CDT WY Section 2

Day 107: Seneca Lake

After waking up in the night to tighten my guy lines from the shaking power of the wind, eventually my tent warmed up and I could be comfortable. I couldn’t sleep through the night though. I woke up on several occasions. And when there started to be some light, it was raining, so I rushed to pull things in. The rain was light and didn’t last, but I slept in until 7 anyway. By then, the sun was starting to come over the peaks and peek between the clouds, warming up the whole tent whenever it hit it directly. The intense cold winds continued, of course.

By the time I came out of the tent, the chatty old man I was talking to the night before had long since left. So had the three guys down on the water. I could see a few figures on the other side of the lake and one woman crossing the rock hop to the other side. All that was left in camp was me and the tent in the trees above me.

I hiked out about 9:30. Just over the starting scree field to get to the other side of the lake, I was already warm enough to take off my down coat. Two guys from New York (Long Island and Albany) caught up to me there. They were the guys from the tent above me. They would be right behind me throughout the climb.

The first section had something like a trail, or at least a route. There were footprints in the snow when the track wasn’t clear. Sometimes the many streams coming down the hill just ran down the trail. Sometimes the trail was a muddy bog. It felt like a climb up to any other pass but wetter. Somewhere halfway up, I started to feel the effects of the altitude, so I started occasionally hyperventilating to make sure I was getting the oxygen I needed to get up to the col without getting a headache.

The last part of the climb, just above the source of the Green River–where I grabbed a bag of water just for safety’s sake–was a more of a free-form hands-on affair. I stopped for a morning snack, then strapped my trekking poles to my pack to free up my hands for better climbing. Then I just found the best way I could up to where the col was. Maybe it wasn’t always the best or recommended way, but everyone gets to do it how they decide to do it.

I took a break with the New York guys at the top of the pass when they caught up to me there just before noon. In total it was a 2.5 mile climb in 2.5 hours. 1 mph doesn’t put it quite in the bottom tier in my trail ranking system. In short, it wasn’t that bad. It was quite literally the high point of my trip so far at 12,288 feet.

The descent was much swifter. Some Chinese ladies had made a nice series of post holes down the Twins Glacier, which was covered with fresh powder and easy to make tracks in. Bits of snow knocked aside with a step had a tendency to roll down the hill and gather up more snow as they went until they formed into giant cheese wheels standing at the end of a narrow track. When I came to a steep and rock-free area of snow, I took a shortcut by just sitting down and sliding down the hill until I reached the next rocky patch. I was able to do this a couple of times before the hill started to get less steep. Then I could sort of ski across the snow field on my shoes. It took maybe only five or ten minutes to reach the bottom of the glacier this way.

I continued to work my way down into the basin along the creek that was forming among the rocks. A little after two, I reached the bottom, as evidenced by the campsites people had built by arranging stones into wind barriers. I stopped behind one extra large boulder that was doing a decent job of blocking most of the wind for lunch. It was just after 1. The New York guys joined me shortly thereafter, and we hiked out again about the same time. I got way ahead of them once we regained a proper trail and didn’t see them again.

The trail in question was a boggy, rocky mess along the valley floor running alongside a chain of increasingly large lakes. It was also an extremely popular trail. There were just as many people headed to the top of the basin as moving down it with me. Scores of people.

An hour or so into this, the weather changed its mind. I ignored the little drops of rain at first, but they got more frequent until I had to stop and install my Packa. No sooner had I gotten that on and started hiking again, the rain turned into hail. Much larger hail than what I’d seen two days before. Sometimes it stung when it hit. Then, before the hail had even stopped falling, the sun came out again.

Coming into the Island Lake area, I came over a hill with very little wind for some reason, so I decided to take advantage of the return of good weather with a snack break on a rock there. But I had barely gotten started snacking when it started raining again. Back on went the Packa and I started hiking again, figuring that handful of calories could get me to dinner.

As soon as I climbed out of the Island Lake area (another extremely popular area mobbed with hikers and their tents), I was stopped for a conversation with a forest service ranger. Once he has confirmed I had a trowel to bury my poop (yes, he said those exact words) and that some of the people hiking next to me hadn’t pitched their tents too close to a lake (they had–he promised to give them a ticket if they didn’t move them by the time he came over there), he was willing to give me a lead on a good spot to legally camp and chat about his job.

I hiked across the Fremont Crossing, joined the CDT, passed the tiny lake where those others were illegally camped, left the CDT again, and continued up to a ridge overlooking Little Seneca Lake. I posted up on a rock there and started filtering the water from the Green River source to make dinner. I had just started boiled the first bit of water for dinner when another forest service ranger, a small lady, hiking up the hill came over to chat. She was headed up to join the other guy, but in the meantime, she was happy to give me some tips about where to eat in Pinedale.

I only went a mile more after dinner, just to the point where the trail leaves the shore of Seneca Lake and climbs over the bluff next to it. The first ranger (Brett) had said to camp in these knolls. He wasn’t wrong. I had only gone a hundred yards or so into the hills when I found a beautiful campsite with some wind protection and lake views. I had a nice long easy evening there. There was a brief bout of rain once I was tucked in my sleeping bag, but it didn’t last long enough to worry about. And even though I was still above 10000 feet, it wasn’t even that cold compared to the previous nights.

Trail miles: 10.8 (the Seneca Lake Trail doesn’t count)

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