Archive for July, 2016

Sunday, July 31 Shabbat

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

SUMMARY:  Up here in the mountains at Lava Mountain Lodge, there are no churches, but we certainly enjoyed a peaceful Shabbat (Sabbath) rest. Yes, there were a few chores—laundry and sorting food—but mostly just lying down resting and reading the Bible. I enjoyed reading stuff from Ephesians, where Paul (who wrote it) was praying for his fellow believers in Ephesus, “that you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe…that he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man…and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.” Yeah! That’s exactly what I needed to hear as we head back to the CDT tomorrow.

I wish I could say that the fire crews got a break today, too, but no. Just south of us, on the other side of a ridge, the smoke got seriously ugly—great billows of orangey brown. The guests here were all watching it and taking pictures. Fortunately, the wind is blowing it away from us. Now to bed, and the trail tomorrow. Lava Mountain Lodge has been absolutely wonderful!

DETAILS:  We decided on a zero here–it’s so cheap to rent the little cabin, and there is good food, too.  So I lazed in bed for awhile, then went up to the store to get some breakfast (the restaurant is open lunch/dinner).   No problem putting together a great breakfast of muffins, breakfast burritos, juice and coffee!  When I went to pay for it, wow!  Two other thru hikers walked in, looking like they had been run over by a truck, with sort of a glazed look on their faces.  When I heard what happened, I could understand why.  I think they were the two hikers we saw early in the morning yesterday.

One of the hikers is named “Zorro” because he’s from Spain.  Yesterday, they were on the CDT alternate trail, which they said was indeed very bad and overgrown.  Zorro had just pushed his way through a bunch of bushes and finally got out in the clear (the other hiker guy was up ahead of him).  Zorro said, “Then I heard a crunch and crash in the bushes behind me.  I turned to see what it was, and it was a GRIZZLY BEAR, running right at me!”  He said he instantly threw himself to the ground, facedown and he said, “I pray ‘Oh God forgive my sins’–I thought I was going to die.”

The grizzly ran….right OVER him!  It left claw holes in his pack and muddy tracks!  And then it kept running as fast as it could, out of sight!  Zorro said he just lay there for awhile and finally got up, very grateful to still be alive.  As he was telling me about all this, he actually did turn quite pale, and I could see that even just thinking about it was still scary for him.  His friend was equally concerned.  But Zorro said this will not stop him from finishing the CDT!  Go, Zorro!   But I privately said to God, “THANK YOU again that we did NOT have to do that alternate route!   It could have been Fixit or I getting run over, instead of Zorro.”

(Note: The story of what happened…”Zorro got run over by a GRIZZ!!” was soon spread far & wide in the “hiker grapevine”!)

Since I had the whole day off from hiking, I alternated between doing “chores” and just lying down to rest and read the Bible.  For lunch, Fixit and I each ate a big hot fudge sundae.  Yum! And being able to read the Bible was a big help, too.  At night, in our tent, I always read a little bit, but am often so tired that I don’t read much.  Today, I could read as much as I wanted.  Awesome!  It was a wonderful Shabbat (Sabbath rest).

But about an hour after lunch, the fire across the river and down to the south took an ugly turn.  Great billows of orange/brown/gray smoke rose high into the sky, and were being fanned by the wind–AWAY from us, fortunately!.  At the laundry room this morning, I was talking to another guest, a lady who said the USFS will not allow their fire crews to go IN to areas where there are a lot of “snags” (dead trees) because of the danger that the snags will fall on them.  And so much of the forest here is “snags”, that the crews are very limited in what they can actually do, and are mostly just dropping water etc. out of helicopters, while the guys hang out near buildings to protect the buildings, should they be threatened by the fire.

The general attitude of the locals here is to show strong support and gratefulness to the fire crews.  Yesterday when Fixit and I were eating dinner, a bunch of fire crew guys came in, looking very tired and very dirty (hmmmm, just like us thruhikers!) and they devoured the BBQ dinner and a couple of beers, before heading back to their staging area.  The Lava Mountain Lodge has a “Thank you Fire Crews!” sign out front.

Fixit and I had the BBQ dinner again tonight (it is great!) before sitting on the porch of the cabin awhile, then  going to bed.  We feel like we are ready to tackle the CDT again tomorrow!



Saturday, July 30 Miracle Along the Road; LAVA MOUNTAIN LODGE

Saturday, July 30th, 2016

SUMMARY:  Last night we studied our maps plus info we’d gotten from other hikers, and decided that the best thing to do was what Tatoo Joe had suggested– leave the CDT at Union Pass, then hike FR263 + Hwy 26 to Lava Mountain Lodge, where our box was. We got to the turnoff, and were 45 minutes along on FR 263 when we found it blocked with a “Road Closed–Fire Activity” sign. Oh no! There was no sign of fire—blue skies, no smoke. The notices on the sign were a week old.

I said, “Let’s go on—it will be fine.” Fixit said, “No, that would be disobeying their sign. Back to the trail,” and off he went. I hesitated by the sign, very sad, and suddenly (I’m not sure what was going on) I felt completely overwhelmed, and could hardly breathe. I prayed a very incoherent prayer for help, and stumbled along after Fixit, who was now way ahead.

A few minutes later God answered my desperate cry– along came a ranger in a truck, who offered us food and maps and best of all, told us “Go on—it’s OK to walk FR 263.” So we did—the last bit we did ride with a firefighter, and walked very smoky Hwy 26 to Lava Mountain Lodge.

DETAILS:  Brrrr, it was cold this morning!  Our tent was covered with ice, and on the inside, condensation covered the walls and was on our sleeping bags, too.   The sky was clear and blue–not a trace of smoke.  We wondered “What’s with the fire?  We should be getting close enough to see something of it by now.”  We bundled up in our down jackets and mittens to begin the day hiking through sagebrush and prairie, listening to a constant chorus of cows mooing, but we couldn’t see them at first.  Then at the top of a rise, Fixit needed to head offtrail to “dig a hole” as we hikers say, and as I was sitting to wait for him, I finally spotted the cows–a very long line of them, all walking west.  I could not believe how many there were–the line seemed endless.

Awhile later, when it had warmed up a bit, we stopped for breakfast on a hill overlooking a little valley.  On the other side, we spotted 2 hikers packing up and heading out. (We met them later at Lava Mtn. Lodge–whew, did they have an adventure waiting for them!! More on that, later!)  It didn’t take long  before we reached FR 263 at Union Pass.  At that point, the CDT route up ahead would be forced onto an alternate route by the fire closure, and the alternate would force us to go all the way up to Togwotee Pass, then we’d have to hike “backwards” along the road to Lava Mtn. Lodge.  We’d heard that the alternate was really overgrown and nasty.  Tatoo Joe, who hiked the CDT last year, had said that we’d soon be in a big blowdown section where the trail was really hard to follow.   So we were happy to turn off onto the fire road, and head for Hwy. 26–going that way would be much more direct.

But oh no!  After 45 minutes of walking along the fire road, we came to a sign “Road Closed:  Fire Activity.”  I looked at the map the Pinedale rangers had given to me, which showed exactly where the fire was, and it was nowhere near FR 263.  We looked at the footprints on the fire road–it looked like a lot of people had done what we were doing, but had turned around and headed back at the “Road Closed” sign.  There was a phone number on the sign to call for information, so we gave it a try, but could not get any service on our cell phone.  I said, “This is crazy.  There is not one sign of a fire, and my ranger map says the fire is nowhere near this road.  And this sign is over a week old.”  But Fixit shook his head.  “No, we’d better obey the sign,” he said.  “Why?” was my response.  “Think how many times we have walked right by ‘trail closed’ or ‘road closed’ signs when we are hiking, and we never had a problem.  The rangers just stick signs up to avoid liability issues.  We’ve always ignored these signs before.”

But Fixit was determined.  “No, we’d better go back to the CDT”.  I protested, “But you heard what the CDT is like up ahead–we are already low on food.  We don’t have enough to make it through blowdowns and losing trail and overgrown trail.  And the Garmin won’t help, because it doesn’t have the alternate route in it.”  “Too bad,” said Fixit.  “We are going back.”  And he turned around and started walking back toward the CDT.

I stood very sadly by the “Road Closed” sign, thinking, “Oh please, God, help!”   Suddenly I felt completely overwhelmed by a horrendous feeling of despair.  I felt like a tidal wave was sweeping over me–running out of food, climbing over blowdowns, losing the trail, pushing through bushes with the grizzly bears, not making it to Canada before the snow….etc.  It was awful.  I felt as if I could hardly breathe or move.  And in the middle of all that I was kicking myself with “Am I just being a big baby and whining because I can’t go the way we’d planned on?  Bad me, bad me!”

But Fixit was already way off along the road, so all I could do was stumble after him, gasping for breath, and praying a very desperate, very incoherent cry to God that went something like, “Oh Father, I don’t know what’s happening to me…please, please, either send someone to tell us it’s OK to walk the road, or give me strength to face this.  I just can’t go on like this…I can’t do it….help, please help!”

Well, God wasted no time in answering!  Only a few minutes later, along came a dark red pickup truck, coming toward us.  Fixit, who was way ahead of me, completely ignored it as it sped past, but I  thought, “Thank you, God!   Thank you!”  and planted myself in the middle of the road to make the truck stop.  I went to the driver and asked if he had a cell phone so we could try calling to see if it was OK to go around the Road Closed sign.  He said, “No, I don’t have a phone, but I have a radio.”  And that’s when I noticed he was wearing a USFS shirt.  It turned out that he was the ranger stationed at Lake of the Woods nearby!

The ranger said, “I have a good map that shows you how to walk around the fire on fire roads, but it’s back at the ranger station.  You guys just keep walking, back past the Road Closed sign, and I will catch up with you. Oh, and do you need any food?”  We said, “Yes, please!”  So we turned back toward the sign, and he headed back to the lake.  We passed the sign, kept walking, and awhile later, along came the ranger again, with a map.  It turned out that he thought we (like pretty much most of the CDT hikers) were headed for Dubois, and he was going to show us how to get there, but we explained that we were headed for Lava Mountain Lodge.  “OK, no problem,” he said.  “Just stay on 263.  You might see some fire people when you get close to Hwy 26, and they might want to escort you, but you’ll be fine.”  And then he gave us a whole loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, which he said was from a camper who was heading home early.   Then he left.

So with great rejoicing, (and on my part, MANY “thank you’s” to God!!) we walked along FR 263, climbing up over a ridge, and then heading down the other side.  We stopped for lunch and ate peanut butter sandwiches, yum!  And we had a garage sale, so all our condensation-dampened gear got nice and dry in the sun.   Resuming the hike, we were having a great time walking through very green forest under clear blue skies with no sign of fire, when awhile later, along came a USFS guy in a truck.  We told him we were headed for Hwy 26.  “OK,” he said, and off he went.  But awhile later, he was back.  He told us he’d reported meeting us and been ordered to escort us down.  “Escort” is the term for, “Get in my truck, and I’m gonna take you off my turf!”  So we obediently climbed in and rode with him a bit.  According to our map, it didn’t look like we had far to go before reaching Hwy. 26, but it turned out that the map did not show a LOT of switchbacking in the road, so it was a longer distance than we expected.  Along the way, there were many cabins and houses, all empty (they had been evacuated because of the fire).

Soon we began seeing smoke haze in the air, and the guy dropped us off at one of the “staging areas” for the firefighters.  A retired firefighter gave us a lift for the last bit down to the highway.  So actually, if we had not met the first guy, we could have walked at least all the way to the staging area before being “escorted.”  The retired guy was very interesting.  He’s too old now to actually go out on the fire lines, but he still likes being there, so he does a lot of support help, as a volunteer.  In this case, he gave us a ride.

We turned north and started walking right toward the fire, along Hwy. 26.  The smoke got worse and worse.  The firefighters are using the various ranches along the way as staging areas.  Helicopters were coming and going, dropping stuff on the fire, which seemed to be spread out for quite a way, and was often quite close to the highway.  But the Wind River was between the fire and the highway, so I guess they figured the highway was safe.  We stopped to eat supper (yum, more peanut butter sandwiches!!) at the Tie Hack Memorial.  A couple came along in a car and stopped to talk–it turned out they have done the AT!  They gave us some water, which we were very glad to get, since we were just about out.

By about 7 pm, we had reached Lava Mountain Lodge, where we rented a cabin (very cheap!  nice!), took showers, and had a great BBQ dinner before collapsing.   Fixit said that before they would rent him the cabin, he had to sign a paper saying that if we had to suddenly evacuate due to the fire, we would not get our money back for the cabin rental.  The whole Lava Mtn. Lodge is under a “stage two” alert, which means that they have to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.  “Stage 3” is “Evacuate NOW!”   The fire is right across the river from the Lodge.

All I can say is “Lord, thank you for letting me know again how much You love me.”   I think if I have learned anything so far from this hike, it’s the fact that over and over again, God is saying to us, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”  Thank You!

Friday, July 29 Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Friday, July 29th, 2016

SUMMARY:  As I got ready to hike this morning, for the first time, I put a bear bell on my trek pole. So now, it’s jingle, jingle as I walk along.

(Note:  Later on, once we got to know the locals who LIVE in grizz country, they laughed at our bear bells.  “We call those ‘dinner bells,'” they said.  “The bears hear them and are curious.  What you want to do is every time you’re heading into bushes or thick forest, MAKE NOISE.  Yell.  Sing.  Whatever.  That way the bears know you are a hiker and will leave. And if you do see a grizz, sit down and act relaxed.”

But the only large, hump-shouldered dark-furred critter I saw all day was an Angus bull, right by the trail. We spent this morning walking up the gorgeous Green River valley. I would rate it right up there with Yosemite Valley—huge cliffs with impressive mountains up behind them, and the Green River as it gradually widens into 2 lakes, with happy campers and kayakers.

Then we had a long and sometimes horrendously steep climb over to the Roaring Fork River valley. Now we’re heading north through meadows and forests we share with the cows.

DETAILS:  Not long after we started this morning, we got to cross the Green River on a nice log bridge.  And it is still green in color.  We found out later that it’s because the Green is a GLACIER melt river, not just ordinary snow melt.  We passed some backpacker camps, but nobody was up yet.  Continuing along the river valley, we had to cross some avalanche debris fields–scary, seriously scary.  I would never want to be around when all that mud/rocks/stuff came roaring down the mountain.

When we stopped for breakfast, along came Tatoo Joe.  He wanted to know about the fire situation up ahead, so I showed him all my ranger info that I got in Pinedale.  Then he took off, and we caught up with him a short time later, having a 2nd breakfast with a bunch of Boy Scouts.  We were invited to join them too (apparently they had plenty of food) but we needed to make miles, so kept going.  I felt like singing “Jingle Bells” since now I have the bear bells on my trek pole, and I jingle nicely as I walk along.

The Green River valley is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s surrounded by dramatic mountains and cliffs and peaks.  Eventually the river widens out into two lakes.  Scenery-wise, I would put it right up there with Yosemite Valley!  The lakes are long and large–turned out that the Boy Scouts had CANOEed in with all that food they were sharing!  The only problem with hiking through gorgeous scenery is that you want to look at the scene instead of the trail.  Fixit was getting way ahead of me because I kept looking at stuff.  Then when I tried to catch up, I caught my toe on something and went down, very hard, in a faceplant.  Fortunately, the spot I fell was just dirt–no sharp rocks or roots–otherwise it might have been pretty bad.  But I was now absolutely filthy with red dirt all over the front of me.  Grrrr.  I was just starting to get up (not easy, with the wind knocked out of me and a heavy pack) when along came Tatoo Joe.  “Are you OK?” he asked kindly.  “What happened?”   I told him I tripped and did a faceplant, but was OK.

I got back on my feet and then sat down for a minute till I felt a bit better.  Meanwhile, Fixit was way down the trail.  He finally stopped, and when I caught up to him, he said, “Where’d you go?  You just disappeared.”  “Yeah,” I said.  “I was on my face in the dirt.”  Bummer.

Finally we reached the bridge where the ranger had told me they would post the “latest & greatest” about the fire.  Yes, there was a notice there, but the date on it was older than the one I had from Pinedale.  Tatoo Joe said he plans to hike as far as Union Pass, then turn off the trail and roadwalk around the fire.  Sounds like a good idea to me!  We continued on, tackling the big climb up & over the mountains, then down to the Roaring Fork.  The climb was very steep, slow going in places.  Down by the Roaring Fork, the trail went meadow-forest-meadow-forest, with cows everywhere.  As we approached the “brushy zones” by creeks, I would start yelling, “Hey, grizz!  Hikers!  Coming through!”  In one of those zones, suddenly a large, dark, hump-shouldered critter rose up–yikes!–but it turned out to be just an Angus bull.

Because there were so many cow paths, the Garmin once again was very useful, whenever we were in doubt about which way to go.  We finally ended the day camping in a meadow near a spring, with a whole bunch of cows.  There is still no sign of any fire up ahead–not even a tiny bit of smoke haze.  But I guess there is grass pollen in the air, because most of today I was sneezing a bit and dealing with itchy eyes.  Tomorrow we will have to decide which way to go, when we reach Union Pass.  But what magnificent country we were in today!

Thursday, July 28 Magnificent Mountains

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

SUMMARY:  It was great to be back in the mountains—the clouds this morning were beautiful, reflected in the lakes and cliffs and spires of the dramatic Wind River peaks. Smoke is still very much with us, but the main effect is to soften the light. Since we were above timberline at 10,000 feet or so, it was nice to have the glare reduced.

The trail was often very rocky—ow, were our feet sore at the end of the day, since our poor shoes are just about worn out. But towards the end of the day, we did the big descent down into the Green River canyon. The river starts with a long and loud cascade down from the high peaks, into the valley and then settles down to be a roaring mountain river, with a definitely green tint to the water. We are camped tonight on the only sort of flat place we could find, in quiet woods with the river roaring nearby.

DETAILS:  It seemed a bit dark at 5:20 this morning, but it turned out that the dim light was a combo of heavy overcast plus smoke in the air.  We really wanted to get back to the CDT, so we hurried along the trail.  Other than the smoke (which actually made for a very pretty light effect) it was a beautiful morning.  We passed several lakes, and with no wind, the reflections of clouds/mountains were just breathtaking.  We stopped at Seneca Lake for breakfast and feasted our eyes on the gorgeous view.  Then by 7:45 am, we’d reached the CDT!

We’d really hoped for 20 CDT miles today, but with rugged terrain and a relatively late (7:45 is late!) start, we weren’t sure we’d make it.  The trail was very rough and rocky–trying to “make miles” on that is really tough.  In trying to go as fast as I could, I did have one very hard fall, but managed to pick myself up again and go on, with only  a few bruises.   Fixit also got hurt–he had a run-in with a very hard, sharp branch stub that gave him a very nasty cut on his leg.  But we persevered, doing the best we could.  And the scenery was MAGNIFICENT!  The mountains here rise up in great, dramatic ways–some pointed, some blunt-topped, but all of them massive, and they are right next to us!  I felt as if we were hiking among massive, old giants.

We were above timberline for most of the day–around 10,000 feet, so there were still some snow patches and accompanying snowmelt mud.  There were lakes and ponds everywhere–if it weren’t for the chilly wind blowing, I would have been tempted to go for a swim!  Since we were now up so high, the wildflowers were few, but I’m sure that soon they’ll be gorgeous.  We saw no other people all day, except for 3 guys who almost caught up with us till they stopped at “Fremont Crossing” and 2 forest service guys out “working on trail and surveying the lakes.”

We finally reached the looooong descent to the Green River, and were soon back in forest and meadows (the meadow areas are called “parks” on the map).  There was also a rule we’d heard about that really made us wonder.  It was “No Camping within 200 feet of the Trail”.  That’s ridiculous here!  There is virtually no flat ground except by the trail!  The CDT switchbacks down to the Green River, and guess what?   It really is GREEN, and very roaring and rushing, too.  Hope there is a bridge when we need to cross it–no way would I want to tackle a ford that formidable.  The river canyon is really dramatic–you can see where the river comes rushing and cascading down from the snow way up high above.

Finding a place to camp tonight was not easy, with all the rocks, brush, logs and steep terrain, but we finally located a spot up above the trail (out of sight of the trail anyway, though closer than 200 feet).  We will have the roar of the river to listen to tonight.  Wow, are my feet sore from all the rocky trail today!  My shoes are about done (new ones coming in at Yellowstone, hooray!).  And having the Garmin GPS is great–it guided us today when at one point we were not sure where to go.  Technically we are in grizz country now, but we were so tired that we just said, “Phooey on trying to hang anything” and we are just sleeping with our food, as usual.

Wednesday, July 27 Climbing Back Up the Mountain Again

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

SUMMARY:  We woke to skies that were gray with smoke and as the sun rose, it was an orange ball in the sky. Breakfast was wonderful—all the Chalmer House guests sit at the big dining room table and enjoy great food and conversation. We had to tear ourselves away for “chore time”.

My job was counting food to see what we had, then get more if needed, and visit the ranger station to learn all I could about fire closures on the CDT. The rangers were great at explaining the closures, and hopeful that the trail will reopen in a day or two.

Meanwhile, Bill’s job was to get us a GPS and load it with waypoints. Hooray—he got one! After checking out of Chalmer’s, we went off and got a cell phone, had lunch, and hitched 2 rides to the trailhead, ready to get back to the CDT. Despite the very smoky conditions, there were plenty of hikers! The CDT access trail so far is just beautiful—lots of lakes of all sizes, meadows, dramatic cliffs and canyons, and (very indistinct with so much smoke) the impressive peaks of the Wind River Mountains.

We are camped at 10,000 feet, and should be back on the CDT early tomorrow.

DETAILS:   We were so tired last night that we just collapsed, and I didn’t write anything in my journal.  So this morning I lazed about in bed and did last night’s journalling before we got up and went downstairs for the amazing Chalmer House breakfast.  Wow!  They actually serve in “courses”–first yogurt & fruit & granola, then muffins, pancakes and sausages.  Coffee and juice in abundance, too!  We all sat around the big dining room table and it was great to meet the other guests–sort of like joining a large family!  We also learned about Chalmer House–it’s the oldest continually operating hotel/B & B in Wyoming!   The downstairs part is built of logs–the upstairs is frame, and it was added later.  One of the ladies even insisted on giving us her phone number in case we needed a ride.

Then it was chore time.  Fixit headed out to find a GPS, and I counted our food–we need enough for 4 days.  I was also concerned about reports we’ve been hearing about “the CDT is closed”, so I went to the ranger station to find out.  The rangers were very helpful–they showed me the exact location of the fire and said the trail should reopen in a day or two, since the fire is burning AWAY from it.  They said there would be signs posted on the trail itself with the latest info, once we get closer to where the fire is.  On the way back to Chalmers, I stopped and got some more food, and had 45 minutes left before checkout time to get everything loaded into the packs and ready to go.

Meanwhile, Fixit had found the sporting goods store in Pinedale and bought a Garmin like the one Elusive had.  He had the guy at the store load it with waypoints for Bear Survey and for Ley maps.  And it clips onto his pack shoulder strap with a carabiner, so it’s quick and easy to get at.  We left Chalmers and found a cell phone place, got a cell phone and set up service for it.  We called our friend who mails our resupply packages, to let him know our new phone number, and after lunch, we started trying to hitch a ride to the CDT access trail.  It wasn’t easy at first, but finally a local rancher spotted us and gave us a ride partway up, as far as a ski resort (I got to share the back seat with his horse’s saddle!).  Then a sweet older couple in an RV gave us a ride the rest of the way to Elkhart Park trailhead.

Elkhart Park is HUGE!   And it is BUSY!   There were hikers and cars everywhere!  I talked to 3 young guys and was able to look at their maps to familarize myself with the trail back to the CDT.  Fixit likes to just “wing it” and have adventures where you don’t know what’s going to happen, but if I have a chance, I like to find out as much as I can, first!

So at last we were headed back to the trail, “armed” with a GPS.  The access trail is very nice, and also very busy–we met lots of hikers and backpackers.  When we stopped for a Snickers break, along came Nips, so we filled him in on what to expect at the trailhead and in Pinedale, and about the fire closure.  He is very tired, and was looking forward to being in town for a rest.  He said that Squirrel and Early Bird were in Pinedale yesterday, and headed out this morning.

Along the way, the air was very smoky, and that obscured the big views, but the closeup scenery was wonderful–many lakes of all sizes, dramatic canyons, huge rocks and cliffs, green forests….and best of all, no worries about losing the trail!  If only this could last….but alas, J. Ley and others warn that up ahead, the CDT is hard to follow.  Well, we have a Garmin…hopefully we’ll make it through!   Tonight we have a very nice campsite in the trees.  Tomorrow we will be entering “grizz country”  (grizzly bear).  Yikes!

Tuesday, July 26 Down Off the Mountain

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

SUMMARY:  We woke up to clear (no clouds) but smokey skies, and very determinedly set off to find the CDT (praying a lot!) We got back to the area where the trail disappeared, and started out, bushwhacking, on a route that looked like it might work. Surprise! A short time later, there was the CDT! We cheered and hurried on.

But a little while later the trail totally disappeared again. We searched in vain. Back to bushwhacking with a compass…then hooray—rock ducks in tall grass! We followed them to the edge of what we hoped was Sedgwick Meadow, where there was supposed to be a trail to a road that would get us off the mountain. Yes! There was the trail!

We followed the trail down to a dirt road, then hitched a ride down to the highway, and roadwalked to Pinedale. It was hot and windy and like being back in the desert again, but we finally made it. We dare not continue on the CDT without a GPS.

DETAILS:  We got up to a somewhat smokey but clear morning–all of last night’s clouds had vanished, and we were determined to find the CDT again!  Fixit was hoping to be able to continue on, once we found the trail again, but I was thinking, “If we can just find Sedgwick Meadow, on the other side of it is a trail that would take us off the mountain, and then we can just roadwalk to Pinedale.”  I  could not see how we could manage any longer without a GPS–we have lost so much time already by not knowing where we are.

Last night I spent some time studying the maps, and came up with a way to bushwhack till we could intercept another trail that could take us back to the CDT…hopefully.  So we hiked back to where we lost the trail yesterday, then took out the compass and started the bushwhack.  Wow!  Only 15 minutes later, we found the trail!  And it was the CDT, complete with an emblem on a tree!   We cheered and rejoiced!

We were able to hike right along for awhile, but alas!  Once again, the trail tread suddenly did its vanishing act, in a forested area.  We searched and searched for it…no luck.  So it was back to bushwhacking with the compass, figuring that since Sedgwick Meadow was so large, we’d eventually run into it.  After awhile, we reached a rather damp and grassy area in the forest and surprise!   A big rock duck!  And then another, and another!  We followed them for a ways, hoping they might be CDT.

The rock ducks led us to the edge of a very large meadow.  Was it Sedgwick?  We did not know, but the confirmation would be if we could find a trail running along the other side of it.  We hurried across (not easy–the ground was very uneven) and yes!!  There was a very nice trail!

But now we had a very big decision to make.  Fixit wanted to continue hunting for the CDT, since we knew it did cross the trail we were standing on.  I wanted to turn off and head for the highway and get a GPS, ASAP.  I said to Fixit, “I want to get back on the CDT, too!   But this is crazy!  Look how many times we have lost the trail in just the last few days!  And we don’t even know where it is right now!”  So in the end, we decided to roadwalk to Pinedale instead of continuing to play hide ‘n seek with the trail in the forest.

We followed the trail down to the road that goes to Big Sandy Lodge, and started walking toward the highway, hoping for a ride eventually.  Awhile later, a car came along–it was a photographer heading home from a backpack trip.  He gave us a ride to the highway, and from there we started the walk to Pinedale, stopping off along the way to eat at a restaurant.   It was like being in the Great Divide Desert again–sagebrush and wind and heat.  There were osprey nests on platforms along the highway, and every time we passed one of them, the ospreys began circling overhead and “yelling” at us.

Finally, very late in the day, we got to the outskirts of Pinedale and began looking for someplace to stay.  But to our dismay, every motel was full, booked up by “the oil guys” (fracking crews).  We are glad that “the oil guys” are helping the local economy, but bummer for us–and two of the motels listed in Yogi’s town guide were closed.  But we finally were able to get a room at the Chalmer House B & B.  The staff there were very welcoming and kind, but we felt very out of place, all dusty and stinky and grungy from the trail.  There was no way to wash our clothes, except for our socks, which I did in the bathroom sink.   We had “The Red Room”, where William Henry Jackson had stayed.  He was a photographer in the West of the 1870’s, and lived all the way to the 1950’s.  Quite a guy!

Once we were cleaned up, we ate at the nearby Chinese restaurant, then went back to the Red Room and collapsed.  Tomorrow we will get a GPS!  And a phone, too.


Monday, July 25 And It gets Worse (One Bright Spot)

Monday, July 25th, 2016

SUMMARY:  “Back to the PCT!” was our goal this morning, and shortly after breakfast, hooray—there it was. We  were hiking very happily along a very nice trail, when we met none other than Elusive, who is 72. He was very glad to see us and knew who we were, but he had bad news. “This isn’t the CDT. We’re on the wrong trail.” He was using his Garmin GPS to help him get back on the CDT. We’d all missed a key turnoff junction.

Fixit went to get out Guthook so he could help navigate, and that’s when we discovered our cell phone was gone—it must have fallen out of  his pocket yesterday. So now we have no GPS, and this afternoon we lost the trail again and without GPS, we could not find it. So we went back (I hate going backwards) till we knew for sure we were on the CDT, and now we are hoping for someone to come along to be our guide (Elusive had left, and I stupidly did not think to ask him). We are praying about what to do.  This is getting ridiculous.

DETAILS:  Shortly after breakfast, we were back on the CDT.  Not sure what we will do about a whole day lost.  I thought to myself, “At this rate, we’ll be needing to beg food from other hikers pretty soon.”  There were some pretty lakes and lily ponds along the trail, and the lilies were blooming, which was very cheering!  And the trail tread was very nice (just dirt, no rocks) so we were sailing along, crossing creeks and thinking, “We’ll get some good miles today!”  Not long after we’d crossed a creek, and were hiking along admiring the pretty meadow and forest, we spotted a hiker coming toward us.  It was an older guy, and as he came up, he said, “You must be Fixit and 3rd Monty!  I’m Elusive, and I’ve been wanting to meet you!”  Well, we had heard a lot about him, too, from the other hikers, so we were very glad to see him.  But Elusive continued.  “I’ve got bad news, though.  This is NOT the CDT.”  Turned out he (and we) had missed a key turn, and he had hiked all the way out to a trailhead parking lot before he realized his mistake, and was now headed back.

Elusive got out his Garmin GPS and Fixit went to get out our cellphone with Guthook, and that’s when he made the awful discovery that the cellphone is gone.  It must have somehow fallen out of his pocket or been left behind somewhere yesterday when we were trying to find the Ley Red Route.  But Elusive had the Bear Creek Survey waypoints on his Garmin, and by using those, he was able to find the CDT again (after a bit of bushwhacking in the woods).  We were very glad to “track” along with him!

At 11:00, Elusive stopped to eat lunch by a pretty little creek, but we pushed on.  He caught up with us again when we stopped to eat, and talked with him a bit more.  Sounds like he’s had a very adventurous life–serving in the Peace Corps, plus living on a boat for 3 years.  He commented that there should be a special group called “Triple Crown at age 70 and Up” for guys who have thruhiked all 3 trails at a minimum age of 70.  He and Fixit would qualify, if Fixit does the AT someday.  He (Elusive) plans to do the PCT next year, which would be his Triple Crown.

While we were talking, it crossed my mind to ask him if he would mind serving as our guide till we can get to the turnoff to Pinedale, since we now have no Guthook and no phone.  At Pinedale, we could probably get replacements.  But I didn’t do it.  Stupid me. Very stupid.  Off went Elusive and a little while later we finished up lunch and headed out, too.  I was watching the trail like a hawk, determined NOT to lose it again, and everything was going great, till at the top of a little hill, in thick forest, the trail just stopped.  Fixit and I hunted and hunted, trying to find it.  No luck.  So we turned back (again!!) and walked until we were sure we were on the CDT.  Then Fixit left his pack with me and walked “forward” again, determined to check every possible “turnoff” we might have somehow missed.  I stayed with the packs and prayed like crazy for another hiker to come along, somebody with GPS, so we could follow them until the Pinedale turnoff.

Fixit came sadly back.  He had had no luck finding anything.  So there went an entire afternoon, wasted.  All we could do was camp right by the trail, determined to ask anyone who came along for help with navigating.  Once I was in my sleeping bag, I studied the maps very intensively, and thought about the landmarks we’d been able to see (very few; the forest is too thick here to see much) and picked out a possible crosscountry route we could try tomorrow. If I’m right, hopefully we will intersect the trail and find it again.  So it’s back to “Lord, You know where we are.  Please help us.”  We’re not in any danger–if we really did have to bail out, we could just head west and hit the highway again.  But we really want to find the trail.  And if I am right, tomorrow morning, we could reach a dirt road that would take us down to the highway, so we could roadwalk in to Pinedale, if we need to.  We will see.

Sunday, July 24 A Magnificent Wasted Day

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

SUMMARY: Looking at our maps, we thought this would be “Cirque of the Towers Day” — we planned to follow a Ley alternative route to get there. At first it went well; we were hiking on nice trail in a magnificent valley with towering rock spires, a beautiful river, green grass, wildflowers…but at the end of the valley, the trail faded and stopped.

“No problem” we thought. “The map says follow the creek and then up the mountainside on the north side of the lake where the creek starts.” But no, there was nothing but an impossibly steep wall there–no trail. We spent the rest of the day searching—no trail. So we finally gave up and headed sadly back. What a magnificent valley—but we wasted a whole day.

DETAILS:  When we got up this morning, we figured it wouldn’t take long to hike the couple of miles to the turnoff junction for Ley’s red route to Cirque of the Towers.  Well, those were two tough, rough, steep miles that took longer than we planned.  I actually prefer uphills–downhills on rough trail are really hard for me.  But finally we reached Little Sandy creek and found the junction (it even had a sign!).  We happily turned right and soon reached another key junction, also marked with a sign.  One trail went to Big Sandy Lake, and the other trail was the Ley route.

As we walked along “our” trail, we did get nice views of Little Sandy Lake down below (actually, it’s pretty big–not sure why they call it “little”??)  Then we reached a spectacularly beautiful valley with amazing rock towers and spires.  “Wow!” we said to each other, “This is almost as good as Cirque of the Towers, except it’s not a cirque!”   The trail continued on up the valley, following a creek.  The wildflowers were gorgeous, and there were huge boulders and rocks with layers in them that were bent and twisted.  Fixit and I walked along oohing and ahhing.  It was amazing.

But the valley came to an end with sheer walls all around, and the nice trail disappeared.  At first this didn’t worry us–we’ve sort of gotten used to the idea that the CDT does this–and a look at our maps was very reassuring.  All we had to do was follow the creek up to its source (a lake) and then from the north side of the lake, the trail would switchback up to the top of the ridge and down the other side.

But when we got to the lake, we found that the north side was an impossibly steep wall, with no sign of a trail.  Hmmm.  Out came the maps again, and we thought, “Maybe the trail goes up that canyon near the lake?  It is sort of on the north side, sort of.”  So we climbed up the canyon to have a look.  The end of the canyon was another very steep wall with no sign of trail.  So we decided that Fixit would climb up it to the top and look around.  If he spotted the route, he would signal to me by waving his trek poles, and at that point, I would climb up, too.  If he couldn’t find it, he would just come back down.

Fixit was gone for quite awhile.  He did reach the top, but then disappeared (to look around, I hoped!)  I waited and waited and waited, praying he would be safe and would be able to find out where to go.  I tried to keep my mind occupied by looking at the spectacular view back down the valley.  But finally Fixit reappeared and started coming down.  Oh no.  That meant no way through.  When he reached the spot where I was, he said, “I couldn’t see any sign of trail or route or anything, and going down the other side would be more than I think you could handle.  It’s pretty scary-looking.”

So very sadly, we turned and started back down to the valley below.  It was about 5:00 by the time we were on the valley floor again.  Soon we found the trail and started heading back.  Awhile later, we met Stop ‘n Go and two other guys heading up.  We told them what had happened to us, but they decided to go for it anyway.  Hope they make it!  They are all young strong guys, so I figure they will.

Now we are camped partway back to the main trail, with almost an entire day of hiking wasted.  Megabummer.  Now we won’t be able to see Cirque of the Towers–we’ll have to hike as fast as we can, with no side trips.  But that valley we went through today was magnificent, and we are grateful we could see it!

Saturday, July 23 The Lovely Sound of Chain Saws

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

SUMMARY:  Earlier this morning, our CDT “trail” was actually dirt roads, and it kept switching from one road to another, so we had to be careful. Finally it was back to trail, which was great, except for all the blowdowns (trees fallen across the trail). So many of the trees are dead that this is a real problem.

But then, in the distance up ahead, we heard a lovely sound—chain saws! And finally we caught up with the team–horses waiting patiently, loaded with equipment, then ladies clearing the trail of cut logs and debris, and finally (up front) the men with their chain saws, doing the cutting.

Everybody was having fun, and we were mega-glad to see them! After we passed, it was back to blowdowns again. Well, tomorrow maybe not–we’ll be up above timberline.

DETAILS: It was actually warmish last night and this morning–no shivering to get dressed!  We were (for awhile) still on dirt roads, which is confusing when you get to a junction with another dirt road, and don’t know which one is the CDT, because there is no sign to guide you.  But we are back in the mountains for sure now–trees, creeks, cliffs, even some snow when we look UP just a bit!

Finally we were back on TRAIL, which is nice because it’s less confusing (no “mystery junctions”) but not so nice when it is blocked by a bunch of blowdowns.  Because of all the dead trees, what was once probably just a few blowdowns per year has become a major problem.  It is no fun when you are hiking to constantly have to face a giant mass of “pickup sticks” and try to figure out how to get around/over/under them.  But then we came to a section where obviously somebody had been working on the trail–there were a lot of freshly cut blowdown trees, and the trail was clear.  Then we came upon a “horse group”–3 people, 3 horses and 2 pack mules, packing CHAIN SAWS!  All right!  When the 3 horse people saw us, they said, “Are you going to Canada?” (Turned out Bambi passed them not long ago, and told them we were behind him.)  When we said, “Yes!” they told us, “Well, we’ll try to clear the trail for you guys!”  We were hiking along as quickly as we could, hoping for 20 miles today despite the constant delays from the blowdowns earlier.

On the east side of the trail, we had views of the very impressive Wind River mountains (including some snow), and to the west, we could see glimpses of desert far below.  We are so glad to be done with the desert!   We were walking through lovely meadows and rockhopping over streams, when in the distance, we heard a wonderful sound–chain saws at work!  Another trail crew!  We finally caught up to them, and they were quite a well-oiled team.  First we met the horses, lounging in the shade, but with their packs still on.  Then we met a crew of ladies who were pushing and pulling  and throwing cut pieces of logs and branches off the trail, then finally we got to the “point men”–the guys with chain saws, attacking the blowdowns.  They are all volunteers, and they said they are really having fun!  We thanked them very fervently, because the last section of trail has been such a pleasure to walk on due to all the work they’ve done.

But once we passed the chain saws, sigh….it was back to wrassling with blowdowns.  We reached a wilderness/hiker register, and discovered that 4 other CDT hikers went through earlier today.  When we stopped to eat, another CDT hiker came by–Easy Strider, so that makes a total of 7 of us nearby to each other on the trail.   Easy Strider said that in the storm yesterday, he was at South Pass City with his resupply box contents and pack contents all spread out on the grass.  The storm hit so hard and so fast that he was not expecting it, and a bunch of his stuff got pretty messed up.   But he (and we) are really enjoying the awesome mountain scenery we are in now, and everybody (including us) is making plans for going to see the famous Cirque of the Towers tomorrow.

The only bummer today was a hiker (not a CDT hiker) out with a very untrained dog that acted like it wanted to eat Fixit.  Stupid dog…even stupider owner, taking such an animal out on the trail.  We are not dog fans, and this is one of the reasons why we are not.

But we are very excited about getting to Cirque of the Towers tomorrow!

Friday, July 22 CDT Collage Day

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

SUMMARY:  Today was like a CDT “collage” for us.

Piece 1 – Breakfast on the deck (surprise! We weren’t expecting it) provided by Mrs. “Wild Bill”. She told us about what it was like to live year round in Atlantic City.

Piece 2 – Second breakfast (after getting our packs reorganized and ready) at the Miner’s Grubstake. Found out that Laurel, the manager, used to live in San Francisco. Great Conversation. Conclusion: Staying in Atlantic City is WAY better than hitching into Lander.

Piece 3 – Visiting beautifully preserved and restored old mining town of South Pass City. Could spend all day there, easily!

Piece 4 – Lost the trail—took 3 tries and a lot of frustration.

Piece 5 – Weather! While we were trying to find the trail, black clouds and wind so fierce I could hardly stand up came racing in. Rain, too. Oh great!

Piece 6 – Finally the weather cleared, the trail climbed out of the desert, and we are back in the mountains, with trees and creeks! All that in one day!

DETAILS:    Well, in our cozy cabin at Wild Bill’s, we could not hear the party over at Miner’s Grubstake, so we slept well, and in fact, slept in till 7 am!!  When Fixit went outside, he was spotted by Mrs. Wild Bill, who told us she would have breakfast ready for us on the deck, very soon.  Breakfast??  We didn’t know that was part of the deal!  Nice!  And that was the beginning of what I can only call a “CDT Collage Day”, because we got a little bit of everything we’ve been experiencing out here, plus some, all in one day.

Collage piece #1  So Fixit and I had a very civilized breakfast–we were clean and rested, and sitting in very comfortable chairs on Wild Bill’s house deck, with great views, on a lovely morning with lots of clouds in the sky, so it wasn’t too hot.  And the breakfast was great–scrambled eggs, muffins, fruit, coffee, oj.  We had fun eating, watching the hummingbirds at their feeder, and talking to Mrs. Wild Bill, who told us what it’s like to live here year round.  She said Wild Bill does a lot of gunsmithing, he makes custom knives and he builds cabins for the ranchers–in fact he has one under construction right now.  He builds each cabin on a trailer, then tows it out to the ranch, sets it on a prepared foundation, and there it is!  We asked her about what it was like in winter.  “Very peaceful” she said.  “We really like the winter.  Most people in town leave, but we stay, and we really like it.”

Collage piece #2   Fixit and I loaded up our packs and walked over to the Miner’s Grubstake for a SECOND breakfast.  Yum!  Laurel, who runs the restaurant, was there.  She said the party last night went till way late.  “Good thing you were over at Bill’s,”  she said.  We ate and ate and talked to her at bit–turns out that she used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area (where we’re from).  Wow, amazing to meet someone from our “back home”.  We are so glad we came here to Atlantic City–some of the hikers who go to Lander dismiss it rather condescendingly with “Oh, it’s just a rundown town with a bar and some food”–but we found friendly, downhome folks and a nice place to stay.  No need to go through the bother of hitching, then finding a motel and eating at McD’s, where nobody knows you and nobody cares.  We love these tiny mountain towns with REAL people in them.

Collage piece #3   Then we walked 4 miles over to South Pass City, which is a beautifully preserved/restored old mining town, where the whole thing is basically a museum.  There is no place to stay or to get food, so we are VERY glad we listened to the bikers and went to Atlantic City.  But seriously, I could easily have spent the whole rest of the day here, looking at everything.  The highlight for me was the hotel–each bedroom was furnished, and then set up to represent different kinds of travellers, as if the person staying in the room had just stepped out for a minute.  There was a little creek running through town, and a bunch of kids were there, trying their hand at panning for gold.  Our resupply box was waiting for us in the office–heeeeavy with 7 days of food, to get us (hopefully) all the way through the Wind River Mountains just ahead.  Most of the hikers plan to detour to Pinedale, halfway through the Winds, so they don’t have to deal with heavy packs.  Maybe we are crazy, but we will try to make it through–that’s what we did on the PCT in the Sierras.  We did see Early Bird and Squirrel at South Pass City–they were amazed to see us, thinking we were way behind them by now.

Collage piece #4   It was well on into the afternoon before we got back on the CDT.  Fixit is not as thrilled as I am about “old stuff”, so he basically took a nap in the shade while I was running around looking at all the old buildings.  Ugh, our packs were heavy.  We found a CDT post (hooray) but a short time later, we were back to “Where did the trail go??”  We ended up walking along random roads, crawling under fences, trying and trying to find our route.

Collage piece #5   Meanwhile, black clouds were heading towards us, and the wind was growing fiercer till it got to the point where I could not walk at all, but could only plant my trek poles and my feet and brace myself, trying not to get blown over.  It was crazy wild.  And all this time, we were up on a bare ridge, still playing “Where’s the trail?”  Soon I could actually smell rain on the fierce wind, and a few minutes later, we were being pelted by a downpour that actually HURT, it was hitting us so hard.  This continued for awhile.

Collage piece #6  Finally the black clouds, wind and rain moved away, and after 3 “goes” with Guthook, we found the trail!  The sun started to come out, the trail was nice and clear and followable, and the scenery was very pretty–trees!  Rock formations!  Creeks with water!  By the time we stopped to camp, it had turned into a warm and beautiful evening.  While we were setting up, Bambi passed us–he had also passed us in the desert before Atlantic City, but had gone into Lander.  Now he’s back on the trail.  It’s so peaceful here, and we are looking forward to the Winds.  Hopefully, since they are so popular, it will be nice trail there.