit to the immediate south, and some 5,500ft below Lake Valley Summit and the Fortification Range tantalize one's spirit of connection as the Great Basin Trail's loop seems within near-cinching distance. The feeling is simply exuberance, just pure joy.

I left Baker Creek campground after having another interview with Squatch for his upcoming Nevada documentary and hiked on into the evening. After a few miles I set up camp in a lodgepole forest and fell asleep rather quickly to the hypnotic soughing of the wind through the trees. I felt pretty damn lucky at this point. Not only was I going to finish the GBT, a route I had been envisioning for some time now, I had a ride lined up with Squatch at Lake Valley Summit at Highway 93 the next afternoon. I rose early the next morning to get a beat on the day and after I attained the crest I headed straight towards Mt. Washington, which is such a totally different mountain within a range of granite. Limestone cliffs drop precipitously on the west side nd on the east side the limestone is more sloped and eroded down into a pumice type of sand. Once atop a ramp heads down southwest slopes and after a couple miles you encounter a mining road intertwined with switchbacks enough to bring dizziness to the walker. After a knee crunching descent you fall into the alluvial fans above Spring Valley, where you will eventually cross a second time. I jammed on that day listening to music, smiling to myself, grooving a little bit. I felt happy. I felt ready to share this Great Basin Trail with the long distance hiking community. I had put so much work and passion into this trail that I hope one day to have another hiker hike the GBT in its entirety. I felt the closure, the cinching of the loop, the completion of something unlike any other, almost like I was revisiting an experience I hiked onto the place where I began to relive those moments of the before when I started, of seeing Ruta off, of feeling the excitement of something new. And now, I felt a part of the Great Basin having been immersed in the core of the Great Basin. My heart thumped. I looked around and felt so small, so insignificant and puny, yet I felt fulfilled, complete.

Sections 6 of the Great Basin Trail

Sections of the GBT: Section 6

Section 6: Wells to Kalamazoo Road
(approx. 155m)

Section 6, Segment R: Pequop Range
Wells to Goshute Valley
(approx. 61m)

The checkerboard patchwork of private property and public lands line either side of the Interstate 80 corridor, which makes this segment a little tricky to navigate through. 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. The checkerboard ownership in this area refers to the ceding of land during railroad grants many years ago where multiple land owners exists including the federal government and railroad companies. Because of the checkerboarding managing a healthy landscape is very difficult to manage 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 is scrub land since the hills are low lying. Gravel pits dot the northern boundary with the railroad 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 than what that segment is. Also, the Independence Valley is in the rain shadow of the Ruby Crest and East Humboldts, so the temps in this area is cooler than the basins to the south. This does not men one can experience warm temperatures through here. The GBT hiker should be prepared and experienced enough to handle a legit 50 mile waterless stretch. 

Once atop the South Pequop the hiker will find incredible horse trails to saunter along. High up along the Pequop Divide 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 camped behind a tall and wide creosote. 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 in the thick blanket of fog. The cumulus clouds rolled in from the west and roved across the grey sky like and 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 6, Segment S: Dolly Varden Range
Goshute Valley to Boone Spring Hills
(approx. 37m)

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 with evidence of the wild horses for the GBT hiker are in the form of braided trails in the juniper and pinyon forests. 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 6, Segment T: North Schells
Boone Spring Hills to Kalamazoo Road
(approx. 55m)

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 subset 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 is lonesome 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. This subset 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.

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 leaped 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. The 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.