This is update #10.
Chris “Pacer” Ford is attempting to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) when he began on April 30, 2022. He will keep us updated every week or two with the progress of his adventure with stories and photos from the trail. Follow along with us… get automatic updates by subscribing to this blog.
July 16, 2022
1,889 of 3,100 miles…61% complete
Just got pair #4 of shoes…thanks, Cookie Jar! Just finished the Wind River Range (stunning); I wish I could attach all my pics…I took so many. Next, I’m headed to Yellowstone. The southern boundary of the Park is just 2 days away.
None. Haven’t seen a single CDT hiker this leg. I also didn’t see any in Dubois.
South Pass City to Pinedale:
After a hearty breakfast at the Oxbow Restaurant, I headed to the edge of town to start hitching. There were two highways to get to South Pass City, and it turned out I needed two hitches. I got dropped off along the highway where the CDT crosses at about 11:30…South Pass City was 3 miles south in the CDT. A thru hike requires that all our footsteps be connected, so I hiked toward South Pass City to pickup where my buddy Jim had dropped Let It Rip and me off a month earlier. When I got there, I picked out a Sarsaparilla Soda and a Klondike ice cream bar in the gift shop. After my snack, I rehiked my steps in reverse back to the highway and crossed heading north…new miles. The terrain was still desert but was transitioning to mountains…I had sections of mainly Lodgepole Pines I hiked through. I ended up hiking through about 3 miles of blow-downs that were mainly a single tree at a time. Slowed me down a bit, but I still got 21 miles that day with a late start.
The next morning I was officially in the Wind River Range…more specifically the Bridger Wilderness. As I climbed, I came across three young Americorp trail workers. In Wilderness areas, mechanized power equipment isn’t allowed. They were using an old whipsaw and other hand tools to clear blow-downs. We chatted a few minutes, and I thanked them for their service. FarOut, the trail app I use, warned me of “miles” of blow-downs at the top above 10,000 feet. I had no idea how to get my head around how bad it was when I saw it. In 2020, the area suffered a 100 year storm that brought extremely high winds. How will this ever get cleared without power equipment? Blow-downs that leave trees piled on top of each other are called straw pile sections. I was headed into the Cirque of the Towers route. By my estimate the straw pile was about 4 miles long and it took me over 2 hours to navigate…around .5 mph. It was exhausting, but the mental toll was worse…I was spent. I finally made it past the blow-downs, but I was separated from the Trail. I ended up down climbing rock and boulders to the bottom of the valley. Finally, let’s hike! I hiked along the Little Sandy Creek with a huge rock wall on the other side of the stream. A beautiful stretch that was covered in Spring Beauty flowers. So odd for me to see Spring Beauties…they’re a spring flower in the Smokies…here they are in July. There was an unnamed Pass at the end of the valley. I had slowly gained elevation up to a partially frozen lake. A steep climb and a short traverse over snow and I was at the top…the view was spectacular, but the wind was unrelenting.
I descended across a boulder field and walked along a few lake shores on snowpack. The Trail is actually under lake water right now, so we just walked a few feet above on snow. Then, there they were…mosquitos! Ahhh, I’ve seen Oregon mosquitos at their worst…this wasn’t that bad, but I knew it could get much worse. There was a side trail that would allow me cut across back to the traditional CDT route. I decided to see if I could change my circumstances with a route change. That night I camped south of Big Sandy Lake, hoping I would be away from the mosquitos…I was wrong, very wrong. I was covered up with them, but I was prepared with the gear…on went wind pants, wind shirt, and head net…lesson from Oregon. Bring it, Skeeters!
Even though I was only on Trail a couple of days, I felt beat up. I had read about the Big Sandy Lodge that was just a couple miles off Trail. I had four miles to decide if I should head to the lodge. Four miles passed, and I still hadn’t decided. I looked at FarOut and realized I had missed the CDT turn…seemed the decision had been made. I headed to the lodge for a NERO. I arrived during breakfast service. I was in luck, they let me immediately into a cabin, and I got breakfast. It’s a primitive lodge…no power, no Wi-Fi, they serve B, L, D, and they have a bath house with showers. Kind of like LeConte Lodge, if you’ve been there. I had no option to do my traditional chores…couldn’t wash clothes, couldn’t resupply, couldn’t shop for snacks. All I could do was relax and rest…exactly, and I mean exactly, what I needed. I took a short nap; rested my mind and body; flipped through books in the main room of the lodge, sipping coffee. Before dinner, I sat next to the lake watching the dragon flies, watching ants work, and watching a wood pecker pick its perfect spot to peck. I felt the cool breeze in the shade; the same breeze swaying the pines and rippling the lake. It was all connected. Dinner bell rang. We ate a pork chop meal and shared conversation around the table. My room was lit by a kerosene lamp…reminded me of being a kid in the country…we used these lamps sometimes.
With mind, body, and spirit restored, I was headed back to Trail at 5:30 am. I slowly climbed through the mosquitos and settled around 10,000 feet. The cold breeze quickly dried my sweat. I was out of the trees and had wide open views all around me. I could see the peaks of the Cirque of the Towers to the south. I hiked by dozens of lakes connected by streams…I had to cross a handful of them, and rock-hopped a whole bunch more. I saw trout trying to avoid my sight…they’d dart around trying to find good hiding spots. At another stream, I watched trout snagging bugs off the surface…I don’t think they even noticed me. I crossed over Hat Pass at 10,800 feet and was able to avoid the snow by climbing above it. I started looking for a camp spot and it all seemed damp. Uh-oh…when I set camp, I was in “as bad as it gets” mosquitos…it was level 10. All my skeeter gear back on…set camp…dive in the tent…kill all that came in with me…listen to what sounded like a bees nest all night right outside my tent’s bug netting..
Next morning, I think they found some friends, but I was prepared. Early morning I had three sawtooth climbs just under 11,000 feet that set me up for Lester Pass at 11,100 feet. The top of the pass was a long traverse in snow, but it wasn’t steep. Turns out that the rest of the day I was off and on snow all the way to my camp. If I wasn’t on snow, it was mud or water. The Trail was a stream from all the melt. I crossed 25-30 streams in all, and if you string all the snow together, I’d guess it was about 3 miles of snow. Hard to believe this late in July. That was the cost of some epic views and moments…the Wind River Range is truly a place of wonder. By the end of the day, I was descending and well clear of snow as I found a camp spot tucked in some trees.
I was certain I had more stream crossings, so I just put the old wet socks back on. I was right…had about 5 more crossings that morning of feeder streams into the Green River. The Green River is actually chalky green from the glacial melt that feeds it from the many glaciers above.
I continued my descent down to 8,000 feet and started hiking a long flat section along the river. I heard splashing ahead and it was a mama Moose and her calf feeding in the water. She seemed comfortable with me passing by as she ate…the calf never stopped watching me. I started thinking about lunch. I had left South Pass City with enough food to get me all the way to Dubois, but after six days my bagels were moldy and my cheese was, well, not very fit to eat. I had already eaten two days of moldy bagel and slimy cheese lunch…the last bagel was a sight, but I needed calories. I found a possible way to not have to eat the last bagel if I could catch a very remote hitch from Green River Lakes Campground. The campground is literally a dead end at the end of the lake. I started trying to hitch…there were very few cars leaving the campground, and it started to sprinkle under heavy clouds. “What am I doing,” I thought to myself? Pinedale is 50 miles away and the first 20 miles are dirt. Then Bingo! A nice couple from the San Diego area picked me up…I got to NERO!!! Salvatore and Daphne…they gave me a Gatorade, shared their charcuterie tray, and we talked it up for the next 1:45 minutes. They gave me a quick tour of Pinedale, and I picked a hotel near the grocery. Burger for lunch (no moldy bagel this time); Chinese for dinner. And, reset my food bag for the 60 miles left to Dubois.
Pinedale to Dubois:
After lunch the next day, I started hitching from the edge of town headed back to the campground around noon. I knew it would be a tough hitch, but it turned out tougher than I thought. It took 2 hours for hitch #1 to get me back to the edge of gravel. The guy that picked me up lived out there, and he hiked the AT in 1974 when he was just 16. Can you believe that!?! At the gravel, all traffic goes 20 miles back to the campground, but no one picked me up after an hour. I decided I better start walking. After 4 miles or so, a young couple in a pickup stopped; hitch #2. I rode a solid hour on the tailgate…I was so dusty when I got to the campground, but I didn’t have to walk! I dusted and rinsed of at camp spigot and set back to the CDT…it was after 6:00pm.
I only got about 4 CDT miles, but I was back on Trail, and I had fresh food. At the top of the next climb was the unofficial entry into Grizzly territory. I had already started transitioning into Grizzly safe habits. For instance, this night I ate dinner a couple miles away from where I’d camp. The skeeters were pretty bad that night, but not their worst.
At the usual 6:00am, I started my climb up to Gunsight Pass sitting at 10,100 feet, crossing many blow-downs…out of Bridger National Forest; into Teton National Forest; and entering Grizlandia. From here to Hwy 26 (about 45 miles), Yellowstone nuisance Grizzlies are released in this area, and I read that Black Wolves had migrated here from the park too. As I entered wooded sections, I made sure to make noise…clanking poles and talking to myself like a crazy person. The worst thing to do is to sneak around and surprise a Grizzly. I was in trees and then crossing prairie all morning. Actually, the only Grizzly track I’ve seen so far was in a muddy prairie section that day. I get a little tense around the dense Willow clumps…they like to daybed in them. Willow can easily grow taller than me and cover areas way bigger than a football field…and the Trail cuts right through them. I make noise before, during, and after I clear them…and I turn around as I clear them. My bear spray is quickly accessible right in front of my right water bottle slot. Routinely through the day, I reach back to make sure it’s oriented correctly and easy to pull. The afternoon was wide open high prairie for 7 miles…fast and easy to make time. 360 degree views, and I could see storms around me. I could read the clouds that I was dodging them. Early evening, and I thought I might get hit by a storm. I already had 32 miles, so I tucked into the edge of the woods as a wind block…got some wind and light rain. The worst of it passed north of me…lucky.
Just 15 miles to Hwy 26 where I’d hitch to Dubois…NERO. I knew I’d get soaked…the rain; heavy dew; tall grass; barely visible Trail. Within a minute, my shoes and socks felt like I had forded a river…oh well! The wet Willows had a scent like Lilac or Snow Bush…it was a constant pleasure through the morning. When I got about 10 miles north, the ground was saturated from the storm…the area got hit hard. The mud caked on my shoes. I would scrape it off when I could, then inevitably, back in the mud around the next corner. I cleaned my shoes up in mud puddles near the highway. I had new shoes waiting for me in Dubois, but I wanted to not leave mud in anyone’s car. I got picked up quickly by two young guys who just spent six days backpacking the Tetons. They dropped me in town, and I got Cookie Jar’s resupply box…new shoes, five meals, and some Haribos and Hi-Chews!
Expect nothing, appreciate everything! Those four words have been rolling around my head during this section. There were several challenges laid in front of me through this leg…blow-downs, mosquitos, exhaustion..you get the point. I’m sure many more challenges await me. I’ve learned (but have to remind myself occasionally) that I can’t expect everything to go the way I want it to go. Every step relies on me, not others. Sometimes good breaks will come my way…a storm misses me…someone kindly gives me a ride into town.
I keep coming back to distance hikes because they’re tough, and in their toughness, I find a more simple life where I appreciate little things I miss (take for granted) in my usual day-to-day life back home.
I know this isn’t my usual kind of Trail Tale, but I reflected a lot during this leg. Maybe it’s because of the “Legends of the Fall” kind of terrain I’m in.
Until Next Time,