Day Trip; The Full Toiyabe Crest Trail

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This is typical of the section of the trail I dubbed The Ranch

The Plan

After riding a short section of the Toiyabe Crest Trail (TCT) with Patrick Smith I was itching to return. Unfortunately this is my busiest time of year at the Reno Bike Project with summer in full swing and the Burning Man Festival right around the corner (we supply festival goers with over 1000 refurbished bikes for transportation on the Black Rock Desert playa). So it was as if I had an itch I could not scratch.

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Familiar spot, top of the first hike-a-bike

But the window of opportunity opened, or maybe it was in case of emergency just smash the glass. I had a free Monday so I went for it. I drove out to Kingston Sunday night. I camped a couple of miles to the south of Kingston off a forest service road with the plan of starting before 4 am, riding to Groves Lake on Kingston Cyn Rd, then following the TCT to Ophir Canyon, descending back to the Big Smokey Valley, and looping back to my car. In my estimation it would be a 70-75 mile loop that I could cover in 14 hours. Simple.

The Bike

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Dense sagebrush, thin trail

I chose my KHS 650b carbon hardtail with Nitto Dirt Drop handlebars. The bike was kitted out with a Jandd Frame Pack, Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag, and Apidura Backcountry Food Pouches. My general aesthetic is to have all my bags match but I have never outfitted this bike this way. So pragmatism won over aesthetics I grabbed the bags that fit the bike. This bike has a suspension fork that I added Twofish 40 oz. Quick Cages. I have used these cages on various bike frames on tours but this is the first time I have used them on suspension fork lowers. I chose this bike for comfort and speed. It was a good choice.

What I Carried

I was concerned about having enough water for a full day in the desert. On my fork I had two 1.5 L Nalgene bottles. In my frame pack I had a 3 L bladder. In my jersey packet I had a large cycling water bottle. My bottles had Cytomax and my bladder had fresh water.

One handle bar pouch was filled with trail mix. I am not a big eater on the bike. The other pouch had my phone and camera. The side pocket on my frame pack had a multi tool, back up battery, Spot Gen3 tracker, and bandanna.

My seat bag had my first aid kit including a space blanket and micro headlamp, bicycle repair kit, Marmot Sherpa Shirt (light jacket), and Patagonia Houdini (ultra ;light windbreaker). I had a frame pump and CO2 inflator. I carried an Aquamira  inline filter for a spare water bladder. I felt I was well prepared.

To Groves Lake

My kind of lighthouse

I forgot just how dark it was in the middle of nowhere with no moon. I didn’t think I needed a headlight for this trip. I used my 50 lumen taillight to guide me through Kingston and up Kingston Cyn Rd. Dawn was breaking at the trailhead just past Groves Lake.

The Crest Trail

First rays of the day poking through the clouds

I knew exactly what to expect over the next seven miles to where Patrick and I turned off the TCT to follow Washington Creek. This section I has the most “crest like feel” of the ride. Throughout the seven miles you can look to the Big Smokey Valley and the Reese River Valley in the same panorama. Most of this section is between 9000′ and 10000′. There is little question to being on trail so navigation is easy. The trail is mostly rideable. I would estimate 2.5 miles of hike-a-bike and 4.5-5 miles of riding.

Sheep on this last climb before Washington Creek
Best alpine descent!

The Garden Trail

Numerous creek crossings

Between Washington and San Juan Creeks the trail changed “flavor”. Rather than traversing the range crest you drop onto the west side of the range and the trail dives into many minor drainages as well as Washington, Cottonwood and San Juan Creeks. It was remarkable how much water was flowing over this 10 mile stretch of trail. The opportunities to collect and filter water were numerous and unexpected. As a result of all this water the vegetation was thick. It was a botanist’s (I am not) delight. The aspen groves were thick. This section would be most spectacular during a bloom or during fall colors. I will return this fall to do a loop between Washington and San Juan Creeks. This section was probably similar in rideablity as the last.

Vegetation abounds 
Remarkable aspen groves

The Ranch Trail

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Humor? Art? Omen? I will take it all.

I felt the TCT changed its flavors over its length. The last half, south of San Juan Creek to Ophir Creek, I dubbed the Ranch Trail, because I shared it with so many cows. This section of the trail was about 14 miles long and traversed above, Tierney Creek, Marysville, New York, Mohawk, and Crane Canyons until reaching the edge of the wilderness at Ophir Canyon. Again there were several opportunities for water but unfortunately the cows were heavily utilizing them. I think the trick would be to hike upstream of the trail to be able to filter water that hasn’t just been filtered through the abundant cow pies.

Mini-meadows I thought would make good campsites
Or camping in the trees

This section of the trail dips down to ~7800′ before it climbs to the highest point on the trail at ~10000′ yet the trail has the feeling of rolling grazing land with the exception of a couple aggressive climbs. I had my eyes trained to see where the trail would dip into aspen groves because occasionally they trees obscured the route finding.  One in particular had a handful of downed trees that made navigating tough.

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Looking forward to the second to last climb of the day

At about 7:30 pm the sun dipped behind the Shoshone Mtns with the last climb of the day ahead. I rode through the twilight and into the dark before I took out my micro (emergency only) headlamp. I had not planned on this trip extending into the night. I really wished I had better lighting for safety and speed.

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Last rays of the day

The next thing I saw was the wilderness boundary kiosk. I had just ridden the non-wilderness portion of the Toiyabe Crest Trail, 34.7 miles.

Ophir Canyon Rd to SR 376

Now all I had to do was descend Forest Service Rd 017, Ophir Canyon Rd, to the highway back to my vehicle at Bowman Creek. Ophir Canyon Rd was so steep and loose at times that I chose to walk my bike in sections. But eventually I was back on the highway and again I was struck by how dark it was with no moon and no light pollution. The highway follows John C Fremont’s 1845 route through the Great Basin. I look forward to riding through the Great Smokey Valley in the daylight while finding some of the off highway roads. I got back to my car about 21 hours after leaving.

By the Numbers

Durable trail

Round trip the ride was 70.8 miles with over 11800′ of climbing. From Bowman Creek to the trailhead it was 10.5 miles. From the end of the TCT to Bowman Creek was 25.6 miles. A shuttle would make this ride much more manageable. An overnight or two would do the same. While there are folks working hard to open up the overgrown sections of trail travel and route finding is a challenge on the TCT. But it is a gem of a route and should be recognized as a great route by all.

Good thing I am small

You can see my STRAVA route here and my Garmin Connect route here.

6 thoughts on “Day Trip; The Full Toiyabe Crest Trail

    1. Yes, there were miles of hike-a-bike on overgrown and steep trails. There are a couple of groups working on opening up the trails. but even if the trails are wide open there is almost 12,000′ of climbing in 35 miles. I thought I would get through it faster myself.

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