Archive for the ‘Wyoming’ Category

Sunday, August 7 A Run for the Border

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

SUMMARY:  We didn’t think we could do it, but we did—a 29 1/2 mile day that put us over the border of Yellowstone Park and into Idaho! I think what fueled it was the breakfast buffet at the historic Old Faithful Inn. We ate and ate—all so good—before getting back on the CDT as it traveled past beautiful and amazing fields of hot pools, springs, and geysers.

A stiff climb up out of the valley, and we were on our way to Summit Lake, hiking through miles of burn zone recovery from the terrible fires in 1988. We were supposed to stop and camp at Summit Lake, but when we got there, it was only 2:15pm. “Let’s make a run for the park border! Only 9 miles—we can do it!”

Thunder, lightning, and rain had just arrived, but we raingeared up and headed down an often faint and overgrown trail. By 4:45pm we were at the Idaho border, and before dinner, we were OUT!! of Yellowstone. Celebration time!

DETAILS:  We woke up to a very wet tent (outside wet from rain, inside wet from condensation) and packed up by headlamp because we really wanted to make it to the Old Faithful Inn for the buffet breakfast!  At first the trail was just up ‘n down hills in the forest, till suddenly we topped out on a ridge and there it was down below–the whole Village, with the many geysers and hot springs steaming like crazy in the cold morning air.  The trail takes a very long, roundabout route, and we finally said “Phooey on this” and did a shortcut to the Village.  But we were VERY careful while on the shortcut.   There’s a lot of little geothermal stuff around here, less than a foot across, and we didn’t want to accidentally step in one of them.

But we made it OK and headed straight for the breakfast buffet, where we ate and ate and ate.  Wow, it was good!  And while we were eating, it started to pour rain and do some thunder outside, so we really lucked out on timing.  Once we were totally stuffed, we headed back to the trail.  We could have hung around for awhile to watch the Old Faithful geyser do its thing, but we had just missed it and didn’t want to wait that long.  As we walked by the front of the Inn, we noticed that there was a church service going on, upstairs, on an outdoor balcony!  If we had not already decided to make a run for the park border, we would have joined them.

The CDT route out of the Village takes you through a large geothermal area with geysers, pools, etc.  The pools are all beautiful colors, and the whole thing was amazing to see.  The rain & thunder returned for a little while.  Finally we reached the Summit Lake trail, and began to climb out of the valley.  Partway up, surprise!  We met Medicare Pastor and Rockstar again!  They were sitting by the trail having a granola bar break.   We met a few other hikers, too, all of them “loaded for bear”, meaning they had bear bells on their trek poles and bear spray cans on their pack shoulder straps.  I’m afraid we only have the bells.  The way we figure it, by the time you 1) Realize that the bear has evil intentions and 2) Unclip the bear spray and 3)Release the “trigger”  it is way too late.  So no heavy bear spray for us!

Once we were up out of the valley, the trail was reasonably good going, not too rocky, so we could walk fast.  We were going through the “burn zone” from the 1988 fires.  What’s weird is that though the fires were 28 years ago, some areas have regrown (trees the size of Christmas trees) while other areas are still just blackened wastelands of tree trunk skeletons.

By 2:15, we reached what was supposed to be our camp for tonight, at Summit Lake.  It was in the burn zone, and not pretty at all.  We looked at it in dismay, and to add to the “fun”, the thunder was starting to rumble again and rain was starting to fall.  Fixit and I wasted no time in making a final decision, “Let’s run for the border!  It’s only 9 miles away, and we have plenty of time!”  So we got water at the lake (no more water for the next 20 miles), raingeared up, and set out.

But once we had left Summit Lake, the trail quickly deteriorated.  Several times we had to stop and look for it.  There were also a fair number of blowdowns to climb over.  But we persevered, and just when the rain stopped and the sun started to come out again, we met 2 more SOBO’s.  One of them had only started in July, and he is already here!  Wow!

The closer we got to the park boundary, the worse the trail became–very rough and rocky and hard to follow.  But at the Idaho border, there was a sign, where we cheered mightily and finally we did a really big cheer when we reached the Yellowstone Park border!!  After that, the “trail” was basically on an old road and was easy going.  We did about 1.6 miles on it before we finally stopped for the day, which gives us around 29 1/2 miles total.  We have a nice campsite (no mossies!) but we will have to sleep with our food.  There is no way to hang it here–the trees are all very small.   But what a relief to be out of Yellowstone!  Hooray for Idaho!

Saturday, August 6 Hot Springs & Geysers

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

SUMMARY:  No rush to get up this morning–it’s only 13 1/2 miles to our next permitted campsite. It rained a bit, so we were glad to stay in the tent a little longer. We followed the trail to the west shore of huge Shoshone Lake, then waded through a quarter mile of swamp before finally reaching the Shoshone Geyser Basin. Wow! It is quite a place!

Signs warned us to stay on the trail as we passed close by hot spring pools of all sizes, colors, and temperatures ranging from just steaming to bubbling and boiling. The geysers each have little cones, and they roar and send up plumes of steam.

We went slowly through, looking at everything, before going on to our designated campsite, OA1, near the Firehole River. We hung out by the river for awhile, took a nap, and then walked half a mile to see the Lone Star Geyser erupt. It’s the 2nd biggest in the whole park, and quite spectacular! Back to camp for dinner then we had to dive into our tent as a thunderstorm came rolling through.

DETAILS:  It was raining lightly this morning, and since we only had 13 1/2 miles to do, we just lazed in the tent until it cleared up a bit.  By the time we got around to packing up the tent, it had already dried nicely.  The only bummer was the mossies (mosquitoes)–they were at nuisance level.  I wish that the Yellowstone campsites would be placed where there are less of those whining little critters!  After a bit of climbing (including one big climb), we reached the shore of huge Shoshone Lake.  The trail goes along the “beach” a bit (nice!!) but then it heads into what looked at first like a pretty green meadow with a few water lily ponds and baby pine trees, but then it becomes a SWAMP.  All we could do was to follow the “trail”, going slosh, slosh through water, mud and plants.  We didn’t care about it, with our La Sportiva running shoes, but we wondered aloud, “What can the people do with this when they wear hiking BOOTS?  Take them off and go barefoot?”

Not too long after we got out of the swamp, we were into the Shoshone Basis geyser zone.  Wow!  The signs warned us to stay ON the trail.  The place was full of hot springs (all colors) and little geysers and boiling springs.  I was so glad we did not have to rush through it.  We walked slowly and stopped often to look at the amazing features.

By lunchtime, we were back in quiet green forest, with NO mossies!   Yay!  It was so peaceful.  We took time to just enjoy the quiet.    By 2:00, even though we’d spent so much time just sauntering along, we had reached campsite OA1.  The first thing we did was to hang our food over the “bear bar”.  Then we headed for the nearby Firehole River, where we got water and drank a whole liter of “bug juice” (Emer-gen-C + Crystallite) each while we just lay around resting near the river.  One interesting feature was that there were tiny little cute hot springs everywhere.  You actually have to watch your step a bit so you don’t land in one of them!

Then we headed off along the trail for the 1/2 mile hike to see the Lone Star Geyser, but after a few minutes we met two young guys who told us it had just erupted 15 minutes ago.  Since it goes 3 hours between eruptions, we decided to go back to camp and wait there.  We set up the tent, and  I lay on top of my sleeping bag studying the maps for the trail to Mack’s Inn and then on to Lima.  At 5:00, we walked over to the Lone Star.  About 5 minutes after we arrived, the eruption started, so that was great timing!  There were a fair number of other people watching also, who had walked in from Old Faithful Village.  The geyser roared mightily (very impressive) and sent a plume of hot water and steam up 40′ in the air, for about 15 minutes.  When it finally fizzled down, everyone applauded, and as if it heard us, out came another burst (we all yelled, “Encore!”) before it finally did stop.

But dark, dramatic clouds were building fast and thunder was rumbling in the distance, so we hurried back to camp, and were into our tent just before it started to rain.  Whew!  Glad we had already set up the tent!  We ate our dinner in the tent (tortillas, ham, cheese), and after less than an hour, the T-storm was over and the setting sun was peeking through the clouds.  Our plan for tomorrow is: Breakfast at Old Faithful Village, then on to our next campsite.  If we can put in a 28 mile day, though, we could make it all the way OUT of Yellowstone Park and skip the campsite.  We’ll see!   I hope we can pull that off, because Montana is calling!

Friday, August 5 Orchestrated—by God / OLD FAITHFUL VILLAGE

Friday, August 5th, 2016

SUMMARY:  After a somewhat weary night in a crowded campground (I had forgotten how noisy campgrounds are!) we were among the first in line for breakfast at the Grill, then took a deep breath, prayed for help with permits, and headed for the backcountry office.

The wonderful older husband/wife team did the very best they could for us, but in the end it will mean 3 more nights in Yellowstone.  Sigh.  Then it was prayer time again. “Lord, we need a ride to Old Faithful Village.” Many cars passed us by, and it was hard. Then along came a well-travelled one driven by Felix, from Germany. Well, for us he was”Felix sent by God”, because not only did he take us to Old Faithful Village, but he stood by us during a temporary drama where the post office could not find our box, then waited while we sorted and reloaded packs and drove us all the way back to where we left the trail yesterday. Felix Mendelssohn the composer could have never orchestrated such an event. Felix, we will always be grateful to you!

DETAILS:  It’s been a long time since we camped in a CAR campground.  Wow.  It sure is different from our wilderness campsites where the only sound is the wind, the birds, and maybe a creek and/or wind.  There were all kinds of noises all night long and smells, too.  It was hard to sleep.  Part of the not sleeping was I was really concerned about the logistics for today–all I could do was pray to the Father who loves me and trust Him to provide.

It was a cold morning–we didn’t bother to get up till 6:30, since the Grill wasn’t open till 7:00.  It was so cold I could see my breath. Brrrrr.  But we warmed up with a big and delicious breakfast and I spent a few minutes talking to the older guy who empties the garbage cans.  Looks to us like Yellowstone is being run by retirees and kids (teens and college students).

Then we went to the backcountry permit office and “Mom & Dad”, a husband/wife team, did the very best they could for us.  But it means it will take a day longer than we planned, to get OUT of the park.  Oh well.  After that, permits in hand, we prayed, “Help, Lord!” and took my hand-lettered sign out to the Grant Village exit road, trying to hitch a ride to Old Faithful Village.  It was very discouraging.  Nobody would stop.  Finally along came a well-travelled car driven by Felix from Germany.  Felix turned out to be our “angel” for the day.  Not only did he drive us to Old Faithful Village, but when we got to the post office and they could not find our box, and we had to phone to find out where it was and go through all sorts of drama, Felix waited patiently, in case we needed a ride somewhere else.

It turned out that our box was right next door to the post office, in the “backcountry” building.  Whew!  I asked Felix if he would mind waiting another hour while I sorted through the food and made a quick shopping trip to pick up what we needed for the next leg.  He said, “No problem.”  I hurried as fast as I could on that shopping trip, and one of the things I got was another pair of socks!  I always wear “double” on my socks–Wrightsox go on my feet first, then over that I wear Thorlos.  The poor Thorlos are in bad shape, and I was worried that they might not make it to Canada, so I got a really awesome pair of socks just in case the Thorlos “die.”  I love the Thorlos–they are so comfortable, but I guess they are not quite as durable.

Felix then gave us a ride all the way back to the CDT trailhead which we hitched out of yesterday, and even gave us some granola bars to eat during the ride.  He told us that back home in Germany he is a geologist and a teacher at a university near Cologne, and told us how he really likes the students and teaching, rather than researching and publishing and being the “boss” of things.  Well, he sure took care of us!  There is no way we could have made it back to the CDT so easily without his “above and beyond” help.  I thought of Felix Mendelssohn, the composer, and thought, “Only God would have orchestrated all that happened today.”  Thank you, Felix!  May you be as much of a blessing to your students as you were to us!

It was wonderful to be back on the trail tonight and not in the car campground!

Thursday, August 4 A Run For the Road!

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

SUMMARY:  We packed up by headlamp this morning, determined to do the 24 miles to the road, and get to the Grant Village backcountry permit office before they closed at 4:30pm. The first 8 miles, we were on the Snake River trail, through burned forest where only smaller plants had regrown. (Tough going with trek poles!). The second 8 miles was the Heart Lake Trail, which was miles of forest regrowing after a fire, but the poor young trees were so crowded that none of them were doing well.

Heart Lake was awesome! It had a real beach. If we were not making a run for the road, I would have stopped right there. Then the last 8 miles—a “hot spring trail”—lots of hot springs, all different colors. We hitched a ride to Grant Village and were in the backcountry office at 4:20, only to be told, “We can’t issue permits after 4pm. Come back tomorrow.” Groan! So we got food, and camped at the backpacker campsite.

DETAILS:  We got up a bit before 5 am, in the dark and got dressed/packed up by headlamp.  It was very cold–I could see my breath, and there was frost on the plants as we started hiking at 5:45, when there was barely enough light to see the trail.   Our goal was to make it to the Grant Village backcountry office (24 trail miles plus hitching a ride) before they close at 4:30.  Fixit is way faster than I am,  and I was sure he could do it, but for me, I would have to “push it” all day.

The 24 miles actually divided very nicely into three 8-mile segments.  The first one took us along the Snake River Trail.   Most of the time we were up high above the river, and the trail was mostly pretty level, but it was also very rocky and we were going through a forest fire zone where the regrowing plants hung heavily over the trail, making it tough going (for me).  I had prayed and asked God to give me the strength to do well at the hiking today, and I felt that I did fine going through all those rocks and plants.  We stopped for breakfast at 7:30, when the sun finally made it down into the river canyon.

By Snickers time (9:45) we had finished the first 8 miles and started on Leg #2–the Heart Lake Trail.  This time, it was 8 miles of walking through a “regrowing” forest of small trees, just the same as we see back home when we hike on Mt. Vision in the Point Reyes Nat’l Seashore.  The little trees are the regrowth after the awful fires in Yellowstone several years ago.  But just like the ones on Mt. Vision (also regrowth after an awful forest fire), the little trees are insanely crowded together, and none of them are doing well. It’s a very sad sight.

Sometimes the trail went through a meadow with bushes, where I did my best to whoop and holler in case there were any grizz around.  Then we’d be back in the forest again, where the little trees were packed so tightly together that I don’t think a grizz could squeeze between them.

After so many miles of no views, it was wonderful to reach Heart Lake!  Wow!  It has a real BEACH!  And the CDT trail actually follows the beach!  If we were not trying to make it to the backcountry office (and Canada!) I seriously would have just stopped right there and said, “This is it!  We camp here!”  A bunch of Boy Scouts were at the beach, and we spent a few minutes telling them about what we were doing.  They were amazed and wanted to take a picture with us.  But we had one more 8-mile leg ahead of us, which I would call “The Hot Springs Trail.”  We passed lots of hot springs, all different colors, and even though it was a very warm day, they were steaming.  Again, if we had not been in a hurry, I would love to have spent more time looking at them!

Part of this last 8 miles included a really big climb, and it was such a warm/hot afternoon that I just ran out of steam before the end of it.  I had been pushing myself hard all day, and trying to do a long hill with no shade in the heat, was just too much.  I finally said, “Fixit, you’d better just head for the road and try to hitch into Grant Village.  I don’t think I can make it in time.  Wait for me at the backcountry office.”

So Fixit took off, and I plodded on.  But when I finally reached the road, he was still there, trying to hitch a ride.  The problem is, he’s not very good at hitching–when we need to do that, it’s me who gets us a ride.  So I took over, and though many cars went by (it is a busy road), after 15 minutes we got a ride from a sweet young Asian couple, who actually turned around in order to help us out!   Wonderful!  They dropped us off right by the backcountry office, and we were walking in the door at 4:20.

But oh bummer….the nice older couple who run the office told us very sadly that they were not allowed to issue any permits after 4:00, even though they are open till 4:30.  They thought that rule was stupid, but they have to obey it.  “Go get a campsite,” they said, “and come back in the morning.”  Bummer!   We had hoped to get our permits and hitch straight back to the CDT.  And there was another complication, too.  Our next resupply is at Old Faithful Village, and now by the time we get there, it will be Sunday, and the post office will be closed.  So that means TOMORROW we have to get to Old Faithful Village and get our box.  Yikes!

So we went over to the information office and asked about getting a bus from Grant Village to Old Faithful Village.  Turns out there are no busses.  Oh no!  That means hitching, and technically we aren’t supposed to be hitching a ride in the park (though we did today).  But the lady at the info desk said, “The college kids who work here in the park hitch rides all the time.  You’ll need a cardboard sign…if you can find some cardboard, I’ll lend you my Sharpie pen to write with.”

So we went to find some food and some cardboard.  First we stopped at the store for cold drinks and ice cream, then we went to the Grill for burgers & fries.  I asked the lady at the Grill for some cardboard, then we went back to the info desk, borrowed the Sharpie, and I made a sign.  Then we walked over to the campground, got a spot at the biker/hiker campsite and got to meet 3 bikers who are riding across the USA.  They plan to finish in Astoria.  It was fun talking to them.  Actually, in the campground there were several “adventure tour” groups who all seem to be having a great time of it.  They get to hike, bike, canoe, and all sorts of stuff.

Tomorrow’s logistics look awfully tricky–I prayed that everything would work out.  It is weird to be in a car campground–so much noise and smells.  It will be great to be back on trail (I hope!!) by tomorrow night.


Wednesday, August 3 Getting Into Yellowstone

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

SUMMARY:  Surprise! The day began with a brief bit of rain, then a glorious sunrise. Turned out that the only reason we got rained on was that we were camped up so high. Shortly after we started hiking, the trail disappeared, and we were following cairns over the rocky mountains. Four long, rocky, rough descents came next (sigh—I am so slow on that kind of trail) and we began a pattern of “trail into pretty green forest” then “trail through brushy meadow”. In one of the forest bits, we met a SOBO with a huge pack. He said he’d made better progress than he expected, and had a leftover camping permit for tonight—would we like to have it? Wow!!

That meant we could get into Yellowstone instead of waiting at the border, and only 24 miles to do tomorrow instead of 27, to reach the road, where we could get a ride into Grant Village. So tonight we are in a very nice official backcountry camp near the Snake River.

DETAILS:  Very early this morning, it started to rain–drippy, drip-drip.  It was clear when we went to bed, but clouds had moved in during the night.  It turned out later that the only reason we got dripped on is that we were up so high (10,000′).  But before we needed to pack up, it stopped, and we were fine.  The clouds started clearing, and there was a glorious sunrise.

We headed out, determined to finish the  climb to the top of the ridge–only a little bit left to go–when the trail disappeared.  Oh no, not again!  But then aha!–a cairn, another cairn, and hooray, there was the trail!  But the long downhill on the other side was tough.  It was very steep and very rocky, which meant slow going for me, but no worries, because all we had to do was make it to the Yellowstone Park border.   The trail started following a sort of “pattern”–over a pretty little forested ridge, then down into a brushy meadow area (I did a lot of yelling in those areas!!), then repeat.

Around 11:00, on one of the forested ridges, we met three CDT SOBO’s–one thru and 2 sectionhikers who were coaching him.  The thru had an enormous heavy pack, and the other two were trying to teach him how to “lighten up”. We showed him our packs and joined the “chorus” of telling him he didn’t need a lot of that stuff he was carrying.  In the conversation, it came up that since we have no permits, and no way to phone for them, we would camp at the park border and make the 27 mile run to the road tomorrow.  The thru guy said, “Wait!  I have a permit for TONIGHT at #8C9 campsite, and I don’t need it.  Here–you can have it!”  Wow!!! That would be a big help–only 24 miles to do tomorrow instead of 27.  We might be able to reach the backcountry office tomorrow afternoon!

So we hiked off saying, “Thank you, Lord!”  We had lunch when we got to the ranger station at the park boundary, then strolled along the trail till we got to our new destination, meeting more SOBO’s along the way.  They are all heading for Togwotee Lodge, and are trying to figure out how they will get around the fire.  It was fun talking to them–we were in no hurry.  By 2:30 pm, we had reached the campsite, which turned out to be very nice.  It’s by a creek with good water, there is lots of flat ground, and a “bear cable” for hanging our food.  We set up our tent, hung up our packs, and headed off to the creek to wash our socks and ourselves.   Then we just lazed around and rested.  I looked at the maps and figured out that tomorrow we have three 8-mile legs to do.  The mountains here look lower and more gentle, so I think it will be very do-able to make it into Grant Village before 4:30 pm, even including trying to get a hitch at the road.

We went to bed early and were glad of the extra rest.  We are tired!



Tuesday, August 2 The Horse Superhighway

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

SUMMARY:  We encountered all the usual trail challenges today—miles of burned forest, lots of creek and river crossings, plus some tough uphills and downhills. We seem to have escaped the forest fire smoke at last, so we had blue sky and fresh air. But probably the most amazing thing of all was the “horse superhighway” which had several “lanes”. We followed it for much of the day and met lots of horses and pack trains going in both directions.

A highlight of the day was when we reached the “The Parting of the Waters”, where a creek flows right down the Divide, but divides in two when it reaches the valley. On one side it goes to the Atlantic, the other to the Pacific. We got there at dinnertime and just hung out for awhile before doing a killer climb up to where we are now camped at 10,000 feet.

DETAILS:  We’ve switched to getting up at 5:30 instead of 5:20 (the days are shortening!) but we were still on trail by 6:00 am today.  Even though the ground was awfully lumpy, I still slept OK.  But I am finding that more and more, I’m tired and sleepy DURING the day–it’s been a long trail to get here, and I guess I’m just getting “wore out”??  Yesterday, Fixit mentioned, “Only one more month and a bit, and we are done!”   Thinking about that has been a big help to me.  When I start to feel discouraged because I’m so tired, I say to myself, “Only one more month, just one more month” and I feel much more cheerful!

Most of this morning, we were hiking through burned forest that is just beginning to regrow.  That means lots of knee-high plants hanging over the trail, and it’s harder to use our trek poles.  We passed a really cute little ranger cabin with bear boxes by it–a great place to camp, but it was still morning!

There were lots of river and creek crossings today–mostly rockhops, some fords, and one log.  I crawled across that log and was almost done when Tattoo Joe came along.  “Are you all right?” he asked.  “Yes, I just don’t like walks across logs,” I said.  Of course TJoe bopped right across the log, and so did Fixit.  We leapfrogged with him for the rest of the day.  He told us he does 30 miles every day, no matter what.  He’s very friendly and fun to talk to–he knows a lot of hikers, has done the CDT before, and has lots of helpful info.

Well, before noon we crossed a river (ford), hiked a little bit farther, and found ourselves on the “horse superhighway.”  No kidding.  The trail has lanes and is totally covered with horse prints.  We met so many horse/pack trains, going in both directions!  And one of the horse destinations was to “The Parting of the Waters”, which is where we were going, so we had no problem with wondering where the trail went!  It was fun meeting all the horses and mules, but some of the critters did NOT like us and behaved badly.

Of course, every time we came to brushy areas, I would start yelling, “Hey grizz!  Hikers!   Coming through!”  By dinnertime, we had reached The Parting of the Waters.  It’s a lovely, peaceful spot, great for a dinner stop.  Tattoo Joe was there, too, so we had another chance to hang out with him, before he headed out to finish his 30 miles. And of course we had to take the obligatory pictures of us straddling the creek where it divided.  One part goes east, to the Atlantic, and the other goes west, to the Pacific.

Then we tackled a big climb–2,000′ in only 3 miles, from 8,000′ elevation to 10,000′.  Boy were we tired by the time we got to the top!   We wasted no time finding a campsite in a grove of trees where we’d be protected from the wind.  It’s pretty open and alpine up here, and it is nice to listen to the sound of the wind in those trees!  Whew, are we tired!

Monday, August 1 Trying to Escape the Smoke

Monday, August 1st, 2016

SUMMARY:  The early morning sun showed us lots of smoke. Bummer. We had hoped for blue skies at last, since we were hiking away from all the fires. But the smoke seems to have spread everywhere. Then, even with the GPS, we had a hard time finding the CDT trail and ended up hiking a bunch of extra miles.

The mountains around Brooks Lake, our first goal, are magnificent—the jagged Pinnacles, and another mountain that looks like a massive gray wall—but I could not get pictures of any of them in the gray smoke haze.

The trail did a huge “down” to the Buffalo River, which was wide but shallow—an easy ford. We are still working on the uphill climb from that—whew! Lots of views of deep, dramatic canyons. We hung our food bags from a tree for the first time in this entire hike. Don’t want grizz coming into our tent to get them!

DETAILS:   The early morning sun showed us…smoke!  Oh bother, it had spread out all over the place during the night, so instead of hiking off into blue skies, there was smoke haze enough that it was hard to see the mountains.  We got a great breakfast from the Lava Mtn. Lodge store and scarfed it up at the table in our cabin.

Then it was time to hike!  I had thought the Bear route for the trail went right near Lava Mtn. Lodge, but the Garmin as Fixit understood it said no–that the trail was further up the highway.  Fixit is having a hard time figuring out how to interpret all the numbers that show up on the Garmin screen.  (Note: later on, I decided to “learn” the Garmin and was able to make sense of all the numbers.  What Fixit hadn’t understood at that point was that it shows both the trail AHEAD of you and BEHIND you, and you have to find the waypoint number on your map, then you can spot it on the Garmin and head for it)

We walked and walked and walked–no sign of the trail.  Finally we reached the ROAD to Brooks Lake.  Oh no!  That meant we had totally missed the CDT and done a bunch of unneeded miles.  Oh well.  We walked the road to Brooks Lake, and it was a beautiful sight when we finally got there–surrounded by magnificent mountains, including one that looked like a giant wall, and others, called The Pinnacles, that were dramatically jagged.  Despite the smoke haze, there were people in the campground and people at the Brooks Lake Lodge.  I was bummed because the mountains and scenery were so magnificent, but I could not get a picture of them because of the smoke.  The camera just can’t see gray mountains against a gray sky.  So all I could do was LOOK.

We followed the trail past Brooks Lake and Upper Brooks Lake, meeting folks from the Lodge who were out horseback riding.  Once we were past the lakes, the rest of the day was basically big downs and big ups.  The biggest “down” was to the Buffalo River, which was wide, but very shallow and easy to ford.  After that we began a very long climb, which we are still sort of “on”.  It was interesting to watch the changes in the types of rocks along the trail–quite a variety.  And the forest was varied, too–everything from pretty and green to dead and burned.  And whenever we got to a brushy area, I would yell and make as much noise as I could so if there were any grizz, they would have time to get out of the way.  Fixit does not like yelling, so he leaves it up to me.  I don’t like yelling, either, but I much more don’t like the idea of having a run-in with a grizz.

Tonight we decided we’d better hang our food bags.  It is such a pain to have to do that, and it’s the first time we’ve done it on this hike.  But this is grizz country now, and especially after hearing what happened to poor Zorro, we are being careful.

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!