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Posts Tagged ‘lightening’

As we piled into the Travel Lodge, we dropped our packs, had a beer and went to stuff ourselves full of AYCE Asian medley food. We topped it off with a continuation of a TLC binge.

We hid from the rain in the motel room which was conveniently next to a Wal-Mart. At one point, we gave up on relying on our shells and bought $5 umbrellas. Life instantly became better.

While we looked at the bleak forecast of rain and thunderstorms on and off for days, we browsed the CDT facebook page for information . Patch had just posted very snowy pictures of Cumbres Pass. The rain suddenly looked better and better.

The Mumms came to the motel with our packages and wonderfully gave us a full water report for the upcoming windmills.

Easily Distracted picking up a tarantula.

In the morning, after breakfast and lunch and a slow meander, we left Grants headed toward the Bonita-Zuni Canyon to cross El Maipais. We found some more tarantulas, used the umbrellas on and off, and we had some entertaining conversations relating to absolutely nothing.

One conversation had gotten pretty in depth between The Darkness, E.D., and Crosby. So in depth, in fact, that they missed the left turn into the next canyon and kept walking.

Wonderer and I were about 200 feet behind them. We yelled. They kept walking. We “cooed.” They kept walking. Wonderer made high pitched noises. They kept walking. I pulled out my phone and called The Darkness.

The Darkness: Are you kidding me? You’re calling me?

Me: You’re going the wrong way.

They all stop.

The Darkness: Really?

Me: Turn around. Wonderer and I are at the turn.

The Darkness: Oh shit. Ok.

They walked toward us. When they got to us, we took the turn and found a good stealth spot for the evening.

The privy. Photo credit: Crosby

In the morning, we wandered toward El Maipais watching the increasing threats of thunderstorms from multiple directions. We got to the edge of the park at lunch, so we began eating lunch at the picnic table while we assessed the possibility of crossing the 7.5 miles of lava in increasingly inevitable thunderstorms. It began to rain. We moved into the privy. All five of us fit in the well-maintained privy. As the storm lightened, two park rangers opened the door and looked extremely confused.

E.D.: Oh sorry, we can hop out. We were hiding from the thunderstorm.

Ranger #1: We just need to clean it quickly.

We all bunched into the overhang outside of the privy and talked to the rangers about how to cross.

Ranger #2: Well that storm will hit you, probably half way across. That storm over the ridge may hit you, it may not. That storm way over there probably won’t hit you. But that main one there looks the biggest, will definitely hit you, and there could be another wave right behind it.

Ranger #1: Six park employees have been struck by lightening here. Two of which were in this parking lot actually.

Ranger #2: There is iron in the lava that attracts the lightening.

Great. Thunder cracked. The rangers left. We moved back into the privy. The rain got heavier than the first storm. Then the hail started. Marble sized hail pelted the ground and filled the increasingly large puddles everywhere. As Wonderer sat on the closed toilet seat eating a jar of jiffy spreadable cheesecake, we watched large lightening bolts hit the lava on the trail.

Wonderer: Why do Americans eat this?

Crosby: No one I know does…

Me: I’ve never seen it before…

The Darkness: Have you seen fluff yet?

E.D.: That looks interesting…

After multiple hours with all five of us in the privy and the weather not improving, we decided to hitch back to Grants. At a break in the storms with more pending, we managed to snag two rides into town and we all piled back into the Travel Lodge.

The Darkness turned on TLC to continue our marathon abilities. Being Sunday, the TLC marathon was sister wives, a worse show than normal. After five hours of sister wives, Wonderer finally spoke up.

Wonderer: What is the plot to this show?

The Darkness: There is no plot…it’s just their lives.

Wonderer: Hmmmm.

E.D.: Yeah…

In the morning, we plotted to wander out again to the other side of the lava to avoid the still present thunderstorms.

Between storms.

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Once we got off of the paved roads and the dirt roads, the CDT became its usual self of being a trail then disappearing, then reappearing, then disappearing. It liked to disappear right around dark and Guthook would just have a note that said, “follow cairns.” Easy enough, usually, in daylight. Tougher with headlamps, but do-able for a bit.

 

Sunset

The CDT hit some amazing ridgelines that offered stunning views and even more stunning sunsets and sunrises. The ridges all soared above treeline, except when we needed to get over to another ridge.

On one such ridgeline, we lost the trail in the dark. After having already lost it and found it several times, we decided to just camp and find it in the morning. According to Guthook and Gaia, we were on trail, but there was no tread. Classic. We were supposed to contour down to a saddle, which would be easier if we could see some tread in the daylight.

Conveniently, the top of that ridge had just enough internet to check the weather. Of course, the prediction: severe thunderstorms starting around noon the next day throughout the afternoon.

I checked the elevation profile on Guthook to see how exposed we’d be. Guthook showed a startlingly steep climb up and over Parkview mountain with about five miles totally exposed. Thrilling.

I switched to Ley’s maps to see the bigger area. He noted a forest service road as a “thunderstorm avoidance route” which was nine miles compared to five, but the dirt road would keep us between 10,000 and 10,600 and still below treeline. If the storm became bad, at least we would have somewhere to hunker down.

We had a solid eight miles or so to the junction which would place us there right before the thunderstorms would probably hit.

Ducking down for the road, we stopped and ate an early lunch while it wasn’t raining. Eating lunch in the rain is the worst. While we sat there and moved multiple bars into easy access places for the storm, an ATV roared up. Atop it sat a hunter completely in camo with a gun on his hip belt and a very large bow strapped to the back. He stopped to chat. The same general hunter/hiker conversation began.

Hunter: “See any elk recently?”

Me: “Not since Wyoming.”

Hunter: “You all have hiked here from Wyoming?!”

Me: “We started in Canada, actually.”

E.D.: “We’re thru-hiking the continental divide.”

Hunter: “So…where’d ya’ll park?”

Memphis: “We don’t have a car…we walked.”

Hunter: “From Canada…”

Memphis: “Yeah…”

Hunter: “So you parked in Canada?”

Memphis: “No…”

Hunter: “hmmph. Where ya going?”

Me: “Mexico.”

Hunter: Blank stare. “Huh.”

After lunch, we walked up the rough dirt road and within fifteen minutes, we had to scramble to throw on rain gear. The rain, which came quick and fast, shifted into hail almost as quickly. Thinking it would only last a few minutes then return to rain, we ducked under a conifer tree. A few minutes went by. The hail continued with equal voracity. Damn. We gave up cover and just walked in it, leaning forward and guarding our hands. The hail stings when it hits exposed skin.

 

Some of the hail.

The hail continued for upwards of half an hour while thunder boomed nearby and we caught occasional flashes of lightening when we weren’t staring at our feet to avoid hail to the face. The storm did let up on the hail, but the rain kept up for about five more hours. We had to keep moving to keep warm; if we stopped, we would become too cold. I kept reminding myself that it could be worse…we could be higher and more exposed through the lightening.

We got back to the trail and crossed a road. Memphis decided that we were camping early because it was his birthday. I came to the conclusion that trail birthdays on the CDT were cursed because of the storm that day and the thundersnow on Scallywag’s birthday.

 

The fog after the rain.

I didn’t particularly want to stop early because I wanted to get over Bowen Pass the next day before any more storms invariably came in to drench us, but it’s hard to argue with the birthday line and it did feel good to lay down.

The next morning, we did have to haul ass to get over to and up the pass with storms forming in the distance. It was a long climb, but not horrendously steep, so with some loud electronic music, it went quickly.

E.D. surged ahead and Memphis took awhile on the downhill. I accidentally scared the shit out of some day hikers who didn’t hear me approach until I said, “Hi” behind them in an attempt to pass.

I found E.D. chilling under a privy porch cooking ramen while it misted. The main storm had passed, but a bit continued now and then. After we called the hostel in Grand Lake, to let them know we’d be coming in a bit late, we trudged through the last few miles where we saw about 25 elk in two groups.

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The border demarcation

Hitting the Wyoming/Colorado border just before sunset, E.D., Memphis, and I ate dinner and celebrated with some Fireball.  We had completed Wyoming in just over three weeks with only one zero in our attempt to speed up and hopefully beat the snow through the San Juans.

The border itself only had a “Wyoming State Line” sign, but other hikers had delineated the border with rocks spelling out “WY” and “CO.”  This also roughly marked our halfway point, which was a scary thought.  We had begun to notice a distinct and steady decrease in daylight already as we headed further south and knew that it would continue the rest of the trip.

We may have hit the Fireball a little hard which decreased our desire to go too much further from the border.  Lucky for us, a great campsite appeared only about 100 ft into Colorado and we dry camped.

In the morning, we happily walked  further into Colorado on the lookout for Frost heading north. We found him not too far into the day and the four of us did the typical stand around and talk number with our packs on. Swapping beta for the next two hundred miles in either direction, we set off toward the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness.

 

Before reaching the wilderness though, we had to walk on some ATV trails on the first day of elk hunting season. I thanked myself for having a blaze orange hiker trash hat and bright orange backpack.

 

Most of the hunters were pretty friendly despite their loud, smelly ATVs.

 

Hunter: “Have you seen any elk lately?”

Me: “In Wyoming…”

Hunter: “My permit doesn’t go that far…and neither does this ATV trail…”

 

I wondered if he’d considered that the elk could probably hear his ATV.

 

Finally, we hit the wilderness boundary and magically, the number of hunters decreased drastically to almost none. Apparently, walking and packing out the rack and meat is too hard for most hunters.

 

As we looked at the wilderness boundary sign, we noticed that there was a mountain named “Big Agnes” and another spot called “Seedhouse.” Thus, we discovered the inspiration for the names of our tents!

 

The Mt. Zirkel Wilderness threw us up quickly toward 12,000 ft near Lost Ranger Peak, then had us stay high above 11,000 ft for quite a few miles. We had gotten a glimpse of the weather forecast part way up and the afternoon showed thunderstorms scheduled to roll in.

 

View from atop Lost Ranger Peak

Making it over Lost Ranger Peak with no storms, we had lunch and kept trucking trying to get over all the 11,000+ ft bumps, but alas, the first storm hit as we were popping over an 11,600 ft bump where there was no cover. Quickly throwing on poor rain gear, we kept going hoping for the best because going back wasn’t any better than going forward.

 

Memphis had gotten ahead of E.D. and I, and we had no idea where he was.

 

The first storm cleared relatively quickly, but others loomed on the horizon as threatening dark blobs of impending discomfort. We began to aim for Buffalo Pass, where we would exit the wilderness and we suspected a privy might exist.

 

About three miles from Buffalo Pass, storms began to merge together blocking out the sun. We found Memphis throwing on rain gear and we all looked warily at the sky. The thunder progressively got louder and the lightening flashes began to get brighter.

 

We were pretty accustomed to getting shit on by the sky, but this storm system seemed to be worse than usual. Needing to get lower, we sped up as we plunged down toward Buffalo Pass, fingers crossed for a privy.

 

About a mile away and the gap between the thunder and the lightening had shortened to about five seconds. E.D. had shot ahead and I began jogging, using my trekking poles to both propel myself forward and also prevent myself from face planting on the rocks.

 

Three second gap from flash to boom.

 

Two second gap.

 

PRIVY! E.D. peered out from the side of it, watching for us. I bee-lined for it and jumped under the covered, overhanging area. Some shelter is better than no shelter. Lightening kept lighting up the sky and the rain began to pour sideways. Memphis popped in and the three of us watched the storm from the privy while cooking dinner.

 

Eventually, the thunder and lightening eased up, but the rain continued in varying amounts and angles.

 

Near the end of our dinner, a large SUV pulled up into the parking lot and four Texans got out. They looked confused and began setting up their tent right next to their massive vehicle on the gravel. But…they didn’t know how to set it up. And…they did not seem too friendly. After an amusing twenty minutes of watching them fail to set up their tent, one walked over to us and scowled.

 

Texan: “What’re y’all doin’?”

Memphis: “Getting out of the storm…”

Texan: “Well, I drove 1,500 miles to get here”

We all exchanged glances.

Memphis: “I walked 2,000 miles…we’re just in the overhang eating dinner.”

Texan: “Well, ya can’t camp in a public shitter!”

 

Riiiight. The Texan subsequently went and took a very loud, twenty minute shit. We stood in the overhang and cleaned out our dinner pots and discussed options for dealing with the rest of the storm that seemed to be subsiding a bit. I took every opportunity to burp while the Texan occupied the privy. Memphis just fumed about.

 

We could all agree that we didn’t want to camp close to those idiots, so we waited for the rain to stop, then went toward the lake and found a spot to camp in the trees.

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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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