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Rimrocked in the Monitor Range

We, that is Petey and Milo my pack llamas, Sierra the dog and myself walked out of the aspen forest, our home for the night. The mosquitoes woke with a vengeance about 8:30 driving us to a quick load and go.

We skirted the boundary between the aspens and the open sage and grass bowl stretching away from us to the west. From our elevation at 10,000 ft. in the high, wild, and lonely Monitor Range in Central Nevada, the even loftier three peaked massif of Mt. Jefferson in the Toquima Range 20 miles to the west rose 6,000 ft. above the vast Pleistocene emptiness of the Monitor Valley, itself 6,000 ft. above sea level. Far far off to the southwest, perhaps a hundred miles rose a snow white knife edge wall of peaks, Californias second loftiest range, The White Mountains. Directly below and in front of me lay the main north south trail of this section of the Monitor Range, a lofty plateau ranging between 9,000 ft. and 10,000 ft. called Table Mountain. It is home to extensive aspen forests and grasslands, cut by clear cold streams, fed by snowfields still deep even under the bright July sun. The trail we intended to follow disappears completely in the meadows below, a sure sign that human use is negligible even this major north south route.

Driven by the Mosquitoes, we fled down the trail and through a leafy entwined aspen tunnel before I realized that the westward leading branch trail we depended on to lead us to our truck had been missed. I turned my little pack string around and headed back up the trail keeping a careful eye to my left, searching for the junction. The geography of the area agreed with my map, the trail had to cross the stream to my west between the rocky bluff to the north west and the increasingly deep gorge cut by the stream to the south west. Not a trace of a trail could be seen. I decided to descend to the stream gently descending through an old burn. Petey and Milo with little attention on my part skirted or hopped the numerous downed aspen logs. We crossed the creek and climbed westward to the foot of the bluff intending to cut the south running trail.

Not a trace of a trail could be seen!!

I turned and headed south rising above the deepening gorge. The vegetation here was primarily short sparse sagebrush. We headed south until we drew near the gorge of North Fork Mosquito Creek.

Not a trace of a trail could be seen!!

The land here sloped gently to the west; traveling cross country in search of the missing trail was easy.

I quartered the plateau between the gorge and the bluff, once again looking for the trail so professionally laid out on my USGS 7.5 topo.

Not a trace of a trail could be seen!!

It was a lovely walk. A slight breeze kept  the bugs away. The temperature was in the mid 70s. I watched a lone pickup truck far below and far off speed along the Monitor Valley road kicking up a giant rooster tail of dust. It was in my view for over twenty minutes, yet he must have been doing 50 miles per hour! Such is the vastness of this country.

In the middle distance I could see a small rock pile. Thinking that it may be one of the rare Basque rock markers, I walked toward it. It turned out to be a government section corner placed in 1937! Since it appeared to be a perfect location marker I used it and the cirque like head of a small canyon to navigate by. I headed north west, still hoping to cross the trail, which was nearby according to my map. I was not too surprised by the map error. During my exploration of the plateau, I found trails on the ground that were not on the map and trails on the map that were not on the ground. In the bottom of a small canyon I picked up a trail! It ran westward on the north side of a small stream in a canyon deepening to several hundred feet. It, like most of the trails in this empty land had no evidence of recent use.

I assumed (actually hoped beyond reason) that it was my long sought for trail. The trail descended into an ever deepening canyon. My ever trusting llamas calmly following me. If they ever wondered whether I knew what I was doing they were much too polite to speak up. We came to a pretty aspen stand holding an ancient campsite at the upper end of a small flooded meadow. We skirted the meadow to the far side.

Not a trace of a trail could be seen!!

A tangled jungle of aspens and wild rose blocked the canyon. To our north high rocky bluffs rose, blocking an ascent that direction. I suspected that the trail I wished for lay that direction, yet rather than backtrack up the
trail until I could climb the north slope, I opted to ascend the south slope via the many game trails, as

I hate to back track! !

I knew that my truck and trailer lay along the south fork of Mosquito Creek some miles to the west. I reasoned I could walk westward on the plateau between canyons and descend at the last to my truck. As the sage and grasslands turned to pinion and juniper forest the advice of my father given many years ago when I was a teenager whispered quietly in my head, "do not take shortcuts downhill". Tom Hesseldenz and I had attempted to shortcut downhill from North Dome in Yosemite to the valley floor many years ago. Laboriously we downclimbed to within several hundred feet of a trail, when we were stopped by a vertical cliff preventing us from continuing and getting to camp in time for supper.


We had to climb back to the valley rim and head east to the Snow Creek trail. We returned to camp at dusk and in big trouble. I learned early not to take shortcuts downhill. With my father's advice now echoing in my head I, Petey and Milo, and Sierra continued downhill. In the forest, the trees were spaced twenty to thirty feet apart leaving little shade to walk in. The ground, while sloping gently west was nearly flat and graveled. It felt like I was walking through a  used car lot.. The heat was increasing and visibility was reduced to only the landscape around me. We walked more or less blindly westward. A deep gorge appeared on our right, no problem, good in fact, I thought. Where this gorge met the south fork we would simply descend
to the truck. I did not have a topo for this section, solely the USFS map, not much detail. We crossed several small gorges cutting across our path on their way to the large gorge on our right. The llamas continually impressed me with their surefooted descents into, and ascents out of, these steep sided gorges. At 11:10, (remember that time) the large gorge on my right met the large gorge on my left. below me vertical cliffs up to 50 ft. high rose above steep talus filled slopes.

We were rimrocked!!

Far off in the distance I could see where the South Fork of Mosquito Creek reached the flatlands where my truck was parked.

I really hate to backtrack!!

I figured that if I could backtrack to where I could cross the northerly gorge, I would find my trail. Oh the delusions of wishful thinking. I dismissed the thought of retracing my steps eastward to the corner marker. Once there I was no more assured of finding a trail than I was of finding one by heading north. Besides,

I hate to back track!!

I did follow the canyon rim, finding several slots probably capable of being descended by the llamas, however the horror of injuring one prevented me from taking them down any of the slots I found. I did eventually get to a steep game trail which we all descended. A small creek at the bottom flowed gently among the wild rose and willows.

The boys seldom drink during the day, but the heat must have gotten to them, they tanked up here. I had to break a trail through the thicket for them. By the time they pushed through with the panniers we had left quite a path. For hours we wandered north crossing canyon and gorge, gorge and canyon, constantly forced ever eastward in order to find safe routes. The plateau which was cut by these canyons is nearly featureless and as we were in the forest it was impossible to guide off landmarks. Eventually, hot, tired, and thirsty, Sierra began glaring at me. The llamas were fine. We came to the Mother of all Gorges. On our side, the south side, a relatively gentle slope descended, however on the far side a sheer wall close to 300 feet high rose far above us. I could not predict that a turn to the west would bring us out. I did know (ha ha) that the missing trail was north and east of us somewhere. Wearily we turned eastward to wander amidst strange rocky knobs and tangled pinion juniper trees. We were unquestionably strangers in a strange land. Oh great, a deep canyon cut across our path running north. Yet another gorge to find a way through. As I stood staring vacantly, a flutter of pink in the bottom of the canyon caught my eye. Pink? It resolved itself into a pink surveyor's ribbon. What did it mean? As we headed for it I could see that a crossing had been recently hacked through the riparian jungle at the canyon bottom.

A trail!!

We crossed the creek and headed downstream. It was the missing trail, complete with fresh horse tracks and cut limbs. At a small meadow rimmed with bright purple lupine, in the shade, by the creek, I stripped the panniers off Petey and Milo, staked them away from the lupine, took out my folding chair, dug around in the cooler for the quart of orange juice I had made that morning, but had saved for need.. Now I had the need! It was 3:30, for four hours we had wandered clueless, but fairly happy in the wild land. Sitting in the shade, drinking my Orange Juice and relaxing. I studied my map. This trail was not marked on the map, and was
nearly a mile closer to me than the map showed the supposed North Fork trail.

Well we had done it. It was an easy walk out to the truck, down the well marked trail through the pinion forest. The boys had had a tough day and came through proudly.


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