While some consider the Selenite Range on the south east edge of the Black Rock Desert to be the guardians of the the Black Rock my gaze is always drawn to the Granite Range. In the winter and spring my imagination is drawn to its snow covered elevations from the distant south. Crossing the Black Rock Desert playa I can look over my left shoulder and see snow from 5000′ to 9000’+. The high elevation basins funnel that water into the wetlands of Hualapai Flat. I have made a handful of trips into the Granites and was always in awe of what I found. It had been a couple of years but in planning a trip for August I chose the upper elevations of the true Guardians of the Black Rock.
The Granite Range has a handful of perennial streams. I have made water crossings year round. Some have yielded Brook Trout on bikefishing outings. I have come across springs that feed these creeks as well as provide ranchers with brimming water troughs and livestock reservoirs. The springs also provide water for aspens that create critical habitat for wildlife. But with the years of sustained drought I was not certain which springs would be flowing. So I encouraged anyone on the trip to carry as much water as they might need to cover a 46 mile loop with 8,000′ of climbing over two days. To be sure everyone was covered I planned an excess. I was only familiar with half the course and I wasn’t planning on pre-riding this route as I had on other outings. Riders would need a certain amount of flexibility.
Wildfire season was another consideration. Nevada is fortunate to be spared from major wildfires so far. But we are not spared the smoke from the largest fires in northern California’s history. We are all watching the the air quality monitors, fire incident maps, smoke plumes, wind vectors, and wildfire cameras, with the hope we can find a decently near-by place to ride. Ultimately you don’t know the conditions until you are there nor can you truly predict what will happen over the next 36 hours. Leaving Reno we were in the Hazardous to Unhealthy range. I had been following Gerlach sensors and they had been Moderate (moderately BAD). So I let riders know I would drive to the trailhead no matter what and we could decide there. For so many trips over the last year in smoke, heat, rain and snow, whatever inclement weather, this had proved to be the best decision.
The meeting point was the Friends of Black Rock-High Rock visitor center in Gerlach. I encourage anyone who is adventuring in the area to stop by and say “hi!” Chances are you will find something there that will enhance your trip. We ran into Margie Reynolds who was meeting participants for the Fly Ranch Nature Walk. We ran into Karleena Hitchcock who rescued a backpacker stranded by car trouble. As such is the day of FBRHR! I met Galen Watson and Shay Daylami and I was expecting Marc Pfister at the start of the ride. He came out the night before and camped at Cassidy Mine.
Galen and I first rode together at Winnemucca Lake to our overnight destination at the MGL tungsten mine mill. I learned a lot about ultra light through hiking from Galen and altered my cook kit after that trip. Galen wasn’t convinced that riding in this smoke would be ok but he came out to get a lay of the land. He shared with me his light weight bivy which seems like another great option. After the obligatory waiting 10-15 minutes past the established meeting time we caravanned to the ride start.
The consensus between Marc, Shay, and I was we would give it a go. The route was a lot of climbing, we were carrying a surplus of water. We didn’t know how much harder it might be in the smoke. We followed the route along flowing creeks to the first miner’s shack. I wonder how many more winters it can endure.
The next climb was steep and rocky. Under these conditions it became a hike-a-bike. But it wouldn’t be the last, the longest, or steepest. We could hear the creek rushing next to us but it was impossible to see as the vegetation had grown so thick. It is a common theme, add a little water to the desert and see what grows. Marc found a rock that curiously looked like a shaped stone tool. None of us are archeologists nor anthropologists but it is great to imagine and remember that people have been traveling these mountains for 10-15 thousand years! Next we saw a few tarantula hawks, spider wasps. Their devilishly black bodies are in such contrast to their fiery orange wings. We weren’t quick enough to photograph them but it was fun to watch them fly through on their zig-zag path.
The next stop was the Homestead. Buried in a stand of aspens was a stone house marking the spot. There was the brick remains of a chimney and fireplace. It looked as though the spot may be used by hunters. The trees had signs of recent “arboglyphs” but I’m not sure if any of the marks were truly historical. These spots inspire my imagination of those who came before me.
The next climb I knew was going to be tough. But I really could not expect how tough. The max grade was estimated on the the map at 30%, so there were going to be bits even steeper. This is where having the lightest, nimblest bikepacking rig possible is key. Mine was not. The struggle was extraordinary. Marc gave me a push when I needed it the most. But with teamwork we all got through.
We pedaled on. We saw our first ghostly glimpse of Granite Peak. It was a ways off. At the top of our next hike-a-bike we made the decision to skip the out and back through Skull Canyon to Granite Peak and start our loop. Marc thought there might be some camp spots ahead.
The first spot was at a spring but had been cratered by thirsty cows. I stopped to photograph bees and flowers as Marc went on to find flatter ground. Our camp was in an open space between several stands of aspens. It was early in the afternoon but we welcomed the down time. By the numbers our day’s effort had not been extraordinary but the terrain had taken its toll.
The three of us had our own takes on shelter for the night. Marc had just sewn his own version of Mountain Laurel’s simple tarp shelter. No door, single or double pole, pyramid design, brilliant. Shay’s ultralight tarp has seen them through several of our trips. I brought my new winter hot tent. As a four seasons single pole pyramid style tarp tent it provides plenty of room and can be paired with a portable wood stove for the coldest winter comfort. This was my first outing with this tent and I am looking forward to a winter of bike travel with it.
Unfortunately it wasn’t a clear enough night for star gazing. But it was a restful night. The temperatures dropped into the thirties which was cooler than I was expecting. We woke to the sound of hunters passing in their side-by-sides as it was an antelope hunt weekend. But we never heard any rifle shots. Good for the antelope!
After a quick breakfast and pack-up we were back on the road. We crossed the crest of the range and now had views of the western slopes. They dropped off dramatically to the valley floor below. The smoke had cleared enough to give us some perspective as to the massiveness of the range. We pedaled along to cross back over to start completing the loop.
Looking ahead we had another peak to climb with a -40% jeep trail to descend. Or we could short cut the route and follow the drainage of Right Hand Canyon. We were a bit shell shocked from yesterday’s climbs so following the drainage seemed good. According to my Garmin it was a 1.1 mile short cut as the crow flies. We took the drainage. At first the fat bike took to the rocky descent like it was made for it!
But then it turned into a 4 hour plus hike-a-bike negotiating near impassible rock and vegetation. Overall it was a fantastic adventure. I think we made the right choice because at the end of our short cut we could not see the jeep trail we were supposed to follow. In between we negotiated incredible geology and I feel like I came out the other side knowing new personal limits. This lived up to the motto of BurritoPackingNV, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
We found our planned route and I was stunned to realize that we were still surrounded by huge mountains. There were canyons to explore in every direction. We pedaled on to the next cabin located on a beautiful pond, William’s Place. While we had passed several dry creek beds it was astonishing how much water was available considering what a drought the west is experiencing. With filtering and chemical water treatment I think one could travel safely with as little as 3L through the Granite Range.
We descended along Red Mountain Creek for over a thousand feet vertical. The creek crossings were refreshing and some pools held larger fish. A note to self to return for bikefishing. Finally we crossed a sea of sage to Co Rd 34, a short mile to our starting point.
We returned to Gerlach for a victory meal at Bruno’s. We ran into another local, Phi who is a motorcycle, e-motorcycle and e-mountain bike explorer in the area and owner/operator of Black Rock Desert Motorcycle Club. He shared his route information with us as we waited for our food. Shay wants to do a long day ride to Granite Peak, I have multiple loops planned to the north as well as a 100 mile trip in the Granites planned. So I imagine we will return once the cleaner crisp air leads us back.
By the numbers: on day one we rode 10 miles with 3000’ of climbing. On day 2 we covered 16 miles. You can check out the proposed route here on Ride with GPS, and compare it to Day 1 and Day 2 respectively.