Thursday, August 13, 2015

Great Basin Traverse: Ruby Crest Part 2

7/29-8/2, 5/27
145m


In my mid-20s, I got the notion that if the world was ending, you know, with a full-fledged nuclear war or of alien destruction, that I would go into the Ruby Mountains of northeastern Nevada. The range seemed protected from what would be an imagined violent ending with its remoteness. I stared at the range on a large scale map envisioning the trees, the rock, the isolation, and the endless views. In the end after I hiked the length of the range, the Rubys lived up to my expectations except that the range only tempted my curiosities: there's more land to explore.


I started the traverse of the range in late May and bailed on the route due to extreme inclement weather and personal affairs. So, the end of July came and the opportunity to hike the range sprang up and I jumped at the chance. A lot happened during those few months and even how I finished the traverse of the range. I will spare the details of the events or my feelings and rather give brief information on the sections of the Rubys. 


The Ruby Mountains are at least 80m long with 4 very distinct sections in route characteristics, climate, geology, and private land concerns. The north-south range is huge and posed as a large obstacle to early pioneers heading west. Here's a description of each section according to the route I took.


Southern Section, ~35m:

Reconnecting my footsteps near where the Pony Express Trail crosses Huntington Valley, I pushed into Cherry Spring Canyon until a little used road petered out. Wild horse trails led me up to the ridgecrest under a rising full moon. On the crest, a rutted dirt track turned into trail and I slept on a broad saddle below Mt. Sherman. The next morning I followed more wild horse trail along the crest until I hit another road and climbed steeply to Cass House Peak. 



The southern range is extremely dry and water is non-existent. This seems like a cruel trick as the Ruby Lake wetlands sparkle below the eastern flanks as the ridge lines plunge precipitously to the valley some 4000ft in a short distance. The southern range lacks in trees considerably less than the northern portions of the range. The eastern faces of the 10,000ft peaks abruptly fall off to the valley below. None are as evident as Pearl Peak, which is a series of 3 undulating rocky peaks. Huge basins carve out massive drainages that careen crumbles of rock and boulders. Pearl Peak proved to be the most challenging part of the route and after the 3rd prominent knob I opted to scramble down a rocky ridge until I found a safer way down. I negotiated my way down a very steep head wall of an eventual creek. As in lumbered down, Harrison Pass glimmered in the afternoon heat. After scampering over more ridge line I ambled exhaustingly through the low part of the mountains. The heat took hold of me and I laid down under a small mahogany.





Ruby Crest Trail, 35m:

Arguably the highlight of the whole range, the Ruby Crest Trail strings the high lakes along the spine of the granite peaks. Starting from Harrison Pass, a jeep road tumbles to the trail head, then a long traverse around Green Mountain ensues. Water is plentiful and the greenery is thick with small aspen, gambel oak, and white pines. The trail stays low in elevation undulating up and over the ridges of the forks of Smith Creek. Large Aspen groves lay deep roots down in the drainages and beautiful old and gnarled white pines act as sentries over the higher flanks.



Overland Lake is the first alpine lake to attain in coming from the south. Tucked in a world of rock the lake squeezes in nicely in a jumbled granite basin. The blue of the lake is pristine and the quietude of the basin is simply sublime. The trail then skirts the streams of Overland Creek under the crown of Kings Peak. Craggy rock is ubiquitous in this unique environment. I kept thinking this part reminded me of so many different places I have been. From the High Sierra to the Beartooths to the Winds, the Rubys packed a wallop in such a small, diverse range.




Once at the proper crest line, the trail follows the contours of the peaks and stretches for miles with endless mountain views. From one to the next the trail goes up and down without any trees or water. Eventually, you stand on Wines Peak, the high point of the crest trail. As Ruby Dome, the actual high point of the whole range, appears seemingly close but actually looms across valleys and basins, the crest trail begins to string the alpine lakes together. North Furlong, Favre, Liberty, and Lamoille Lakes, all placed in stunning scenery. In particular, Liberty Lake is very Sierra-esque and hold a blue in the water I've had a hard time remembering any that compare. The crowds thicken and the trail gets better maintained as you near Trails End.





Lamoille Canyon to Secret Pass, 40m:

This section proved to be a challenge in regards to geology and private land concerns. First off, to cross country a route north-south in this section would prove to be a massive undertaking. No north-south trail exists along the length, the craggy high peaks prevent some actual crest walking, and private land stretches into the foothills preventing any trail traveling the length of this section although a certain trail is under construction. So, I walked down Lamoille Canyon along the paved road. I know it sounds rather silly to walk a paved road but it made sense to me at the time due to logistics, timing, and route feasibility. Although a highway plod, I enjoyed the glaciated valley with polished walls of granite. The road walk proved to be easy miles within a really tough section on the Great Basin Traverse.


Near where the road opens up to the valley I took a trail that eventually fizzled out with construction signs signifying work was still in progress. With the trail work finished I bushwhacked through thickets of sage and dwarf aspen and eventually followed fence line. Picking my way apart the foothills I traversed lonely land, spotted a few cows, and had a lot of water available. I ended up going into the Soldier Creek drainage and at the crest I headed north until I picked a route down to Secret Valley. The high reaches of this section had trails that were pretty much non-existent. I made it work though, and I figure if I was to do this section again 10 times I could do it 10 different ways.

East Humboldts, 35m:

More plentiful with water, the East Humboldts are lush on both sides of the range, unlike the common Great Basin ranges. Access to the East Humboldts from the south is a frustrating issue. Private land cuts off access to the beautiful high country, so to get to the high country one must make considerable effort to get there. The Secret Starr trailhead is the only access point and takes you through dry, unbecoming country. Once you hit the Boulder Creeks options open up as you can amble up any one of them. I chose Second Boulder Creek. Old and scant trail went up the drainage. Basque lineage in Northeastern Nevada showed in the carvings of the aspen. Without the Basque shepherds the trails in this wilderness would be non-existent. If you're seeking solitude, then the East Humboldts are the place.



After the creek opened up above the timbers, I found an old sign saying: 'East Humboldt Highline Trail.' Humboldt Peak glimmered above me as its huge pyramid buttress raised enormously above the terrain. I couldn't help but wonder about this extinct trail. Later, back in civilization, I found out through some research that that old trail ran some 28m across the high country of the East Humboldts. I know deep inside it could rival the more popular Ruby Crest Trail. Like its southern trail brother, this Highline would string lakes and high peaks together, and end at a popular trail head.




After traversing the ridge line between Second and Third Boulder Creeks among heaps of talus and boulders, I climbed down to Boulder Lake. I took a deserved rest and I spotted a mountain goat on the cliffs above me. This moment of rest was exhilarating, so I picked up my stuff and headed over the next pass and spotted Steele Lake. The silent quietude of the scene soothes my soul. I breathed very slowly, the wind gusting on the exposed ridge, and the steel blue of the isolated, tucked-away lake inspired me. This moment is why I do what I do. Steele Lake explains it all.

I camped at the lake and prepped myself mentally for a cross country hike to Lizzie's Basin where Hole-In-The-Rock-Mountain sits. After endless slopes of boulder fields I finally made it to the huge basin. The walls went straight up to the tops of the peaks. Water streamed down in ribbons along narrow chutes. I took a minute to soak it all in. From there, I found a well-maintained trail that I wasn't sure was going to be there. My hopes crashed after 2.5m when the maintenance ended and I had to negotiate cow paths through a dwarf aspen grove. I had to slink to my knees and crouch my way through aspen tunnels. Frustratingly this went on for hours and I lost scent on any type of trail. I headed down to the lower foothills which only proved to be just as tough in hiking. Constantly going cross country up and down between big drainages tired me out. I kept my focus and kept my eye on Chimney Rock. Closer and closer I got to my beacon. Then, I touched road. From there it was an easy stroll in the town of Wells.





Great Basin Traverse: Jarbidge

8/8-8/10
82m



I am not sure why things have worked out the way they have; things were supposed to be that way. I followed my heart. And I also followed signs.

For 650m the Great Basin of Nevada has been starkly beautiful, barren and empty, and so exposing to the frightening elements. I have taken what the land has given me yet the sequence seems out of order. But I found meaning and an obscure road map in all the confusion. Nevada twisted my emotions, mangled my mentality, yet soothed my instincts and coddled my endurance. I cannot explain it.



My last basin and desert crossing led me from the oasis of Wells north across a harkened expanse of sagebrush. Mega thundercells electrified the sky all around me. Two enormous cells enveloped me from the west. A lightening strike would alternate from each cell every minute. I kept hiking as the evening crept in. This was another test. Where would I find the strength? I have endured what the Great Basin has dished out and now I'm thrust into the most exposed situation yet.


The cells kept getting closer, creeping  like a moving floating city. The lightning would flash a deafened silence, like someone whispering in my ear in pitch blackness, like I recognized the visual through invisibility. An hour passed. Adrenaline seethed through my bones and my hands started to tremble. I noticed a figure in the distance. It appeared ghostly and I wasn't sure if I was seeing things. In all this loneliness amongst a thrashing storm and I see another human? I neared the figure silently. A bony face hooded in a jester's hat propped up frozenly, the other part of the deathly uniform cloaked over a railroad tie buried into the ground. A plastic axe hung over a shoulder. I hiked on but kept looking back, just in case. 


I needed to camp at least a mile away from the demon, so I lumbered down the road as lightning struck around me. Once far enough, huge rain drops began to fall and two desert owls swooped around my head. They flapped and glided in for a closer inspection. The rain fell harder, the thunder boomed, and lightning strikes blinded me. I whipped my trekking pole above my head as the owls got really close to me, as I set up my tarp. One of the desert owls perched on a large sagebrush and watched me. Omens seemed to be all around me. I crawled into my sleeping bag and buried my head into it, as simultaneously the thunder and lightning struck. On a barren plain, I had no choice but to be in the middle of the storm. The flashes blinded me, the rain fell in droves and the noise kept me up. My mustache tickled my nose as the tiny hairs stood on end. I buried my end further into the hood of my bag.


I woke up a few hours later and felt the inside layer of my tarp. I needed to see if I was alive. Blackness enveloped the space and landscape around me, yet as I blinked I could still see the white flashes in my head.




Cold set in the next morning and I made the crossing of the Marys River valley. I hiked the drainage to its headwaters high up in the Jarbidge Mountains on wonderful trail. Hoodoos resembled the Gila River Complex within the river corridor. The miles came easy and I just kept walking, simply enjoying what truly makes me happy in pleasant country. In the west fork of the Marys River basin a huge herd of elk grazed on the grassy mountain slopes, the bulls bugled and the cows chirped. What a state of wildness I was in! After another mountain pass I came to the headwaters of the west fork of the Jarbidge River. Moose droppings littered the trail in the boggy areas. Shortly after, I set up camp in an aspen grove.



The town of Jarbidge situates as the most isolated populated town in the Lower 48. It's in the boonies, I tell you. Furthest from any place I felt I've been including the Thorofare in Yellowstone National Park. Surprisingly, I found a small diner open and ordered a cheeseburger for breakfast. Soon after, I carried on down the road another 9m or so until I hit an old post signifying I had reached Idaho. I touched the signpost and instantly I felt the charge of sudden memories come flooding back from the whole state of Nevada. I walked without following a certain route and other personal events signified this hike as difficult.

I am not sure why things happened the way they happened, but they did. And I reached Idaho feeling I followed the way only my heart will know.





Monday, May 25, 2015

Great Basin Traverse: Ruby Crest, Part 1

5/17-5/18, 53m


Strategy. 

Strategy is difficult to implement when emotions get in the way, when you really feel the need to be outside. But if I learned three very important things last year they are to not force things, listen to the truth Nature presents, and to not be so hard on myself.


After three long days in Eureka waiting out very unstable weather, I left town in hopes of traversing the Diamond Peak Range and the Ruby Crest, the latter most easily the highlight of the Great Basin Traverse. I hiked into the town of Eureka on an incredible high only to have my momentum waylaid by my early-ness of the season on the GBT and the weather. My mind caught up with me and my emotions settled. I felt cheated, lied to, because of the position I was in. Even though I know it isn't right for me to blame anyone else, and I won't; I had to make do and fight off these feelings.

I left under heavy clouds and a heavy heart. As I summited the crest of the Diamond Peak Range, a storm smoldered from the west. Grueling winds and puffy, dark clouds slammed into the ridgecrest. I took coverage beneath knobs between saddles on trodden wild horse trails, the air redolent of blooming sagebrush and dank horse apples. Diamond Peak loomed within a short distance away with clouds and vapor curtains smothering the aptly named peak. Suddenly, little pellets of hail fell, the wind whipped with gusts pushing 50mph. I could see the summit so close, so attainable, yet I knew what lay ahead of me: 25m or so along a severely exposed ridgecrest in inclement weather.


I scrambled down a broad ridge plunging steeply into a beautiful canyon. Water flowed in a small creek, babbling peacefully, as I picked my way towards Newark Valley. I felt safer under the dark skies. I ended up hitting a paved highway and walked it a few miles. I had wanted to cross the Newark Valley dry lake bed but with the unstable weather the prospect of such a crossing seemed unreasonable. Dry lake beds when wet are an absolute bear to hike across. You'd be lucky to keep your shoes. And they're even worse to hike across in thunderstorms. No cover whatsoever.



Nevertheless, I took a go. I needed a mission, something to train my mind on. I plodded on as thunderclaps pealed from behind me. I moved quickly on soft mud tiles, curtains of rain nearing me. Three large cells poured down on me, thunder reverberating all around me. After a few hours I hit the sage plains that had soggy meadows scattered occasionally throughout; due north of me the southern flanks of the Ruby Crest inundated with snow appeared imposing. This was my first observation of the 'Nevada Alps' and my first swallowing of the notion that I may have to take time off because of the conditions and the unstable forecast. I struggled with what I was going to do. The cloud level was around 8,500ft and I would be above that elevation in the Ruby Crest for roughly 70 exposed miles. I honestly didn't think I could keep warm with the winds and cold temperatures. After 33m I laid down under my tarp on the plains of the basin and told myself: you need to be nicer to yourself. Rain poured down all night.


The next day a dirt road turned into a 'really good' dirt road and I noticed a large mine near Bald Mountain. I thought this to be negative not because of the mine use itself but rather I knew it meant if I stayed down low in the valley I had a real road slog of a hike. I racked my brain. I was still 85m from the town of Elko via the road slog. I would hike, then look all around me and understand the predicament I was in. I knew I could not live with myself if I missed the Ruby's. It would be akin to missing the High Sierra on the PCT or the San Juans on the CDT. I felt a bit defeated. Then, I broke down. The same feelings I had in that Eureka motel room began to resurface. I felt cheated.


But this is my responsibility, my actions, and I have no one to impress out here. I have no one to blame. I chose my path, ultimately. My footprints leave a trace of me: my integrity, my character, and my honesty to myself. Since I already knew I'd have to sit out some days at some point since I was 13 days ahead of schedule, I told myself that I wouldn't stick my thumb out, however I would agree to a lift if someone asked what the Hell I was doing out here. After a slew of trucks, one finally stopped.

'Are you sure you WANT to be hiking this road. This road is not ideal for what you're doing,' says Randy.

I pointed up to the Ruby's. 'I'm supposed to be up there,' I tell him.

I hopped on in and like that I was on my way to Elko. And I'm glad I did. The road turned to pavement within a few miles and I understood clearly what I would've been in for if I hiked all the way to Elko.

I decided to wait out the instability in the weather until things warmed up. 

My own footprints are all that matter.