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Archive for September, 2015

Leaving Rawlins, we had the option to hike a long, roundabout trail that didn’t have much drinkable water, or a road that was shorter and didn’t have much drinkable water. Since we wanted to skip Encampment, we choose the road. Jeff had also told us that he did the trail without much drinkable water and there was nothing to see; we wouldn’t miss anything.

We made ten miles out in the evening and camped between the road and a fence that denoted private property, but we still had over twenty miles to drinkable, non alkaline water..and it was hot.  Memphis began to get a little low about 8-9 miles before possible water and so he explored other options.  The first alternate option was the field testing trailer in the middle of nowhere. E.D. and I hovered outside wondering what it was for a moment, then meandered forward. When Memphis caught up, he told us he knocked on the door.

Memphis: “There were two dweeby guys and they had just run out of water.  Who runs out of water in the desert?”
We walked on, listening to podcasts to pass the time.  Little did we know what Memphis was up to behind us. Then a truck drove up and out popped Memphis.  E.D. and I gave him a look to tell him not to cheat.
Memphis: “It was only half a mile…this is Mike.”
Mike: “I’m going to go back to my place and bring back some cold water for you all.”
An hour later, Mike rolls back up with a cooler full of water and Bud Light.
Mike: “I’ve an offer for you three.  Why don’t you camp at my place tonight and I’ll give you a ride back here in the morning.  I have to be in Rawlins tomorrow anyway.”
We took him up on his offer and got in the truck.  Since it was still Wyoming and the middle of nowhere, Mike suggested that we have a beer for the drive.  Setting up camp, we admired his giant fire pit.  We sat around and had a few more Bud Lights when Mike decided that we should go to Saratoga for dinner.  In the truck we went, with the cooler, and headed to the Wolf Hotel, which actually had a veggie burger!

Mike ordered beers a bit faster than I could drink, so I had to play catch up a few times. From there, we went across the street to Dukes where Mike discussed the difference between real cowboys and fake cowboys, examples of which were present in both bars.  He also had some great quotes in general. The one that I managed to write down was:

Mike: “One thing I have learned in life is that the women control all the money and therefore all the world…and the quicker the men learn that, the easier life gets.”

When we got back, we were thankful we had already set up our tents, because it had rained and was still raining on and off. Mike jumped into the yard, threw some wood into the fire pit, doused it in gasoline, lit a match, and poof! Fire in the rain in less than a minute.

The whole next day it rained on again off again. It was the first super rainy day we’d had in awhile, so it didn’t seem too bad. Annoying, but not absolutely horrible.  That is, until we got to the top of the 11,000 foot ridge.  A massive thunderstorm hit. We were all about a quarter mile apart from one another and all found some uniform trees to hide in for the storm. I chose to layer up, sit on my pack, and sip fireball.  I watched the lightening and listened to the thunder roll across the sky. The storm was close and loud.  When the storm seemed to have rolled through, I threw the pack on and walked back out of the trees a little to get a better glimpse. The storm was heading the same direction as the trail.  I hiked forward and a quarter mile later found E.D. reading in her tent. She said she’d pack up and keep hiking. Between her tent and where I found Memphis set up, I saw an awesomely huge rainbow. Memphis had completely set up and didn’t feel like moving, so he said he’d catch us the next day.

I kept walking and right at dusk, I heard the sound of a large animal.  I turned on my headlight to see a horse looking at me.  A moment later, about six dogs rushed up barking, four of which were obviously sheep dogs.  I started talking to them and they turned out to be extremely friendly sheep dogs.  The shepherd came over and started talking in Spanish.  While I attempted to remember Spanish grammar and hiking words, E.D. rolled up.  It was a good moment to break away, so we continued hiking.
The next day, we ran into more sheep, sheep dogs and shepherds. They’re all friendly enough if you speak Spanish. The key is to leave when they ask you if you’re married.

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After Jetta cooked us a delicious breakfast, we headed out into the Great Divide Basin, which had also been called “the suck,” “tick heaven,” or a “death march” by other hikers.
Lucky for us, we loaded up on podcasts on the brewery’s wifi and had plenty to listen to as well as music.
The first day through the basin went by relatively quickly and we all jammed out while we plugged along on the dirt roads and four wheel drive tracks. Monotonous, yes, but not maddening…yet.

The only shade we found all day was underneath an underpass on the dirt road that only four wheel drive cars could drive on.

That night, we night hiked for a bit until we got to the 30 mile mark, then all three of us cowboy camped and watched the stars.
 The second basin day was, not surprisingly, like the first day. It had a few hills to add into the mix, lots of cows, lots of cow poop water, and it had quite a bit of wind.
By that evening, a little of the madness started to creep in. We did another 30, placing us halfway through the basin. We cowboy camped near a spring and set it alarms for 4am to try and pull a 40.
4am seemed to come really quickly, but I had slept in my hiking clothes, had a pro bar ready for a walking pre-breakfast, and already mixed up some crystal light energy: i.e. crack…caffeine does wonders.
We were moving by 4:30am, mostly just because it was too cold not to move. I even had my puffy on while we started by headlight.

Bocce in the basin

About six or seven miles in, the sun had come up and we hit another spring where we planned to have breakfast. Then…inside the metal tube that turned on the spring…we found bocce balls! A small notebook read, “Bocce in the basin: CDT trail register.”
As we ate, we read through it, signed it, then played a round of bocce. Great start to a forty mile day.
The hills from the previous day were gone and we could see the trail for miles upon miles ahead of us…straight…flat…hot…sandy…straight…straight…
I switched back and forth between podcasts and music most of the day.

Straight…flat…hot…sandy…straight…
By mid afternoon we all looked at each other with eyes that darted around searching for something new to look at…even cows. We mooed at them and they mooed back. Occasionally, I would attempt to converse with them, but all they said was moo. Surprisingly, I could hold a decent one way conversation with them.
 Sometimes we would see pronghorn or wild horses in the distance. They broke up the monotony a bit.
Then, I started staring at my feet because I realized all my entertainment could be found there in the sandy dirt. There were tracks and signs of life galore there! If I paused, I could figure out when a mouse crossed, then a cow, then a hiker with Brooks Cascadia trail runners. The possibilities were endless, they just took a little thought to figure out. That gave my wandering mind a break from staring straight ahead at the next twenty miles of walking.
We ate dinner at Bull Spring and Memphis had an encounter with a bull who did not want to share the spring named after him. The bull, however did not hassle E.D. nor I.
Plugging back into another TED Radio Hour podcast, we kept going on into the night watching the stars get brighter and brighter.

Then the unexpected happened at mile 37.7 for the day. There was a car by the side of the road at a funky three way intersection. As we tried to look at Guthook without ruining our night vision, the back door popped open and Knacker leaned out, “wanna beer?”
“YES, please!”

We sat, chatted, and drank a beer with him. He understood when we thanked him and kept hiking 2.3 more miles. Memphis decided 37.7 miles was enough, so he had another beer, and stayed there.
In the morning, Knacker slack packed us into Rawlins.

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We stood by the highway at 7am with our thumbs out to try and get into Lander. We had just showered three days ago at Big Sandy Lodge, but we hadn’t done laundry in about 7-8 days since Jackson.  Desperately wanting clean socks, we thought we’d give it a try. If we didn’t get a ride in 45 minutes, we’d walk to South Pass City where we sent boxes to the historical landmark and see if we could yogi a ride from there.

About fifteen minutes in shivering in our puffies, a truck with a horse trailer pulled over.
Dude: “I figured anyone trying to hitch from that middle of nowhere place was probably pretty desperate.”
Memphis: “Yeah, we need some laundry pretty bad.”

I jumped in the backseat, a dog jumped on my lap, and my feet rested on a big ass rifle. Fox News played on satellite radio, the back window didn’t exist, and our ride talked about the fires from “that California state” and how his cattle were doing.
We got dropped off at a place to eat breakfast where a road biker asked us how to set up his tent among other questions.

Finding the laundromat, I changed into my trash bag rain skirt and scarf made into a shirt. I meandered next door to ask the NOLS base if we could take showers and they said yes in an hour after the student group that had just returned went through the showers.

When we did come back with clean laundry, they hooked us up giving us towels to use and soap for free.

Next on the chore list was to charge electronics. Read: find a brewery to drink beer that also has outlets.

Now this is when the day turned into a trail magic extravaganza day. Lannie, one of the equestrians who gave us the delicious burrito trail magic a few days prior came to hang out and drove us back to the trail to get our resupply boxes.  Barely making the South Pass City store hours, we ran to get our boxes. Just as we opened them, up walked Scout! Frodo pulled in right behind him.

Scout: “We’re going to Atlantic City to eat at the Minors Grubsteak with Das Boots, wanna come?!”

We were in, Lannie was in, and we headed over there and found Das Boots. E.D., Memphis, nor I had met Das Boots before and I didn’t realized that Das Boots was not one, but two Germans, both wearing boots. They were the first people I’d seen wearing actual boots on the CDT.  The eight of us had a great dinner there despite Yogi’s rant against Atlantic City. Your guidebook is wrong once again, Yogi…

There was no cell signal there, but there was wifi and Memphis emailed Jetta, who we had met at Big Sandy Lodge.  Jetta offered to let us sleep on the porch or the living room floor and we took her up on her offer. Jetta gave us all baths with epsom salt, then rubbed our feet down with some homemade herbal concoction that smelled wonderful.

It was a wonderful day of magic!

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Exhausted from Knapsack Col, the miles went slowly. The Winds were rocky with lots of ups and downs…and totally gorgeous like the Sierra’s. Smoke had also poured in from fires on the west coast leaving a new haze.
We were all running slightly low on food and according to Yogi, we had to be at Big Sandy Lodge, where we had sent resupply boxes, by 3pm to get dinner. I was chugging along when I saw E.D. and Memphis ducking under some sort of white fence around a rock. I stopped to look and heard:
“Want a hot cocoa?!”

Me: “Do I ever! Yes, please.”

“Bring a cup!”
I set my pack down, dug out my stove for the bottom protective cover of the jetboil which I can use for a cup. As I sat down, a corgi jumped into my lap.

Two ladies were out on a horse packing trip and had some extra food to share; they were Lannie and Tammy.

As we chatted, Lannie whipped up hot cocoa and deliciously soaked in oil tortillas with refried beans. A wonderfully greasy helping was just what I needed. It hit the spot!

We stayed and talked for about two hours. Conversations ranged from thru hiking to NOLS to horses to bear food storage; that’s when we found out that the fence we walked through was electric, so they could just put their food in and turn it on as bear proof food storage…horses are handy creatures to carry such things out into the back country.

After exchanging contact information, we kept hiking another five miles. Fueled with excellent food and company, those miles flew by in comparison to the morning miles.

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After slamming miles in Yellowstone National Park and for the first few days after Togwotee Pass, we finally hit the Winds with the Green River. It was actually green. I checked by jumping in twice in two different locations. It was also quite cold despite the warm sun.
A few miles past the Green River Lakes, we ran into Scout and Frodo.
Scout: “Where are you guys heading to tonight?”

E.D.: “Somewhere right around the junction for the Knapsack Col alternate.”

Frodo: “That’s supposed to have scrambling in it, right? I’m pretty sure Ley mentions that you have to scramble.”

Me: “Yeah, he writes an interesting paragraph about it…sounds awesome!”

Frodo: “Did Scout tell you about the last time he followed Ley’s notes egging you on to climb something extra?”

E.D.: “No, what happened? Where?”

Scout: “Remember Cottonwood Peak in Montana? I did that.”

Me: “The one where he tries to convince you too climb it for about three maps, then provides another zoomed in map of it?”

Scout: “Yeah, that one! I fell and broke a rib. It was so step coming down, it was crazy.”

Frodo: “So, no scrambling for awhile.”
Sometimes when Ley says things on his maps, they can be a little more intense than you’d think. We’ve learned that when he says something is “do-able” it means it can be done, but it will take all damn day and you’ll be exhausted afterward.

 

Green River

We continued on past them, cooked dinner, and started up a climb which was actually nicely switch-backed. Passing amazing small campsites the whole way, we sighed knowing that we’d probably end up with only a thru hiker acceptable campsite near the junction.
As the mountains would have it, it began to rain a bit despite a clear forecast. About half a mile from the junction, we spotted a campsite big enough for two tents right before a tricky creek crossing. Done. Close enough. Jeff and Memphis were probably only half a mile ahead at the junction. We could catch them in the morning, although, they are better at waking up.
That evening, a storm came through that woke me up. I laid on my back and could see the lightening through my closed eyelids, through my tent, and through the tree branches over my tent. Great.
The morning hit, the sky was clear, and the logs and rocks we could have used to get across the creek sketchily, were now wet.
Reluctantly, I plunged in. Starting the day with wet feet is better than ending the day with wet feet. E.D. said she’d be not far behind.
I reached the junction a little further uphill and went through Vista Pass with little difficulty. The sun started to come over the ridge and made it not freezing.
Then, as the trail goes, to go up, you must also go down.
After going down and crossing a stream, the trail bent back upward toward Cube Rock Pass where Ley leaves this wonderful note:
“The trail will disappear in the giant boulders at the bottom of the valley. Don’t despair! Look uphill to your left and see the trail pick back up again. You’ll have to scramble up through three boulders to reach it. Don’t walk all the way up the bottom of the valley… I’ve seen people do that, and…oh, those poor fools.”

 

Cube Rock Pass

I got to the boulder field and saw cairns going both ways. Climbing up, I stopped and stowed my poles on the back of my pack so I could use my hands. The poles would stay there as they are pretty useless when scrambling. And that was only the beginning.
Coming down the other side of Cube Rock Pass, I found Jeff and Memphis by Peak Lake. I stopped and grabbed some water and chatted. They kept going as I ate a snack. As I continued around the lake, I looked back and saw E.D. at the top of Cube Rock Pass at a junction which could take you back to the actual CDT.
I looked at Ley’s map when I got about half a mile past the lake and the trail disappeared. The purple line on the map became dashed. Basically: no trail…just a route.
I read the note that described the whole route again:

“The hike over Knapsack Col is really stunning, possibly one of the most amazing places along the CDT. It does require some tough scrambling east of the Col, so only do it if you’re sure footed on off-trail terrain. The hike on the west side is fairly straightforward. On the east side, there is a bit of rapidly melting glacier. You might be able to stay completely off of it by staying to the north side on boulders. Some boulders may be resting on ice, so use caution as they could shift underfoot (best to stay away from the ice edge). Also, take care to avoid the center of the snow slope below as there is rockfall danger. But all-in-all, this is a very doable route…especially for someone who just walked 1,000+ miles to get here.”

Now there’s a challenge!
I meandered up the valley checking Guthook occasionally to make sure I headed toward the right col. Sometimes a tread would appear for a bit, but then it would disappear again. It would be the first time I was up above 12,000 ft on this trail and I was feeling the slowness around 11,000 ft. Great. However, it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been. I could see two moving dots up in the distance which were Jeff and Memphis, but every time I looked back, I saw no one.

 

Heading up to Knapsack Col

I climbed up higher and higher until Guthook showed the red line going straight upward in front of me, up a gnarly, loose, crazy slope. Looking at it, I didn’t like Guthook’s route, so I picked my own line upward. I laughed to myself a bit when I found some small three rock cairns on the line I picked.

When I finally got to the top, I continually reminded myself that I was only halfway there. Still have to get back down super steep stuff too.

Jeff, Memphis, and I took some pictures and they headed down as I grabbed some snacks. We looked back, but saw no one.

 


I started down slowly, trying to pick my foot placement carefully. I thought the other side was loose, but this side was looser. Occasionally, I’d try and step on something and it all seemed to want to move. I tried to pick the bigger rocks and boulders, but some of them moved too.

I saw Jeff and Memphis at the bottom watching me slowly pick a path down. When I was almost down, Jeff started walking back up without his pack and walked down with me.

The three of us stopped at a wind block where a trail picked back up again, absolutely exhausted. We were about to walk out of the beautiful Titcomb Basin.

We passed the dudes passed out with their stuff scattered around them. They were so passed out that I paused to make sure they were breathing.

Continuing out the basin, we saw an overwhelming amount of people.

We barely made it off of the alternate onto the actual CDT when we decided to camp and pass out ourselves.

The next morning, I woke up with sore legs for the first time on the trail since Glacier and we found E.D. sleeping in about a mile further.

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On the way into Yellowstone, there was a strange junction that threw us all for a loop. We had to make a left on a “road” which was blocked by large berms and small lodgepole pines. Jeff and Memphis managed to find it. E.D., and I missed it by .3 and had to walk back. Scallywag and The Darkness missed it by a lot and didn’t catch up to us that day.
E.D. and I found the tricky spring and kept heading toward the Yellowstone border and subsequently, the Wyoming border. When we reached the end of the Macks Inn alternate, we stopped for a break and heard voices. We thought it was The Darkness and Scallywag, but it was Tails and Chaps! They had hauled and managed to catch us! We were very excited to see them and we hiked closely together for both borders.

They went to camp at Summit Lake while we stealth camped right before it. In the morning, we didn’t see them, but found Memphis.

E.D., Memphis and I walked the 14 miles into the zoo that is Old Faithful and went toward the backcountry office for permits. However, when we got there, something we did not expect happened.
Ranger Lady: “Sooooo…we don’t have any permits for you. Everything on the CDT is booked up…”

 

Memphis: “What would you like us to do then?”

Ranger Lady: “Camp in designated areas only and ask people if you can share their campsite…”
We all looked at each other. Ok…

After about an hour of going back and forth, she gave us a permit for a campsite 12 miles out from a no show, then an admin site 13 miles later (because we’re totally going to only do 13 miles…) and then a site somewhere on Heart Lake 10 miles later.

We decided to stick to the permit the first night, then use her suggestion for bumming onto a campsite for the next night, then getting out of the park and it’s regulations the third night. However, we couldn’t just show up empty handed and bum onto a campsite…so we picked up a handle of fireball at the general store and split it into two plastic bottles to carry out as bribery.

After watching Old Faithful and the zoo of humans watching it through their screens instead of their eyeballs, we found Scallywag and The Darkness at another general store. We were on our way out and they said they’d be twenty minutes behind us.

The hiking flew by. The miles were easy with hardly any real climbing. We passed a geyser field that was actually way cooler than the Old Faithful area and with NO people. Amazing!

We were making good time, when we hit a marsh a mile before the campsite. It was a field of ankle deep water with no good way around. Again came a major theme of the CDT…wet feet.

Plunging in, the cold water infiltrated our socks with no hope of drying because the sun had just set. Occasionally, in the middle of this marshy stuff, an actual creek would flow through and a board would appear to cross it. Not that a board was necessary when one has to step up out of ankle deep water to step onto it.

After the marsh, we threw our poles down and took a shot of fireball. The warm whiskey went down so well and made us both feel better.

When we found the campsite, we also found Memphis and we cooked a late dinner.

The next day, the weather turned to shit. According to our permit, we only had to do 13 miles. Easy miles. Right.

The storms and rain seemed to come in waves. There was no point in putting on dry socks to walk in the rain, so we all put the wet socks back on. If you’ve ever had to put on cold, wet socks, you’ll understand the frustration.

We started running into a slew of nobos. Despite the fairly constant waves of rain, we always stood there with our packs on and swapped beta for about 200 miles in either direction. One of the major points immediately south of us was a ford that the Ley map said could potentially be chest deep. It was ankle deep. Maybe Ley just went for a swim in the lake instead of crossing the outlet stream.

In hardly any time, we got to the “admin” site assigned on our permit near the road. The road that went to Grant Village…which has food…and beer…it was lunch time…

We went toward the road and decided to try hitching there for fifteen minutes and see if we could get a ride. If not, we’d hike on. Memphis spotted the parking lot nearby and suddenly yelled over that he’d yogi’ed a ride.

After a good lunch, we got a ready hitch back from a couple hard of hearing from Missouri. We had about half an hour of dry hiking when the rain came back.

Later in the evening, after getting soaked for hours, we found a ranger cabin without the ranger (conveniently) and we cooked on the porch.

The three of us moved on to try and find a campsite that we could share with someone else.
We took a right down a side trail toward a campsite and the damn side trail was about a half mile off. When we saw the people there, who looked utterly confused, we explained ourselves. Then we offered fireball.

Dude: “Oh shit! Christina forgot hers! She’ll be so happy!”

Other dude: “Cool, we’ve got some Maker’s too!”

A mutual stand around and drink whiskey from assorted containers happened with friendly conversation and we shared the campsite. Note: diffuse situations in the woods by sharing whiskey.

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We decided in the end to take the Macks Inn alternate although Scallywag was not happy about it. It included a bunch of road walking but did pass right by a hot tub.

The first mile of the alternate split off on a nice trail around Lillian Lake, but quickly dissolved into what Guthook called the “trail-bushwhack transition” for four miles going up Hell Roaring Creek.

First of all, Hell Roaring Creek looked like chocolate milk. Second of all, we had to cross a giant marsh to get to better ground…wet feet again.

Scallywag had gotten ahead of us and we didn’t see him until the end of the day. Jeff, E.D., The Darkness, and I plodded our way through the creek and found boots and pieces of a trail or herd paths and we slipped and slided around in thick mud and leftover marble sized hail.

It took forever. We found bits of trail, then lost them over and over again. The sides of the creek were covered in burs which ripped at socks and knee braces. Occasionally, I’d stop and pick them off when they covered the majority of my knee braces only to find them recovered minutes later.
On the plus side, we did find a clear stream which fed into the chocolate milk water and the valley was actually quite beautiful.

There was actually less bushwhacking here than there was on many other parts of “trail.”

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