I started packing at 5:30 and hiked out before 7. It wasn’t a particularly windy morning, but my good choice of campsite also protected my stuff from a frosting that everything else in the valley received. Nothing in my campsite had the slightest frost.
After descending to the trail beside the creek, I followed it down into the ever thickening forest at the lower elevations. At some point, there was no space for the trail to run beside the creek anymore, and it turned up the hill and into the middle of the forest. Soon the struggle began.
What I mean is that the next 3 or 4 miles had so many blowdowns, it took me five hours before I was reasonably out of the thick of it.
When the blowdowns first got so thick as to hide the trail, I just kept climbing higher, keeping close to a rock face far up the hill where fewer trees grew and therefore fewer trees fell. Eventually, I had to descend straight down a ravine back to where the trail was. There were a couple of snack breaks in here, as even when I could follow the trail again, I still had to leave it often to work my way around large piles of blowdowns. I used up all my water in the couple of hours I spent here.
When I finally rejoined the CDT, I immediately arrived at a creek where I had to take a long break to filter some water. When I left again, I made the mistake of trying to generally follow the trail. This was not even close to possible, and I ended up just climbing over the rocky tops of every minor hill that stood adjacent to the trail until forced to descend into the narrow, muddy, and grassy meadows between them. The descent was inevitably a slow careful picking over more piles of blowdowns. When I found an open area with some sunshine and a respite from the blowdowns, I stopped for lunch for an hour, then descended into the mess again.
Eventually, I found a clear piece of trail up the first part of the biggest mandatory climb of the day. It carried me with some speed straight up to an overlook of Little Sandy Lake, then was immediately lost in another even bigger pile of blowdowns, the most technical maze yet. There was no going around this mess. The only way out was directly over the top of it, then much zigging and zagging around what was left near the top of the hill before regaining the trail.
The descent on the other side let up somewhat on the punishment. Most of the blowdowns could be avoided by ducking under or going around. It was 3pm or so, when I met some nobos climbing the hills with their dogs, who had apparently walked all the way from New Mexico and didn’t seem much worse for the wear. They told me the blowdowns cleared up after a mile or so. I told them to just go down to the lake and walk the shore around rather than to try to follow the official trail like I had.
Once I left the wilderness area, things got much better. Chainsaws were allowed here, which meant most of the blowdowns had been cut. There were some blocked sections I had to go around still intermittently after passing Sweetwater Trailhead, but the whole section was clearly just a pointless bit of connecting trail built to get the trail off the road it had once followed, so I just decided to take the road down to the campground.
There was a huge group of young amateur backpackers in the campground just hanging out in the green space near some SUVs. Teens or college kids, I think, and there weren’t enough vehicles there for all of them, so I guess they had been dropped off there. Anyway, they were playing Frisbee when I arrived, and when I finally identified a few campsite where I could cook dinner at a picnic table, they had gathered into a circle for some sort of briefing then hiked out to a nearby hike-in tent site.
The campground was a godsend. There was a brilliant creek right there to provide water for dinner. There was a huge trash dumpster next to the privy so I could free up space in my bear can and save some weight. And the convenience of a picnic table for cooking and eating can’t be overstated. There were also fire rings in every campsite, and the ones I passed hiking out were surrounded with immense piles of freshly cut firewood.
After working my way across the creek to the CDT on a log jam, I had nothing but easy hiking the rest of the evening. Even though it was rolling hills with some steady climbing at times, there were no more blowdowns, so I could do in two hours the kind of distance that took five hours in the middle of the day.
I could clearly watch the sun set, and once the light started fading, I started seeking a campsite. It was not an easy task, nor was it fun given the low light and my sore feet. If there was land that was level enough, it was usually covered with boulders or sagebrush or more blowdowns, or located directly under some already broken and precariously perched widowmakers. Finally, later than I wanted to stop, I found a rocky hilltop with a clear, flat, sandy spot just large enough for a tent in between the rock slabs. For various reasons, it still took another hour to get to bed and yet another to get to sleep. A long day and my latest night on the trail yet.
Trail miles: 17.1
Distance to Lander: 15.7 miles