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Begins: May 9, 2022
Date: Thu, Jul 14th, 2022
Start: Lake Valley Summit
End: Lake Valley Summit
Daily Distance: 0
Trip Distance: 1,017.5
Entry Visits: 463
Journal Visits: 8,400
Guestbook Views: 503
Guestbook Entrys: 8
Great Basin Trail - Planning and Overall Summary
THESE ARE MY OPINIONS. YOU MAY NOT AGREE WITH ME. Everyone is different. I
hope for these notes to be helpful and provide an honest account of what
the GBT is like but you need to do your own further research and make your
own decisions. I'm probably not like you. You may not like what I like.
The GBT is so epic. If you have the skills to hike this trail you gotta
hike this trail. The GBT is also brutal. If you read this journal you've
probably heard me say this about 1000 times. It was by far the hardest
trail I've ever thru-hiked and it was my 34th trail. It is at the top of my
list of hikes for adventure, scenery and just downright amazing insanity.
It's also at the top of my list for a hike where you do it just to see if
you can. I mean, there are a ton of amazing things about the GBT and
reasons I hiked it. But more than most trails, I knew how hard it would be
and really wanted to see if I could just do it.
If you've hiked a more difficult trail I'd like to know what it is! The GBT
is simply brutal. There's no other way to say it. No reason to beat around
the bush. It's amazing, but you better be ready for it. Primarily it's the
XC miles in the Ranges. I've walked 2 other routes across Nevada. The Hot
Springs Trail and The Desert Trail. I knew the GBT would be way harder than
both of these which is saying a lot. Primarily because of the Range XC. The
HST occasionally follows ranges, more typical it crosses over them. The
Desert Trail follows more ranges, but it's limited. The GBT was primarily
designed to climb into a Range and follow it for miles. I can't begin to
explain how difficult this can be. But there is a savior at times. Jeep
roads in Ranges. Before the trip to get a handle on the Ranges I calculated
there were about 660 miles in the Ranges out of a total of about 1,000
miles. That's 65% and just a massive percentage. But once I was out here I
quickly realized that what I the really needed to know was how many of
these miles were XC and how many were jeep roads. That was the key. So
before every section I would scroll through my maps and make a little list.
It was the only way I could survive out here. It was super helpful to plan
a day knowing how much XC, how much jeep roads, how much elevation and
where the water was. I didn't save those calcs so I don't really know how
many Range XC miles there are. I'd say it's about 50-50 between XC and jeep
roads (maybe 60-40 in favor of jeep roads actually). For me those XC miles
were where the brutality came in. I won't even try to describe it. It
varied, but it was usually pretty rough. Basically early on I wanted to
throw up at the top of every XC climb.
Other things that make the GBT hard: Long stretches between towns. At my
pace, I was doing solid 10 day stretches (with food caches along the way).
Long water carries at times. Crazy steep XC climbing. Hot sun and zero
shade for endless valley miles. Wind. Wind like you've never felt wind
before. Lastly, fickle weather. (see weather discussion for more on that).
Another way to think about the difficult is that I was the first person
other than Dirt to connect my steps around the loop. Prior to me 4 very
capable hikers started the GBT and quit at various points along the way. I
should caveat this by saying that in 2021 a hiker did basically complete
the GBT, it's just that several times he skipped dirt road miles by taking
rides offered and it totalled probably like 50 miles or something (I
believe this to be the case). I just can't acknowledge that as a first
completion of a trail, I refuse! But he was very strong and probably
*could* have hiked those miles. Also Salty hiked with Dirtmonger and joined
during the hike and completed like 700 of 1000 miles, this was her plan and
she did it at a blistering pace with Dirt, so a successful section hike.
But overall it's not a very high success rate. Usually with harder trails
you get very experienced hikers and the finish rate is pretty high. The
hikers who didn't make it were experienced, the GBT is just that hard.
You'll see me reference about 1000 miles or 1,013 to be exact. When I
imported the GPS track into Caltopo and added miles markers, I got 1,013
miles. Dirt references in his materials about 1100-1150 which makes sense
based on known XC straight line under mapping and just all the weaving
you'll doing walking XC. But for planning purposes I had to use my mile
markers so that's what I'll be referencing throughout. Just add 5-10% if
you want to know how far you'll actually be hiking.
You can roughly split the route in thirds. The first third is about 350
miles from Lake Valley Summit to Carvers (Before the Toiyabe Range). This
section is moderately hard. It felt brutal to me as I had just started and
due to being sick for a month before starting, I was out of shape. It's a
mixture of low, but challenging Ranges and low valley walking. This is the
lowest section and therefore possibly the hottest if you are unlucky. This
also has the smallest towns (Pioche, Alamo, Carvers).
The 2nd third is Carvers to Wells. This is about the next 400 miles. This
is the relentlessly brutal section. It's mostly Ranges, way less valley
walking where the easier miles are. If this section doesn't kill you,
The final third is somewhere in between the first 2. From Wells back to
Lake Valley Summit. You've got a solid amount of easier valley miles, but
also some very difficult ranges/peaks such as the Schell's, Moriah and
Wheeler Peak. But the tread is generally a bit better in these Ranges than
previous sections. On the flip side there is some serious elevation gain
and long XC stretches so it's tough (14 miles along the Schell crest and 6
miles down Wheeler in particular were very hard).
I talked about the XC a fair bit above. There's a also a lot of jeep road.
But this is like jeep road that no one ever drives or mostly couldn't drive
even if they wanted to. I was actually really surprised by how few vehicles
I saw. Barely any, there were a few times where I had long and hot water
carries across valleys and was hoping a vehicle would come with bonus water
and they never did! There's also a lot of XC miles across valleys. These
are way easier than XC in Ranges. They will slow you down, you'll be
weaving amongst the sage, but you'll still be moving decently. Occasionally
it can be sandy in the valley, that tired me out at times.
I'd like to describe the XC in Ranges but there is so much variety I can't
find the words. You'll just have to experience it yourself. I'll say this.
When you hear hiking podcasts or Instagram and hikers talk about
"bushwhacking", they don't have a fucking clue. The GBT has bushwhacking!
The CDT and PNT do not really have bushwhacking. Trust me. Or when they
talk about XC. The CDT seriously has no XC and the PNT has one 6 mile
section that is trailless. Again, they don't have a fucking clue. The GBT
literally has hundreds and hundreds of real trailless miles.
Water is shockingly good for a trail like the GBT where you'd expect to die
of thirst. Nevada is actually really good for water when you know where it
is and have a couple years of past reports like Dirt has done for the GBT.
With my current hike, this now means there are 3 straight years of water
reports for a Spring hike. 99% of the natural sources should have water for
your hike if they had water for the past 3 reporting years. It's a bit
tougher to rely on cattle troughs which change year to year depending on
where the cows are as Dirt talks about.
Anyway, there are definitely some solid water carries. Especially if you
can't rely on cattle troughs. But nothing crazy. Early on around Oak
Springs Summit, there is a solid 35 mile carry before and after your Oak
Springs water cache (with the potential for trough water along the way).
The big one is leaving Wells there is a 44-52 mile carry depending on where
you cache water. But the miles are mostly in the valley and it's totally
doable over 2 days.
There are plenty of 20+ mile carries, some 30s, but again, for a trail like
the GBT I think it's pretty reasonable. For me the hardest carries were say
a 20 mile carry in a Range. Those miles would be slow for me and hard and
I'd burn a lot of water and be really thirsty.
I'd say the water quality was pretty good, again all things considered.
Meaning you will be dealing with cows and horses which can really fuck up a
water source. Or troughs with crazy algae. But that's just what a desert
hike is like. If you can't deal with bad water you shouldn't be out here.
*Number of Days*
My hike was 65 days. Dirt's was about 45. That's a HUGE difference. Keep in
mind he's a physical beast. I am not. And it's not a race. Similar to the 1
or 2 people who finished other super hard trails before me, they were crazy
fast and I was just average. I think somewhere in between our hikes is a
reasonable estimate and for the GBT probably leaning closer to my days. I
may not be a physical beast but I do have a ton of desert experience, love
thru hiking and frankly am just good at this. So you might be a lot faster
than me, but you also might be slowed down by a lot of other issues. I'd
plan 2 months as a safe bet.
I felt like I cracked the GBT code. Especially when I started and was so
out of shape, but really the entire way, I just went slow. Brutally hard
day? I did a 14. Easier day? Did a 20. But I did a lot of days in the 15-17
range. I swear it made a huge difference in my attitude and success. I'd be
moving 1 mph on some brutal XC climb, but I was like, well I only have to
do a 14 today. I got this. It took all the pressure and stress off from
some really tough hiking. I also spent like 2 days in every town. Literally
every town I hit, I only walked a handful of miles in and then zeroed the
next day. So 2 nights in every town (there aren't that many, see resupply
below) and basically almost 2 full days off from hiking. This was a big
chunk of my 65 days. Like 13 days in town out of 65. That's more than
normal for me, but it just felt nice to rest and enjoy.
My main advice is to go to every town possible. This was one of my best
decisions. You might be sitting at home thinking, oh I don't need to go to
Alamo or Carvers or Lamoille. Go. Trust me. After 10 days of tough hiking
you will want a town. The towns on the GBT are a mix of extremely small to
decent size. The first half has all the tiny towns: Pioche, Alamo, Carvers,
Lamoille. The 2nd half has the bigger towns: Eureka, Wells, Ely. Check the
previous entry for my town summary, there are some good tips in there and
expands on Dirtmonger's excel resupply sheet. Motels were surprisingly
reasonable, like $ 65-$ 80. Usually towards the lower end.
You'll have to hitch into Carvers and Ely. The Alamo motel owner will
probably come pick you up if you are nice. The rest of the towns you walk
through which is nice.
You'll also want/need to do food/water caches. See next section.
You'll want to do food and water caches as suggested by Dirtmonger. The
food caches were a huge key to my success. There are a few stretches that
are basically too long to do without a food cache but there are a lot of
other places where it was just easy to do an extra food cache and make the
food carry short, like 50 miles. This made carrying water easier and just
made the really hard hiking a lot easier. Not easy, but it would have been
even harder with 130 miles of food instead of an 80 and a 50.
Here is a list of what I did. I added 2 caches to Dirt's list and didn't do
I think only 1 (Independence Valley on the 50 mile water carry, I don't
believe a standard car/SUV can get there but am not positive). All of these
were food caches except 3 noted as water caches only. Also, with the food
cache I always cached water too, even if it wasn't really needed. Just
wanted some water with my long cache break.
Lake Valley Summit - Start!
Pioche - town
1) Oak Springs Summit - This was a water only cache. Paved.
Alamo - town
2) Railroad Valley - This is the main one I added. It breaks up a 130 mile
carry from Alamo and was worth it. It's a good dirt road out there.
3) Blue Jay rest area, Hwy 6. Paved.
Carvers - town
4) Hwy 376, Big Smokey Valley, paved (this is the Hwy 376 cache after the
5) Antelope Valley road - Long dirt road, well graded for passenger cars
Eureka - town
6) Harrison Pass - Paved all the way till the last mile. Car could make the
last mile no problem.
Lamoille/Elko - town
Wells - town
7) Wells cache: (41.001369,-114.941359) - This was another I added. This
was a water only cache and only 8 miles from Wells but it was part of the
50 mile water carry so I thought worth it. Note, you have to park on Hwy 93
and walk 1 mile on jeep road to trail.
8) Goshute valley cache: Water only and for security at the end of the 50
mile carry. I feel like Boone Spring is reliable in Spring and this cache
was not needed. Decent dirt road out there. Could probably do a car, but
was happier to have a small SUV.
9) Highway 93 cache. Paved.
10) Hwy 6/50/Baker cache. Paved although I drove a half mile down the dirt
road as there is farm stuff near the highway.
Want some awesome tips on how to cache food and water? Read this from my
2019 Desert Trail hike:
*Maps / GPS / Navigation*
Dirtmonger provides a PDF mapset and GPX file that has about 1000 waypoints
and a GPS track. Big-time note here, the GPS TRACK IS NOT ACCURATE. It's
not meant to be. It's a great resource but it was hand drawn on Caltopo by
Dirt at home. He did not record that GPS track in the field. This is a good
thing. You should not record it either. This trail should be left
adventurous and not have a perfectly accurate GPS track so any idiot can
walk the route and die. In fact, I believe Dirt requires that you agree
that you will not record and release a GPS track to the public.
The 1000 waypoints are accurate, those were recorded on his hikes. They are
incredibly useful. Especially the game trail/horse trail ones. It can be
tough sometimes finding or keeping to these helpful paths. I lost them a
lot and would look ahead and try and hit the next game/horse trail waypoint
if there was one to pick it back up. Dirt is a master at finding and
following horse and game trails. I feel like I'm pretty good at it, but
clearly not as good as he is!
The GPS track is reasonably accurate but you'll still have plenty of
navigation decisions constantly all day long. Like going up drainages the
track didn't really seem to be drawn where you'd want to walk. You'll have
to decide which side is best, where to bushwhack, etc. Same for all the XC,
it's a general line in the direction Dirt wants to lead you. It's not
perfect, you'll have to read the terrain and pick the best route which is
generally on or near the line. Even on roads it's not accurate often, but
that doesn't really matter. You'll know you are on the right path. Usually
on a crest walk I could tell he tried to draw the line say around a peak if
he found a good way to contour around and not go over.
If you don't know how to read a map you will definitely die out here. I'm
pretty serious. This is not a trail where you can expect to just stare at
your phone and blindly follow a line on your GPS app. You've got to know
how to read a map and navigate. I had to make a million little decisions
all day. This was awesome and all part of the adventure. You can use your
GPS all day, you must still need to know how to read the topo map on it.
I'd also suggest downloading a satellite view layer to your app (I use
Backcountry Navigator) as well as a land use layer. Occasionally the
satellite view can be helpful if you are looking for a path or trail. I
used it more to scope out junipers for possible breaks on long hot
crossings or the first set of junipers to camp after a long shadeless day.
The land use layer is helpful if you need to bail due to snow or
lightening. Or if you just want to plan an alternate.
*Seasons / Weather*
Mostly this is best left to Dirt's blog and discussion on weather, starting
point and direction of travel. I'll mention a few thoughts. Nevada, and
this route in particular is the perfect example of there being no perfect
time to hike the GBT. There's no way to not be too hot, too cold or too
snowy. For a spring hike I think the consensus is to start at Lake Valley
Summit. Dirt's writeup gives a range starting in like March and suggests
closer to May. Honestly, I wouldn't consider starting before May 1. Dirt
started May 1 in 2020 and 2021, hiked fast and both times was hit with a
big spring snowstorm and had to bail to Carvers. He also had temps in the
teens some nights and when that wind is whipping and your high is in the
40s, it's cold. Kevin started May 1, I started a week later on May 9.
Personally I'd rather be too hot than too cold. It was pretty interesting
to see Kevin and me just a week apart for 6 weeks and have pretty different
weather. I was pretty hot in the southern low sections while he was getting
cold rain/sleet/snow around the southwest side in the mountains. You can't
really win. I think May 1 is a fine start time if you are averaged pace. My
start date of May 9 I also thought was good if you are willing to endure
more heat, but then I rarely had cold weather and more snow had melted out.
In a normal snow year the big ranges can have snow well into your hike and
the Ruby's are like a mini Sierra and can hold a lot of snow into July. I
think if you try to start in April you will most likely be very cold, get
hit with multiple spring storms and then have too much snow in certain
ranges including the Ruby's.
As for a Fall hike I'm less of an expert but Darkness and DaBear started I
think around August 1 which I think is too early. It's still quite hot. Of
course, starting later and you'll probably be too cold when you finish. I
don't know as much. It seemed their water sources were decent but
definitely not as solid as in the spring. The route is hard enough,
personally I'd want to do it when I can at least rely on the water for sure
in the Spring.
There's nothing exactly more dangerous out here than a normal hard trail.
But probably just a notch higher of shit that can happen. It would be so
easy to break and ankle or leg out here with all the tough XC. No one will
ever find you, that's for sure. Unless you crawl out yourself or have an
Inreach. Be careful of lightening. There are plenty of rattlesnakes
although I only saw 1, unfortunately it was when I was cowboy camped under
a rock overhang and I came face to face with it, literally 18" from my
You should have a backup navigation. If your primary is your phone then you
should have paper maps too. Or a secondary GPS device which I personally
find more useful. What's better, a paper map with a 5 mile range or a 2nd
GPS device with basically a 50 mile range? This year Heather and I bought
fancy Garmin watches that have topo maps on them and I could load the GBT
tracks and waypoints. It was amazing I almost hate to admit. I actually
used it all day. I could just flick my wrist and check how I was doing on
XC or the next road turn. I used my phone GPS plenty too for the bigger
picture but I was surprised how great the watch was.
Otherwise I can't think of anything else. Of course if you don't know how
to read a map or how to manage long water carries on a 100 degree day then
yeah, you will probably die.
If you are out here then you know your gear so I won't say much. There's no
way I could have hiked this trail without pants unless you want your legs
permanently scarred and in pain.
My gaitors were also key. Dirty Girls will be shredded, I'd highly
recommend the Levi gaitors from Blisterfree. These are very light but much
more rugged. I still managed to get a small hole in each one, Blisterfree
said I was the first person to ever put a hole in his gaitors. That's
basically the GBT in a nut shell right there.
An inflatable pad is fine. There are actually almost no cactus on the GBT.
It's few and far between.
Silver umbrella is almost mandatory unless you like taking breaks in the
direct 100 degree sun. I went like 38 miles or something one section
without shade. I'm not exaggerating, there wasn't anything higher than my
thigh for 38 miles and it was very hot.
Dress warmer than you think, it can be surprisingly cold up high early on.
A May Nevada snowstorm is not a joke. Sure it will melt off soon, but when
you are in it you'll be cold and scared.
Here's the big one, the GBT will FUCK UP all your gear. I couldn't believe
the pounding my gear took. My Goseemer Gear Mariposa is prett
y rugged and
took a beating. Your tent zippers will be full of sand. Your shirts and
pants will be torn up from pushing through juniper, pinyon an the most evil
tree of all, mountain mohagony. Also, keep your shit attached to your pack.
You'll be surprised how a juniper will pull out your umbrella as you weave
through them for miles. I had one rip open my pants pocket and my wireless
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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