Tuesday, August 31, 2004
When I stumbled upon the PCT, I was looking for something that could help me have a time of reflection during my 40th year. My search was for my 40 days in the desert. (OK, I was raised Catholic, so that's the analogy I know. It's more succinct, in that it's more widely know in the Western world that, say, Gandhi's time in South Africa.)
The PCT was roughly 150 days of hiking.
What I have now on the CDT, in the Divide Basin, is 4 days. What makes it more interesting is that the headset to my MP3 player has finally given out. I'm alone in the desert with no distractions.
What's coming up is home, and people I love. Home is a big question for me, perhaps the question of home has never been bigger at any time in my life. And it's not just the stuff of a home. It's the heart of a home.
The things and stuff of a home are a tempting and persistent distraction from finding a real home where my spirit and mind can rest, flourish, and grow. I know I can have a real home without most of the things and stuff I associate with home. I just have to find it.
Where will I live? Who will be the people around me? What form will my livelihood take?
It's getting late.
I'm camped in a short rock outcrop just off the trail. I stopped hiking at around 8:45 PM. The sun set probably an hour earlier, and the waning full moon has not yet risen. This period of relative darkness gave me enough time to set up camp and lay in my bag to look at the stars, the Milky Way, and a few satellites. As I was contemplating the vastness of distances visible to my eye, I saw a shooting star and made two wishes: to be as happy as I am right now all the time, and to be respectful of other people all the time.
The moon is again incredibly warm as it sits just above the horizon, the night, like the day, is shaping up to be warm and almost still. The air moving is not wind, not a breeze, but a balancing of temperatures.
How did the day ending with such beauty, peace, and perfection begin? With a bunch of easy morning chores that included reviewing the maps for this section, incorporating Yogi's notes from her traverse less than two weeks ago, and deciding on a route.
The maps had a surprise for me. Jonathan offered an alternate that started where I slept last night, a purple route with my name written all over it (except the vague trespassing): The Sweetwater River Alternate. Rather than walk boring roads with no shade, I chose the river walk. I didn't crank out the miles, but I made acceptable forward progress while having a simply delightful day.
The alternate follows the Sweetwater River for about 10 miles. It's all cross-country hiking, but cow and wildlife paths provide segments of trail-like walking. I crossed the river 28 times and used the river as my path six times. Sometimes taking a mid-stream route is easier than negotiating steep banks, willowy sections, or deep muck.
This was a total freedom day, meaning that I knew I'd be getting my feet wet all day, so I didn't really concern myself with keeping them dry. I'd hop in the water as easily as I'd take the next step.
I love hiking rivers. I love the water on a warm day. I do not like the cows' influence on the river. I do not like seeing a cow pooping in the water I'm walking in. I hate being ankle deep in mud knowing that some percentage of the muck is cow shit. I was willing to make tradeoffs to do this river, and they were well worth it. The topo maps promised increasingly steep and tall mountains as the miles progressed.
At the narrowest place of the day, the rocks on the north bank were incredibly smooth and formed in various arcs and bowls. I took some fairly erotic photos of the warm, smooth rock reflecting the sun.
Then, I ran into two guys. Unfortunately, they were on a BLM mission to measure the recovery of the riparian growth after a 5-year grazing 'rest'. They seemed surprised to see me too.
As my miles increased moving downstream, the rocks in the river flow and on the banks grew bigger. On river crossing number 23, I wasn't paying enough attention to the large, algae-covered, smooth, angled rock I had just put my pole on and was about to put my foot on. I sort of fell in up to my waist, but the front of my shirt got wet too. All was fine, but getting wet in a slip was a little dispiriting.
Most of the crossings were calf deep, but some would get the bottom of my shorts wet. At points the current was something to contend with, but mostly the water flowed with a gentleness to match the warm day.
I left the river at Willow Creek, which was flowing. Instead of Jonathan's route back to the CDT, I made my own. I followed a wildlife trail that took an aggressive, but not unreasonable, line up the hill to the ridge, then walked the ridge to a large plateau area. My way got the climbing done in a short amount of distance.
Here's a wildlife report:
Two snakes, one in the grass, one in the water
Ten small, light brown-headed ducks
A flock of 18 sage grouse startled into flight
Several large-eared deer, singly and in pairs
Two blue herons
One tiny white egret, perhaps a juvenile
A cotton tailed rabbit with big ears
Perhaps a kingfisher
Many, many Clarke's Nutcrackers
Two big trout
Monday, August 30, 2004
Excitement Becomes Fear
When hiking the Continental Divide Trail, I have to make choices all the time.
The Divide itself is not hikeable in some places, or is on private land. Or it can be ugly and overused. Or the trail the CDT uses could be routed on existing trail that has little relationship to the Divide for political, financial, or ego-driven reasons.
One choice that was always exciting was regarding the Great Divide Basin. This is the place the Divide splits, creating a vast open area from which no water flows out. It's also known as the Red Desert. Desert implies, of course, that water is an issue. The East Rim route is the safe route, water-wise. Cutting down the middle, a 100-mile dash from rim to rim, is the route considered to be a bit more risky. The West Rim has no water and is considered unhikable without caches.
In my planning, I vacillated between the East Rim and crossing the Basin. By the time I left for my hike, I was set to do the East Rim. As I hiked closer, I changed my mind again. I set my resupply boxes so that I could choose either option. The box going to South Pass City, Wyoming (WY23), had food enough for either route, which ends in Rawlins, Wyoming. I set it up so I could make my decision at any point.
With news first from the Professor at Big Sandy Lodge, then from Yogi and Dewey, of adequate water, I decided to do the crossing.
As my time today passed, first in South Pass City, then Atlantic City, I found myself delaying my departure with every task possible. I looked at that and came up with fear.
I was afraid to set out on a 100+ mile journey through an arid basin by myself.
I've never let fear rule my life (except my sex life, but that's a different journal), so I wrapped up my tasks and set out.
Now that I'm here at the Sweetwater Bridge, less than an hour's hike from the rim of the Basin, I feel fine. I have the information I need, I have the tools I need, and I have the sense of adventure that fuels my interest in long hikes.
Today, I walked up to my fear. Tomorrow, I walk into it; in a state of confident surrender.
I ate half a pound of cashews writing this entry.
Animals, Sun and Moon
My little sleeping spot in the aspens near Highway 28 was quite nice. The noise from the road did not interfere with my sleep. I woke up horny as hell, but let the mood pass without action.
Since I was up early and roused with excitement about a town stop, I didn't fall back into the comfortable warmth of my bag. Then my brain started to function.
I looked at the info I had. The South Pass City Historic Center didn't open 'till 9AM. I realized I had enough time to not-hitch into Lander for some breakfast and a short list of tasks. That revelation propelled my packing even more.
The dirt road which was to eventually lead me to Highway 28 took its time in getting me there, further convincing me that I was on the wrong road. Since I knew where I was going, it didn't matter. Besides, almost immediately I saw four pronghorn antelope, a sighting worth a little extra walking.
I got to the highway and had several tasks: I combed my hair, brushed my teeth, and minimized my trekking poles. I stood there a few more minutes and realized I had one more task. In the center of the highway was a freshly dead jackrabbit. I could tell it wasn't playing dead because of the evidence from the car that ran it over.
A dead rabbit near my not-hitiching spot was going to hinder my ability to get a ride. So I picked up two flat rocks, grabbed the rabbit by one of its big ears and dragged it and its dangling hind leg off to the opposite side of the road. Ugh.
Not-hitching was a total bust. I even made a sign that said Lander. There was so little traffic going my way, and half of it was semis anyway.
I did not have Jonathan's map for this area because of a series of nearly unanticipateable decisions made months apart. The information I did have was that South Pass City was .3 miles off the trail, and that Highway 28 was the way to get there. Given what I could see, I was suspicious about the .3, but had to find this place because my resupply box was there.
Nearly 5 miles later, I arrived in South Pass City, which is really an historic site, not a city. I later figured out that I should have crossed the highway and continued on the CDT to South Pass City. Not having the one map, I didn't know.
Being mapless helped me learn about the history of the area and city though. Interpretive signs informed me that South Pass City is Wyoming's second-oldest city, that it was the hub of a gold rush, and that its state representative proposed the state law that first allowed women's suffrage, making Wyoming the first state in the nation to have this distinction.
Dan was a trail angel.
Once in town, I got the batteries I needed, my package, a card from Gottago, and a chance to use the private phone. For my one phone call, I called PocketMail to send and receive email. In one of those emails, Yogi mentioned the restaurant food in Atlantic City, about a 4-mile walk, and a way to connect back to the CDT from there. I was sold.
I walked the road to Atlantic City, had a $25 lunch (patty melt with fries, large salad, O'Doul's, and fish and chips without the chips), and tied up the pay phone for more than an hour.
I got several phone messages that lifted my spirits. I have a friend who is writing a novel this summer, and he proposed the analogy between each of our tasks in such a way that made me laugh.
My walk to Sweetwater Bridge was full of interesting stuff. I saw more antelope, I scared a flock of 17 sage grouse into flight, and I saw a live rabbit, just like the one I dragged this morning. Then, in this flattening landscape, I got to walk through the exciting tension of the time between the setting of the sun and the rising of the full moon. As the sun set, my shadow grew to the length of a football field.
The moon first glowed under the horizon then rose as red as the sun setting in the tropics. I've never seen such an intense moonrise.
Now I'm camped near the Sweetwater River, basically in a pullout from the road.
Unseen birds are making calls I have not heard before, a beaver is busy in the pond it created, and the cows have finally stopped bellowing. I hope no one uses this pullout during the night. If they do, I might look like the jackrabbit this morning.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Like the Creeks Flowing
Like the creeks flowing out of the mountains, taking with them all that has come their way, my hike poured me out of the high country and into relatively flat Wyoming. The transition took less than a day of walking, and I can not say exactly when the transition occurred.
I awoke in granite, lodgepole pines, and tairns, and I'm finishing my day in sagebrush, aspen, and rolling landscape.
What a great day of hiking. I had an ambitious goal that I was able to quantify at lunch: Get to Highway 28 by 7PM and not-hitch to Lander.
I didn't meet my goal, mostly because I thought the navigation on the roadwalk to the highway would be clear, and it wasn't.
I did make it to within near earshot of highway 28, but I arrived at 9:30 and decided to camp rather than not-hitch into Lander.
Today I saw four sage grouse, a herd of pronghorn antelope, a blue heron, and a beaver. Of course, I saw other stuff, and I just heard a pack of coyotes howling, perhaps at the full moon. One of the interesting animal things I saw involved a ground squirrel. It was lying in a rut of the jeep road I was walking. If it was dead, it looked freshly killed, but this was not a road much traveled. Perplexed, I asked, "How did you die?" Its eyes were still shiny, and no flies were yet bothering it. An unmarred, freshly dead squirel. Hum...
As it lay there, it turned its head toward me.
It was playing dead, something I've never seen anything do, especially these little ground rodents that are EVERYWHERE. I took a few steps away from the not-dead ground squirrel, and it ran off into the sage.
Seeing the pronghorn antelope was particularly exciting. I'd just finished a navigation break, and they were right there. The nearest was as close as a head mounted in a large dining hall. Did I mention how cool they were? I never thought I'd get to see antelope in this country. They seemed like mythic wildlife. I guess it depends on where you live.
And what about sage grouse? Are they rare? The guy at the base of Cottonwood Peak was helping the Forest Service map sage grouse nests. That seems like they must have some significance.
I stopped at the Sweetwater Guard Station Campground for lunch. The only people in the campground were really, really nice. They offered me stuff, including a very tempting ride into Lander. I accepted their graciousness and declined their offers. If they'd come up with fresh fruit, I'd have been more than willing to accept.
The walk into the evening was beautiful. The landscape was rolling sagebrush with occasional distinctive rock outcrops. The sky had only contrail clouds. The sun left a warm, lingering light in the west, and the full moon rose in the east.
Walking into the light of the full moon with my little LED headlamp was almost useless. Trying to cross the cow streams in the near-dark and trying to stay clean and dry was also almost useless. Tonight my shoes are drying with black cow mud on them. Yuck! Black cow mud sucks when you walk on it, it stinks all the time, and who knows what unhealthy life-forms are in it. Ugh. I also filtered (and treated) the grossest water of the trip. Yes, it was cow water.
Cows have to be the stupidest animals on the planet. They are stupid when they run in the same direction of travel of what they are running from. I even say, "All cows to the left of the road," but they don't listen. Hey, I saw calf number 222. How cool is that?
I may have also seen some cattle rustling going on. Just after sunset, a giant truck, what I deduced from the lights to be a semi with a cattle trailer, pulled up where I'd been walking 15 minutes earlier. It's a Sunday night. Nobody's doing regular cattle business on a Sunday night. I turned off my headlamp as soon as I knew what I was seeing. I didn't want to be dead.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Big to Little
Last night was really cold. Spur said that down at Big Sandy Lake it was 31 degrees in his tent. I had a lot more elevation, exposure and wind. I'm guessing that it was 20 degrees.
In some ways I was testing my gear last night. It worked fine. I used the detachable hood from my GoLite Coal for extra head warmth and put my bag in the bivy to cut the wind. That made it comfortable. Unfortunately, it took me hours to decide to take these actions. I did not get in my tarp, which would have cut the wind considerably. I was pushing the limits of sleeping out. Next time, I'll get in the shelter and get a better night's sleep.
In the time it took to write last night's journal, the water in my Platy tube froze solid. My shoes, which are difficult to put on anyway, were particularly difficult to get into this morning. They were not frozen solid, but tough to put on nevertheless.
My sitpad, which I use past the edge of my groundsheet in case my feet (and bag) go off the groundsheet, blew away last night. I found it not too far down the mountainside in the morning. I wonder if I need to have a tethering system for it.
The morning light on the Cirque of the Towers was worth the cold night and morning. My sleeping spot did not benefit from the warmth of direct sunlight though. I got out of camp at a shameful 9:15 and found the ground frozen and most of the water I saw yesterday frozen. The added caution around the ice made my exit as slow as my entrance.
I passed Apple Pie and, then Spur, on their way up and encouraged them to go past Jackass Pass for the added views. I also passed about 20 other people on their way up for a Saturday day hike. One group was interested in my hike, so I asked a favor. I sent them off with four dead AAA batteries that I accidentally left Big Sandy Lodge with.
My Wyoming miles should be picking up, but I didn't know what to expect of today's hiking.
I soon found myself faced with a nearly snow covered pass. From a distance, the climb looked impossibly huge and steep. I soon determined that I was going to be the first one over the pass since the recent snow. I love this kind of hiking, but scanning for cairns or other signs of the trail can be very slow. I followed cairns, used my intuition, and looked for the indentation in the snow that could be trail. I made my way up the pass one step at a time, and what looked nearly insurmountable was nothing more than adventuresome hiking.
Going down the other side was slow once I left the snow. The impression of the trail was quite clear as the trail switchbacked down through the snow, but the trail became vague the lower it got. It was going to be an afternoon of vague trail, which was hard to find because it wasn't used much.
I walked down and out a long river valley. Just before an important and, yes, vague, turn, I saw a single bull elk. He first hesitated running across the shallow and wide river to escape me, but ended up splashing across. It's too bad hunters give them such fear of us. I would have loved to watch this huge creature be itself, but seeing the severed legs and sawn skulls that hunters leave behind makes it clear to me why they run. They see those bones too.
I'm camped near Little Sandy Lake, disappointed with my 15 mile day. It's not very cold, and the sky is clear.
Friday, August 27, 2004
Cupcake Unwimps and Feels Joy
I'm thrilled to be here. I'm on a mountainside above the lake at the center of the Cirque of the Towers (WY19) sleeping out beneath the stars. I'm not far below the elevation of Jackass Pass. The moon shadow of the peak to my southeast is crisp on the mountains to the north. The rest of the Cirque of the Towers is lit with the sharpness of a near full moon.
This tight little place, only a few miles across, makes Yosemite Valley look vast. Here the geologic wonders are packed right next to each other. The struggle between granite and glacier was fierce in this immediate area, and the remaining granite has the dramatic scars to prove it. Those scars are spikes, spires, and, well, towers of rock that held their own against what must have been a giant glacier or two. It looks as if one glacier headed east, unable to break the Cirque of the Towers, and another headed south, creating Lonesome Lake and the valley that includes Big Sandy Lake. Pingora is a cylinder-topped rock buttress that stands out from the wall of the cirque. From my vantage point, it looks part of the wall, but I've seen photos that display its fortitude and unusual appearance.
So, how did I get here? When last our hero reported, he was passing on the Cirque of the Towers out of a variety of concerns. Apple Pie and Spur were talking about hiking up to Jackass Pass, the pass at the south end of the C of T, as a packless day (1/2 day, really) hike on their way out of Big Sandy. I immediately saw the brilliance of this plan, and expanded on it. They should be camped at Big Sandy Lake tonight. I left Big Sandy Lodge earlier than they did, had dinner at the Big Sandy Lake, then made the climb up to Jackass Pass, then over into full view of the cirque.
But our hero had concerns about gear too. What about that wet sleeping bag?
I spent most of my waking hours at Big Sandy Lodge trying to get my sleeping bag dry, finally ending up in the lodge itself in front of their excellent fireplace. I nursed my bag back to fluffy warmth by hand separating the clumps of wet down, then pulling the drying clumps across the bag to give them a chance to get really dry. I did a good job. Its damn cold up here and only my fingers, which are out of the bag typing, are cold.
What the hell are you doing sleeping out? Hasn't the weather been awful?
Well, yes it has been. I even got a tiny bit of that bouncing snow during dinner. But right now the sky is clear and all is well. I'm not stupid though. My tarp's set up very near by, so if the weather becomes inclement, I can duck inside. Plus I have my bivy for extra warmth.
Damn my fingers are cold.
I'm warming up to Spur and Apple Pie a bit. I'm afraid I posted a harsh journal entry, but that's how it goes. Hiking together is hard. I'm here to tell the truth, and be honest with my feelings while being as respectful as I can. I don't know how good a job I've done, but I'm not perfect. Besides, getting pissed off at their reaction to my response to Apple Pie illness and subsequent slow down has let the three of us know that it works best for me to hike at my own pace, and for them not to feel like they have to catch up all the time. I don't feel encumbered, and they don't feel behind. Comparing notes, we were rarely camped more than a few hours apart each night.
So catching up in town seems to be a good plan. Splitting hotel rooms certainly has financial advantages that I can't ignore. That's all I can tell you tonight because my fingers are too cold.
I'm so happy to be on this hike right now. Nights like this are one of the reasons I hike. I'm looking forward to morning.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Snow and Fast Miles
Nibbling near my ear wakened me the last time at 4:15 AM. I took the package from my midnight snack out of reach of the nibbler. I awoke at my normal time, 5:30-ish and decided to sleep a little more. I hadn't slept too well because so much of my stuff was wet, including my bag. I had a limited number of positions so that I wasn't touching wet down. At 7, I had a look around. It was snowing, with no doubt about what it was. The snow was coming down and sticking.
I got out of camp at 9, and it was still coming down. I walked about an hour with the floating white surrounding me. I was not too cold, especially compared to yesterday, and I was grateful for the snow rather than rain. The snow didn't get me as wet as the rain had.
The rolling, glaciated landscape, punctuated with granite and lakes, was lovely in the muted morning light with the snow. It's as if I was walking through a black and white landscape, with a little of the dark green from the conifers slipping through. I decided, based mostly on the weather of recent days, to skip the Cirque of the Towers since I was alone, my food would be very tight, and most everything with me was wet. I had too narrow a margin to feel comfortable. Plus there's an opportunity to hike up to the south end, Jackass Pass (WY 19) on my way out of Big Sandy. Given I wasn't doing the Cirque of the Towers, I decided on the purple route, the Highline Trail, the most direct path into Big Sandy Lodge. The purple route was easier to follow than yesterday, but I still managed to wander a bit.
I continued my unplanned and unwelcome exploration of the Wind River Range's widest wet crossings. The snow let up before too long, and I even had some direct, warm sunlight. During the transition, I looked for a “snowbow”, the snow equivalent of a rainbow, but didn't see one. The sun lit the back side of what I think is the Cirque of the Towers, and I got some good shots.
My hike eventually took me into a river canyon where I followed some deer trails until I discovered the trail on the opposite bank. I thought I'd follow the river all the way to the lodge, but the quick glance that gave me that impression was soon dismissed with some climbing, then more climbing. Eventually, I settled into a gentle downhill that led me to Mud Lake (WY19) and Big Sandy Lodge.
Big Sandy Lodge has a near-ring of cabins, the main lodge, and some outbuildings including a bath house. I walked into the lodge to a group of six or seven people sitting around the fire and no one at the front desk-looking area. I announced my needs to the whole room, and everyone seemed interested. Finally someone stepped forward, Tim, I think, who took charge. I could get dinner. They had one cabin left, number ten, which had two doubles and a single, for $85. He went to find my resupply package while I decided what I wanted to do. While he was gone, a guy in wet hiking gear drove up looking for a room. I offered to share mine, but he didn't even respond. Tim came back with my package, and I told him I would take the cabin and dinner. With my $25 package fee, I ended up writing a check for $130 for a night. Ugh. But at least I'd be warm and dry for a night.
In the room, I got a fire going in the wood-burning stove, spread out my wet stuff, and got in a shower before dinner. Dinner was advertised as roast beef but it was really boiled beef. Served with boiled potatoes and carrots in a family-style buffet, dinner was better that I would have imagined just because it was there, hot, and inside.
Halfway through dinner, Apple Pie and Spur walked in, soaking wet. I was actually happy to see them. Apple Pie had given me the impression when I last saw them on Green River, that she was already low of food, so I was worried. Plus, I wondered what I should do if they didn't come in tonight or by the time I was ready to leave tomorrow.
With three now in the cabin, I had to contract my drying, but Spur put up a clothes line that helped all of us dry our smaller stuff. I couldn't get the cabin hot enough to get my sleeping bag fully dry by checkout time, so my plan is to move to the lodge fireplace tomorrow after checkout. I was ready to sleep not too long after dinner, so I put in earplugs and got to sleep in flannel sheets.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Cold, Wet, Aimless Hiking
If I ever see anyone stealing or vandalizing backcounty signs, I'll beat the crap out of them.
Walking today, I experienced floating and bouncing rain. I think it was a little bit of everything: rain, snow, hail, sleet, and, uh, bouncing rain. The snow line definitely dropped last night. The snow is much lower on the mountains that I can see. The snow seems to be sticking too. Today, I didn't take my rain jacket off all day. I needed it for rain protection and warmth.
I did see the sun today. It was at 7:32 PM, and it lasted for 9 minutes, not that I was counting.... It happened during a navigation stop, something I'd not had many of because I'd get too cold not moving for that long.
As you might guess, it was cold and wet all day.
I had wet, wide crossings all day too. At one point through the rain and flapping wind, I could see that there were hikers ahead of me. I caught them at a river crossing. They were making elaborate preparations to cross a wide river, changing shoes, rolling up pants, and discussing strategy. I didn't stop, even when one asked my how deep it was. Without breaking stride, I said, "I'm about to find out," and stepped into the crossing. I didn't even look back. I had to keep moving to keep warm. It wasn't too deep or too cold. The same group caught up with me while I was having lunch. They came all the way from Kentucky to be in this misery.
To get were I wanted to be, I headed toward Cross Lake (WY17). That would put me on the purple route into Big Sandy Lodge tomorrow.
When I got into camp, I discovered that a lot of stuff in my pack was wet, even stuff inside silnylon stuffsacks, even gear in two silnylon stuff sacks. I assume since it was all under pressure from being packed tightly into my pack that the water molecules had a chance to overcome supposedly waterproof barriers. Back to plastic bags for me.
The biggest bummer was a wetter-than-when-packed sleeping bag. I'm glad I unbounced my synthetic parka. It's what's going to keep me warm tonight.
When I was throwing the line for my bear hang, pug-faced owls kept on trying to catch the bag at the end of the cord. It took me several tries to get the cord on the correct branch at the right place, and with each throw, they'd swoop out of nowhere. It was a little odd.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Although my 'tarp' was well set up, it did not provide any protection from the rain because it didn't rain. There's no way to tell if it will rain during the night, but after last night, I wasn't taking any chances.
It took about 2 hours for my feet to warm up last night. They eventually dried my socks.
Wool is great.
My sleeping bag was much drier in the morning too. I dried it.
Down is great.
Nothing froze during the night, and I did NOT have a wet crossing first thing. I was so tired and out of it last night that I couldn't see the easy rock hop. Yipee. I was dreading starting with wet feet on a cold morning after a cold night.
Clouds obscured the snow-dusted peaks of yesterday. The grey morning continued unchecked as the noon hour approached.
Then things began to change. It began to snow. Or at least I think it was snow. It could have been tiny light chunks of hail. Solids from the sky are much easier to hike in than liquids. None of the white stuff really stuck at around 10,000', my rough elevation all day.
In my first hour of hiking, I met up with two guys from a party of four. As soon as they heard I was doing a thru-hike, they said, "Shoot. We just burned some food. But we have more. Would you like some food?"
I got a summer sausage, 3/4 lb of cheddar, 8 mozzarella sticks, some pumpkin seeds, and a fresh plum! This extra food will go well with my extra crackers and allow me to do the Cirque of the Towers with food ease.
Now, I know cheese and summer sausage are not things I usually eat, or should eat, but hey.
I ate the plum as the guys talked about their '82 AT thru-hike.
I took an early lunch just before Lester Pass (WY16) because it wasn't raining/snowing/hailing, and who knew what it would be doing later?
I accidentally got on an alternate purple route at a junction. The destinations on the junction signs are a little confusing, so when I saw an actual named trail, the Highline Trail, I took it, not knowing that junction was the one that the CDT red route left the Highline Trail. I took a purple route back to the red route and hiked only a few extra miles.
Even so, I had a low-mileage day: 15.4. This heavily glaciated landscape is full of ups, downs, rocks, rivers, and turns.
I had two notable river crossings today. The first was after lunch, but I still didn't want wet feet. I searched upstream eventually finding a possible route across. The first half went well. To step into the second half involved a large step across a large volume of water down on to a pointed rock that had to hold both feet for the next step to happen. My poles helped me pull it off, and I got to the other side with only half of one foot kind of wet. It got my heart pumping though.
The dry option for next crossing of note was not worth the risk. A narrow log, which narrowed toward the opposite bank, had been placed between some nearby rocks and the opposite side, just downstream from a noisy falling cataract. The log was hard to get on, too high to use poles in the water, and too narrow to use poles effectively on it. I'm sure someone could do it, just not me today with a pack.
So I walked across the inlet that was almost as wide as the lake it was filling.
I'm camped just short of Hat Pass (WY17). The tarp's up for safe measure. My home tonight is on the uphill side of some large trees which are near a large granite slope. My food's hanging up high on a perfect branch.
Monday, August 23, 2004
Shannon Pass, With Snow!
Last night it rained all night. As the rain started, I was just getting to sleep. Much to my shock, I discovered that my bivy was filling with water.
I was happy that Apple Pie had offered to let me stay in her tent despite recent tensions. I ran over there with a half-wet bag and soon was asleep. I woke up during the night to wet feet in my bag. There was a huge puddle at my feet, and the foot of my bag was soaked. Ugh.
We got a late start, and as soon as the views opened up, I could see that the higher peaks had gotten snow last night. It was lovely.
During the morning, I saw eight people bailing out because of the rain, and I passed six people in two parties hiking in despite the rain.
I took an early lunch at a bridge that had a nice breeze and, most importantly, sunshine while I was there. I dried my stuff as best I could, but my bag was still pretty damp when I packed it up.
Today was the day to climb into the heart of the Winds, and I was ready to climb. I left the Green River valley as it closed up into the mountains and climbed in the trees. The scenery opened up again at Vista Pass, which offered amazing views, especially with the dusting of snow up high.
I dropped down from Vista Pass to begin my approach to Shannon Pass. At one point, the trail through grass dissolved into a canyon of boulders. As I got closer, I could see a trail through the boulders, but rockslides obliterated the trail in many places. I'd look for a cairn and climb to it to regain the trail.
I knew a trail was there, I just had to find it, over and over. Views opened up even more on the way to Shannon Pass with very distinctive peaks.
I'd also walked back into spring. Flowers were fresh in bloom, and I even saw a new flower, a nicely fragrant, fuchsia-colored primrose of sorts.
Just before the pass, Jonathan's maps offered a tempting, mostly cross-country, route over Knapsack Col. I decided to pass because of the existing snow, potential weather, and where I'd end up at the end of the day. I didn't want to be in a high, exposed, off-trail site in potentially bad weather with a wet sleeping bag alone. Call me a wimp.
As I made a turn to switchback up to Shannon Pass, I met two guys coming down.
I'd seen their tent near the lake below. We talked for a bit, and they seemed pretty interesting.
The guy with the beard estimated that it was a good 4 miles to the Jean Lakes, and that I had better keep a good pace. I thought that he didn't know a thru-hiker pace, but I thanked him for the information.
I mentioned the cross-country route I had wanted to take, and he said that I shouldn't be disappointed with what was to come on the route I was taking.
What I didn't know was how beautiful it was going to be, especially with the dark storm clouds to the east and the unobstructed evening sun to the west.
I couldn't stop taking pictures: the light would change, or a 100 yards would change my view, and I'd get started taking photos all over again. Ridges revealed themselves, the clouds conspired with the peaks to perfection, and the sun warmed to amazing amber shades. At one point I was running down the trail hoping to not miss the light on the view I was anticipating at the next rise.
Further along, the trail moved into the river, or, more accurately, the river had moved onto the trail. I'm not talking about when water is flowing down the trail. In a couple of spots the trail was low and parallel to the river. The recent rain and melting snow brought up the water levels so that the trail was under flowing water. A cross-country path up the hillside kept my feet dry, but I eventually had to cross the same stream, getting my feet wet.
I did need to watch my pace to get to a good place to camp before dark.
I got to Lower Jean Lake at dark, but managed to find a great campsite on a small bluff over the north end of the lake and its inlet stream.
I hadn't had dinner when I stopped, but what really stopped me was facing another wet crossing. I did not want a wet crossing so late in the day. I was tired and crazed from both not eating and the fantastic views.
Rather than push on, I knew that it was in my best interest to stop. This is what I call, "Trust Your Watch." I knew I needed to stop, plus there were some mean-looking clouds coming my way. With a damp bag, I wanted to have my shelter up before the rain began.
I set up my blue tarp while the water for dinner was boiling. I was so out of it from hunger that I considered skipping dinner, as strange as that may sound. I know, though, that I have to eat to be able to hike, so I pushed passed thoughts of going straight to sleep.
My home for the night had white pines protecting me on two sides. I am comfortable as I settle in for the night.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Wild Morning, Crash Bang Noon, and Descent Afternoon
Light rain had me up a couple of times during the night. Each time, I'd see stars in the sky and conclude that it wouldn't be raining much. I'm sure pushing my luck.
Daylight revealed many amazing things. Looking around my site, I saw that I was not on just any hill. I was on a moraine, and moraines are always cool.
Next, Spur and Apple Pie came walking by. They'd camped at the end of my moraine, maybe 100 yards away. They got in as I was going to sleep, so I didn't hear them. As we were exchanging details, I heard Oshi call out. They were camped on the next little hill/moraine over and didn't know about either of us. Amazing.
Before I reached Gunsite Pass (WY13), I saw a moose cow with calf running from me into the forest. A bit later, lone coyote had very little fear of me as I passed by. I think it was hunting calves, which were with their cow mothers up the hill. I watched this canine a bit when I first saw it, then was able to watch it as I crossed a stream, climbed and moved away. I saw a snake too, but it wasn't until afternoon. I didn't scream.
I'd been walking through wilderness, on a trail, so I was a a little put out to see a truck sitting on the ridge above Gunsite Pass. Luckily from the pass, I could not see the hunters/loggers/ATVers.
My resources described a new route leaving Gunsite Pass, but I could see what looked like the old route. I scouted around a bit, but came up with nothing new. I decided to take the old route, which, in short order, led to the new route, a needlessly long giant switchback that went up and down and through horrible mucky areas.
In my mind, leaving Gunsite Pass was entering the Winds, a range of mountains and area of noted beauty and remoteness.
On the way down, the clouds began bellowing thunder and spitting rain. It wasn't much to deal with and when it got a little heavier just at noon, I took that as my cue to stop for lunch. I found a large tree with dry duff underneath it and called it my dining room. Toward the end of lunch the sky let forth with a bright flash and an undelayed, unnerving, ripping boom. It was so loud and so close, I winced and pulled my hands over my ears like a little kid.
At the bottom, I had a river to cross. I assumed there would be no bridge, and, even though I didn't know exactly where the trail crossed, when I saw a log jam, I decided I would use the jumble of logs to get across. The single big log reaching from the log mass to the near bank did not touch the ground until I put my weight on it. It teetered so I could totter my way up the wet, sloping log.
I made it to the log mass, but as I was climbing up it, one of my poles slipped from my hand, falling into the rushing river. It did not go far and the red duct tape helped me keep an eye on it. I tried to fish it out with my other pole, but succeeded in making it drop from site. My efforts to keep my shoes dry were gone in an instant as I hopped in and grabbed my pole.
I usually have my poles locked into the hand holders, but on this hike I've been carrying the poles. I'm not sure why. Since my feet were wet, it didn't matter where I crossed, so I walked back to the trail, abandoning the log jam as my crossing point. The trail offered a sturdy, high bridge.
I made my way to the Green River (WY14) and the Green River Lakes. The afternoon was relatively warm, I was a dirty hiker, and there was a lovely lake.
What else did I need? I went for a quick dip and enjoyed it immensely.
At the end of the first large lake, Jonathan's maps suggested a short side trail to catch a view. These bonus miles were entirely optional and the steps had to be retraced since I was not taking the purple alternate route associated with this route, but I wanted a nice place to have dinner. So I made my way up Clear Creek toward Natural Bridge (WY14). I crossed the creek swollen from recent rains and sat where I'd have a view of the peaks. I was not overly impressed, but it was a nice dinner. Plus, it didn't rain during dinner.
Crossing back to return to the CDT, I dropped my pole again. It was an easy retrieval, but twice in one day when I've never done it before? What's up with that?
I ran into Spur and Apple Pie having dinner at the junction to the side trail I took. I continued hiking up the quickly steepening canyon until I was afraid I wouldn't find many more good sleeping spots and until the light really began to leave the valley. I hung my food and set up under some trees on the other side of the trail from my food.
A little later I heard Spur call out my name when he saw my expert bear hang.
Apple Pie was along before too long, and soon we were camped together.
It's beginning to rain as I'm journaling.
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Twice Badgered, Once Bulled
Dawn brought light to my sleeping location, and after a walk through dew-soaked, knee high grass, I was back on the CDT. So much for an easy cross-country shortcut.
I had less navigation this morning than yesterday morning, so the miles came easily. I stayed in the trees on the Divide for a number of miles, following the Continental Divide snowmobile path and blazes.
Walking from the headwaters of a stream, I found Apple Pie and Spur having lunch at the crossing where we would leave the stream.
I knew I'd catch up to Spur and Apple Pie at some point on this leg, and probably sooner than later. Hum, what do I do?
I decided to be polite and ask if I can join them for lunch. Spur said yes, Apple Pie nothing.
Apple Pie left as soon as she could, and Spur, in his mediator role, and I spoke, rehashing the south Yellowstone stuff.
When I say that I can't read minds, I really mean that I can not meet unspoken expectations. That's one of the things we uncovered by going through it all again. When Spur had said by the lake that they would catch up, he had specific ideas about where or when, but didn't convey them to me or convey what I should do if they didn't catch up 'in time'.
The second thing I learned is that my note in the register (I'm headed to 8C5, see you there, or sooner) had created the impression that they were to catch up, that I expected it. Ugh.
Because of the differences in our hiking paces, we are not going to hike together. We don't hate each other. It's just not working out.
Then we had the awkward circumstance of leap-frogging each other for the entire afternoon. I take longer to do all the navigation tasks, and I choose not to do them with my pack on, which makes a GPS check even longer.
I saw a badger today! He or she saw me first, and started running. I expected that it would quickly duck into a burrow, but it didn't. It was far from home.
I'd lose sight of it in the sage, then see it again. I went off the trail to see if I could get a better look, but it was gone. When I returned to the trail, I saw it crossing the trail ahead of me. When I reached that spot, I saw its face for the first time. It was looking out for me. It took off running.
It was so cool.
At one point today, I could see the Breccia Cliffs, the Tetons, and the Wind River range with a turn of my head. This view came as part of a spectacular plateau area that I really enjoyed walking through. It was mostly grassy, had views in all directions, and was relatively high.
At another point later in the evening I was walking with earphones on as I approached a cluster of cows around the trail. I decided to sing to let them know I was there. Krishna Das was on my music player, so that's what I sang. Little did I know that singing Hindi music would cause the cows to follow me. Cows must know that they are sacred in the Hindi tradition, but HOW?
I have seen cows on most of my hikes, long and short. Sometimes they are just cows, but on this trip there have been lots of cows with calves. I guess I'm in beef country. Imagine my surprise then when, at dinner at a ratty campsite along Lake of the Woods (WY12), I looked up at the progress of the cows and calves grazing toward me to see a bull, with horns and all. Nothing came of it, but I was a little more cautious with the herd. I guess those calves have to come from somewhere.
As the sun set I was leaving the forest on the edge of a vast cowed park, Fish Creek Park (WY12). I had about an hour of lingering light, so I decided to go for it. My goal: the trees on the other side.
I set out on a general south/southwest course following an old jeep track. The landscape was open, no trees were in the middle, just grass and sagebrush. What was before me was by no means flat, but it wasn't rolling hills either. It was certainly formed by water and possibly a glacier.
I crossed one river by rock hopping and picked up the trail again quickly. As I started walking, I first heard, then saw two sandhill cranes flying low. Very cool.
I sped along toward my goal, the trees a few miles across the way. I came to a steep bank. This time a oxbow river emphasized by the reflecting the light of the sky was before me.
I didn't want to get my shoes wet. I could cross a little part with a jump, but the main flow would be a challenge. It was all sand and gravel. No rocks to hop. I meandered the banks looking for a narrow spot with no luck.
OK, shoes off or shoes wet? I didn't want wet shoes because these new shoes don't dry very fast. Plus the sandy river bottom and shores would be easy on my bare feet. Shoes off.
The only bummer about shoes off is the amount of time it takes. Darkness was closing in, and I had a ways to go. I didn't feel like sleeping in the middle of this open space with stupid cows wandering around. It's not my vision to have a role in a bovine trampling.
The cool water was comforting to my feet, which are suffering an adjustment period with a new kind of shoe. It took longer than I expected to put on my shoes because I stopped several times to watch pug-faced owls fly above the river looking for, uh, if owls are nocturnal, I guess it would be breakfast they were looking for. I enjoyed watching them, and they didn't seem to mind me; they flew quite close a couple of times.
Moving on, I struggled through the cow mangled landscape, stumbling several times as I worked my crooked path through the sage. I was trying to find the jeep track. Finally, I looked back at the big bank I'd descended, mentally recalled the angle of the jeep track, followed it out with my eye, and soon was back on track, so to speak.
The sage was light in the darkening night, and so was the dry dirt, so I could move a little faster. It also made it easier to see the cow poop, which stood out as dark patches to be avoided.
Earlier, I'd made a general mental note that this park was dotted with ponds. What was happening was that I was walking into pond central. To this backpacker, a pond meant one thing: mosquito factory.
By now it was pretty much dark. The light from my headlamp helped me walk a safe path. As I approached the trees, I had to leave the jeep track and begin a cross-country jaunt that quickly lost its pleasure as I continued to see the night sky reflected in the landscape.
Aside from not wanting to camp near ponds, I had the added tasks of night navigation around them and the boggy places they can create.
Luckily, the cows seem to have the same goals as I. Following cow paths around the trickiest spots, I soon found a reasonably level spot on top of a hill.
Yes, I was surrounded with ponds, but bugs didn't seem to be an issue.
I'm cozy in my bag, and I will sleep well.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Muddy Morning, Strawberry Noon, Crik Afternoon and Cross-Country Night
The cars along the highway didn't bother me at all last night. I only heard them when I was awake, which seemed to be a lot.
I had two timid mouse attacks, but I hissed and banged, and they went away.
Morning was cold and damp, so I got a late start. I had a short cross-country to start out. I'd missed the road (if it was even there, which I doubt) last night in the dark. I had to get one foot wet right away, which was a bummer. I followed elk paths through tall willows, crossed a stream, climbed the STEEP bank on the other side and quickly found the path I wanted to be on.
The morning's route was to create a continuous walk. I came out to the highway at Togwotee Mountain Lodge and was now walking to the CDT.
If I had it to do over again, I would have walked the CDT to Togwotee Pass. The mountains on the north side of the pass looked spectacular from the road and from the trail this morning. Spur, Apple Pie, and I made the decision in Yellowstone to take a purple route that cut out the last of the route to Togwotee Pass. The decision determined how much food we carried. To do the red route, I would have needed an extra day's worth of food. I spent a lot of time navigating today, especially this morning. The map shows roads and trails that are not there, and the land has road and trails that are not on the map. The further I got from the highway, the simpler the choices became.
The morning's walk had lots of mud, the kind of mud that built up on my shoes. This type of mud is also very slippery. It was mostly annoying.
Strawberry plants have lined the trail most of the way so far. Some plants were in bloom, other sending tendrils across the trail. I've seen (and eaten) a very few strawberries so far. Today was a relative bonanza of red ripe strawberries.
I was torn between doing my miles and stopping and picking the tiny little flavor explosions. I passed many that I did not eat, and enjoyed every one that I did eat.
As I was taking some photos of some strawberries, I was reminded of what we used to say when spear fishing in Micronesia, "What a pretty fish. I think I'll kill it." Today had an extra part: "What a lovely strawberry. I think I'll photograph it, then eat it."
I spent some time just before lunch resolving a particularly confusing junction. It was the actual spot that I rejoined the CDT, so the time was worth it.
I ended up doing some cross country at dusk. It was a purple alternate route that looked easy on the map, and even had a note to that effect, but as it grew darker, I began to doubt I'd be back on the CDT before camping.
And that came to pass. I'm now camped on hill. I kept on heading toward what looked to be the Divide only to find myself not there. It was pretty much dark when I summitted for what I thought would be the last time. In exasperation, I saw I was on the top of a hill. Out of energy, I was pleased to find a non-sloping space on top. The GPS tells me where I am, so I have no worries.
I have almost no worries about my toe either. It feels fine. The stiffer shoes keep it more immobile, and the medication seems be helping with the swelling and pain.
All is well.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Jackson in a Day
During breakfast at Cowboy Cafe this morning, I overheard a couple saying they were going to Jackson, then into Yellowstone today. I spoke with them and they agreed to give me a ride. I had half an hour to finish packing and do my post office business. They would look for me on the side of the road.
I missed the ride! I couldn't get out of the PO fast enough.
I made a Jackson sign and had about 40 minute wait until a glass artist from Vancouver, BC, picked me up. He even waited while I picked up my bug/sun pants from Spur. Ready, his wife, had added zippers to the ankles so they could fit over shoes. She added sparkly boa feathers to the zipper pulls in a bit of faerie inspiration. They are great. The boa accents got moved to my pack.
As I continued with my ride, I saw what a hard hitch it would be to get back to the pass from Jackson. Another adventure.
I saw two gear shops and had my ride drop me off.
I found the shoes I eventually ended up buying in the first store, but went to the second, where I didn't even try anything on.
Since these were the first outfitters for backpackers since I started the trail, I picked up a few things I had meant to bring, like a Therm-a-Rest patch kit. Old shoes in hand, I made my way to the post office. I then did some phone business, like post some journal entries, and set off to get back on the trail.
If you've never been to Jackson, you know places like it: bizarre traffic problems, façade-ism, inordinate proportion of visitor-serving businesses, like art galleries and sweatshirt shops, and either fat people wandering around delighted by it all or wealthy people buying it.
I had an OK mexican food lunch, then left Jackson behind.
As I've mentioned, it's illegal to hitch-hike in Wyoming. I created a sign, attached it to my backpack and began walking out of town, after a futile attempt at the visitor's center to find a sub-$100 public transportation alternative to hitching.
I knew I'd have to get out of the town area before I could secure a ride. I think it's a visual thing. In town, there's too much to look at. On the road out of town, a hitcher stands out a bit more.
I walked a mile or two before stopping. I never put my thumb out. I just looked at the drivers, pack at my feet (with sign), and thought encouraging thoughts. My first ride was a cool guy who gave me the 'only going a short distance' sign, but I nodded and he stopped. I helped that it had just started raining.
He apologized that he could only take me 7 miles, but it was the rainiest 7 miles of my trip so far, so I was glad he did. The rain had just stopped when he dropped me off.
My second ride was a naturalist from Yellowstone. She answered all my questions about the local geology of the Tetons, the effects of glaciation, and the strange formations along the highway. She took me to Moran Junction, which put me around the corner, so to speak. From Moran Junction, it was a straight shot to Togwotee Mountain Lodge. Before too long, a Russian couple from New York State picked me up. Their life, or at least their vacation, was about serene confusion and unclarity, but the back of their rental mini-van did have an automatic door lifter, so that was cool. They took me to the Hatchet campground.
A young Pennsylvania couple took me the rest of the way.
I had dinner at the Togwotee Mountain Lodge, which Spur had raved about, then set out walking along the highway.
I think I did about 4 miles before I stepped off the side of the road and found a level spot in tall grass between two trees. I feel like a hobo or vagabond tonight, but the clouds have gone and the stars are my friends.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
A Broken Toe!
During the last segment, I broke my proximal 5th phalynx of my left foot during a fall. That means the middle bone in my little toe.
It's not a bad break, nor a bad break to have if I were, say, hiking a long trail.
I'm formulating a few plans. The key is getting a stiffer shoe. The trail runners I've been hiking in have too much flexibility for a broken toe. If I'd had a stiffer shoe during the fall, I probably would not have a broken toe.
It's one of the trade offs of hiking in trail runners. I've done over 4,000 miles in trail runners with no serious problems. And, in six weeks, I'll be back in trail runners. Unless I need heavier shoes because snow has fallen in Colorado.
So what about this fall? What happened?
I'm not really sure. I was off-trail having gone upstream to cross a river on a log. I took my chances with the crossing itself. I was walking across a narrow log that was too high for me to use my poles for balance and too slippery to use the poles on it. As I was finishing the crossing, my balanced faltered, so I jumped onto an untested log. I was afraid as I made the jump because it looked like it could fall. I just couldn't tell if it could take my weight. It did, and I consider myself lucky.
The bank on the way to back to the trail was very steep and overgrown. And I lost my footing.
One of two things happened. I fell and recovered so quickly that I can't really tell. Either I rolled all my weight onto my little toe while trying to push up with that foot, or I planted my trekking pole on my little toe as I tried to catch my fall. To recover, I pushed on the pole, but I couldn't free my left foot, so I pushed more.
It hurt, but I often get into spots where I hurt something. I usually just walk it off. So I tried to walk it off. I had another crossing very soon, and I got my feet wet because there was no way to cross dry. The cold water felt good on my injured foot.
Rather than ignore the pain that wasn't going away in normal walk it off time, I decided to look at it. It looked a little red, but there was no blood (one of my concerns), and there were no weird angles.
I didn't see the deep purple bruising until later in the day.
That's how it happened on the 14th. I'm now in Dubois, Wyoming, which has a medical clinic that was able to get me in and out, including x-ray, in an hour. Plus I got a 14 day sample of a new pain reliever and anti-inflammatory.
I switched hotels today, and as I was checking in, I ran into Sara and Oshi, who were staying in the same place. Now I have a room with a phone that works!
Lunch was a double buffalo patty platter with salad. Yum.
I got lots of time on the computer at the library where I worked on my photos. Sorry there are so many. It's hard to edit sometimes.
Had a great dinner with Oshi and Sara at the Really Wild Bunch.
Watching the Weather Channel, I learned that this area's already received three times the normal amount of rain for August, and it's only the 18th.
The plan (for a short while) to get stiffer shoes was to have my Scarpa Nitros overnighted from SF. Susie offered to do it herself, which meant that it would go perfectly. However, based on the Lincoln experience, I called both UPS and FedEx before setting the plan into motion. UPS overnight to Dubois is guaranteed by 7PM and FedEx by 4:30PM. That would mean a whole 'nother day, and with hotel and meals, it wouldn't be that cost or time-efficient.
I stopped by the hardware store here in town, got a blue tarp, some long nails and some twine. I now have shelter.
So tomorrow, I am hitching to Jackson to get new shoes.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Climb to Town
I got sprinkled on a few times last night. It never rained enough to warrant slipping into my bivy. The distraction did require enough consciousness to rob me of a good night's sleep. I kept laying there thinking, "Is it going to rain harder?" Of course, I had no way of knowing. It's just that if I was in a shelter, it wouldn't matter. I have to solve this situation soon.
The hike out to Highway 274 (or whatever....) was not what I expected at almost every turn. I had expected one bridge, so I almost passed the second bridge required to get to my destination. I had expected a descent to the highway, but I had a climb. I thought I had a highway walk to the Togwotee Mountain Lodge, but I walked into the back of the complex.
All my boxes were here, but now that I'm hiking solo, the rooms were too expensive: $119! So I formed a plan to go to Dubois ("Du-Boyz"), Wyoming. The plan was to hitch. I first processed my resupply box so that it fit in my pack, reducing my box load in half. Now with my one box, my bounce box, I could manage a hitch a little better. Only there was one problem: It's illegal to hitch-hike in Wyoming.
A northbound hiker, The Animal, I believe, said that Trippin' Ant got a citation and a suggestion from an officer. A sign on the back of one's backpack is just freedom of speech.
So, I made a sign, put it on the back of my pack and began walking toward Dubois, 50 or so miles distant.
I was walking into a dark loud thunderstorm along a narrow two-lane highway carrying a box.
I had to rest before too long, so I chose a place with a good pullout just past me. I propped my backpack up so the sign was visible and used to the box to support the backpack (and so that it was hidden-it might look strange that a friendly backpacker would have a big box. It might be an ax murderer in disguise.) It looked like hitch-hiking except for no thumb. I moved on to two more locations, choosing the third to give it some time. I begrudgingly agreed to give this spot a half an hour. The traffic was light, and I soon saw the futility of continuing to walk. I was not going to walk to Dubois.
An hour later, a lively redhead with a red horse trailer driving by in the opposite direction yelled out the window, "Turn Around."
Was I not getting a ride because I was hitching in the wrong direction? SHIT.
I put away my Palm, on which I was reading my latest email, and started to look for my maps. My in-head review confirmed that I was OK. Before I could get out my maps, Sara, the redhead with the red horse trailer, was back, announcing that she was going in my direction. Oh, SHE was going to turn around.
I threw my stuff in the pickup, hopped in the back of the inside of the pickup, and we took off.
It was a long drive to Dubois, and the geology along the way was amazing and diverse. I have no idea how all this different stuff ended up in the same place.
Sara filled me in on Dubois info, like the best places to eat, and answered my questions about the animals in the area. She is in charge of horse operations at Mill Iron 4 Mill Iron, a corporate guest ranch that sounds amazing. Need a western retreat for up to 18 people? Check out their site.
Sara dropped me in the heart of this town of just under 1,000 people, pointing out important places along the way. I worked my way back, checking hotel prices until I hit the right spot. I checked in for $40 a night, showered and found my way to the Cafe Wyoming (or Cafe Wyomin, I couldn't tell from the sign), where I had the best meal yet on the trail: rabbit ravioli with a sage sauce.
It wasn't enough food, even when I ordered a second salad, so I headed across the street and ordered a 14 ounce NY strip steak with potatoes and soup at the Cowboy Cafe. That did it.
Next door to the Cowboy Cafe was a big, crowded bar, clearly THE place to drink in town. In its old sign, a curving arrow pointing to the additional parking in back, all but one of the bulbs was burned out. I actually noticed that only one was lit. That's what stood out. It looked so lonely and helpless.
Even after two dinners, I still had time to get laundry done. It was painless, easy, and fast. I even washed my shoes!
Monday, August 16, 2004
Two Water Firsts
I saw the shortest stream ever: from the side of the trail, a generous and clear spring poured out water, which flowed downhill about 8' and drained into a hole, never to be seen again.
While walking down the trail, I noticed a prominent, but suspicious side trail that I chose to ignore. Walking along the real trail, I stepped over a dead tree that had been placed there. Then I saw what the redirection was about.
Extending out into the trail was a beaver dam. The immediate area had been extensively dammed and the trail was just in the wrong place. I tried to 'shwack around it, but I did not want to get my feet wet. I actually thought, "How sound are beaver dams? Can I walk on this one?" Then I had visions of crushing a beaver family, and headed back to the well-worn alternate. How do beavers move mud?
Today I also had another "water two." I had lunch on Two Ocean Pass, more specifically, the parting of the waters. The circumstances of the parting of the waters is an anomaly that seems possible, but not very likely. A stream, on its downward flow, flows right into the Divide. The Divide sort of comes in from the side, and at the exact meeting place, the stream splits. The larger flow heads east and toward the Atlantic, and the smaller flow to the Pacific. Pretty amazing. And genetics have proven that fish have swum across the Divide. Even more amazing!
Today I met Fixer, or something like that. He's finishing his triple crown, having done the PCT in '94 and the AT at some point. He's doing the CDT in sections.
I also got to talk a while with Garlic Man, who I hiked with on the PCT last year when I did the Sierra. He walked by as I was finishing my dinner break. He said that Trippin' Ant is about 1/2 a day behind him, that Roni's been doing a lot of road walking and that might be why we didn't see him, and gave me the scoop of who is how many days ahead, southbound.
I've been thinking about my decision to leave the Traveling Show. I still feel good about it (I'm really enjoying the hiking), but I'm worried that it looks like I left because Apple Pie got sick. I left because she wouldn't address being sick, and that's an independent decision that affects the whole group.
I did just over 24 miles today, and it was easy.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
With Sad Anger, I'm Hiking My Own Hike
Headline: The Gypsy has left the Traveling Show amid condemnations about not being a mind reader.
Last night Spur let me know they'd want a late start since they'd pulled in at 10:30PM.
I was up at 5:30 AM and waited until 10 to leave, then took a 1.5 hour lunch break. Apple Pie and Spur arrived at my lunch spot just as I was heading out. Apple Pie's first words to me, presented with a sour expression to match her vitriolic tone, were something about me not waiting for them. She walked on to sit on the beach along the tributary as Spur walked up to me.
Apparently I was supposed to know to wait at the road yesterday, and then the lake. Never mind that I had about an hour break in the morning talking with The Animal and a 2.5 hour lunch break, both taken with the knowledge that Apple Pie and Spur had some catching up to do.
I couldn't say much to Spur as he justified their actions and pointed out my errors.
We ended by me giving Apple Pie my extra food because it looks like, at their current pace, it will take an extra day for them to get to Togwotee Pass. I told them that I wanted to hike ahead to get my left foot x-rayed. Now, later in the day, I don't think it needs it, but I may still drop into Dubois to have it looked at. I've been soaking it in cold water and elevating it to facilitate healing.
Yes, Apple Pie is sick. She's been sick for a while, sick enough that if it were me, I would go to the doctor. I'd take the extra day to see a doctor rather than hike the trail at a slower pace. But that's just what I'd do. I do many things differently from the way she does things.
She's had several opportunities to get to a doctor, but has passed.
What I won't do is let her control my hike anymore. Three hikers are 2 days ahead, well 2.5, now that I spent another day at Apple Pie's pace. Yogi and Dewey are about 8 days ahead. Plus, I've enjoyed hiking alone. There's far less to process hiking alone.
I only wish I had not bounced my tent to Rawlins, which is in southern Wyoming. The Gypsy can not read minds, nor can the Gypsy see the future. I feel good about this decision.
Two Months on the Trail
Two Months on the Trail
So here's what the rest of the day was like. It actually started last night. I finished journaling around 9:30 and fell fast asleep. From the midst of that sleep, I heard, "Cupcake" in Spur's voice. I said, "Yeah?" and they rolled into camp. I was pretty out of it, but I invited them to set up next to me. Their noises kept me up a short while, but I was soon fast asleep.
I woke up at 5:30 and saw that Spur was still asleep, perhaps a first. Since they said they'd like a late start, I went back to sleep, but by 8, I just couldn't stay in my bag any longer. By 10 I have to leave. I'm worried about my foot injury and afraid it's going to slow me down. I don't want to be left behind.
Before too long on the trail, I saw the most amazing bird, amazing in that it was so unexpected and that I'd never even seen a photograph of this kind of bird. Perhaps it was a stork or a type of crane. It was a wading bird with long legs, anostrich-like light brown body, a long neck, and a head topped with red feathers and a wader's beak. In all, it stood over 2.5' tall. It was not too afraid of me. It actually walked toward me as it foraged. I got some good shots of it. As I walked past, it took flight for a short distance. It began to whoop as I moved further along the trail, then, it got a reply. There were two of them! They did the standard, "Are you there?" "Yes, I'm still here," "OK, good" 3-part persiflage. (I just learned that word. I have a Thesaurus and Dictionary in my Palm, and banter wasn't quite the right word, so persiflage: frivolous bantering talk:*light raillery.) They did it until I was out of earshot. They were really cool.
I saw wolf tracks today that were so big, they triggered an instinctual fear that said, "Pay attention. This thing can take you out." I can't imagine how big this thing was.
I saw bear scat on the trail all day, and even a few black bear tracks. I also saw more frogs. It's so good to see frogs.
My path was headed upstream along the Snake River for most of the day. Here the Snake is pretty small; an easy ford. Later, it gets pretty big.
I'm camped on a plateau above Fox Park, just south of the Yellowstone border.
It's nice to be able to camp where I want to. I still hung my food because of the amount of bear scat I saw today. Something in the near distance has bells. Cows?
Saturday, August 14, 2004
My Dirty Little Secret
My secret is nothing new. It started back in Anaconda, where it wasn't a secret. I bought a lightweight pair of plaid cotton drawstring pants. I had intended to send them home for cool weather in Tucson. Somehow they ended up in my bounce box.
In Leadore, I was happy to have them as comfortable town pants, no matter how many looks I got from all the men in cowboy hats, jeans, and cowboy boots, and women with bad hair, too-large t-shirts, and a pack of cigarettes in hand.
And I think it was in Leadore that I carried my bounce box to the PO and sent it off while wearing my cotton pants. So they went into my pack only to come out in Lima along with more disapproving looks. The local drag hadn't changed much and neither had the attitude about the requirements to play dress-up just like them.
The secret is that I've started to wear these pants while hiking. Yes, cotton pants.
Of course, I still have my nylon shorts and my nylon pants, but when the bugs are out and it’s hot, cotton is not so bad.
A Perfect Day With Two Flaws
I saw an odd frog today. I was at one of the few shady water crossings today.
I'd decided to take lunch there since the heat was getting to me, the noon hour was drawing to a close, and the place was lovely. I wanted a nice place to take lunch since I knew I'd be here a while waiting for Spur and Apple Pie.
I woke up in the approved, official gravel pit non-campsite, and neither Apple Pie nor Spur had shown up during the night. I stayed in camp longer than I might have otherwise, leaving at 7:30. I walked back along the highway to the Heart Lake trailhead parking lot, which had trash cans, a toilet and a register of very recent hikers. Nameless Mike had been through two days before, as had Oshi and Sara.
I signed in with our permit number and with a group size of three. I figured that Apple Pie and Spur had stayed were we had had dinner, or camped (illegally, non-approved, and unofficially) between the dinner spot on the lake and the gravel pit, and that they'd be along before too long. I left them a note letting them know when I'd been there and that I would see them at 8C5, our official, approved, and legal campsite for the night. 8C5 is about 14 miles from the parking lot, so even if they had camped at the lake, it would still be a manageable 21 mile day.
It's now 8:15 PM at 8C5, and they are not here yet. I'm still holding hope that they will show up. As I wrote that, I saw the first big mosquito show up. Not what I wanted to see. I'm DEETed up, so that will be a big help against the horrors that may soon befall me. Although I had hoped it might not be the case, I may have to resort to physical protection from the little, horrible bloodsuckers.
Another nice quality of my lunch spot was the lack of bugs, especially mosquitoes. I had a simple lunch of almond butter and crackers, plus some other munchies, washed up in the cool river, and began looking for a place to nap. I found a green, grassy hollow in full shade very near by. The hollow was just big enough for me. The surrounding earth and grass was high enough that, when lying down, I was in my own little world: a perfect place for a nap. The only danger was that this place was so perfect, it might have been out of a faerie tale, and who know what might happen if I take a nap on a warm afternoon on the set of a faerie tale?
I took the risk anyway, nestling my groundsheet and sit pad into the comfort and promise of the next hour. As I settled my naked body into this nest, I looked up at blue sky and felt a little warm air blow in from the day, reminding me to soak in the coolness of the shade.
I rested well, and returned to the same spot to mend my underwear. The only other chore I had left to do was to pump more water. I grabbed my filter, bladder and sun hat and walked to the stream. As I was setting up, I noticed a little frog near the end of a broken log. It could have fit on a quarter with just a few toes hanging off in all directions. This frog had two notable features. I noticed both by taking (and having) the time to observe the frog.
The first was its camouflage. It had a thin, straw-colored stripe down the length of its spine. I didn't recognize the stripe as camouflage until, when hunting, it ducked its head under a piece of straw. Wow.
The frog's wanderings also revealed its other distinctive characteristic: It walked on all fours like a salamander with long legs. Its hind legs were not particularly developed. It was fairly nimble and even climbed up a log many times higher than itself. Its odd gait seemed efficient, and certainly helped it get around while searching for its next snack.
Apple Pie and Spur did not show up, even after all that waiting at lunch, so I headed out.
The trail's final miles before camp were through a completely burned out river canyon. I crossed the river at the first crossing over a log, and while traversing to get back to the trail slipped and fell, apparently taking the brunt of the fall on the inside of the smallest toe on my left foot.
I Want to Hear Footsteps
As I continue to journal, Apple Pie and Spur are still not here. I'm keeping an ear cocked for their approaching steps, but haven't heard them.
I saw some great mountain lion tracks today along the trail. It looked like it was hunting and using the trail to get around. When I first left the parking lot, some deer came running toward me. After seeing the tracks, I wonder if I disrupted a hunt.
Walking through a burned area with a view of Heart Lake, I ran into a northbounder, the Animal, named by Garlic Man. Since I was waiting for Spur and Apple Pie, and he said he had a low-mile day, we decided to chat a while. He's on his first thru-hike. It's amazing to think that people can start with the CDT.
I also saw more frogs today, which I take as a good sign.
This camp, 8C5, was hard to find because it was in the wrong place on Jonathan's maps. I had to backtrack to a non-CDT trail to find it. With my injured foot, I was trying to minimize my steps, so I was less than enthusiastic about backtracking. I arrived around 5, so I have a leisurely time in camp. I've set it up so it's easy to elevate my foot, and I've taken several trips to the nearby river to soak it. I can't take it for 20 minutes, but I do it as long as I'm able.
Here in camp there's a woodpecker family eating. The adults are showing their young how to find food. They fly to a spot, eat something, then step aside for the youngster to give it a try. The adults fly on to get other food while the little one eats away. Very cool.
Friday, August 13, 2004
Pity to Perfection
We had another 32 degree morning this morning, but the steam coming off the hot pools near camp made it seem warmer. I walked over to investigate our thermal neighbors since I had a few extra minutes before we left camp. It was the same ol' beautiful series of holes in the ground with boiling water pouring out, either dramatically, like a boiling science experiment or subtly, like an overflowing bath tub.
The trail in the park, at least the trails we followed this morning, as opposed to the trail from the west end of the park to Summit Lake, are well-maintained and seem well traveled.
The path in the morning took us past our first glimpse of Shoshone Lake then into Geyser Basin. Geyser Basin is dotted with lots of geothermal curiosities.
The trail itself at one point was warm. It's a little unsettling to think that it's possible to fall through the ground into a boiling pool.
All the geothermal features in the Old Faithful area have an illustration of a boy falling through what seemed to be solid ground, but was really just a thin layer above boiling water to give a clear picture of what could be in store for anyone visiting the area. I just hope the trail doesn't have poaching in mind for me.
The morning contained my foul mood. A walking talk with Spur helped break it up a bit. Songs from my Fun playlist relieved the pressure the monotony of forested trail can have on a troubled mind. The mood finally rinsed away in the warm waters and rock beach along the east shore of Shoshone Lake.
As I reached the rather significant outlet to the huge lake, the Lewis River, four pair of boaters were setting out. I walked across the very wide outlet, the water reaching mid-thigh, and continued to our rendezvous point, only to find it a very short distance from the lake shore and the dark stony beach. I returned to beach, stripped off all my clothes except my shoes and stepped into the lake. The water was exceedingly warm. Soon, I was standing up to my neck, enjoying the occasional small wave as it brought chilly water up to my chin. I stood there for quite a while looking at the bottom of the lake and enjoying the sensation of being in pleasant water.
At eye level, the canoes grew smaller and smaller. I returned to shore and let the air and sun of the gentle, warm afternoon dry me, only to repeat the cycle when I was completely dry. On my second dip, I swam out further than I could stand up, but my shoes were heavy and exhausting, so I returned to standing depth before too long.
By the time I got out the second time, Spur was approaching. Soon Apple Pie was on her way too.
Apple Pie's been feeling bad today, and today's the culmination of a few days of feeling nauseous and not very hungry. I hope it's only temporary. Spur and I have had similar symptoms, but not as bad.
We decided to have dinner lakeside. It was spectacular. The breeze kept the mosquitoes away, the sun kept us warm and Shoshone Lake was easy on the eyes.
I'd been at the lake for nearly two hours, so I was antsy to go. Spur said that they would catch up. I left Apple Pie laid out on her pad and Spur finishing his dinner chores and headed to the gravel pit, our designated campsite for the night. In a quick, sometimes mosquito-filled, walk, I was there.
Before I arrived, I came to a parking area where somebody asked me, assuming I was returning to my car in that lot, how far I had gone in. I couldn't answer him. In the course of his question, I realized the lot had a pit toilet, and became focused on the possibility of a sit-down poop. I said something about a thru-hike and walked on. He had pulled his pickup to the barricade that keeps cars from going any further. I think he had a desire to go further than his car was allowed go, but his life had other plans for him. He had to pay for that new truck for starters.
I'm here at the gravel pit, a work area when needed. My food is hung. Spur and Apple Pie have not yet made it into camp, but I'm not worried. I'm more worried about the traffic noise from the south entrance road keeping me up all night.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Old Faithful, Why Are You Surrounded By America?
Our walk from Summit Lake to the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone had some nice points. Seeing the steam from remote geothermal features was exciting at first.
The morning light backlit a series of steam columns. As I got closer to the Biscuit Basin, I began to see the throngs.
I waited at a junction for Spur and Apple Pie. We decided to walk to the not-too-distant falls, joining the other intrepid adventurers on a ranger tour.
The falls were dull. I did learn that the purple flower I'd been seeing was indeed a gentian. It was fringed gentian, the flower of Yellowstone.
We then entered the surreal landscape of the Biscuit Basin, an area full of geothermal features, including boiling water on the surface; still, colorful pools of steaming water; and various other results from the collapsed caldera.
We walked the footpaths and boardwalks to the Old Faithful area, stopping for more than an hour to see a geyser that was supposed to go off within an half an hour of our arrival. I was so hungry, I gave up on my time investment.
We navigated the additional boardwalks toward lunch. We left the good place to eat because of a bad first impression of the menu only to end up in the cafeteria, where the first bad impression was of the food itself. On the way to the cafeteria, we caught an eruption of Old Faithful, something I'd seen as a 10-year old.
Waiting for the eruption meant that we were part of the wave of masses hitting the cafeteria at the same time. The crowd seemed a little strange. As I struggled through finding edible food, I figured it out. Half the crowd seemed to be motorcycle people.
Sturgess! People were on the way back from Sturgess.
The noise from the Harleys was also changing the park. In addition to the roar of geothermal features was the roar of motorcycles echoed through the park. I could hear them at Summit Lake last night.
I lost track of Spur and Apple Pie in the crowds, despite our unique appearances, packs, and a designated rendezvous area. I gave up and stuck to the plan we'd discussed: permit and PO.
Permits for Yellowstone backcountry are not usually issued over the phone, but they make an exception for CDT thru-hikers. I think Karen Burger's book had something to do with that. To do it in person for someone on foot is impossibly complex. I went to the backcountry office to get our permit even though we'd already camped in the park. The permit defines what campsites on which dates.
Variation and getting caught means a fine.
While the ranger was going over the standard backcountry regulations, I mentioned my bear canister, which I'd specifically had sent here to put my mind at ease about losing food to bears. He informed me that I had to hang my bear canister. I was incredulous.
He and another ranger tried to explain why, but I just wanted to get my permit and leave.
I went to the PO next and promptly mailed my bear canister home. Fuck them. My experience in the Sierra, and the experience of Yosemite officials, is that bears are smart enough to foil any hanging system. That's what led to bear canisters.
I got my boxes, exploded my pack, and began to bring the two together. Spur and Apple Pie showed up before too long and both did the same thing. Apple Pie's getting too many tortillas from home.
Our next option was showers, something none of wanted to pass up. Upon paying our $3, but not getting towels, soap, or shampoo, we found out that as of a meeting earlier today, $3 showers did not include towels, soap, or shampoo. The word came from on-high. Since the change was so recent (and the supervisor had left for the day), the sympathetic desk staff easily capitulated towels and soap.
Among my calls while waiting for Apple Pie to finish her shower was a talk with my Mom. When I replied that I was OK (not great), she asked me if I had a broken bone. I was exasperated (for the millionth time) by her weird way of looking at things.
And now it was dinner time. We walked back to the good restaurant for a dinner I was really looking forward to after the disaster of lunch. I had an uneasy feeling as we approached, which was justified when I learned the restaurant was booked.
After dinner, we set out for a 'backcountry' site 4 miles away that we were supposed to share with a northbound CDT hiker. We arrived after dark, but found no hiker. We hung our food and discovered that we were near some thermal vents.
I slept out, wondering why water in the ground 100 feet away could be steaming, but the ground under me be normal temperature.
I’m So Stupid-Or- Grab Good Food While You Can
I have real trouble with town food. Mostly it's the sugar, etc., that's in everything. It can catapult me into an awful mood over the littlest thing.
Plus, I love good food. So, this trip has been hard, and town food, that oh-so-looked-forward-to treat and reward has been nothing but maneuvering and compromising. I don't WANT to eat a burger and fries when I go into a place, but sometimes it's the only thing I can have and be sure about what I'm getting.
So, here in Yellowstone National Park, there was a chance for better food, maybe even some non-canned vegetables and some non-iceberg lettuce salads. After all, we'd just entered a new state, and Montana/Idaho had been so bad, I figured things had got to be looking up.
We were even sitting for lunch at a table in the restaurant that held the promise of the first good meal on the trail, the first good meal in two months.
And for some reason, we left to go to the cafeteria. I may have been part of that decision, but I was hungry and not thinking clearly.
On the way out, I said that I'd like to come back to the restaurant for dinner, and the matter seemed settled.
I had to throw out my first lunch at the cafeteria. It was horrible, and it was sweet when it shouldn't have been sweet. The second meal had enough sugar to be able to extract a box of Captain Crunch.
Well, a town day being what it can be, soon it was time for dinner. We wandered, packs in tow, over to the good dinner restaurant only to find that they were booked until 10PM. I moderated my disappointment with the thought that at least we could eat at the second-best restaurant in the area. The 30 minute wait was too much now that the evening was getting on, and we had 4 miles to hike to get to our site tonight.
I still held hope that a place called The Grill might provide an unexpected surprise and offer some really great food. My hopes slid into the recesses of my bowels when I had the door halfway open and saw a tray full of fries and burgers with In-and-Out-looking customers pushing themselves into fixed seating.
I gave up. My first thought was that I was going to take the time necessary to get a good meal and that Spur and Apple Pie should keep to the schedule they want: That I would meet them at the campsite. They began to look for solutions to keep us together. My next solution was to let them go where they wanted for dinner, and I'd just have a trail dinner. They coaxed me out of that solution by showing they cared enough to try to find something that worked for us all.
I agreed to return to the cafeteria. Since the menu had not likely changed, I began to concoct a probable meal: two sides of sautéed vegetables, a side of shredded chicken, a Greek salad, and a side of rice.
The menu was the same, and I got the meal, which cost nearly $14. I was in a foul mood from lunch while all this was happening. I know it's best to wait these moods out. They pass at some point.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
We walked into Yellowstone and Wyoming today. Walking into a new state felt like a lifted burden. I felt relief and a bit of accomplishment. I had no idea what Montana would present. Frankly, I didn't know it was over 850 miles.
Today's terrain was mostly burned in the 1988 fire and relatively flat. I saw a lizard, perhaps the first of the trip.
We had a short day of hiking from Latham Springs to Summit Lake, so we took it easy. So easy that we arrived at the lake just after 4 PM. Finding the official, designated, and approved campsite, named OE1, took a little effort, mostly because the trail was so obliterated by blow-downs and lack of use.
We went for a dip in the shallow, warm lake and enjoyed the warm afternoon.
I enjoyed having some time in camp. I did some journalling, and relaxed a bit.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
We finally left Macks Inn after two zeros. One of our last tasks was setting up our permit for Yellowstone.
We began with a road walk. As we passed the post office back in Mack's Inn, I saw my laptop box, which I'd mailed on Saturday, being thrown into the back of a covered pickup truck. I cringed and walked on.
We walked through unhealthy lodgepole pine forests as we ascended a bit, walking toward Yellowstone National Park.
Some of the roads in the area have been closed and burmed to keep vehicles out.
It was annoying to hike around these holes and piles every 50 feet along some of the roads.
We made our way to Latham spring, the only water source for miles. We camped there. I celebrated my flat, level spot under the stars.
Monday, August 09, 2004
Zero Number Nine: Macks Inn On the Move
Apple Pie and I met the hiker who could have had shared our room last night but chose to sleep in the woods. Nameless Mike stopped just short of town and got up at 5AM, found some place to shower, did laundry, then was on his way to find us when we found him. We went back to the room, but could not convince him to stay even for lunch. He wanted to keep going.
Well, we couldn't get out of town and decided to take another zero. But, rather than stay at Mack's Inn, which was getting on our (or at least my) nerves, we moved to the resort/real estate office two miles down the road. Spur made the arrangements, which included getting picked up and early check-in. So, in three nights we had three rooms.
Our new place was new but probably won't be habitable in 7 years because the construction was so cheap. We made it into the hot tub, but not into the pool, which closed at 10PM.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Zero Number Eight--Macks Inn Six Washers and No Dryers?
No breakfast to be had within 2 miles, so we hitched 5 miles to a better place, which was OK. Getting a ride back was a little tough, but working the parking lot turned up a couple happy to give us a ride.
I did laundry for the group. I took it over and got a warm and a hot load going. I didn't see any dryers in the building. I thought, "How weird. They have six washers but no dryers."
I've learned that in these backwater places, anything is possible. Some of the plumbing I've seen is not to be believed. I went back to the room and reported the dryer situation. Luckily backpacking clothes are designed to dry quickly, so it wasn't going to be much of an issue. I went back to pick it up and realized that I'd looked at the controls, which were identically placed on the six machines. But, they had different functions. There were three washers and three dryers. I felt a little stupid, especially when I realized that I had no money with me since I didn't expect to throw the clothes in the dryer. So I walked back to the room, back to the laundry place, then back to the room. This is what zero days are all about: walking lots of extra walking. A lady watching my coming and goings was friendly, but reserved.
We did a four-hand massage exchange, something we had been talking about for a while. I had some sore spots I didn't know about.
We moved across the street to a room on the river, which was much larger and nicer than the room last night. We also found out that the restaurant associated with Mack's Inn was closed today and every Sunday. Ugh.
Spur wasn't feeling well, so Apple Pie and I hitched to a restaurant 2 miles away. It was a disaster from a management point of view. The food was unremarkable.
During dinner, the woman from the laundry and her husband sat down close to us.
They'd passed us while we were hitching, but soon apologized for that and offered us a ride back to the hotel. They were very nice. He was ex-military and reminded me a bit of Robert Duval's character in Apocalypse Now.
On our way back, we saw what almost certainly a thru-hiker walking against traffic toward Mack's Inn.
Back in our riverside room, I kept an eye out for the headlamp of a lone hiker, but it never materialized. I figure he slept just outside of town in the trees.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
Long Day’s Hike Into Night
From our very windy, spectacular sleeping spot we headed out with 27 miles of unknown terrain before us. Our goal: a room reservation in Macks Inn, a town that seems to be the name of the primary business.
Early morning light filled our path on the sometimes-narrow Divide for our first few miles. Although we were walking through what seemed to be middle of the Rockies, the Centennials appeared to be their own range with distant other ranges to the right and left. I don't remember hearing about or reading about the Centenials. They are great. Maybe that's because it's not raining.
The theme of the day would be descent. We made our way through non-descript trail, then gravel road, then good gravel road, then pavement.
But there was lots to see before I hit pavement.
We were all low on water. Our last few sources had been elusive. On the trail, I descended along the Divide to a saddle with a road to it. This saddle is where the next water was supposed to be. We were deep in the Experimental Sheep Station, and it looked like something was going on.
Sure enough, the saddle had a camp. As I got closer, I saw big blue water jugs at the camp. Even if they drove their water in, I was going to be taking some of that water if I couldn't find any natural source.
I wandered around a bit, heading to various greeen clumps in the grassy landscape, but water eluded me. Before too long, I saw Spur and Apple Pie hiking toward me.
With more people, we should have no problem finding the water. As they arrived, I also saw what I assumed to be a shepherd riding toward camp. (This shepherd looked just like a cowboy.) I asked him about the location of the spring. He said that he didn't speak English. I said, "Agua?" and pointed to the one place I hadn't yet been. He said, "Si."
I drank lots as I filled my bladders with yummy, clear water.
The next section of trail was a maze. It think it was well-traveled. I found myself overlooking Blair Lake, a refreshing bit of water after the dryness of the last few days. I stopped to take a photo of myself, then, as I turned a bend, which followed a bend in the lake, I saw a larger bull moose grazing underwater.
The moose was slow to react to my presence, so I got some good photos of it. Only as I continued on the trail did the near-black antlered beast begin a retreat, which was swift once it started. It's amazing how wildlife can vanish once it's in the forest. The forest is a cloak of invisibility, even for a large lumbering moose.
I pushed on to Lillian Lake for lunch, where I saw a snake in the water nosing the edge of submerged logs for food.
The next section looked interesting on the map: Hell Roaring Creek. The first few miles were OK, but as we headed upstream, the route became cross-country. I first thought an in-the-creekbed route would be fastest, but dense growth, deep mud, and endless meandering slowed my pace to a crawl. Mack's Inn was waiting. If I'd been on a day hike, I would have loved to poke around this creekbed all day. So, I left the creekbed behind and headed to the more open areas of hillside, which was at times close to level and at others moderately steep. Most of the time, the hillside was molestingly thick with wildflowers. At first, it was great: I felt poetic and blissfull moving through tall wildflowers. Then it grew dull, then tiresome. Hell Roaring Creek seemed to be endless with wildflowers slowing our progress.
I eventually emerged at the pass above the headwaters. The map indicated the trail to the left, but I didn't cut to the left enough and found myself in a maze of small, loose and steep-sided canyons. Spur and Apple Pie had caught up and were following me. At the point I, goat-like, made my way up an near-vertical bit, they decided to set their own route. We hiked paralled for a good bit, then, from across a deep chasm, they spotted the trail above me. I scrambled up to it and waited for them as they arrived on the trail they'd discovered on the other side.
We still had some miles to go to a hotel whose check-in desk probably had limited hours, so I set out in front, trying to make the miles. The material underfoot got more improved as I approached town.
The long out took me into the evening hours and through an awful, ugly suburban development with lots of 'logs' and fake window lights. Soon the Subway shop landmark was in sight. Just a few more miles.
Night fell as I made my way down the highway. If the office closed at ten, I'd make it on time.
Trucks and cars roared past in both directions. Some young guys stopped and offered me a ride. I declined, since the highway was part of my continuous walk. About 5 minutes later, I heard another vehicle pulling up behind me.
It stopped behind me, and I looked around, over my shoulder. Excessive lights were what I saw, and the outline of a roof mounted light bar. It was the police in a huge vehicle.
I stood there, annoyed and facing away from the lights, waiting. And waiting. Finally, I yelled out, "WHAT?" with an exaggerated irritated gesture.
The cop came out of his vehicle and asked me what I was doing. I asked him if it was illegal to be walking along the highway. He said no. He wanted to see my ID, which meant I had to take off my pack. Ugh.
I told him each thing I was going to do before I did it:
"I'm going to reach to my waist to release my hip belt."
"My wallet is in the top pouch of my pack in a small zippered compartment. I'm going to reach in there to get it."
He warmed up with my little CDT capsule, but I didn't. I was extremely tired and not interested in being hassled, no matter how cute he was. He advised me to walk against traffic, so I did, arriving at Mack's Inn with minutes to spare. I got the keys to the room and used a maid's wheel barrel-type cart to haul the many boxes from the three of us across the highway to the tiny phoneless room.
I began attacking the million details as best I could given my state, keeping an eye out for Apple Pie and Spur. They showed up before too long, then the room was really crowded. While winding down, I enjoyed a box of sugarless goodies that Happy 'JO' and Jen had sent from England. I like getting goodies.
I got to sleep quickly.
Friday, August 06, 2004
Berries, Snakes, and the Elusive Divide
I ate a not-yet-ripe black raspberry, some blueberries, and some red huckleberries today. Oh, and a woody gooseberry. All but the last were yummy.
I saw my first snake of the hike today. It was about 12" long and about as big around as a pencil. I don't like snakes, even when they are just sunning themselves, so when its first reaction was to slither toward me, it didn't go over well. I managed not to kill it defending myself. I didn't even scream.
For most of the day the trail was difficult to find and follow. Between burn areas, lush meadows, and criss-crossing paths, I had to be on my toes to stay on the CDT.
Once we hit a certain spot, the trail was a former road that was solid wildflowers, and the road was wide enough for a moving van to use and had a grade to match. It was a bit, flat route right at the top of the mountain. Very strange, but the flowers were great. It's like it was an evacuation route for a city. I just pictured somebody thinking that all kinds of vehicles needed to get over these mountains. The problem is that we appear to be in the middle of nowhere.
Water's scarce up here, but I have enough to make it. At one point, I dropped down to find water, but came up dry. Returning to the CDT, I rejoined Apple Pie and Spur, with whom I'd become separated at some point during the day.
We have a great spot to night just of off the former road. It's in a spot cleared for mining, but it's reasonably level and the mountain cut is keeping some of the wind off of us.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
The Centennial Mountains Are Lovely
Tonight, through my site selection, it feels like I'm sleeping on several large hard grapefruit resting on steps. Every place here, and near here, is unsuitable, so here I am.
But I want to tell you about last night.
I was sleeping out in this great spot. The cloudless sky offered a dizzying view of the Milky Way as I drifted off.
At some point during the night, or more accurately, early morning, a bright flash and a loud noise woke me up. A lightning storm in the distance was flashing like a child with a camera trying to take a flash photo of a mosquito: Here, then there, this way then that.
The storm or storms wrapped halfway around us, so it was quite exciting.
Rain on my bag woke me later. It didn't seem like much, so I went back to sleep. A bit later, a bit more rain awakened me again. Apple Pie called over to me, asking if I was awake. Soon, I was in her tent. Dawn was on its way and there wasn't much rain after I was inside. Still, it was a cool storm.
Apple Pie and I must both have needed sleep, not awaking until 7:15. We got out of camp an hour later.
We hiked up to Pete's Creek Divide for lunch with cows, who watched us through a fence for all of lunch.
Today the trail, took us through chest high delphinium, a wonderful tall stalk
of flowers, usually in the blue range, and lots of other really great wildflowers.
At some point today, I was able to look down a river basin into the flatness.
Rising up on the other side was the Tetons! What a great view of this range. Very cool.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
The Traveling Show Has Left the Building
Well, actually, we left Lima,and we did it in under 24 hours. We even left
Monida in under 24 hours.
This morning I found that I didn't get as much sleep as I would have liked, so tonight I'm dragging.
While in town, I spent time on the phone with Palm because my ultra-thin keyboard is not working very well. I can not type the following letters, and it's annoying: L, N, M, U, J and some others.
Our road walk out of Monida took us out through a giant junk yard full of vehicles and large equipment and then on to the entrance to an experimental sheep farm. The field of white sheep had one black llama, which gave the visual impression that there was one extremely experimental sheep in that flock.
Our roads changed from paved to gravel to trail, passing over cattle guards then through barbed wire fences. I was walking uphill, and the cows around me were, like most are, were freaked out at my presence, so they ran uphill ahead of me, never escaping my 'attack' by staying ahead of me.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Long Out to Exit Zero
We had a cold morning which warmed up as we hiked into the sunlight of the gorgeous day. On an early, easy climb, I spotted a coyote running below us. We were pretty close and got to watch it for more than a minute. When it was out of sight and up a rocky canyon, it began howling and barking a bit. Our climb topped out with some dramatically lit green landscape and the sound of cows.
We took a very new, well-graded trail at the summit. We were following a purple route to head out to Monida (pronounced as a contraction of Montana and Idaho).
The trail gave me great views of the Red Conglomerates, a striking set of mountains. I could also see that the main stream in the valley below was
cappuccino brown from the rains yesterday. The silt content was incredibly high.
I passed some cows that seemed to know the sweet spot to hang out to keep maximum distance from the switchbacking hikers that came their way. They were uneasy nonetheless.
As the miles came, my water went. I was hiking for water at some point, knowing I was getting closer.
In my final quarter mile, I came across a CDT sign, something I should not have had I been on the purple route.
I was exasperated. I got water and figured out what had happened. The new trail (which I suspect will become the official CDT route when it's done) was so clear that I missed the old trail which branched off from it. It wasn't a big deal. It just meant a road walk. I'm writing this from notes, but my memory's telling me we were in Sawmill Gulch.
With Monida in mind, we set out on gravel roads, refining our course as we could see the lay of the land in relationship to the maps.
Miles later, we came across a giant metal arrow on the ground. I had misidentified the peak in front of us, so the arrow made no sense. It was obviously a sign for some other group, perhaps a bunch of roller skating elk hunters.
We continued into the flattening landscape in the clear late afternoon. I was walking ahead, passing through cow grazing areas, seeing the highway across the fields.
I waited for Spur and Apple Pie when I sensed we were not where I thought we should be. We were not.
We set a cross-country course through the cows and to the railroad tracks. The fence between the two was in a wet area, but a little route setting kept me dry.
I was desperate to get into town, or at least to not be walking on the tracks any more, so I set out full steam ahead accepting the awkward cadence imposed by the spacing of the railroad ties.
I looked back at some point and saw the Apple Pie, then Spur had dropped off the tracks and were walking in the fields again. I stayed on the tracks.
Every once in a while I'd see a metal sphere on the tracks, like an egg-sized canon ball. I wondered how they got there and what they were for.
The route on the rails seemed like it would never end. I chose to end it when the tracks passed under the freeway. I hopped a fence and chose a narrow route between the fence along the highway and the structures designed to keep snow drifts off the highway. I felt in this no-man's-land between the public property of the highway and the private property to my left behind another fence.
As Monida drew closer, I saw the freeway exit sign: Exit 0. Somehow that seemed significant, but I was tired and eager for town.
Monida's not really a town though. What it does have is a phone. From the phone, the plan was to call the hotel in Lima, Montana. The guy seemed confused about giving me a ride, but I was going to be waiting for Spur and Apple Pie anyway, so I told him I would call him back when they arrived.
I journalled and did phone business until they showed up. By then the hotel guy was prepared to pick us up. Soon we had a room and were seated in a restaurant.
Unfortunately, I'm writing this entry a month later and my memory of the details has faded, and my notes can't get me much past this point.
Monday, August 02, 2004
Bones and Stinging Hail
I see bones every day hiking the CDT. Sometimes it a weathered fragment, other times it's a cranium. Most often, it's a big leg bone, like a femur, some weird four-legged shoulder equivalent, or a vertebra. I wrote earlier about seeing the rib cage and spine of some animal because it was so dramatic. The bones I see daily are noticeable, but not dramatic: the bones become part of the landscape.
Crossing the dry stream bed on my way to our camp tonight, I glimpsed a mini-doughnut-sized vertebra. Earlier in the evening, and downstream, I saw an antlered beast's cranium, but someone had sawed off the antlers. It was a rather shocking discovery. It seems like such a violent act, like cutting off a finger.
Earlier today, we went searching for bones. Jonathan's maps reported a vertical limestone shaft that had buffalo bones in it. It seems that the shaft would become snow-covered and bison would fall in.
We never found a buffalo-sized shaft, but we found some smaller cave-like places amid the white limestone cliffs. I donned my LED headlamp, climbed down, squeezed between some rocks, and ducked into a place where rock was overhead. I moved in a little deeper, 'till I came to the floor.
Scant natural debris covered the surprising rich soil on the floor of the falling cave. I focused on the small bones. As my eyes adjusted from the brilliance of the white cliffs in full sun to the lightless, lifeless depth, I immediately saw two craniums, on the size of a small fist, the other the size of half an Italian sausage. I pulled the smaller one out of its half-exposed state, and turned it over to see two relatively giant front teeth in the front of the top of the jaw, a relatively long gap, then two rows of perfectly intact tiny molars paralleling each other. The cranium had lots of the weird and unexplained holes and sockets for nerves, muscles, and tissue to pass through. It was really cool.
I wanted to dig around because I knew the rock at the bottom of the floor was probably pretty far away, but I'm on a thru-hike, not a archaeology field trip, so I resisted.
Spur was entering the cave as I was headed out. I had to face one of the walls to let him squeeze by, and I noticed a small, natural niche in the wall. I couldn't see far in, so I stuck my camera in and took pictures. I'll post them here when they are available.
I walked below the cliffs for a while, capturing some great photos of Apple Pie.
Then I asked Spur to get up there 'cause it was so cool. Yes, photos to follow.
The next adventure I want to report came after lunch.
We were all short on water. I was out, out, out. We were pushing for Buffalo Spring. We walked with lots of wind and full sun for the whole day to that point. I was keeping an eye on the distant thunderstorms, but they were, well, distant.
The constant wind began to pick up as I reached the spring. There's a cattle tank there, but, as promised, it was dry. I stashed my pack under a lone tree because the wind was stronger and was carrying rain drops from... Well look at that, there's a black cloud being pulled along with the wind.
I looked around for the spring as the storm intensified locally. I took off in the last direction it could be, quickly spotting the blue plastic pipe that was supposed to feed the cattle tank. I soon stumbled across the reason the tank was not working: a disconnected pipe. The uphill side of the pipe had water from the spring pouring out, and that's what I needed. The storm continued building as I pumped, even sounding booming warnings of its approach.
I whoop-whooped to Spur as I was leaving to get him to the right spot, and headed back. In the time it took to walk the short distance to my pack, the storm jumped to a new level. The sky was so dark, I could now see the lightning before the intense thunder, and the wind was strong and whipping the plants and trees in every direction.
Before I could get to my pack, I ran across Apple Pie huddled below the ridge where the wind packed less of a direct wallup. I sat next to her, enjoying the closeness of huddling. I told her that the blow ups we'd been having are worth hiking together, referring to stuff that happened yesterday evening and that we processed at some point earlier today.
I didn't have my rain jacket on yet, and it was time. I made my way over and put on my orange rain jacket in the fierce wind which was bring to the rain to me sideways. The rain soon turned to slushy hail which stung when it flew onto my bare legs.
Before too long the slush fell off the hail. Small, hard balls of ice poured from the sky as I descended, each step easing my fears of being hit by the continuing lightning. Rain mixed with the hail as I ducked under a tree against a slope. Soon the three of us were tucked in there avoiding the current deluge.
We played a memory game as the hill became a stream across our feet, and the nearby road became a wet mud pool.
The rain stopped, and we made our way, with a little trail-finding difficulty, to a dinner spot. Along the way, we passed many large columbine. These fantastic flowers in off-white and light purple grew at the edge of the trail when there was forest on one side and open area on the other.
Our dinner spot was good. We had full sun on the wet grass. We pulled out our
groundsheets and some of our wet gear and had dinner.
The evening was going to be a purple route evening, and I was leading the way. I knew where we were headed, I just couldn't find the trail to get us there. I finally stopped following what I thought was the route and took us cross-country in a fairly direct route to the trail.
A few miles further, Apple Pie and Spur were stopped ahead of me, obviously looking at something. I saw the large bull moose in the forest as I approached. His dark body and large antlers stood out against the white aspen trees lit by the horizontal evening sun.
Our final hour of walking squeezed us up the river canyon and into the night. We camped amid more columbine just before the creek lost its flatness.
I have in my notes for today that Bannack (with an 'a') Pass is a dud. If you come this way, don't try to hitch there.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
I hope I never have a sleeping spot as bad as the one last night.
It looked OK when it was the best option from the places I'd found, but the reality was that it was lumpy and sloped. Gravity kept pulling me downhill into the low, barbed gooseberry plants.
Although my Therm-a-Rest did not complain, I'm sure it was worried about the thorns too. I had a silent muscle struggle to keep on my pad and to keep my pad under me. Flat and level is good.
The rain did not materialize last night, and the wind did die down. At some point in the morning while I was packing, Spur emerged from the next clump of trees where he'd spent the night.
Soon we were climbing Cottonwood Peak. It turned out to be an easy climb, and I was the first to arrive at the top of the 11,000' peak, which is on the Divide.
The lens promptly fell out of my eye glasses, but the screw was still in the frames, so I was OK. Until I dropped the screw. Into a bed of ground beef-sized rocks. I never found it despite a somewhat methodical search. I thought about my options and ended up using thread to keep the glasses together. A needle, which I lost just as I was finishing, made the repair easy.
We goofed around a bit on top, taking photos.
Our climb to the top followed the Divide, and the Divide continued south from Cottonwood Peak, growing steeper and more narrow. Although it would have been fun to try to climb and hike the Divide, I want to finish this hike, and that means getting in MILES.
If the climb up was easy, the descent was relatively hard. The route to rejoin the real CDT took us down an eastern flank of the mountain. It was steep and loose until it dropped into the forested final third, where the rocks had the effect of marbles in slapstick routines, only it wasn't funny. I managed to fall only twice, and not badly.
Turns out my reconning and maintaining a bearing during the descent was pretty accurate. I came out of the trees pretty close to where I wanted to be. As I took a GPS reading to make sure, an old guy with a GRASS baseball cap came up on an ATV with four work dogs. He told me that he used to hunt "The Mountain Lion" in his youth. We chatted a bit more and as I was departing, he told me that a herd of 100 cattle was on its way down from the mountain. I wondered if he had a cow magnet or something. It's somewhat of a mystery, but I figured it would all be revealed.
I headed to water, something I wanted lots of. Once sated and pumped, I backtracked a bit to get to a large conifer that had enough shade for the three of us to have lunch. Let's see, that would be 4 miles by lunch. Extra adventure sucked the miles out of the day.
Soon Apple Pie and Spur joined me under the tree and the GRASS ATV guy came by again. This time we had trash ready for him to take. He mentioned the cows again. Hum...
Then the cows came, not on their own, but under the direction of a dog or two and two cowboys, only one of the cowboys was a woman.
After lunch I saw what looked like two Solid Gold dancers with huge backpacks walking toward me. We exchanged hellos as we passed. Spur later told me that they were part of a NOLS group. The go-go look was the long gaiters paired with tight short shorts. The rest of the group looked a little more like backpackers, even the ones taking an unnecessary shortcut across the sage landscape.
We had talked about having dinner at Deadman Lake, so I pushed for it. I was getting tired, and at some point Spur caught up to me. We talked a bit. During our walk together, we made a choice to choose the newer of two trails when presented with a choice. It looked to me like they were in transition between the two trails: the older one still had signs, but had sticks and branches blocking it.
Spur and I waited in the shade until Apple Pie arrived. She was in a bad mood because we'd taken the 'wrong' trail. It's true that the new, well-graded trail took us upstream from Deadman Lake, even perhaps as far as a mile. The old trail took a steeper route directly to the lake. She wanted to eat at the lake, but we were not at the lake and she wanted to eat with us, so she was frustrated.
After a terse dinner, we hiked on, intending to get in some miles to make up for the morning. As I climbed out of the Deadman Lake basin, Spur caught up and announced that Apple Pie said we should take the first good spot.
That pissed me off, especially when we came across a spot that had reasonably level and flat spots, but more mosquitoes that I wanted. I announced to Spur that I was pissed off, feeling controlled and manipulated by Apple Pie.
When she arrived, Apple Pie tried to speak with me, but I told her I didn't want to talk about it right then. She's so sensitive that I don't feel comfortable talking with her until I'm less angry.
I sobbed quietly in my little spot in the grass across the trail from where Apple Pie and Spur had their tents set up.