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.

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