Wyoming Walk Day 14: Now this is backpacking at its best in the high passes of the Wind River Range!
Here are 14 photos from the day: http://www.trailjournals.com/photos.cfm?id=783439
We got an early start today. Just as we were about to leave our campsite who should show up but Gary, our former companion who had taken a different route two days earlier! “Well, how was the high route?” we asked. “I lived,” was all he said, looking a tad haggard. “I came down Pixley Creek, and at one point, I was talking to the boulders asking them to show me the way. It was straight down from the Divide!”
Just at that moment, two other CDT hikers came along. One of them, named Bluefoot, had taken another treacherous route down from the Divide. He and Gary bonded instantly, and the three of them took off on the trail, sharing stories of their adventures. John and I continued at our slower pace, thinking that Gary had found fast walking comrades for the rest of his walk.
A turn-off sign indicated our route toward Vista Pass. The trail was getting rockier as it wound up the forested mountain side. Near here, we took a break to talk with a group of about a dozen women on a Sierra Club trip called Women in the Winds. Some of them were from Florida and were finding the altitude of nearly 10,000 feet quite an adjustment! I was feeling pretty good myself. My body must have been acclimated now.
“What a beautiful place to get to camp and spend a whole day!” we marveled when we took a snack break at Vista Pass, a peaceful spot surrounded by jagged peaks. The Sierra Club group had done that midway through their weeklong trek. Captivating boulder piles and flowers graced the snowmelt lake area. Reluctantly, we moved on toward further passes.
We walked on to Vista Pass, a steep, rocky ravine that rose several hundred feet in a notch between steep ridges. John and I had found a well- defined trail that made the climb moderately easy! To our surprise, about half way up the 1/2 mile climb, we saw Gary, Steve, and Bluefoot way down below scrambling over boulders as big as rooms. They had missed the trail while concluding that there was none to be found. When they saw us up above them, they were crestfallen with the extra effort they had endured! The CDT is so varied in that way. Sometimes it’s actually a good trail!
At Cube Rock Pass, Steve, Gary, and Bluefoot joined us for a break. Steve talked about his life as a Community Supported Agriculture farmer at his farm called Prescott’s Patch in PA. Bluefoot was interested in what we were eating – hummus! They were heading for a route through Titcombe Pass, which would take them past some reportedly beautiful lakes not on the usual route. We had planned to stay on the main CDT route over Shannon Pass. Gary asked us if it would be ok if he walked with us again, admitting that his high route adventure had left him with strained leg muscles, and he would appreciate our slower pace while he recovered.
“Stunning, simply stunning,” we cried when we topped Cube Rock Pass and saw a remote lake called Peak Lake caught within the steep sides of the mountains. This is the Wind River Range at its finest! The landscape up here was starkly awesome and vast.
After winding up through the rocks for about an hour, we saw the mountain level off. The terrain is bare, jumbled rock, stretching out on all sides. Here and there, pioneer plants poke up through the rocks, ever so gradually breaking them down, finding their nourishment in the grainy new soil.
At 11,200 ft, there was still a patch of snow!!
Shannon Pass, with its challenging elevation and rocks gave way to Jean Lake, quite a bit lower and verdant. We looked back to the high peaks that had loomed just next to us on the Pass. Although we had already climbed three passes, we kept walking for another hour or so, past Jean Lakes, descending several hundred feet in elevation to Freemont Crossing. By contrast to the bare landscape of the high passes, the river valley was lush with plants that had filled in between the boulders and rocks.
It wasn’t completely soft, though and finding a flat, smooth sleeping spot proved challenging. This is where the tarp proves its value being adaptable to marginal terrain like this. There was just enough flat ground for two among the boulders where we made our home for the night. Particularly challenging here, however, was locating a tree for hanging our food bag!
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