Sweetwater Trailhead to
Shavel-Olson Expedition, Sept. 2-14, 2011
After a year's planning Dave and I met at the Jackson, WY airport, stopped at a store for the last of our gear, and headed out to the Green Lakes Trailhead. We had the trip's parameters down to an almost minute by minute schedule, what with me teaching, taking two weeks off from the semester, and him flying in and out.
I'd left the evening before after teaching. Class got out at 7:50 PM and I was on the freeway at 7:52 PM. I drove for four hours and spent the night in Buffalo, WY. I'd made an online reservation at a little mom and pop place and after they got my credit card # they said they wouldn't be up to greet me, that I was in cabin 13, and that it was open and the key and bill would be on the desk next to the tv. I liked this - getting in, not seeing anyone, turning on the air conditioner for white noise, and heading to bed for six hours sleep.
I got up, grabbed some fast food at McDonalds, and two big cups of coffee too, and drove over the Big Horns almost to Yellowstone and dropped down over Togwotee Pass to the Jackson area. I met Dave about 2PM on Friday. We were heady with anticipation. The drive from the airport to the Green Lakes trailhead is beautiful and everything was going well.
The last hour of the drive is on a dirt road, much of it a washboard. My poor car. We arrived at the Green Lakes campground and found the best one we could. It was sloping and rough. We had sandwiches for dinner and I slept on the picnic table.
The next morning we met a fellow from the Great Outdoors Hiking Store out of Pinedale and he drove us to the Sweetwater Trailhead. He turned out to be the owner and it was interesting to get his perspective on the last 30 years of changes working their way through Pinedale. He said he and some friends had purchased the little ski area above town in order to save it from closure. I read a couple weeks ago it wouldn't open. It was worth the $240 for the shuttle. We were now walking back to our car. We had no choice but to complete the planned trip.
The trailhead is way out of the way and not much used. The shuttle driver actually didn't take us all the way as the road was deteriorating and we were close enough to offer to walk from there rather than chance the undercarriage of his Subaru Outback be trashed. It turns out Dave left his hiking pole at the car. That was the only hitch in our giddyup...
Trailhead to Little
We started hiking about noon. It took about 15 minutes to walk to the trailhead itself. There was a sign, and a couple trails coming and going. The Continental Divide Trail goes through here, and it's the trail we were going to follow on our 11 day trip.
We spent 20 minutes wandering around the trailhead wondering which trail to take, and walked a quarter mile in a couple directions until we found a junction sign. The map had the junction right at the trailhead and it was actually a couple hundred yards down the trail. The trail up Larsen Creek was through a burn area that was pretty overgrown. Getting through it without the trail would have been impossible. There were stacks of trees – some of them 10’ high and impenetrable.
The trail climbed to a saddle at 10,200’ above Little Sandy Lake, 9473’. It then dropped down through thick forest towards the lake. We didn’t like how the trail was heading, and our maps didn’t have this little bit of hike on them. We argued the advisability of going cross country in forest, even though we knew where we were. Back and forth, back and forth, until finally we went cross country up to the lake and camped for the night. Both of us were tired, both from the hiking, the emotions from a first day and then going cross country, and the altitude.
About 10 minutes before we found the campsite we crossed a dam that must have been constructed more than 100 years ago. It was made out of rocks, and the flowed out into the outlet stream through them.
Camp #1 – Little
http://jjolson.org/WindRiverRange/SouthernWinds.png This is a link to a big topographical map of the southern Winds. The trail we were on begins at Little Sandy Lake at the very bottom of the map. We made the big V by turning left, going to big sandy, and the turning right and heading north on the Fremont Trail, the purple trail on the left of the map.
The trail left Little Sandy Lake and headed
upwards through slowly thinning forest into the
I must admit it was one of two times I rinsed my shirt. I sleep in capilene long johns (google it) so my dirty body doesn't come in contact with my sleeping quilt. I have fleece sleep socks too. The only part of me that could potentially dirty the quilt is my face. Hence the part that does touch me is dirty. #800 down quilts run about $500 now, so I have no interest in trashing this one to get a new one.
tops of them were below us.
After lunch we continued to crane our necks at the incredible views of raw granite peaks. As we got a big, round turn in the creek, the trail slowly disappeared until we found ourselves looking at where we should actually go. Dave headed up cross-country towards the head of the basin in which there was a lake. Made sense to me.
I followed, step after hard won step, just beat. The hiking was easy, through grass and flowers and low juniperlike trees. It was very easy to see where we were going.
We headed up a rise in the direction we thought we should go and crested it. Dave was sitting at the lake's outlet looking at the map. I threw myself down and gladly pulled out my map.
There were two possibilities. The one to the left was a bit lower and gentler. The one to the right was higher and intimidating. This is where our lack of having read topo maps for a while became evident. It should have been very obvious which direction we were to go. Temple Peak stood proud and tall in front of us. The map said the trail went to its right. However, the ridge leading to the pass seemed awful steep, and there were snowbanks on the flatter spots. Hmmm. Are we really supposed to go that way?
Rock and scree and snowbanks on very steep slopes. Eventually we decided the map said we needed to take the one to the right. We thought we saw the trail across the valley heading up the taller, steeper ridge, and decided to go that way. We groaned our way to our feet and took off straight up the slope below the pass. a good 200 yards and 300' of elevation gain later Dave ran across the trail. It was steep, narrow, and not much used. We continued our way up the slope in long, very steep switchbacks. There were a couple places where a misstep would have sent us sliding down the rotten slope with little hope of being able to brake without offering up fingers, knees, elbows and toes. There was one point that involved stepping over a little gap with rotten dirt/rocks on both sides. It felt very iffy. Of course we made it across just fine.
Dave made it to the top a half hour or so before I did. He was sitting at the top and enjoying the view. He would walk for an hour and usually spend 10 to 15 minutes waiting for me. He didn't seem to mind. That, or he has finally gotten good at tolerating my pace and not showing his frustration.
He was ready to go, but waited for me to stop breathing like I couldn’t catch my breath. I think it was here he took a picture of his crossed feet as I struggled up the last 100’ of trail to the top of the round, grassy pass.
The slope on the other side wasn’t quite as intimidating, and hence the trail went straight down. Each step was on dirt and small rocks, and a challenge in braking. Each step sought out something solid, a clump of grass, a larger rock buried in the soil. The way down seemed long.
The pass was about 11,400.
We hiked down the lake and over a 200’ rise
Camp #2 -
We found two flat spots 100’ below the trail that would hold our tents and we set up camp, eating dinner as the sun went down, snapping photos and continuing to marvel. Our camp was about 10,600’ and at the very top of treeline. There were two different parties across the lake from us.
I was taking pictures and a couple and
their two dogs wandered down the trail.
I hailed them and it turns out they and their dogs had climbed
As Dave and I ate our freeze-dried dinners
and watched the sun create an alpenglow, or “gloaming” on the 12,000’ peaks
across the lake and to the south to East Temple and
Both of us were beat. I’d hurt my back two weeks before the trip pulling wall-to-wall carpet off my hardwood floors, and was still healing from that. I’d damaged my knee a year ago, and while it didn’t affect my ability to hike, it was a constant presence. Both injuries had me feel pain nonstop. Every step I took on this almost 100 mile hike involved some degree and level of pain. Dave runs at least one, usually two marathons a year and is usually in good shape. He said this was the worst shape he’d been in starting one of our hikes. He was easily 20 pounds heavier than the last time we’d hiked together.
We broached the idea of hiking around the cirque and avoiding the very strenuous hike over these two passes. It was funny to be part of the conversation, and realize that both of us were dreading two more climbs over these steep passes. We finally decided to walk around and suddenly the alpenglow was lighter in weight than it had been. Both of us were relieved to have made this decision.
The next morning Dave said in a very serious
voice, “I want to hike over
The hike from
She and her friend were drinking coffee. I liked the fact two women in their 50s were out backpacking. You just don’t see that very often.
The creek flowed over granite slabs, through little clusters of pines, and eventually, over granite in forest. There were lots of people camped along the creek, almost every couple hundred feet for half a mile. This is a relatively easy day hike from the Big Sandy Trailhead. For the next four hours we ran into people every 15 or 20 minutes it seemed. This was by far the busiest part of the trail we encountered over the 11 days. Little did we know that later we would hike for two days and not see anyone.
4. Black Joe Crossing to Jackass Pass Trail .3 15.8
5. Jackass Pass Trail Junc to Diamond
We got down to Big Sandy Lake and the trail junction that had us head toward Big Sandy Trailhead and the Fremont/Highline Trail, a trail to the Cirque of the Towers, and another trail that would have taken us back the way we came, up towards Temple Peak, but in another creek swale/valley.
We continue to pass lots of people, and they
us, going both ways. It was Labor Day
and lots of people were leaving. There
were a surprising number heading up the trail as well. This hike was in forest with little
lake/meadows appearing every mile or so.
We took a trail that avoided the trailhead and had lunch at the east end
Suddenly, the sign of horses
dominated. Dust and trail apples and the
smell of horse piss was a chorus that I really wanted to leave behind. The beginning of the
By the time we rose out of the forest onto a long grassy meadow heading north/south, the sign of horses pretty much disappeared. We were now looking for the creek that dropped down from Divide Lake to the east. We got to a spot where we interpreted the map to say there should be a stream, and there was a streambed. We left the trail and walked up a quarter mile.
Dave, the inveterate camp finder, came back from hunting for the perfect campsite to say the lake was a reedy bog. The stream by the trail had no water, and at the horse campsite we eventually stayed at, the stream was flowing so slowly Dave didn’t want to take water from it, despite our iodining it.
Camp #3 - Below
This was our third night and I was really, really beat. I could walk and do the miles, but the pain in so doing was pretty intense. When I got to camp all I wanted to do was lie down. Well, that’s not quite true. We each had 14 oz of Makers 46 bourbon for six nights, and a couple ounces of that while lying down was all I needed. I didn’t get drunk, but 20 or 30 minutes it took to drink relaxed me and made the pain inconsequential. And to my nice surprise, Dave didn’t drink his every night so he gave me more when I had planned for.
Dave’s pretty responsible. As soon as he circles the area and decides where to camp, he sets up his tent and puts everything inside it. He’ll either read if it’s early, or we’ll go eat if it’s later. I tend to play the drama king, flopping down and letting the pain dissipate, having a splash of bourbon, marveling at what view there is, really luxuriating in being alive and in the wilderness, and invariably beginning to jabber at Dave. I’ll put my tent up and stuff in it, but only after a half hour or so.
This night the clouds were building after two and a half days of incredibly clear skies and 70s temperatures. We debated whether to put our tents under a tree for protection from wind driven rain but exposed to constant dripping all night long from the trees, or out in the open where your tent might be bent with the wind, but once the rain stopped, no dripping. Dave put his at the edge of a bank of trees and I put mine on a flat spot that turned out to be just outside the drip ring of a big pine.
Dave insists eating at least 50' or more from camp. Our dinner consists of boiling water and pouring it into our plastic bags filled with dehydrated food. I don’t think that makes a bit of difference to a bear. We don’t cook. We reheat. We seal the bags as the food rehydrates, and we scarf from the bag. Once the meal is over we seal the bags and put them in a sealed garbage bag. It’s not cooking that attracts the bears – we don’t cook – it’s the smell of garbage that’ll attract them. So we walked, or Dave walked/strode and I limped, over to a rock where we had a view down the meadow to the trail and up to the ridge of peaks behind us.
Dave discovered his dinner took 13 minutes to rehydrate. This was after I’d put 2 cups of water into my Ziploc bag, sealed it and was waiting for 7 minutes before starting to scarf “lasagna”. This gave him no measure of frustration, and I made a mental note to myself not to purchase backpacker pantry dehydrated meals. I was done before he started eating.
Just as Dave finished his incredibly satisfying meal of chicken a la king, the sky began to spit drops of rain. This had me rise above my coping/limping with bodily pain to tidy up my part of camp, tauten the lines from stakes to tent, and jumping into the tent with an incredible sense of satisfaction.
There is nothing like being inside a backpacking tent with all your dry “stuff” as it begins to rain. I use a down quilt that has about 2” of loft and is good down to 20 degrees. Each drop of rain is a “thump” or “thark” on the tent. Mine is a single wall, and when it’s pitched tautly, lying in it in a rainstorm is noisy. Lying on my side under my quilt, book in hand, reading glasses wedged between my face and my inflatable and incredibly comfortable pillow, I was in heaven. I’d close my eyes and listen to the drops increase in frequency and noise. Periodically one of us would yell out and we’d whoop with unmitigated affirming joy we were doing exactly what we wanted to be doing.
The storm lasted from the end of dinner to 7Am when we had to get up. It was so polite!!!
Up to an inch of rain had fallen and our equipment had weathered the storm fairly well. I slept through most of the night and the silnylon of my tent had stretched so that when I tossed and turned the foot of my quilt came in contact with the tent’s ceiling and got wet. The dampness didn’t penetrate through the down to make me wet/cold, but I could feel my feet were close to being a bit cold. Dave’s tent, a Sierra Design Lightyear, a double wall, had no leakage or let any water in. He had some condensation, but that was it. I guess being experienced backpackers and knowing your equipment pays off.
I was slow this morning of the fourth
day. Some mornings everything goes
smoothly. Get up, grab the bag of toilet
paper and wet one wipes and a quart garbage bag, the poop shovel, and head
out. Dig the hole, squat, poop, use six
squares of tp, pee on the whole mess, and bury it. I tried to use two squares a time, and fold
and reuse if appropriate. When Deniece
and I were in
My routine, once I'd done my business, was to go to Dave’s food bag hanging from a tree, untie the rope’s knot, lower the bags to the ground, untie the knots on the bags, wind the rope around my hand and tie it off for transport, grab the bags and head to the campspot. I'd toss the rope at Dave's tent - he usually was stirring and packing.
I had coffee on the mind. Each of us carried more coffee than we could, or would drink. Nonetheless, it was comforting to know if I wanted four cups of coffee, with two huge tablespoons for each cup, I could. Usually, one, very, very strong cup was enough. The third part of my morning routine was to heat water for coffee, with all the attendant motions involved. It didn't vary. Just like at home, making and drinking coffee involved ritual.
We were using Dave’s jetboil stove, an ingenious combination of stove, windscreen and pot. We planned on using three canisters on the trip, but ended up using one and a little more over 11 days of heated coffee and dinners. While a bit heavier than the typical 4 oz stove, it is far more efficient. If we'd've trusted it, we could have gotten by with one large and one small propane/butane canister. This would have balanced the heavier stove. We trusted our gear more in this case than our experience.
6. Divide Lake Trail to
We moved through our lethargy in increasing lightness as the clouds spread out to reveal a deep blue sky. We poured water into our baggies of mueslix or grape nuts and munched away. Part of the daily routine involves monitoring where the other is in the packing process. The ultimate, and unstated goal, is to be able to pick up our packs at the same time and begin walking. We're usually pretty close to being able to doing so.
We left camp and hiked back down to the trail. The trail continued to parallel a dry creekbed as it wound its way north near the bottom of a grassy swale. It opened up onto a larger meadowy plain with some cloud shrouded views.
On our right was the continental
divide, appearing periodically above the trees, and to our left was forest. We reached
The clouds opened up and the air temperature immediately jumped 10 degrees. We decided to stop and eat snacks and air out our tents and damp gear. It's a fun way to spend a long break - dinking around with gear, watching it dry, finally puting it all back together into it's now very normal packed configuration. I imagined my pack was lighter after drying out the gear. It was imagination.
Marm's Lake and trudged to a
Dave's pretty good at ferreting out places to cross and he leaped from one boulder to another and then the bank. I cast about and went way upstream and finally decided I was too tired to risk hurting myself. I took off my shoes and waded across, walking slowly up slope to where Dave had dropped his pack in search of "the perfect campsite" for the fourth nights camp. I threw my pack down in the area he'd found and then threw my body down on top of it. Part of the daily camp finding ritual is very much parallel to what a dog does when it wants to lie down. It circles a spot a number of times before flopping down. This is what we do - wandering around our space until we have scoped the potential tent spots.
Camp #4 - East Fork Silver Creek
Unless you camp on a bench or valley bottom, finding a flat spot usually involves casting about for two spots to pitch the tents. Dave likes to have a view from his door, so that's the other criteria. Actually, the "other" criteria is finding a spot high enough above a valley floor that you can avoid the katabatic air - air that flows down creeks or valleys that is a river of much colder air. It usually isn't more than 30' or so above the valley floor, so it's not difficult to camp above it.
Dave found a good spot, and we spent 10 minutes looking at the two flat spots, trying to figure out which way they sloped. Yes - a flat spot slopes - always. I was beat again, and groaned my way through pitching my tent after resting for a half hour, marveling at the view down to the valley floor and the perfect camp a half mile from us from which a thin stream of smoke rose. Someone else had stolen the best spot.
We were like the younger men in a tribe forced out by population pressure to less fertile and flat ground, who lusted after the more fertile ground of the main chief's camp. We plotted and schemed how to claim the flat ground, but chose to eat dinner instead.
As the sun descended in the west I gladly went to bed, really relaxed for the first time that day. When I looked out my tent I could see the blue food bag hanging in the foreground of our valley view.
We managed our morning routines and hit the trail around 8AM. Because it's the first week in September, the sun didn't rise til almost 7AM. June hiking is wonderful as the sun comes up at 4:30, and it's really easy to get up and be on the trail by 6 or 7AM.
We stiffly hiked down to the trail and realized we had to take off our shoes and socks in order to cross the 30' stream. Oh well. It's one way to makes sure your feet are clean.
Three people had wandered down the trail and had crossed before us. We waved at them and didn't stick around long enough to talk. We ran into them up the trail and it turns out they were mapping the trail using a GPS. They took readings every time they came to a geographic feature worth noting. The older fellow had been doing this for a couple years. His pack was pretty light. The younger man and woman carried most of the gear and high tech antenna that peaked vertically out of the guy's pack. They were hired grunts. All three were very humble and generous. We ran into them a couple times before they moved beyond us. They'd been on the trail for a couple months and were in incredible shape.
We also met a man in his mid-30s who was hiking from one end of the Winds to his home up near Jackson. He seemed lonely and wanted to talk. He and Dave did as I followed them, and when we ran across the gps survey crew, he glommed onto them and followed them off into the distance.
We climbed steeply through forest to a grassy wide bench with more incredible views. We traversed across the bench, over 10,000' now, which we'll stay over for a couple three dozen miles. We dropped down to cross the North Fork of Silver Creek, another time we got to cool and clean our feet, and gently up to a little swale between forested slopes down into the Sheep Creek area where we at lunch after crossing the creek - bouldering this time.
Camp #5 - South
Fork Dream Creek - from
Dave was way ahead of me, sniffing out the "perfect campsite" and found one he was satisfied with. I wanted to be closer to the creek because I like falling asleep and waking up to the white noise of rushing water. I headed a couple hundred yards further and found what I thought was a perfectly adequate site. Dave and I negotiated and I was tired and finally just gave in and walked back to the place with a view from the dinner spot, if not from the tent spots. My favorite spot has gurgling white noise water in the background, a pine needle, "duff" mattress, and a view if I want it. The first two are more important as when I'm in the tent I'm pretty much reading for 30 seconds before falling asleep for 12 hours.
We set up camp and lay around for a bit reading before heading to the view spot for dinner. Dave hung the food and we went to bed. Our routines were pretty set now. I didn't much care if I slept with food or hung it. Where bears are hunted they avoid humans. They are hunted in the Winds. Dave just wants to be safe, so he hangs food, and if I'm not too tired, which is rare, I'll get up and participate. It's always a comedy to tie a rope to a rock, find an appropriate branch and throw the rock over it.
morning we'd decided our route down to
Going cross country is always an adventure, but this was across grassy slopes with open views of where we were going. Dave slowly moved ahead in his half mile an hour faster than my pace. We got to the outlet of Dream Creek and took our shoes off to clean our feet and immediately came to what on the map was a four way trail junction. Unbelievable, there were only three trails. The trail on the map we wanted to hike simply didn't exist.
we didn't believe it. This was the
Highline Trail, the lower trail paralleling the Fremont Trail. Dave hiked a couple hundred yards east and
didn't see the trail leave the lake. The
other trail obviously headed down the creek.
There seemed to be
We consulted the map, the compass, Dave's GPS, and didn't believe what they all told us. We shrugged our shoulders and continued to hike. After another 10 minutes, and a half hour from the last junction, we stumbled upon what seemed like a use trail. It was faint, came and went, but was obviously a trail, albeit unmaintained for at least a decade. Unfortunately it headed downhill, but we decided to follow it. It would come to a junction at some point, and a half hour later, it did. We'd passed a couple lakes that confused us. We tried to fit their shapes to those on the map, but they were slivers and shape wasn't that obvious.
We hit a
major trail, what we divined was the
We got back
to the junction a couple hours after we'd left it, and headed back to the
Fremont Trail and headed north. We
passed Bob's Lake, then
showed two trails heading west we could have taken, but we didn't trust that
they would take us to the Highline Trail - it didn't exist after all! Finally we crossed a little ridge down into a
creek bottom where the Firehole Trail headed down to
When Dave walks, he strides. His partner, whether Sarah his wife/partner or me, is always following him. He can't slow down and saunter. Window shopping is an impossibility. IN this case it was amusing to watch him stride across the meadow in search of the trail, and relieving when he yelled he'd found it - the trail.
He came back
for his pack and we headed off. The
trail came and went - it was unmaintained, dropping down through forest where
we came to steep defile in boulders and scree.
We had to brake our way down the slope to a meadow on the edge of
muttering we headed down the trail for a third of a mile to
Camp #6 -
There is a
time in every backpacking trip where all the forces that seem so random and
unpredictable come together in harmony.
The bones are creaking and tendons and ligaments complaining - cracking and stiffening. Six days of hiking after weeks of sloth is slowly breaking my body down. It really hurts to walk. I can get into a rhythm, but if I have slight misstep I jar my back and it shoots pain down my butt and thigh. Sometimes my thighs ache, and sometimes my back aches. My knees are always there, not hurting so much as letting me know they are there when stopping or starting. Stiffness rules. We needed such a benign, sublime camp after a what felt like a long, effortful day.
We lazed around soaking up the warmth and beauty. This is the sort of place you would bring someone who'd never backpacked, who was a bit scared to head off into the wilderness. If nothing else, the pure, unadulterated softness of the forest and lake's beauty would at least begin to assuage irrational fear based on ignorance/lack of experience. We talked about this and Dave actually considered bringing his family here. This thought dissipated like toilet paper in a fire the next day as we headed down to Ethel Lake.
morning we were up and found the Highline Trail and following it northwest to
the junction with the Boulder Canyon Trail.
There'd been a fire 10 years or so ago, and the next seven or eight
miles of steep hiking was in the charcoled remnants of burnt forest. Luckily the sun wasn't too bad. The trail wound down and down and down to
Always in the back of our minds was the question if our food was still there after a week. Bears abound and who knows about the human animal. Luckily, the two 15 pound food bags were there, hanging from a dead tree. I was kinda amazed that a larger rodent hadn't figured out how to get them.
We ate lunch and spent an hour getting rid of extra food and rebagging it. We both brought too much to eat. Way too much. I certainly eat far more in this life than I do on the trail. We also had a pound of garbage now, tightly jammed into quart and gallon ziploc bags. A part of me wanted to put it under a rock, but my better part sighed and packed it.
went from light to heavy, and we had to walk uphill for the rest of the
day. The climb was only 1500' or so, but
it seemed hard. From
I got to the lake and Dave wasn't there. I walked to its other end and he wasn't there. I was a bit pissed that he hadn't stopped, so I walked on. I got about a quarter mile beyond the lake and realized I might have passed him. I usually knew he was ahead of me because I was familiar with the print of his shoes. But there were a bunch of new shoeprints, and I wasn't 100% that what I saw were his sole prints. In fact, I was pretty sure he wasn't in front of me. I let out a long, loud, "DAAAAAVE." I yelled for five minutes or so and didn't hear him. I figured if he was behind me he'd catch up. I continued to hike, wandering upwards through burned out forest that now felt a bit eerie.
The trail started to cut through swaths of forest and then back to the burn again. It followed a little creek and so there were really no views to be had. I was getting tired. A heavy pack and a fairly long day, and a little bit of worry/wonder where Dave was. I hadn't seen him for a couple hours, the longest we'd been apart on the trip.
I lay down by the trail and was so tired I just lay back on my pack. I was lying there and staring at the sky and the puffy clouds scud by when I heard footsteps. There was Dave. It turns out he had stopped where he said he would and I was so intense on hiking I just walked by him - and he was but 20' off the trail. He heard me yelling, and yelled back, but his voice isn't as powerfull projective as mine, so I didn't hear him. He actually walked back thinking I was behind him, but saw my footprints, and he couldn't believe I walked by him. Oh well - all's well that has no one get hurt.
Camp #7 –
I got up and
we continued hiking for another half hour before hitting
morning began with a 1000' climb up to
traversed down from
up, head down, frequently stopping to rest, gazing back, just in awe at the
beauty we were walking through. From the
top of the ridge we discovered another 500' drop and climb out. We couldn't believe it. The map didn't lie. We just didn't read it correctly. WE dropped the 500' and then climbed another
700' up to the unmarked, unmentioned 11,000' pass overlooking
I spent two nights here with my friend Jane in 1994. We hung out for a day just soaking in the beauty. The trail dropped down through alpine grasses and rock. There are numerous lakes in the basin, and a wall that rises up in jagged peaks along the divide to our right. We dropped down into the first line of trees and found a bench upon which to spend the night. We were both totally beat, but totally in awe.
Camp #8 – Bald
We enjoyed a couple ounces of Makers Mark or Makers 46 every night after stopping.
For me I got a little glow and the aches and pains and stiffness receded a bit. I really enjoyed the rosiness this evening, taking photo shot after shot as the sun sank behind us, the mountains to the east creating an incredible alpen glow. This was one of those nights where a religious person might believe that God was painting reality for us. We just marveled at the play of color on rock, tree and water. Just amazing.
When the light left the peaks we felt the chill of camping at 10,500' and headed to our tents and the warmth of down and the memories and satisfaction of spending most of the day above timberline.
The next morning we awoke and got out of bed when the sun hit our tents. Our routine well established, we hit the trail an hour or so after arising. We dropped down into the basin and crossed a couple streams coming off the snow and glaciers on the divide. From the crossings the trail headed up to 11,300' past Tommy Lake to Lester pass - we read the map now with a lot more care, not wanting to be surprised as we were by the three "passes" yesterday. We wound our way through the permanent snowbanks and the snowmelt sieving through the raw earth.
here opened up to a jaw-dropping vista to the north. We'd seen the same view from the last pass
the day before above
We had lunch in the hot sun and washed some clothes. The sun was so intense we found ourselves sliding on our sit pads underneath the four foot high brush surrounding the little lake. The lake was in a bowl and there was NO wind to ameliorate the sun's radiant intensity. It wasn't a particularly pretty place - the lakeshore was muddy and with no trees and lots of brush, it felt a bit of an uncomfortable place to stop and eat.
We hit the trail junction that would have taken us to the Elkhart Park Trailhead and headed up another 400' climb - this time in the windless, hot sun. The crotch of the little pass had us drop into little basin after little basin, up a couple hundred feet and down a couple hundred feet. AT least there was water to drink whenever we wanted. A couple hours after leaving the lunch lake we dropped down to the bridge at Fremont Crossing. We were actually going to be able to stop for the day by 3PM.
brother Steve got rampant and wild flyfishing this stream. Lots of pools and rocks to get decent back
casts from. As we got down to the bridge
we met a young man with a giant and heavy pack who'd tried to go over
Camp #9 -
We'd spotted a likely spot right on the creek to camp a couple hundred yards upstream from the bridge. We got there and I sat down while Dave went looking to see if there was something better. There wasn't and we set up camp. We got to spend a couple hours reading and napping and talking and reading and daydreaming. We had the cocktail hour, well into the routine of camping. I loved falling asleep to the gentle roar of Fremont Creek coursing over the rocks. Ummmm...
morning had us both up anticipating the day.
We were to hike up from Fremont Crossing back above timberline where we
would stay for the whole day. The trail
took us up a 400' ridge to treeless
This lake is long and thin, with the west
Dave and I stopped for a long break at the north end of the lake and soaked in the beyond-words beauty. A party of four or five came sauntering out of the benches above us to the west of the lake. We waved at each other and they disappeared down the way we'd come.
with Dave about the quarter mile of boulder hopping we'd have to do if we took
the choice was made by the rain that veiled
We stopped for lunch behind a boulder that protected us from the wind. It was probably 50 degrees and we had our warm and wind clothes on. I'd carried gloves and dug them out at lunch. It was the first time I'd wear them on the trip. As we lolled and looked at the immensity in which we ate, the sky began to spit, and then the spits became a light rain. We packed up, putting our rain gear over our warm/wind gear - me a silnyon ponch, Dave a new patagonia rain coat. We headed out and the rain started falling harder, and then harder.
For the next two hours it just poured. The trail had running water in most places. The trail snaked up and down and around, down and up and through, around and down and dammit, up again. There was lightening in the storm, and at one point it was within a half mile of us. There'd be a flash, and then in a couple seconds, a massive BOOM. That is the kind of hiking that just energizes you. Maybe it's the electricity in the air or the rain, or coping with wet and cold, and maybe it's all of the above, but I didn't feel tired or sore or aching. I was ALIVE!!!
We passed a
guy who was crouched in his rain gear.
Apparently Dave talked with him and I just waved as I walked by. I was just a bit cold and didn't want to
stand around with water dripping down my neck talking. The trail dropped steeply 500' to a crossing
of Elbow Creek and then up
This is the
actual headwaters of the Green and
We went over
the little hump of
Camp #10 - Woods
camping in the forest for the first time since
As usual, I was the first up the next morning, forced from my warm bed by the absolutely undeniable urge to defecate. I did my business and got the food from the tree. I coiled the rope for the last time and tossed it into Dave's pile of gear when I got back to camp. We decided to forgoe breakfast that morning until the sun was on us and we could stop and eat and dry out our gear.
We walked for over an hour in full sleep gear - the last day of hiking. It was about 14 miles from the camp to the car, our longest day by at least four miles. My pedometer said I hiked 17 miles this day. When the sun was out and we knew it would stay for a while, we stopped and had our granola or grapenuts and dried gear. I left my sleep gear on as it wasn't THAT warm. On this trip I was purple and blue. I thought I was color coordinated by Dave informed me that by his partner Sarah's standards, my purple and different shades of blue were not coordinated. Ok...! We met a couple coming up who were in such good spirits I felt buoyed in spirit myself!
We packed up
and started down the ridge. We'd camped
at about 9800' and the car was about 7900'.
Down and down and down and then we were in the valley of the Green River
From here it was about 10 or 11 miles to the
car and it was a trudge. The land became
increasingly made up of sagebrush as the forest receded in the rainshadow of
the western peaks. We passed famous
We got to the first lake and now it was really put one foot in front of the other. I just wanted to be done. I hurt and was tired and feeling like I was ready for the trip to be over. I'd had enough. I'd been in pain for 11 straight days. I knew I'd lost 8 or 9 pounds. I could see the waist belt of my pack was two inches tighter.
There is nothing like the last couple hours of a trip, when you want it to just be over. And because this day involved a lot of miles, the weariness was really apparent, and really easy to give into. Neither of us did though.
It spit rain and the wind picked up and blew down the valley from behind us. The grandeur was present, but in a different way. The trail was pretty flat as it wound its way 100 vertical feet or so above the lakes. Walking and walking - waiting for the end of the second lake to appear. We walked over the creek where STeve had caught a fish every time he cast his fly. He vowed his fishing career was over because it could never, ever be this good again. The outfitter's ranch at the end of the lake came into view, and the bridge across the outlet stream across which we'd walk in our last quarter mile. After the bridge the trail circled the elevated parking lot. We went straight up the 50' bank and ...
We made it to the car - it was still there and intact. I cracked a beer and drank it. We were done. We were satisfied, hurting, but so, so satisfied.
It only took me two weeks to move from wondering if I would ever want to hike again to planning next summer's trip. Sigh...
December 4, 2011