Sunrise on Ophir Summit, where the Toiyabe Crest Trail begins, was simply magical. Not a breath of wind to disturb the eerie silence, the world precipitously dropping off the back of the Toiyabe Range, providing stunning 360 degree views of the arid valleys that fanned out below us. A thin line of granite, maybe no more than twelve inches wide, and barely visible due to vegetation and lack of use, was our stairway to heaven, which happened to begin at only 10,109 ft. A quick hike-a-bike landed us some rideable trail that we quickly took advantage of. The first few miles of the TCT are ear-to-ear grin stunning. The exposed, undulating trail runs along the spine of the Toiyabe Range and never dips below 9,000 ft.. At times it was hard to focus on the trail in front of us because our peripheral vision was drawn to the high alpine vistas- open mountain meadows, craggy peaks, diverse flora and precipitous cliffs- that fell off to our right and to our left. Our flow was occasionally interrupted by sections of trail that were either too steep to ride or too overgrown with sagebrush, but did little to dampen our overall sense of excitement and joy.
Much of the terrain was above 10,000 ft.
The TCT was built by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s and winds its way through some of the most rugged and rough terrain in all of Nevada. The 72 mile TCT, the longest continuous trail in Nevada, has seen little use in its 80 years of existence, which is really unfortunate because it is, truly, a hidden high alpine gem. It was built with hikers and equestrians in mind, not cyclists, which might explain why there is very little, to no information about the TCT that exists, and what little that does, all comes from hiking blogs. Considering this was our second time trying to connect the dots, and that we had more detailed maps and a trail whisperer of sorts in the form of Kurt Gensheimer, we felt pretty confident that we could pull off the 35 mile journey, with 6,500 ft of vert. all above 8K, in about 8 to 10 hours. Boy were we wrong…..again.
The flowy, high-alpine ribbons of granite single track that we’d enjoyed early in the day dipped to lower elevations and gave way to dusty, overgrown cow trails that frustratingly spidered off in multiple directions. Despite having a map, the splintering of trails at major junctures was in fact responsible for our only wrong turn, or losing of the trail, all day. Compared to our first attempt when mis-turns resulted in prolonged, hot and tortuous hike-a-bikes up brush covered hill sides that ripped and shredded everything they touched and consumed precious energy, time and sunlight, this time we were only off course for about 30 minutes. At every creek crossing/spring, of which there were three, we filtered water, always sure to hike as close to the source as possible to avoid contamination from the cow manure that fouled these alpine oases. And then we’d push on, motivated by the waning light, and that we had a massive hike-a-bike waiting for us at Washington Creek.
One of our many “route finding” delays.
Despite no real trail miscues, our progress was slow, and stopping every so often to snap photos for BIKE magazine didn’t help either. By 6:00 p.m., no matter how positive we’d been about our prospects of making it to Kingston Canyon in daylight, we knew we were going to be doing the final 4,000 ft descent into Kingston Canyon with our lights on. But you know what? The ruby red sunset we caught at 10,000 ft, and the corresponding rise of the full moon, made it worth it all. And despite finishing our 14+ hour adventure in the dark, I was overwhelmed by a powerful feeling of pride and redemption as we rolled the final miles on the dirt road back into Kingston.