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with desert wind a little before Middlegate. When we followed US 50 east the wind came from the east. When we departed from US 50 heading southeast for Ione, the wind came from the southeast. I felt cheated. Aren't winds supposed to be westerly most of the time? Long distance hiking is more mental than physical; the mental challenge hiking into Ione was the monotony. We were crossing a high elevation desert, somewhat scenic and cooler than a low elevation desert. The backdrop of mountains surrounding the desert were scenic enough, particularly the mountains in the Arc Dome Wilderness where we were heading. You could still see whitecaps at the end of June. Yet we might as well have been walking on a treadmill inserted into a picture postcard. As we walked on a fourteen mile stretch of straightaway dirt road the mountains never seemed to be getting closer; the ubiquitous sagebrush on our left and right seemed to remain the same. When you are in good condition the temptation while hiking is to choose destinations for breaks. The first destination may be one mile away or five miles away. The distance does not matter because of a conditioned body and you want to break where you might maximize your enjoyment. This inclination towards destination hiking gets a little out of hand in the open desert. I knew better than to choose the end of the fourteen mile span ahead of us as our first destination that morning, yet our bodies were coaxed on by the backdrop of mountains in the distance. I felt my mind encased somewhere between daze and agitation, if that can make sense to you. The monotony almost put me to sleep yet with a growing impatience for the scenery to change. We did manage to take one break before arriving at Ione. Ione was the first of a few boom and bust mining towns we encountered. The sign for Ione claimed they were tenaciously holding on with their population of 41, yet in reality there seemed to be only two residents still there. Ky was at Ione when we arrived and getting along well with those two residents, Norma and John Harpe from the Shosone tribe indigenous to that area. We joined Ky and the
Harpes for lunch at a very small, fenced in park with a water pump in one corner and a stone table in another. Perhaps in a former time this bustled with neighborhood kids or families in the day and with young lovers at night. A woman whose horse trailer broke down joined us while waiting for help to arrive. Like us, she was benefiting from the kindness of the Harpes. Norma did most of the talking, as John was hard of hearing. Both presented an aura of jovial resignation while talking to us like old friends. They were both satisfied enough with their lives, while welcoming the “interruption” of the very occasional stranger, yet could remember a time when neighbors outnumbered strangers. As we enjoyed lunch together, I reflected on the irony of two Shosones being the holdout residents of a Nevada mining town. A boom and bust culture meets a boom and bust industry. At least mining towns bust from their own doing, you can extract something for only so long. As the journey progressed this reality impressed upon me. Many things naturally “die,” and attempts to keep some things “alive” is like rescuing corpses from the grave. Yet the Shosones did not bust from their own doing. The encroachment of private property and smallpox laden blankets were the two biggest banes to Native American culture. With an end to their own sustainable lifestyle many Native Americans are caught in unsustainable pursuits such as boom and bust extraction; irony stemming from tragedy. Even as I learned from the journey that many communities must accept boom and bust as consequences of some economic choices, and to not feel too much remorse about this, I lament the failure of many communities to make the wise choices that would grant them sustainable autonomy. As we resumed hiking that afternoon I felt my lips going numb. I did not know what that meant, until I later discovered the hardened red tissue on my lips. Cindy often gets chapped lips, but I've avoided them through thousands of miles of exposure. My lips could withstand snow fields at high elevations and bright sun, but not the desiccation of hiking directly into high winds and sun over the desert.
Those strong southerly winds also brought increasingly uncomfortable heat, so that by late evening the temperature was well into the nineties at 6700 feet. We ended the day at the BerlinIchthyosaur State Park, where we once again joined Ky. The “Ichthyosaur” referred to the fossils of a sea dinosaur discovered at that high elevation. The “Berlin” referred to an abandoned mining town that had many parts restored and preserved, another reminder of boom and bust in Nevada; there were still more reminders to come.
We parted with Ky the next morning anticipating a “vacation,” meaning time spent in our beloved mountains with low mileage to enjoy them. Our first intended “vacation” in the Sierra did not work out as planned as we went off route; this one went awry as we mainly stayed on route. In both cases the elevated snow pack across the region was a contributing cause. We started off by going through yet more boom and bust towns on our way into the Arc Dome Wilderness. I spotted on our Forest Service map a trail that seemed to be a more logical route for nonmotorized travel than the dirt road the ADT followed. I soon learned that the good folks who spent a year scouting out the ADT route knew what they were doing. The trail followed a creek, with what looked like a gradual ascent. However, the trail on the map seldom occurred on the ground. Whenever we lost the trail we could stay by the creek and battle with thick willows and thorny multiflora rose; or we could avoid the tangle by contouring the steep banks that came down into the creek bed. Towards the end of our first “vacation” day we found ourselves bushwhacking farther and farther up a steep slope that some might call a cliff. Finally I determined we must make our way back down to the creek somehow before we ended up in a different drainage. We came down to a spot by the creek relatively cleared of vegetation and set up camp. Let me recap again how we got to that camp spot. We started out on a trail that no longer exists and had to either battle thick, thorny vegetation or struggle with going up and down boulders on a steep slope. Now imagine my reaction the next morning at 6:00 a.m. when Cindy says to me:
“Did you hear those women?” “What women?” I asked groggily. “Those two women walking by just a little while ago.” “Didn't happen.” “Yes it did! I heard them!” “Um, Cindy, what women would be out for a morning stroll at 5:30 in the morning around here? How many start their normal days by bushwhacking through a creek and contouring cliffs?” We both cracked up to the point of tears over the absurdity. Sometimes dreams can seem very real. Despite the low mileage for this stretch we camped short of where we wanted to be mileage wise because of the strenuous bushwhacking the first day. Bushwhacking continued into the second day, even as we made our way back to the official ADT route as quickly as possible. The ADT route followed something called the Toiyabe Crest National Recreation Trail (TCNRT), marked in prominent red as a national recreation trail on our Forest Service map. And so it was that on the second day of our “vacation” it took us the whole day to go just eight miles. That's even with a short lunch break, as the weather turned cold and raw as we headed up into higher elevations. During that lunch break we met the only other people we were going to see in this wilderness, two Forest Service employees out doing research. Before the day ended I wanted to sue the Forest Service for false advertising. First of all, the TCNRT did not follow or contour a “Crest” but rather went up the Reese River drainage and down the South Twin River drainage for the part that we were on. Usually, going up and down drainages makes for some ideal hiking, but not in this instance. A “National” trail, marked prominently in red on a map, presumes an attended pathway. That was obviously not the case here. The trail could not have been maintained over the past twenty years. In an area dominated by open sagebrush and chaparral, we sometimes could follow the trail, but too often the trail would just peter out as it approached the riverbank. The trail was poorly built to resist erosion when
it did exist. I suppose a “Recreation” trail is not technically false, but as lifelong hikers accustomed to hiking trails we learned that a “Recreation” trail in Nevada means “Horsepacking” trail. A horse does not care if it is crossing the same river 20 times in three miles, or even if it has to scratch its way through thick river vegetation in the process (or at least I assume they don't care; I don't know that they've ever been consulted). The melting from the late snow pack meant we were often up to our thighs even as we were now far up the river drainage during that raw day. To wear pants or not to wear pants? When we did they got wet. When we didn't our legs got scratched. In either case the same shoes stayed on for the frequent crossings, which meant our feet stayed permanently wet. In theory trails are supposed to make life easier for the traveler, which leads one to always try and find them. In retrospect I should have abandoned following the Toiyable Crest National Recreation “Trail.” A “Hiking” trail, as opposed to a “Horsepacking” or a “Recreation” trail (apparently) would keep the traveler away from the creek bed, rather than use it almost as the trail itself. With all the time I spent trying to find the trail and following paths meant for horses we would have been better off going cross country. I love using map and compass for cross country routes. Pulling out the map and compass every half hour just to make sure we were still on the “trail” only annoyed me and impeded our progress far more than choosing a route over open country. We camped short again the second night, partly because of the tough day and partly because of the ugly clouds that formed throughout the afternoon. Where we camped was just shy of fully exposed terrain, a wise decision for when “boomers” descended upon us. There's nothing quite like a thunderstorm high up in a mountain canyon, serving as a surround sound echo chamber. I rather enjoy it, even each initial loud crack induces an instinctive cringe. The storms broke sometime during the night. We awoke to ice on the tent, hail on the ground and frost on the sagebrush, just three days after my lips went numb from hot winds. Our third and last day of our “vacation” featured less problems with navigation. We almost
headed up Sheep Creek canyon, rather than the highest reach of Reese River. Triangulation with Arc Dome peak saved us the misfortune. After that it was pretty straightforward. We even came upon an impressive bit of stonework to grade the trail along the South Twin River. Even so, we now had a high mileage day from always camping short and arrived at Carvers dog tired and well into the evening. Some vacation! Carvers was a declining town like so many others in Nevada, though just down the road was the new, active Round Mountain mine and the new, growing town of Hadley. We met Deputy Sheriff Barber from Hadley as we came into Carvers; he gave us permission to stay at a little roadside park and Ky joined us there. I determined to take a rest day in Carvers, partly to rest up from our “vacation,” and partly to get ready for the next seven-day stretch in between supplies. When Sheriff Barber, an avid backpacker himself, heard of our plans for a rest day he enthusiastically described a route into the backcountry to see a waterfall. This revealed a common misconception. People often invite long distance hikers to go on local, scenic hikes during their “down time.” Hey! That must be what we love to do, right? Well, yes, but the last thing I want to do during “down time” on a long distance hike is to hike some more. Instead, I used much of the down time to study our route ahead to make sure our next seven days did not turn out like our “vacation.”
When we parted company at Carvers Ky went to visit her sister in California one last time before our next meeting point. The first day out of Carvers became the worst day of the journey for me. Another heat wave arrived for the Fourth of July weekend as we headed out with our heaviest packs for the long ascent up towards Jefferson Pass. Along the way we passed garbage dumps that were remnants of the “old' mining days, along with much evidence of the “new” mining going on at Round Mountain. For the only time during the hike I felt like quitting, which meant something else was wrong besides just the tough going. I learned long ago to take the good with the bad. If I felt like quitting that meant I had to be coming down with something; I probably was slightly feverish.
Not everything was bad even on this day. The ascent was steady but gradual. We had lunch by a shaded stream with butterflies fluttering to and fro. We went through the most fascinating boom and bust town yet; with nothing left to the buildings of Jefferson but stone. Most importantly, we stayed that night high up near Jefferson Pass, one of the top five camp spots on the journey. Cindy wrote in her journal and I took pictures of the expanding shadows and sinking sun. The next day my fever broke and my illness moved on to the main stages of an intestinal virus. I no longer felt like quitting, though I had other inconvenient symptoms and I probably looked pathetic. Early in the morning near Jefferson Pass we met Gordon and his dog Ivan. He was an LA firefighter doing some advance scouting for game in the area. He gave us Gatorade and kept apologizing for not doing more for us. After descending into the desert valley southeast of Jefferson Mountain we met Paul in his dune buggy. With a laid back, Californian kind of charm he enthusiastically supported us but could not chat long because there were ATVers behind him. As he took off he handed us $20. Behind him were Ralph and Jann, two locals from Belmont who chatted with us longer. They filled us in on another ADT hiker who was taking time off in Belmont. Also from Belmont were Letha the lion hunter/truck driver, who gave us some of her home made beef jerky and elk pepperoni, along with her friend Serena, who kept hopping out of their truck to give us more ice cold water. Later in the day we ran into more people whose names I failed to get, perhaps my illness was fogging my mind by then. Too bad, because I was particularly grateful for a young cattle herder who knew the area well and gave us some crucial advice for finding our way up ahead. The depth of kindness we received across the country was amazing but on this day the most people stopped to provide assistance, twelve total. A combination of factors led to what I call Trail Angel Day. Despite being in the backcountry of a sparsely populated area, the Fourth of July weekend brought people out. Except for the one time that the dune buggy backed up the ATVers, everyone encountered us alone. In other words there was no diffusion of responsibility inherent in mass society. Everyone who
encountered us “responded” to two backpackers out in the backcountry desert during a Nevada heat wave, with one of the two looking particularly pathetic. When adversity strikes, so does kindness. When the weekend passed we no longer encountered people, with one exception. My “condition” sometimes led to sudden urges. Despite being out in the middle of nowhere we came upon a place to relieve one of these urges. Andy caught me “with my pants down” using an outhouse on her property. As “punishment” she invited Cindy and I to use her bath house fed by natural hot springs. Her husband was away deep sea fishing but that did not deter her from extending us such kindness. Perhaps it helped that Andy previously encountered an ADT traveler going by their place two years earlier, a person on horseback. Also, Andy was a pretty good shot with a rifle, as she plugged a squirrel raiding her garden while we were there.
Though we no longer encountered people after Trail Angel Day we continued to encounter adversity. After “rainy” California we slogged our way through “wet” Nevada. We spent five straight days with wet feet from the constant stream crossings of horseriding trails. That led to an alternate route with less stream crossings, the one that brought us by Andy's place, which apparently had been a chosen alternate route by at least one other ADT traveler. Perhaps that person wanted to skirt the Duckwater Indian Reservation, a place where ADT travelers are warned to use diplomacy. We skirted Duckwater for an entirely different reason. After minimizing our stream crossings we still found Nevada to be too wet from abundant rain and thunderstorms. One expects afternoon thunderstorms in summer, but I did not anticipate that in Nevada these storms would start early to midafternoon and continue well into the night. We stopped short three times on the seven day stretch because of this, necessitating an alternative to our alternate route. We were informed that many ADT travelers take an alternate route along US 50 because Nevada is just too dry and they need access to water. We ended up on US 6 instead because Nevada was too wet and we needed to make up time for a scheduled talk to the Ely Lions Club.
Having now hiked on both US 50 and US 6 I can tell you without reservation that US 50 no longer deserves the title of loneliest highway. A vehicle came by about once every five minutes on US 50; it was more like once every twenty minutes on US 6. Small wonder. No services for motorists existed for the 169 miles between Tonapah and Ely. A place called Blackwater Station used to provide services about halfway along this desolate stretch. People in trouble often stopped at the one dwelling there looking for some form of assistance, inducing the owners to provide a store and gas station for awhile, but there was not enough traffic for continued support. We were able to meet up with Ky at Blackwater, thanks to the owner Carol allowing us to use her land line to make contact about our alternate route. Carol showed us a clipping of a journalist who stopped there while hiking across the country on US 6, and lauded praise on Blackwater Station for their kindness. Before arriving at Blackwater there was a time on US 6 when we were getting low on water. I held up an empty water bottle whenever a motorist drove by, but to no avail. One motorist beeped and waved, which led me to understand that motorists thought I was gesturing to them with something like a toast. I then held the water bottle upside down and the next motorist stopped to give us water. We adopted a very regimented style of hiking along US 6, first while full packing and then slack packing after Ky met to assist us. The purpose was to start early and get most of the twenty plus miles done before the afternoon heat. Instead of destination hiking we turned to interval hiking, assisted by the mile posts along US 6. With full packs: hike two miles, rest five minutes: hike two miles; rest five minutes. With slack packs our intervals were three miles and five minutes. Despite having backpacked 15,000 miles previously, I was astonished at the results of this new trick. Towards the end we were a little stiff at the start of an interval, but otherwise kept amazingly fresh the whole time through the oppressive Nevada heat. The frequent stops regimented our nourishment as well. I've always gulped both food and water. Indeed, my nickname in college was Hoover. Gulping down volumes of cold water on a hot day in the
mountains is refreshing; doing the same in the desert is a waste. The body can only metabolize so much water at a time; if you are gulping it down much will go towards sweat or urine. By limiting ourselves to small amounts of both food and water at each frequent stop we efficiently used what we carried without needing to carry more. That was not the only new backpacking trick I learned out in the desert. When hiking through forest one easily finds places for a pit stop, along with props for assisting one's efforts. My favorite was the “one cheek against the large decaying log” method. One easily could dig many inches into the ground by a decaying log while providing adequate support for the pit stop. The desert features wide open, easily viewable spaces with no such “supports.” But you can teach an old hiker new tricks. I learned to urinate sitting down and defecate standing up. Even though only one car came by on an average of every twenty minutes you never knew exactly when the next was coming. Wearing shorts I could easily urinate while sitting down by the side of the road and no motorist could see what I was doing even if one came by. Cindy gave me exasperated looks whenever I did this. I went far off the road for relieving “solids,” but the wide open spaces necessitated being quick about your business nonetheless. I found standing not only was quick but much easier on aging knees. Two things to remember while resorting to this method though: always take one pants/shorts leg out and void the solids first to minimize splashing. I learned the latter trick the hard way. Learning these tricks in the Nevada desert set us up for hiking through Utah, where the temperatures at the lower elevations there in August were just going to get hotter. Photo Album: Middlegate to Ely, NV Podcast: Nice Camp Spot Podcast: Trail Angel Day