Monday, July 20, 2020

Section 4 of the Great Basin Trail (cont.)

Sections of the GBT: Section 4

Section 4: Eureka to Wells
(approx. 207m) 
(section mileage with XC factor: 219m)
(section elevation: 56,250ft gain, 57,100ft loss)

Section 4, Segment O: Ruby Crest
Harrison Pass to Lamoille Canyon
(approx. 46m)
(14m road, 32m trail)
(approx. 12,625ft elevation gain, 13,500ft elevation loss)

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  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 Handy scoot through the snowy terrain. At Overland Pass, the cirque completely filled with last Winter's snow and Handy 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 limber pines 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 vestige, 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 Handy 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 too technical. So, we walked the road for 9 miles. The glaciated walls and deep canyon of Lamoille did not disappoint at all. To be honest, that was probably the best and prettiest 9 mile road walk I have had on a long distance trail.

Segment 4, Section P: Northern Ruby
Lamoille Canyon to Secret Valley
(approx. 32m)
(6m road, 15m trail, 11m XC)
(mileage estimation with XC factor: 34m)
(approx. 9,025ft elevation gain, 9,175ft elevation loss)

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 9 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 a 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 Handy 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 marveled 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 Handy's suited the situation well. Fresh eyes and fresh legs kept the route legal, achievable and 'likeable.'

This section is majority trail, although really rugged trail. This section is not to be taken lightly, and what seems like a break within the length of the Ruby's, this section is not such a break. Expect very hard travel and hard work through here.

Section 4, Segment Q: East Humboldts
Secret Valley to Wells
(approx. 45m)
(14m road, 31m trail)
(mileage estimation with XC factor: 48m because of trail nature)
(approx. 11,900ft elevation gain, 12,450ft elevation loss)

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. I will venture to say that this range poses the most rugged and physically demanding day on the entire GBT. I will be very up front: this section will kick your ass.

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, that ultimately extends for some 28m or so. This trail was once a corridor for Peruvian and Basque sheepherders and I imagine the old, 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 show lineage etched in the form of arborglyphs on 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.

From Angel Lake, the land is checkerboarded with ownership. Rather than try to hop corners and put a hiker in a potential illegal position, the GBT walks the paved road some 12 miles into Wells. The travel goes much faster than being up in the East Humboldts and the walker is motivated by the temptations of town.

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