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Date: Tue, Mar 29th, 2022
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Great Basin Trail - Planning
After a slight delay it looks like I’ll be getting to the Great Basin Trail (“GBT”) starting in early May or so. The shorthand way of describing the GBT is “The Great Basin Trail is a ~1,100 mile loop route solely contained within the state of Nevada and the geographic feature of the Great Basin”. The longer and more informative way would be to poke through Dirtmonger’s blog at: http://www.freedirtmonger.com/p/great-basin-trail.html
I am so many things to say, but not really in any coherent story telling fashion so I think I’ll take the lazy way out and do one of my bullet point entries with my random thoughts.
-The route was created by Dirtmonger (“DM”). If you know of him, well then you know of him. He’s one of the few people who I can genuinely say has done more than me! I might possibly have more miles, but the depth and adventurous nature of his hikes surpasses what I’ve done over my years. I can’t exactly recall when we first met on trail, but the last time I randomly crossed paths with him was on the Mongollon Rim Trail in 2019.
-I don’t want to exactly speak for DM, but of all the amazing stuff he’s done, this GBT route he’s created seems to be his real passion. I think you’d get that sense by reading his GBT route planning on his blog. Not that I need any motivation to walk through Nevada, as it’s my favorite hiking state in the country, but if I did I feel extra motivated to do justice to this route that Dirtmonger has poured his heart and soul into.
-I’m pretty confident this will be the most difficult route I’ve walked. I’ve crossed Nevada twice now on foot, both times with Heather. First on the Hot Springs Trail in 2017 and again on the more difficult Desert Trail in 2019. But from what I can tell, the GBT route will surpass even the Desert Trail in difficulty which is slightly hard to believe. The GBT route is immaculately planned and scouted, it’s just the number of miles that go across Ranges is quite large. Nevada has the most mountain ranges of any state in the country if you can believe it. My high point will be around 13k on Wheeler Peak. The low point is like 4k and I’d say an overall average elevation is around 8k-9k. So it’s a pretty high “desert” trail. In between all the Ranges are the low, broad and desolate valleys. The Hot Springs Trail and Desert Trail spends a bit more time in the valleys and when those trails did go through Ranges it did more “crossing” than “following”. As in, you’d hit a range and generally go up and over it, rather than on the GBT where you go up, follow along it for a lot of miles and then drop off. And the Ranges are where the really hard trailless miles are. And the elevation gain. So really just the sheer physical difficulty of following Ranges for so many miles is why I think the GBT will be the hardest trail I’ve hiked. All the other “difficult” things I’ve done many times over. Long water carries, the wind, the sun, the heat, desolate resupplies and hitches, being alone, rugged bushwhacking and so on. So none of these really concern me, in fact it’s why I’m out there. It’s just the sheer physical effort of the miles that I think will get me.
-The GBT has only been around for a year or so really. DM created it over a few years of his Nevada hikes and I was actually going to hike it Spring of 2021. In order to fit in a couple other hikes I ended up rearranging it to the Fall of 2021 and then by the time Fall 2021 arrived I just didn’t have it in me. The biggest part of that was it was in an epic drought summer and I was unsure how the water would be in the Fall. But the other part was I just wasn’t feeling it. That summer I had hiked the incredible Deseret Hiking Route through a brutally hot and dry Utah summer and the thought of doing something more difficult in a dry year just seemed tiring. So instead I went to the CDT and hiked a 1000 miles with Heather to finish out the hiking season.
-There aren’t too many hikers on the GBT! Since its creation, there have been a few folks who have attempted the hike. 3 people quit less than halfway through, one person finished the 80% they had started, but didn’t go back to pick up the first 200 miles missed (so a successful hike for what they had planned) and one person kinda completed an actual thru-hike (some dirt road walk miles appear to have been skipped/hitched). I think that’s about it, other than DM’s multiple hikes of his own creation of course. It sounds like there might be a few folks out there this year which is super cool although it’s likely I won’t actually see anyone. I’m starting on the late side and it’s a long trail. I think anyone would be in front of me.
-My start date strategy is to be on the late side and have more hopefully moderate temps to start and bear any heat issues at the end. Anyone I’ve told about hiking the GBT mid-May to mid-July has basically said why would you hike in Nevada in the summer? My mom keeps yelling at me for this. But Nevada is actually a really cold state up high and in May. The average low on May 1 in Pioche at 6k is 38 degrees. Subtract 10 degrees for being 3k higher and you are already in the 20’s. And that’s just average, any sort of cold front and you are looking at really cold temps. On the flip side, the average high in mid-July is about 90 at 6k. So when I’m up higher those temps are actually pretty reasonable. The stretches down the east side of the loop at the end do tend to be lower at times so I’m sure I will catch some hot weather, but I know it’s temps I can easily deal with. I’d rather be hot than cold overall. Also, on both of DM’s GBT hikes, around mid-May he was whollpped with a spring snowstorm and had to divert off of a Range. Not that I can necessarily avoid that, but maybe I’ll be in the lower elevation Ranges if that occurs rather than the bigger one’s if I started earlier.
-Water is another of those big issue myths that I’m not really worried about in the Spring. We learned on the Desert Trail that Nevada has a surprising amount of water and it’s especially nice when someone has hiked the route before you and taken notes on every possible water source twice at the exact time you plan to hike the trail. DM has a very nice and detailed water chart and while I don’t want to jinx myself, it’s unlikely I’ll find a source dry when DM had water at 2 different times. That’s not to say there won’t be long water carries, but I don’t find carrying water long distances that difficult if I know there will be water whenever I get there. It’s a whole different story if you don’t know as you then have to carry enough water to be careful and maybe make it another 20 miles, that’s a lot of extra water to carry. Like on the Deseret last summer, I barely ever knew where the next water would be and it felt like torture at times. On the GBT my biggest water decisions are probably whether I can rely on certain so-so sources or cattle tanks/troughs as these frequently get turned on/off by ranchers depending on where the cows are which you never know. But as far as sure thing sources there really are a fair number and I think I’ll be fine.
-The towns on the GBT are pretty so-so as I’ve come to expect from Nevada. Very small and limited options. I certainly will miss my McDonald’s and Big Gulps. Due the difficulty of the route as well as the limited resupply I’ll be caching food and water in 5 locations as well as water in an additional 2 for particularly dry stretches. One of the highlights of the Desert Trail in 2019 was when we did like 17 water caches and 8 of them food. I loved digging a big hole and burying my food and water! I don’t know why, it just seemed fun. I’ll be using the same strategy which is to use Opsaks so I can just pack them out and any trash and not have to come back to retrieve anything. We didn’t have a single cache issue on the Desert Trail (ie animals); hopefully the same goes for the GBT. I’ll do this in a 3-4 day, 1000 mile drive about the GBT loop. Kinda a pain, but it will make the food carries through very difficult terrain half as long at times. Big help and will allow me to move better and carry more water as needed.
-Random note, there are a couple of longer stretches without a town and therefore a power outlet! My phone is basically everything these days. GPS, maps, podcast, camera, journal, internet on high ranges and occasionally even used for phone calls. The podcasting can kill the battery if used too much and the internet really kills the battery, but it’s unlikely I’ll have much reception for that too often. I’m taking a 20k battery pack and then I’ve got this 1 panel solar panel we’ve used a bit before. It’s not great, but it only weighs 2.6 ounces and is a little boost, especially in the constant all day sun of Nevada. It’s the perfect trail to bring it. If it wasn’t for the all-day sun and a few long stretches I wouldn’t bring it.
-Where is Heather you ask? Heather is still on her personal quest to finish all 11 National Scenic Trails. She only has 4 left. She’ll be doing the Ice Age Trail while I’m on the GBT. While I will miss hiking across Nevada with her for a 3rd time, I won’t miss her enough to actually walk 1100 miles through Wisconsin again. We’ll meet up for the PNT after I finish the GBT. I’ll probably show up a week or 2 late as I don’t think I’ll make it by early July when she wants to start. That’s fine though, I did the PNT in 2012 and this way won’t have the deal with the pain it has become to get a Glacier permit.
That’s all I got for now. This journal will sit idle till I start in May.
Great Basin Trail
The Great Basin Trail is an ~1,100 mile loop route solely contained within the state of Nevada and the geographic feature of the Great Basin. The route was created as an epic thru-hiking adventure by Ryan "Dirtmonger" Sylva. For more information: http://www.freedirtmonger.com/p/great-basin-trail.html
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