Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 48: Upper Jean Lake to Green River Lake Campground

A thin layer of ice covered the icy pools of snowmelt in the trail. Our feet left no impression as we crunched across snowfields hard frozen overnight. The mountains, which rose up in the lake basin like the walls of a majestic cathedral, blocked the early morning sun. 

We climbed into another beautiful lake basin, the mountains lit with golden sunlight and reflected in the calm waters of sapphire blue lakes. Meadows carpeted the rocky basin floor, with wildflowers sprinkled throughout. 

Water roared liked thunder just ahead on the trail as torrents of water pounded over rocks. Elbow Creek. Our next crossing. But before the rapids came into view, I could smell the treated wood that could only mean one thing: a rare wooden bridge. 

Afternoon brought us to Green River. Moving in to get a closer view, a boulder rolled beneath my feet and I toppled over, landing heavily on my back.  Later I fell again when my foot slipped on wet, mossy stone during a creek crossing. Bruised and battered, we continued on down the trail, looking back frequently to admire Square Mountain and the other high peaks that guard over the Green River. 

My parents met us at the Green River Lake Campground with pizza, salad, and ice cream. Delicious!  

The camp hostess stopped by the visit and to warn us that grizzlies are active in the area, killing at least 25 cows belonging to a local rancher. We will be carrying bear spray as we continue our way north through grizzly country. 

Day 47: Pipestone Lakes to Upper Jean Lake

After weeks of relative solitude, we are meeting people on the trail more frequently now. With gorgeous scenery in every direction, the Wind River Range is a popular backpacking destination. We've met overnight backpackers, hikers on week long trips, and participants in a NOLS course. 

Early in the morning, we reached the crossing of the North Fork of Boulder Creek, described in the data book merely as "stream."  The creek was over 50 feet across with knee high water, but the water was moving slowly and we crossed it with ease.  Tiny fish darted between my legs and upstream. 

Just in the other side of Boulder Creek, a pair of Nikes rested on a rock next to the trail, the uppers half gnawed away by an unknown critter. A single chewed up basketball shoe lay abandoned next to the trail just a few minutes beyond. 

We crossed several crunchy snowfields as we climbed, descended, then climbed again. 

We descended to Fremont Creek amid clouds of ravenous mosquitoes and were relieved to discover a bridge over the wide, turbulent river. 

We climbed above treeline into a series of rocky lake basins. Several frigid fords as the trail crossed back and forth over a creek late in the day.  Snow still lined one side of the creek, and we traversed several snowfields with numb feet in icy, sodden shoes.

We stopped to camp at Upper Jean Lake, which was breathtaking as it reflected the towering mountains lit by the last golden rays of sun. We quickly changing into dry socks and starting the painful process of thawing out our chilled feet. 

Day 46: Big Sandy Campground to Pipestone Lakes

We started our morning with an inadvertent side trip, traveling over a mile up the Big Sandy Lake trail before realizing that we were definitely heading in the wrong direction. By the time we got turned around and were back on track, we hiked an extra three miles and lost an hour of time. 

Despite our frustration at the wasted time, we enjoyed the incredible scenery that surrounded us. We passed through lush green meadows blanketed with thick clusters of wildflowers: deep purple lupine, bright yellow alpine sunflowers, lavender alpine daisies, fuzzy white bear grass, and many other varieties.     We also passed several beautiful lakes: Mirror Lake, Dad's Lake, Marms Lake, Bob's Lake, Sandpoint Lake, and several others. Rugged granite mountains towered over the meadows, and were reflected in the lakes' still waters. 

A pika chirped angrily as we passed, only disappearing from its rocky perch when we were well away from its home. But the animal most prevalent throughout the long day was the mosquito. Swarming our camp in both morning and evening, opportunistic mosquitoes also dove in whenever the air was still, especially near water. 

We forded a series of creeks, first stopping to change into Crocs to keep our shoes dry, a time consuming process. But when we realized how many fords would be required, we just waded in wearing our shoes and squished down the trail afterward, creek water squeezing out of our shoes with every step. 

We found a beautiful, sheltered camp overlooking Pipestone Lakes. Although most of the trees were squat and scrubby, we found a larger pine with living branches and hung our food using the PCT method. 

Day 45: Knoll Overlooking Sweetwater Creek to Big Sandy

Dark clouds lingered, remnants of last night's storm. We climbed through the pine and aspen forest, and soon reached Bridger Wilderness. Wildflowers blanketed the ground in every direction: cheerful yellow monkey flowers, bright lavender daisies, small yellow sunflowers, deep red paintbrush, pale purple columbine, magenta monkey flower, white bear grass, and many, many more. 

We passed the junction to the Cirque of the Towers alternate route with mixed feelings. We are committed to following the official route as best we can, but the Cirque of the Towers is very beautiful and I have wanted to see it for many years. If we had more time this summer, we would definitely take an extra day or two to take a side trip to see it. But our summer is quickly coming to an end, so for now we must pass it by. 
Golden green swamp grass lined the edge of a marshy pond dotted with golden water lilies. We lingered for a while, sitting on a huge granite slab next to the pond. 

Predictably, the CDT left the more traveled trail, disappearing altogether in a damp meadow. Although the trail soon reappeared, it looked more like a game trail than an established hiking path. 

A red tailed hawk soared overhead as we neared Big Sandy Creek. 

My father met us at the Big Sandy Campground, where we resupplied and camped together. The well preserved remains of a beaver perched on rock nearby, overlooking our campsite. Although we had spotted a beaver from a distance in Colorado, it was the first time we had seen one close up. We are still hoping to see a live beaver on one of the creeks in Wyoming. 

Day 44: Highway 28 to Knoll Overlooking Sweetwater Creek

The CDT's climb out of the Great Divide Basin over the past two days was so gradual that we barely noticed the subtle changes in the landscape that indicated we leaving the red desert. But hiking on from the highway today, entering the tree covered foothills, the difference is readily apparent. The same golden grass and pale green sage still cover the hills, but now pines occasionally shade the trail. 

Antelope still regularly bound across our path. Early in the morning a large herd scattered as we approached. Later, a mother and small baby scampered up into the hills after spotting us on the trail. 

Water cascaded through lush green meadows as we crossed several streams and creeks throughout the day. Beautiful wildflowers sprang up from the forest floor amid aspens and pines. Butterflies flitted from flower to flower, and a tiny butterfly settled on Sierra's arm for a short ride. 

A loud shriek warned that all was not well behind me. Turning, I found Sierra in the middle of the trail, clutching her head where a large, swollen knot was already forming. We hurried back to Blair Creek to clean up. We eventually hiked on, a cool, damp cloth on Sierra's forehead. 

We found camp on a sandy knoll overlooking Sweetwater Creek. But shortly after setting up, the thunderheads that had dogged us all afternoon started gathering again. And when lightning touched three neighboring ridges, we decided it was time to move. Quickly we gathered our things and carried them back down the trail to a more sheltered spot in the woods we had noticed earlier. Sierra kept everything dry and organized while I pitched the tent. 

Flashes of lightning illuminated the inside of the tent. Thunder rippled across the sky like a tin roof rustling in the wind, gradually getting louder as the storm approached. Rain tapped gently on the outside of the tent, getting louder and more insistent as the storm built. 

Several cycles later, just as I was drifting off to sleep I heard loud shouts from Sweetwater Campground, a mile or two back down in the valley. I looked at my watch. 2:00 a.m.  A bear?  I lay awake a while longer, waiting for the next storm, the next shouts, the next bear traipsing through our camp. It never came. I finally fell into an exhausted sleep. 

Day 43: Three Forks Road to Highway 28 (Lander)

Sandwiched between two angry bulls, one charging forward, the other pawing the ground behind us, I wondered at the wisdom of routing the trail through areas where bulls freely grazed. We passed through quickly, relieved to get by them safely. 

A pack of five southbound Continental Divide mountain bike packers passed by. One stopped and circled back to talk to us. Mike remembered meeting us on the PCT in 2012 when he was hiking near Glacier Peak with his wife. He is now riding the Continental Divide bike route with his son. We enjoyed talking with him and learning more about his ride. 

We reached Willow Creek in the afternoon. Grass carpeted the trail and willows on either side formed a shady arch for us to walk through. 

We soon reached South Pass City, an old gold mining town that is now a historic site. We read about Esther Morris, the first woman justice of the peace, and saw many antiques from the 1800s as we wandered through the replica cabins. Brother Bear, another CDT hiker sat on the front porch of the mercantile eating a chocolate covered ice cream bar. We stepped into the air conditioned building, bought two ice creams, and joined him on the front porch.  We met Smiles on the far side of town. We had not seen her since Winter Park. 

Jeff met us at Highway 28 and took us into the town of Lander. We all enjoyed a Mexican dinner at El Sol de Mexico and topped it off with delicious ice cream at Ken and Betty's Ice Cream. 

Day 42: Above Bison Basin Road to Three Forks Road

"Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you, 
Happy birthday dear Sierra,
Happy birthday to you!"

We started our day by singing happy birthday to Sierra, who turned 11 today. Although we would have liked to have reached town for Sierra's birthday, it was not to be. So we shouldered our packs and continued trudging through the Basin. On the bright side, our CDT route followed a dirt 4WD road, so Jeff was able to meet us frequently with cold drinks. 

By mid afternoon we noticed the tall, rugged mountains of the Wind River Range come slowly into view. Slowly but surely, we are reaching the end of the hot, dry Great Divide Basin. 

We stopped hiking at the Three Forks Road junction, and Jeff took us to a nearby campsite by a small pond. Antelope grazed on the other side of the pond, but darted away when we approached. Several more antelope paced nervously on the ridge, calling out their displeasure at our proximity to their pond. Later in the evening a band of wild horses with a young foal approached. 

We celebrated Sierra's birthday with cupcakes, and then turned in for an early night, hoping the animals would come drink as we slept.