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Posts Tagged ‘sunrise’

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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My alarm went off at 3:30am.  I hit snooze.  The moon, however, had other plans.  Bright and full, it felt like someone stood above my tent with a head lamp.  My alarm went off at 3:40am.  This time I got up, stumbling out of my tent and filled a bowl with granola and almond milk.  As I munched, I pondered the map again.  I wandered over to the area in the dirt where a local rancher sketched another map in the dirt.  He wandered over around 8pm on a four wheeler with two dogs running behind.  I politely declined his offer of firewood telling him I planned to wake up early and hike up Sleeping Indian.  The locals all refer to the mountain as Sleeping Indian because from a lateral view, you can see a naturally carved headdress, a nose, then arms folded over the chest, then the belly down to the knees.  On a map, the summit says “Sheep Mountain” instead due to the amount of bighorn sheep in the area.  He told me to ignore the trail head and hike right next to his fence.  He mentioned that a lot of people get lost and end up hiking up East Minor Creek instead of the ridge.  His map, sketched into the dirt told me not to take the first left or the second left, but the third.

As I finished my granola, I switched the batteries in my headlamp.  While the moon helped significantly, I still would need the headlamp for the dense conifer areas.  Throwing my pack on, I walked over to the fence and began following it at 4am.  Knowing a bear had become too accustomed to humans at a nearby lake, I scanned my surroundings extra carefully.  I found the first left the rancher told me not to take.  That one, I could have figured out having not crossed two creeks yet.

The trail went into a dense conifer section with the fence a little further away and met up with the forest service trail.  Crrrrruuuuunch! EYEBALLS.  I froze, hand on my bear spray.  I watched the eyeballs and the eyeballs watched me, glaring in the light of my headlamp.  It sounded like a deer and the eyeballs were about the height of a deer.  We watched each other for another minute, then I slowly began to pass it.  Not something I felt like thinking about at 4:15 in the morning, but now I felt fully awake.

I hiked on and started to hike down toward the riparian area around East Minor Creek.  I paused noting the loudness of the creek, the thick willows, and the Gros Ventre mud.  The loud creek could muffle the sound of wildlife and the willows could obscure wildlife, not to mention that the riparian areas usually have the most wildlife.  Now, Gros Ventre mud has a mind of its own.  It has the power to stick to your feet like nothing else I have ever encountered.

I proceeded slowly, one hand holding my hiking poles and the other on my bear spray.  No eyeballs.  A log conveniently laid across the creek just like the old rancher said on his map drawn in the dirt.  The trail went up and over a tiny ridge.  On one of the switchbacks, a trail shot off to the left again like the rancher had said.  I figured if people get lost, they probably took that trail because East Minor Creek had two braids.

I continued and plunged down into the second riparian area around West Minor Creek.  The vegetation seemed thicker around this creek and I hiked slowly.  The Gros Ventre Mud became thicker and mushier.  After the creek, the trail showed no human footprints — only ungulate footprints (moose, elk, deer).  Great.  Still no more eyeballs.

I went upward again and crossed a very small creek.  I still saw no human footprints.  Then right around where I thought the junction should take off, the trail forked.  No signs.  I decided to follow the one that I thought would go to the lake for a few minutes to make sure I needed to go the opposite way.  When I saw the swamp and the mud became even thicker, I knew to go back and take the other fork.  On the way back, fifteen feet from the fork on the Grizzly Lake side, I saw two signs bolted to a tree.

From the fork, the trail went steeply upward along a very slim ridge.  I felt better in the thick conifers away from the water.  At least there, I could hear better.  About three quarters of a mile up, I crossed into the Gros Ventre Wilderness.  Not long after, I found a viewpoint where I could see the nose of Sleeping Indian as well as the sunrise to the east.  I sat down and watched the sunrise while eating a good old cliff bar.  My watch said I had climbed about 1000 feet already – only 3200 vertical feet to go!

I continued down the trail and the ridge slowly became wider and wider.  The conifers began to give way to large meadows covered in wildflowers: Indian Paintbrush, Harebells, Brown-Eyed Susans, Canadian Thistles, and so many more.  I could tell that water flowed down the trail because it indented in the middle.  Meadow after meadow, I finally made my way up to the pyramid shaped cairn marking the descent to Blue Minor Lake.  I stopped there and ate quite a large helping of cashews while I examined the map.  The trail stopped at the lake, but one of our faculty at TSS had provided me with beta on how to proceed from exactly where I sat.

“Don’t go down to the lake” he said, “just continue to follow that ridge and you’ll find a climber’s trail that goes up to the knees of Sleeping Indian.  From the knees, you can make your way up to the belly, then onto the arms.  You probably do not want to go adventuring on the nose; its very unstable scree and messy over there.”

Blue Minor Lake

Blue Minor Lake

The lake shown a brilliant blue and I could see the arms of Sleeping Indian above it. I saw no climber’s trail from there, but went where I thought I would put a trail to follow the ridge back up.  Low and behold, about two minutes later, I saw three rocks stacked up and a rough climber’s trail.  How convenient!

As the wildflowers increased, I watched the lake.  Then, I heard the very distinct sound of a red-tailed hawk.  Stopping, I searched the skies above, only to find it gliding below me, its orange-red tail glistening in the sun.  I have never stood above a red tail hawk before and took in every minute of it.

Soon, I hit the end of the ridge I walked and went onto the knees of Sleeping Indian where I heard something else I did not expect: running water!  A divot in the long ridge that made up the body of the Sleeping Indian had a stream in it!  Some pink snow fed the stream.  I just had 1,200 more vertical feet!

The climber’s trail seemed to end there.  I picked a path with the most rocks to walk on and made my way toward the arms.  Here and there a cairn would pop up with about 20 feet of something resembling a trail, but then they always ended.  I had a clear sight line to the arms, so I just proceeded up there.

The arms of the Sleeping Indian reminded me of a lot of peaks in Colorado.  The end inevitably became much steeper and some sort of path cut through the talus and winded its way up to the summit.  The last push!

Summit photo toward the Tetons in my Teva Sandals!

Summit photo toward the Tetons in my Teva Sandals!

Reaching the top, I had sweeping views of the Gros Ventres, the Tetons, the Jackson Hole valley, Jackson peak, Mt. Leidy, and so much more.  I dutifully took lots of pictures and scarfed up a bagel with peanut butter and honey.  At only 10:30am, I had already hiked 11 miles and 4,200 ft of elevation.  Not too shabby!

After a solid break on top, I reversed the route.  I ran into a father daughter team who had camped at Blue Minor Lake the night before and went up to the summit in the morning.  Other than that, I ran into no one until I got down toward West Minor Creek.  There, a group of five people with large packs passed me.

“Did you go up Sleeping Indian?” one asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “It’s amazing!”

“In a day?” another asked.

“Yeah…” I said.  After all, my watch only read 3pm.

“You know,” one started also looking at her watch, “Most people do it as an overnight backpack via this route.”

“Huh.  It was a good long day,” I said as we finished passing each other.

View from the summit of Sleeping Indian toward the Gros Ventres

View from the summit of Sleeping Indian toward the Gros Ventres

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