Categories
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)

Categories
CDT WY Section 2

Day 106: Peak Lake

Another cold morning meant sleeping in until 7. It wasn’t cold except when a chill wind came whipping through the cabin from the opposite direction it had the night before. That kind of unpredictability was why I put my tent in the middle of the room. Wind could blow the rain in but none of it could reach my tent. Hence, everything was dry that could be dry. Which is to say, everything was dry except the wet socks I donned and inserted into wet boots.

At 8:30, I left the cabins and walked over the bridge to the campground. I talked to a nobo on the way up to the trailhead, the first Black CDT hiker I’ve seen out here. They are rare, but they exist! There were a number of other backpackers just leaving, some wanting to talk to me, some that I would see later in the day.

My first stop in the campground was the administrative building, namely the trash cans in front of it. One of the guys working there really wanted me to know that “we are the ones who have to pack that out” before he let me add my trash to the bin. Of course, my trash was small and weighed less than a pound, and his “packing out” meant driving out in the back of a truck, so it really was easier for him than me.

Next stop, carry my water bag over to one of the many spigots throughout the campground. Since it was easy and would save me time later, I filled it right to the top. Then, I hiked right back out the way I came in.

As soon as I crossed the bridge again, I met another hiker out to do the Wyoming section of the CDT southbound. We both had the same plan for the day: get to Peak Lake on the Knapsack Col alternate and see whether it would be passable given the amount of snow there was up there after all those storms. We had high hopes because it was shaping up to be a beautiful warm clear day (aside from that cold wind) and would indeed be exactly that. We never got around to introducing ourselves in all the eagerness to hike, even when we met again and again.

I passed hiker after hiker coming around the east side of the lower Green River Lake. It was a surprisingly popular trail. Most were headed north, some were just sitting in chairs with an indeterminate direction, some were fly fishing the river (but from the bank–that glacial melt was far too cold to stand in), but I passed other pair of old guys aimed for the same part of the mountains as me. One of them wanted to chat about moose the second time he caught me. Based on his pace, they wouldn’t be getting anywhere near as far as I planned to that day.

Once I got to the last bridge over the Green River, I didn’t see any more going my way. I stopped for lunch in a sunny clearing (it was still cool in the shade just before the trail started its big climb into the mountains. While seated there, I saw three northbounders coming down, but no one going up. I also changed into my dry, thick socks because my boots were dry and the damp socks were making my feet hurt.

The climb itself wasn’t too bad. It was mostly really gentle switchbacks and had been pretty well cleared of blowdowns, except for one at exactly head height ready to bonk me. I was able to climb at basically the same speed I go over level ground. The only major obstacle was the Trail Creek crossing. Normally, it’s an easy rock hop to cross dry this time of year, but after all that rain and snow, it was raging. I went a long way upstream but could find no easy rock hop routes. Eventually, I crossed on a pine tree downstream from the trail, not an easy feat. But I kept that nice pair of socks dry.

I could keep that steady climbing pace pretty well until the turnoff for Vista Pass, a much steeper trail with a lot more blowdowns. It had been a few hours since lunch at that point and I was starting to drag a bit. So once I gained the more level ground near the top of the pass, I pulled over to a sunny rock near a shallow pond to make supper. I had just started boiling the water when the old southbounder guy from the morning came over to join me briefly. Then he hiked on ahead to do the last three miles to the lake. It was nearly an hour before I finished up and followed him out.

There were more blowdowns and water and mud in the trail for the first mile, though, riding high on the dinner energy, I didn’t let those things slow me at all. Soon I was crossing a scree field, and someone had sort of arranged the rocks into a kind of path. Then I crossed the creek and ran into a wall of boulders. It was a matter of finding my own way from cairn to cairn for this little bit, a real Abol Slide Trail (at Katahdin) moment.

But once I got high enough above the scree, something more like a trail reemerged, and I picked up the pace again. Near the top, the trail turned into a streambed, and I hopped from side to side, staying on the high rocks to keep my socks dry.

There was even more water and mud in the trail as I took a hard turn left and came over Cube Rock Pass, and it was a stream again all the way down the other side to the lake. I started avoiding the trail and finding other ways down. My socks came out slightly damp but largely unscathed. And I got to see my first pika of the year. Finally, some proper mountains!

Since I would be camping down there, I hoped the bowl of the lake would have some good wind protection, or that I could find a protected spot for my tent. Hope for the latter was dashed when I saw just how many tents there were already at the lake. The place was mobbed. A difficult side trail to the foot of an even more difficult climb at an elevation of 10,500 feet, and everyone and their brother had come out.

Pickings were slim for campsites that were on only slightly damp ground, so holding out for wind protection seemed a lost cause. I found the chatty old guy who was on the same plan as me, and saw a little shelf to stick my tent just around the corner from him. It was on the wrong side of the rocks to be out of the wind, but I didn’t see anything better around, and it was getting late.

With the tips now broken off both trekking poles, it took some time to get set up in a wind-resistant fashion. My only blessing was that the forecast I downloaded said that even with the windchill, it would only get down to 36 that night.

I was glad to have the first nice day and night in a while be right when I was planning to do this section. What lay ahead didn’t really even deserve to be called “trail.” If you remember my trail classification, it would fall somewhere near the bottom end of that. A 2000 foot choose-your-own-path up a scree field over the course of just 2.5 miles. And then something similar down the other side. It wasn’t possible at all without good weather, much less worth the effort. But on a good day, the views should be incredible.

Trail miles: 17.8

Distance to Pinedale: 20.8 miles

Categories
CDT WY Section 2

Day 105: Green River

It didn’t rain all night, but it was very cold. I learned even before I fell asleep that the sleeping bag I bought last year for extra warmth has gotten its stuffing so compacted and moved around that it didn’t provide nearly as much warmth as it once did. But even though it was still slightly cold all dressed up in the bag, it was colder still outside it, and yet colder with even the inner tent flaps open to let the breeze in.

When it’s that cold, I don’t get up before sunrise. I would rather go to bed late and get up late in winter weather. So I rolled over and over to stay in my bag in my tent until 6:30 when it started getting light out. The first thing I did was grabbed my towel to mop up the expected condensation from camping near a lake on a cold night. But when I went to do the same for the fly, it only crackled. It had been cold enough to turn the condensation into frost. There was even a layer of frost on the part of my backpack that wasn’t under the fly. And it was nearly that cold still. Just another August morning in Wyoming, I guess.

Obviously, I stalled as much as possible the putting on of wet socks and shoes and packed up everything I could pack before opening the outer flap to let all the heat out. The sun was firmly in the sky by the time I did that. And the wet boots didn’t end up being that bad. What with stopping to stand in the sun or tuck my fingers between my legs, I was very nearly packed before my fingers and toes were painfully cold and losing feeling. I took off my jacket at the last minute, packed it up, and hiked out around the lake around quarter to nine. Which, you know, was still an earlier start than the last two days.

The trail walked along the dam on the southern end of the lake keeping it from spilling into the much lower meadow on the other side. I can only assume the dam was artificial, but it was old enough to be completely overgrown with trees, which in turn had fallen all across the trail. Right off the bat, I was introduced to the theme of the day: navigating piles of blowdowns over the trail.

I also got a number of animal sightings in. Aside from the cows, herds of which parted before me every time I crossed a meadow, I also saw a deer right off the bat.

I kept seeing small groups of pronghorns in the next long pasture I crossed, sharing the area with the myriad cows, but by the time I reached the other end, they had joined together into a massive but tight cluster of at least 50 of them. I felt like I was on the Serengeti for a moment.

After a short break where the trail briefly entered the trees (as they provided a convenient windbreak for that ever-present chilly breeze), I stopped at a small lake 3 miles in to watch a beaver swimming, at which point Cliff Richards and Lost Keys appeared suddenly behind me. They had cut across a meadow and avoided visiting the lake for some reason. I chatted for a moment about our plans for the next few days and the weather (an especially interesting topic of late) but excused myself as quickly as possible to get some miles in and give Cliff some privacy to take his long johns off.

I committed to not stopping for lunch until 2, crossed a meadow and a creek, and plunged into the next forested section. Once again, there were myriad blowdowns constantly sending me off-trail, and on one such diversion, the rain started falling. I stopped to put on my Packa and got back to work just as the clouds opened up with fifteen minutes of Dippin’ Dots sized hail. It subsided to normal rain, then reprised this performance fifteen minutes later while I was navigating the nastiest stack of trees in the section. After that was a slight lull in the rain, so I finally stopped for lunch. It rained more while I ate, but not heavily, and it did not hail again at all. There was some pretty intense lightning during the next climb though.

Finally, I came up to Gunsight Pass, which wasn’t much of a climb to the top, and didn’t offer much of a view due to the rain, I got a nice respite from the blowdowns as I descended to the Roaring Fork. I crossed the river with blowdowns as bridges (even though my boots and socks were already soaked from the rain), and then had to cross the thickest blowdown-filled section yet. But once I had picked my way across that, I was treated to an easy, muddy traverse across to the edge of the Green River Valley.

It stopped raining for minutes at a time at this point, and the sun was even briefly visible on a couple of occasions. I took advantage of one of those short windows to get a snack break in that could carry me to my destination. Then I came to the edge of the ridge that dropped into the valley and could actually see the whole thing spread out before me. Yet again, it stopped raining long enough for me to drop my pack and climb up on a trail boulder and get a panorama. Then I was making the long descent into the valley.

Along this descent, I saw a couple of bull mooses below the trail, one with an enormous rack, but they didn’t stick around long enough to even get my phone out.

Finally, with the rain picking up again, I reached the edge of the Green River. I was planning on heading over to the campground on the other side to make dinner, but there was a fortuitously placed abandoned log cabin with a sod roof nearby I needed to check out. It was completely dry inside, so obviously I decided to make dinner right there. I watched two deer work their way across the meadow from one side of the cabin to the other while I ate.

Right next to it was another smaller cabin with a dirt floor, also pretty dry, so I pitched my tent there while my dessert tea was steeping. I was briefly accosted by a little brown bat during this and got a very good look at it climbing up the wall and out an exit of its own. This was my last animal sighting of the day. I went back to drink my dessert, brush my teeth, then fetch my pack and everything I would need to sleep into the smaller cabin. I would go to bed without having to worry about the rain, though the shifting cold winds and dropping temperatures would still be a concern in the little cabin with open holes for windows.

Indeed, around 11pm, the wind was whipping my tent flaps around so much it woke me. I finally decided to get up and check on the Packa I had hanging in the other cabin. I put my bare feet in my cold wet boots and climbed out into that wind to find my ground cloth all folded up and some bags sent to the other side of the room. The Packa was fine as the other cabin didn’t catch wind from that direction very well, but I took it down and put it against the wall anyway. By morning the wind would have shifted to a direction that could have torn it apart with blowing. Then I returned to my tent to start the process of warming my freezing toes up again from zero. Within an hour, another thunderstorm was raging outside, but I had tightened up my tent guy lines and had nothing left to worry about, so I let the thunder put me to sleep.

Trail miles: 18.0

Distance to Pinedale: 38.6 miles

Categories
CDT WY Section 2

Day 104: Lake of the Woods

I woke up at a few stages throughout the night and morning and it was always still raining. Nonetheless, my tent modifications were effective and everything inside was staying dry. I knew from the forecast that it would still be raining out at my usual rising time, and it was. I also knew that it wouldn’t rain all morning, so I decided to just sleep in until it stopped so that I could pack up without getting myself and all my gear wet in the process. It stopped raining about 8am, and with the extra time of changing clothes and getting the tent interior less wet, I didn’t start hiking until 10:30.

Just because it wasn’t raining doesn’t mean it was dry. There was still plenty of pea soup fog to ruin any nice views I might have had all morning otherwise.

I had a late lunch again on a log just as the rain started again. I kept my Packa on and draped my Tyvek over my pack to keep it mostly dry. I had to hunch over my tortillas to keep the rain off the as I prepared my wraps.

Within an hour of lunch, the sun came out. During another stop, I put away the Packa and stuffed a bunch of bars and candy into my pockets so I could eat while I walked for once. Just past this stop, I left the trail and crossed a meadow to get to a road that ran over Fish Lake Mountain before meeting the trail again. On the way up a steep hill, a brief rain started that I put my Packa on again for, but it stopped and I kept climbing with the jacket off. I also took off my down puff that I had been wearing all day because this was the first time I had actually been hot in it.

Eventually, once I had climbed to the prairie on the top of the plateau, I was glad to have come this way once the weather had slightly cleared. There was no protection from the cold wind, so I pulled the jacket on again, but I could actually see some views of the surrounding mountains, and herds of pronghorns running in the distant fields. A few miles of this and I finally rejoined the official trail. Or, more accurately, the trail rejoined the road I was on. It seems pretty likely that the road over the mountain used to be the trail once.

I stopped for supper near this junction. It was much easier than lunch since it wasn’t raining. I got a weather report while cooking and decided to hike all the way to Lake of the Woods on that basis–it wouldn’t be raining all night. The sun was getting low in the sky and the temperature was dripping, so I put up my Packa and put on my down puff again to do another three miles through cow pasture to Lake of the Woods. I arrived around 8:30, just in time to see the full moon rising over the lake. I set up my tent and crawled inside to change for a mostly dry but very cold night.

Trail miles: 17.4

Distance to Pinedale: 56.6 miles

Categories
CDT WY Section 2

Day 103: Sheridan Pass

To keep from waking everyone else up, I slept in until 6. But then I got up and started packing, and everyone else woke up too. Prince and Beanie Weenie did not really get out of bed, as all they had to do was hitch 40 miles out to Yellowstone that day.

But who did get up immediately was the mystery fourth hiker, Andrew, who turned out to be the lone sobo I had passed the previous day going over the hill to Cub Creek. Apparently, he had passed me again somewhere near Cub Creek where I ate dinner without me seeing, hiked all the way to the road, and spent the night at some random guy’s house halfway to Dubois while I was weathering the storm in the campground.

Anyway, before I had even finished packing, he left, saying he was going to a public restroom because he’s a “shy pooper,” which makes no sense as an excuse to leave to me. It certainly supported our efforts to give him a trail name along the lines of Secret Agent Man–he always comes by when you aren’t there or aren’t looking or can’t see, and disappears again just as mysteriously. Now, I’m thinking maybe Secret Squirrel would be funnier.

For my part, I finished packing, loaded up, and walked to the Village Cafe again. Even though the Cowboy Cafe had a line of people waiting for a seat, Village Cafe had enough free tables I could seat myself. So, coffee, bacon, sausage, 3 eggs, and hash browns leaving me still a bit empty, I ordered a plate sized hotcake too.

When I left the cafe, I was actually ready to hike, even though it meant hiking in the rain. It was that misty, foggy, and occasionally lightly sprinkly sort of wet. But I wrapped up in my Packa and walked a mile to the north edge of town to stick out my thumb. Much better luck this time. Ken, working up at the Triple Bar J, was headed home from getting a tooth pulled on his day off, stopped for me after I’d only been there ten minutes, and took me all the way up into the pea soup fog of Togwotee Pass and right to the trailhead. Super nice guy, too. Lived and worked in WY his whole life.

So, I headed off into the fog and sprinkling rain up a long road that devolved from gravel to mud over the course of just 3 miles. I had my hood up and my head down, but at some point, I looked up and saw a yurt standing there. It seemed like a good time to take a break, so I climbed the steep and rotting wood steps and pushed open the knobless door. I was surprised to find the place was fully furnished and clearly well-used. There was a double bed (partially soaked since the canvas roof was leaking) and a bunk bed next to it. A table with a propane stove hooked to a propane tank on top. A wood stove in the corner… with hot coals smoldering inside. Someone had just left. I hoped I was allowed to be here. (Comments on Guthook indicated lots of hikers staying there before me.)

So I grabbed a couple of pieces of split firewood from the pile by the stove and slid them inside. I tore a page from the magazine on the table, balled it, and shoved it under them. Then, I just blew a few times on the coals and the fire was roaring again. The stove was a bit leaky and smoke was getting into the room. But it started burning more cleanly soon. So I dragged a chair over and had a long, relaxing snack break next to a fire and out of the wind and rain. It was afternoon by the time I hiked out again.

The fog lifted over the next hour or so, but there was still a cold wind blowing and the sun never came out long enough to dry anything.

I met nobos Crocs and Jibs beside the road. Jibs was on the phone with a hotel in Dubois and could only say a few words to me, but I gave Crocs some tips about Dubois and in return, he suggested a shortcut of the upcoming hairpin in the road. I don’t think I quite found the trail he was talking about, but I did find a decently well-used trail through the dense, wet woods and cut off a mile of trail.

I stopped for lunch a little way past there, a pretty late lunch considering my late start and huge snack at the yurt, and then the trail finally left the road and cut through the woods for a while. Further on, the trail started alternating between wet, boggy meadows and woods. Later on, I was following a series of signposts that seemed to run right through the thickest parts of the bog and thick bushes, which was odd since I had no trouble skirting the bog on the edge of the meadow. It became clear when I checked my map that the trail did indeed avoid the bog and those signposts had nothing to do with the trail. But I was already well away from the trail and there was a good cow track in front of me, so I continued following it out to the road and cut across to the trail on that.

Just past where the two crossed, there was one of those enormous two man Zpax tents nestled at the edge of the woods, which was odd because it seemed way too early to be encamped. I called on it to find out if it was anyone I knew.

It was actually a couple, Cliff Richards and Lost Keys, and they were actually sobos for once. They had come out of Dubois late the previous day and spent the night in the yurt on the double bed then left late in the morning, hence the hot coals still in the stove. Cliff said they were stopping early just because they didn’t feel too good for some reason and liked this campsite, but still intended to hike all the way to South Pass City without a stop in Pinedale. I only saw Cliff’s face, Lost never poked hers out, but I figured I would see them again down the trail.

I, however, still had some time to get some good hiking done and didn’t intend to stop. It was starting to rain lightly again, and I was hiking out into the meadow with no protection from the cold wind. Even with my new gloves, my fingers were freezing.

I made it to my goal of Sheridan Pass without stopping and without having eaten dinner, so I continued until the next stand of trees (for wind protection) and made camp. The rain was getting heavier as I did, so I was trying to keep everything dry and get it under shelter as fast as I could. I decided staying warm and dry took priority over bear protocol (and what kind of bear would be out in that weather anyway?), so I climbed inside my tent, did all the set up from the inside (which is slower), changed into dry socks and added my long underwear, got into my sleeping bag, then cooked supper in the vestibule and ate in the tent. It was a pretty intense rain while all this was going on and it all took so long that it was well into the ten o’clock hour by the time I was ready to sleep.

But I couldn’t. As soon as I lay down, water was dripping on my face. I got out my towel and started mopping up water from the inside of the tent and fly, then modified the shape of my tent the best I could from the inside to stop it from channeling condensation in such a way that it would drip on my face. I put the towel next to my head and finally went to sleep.

Trail miles: 16.5 (counting the mile I skipped)

Distance to Pinedale: 74 miles

Categories
CDT WY Section 1

Day 102: Dubois

I woke up at 4:30 and it was raining. Since I had no real reason to be in a hurry, I decided to wait it out by going back to sleep. I woke up again at 5:30 and the rain had stopped, so I started packing up. It turned out almost everything had stayed dry, except that my front vestibule had come loose from the stake and fallen down letting a lot of water under the left side of the tent… where I had moved my socks thinking they’d be more likely to stay dry.

Full story: I switched to MSR mini groundhog stakes at the REI in Bozeman because I was tired of straightening the cheap Coghlan stakes I bought on the PCT last year every time I bent them while trying to drive them into the ground. But the new stakes don’t have full hooks at the top. They have divots just wide enough to catch one rope. But I need to hook both my vestibule ropes and stabilizing ropes on the same stakes. I really need to figure out a system to get them both secured so this vestibule collapse thing stops happening.

I had just gotten my boots on and was halfway through rolling up and drying off my mattress when it started raining again. I had already committed to getting up at this point, and even if I hadn’t, I would have done so soon enough because it rained all morning. Spoilers: the forecast predicted rain for the following four days as well. Time to get used to never getting dry again.

I tried to do as much packing as I could with my backpack inside the bearbox while I stood in the rain wearing the Packa. I carried the tent and Tyvek down to the privy to dry and get them ready to pack under the roof of its porch. Eventually, I brought everything else I hadn’t packed down there as well to finish packing in such a way that everything stayed as dry as possible until I had put my Packa around it all. Finally, I hiked up the road around 7:10.

Officially, I was no longer on the CDT. In 2019, I would be, but as of 2020, the official route had taken a hard right above Upper Brooks Lake. Supposedly, that route is not quite all there yet, requiring quite a bit of bushwhacking between finished sections. Yet, there were still plenty of CDT markers along the way from when it was the official route just two years ago. It was a fairly direct route from the campground to the highway near Togwotee Pass.

First, I climbed out of the lake along an increasingly rustic dirt road that eventually turned into a slip-and-slide as I climbed to the highest point I would reach on it. I’m not sure it would not have been exactly as much of a slog in fresh boots. Clods of mud flew off with every step, bouncing off the backs of my thighs.

I left the road at the side of a random hill and descended into the grassy hillside meadows. The wet grass instantly soaked the sides of my boots and therefore my socks and my feet. I would have to get used to constantly wet feet. The trail was a mud path that crossed a number of small streams. But there was enough grass toward the bottom that most of the mud was wiped off my boots by the time I reached the road around 8:20.

There was a decent amount of traffic on the highway, but not particularly interested in giving rides. The rain was coming off and on with a fairly consistent wind at my back. I stood beside the road for 1.5 hours, blowing on my hands whenever I got a chance. I never quite reached the point of shivering, but I was definitely reminded of the long hitch I had at Mt. Hood last year. When Florence finally stopped to give me a lift, I couldn’t undo the only on my Packa with the Jenga blocks I had where my fingers used to be. I ended up riding the first few miles with my hands directly on the heater vents.

Florence was giving up on a Yellowstone glamping trip, canceling her campsite reservations because of the rain, so the car was filled to the brim with fancy equipment. She dropped me at the Village Cafe in Dubois where I ate breakfast.

From there I walked down to the St. Thomas Episcopal Church office and met Connie, who showed me to the meeting room where hikers could sleep for free on provided cots. It was already occupied by two sleeping hikers, Prince and Beanie Weenie, who were taking a zero in Dubois before hitching up to meet a friend in Yellowstone.

After I set my stuff down and packed a day pack, we all three set out together to pick up packages at the post office and some few items at the Family Dollar. Prince got a care package from his sister, I got the package Ben forwarded me from Leadore, and Beanie Weenie just came for the grocery store part of the trip, as he wanted to buy a bunch of microwaveable food and junk food for dinner. Sure, part of it was being money-conscious, but part was he genuinely loved TV dinners. He got some sandwiches Prince derided as “cat food.”

On the way back to the church, we stopped at the Cutthroat Fly Shop, where I got a new pair of sun gloves which seemed like they would be far more durable than the hole-filled pair they were replacing. They were fresh out of waterproof stuff sacks.

I left my box and Prince and Beanie Weenie at the church and went back out. My first stop was the camping aisle at Ace Hardware, where I found a zip-up wet/dry sack which seemed intended for suitcases, but would fit my clothes and keep them dry just fine. Then to the shower/laundromat to turn an entire Jackson into quarters to feed the machines. It was the smallest bill I had large enough to cover the cost of a load.

I took the rest of those quarters down to the Rustic Pine, a bar with a fast casual style window for barbecue in the back. I took my rack of ribs and coleslaw and potato chips up to the bar and sat until and through happy hour trying various beers while uploading pictures, videos, and blog posts. There was no Verizon service in town, and this bar had the best wifi I had yet seen. They also sold microwaveable pork rinds but they didn’t come out right. I paid as I went entirely in quarters, including tip. They were as happy to get them as I was to get rid of them. Eventually, there was a pretty sizeable collection of people, and I quit working to chat with the local cowboy next to me for a good hour about everything.

From there, I went straight back to the church to find Prince and BW right where I left them. Another hiker named Andrew was there, but I didn’t get a good look. He slipped out the door while I was in the bathroom. I knew there would be another as he had slipped in, set up a cot, and left again while the rest of us went to the post office.

I spent the rest of the evening hanging out in that room, packing up my food, and then lying down on my cot to upload more pictures and posts. Andrew did not until right after we turned off the lights, so I still didn’t see him. But I ended up working on the blog until after midnight before sleeping.

Trail miles: 3

Categories
CDT WY Section 1

Day 101: Brooks Lake

Here’s a game I’ve been playing lately. It’s an entirely mental game that hardly affects the hiking. It’s called Race the Clock and it works like this: any time I stop, I check if I have yet hiked more miles than there have been hours since midnight. If so, I win. The earlier it happens the more I win. If I win and then take an hour break to let the clock get ahead, then I can win twice in the same day. This latter basically never happens because, although I usually win, it happens late in the afternoon or evening when there is not enough time to win again.

But one thing that helps with the winning earlier is getting up earlier. Getting up later is hard mode: the clock gets a big head start. If I were to start hiking at, say, 8 or 9, there’s no way I would win.

I woke up with the 5am alarm feeling fully awake and rested. I slept right through the first alarm. I fetched my full bag of water and spilled a little as I put it in my pack. A little turned into a great deal more by the time I had finished packing and saw that the entire back of the pack and the straps were soaked through because I hadn’t tightened the cap hard enough, or the hose had torqued it loose when I flipped the inner bag containing over to pack my bear can. Whatever the reason for the slow leak, I still had enough water for my next water break and the next section was fairly wet, so I didn’t worry about it. I just had to put up with wet shorts and constant dripping on the backs of my legs for the next several miles.

I hiked out just past 6 and immediately started climbing. It was two miles, less than an hour, to the crossing of Soda Fork on a slippery half-submerged log and subsequently the tiny log cabin where two other hikers who had spent the night there were just about packed up. (It’s an attractive campsite because it has bear boxes.)

Beyond that was an even steeper hill. In fact, it was the beginning of a long 2.5 mile climb, the first of two I would have to do this day. Halfway up, I passed a large boggy lake with a moose having breakfast in it.

I took my first morning break near the top of the climb. I sat on a log just close enough to the steep hill next to the trail to remain in its shadow just about as long as I breaked for. The sun was finally up and at ’em when I started down the other side of the hill.

At the bottom of the hill, about 4 miles later, I traded shoes for sockwas to cross the South Buffalo Fork, a much deeper swifter river than the North Buffalo Fork I crossed the previous evening. While I was changing into my shoes again in a little meadow above the south bank, a nobo arrived: Fastball from Montreal. I had planned to take my second morning break here and he decided to take lunch before crossing, so we chatted for quite a while. I got some info not only on the Winds but also on Montreal and Quebec City and a significant portion of Colorado as well. I tried to return the same in kind, but it was nearly lunchtime for me as well and I needed to earn it with some more hiking. I interrupted the water filtration I had started (on the water I had carried down from a creek up the hill) and hiked on south.

While we had been chatting, dark clouds had rolled in. I was a mile into my second big climb of the day (3 miles long) when it started sprinkling. It lasted long enough I thought I might should get out my Packa. And then I figured I might as well go ahead and have lunch while I was stopped even though it hadn’t even been an hour since my last break. But it was lunchtime.

Some fellow sobo passed me just as I was leaving, but I passed him back fetching water out of a creek a half mile later. I never saw him further down the trail.

After I came down the other side of my second big hill climb, I had to cross Cub Creek. Rather than take off my boots, I did a dry foot crossing in three parts further upstream.

The first tributary was an easy crossing, a log across the stream just below the trail. It put me on a sort of island, and I waded through tall bushes out to the point of it where the stream I had crossed met the main creek.

Here there were several boulders in the stream, and it was easy to step between them to the third, biggest one nearly to the other side. But between the last one and the far bank was a four foot gap with the deepest, swiftest water. I planted one trekking pole firmly on the far bank, one in the rocks at the bottom of the stream where it could hinge freely, and my forward foot on the top edge of the boulder. Then, after checking everything was ready to go three times because I only got one chance to stay dry… je me lance a la gloire okayyyyyy…

The third stream was mostly overgrown in the neck-high bushes, but once I found the one spot close to where it entered the main creek that it wasn’t completely overgrown, it was an easy step across. Another minute wading through the bush maze brought me back to the trail with my boots still on my feet and dry.

To celebrate this success, I stopped for dinner. While I cooked and ate, packed up and left, the same group of three riders passed me four times, twice in each direction. I don’t know if they were lost or just wanted to confuse their horses.

From there it was a short, easy climb to the pass that marked the wilderness boundary just above the head of Upper Brooks Lake. I had to stop in the next stretch to get out my Packa again and this time actually put it on. The rain decided to keep going this time. It continued for the next hour as I crossed the meadow separating Upper Brooks Lake from regular Brooks Lake. I think it was only at this late stage that I finally Beat the Clock for the day. It stopped just as I was coming around the lake into Brooks Lake campground. The kayakers fly fishing in the lake seemed unfazed whether it was raining or not.

The campground was a national forest fee campground but the sites were all full and there were no envelopes for the fee. I set up next to a picnic table, fire ring, and bear box on top of a hill with no walkway up to it associating it with a particular campsite. It may have belonged to the parking spot occupied by a trailer down the hill, but they clearly needed neither a bear box nor a picnic table.

Except for what I needed with me to sleep, I put everything, including my backpack and all its usual contents, inside the bear box before I went to bed.

This turned out to be a good decision. Around 11pm, a thunderstorm blew in, preceded by a few minutes of gale force winds. They woke me up in a heartbeat when they tore the stake at the foot of my tent right out of the ground so that my feet were the only thing keeping it erect. I fought my way out of my mummy bag and crawled out the back vestibule and grabbing a nearby rock to pound the stake back into the dirt. It was good hard dirt, not easy to put a stake into or pull it out of. It was just a really powerful gust of wind.

I dove back into the tent and resecured the vestibule rope just before the rain came. The wind had also blown my Tyvek porch up under the other vestibule and over my boot, so I pulled the other end in and over the other boot to match. I moved my socks from the foot of my tent to the side in case I hadn’t staked it out as well as I had before and hoped I would mostly stay dry through the night. I think the lightning passed in fifteen minutes or so, but I fell back to sleep within a few minutes.

Trail miles: 20.6

Distance to Dubois: 3 miles

If you did not see the videos the last two days, go back and look. They are there now.

Categories
CDT WY Section 1

Day 100: Soda Fork

I woke up around 1am, wide awake for no apparent reason. It took me a while to get back to sleep, so written the 4am alarm went off, I decided to sleep until 5 to make up for the lost sleep. I hit the trail at 10 after 6.

It started pretty easy. All gradual downhill into the Mink Creek canyon, which was flat-bottomed and bushy like all the other creeks in the area. But I went as quickly up the canyon as I could as I had the day’s biggest challenge ahead.

The CDT turned off the Mink Creek trail before the end of the canyon, becoming a much less worn trail. It crossed the creek and immediately started climbing the hill on the other side. I met a nobo coming down this first steep climb. I told him I wanted to finish the climb before it got hot out (and with the sun starting to peek over the hill and with the chill of the creek area falling behind, it was getting hot fast), and he told me I was almost there. But I knew he was wrong. I wasn’t even halfway to the halfway plateau. It was another half mile until the steep climb leveled out and I traversed a nice flat meadow for a half mile to reach the second half of the climb. The sequel was just as steep and just as long but much less shady. When I reached the top, I had climbed 1309 feet in 2.5 miles. It was time for a break.

I found the one shady spot downhill of a small clump of trees overlooking a nearly dry pond. I sat there for almost a half an hour while the water I had carried up from Mink Creek filtered. I walked over to check out what was left of the water in the pond and found a list net cinch sack to pack out, and when I came back the filtering still wasn’t done. The filter is still a lot slower than it was before I filtered that really muddy water just west of Yellowstone despite all the backflushing I’ve been doing. Realizing I had already wasted far too much time here, I dumped the rest of the dirty water and began the hike down the other side of the hill.

The descent was steeper, longer, and more dangerous than the climb up. The trail was soft, dry dirt strewn with loose pebbles in a variety of sizes, sometimes like a naturally occurring arrangement of Kevin McAllister’s marbles on wood. I was slipping a little with very step and had to go slowly and carefully.

I only fell once. It was a slow motion involuntary hurdler’s stretch. My front foot just slid smoothly down the hill for several feet while my back foot stayed planted, slowly lowering me until my butt was on the ground. If a video had been made of the incident, I would be getting scouted by the Ministry of Silly Walks.

I met a large group of hikers coming up this same hill. Interestingly, rather than carry ropes to hang their food out of reach of bears, one of them carried an electrified bear fence. Seems like a convenient solution for a group this large.

One of them said “Nice bag!” as I passed, and my actual response was “Really?”

Anyone who has worn my go for any considerable amount of time would not think it particularly nice. I’m not the only one who has experienced catastrophic irreparable structural failure with it. I’m only still carrying one because I’m stupid. I was about to start complaining, but opened my eyes and stopped myself instead.

“Oh, you have the same one…” He’ll get to experience the joy of the Gregory Baltoro himself in due time. No need to belabor the point or dredge up the glory days of 2013 when Gregory made backpacks you could fix when they broke.

Just downhill from that meeting, I came to the first incredible waterfall of the day. The trail crossed Trail Creek just above it, but I sure liked the look of the pool at the base. A great place for a shower, maybe, if you don’t mind the frigid water temperature.

And then, a few minutes later, the highlight of the day. The trail crossed Two Ocean Creek at the exact point it split, sending half of its waters to each side of the Continental Divide. A single tree stood in the crotch of that bifurcation point, standing guard over the waters, casting judgment on the molecules, sending some to the left to join Atlantic Creek (and eventually the ocean of the same name) and the rest to the right to join Pacific Creek (and eventually that ocean).

The trail descended on the Pacific Creek side but soon turned off to climb up the Trail Creek canyon. When the trail finally came closely alongside said creek, it was lunchtime. I pulled over and found a rock in the shade overlooking the creek and ate lunch. I believe I also filtered some water from that creek while I ate.

The creek came down from a pass that was not steep on either side, so before I knew it, I was walking alongside North Buffalo Fork. Right where I first reached it was a long serpentine beaver dam forming a deep, calm pool. I was tempted to stop for a swim, but that would have cut into the miles. I did stop where the trail came close to the river a couple of miles later to have a snack under a shade tree. It was easy access to get some more water to filter.

As soon as I started again, I came by a cute little river-fed pond filled with ducks. Too shallow to swim, I think, but very picturesque.

Just past here, I met Green Tortuga having a break beside the trail. His Yellowstone permit didn’t have him entering the park until two days later, so he was doing his best to not hike too much. If he hiked another 5 miles, he would leave himself with only 11 to do the following day. I suggested he take the swim I had skipped.

A couple of miles later, I was at the North Buffalo Fork crossing, which involved taking an unmarked turn down a smaller trail. I took it on instinct, but it looks like a lot of sobos miss it. Some miss it on purpose to get to the road to visit the store for soda and road walk around the river crossing. But I’m not about that life. I put on my sockwas and walked right across that river. I thought it would be ankle deep, but there were two shin deep steps, so I got my calf sleeves wet.

The rest of the hike was just an easy flat walk up the Soda Fork canyon, which was equal parts open meadow and burned-out forest. I stopped just before 7:30 when I reached a stand of trees that were still alive along a creek. No sooner had I erected my tent than a flock of grouse came to visit. I got some water from the creek to start it filtering while I slept and went to bed.

Trail miles: 21.4

Distance to Dubois: 24 miles

Categories
CDT WY Section 1

Day 99: Snake River

I actually started packing at the 4am alarm for once. I didn’t have the excuse of getting in late this time, so I packed up and got out around a quarter after five. One side of my tent had condensation, so that cost me a couple of minutes drying it, but everything else went smoothly.

And the first couple of miles of trail were really easy. Both objectively easy and my-legs-are-fresh-and-ready-to-go easy. I arrived at the turnoff for campsite 8J6 (East Shore) about an hour later, my headlamp long since turned off. I wanted to see the beautiful view of the lake reflecting Mt. Sheridan on the opposite end and all the morning motion and coffee wanted me to find the toilet.

I paused on the shore to say hi to a rapidly evacuating porcupine and take some lake pics. I paused in the campsite to say hi to the campers who had spent the night there and were just leaving. I paused to say hi to the toilet even though I know toilets don’t have ears. Then, instead of going back out the way I came in, I followed a clear and frequented but unmarked back trail out of the campsite.

It led me to the bank of Heart River where it was slowly draining the lake. If I continued along it, it would connect me back to the CDT at the Heart River campsite, where I would need to remove my shoes to ford the river. So I took a little time to find a way to cross the river here where it was shallow with easy rock hops for 90% of its width. I found a dead tree I could break a section off of to build a ramp across the last little deep section on the far side and tossed in some large rocks next to it for stability and backup. Then, in an anticlimactic instant, I was on the other side with dry shoes.

But I was way upstream of the trail and separating me from it was a very steep bank that ran down to the water’s edge. I may have lost twenty minutes of time climbing that bank and working my way through a thick stand of very young pines at the top until I reached the trail. But I got through it with only one minor scrape on my knee and a ton of dead pine needles all over my hat (which had protected my face from the trees) and every crevice of my pack. I stopped for my first snack break of the day as soon as I reached the trail, and picked off all the pine needles while I was there.

The ironic thing was that I had to cross the same river again just two miles further south, and there was no way to do it without getting my feet wet there. (You know I gave it a shot though!)

This put me into the main Snake River canyon leading up to its highest headwaters. I knew I would have to ford the river in 8.3 miles, and which was a distance I expected to be able to cover by lunch time. So I turned the expectation into a promise and decided not to eat lunch until I reached the next ford. Honestly, I was looking forward to it, for reasons which shall be clear.

But the trail didn’t want to make it easy for me. Sure, because I was following the Snake River upstream, I had to be going uphill the whole way, but the trail was cut into a hillside set back from the river, and kept going steeply up, steeply down, alternating between climbing and descending (but always more of the former).

By 11, I had reached Sickle Creek, a good source of water, but not shade. I sat in the shadiest half-shadowed spot I could find and started some water filtering while I filled up on snacks enough to get me to lunch.

Right after that was the longest steepest climb of the section.

It took another 2.5 hours to reach the crossing only 4.1 miles ahead because the trail just stayed as steep as it could at every moment the whole way. I was never so happy to reach a river ford when the end of the 1 o’clock hour arrived.

I was starving from the long strenuous stretch without food, so my priority was to find a shady spot to eat lunch. I found a nice sturdy log lying under some shade trees between a small meadow and the river and set up shop. I grabbed some water and started it filtering. I finished lunch, changed into my sockwas, emptied my pockets, and waded into the river.

The hole next to the crossing was deep enough that I couldn’t touch the bottom with my head above water. It was quite cold, but slightly warmer on the side with new water moving into it. When I finished up and climbed out, I noticed much more sharply that the wind had picked up. My wet shirt wasn’t letting me hold onto my heat. I was shivering within the minute. Thinking it would be awfully embarrassing to die of hypothermia on an 80+ degree afternoon, I took off my shirt and hung it over a tree to warm up. It was a bit better without it, but it took a solid minute before my nipples softened enough that it didn’t hurt to touch them.

Anyway, I got back to my stuff packed up, hung my boots from my neck and waded out into the river again. On a log up the hill on the opposite side, I finally got to put my boots back on.

The next bit of trail was much easier than what I had been doing for the last few hours, so I moved more quickly. And I warmed up so quickly I was missing the ice cold shirt on a heartbeat. There were some nobos just coming into the park here, hoping to do those 9 miles to Snake River in the next 4 hours. I’m sure they had no trouble with it, being hikers who aren’t me.

In a bit over an hour, I was rock-hopping across the Snake again and keeping my feet dry. The trail followed the boundary of the park from this point to the ranger cabin that sits opposite where the CDT enters the park. Just shy of said cabin, I stopped on a rock to eat dinner. Sure, it had only been a few hours since lunch, but it had been a very late lunch, and it was actually already dinner time.

And then I left Yellowstone for good. Although it turned out to be a much more ceremonious exit than entrance. Does anyone know why the Forest Service signs are so much nicer than the Park Service signs? The big wooden Teton Wilderness sign both dwarfed and outclassed the Yellowstone Boundary sign.

Leaving the park meant leaving the relative flatness of the terrain there. Not immediately, no. I got a nice, easy 2.5 mile stretch still following the Snake upstream at just enough distance to stay out of its bogs. But then I came to my final Snake crossing, at this point, a mere three miles or so from its source, nothing more than a creek maybe ten feet wide and an easy rock hop. On the other side of the river began a steep half-mile climb the likes of which I hadn’t tackled in nigh on a week. At the end of an already grueling day, it felt a bit like torture. But I told myself I would stop at 7:30 regardless of where I was.

Where I was at just before 7:30 was a perfect little flat site in a lovely flat section of forest on top of the hill I just climbed. I liked the look of it so much I couldn’t pass it up. I managed to get set up and in bed by 8 and turned off by 9.

Trail miles: 20.8

Distance to Dubois: 44.1 miles

Categories
CDT WY Section 1

Day 98: Heart Lake

I woke up at 4am, put my socks and calf sleeves on, then took a quick nap until 5am when I started packing. I had a long day ahead and, though it might be harder on only 6 hours of sleep, it would be harder still if I couldn’t get it done before dark again.

I was ready to go shortly after six, which is about the time Windy was emerging from his tent. I started hiking not a minute after he came out.

I immediately arrived on the shore of Lake Shoshone, which looked like a rainbow reflecting the pre-dawn sky. I only got to spend a minute there before the trail went into the woods.

At 8am, I pulled off the trail to take a snack break and saw Windy come right up and pass me, sniffing and snorting but saying not a word. So apparently he hikes so much faster than me that it only takes him two hours to catch up from packing up after I had left, even when there’s a lot of hills to climb.

And yet somewhere I passed him again. A northbound hiker told me he had mentioned me, so he was ahead of me there. A mile later, I came to the ankle-deep Moose Creek crossing and spent maybe 20 minutes trying to turn it into a dry crossing, but couldn’t find a tree strong and supple enough to support me. So I gave up, took off my boots, put my sockwas on.

Ten steps later, I changed back into my boots because it would be 2.7 miles to the next wet crossing.

Coming down the hill to the shore of the Shoshone Lake outlet/Lewis River, I saw Windy hiking up behind me. I stopped at the end of the gravel beach to change back into my sockwas, but he just came down and walked straight into the water. I asked how I had passed him. It was the same way I passed him on our first meeting: he had stopped to cook breakfast. Anyway, he was soon in the water up to his hips and away and gone down the trail on the other side.

“My shoes are always wet,” he said.

“Everything is in waterproof containers,” he said. “It’ll be fine.”

“See you down there,” he said.

It was only ankle-deep where I crossed. I’ve got some things I don’t want wet.

When I made it to the far side and stopped to put my boots back on, I first grabbed some water from the river and started it filtering. It was the last good water for quite a while, and it was about time for my second morning break anyway. It was 11:11 when I hiked out again.

I passed 3 day hikers coming in on the way out. One told me that she had passed Windy 40 minutes before, so it seemed he was over an hour ahead of me at this point. I kept going without slowing but doubted I’d catch him.

The Dogshead Trail was the direct route out of the woods. It went straight for the road but didn’t really do anything scenic. It was low rolling hills for the first 3.4 miles, then a gently graded half-paved road for the last 1.3. I arrived at the road about 1pm, but, after chatting with some guys about to enter the woods, I decided to take lunch at the Heart Lake Trailhead just down the road.

The best spot for such an undertaking was a log in the trees overlooking the parking lot currently occupied by a couple from Colorado about to begin their own hike to Heart Lake. I chatted with them for a minute, particularly about features of the trail to come, where I expected to see them. Then they left and I spent the next hour roughly making and eating lunch and dumping all my trash in the last conveniently placed trash can I would encounter for a few days.

I started to hike out about the same time as another couple, apparently day hikers judging by their gear, was setting off dish the trail. Given that the first point of interest along the trail was a solid six miles away and it was already 2 in the afternoon, I assumed they must be fast hikers, planning to practically run down the trail to do the 12 or 15 miles in and out before sundown, so I let them go ahead. But when I told them I expected them to be faster, they said they preferred a chill pace. I think they were probably not making a good choice of trails.

Anyway, I did the next six miles as fast as I could without stopping. It was predominantly level and easy to speed along. Finally, I started to come out into the open hillside opposite Factory Hill, the Witch Creek drainage. There were some dry thermal features near the trail near the top of the ridge, but as I descended, the trail came within feet of several hot springs. After a few switchbacks, I came out into the open meadow and there were hot springs everywhere. At the second Witch Creek crossing there were three people waiting: the Colorado couple and Windy. The couple were soaking their feet in the creek and Windy said he had laid in the creek for ten minutes earlier. Upon my arrival, there was some conversation, but as soon as I mentioned the lake being said to be swimming pool temperature, they all started getting ready to leave. They were hiking down to the lake by the time I had my shoes off. I had the creek to myself. You can see in the video what happened next. I only laid in the creek for a few minutes because I was also eager to get to the lake.

1.5 more miles down the hill, I passed the ranger cabin at the lake shore. A volunteer ranger named Richard hailed me before I went any further. He was staying in the cabin with his wife and had been working in this part of the park for around a quarter of a century. But his role here was to talk to people who were staying at the lake campsites. Not necessarily to turn away people without permits, but at least to give them some direction. I know this because Windy had talked to him and admitted his lack of any permit, but he let Windy go on with his plan to hike around the lake and on to Snake River campsite some 6 or 7 more miles away. I, of course, did have a permit and my campsite was only 1.5 miles away. Close enough to get to bed on time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Eventually, I wrapped up my conversation with Richard, who was as eager to go for a swim as I, and headed down the beach to where Windy was just dressing to hike after a nice skinny dipping sesh. He chatted with me until I was ready to go for a swim, then hiked out to another 6 miles as I paddled out into the luxuriously temperate water on my inflated mattress. I did not expect to see him again; he does much bigger miles than me.

I left my mattress on the beach to dry, got dressed, and started making supper right there on the beach. Then, I saw that my mattress had blown into the water again, ran down to the water, took off my shoes etc. as fast as I could, and waded in after it. After I retrieved it and got my shoes on again, I deflated the mattress and hung it on a bush to dry, then went back to finish dinner.

It was around 6:30 or so when I set off around the lake, an easy smooth walk to my campsite. Just before the turn-off, I crossed Beaver Creek. I grabbed a bag of water to filter in my campsite, then set off down the side trail into Beaver Creek Meadows.

It was a sweet campsite. An island of trees in the middle of a meadow with a couple of bear boxes of a design I had never seen before. There was a toilet up the hill that I never visited. I put all my food in one of the boxes, started the water filtering, then started setting up my tent in the meadow away from the island and on the opposite side as the creek. But it was slow going because I was so sleepy and barely moving. Even the sound of thunder and a distant flash of lightning didn’t much hurry me. The storm cloud ended up missing me anyway.

I thought I might feel better with another drink of water I had just filtered, so I stopped making camp to sit in the bar box and drink water and eat candy. I think it worked because ten minutes later I was in my tent. And I was all turned in and off and ready to sleep by 9, just as planned.

Trail miles: 22.7

Distance to Dubois: 66.3 miles