Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Big Mile Days

Hi everybody, writing today from Anaconda, MT, a lovely (if very linear) town.  The walk into civilization was long and hot on Highway 1, but everything a tired hiker needs is arranged along the main drag, so its all good.  The people here seem very friendly, as four of them stopped to chat while I repackaged my bounce box in front of the P.O.  They were all intent on giving me rides out of town, but I'm not about to ruin the continuity that easily.  I was able to retreive my passport and remaining maps, so I'm pretty excited; the end is approaching at a rate that hardly seems real given the leisurely pace of life out here.. though that is probably the wrong word, seeing as I've been putting in 16 hour, 40 mile days to meet my stated ETA of August 15th.  I know it doesn't really make a difference, but I already changed the date once, I don't want to again, damn it!

Once again I missed an update from town as I had to jet through Darby on a weekend when the library was closed, so here is some catch up.

The trail from Leadore (pronounce LEAD-ore, like two seperate words. weired) was fairly easy and straightforward, with lots of open ground and grassland up on the Divide.  This made for some longish dry stretches, but given the ease of the rolling terrain, it wasn't a concern.  The open skies were a constantly changing tableau, with bright mornings morphing to cloudy skies seemingly instantaneously, and numerous thunderstorms rolling through daily.  Luckily the lightning stayed away, as the fired danger is always high up here, regardless of the precipitation, as attested to by the number of bucket-trailing helicopter seen on the horizon.  I ran into several other southbounders, bringing the total up to 7 so far.  Who knows if I'll see any more, or if they will take the longer Butte route and we'll miss each other completely.

From up on Chief Joseph Pass, I hitched down to Darby.  It seems to be pretty easy to get rides around here as I wasn't waiting long in either direction, though I hear that changes closer to Glacier NP.  The town was pretty quaint and compact, making it perfect for hikers, but alas it lacks an outfitter.  My shoes, which I picked up in Silverthorne waaaaay back in CO, are in rough shape and need to be replaced a.s.a.p... which in this case means in Helena, another 70 miles away.  A generous application of shoe goo and duct tape should do the trick, though every scrape of trip on a rock is cause for concern.  Luckily they survived the Pintlars, a tough but short stretch of rugged peaks that makes the Divide look like it was broken with a titanic hammer.  The trail goes up and over several times, dropping and ascending thousands of feet each time.  While the views were spectacular, and the preponderance of good water and alpine lakes is nice, it was definitely one of the harder bits of trail in a good while. 

With that behind me, however, the rest of the way into Glacier should be a (relative) breeze.  There is still an unfortunate amount of road walking to get back to the main path, but I'll consider it pennance for taking the easier route.  I'm looking forward to putting in the big miles, regardless of whether by choice or necessity, just to put the ole' body through its paces and see if it can still keep up.  For now all seems well, and I can't wait to see what else the trail has in store before heading back east.  Talk to you all later! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The 100 Mile Day?

Hi everybody, writing today from exciting Leadore, ID, a hopping, one stop light town out on an open plain at the bottom of Bannock Pass.  The only road that leads up to the trail is a lightly traveled dirt ribbon that allows one to see cars coming from miles away, making hitching slightly easier, but it is somewhat intimidating looking down and seeing no potential rides coming for what seems like forever.  Even given the dismal state that a hiker must seem to someone going by the trail, I was passed by 3 cars driven by what I can only assume are human scum.  Luckily, and very surprisingly, I was picked up by an empty charter bus that had just unloaded some alumni from Rice Univeristy, so that was a first.

This section of trail has again been characterized by lots of rolling sagebrush and grassland terrain.  As before, it follows the divide closely resulting in lots of ups and downs, but also a good number of open views.  The weather has fallen into an afternoon thundershower pattern, with lots of fierce wind and hail blowing through every few hours to cool things down before settling down for the evening.  Last nights sunset was particularly amazing, with an orange-yellow-magenta horizon on one side resulting in a hue-shifted rainbow on the other.  It sounds like the next few days will be more of the same, but seeing as its pretty spectacular up here, that is fine by me.

This stretch was also the first in which I've started encountering Southbounders, including Freebird, a well known hiker whom I met (and had a small butting of head with) on the PCT in 2010.  I've talked to 3 others so far, and have been able to get some crucial info about the trail going forward from here.  The most important bit was concerning an alternate route a few days from here that will cut 75 miles off my remaining total.  Given that I only had about 700 miles left anyway, thats a big chunk to slice off.  Regardless, basically everyone says the Anaconda route is better in just about every way than the Butte version, so I'll be taking the shorter one.. ya know, for science or something, not because I'm lazy.  This makes some complications given that I have some boxes waiting in Butte, but I'll figure it out somehow.

So, thats about it for now.  The miles are just evaporating at this point, and I expect them to keep dropping off pretty fast.  New ETA in Canada is August 15th, I'll try to zero in on an exact time when I can.  Talk to you later.   

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Three State Stretch

Hi everybody, writing today from the amazing, awesome, spectacular (and much needed rest spot) Mountain View Motel in tiny Lima, MT.Its been a rough stretch, as I’ve essentially hiked 11 days straight to get here with only a couple brief resupply stops in Brooks Lake, Old Faithful Village, and Sawtelle Mountain Lodge, but no real place to recharge. It was definitely a relief to finally see I-15 and know that a bed, a restaurant, a shower, and a washing machine lay down the road somewhere.

But now, the good stuff. The hike coming out of Lander was amazing as the trail swiftly heads up into the Wind River Range, a rough and rocky area popular with climbers and classes from the Northern Outdoor Leadership School located in town.  Due to my long hiatus from the outdoors I was caught by Lint and DirtMonger, two fellow Northbounders, whom I hiked with for several days. It was nice to have someone else to walk with, though I let them do most of the talking. Their prescence made pushing in a few extra miles daily a little easier, though we eventually went different ways when I decided to take a more challenging route up to Knapsack Col, an absolutely beautiful pass at the top of an awesome basin full of overflowing lakes, and surrounded by glacier-draped peaks. From there, the path skirts more crystal clear ponds and drops down to the silt-tinged Green River before heading north toward less well tread trail nearer Togowtee Pass.

The next section, once again hiking alone, started towards Yellowstone National Park. This was yet another highlight on the trail, and included the unexpectedly cool Buffalo Falls, an undeveloped cascade into a narrow limestone ravine with overhanging cliffs, dripping stone formations, and knife-thin cracks etched into the bedrock. The lack of roads or tourist in the area lent much to the appeal of the place, particularly given the preponderance of equestrians crowding the rest of the trail through the area. Also of interest was the Parting of the Waters, an aptly named point in Two Ocean Creek where the stream divides and the water heads off for opposite end of the continent. I can only picture a gaggle of water molecules, falling like hyperactive elementary school kids from some cloud, forming cliques in their teenage years as they as they rush downriver, then parting to go their different ways as if to college; one, to the Atlantic, to get some job at a law firm.  The other, westward, to open a surf shop in La Jolla. But maybe I just have too much time on my hands. At least it takes ones mind off the threat of grizzlies, of which I have only seen one, and that was running in the opposite direction.

The hike through the park itself is somewhat lackluster overall, with long, flat stretches of swamp walking, but the cool bits obviously make up for the the less interesting hauls. The park is huge, so some fluff is to be expected I guess. The path passes through several remote thermal areas before reaching the main event at Old Faithful Village, as well as some huge open meadows and lakes which help relieve the monotony. While normally the National Parks can be a bit disappointing due to the swell of tourists and shops, its hard not to be impressed by this one. One look at the steam-filled basin, with its myriad of gysers, hot springs and bubbling pools, each with its own unique character, makes you aware that it is a special place on Earth. The park itself however is a good example of the thru hiker taking the bitter with the better, as one can't pick and choose the cool parts, or just run for cover when the swarms of mosquitoes arrive. And OH MY GOD the mosquitoes in Yellowstone. Now lets never speak of them again.

The trail eventually climbs out from the park basin and into the hill again as it crosses the border into Idaho. Alas, there is little fanfare as the state line lacks even a sign, but it was a good feeling none-the-less, and yet another milestone. From there, it seems to take special care in following the physical divide, resulting in a roller coaster ride of ups and downs complete with some great views overlooking the distant, river strewn lowlands. Unfortunately this also means alot of steep elevation loss and gain, as well as alot of unmarked bushwacking that can slow the hiking alot. It can be frustrating, and I only hope that it gets at least marginally better as it heads up into Montana proper. I hope to be done in approximately a month, but given the unpredicatbility of the terrain, it can be hard to make such a call, and the amount of miles one can cram in a day fluctautes quite a bit. Anyway, time to rest up and prepare for the next stretch; its finally begining to feel like the end is in sight with only 800 miles or so left to go.  I'm definitely excited to get to the finish line and back to civilization.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Exploring the Countryside

Hi all, writing today from Lander again, which Kate and I have been using as a home base for our explorations of Wyoming.  Since she got here late on the evening of the 3rd, we've made the most of our time, and the availability of a car, to see as much as we could of the area around here. 

Luck aided us with a fortuitous run in with an old thru-hiker acquiantence named Mike whom I walked some miles with on the AT down south back in 2008.  He happens to work at the outfitter in town, and was at the register when I came in to do some shopping the other day.  It turns out he moved here immediately after finishing his AT hike, and, due to the accessibility of some world-class cliffs and his complete obsession with climbing, decided that this was a pretty good place to spend a few years.  He's pretty much an awesome guy and a great host around town, even lending us his two person tent to use for a few days and introducing us to some of his many friends.  Even though we've only been here a few days, it seems like we already know about half the folks around here.  It was one of those "small world" moments that seems to strike so often out here on the trail, and it definitely worked to our advantage.  Hopefully somebody will wind up in NYC so I can return the favor one of these days.

Kate's first day in town was the 4th, which is apparently a very big deal in town here.  We started the day off checking out the parade, then took a stroll around town, a process which only takes a few hours; everything is conventiently compact, and the tree lined streets and numerous parks make for good walking.  After hitting up the (incredibly overpriced) fair in the strip mall parking lot, we drove around and got some errands  done, then hit up the local rodeo.  Now in its 118th year, it was a pretty cool experience, and definitely a first for both of us.  Unfortunately the fireworks were cancelled this year due to the fire ban, but we're told that normally the town goes ape shit, with people setting off professional grade explosives on every street corner in addition to the county run one.  As such, this was apparently a very tame year for Lander, but its all probably for the best given the dry conditions.  After wrapping things up at the rodeo, we hit the bar with Mike and some of his friends before turning in early. 
The next day, we chose to start the day off with a brunch at the swank Middle Fork Cafe, run by one of Mike buddies.  It was a surprisingly upscale experience, very reminiscent of the brunch scene back home in NYC.  Next up, we decided to explore the area south of town along the Popo Agie River.  This included a trip to "The Sinks" and "The Rise", a section of the creek where the water disappears underground into a series of limestone cracks and caves, then reappears 1/4 of a mile later in a trout filled pool.  We also headed up to a waterfall farther upstream, where we took brief, frigid dip in the pools there, then on to an abandoned CCC fire lookout on Blue Ridge, before throwing down camp at Fiddlers Lake.  Thankfully the fire ban doesn't extend to established campsites, so we were able to get some flames going before hitting the sleeping mat.

Yesterday was our big trip, as we decided to make the long drive to Grand Teton National Park.  Its about 2 1/2 hours away, but the drive was beautiful as it passes through harsh badlands, sculpted red rock canyons, green river valleys, and high wooded passes before dropping to the open plains that preclude the Tetons themselves.  These seem to rise straight up from the flat grasslands into a jagged wall of snow capped rock dotted with lakes at their base.  Like all national parks, it was somewhat crowded with RVs and families towing children, but we still got in a little swim and a hike up to Hidden Falls and Inspiration point before heading to a campground outside the park.

Today, we took the drive back to town, stopping in the town of Dubois (pronounced DEW-boys), then hit up the local museum. We're probably going to just take it easy, as Kate has to head out at 2:30 tomorrow morning to catch her flight back home. Which sucks. Its going to be very hard going forward from here, especially after having her here for a few days and getting to slack off for so long. Its been fun, and Lander is a great little town to spend some time in, but the Winds are still calling, and having had the chance to see some of the terrain going north from here, I am definitely anxious to get back on the trail and get her done. With that, its time to get off the computer and get back to life. It'll probably be some time before I get a chance to update again, given that I plan to skip the next town for resupply, and after that is Yellowstone. Talk to you later... whenever that is.

 Driving through a heard of Buffalo in Teton
 Kate doing her Sports Illustrated shoot at Jenny Lake
 At the rodeo
 The Sinks, with the limestone cavern in the background
 Titantic moment atop the CCC firelookout on Blue Ridge
 The crazy peaks of the Tetons in the distance
 Hilarious, and hopefully unnecessary, sign
 The view from Inspiration Point
 Beautiful red canyons on the drive to the park
 The Tetons rising straight up from the plains
 More Jenny Lake photos
 Another pic for the Kate swimsuit calender at Popo Agie falls
 Sill more Tetons

Rainclouds over Togwotee (pronounced TOE-gut-ee) Pass

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Random Photos

I decided to start carrying my actual camera back in Silverthorne, as opposed to using the particularly bad one on my phone, so here are a few of my random pictures.  Its signifigantly easier to upload from here than from my phone, so I'm not going to bother trying those until later.  So, in no particular order...
 A blaze on a signpost right through the middle of Grand Lakes
 Granite Falls, in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).
 A marker for the old Rabbit Ears Pass highway, near the real road into Steamboat Springs
 A section of bleached, dead trees north of Rabbit Ears pass
 Flat Kate at the Wyoming border
 Singular dead tree atop Bridger Peak, just before a thunderstorm rolled in
 Found this guy sitting alone at the top of Bridger Pass, on the way into Rawlins
 The trail into historic South Pass City... which is surrounded by an electric fence, kinda unsettling
 The lovely trail leaving Rawlins, heading down into the Basin.  Kinda hard to get lost there.
 The view from the awesome Shadowcliff Hostel, overlooking Grand Lakes.
 Lakes in the Basin, surrounded by a salt encrusted shore and swarming with gulls... and biting flies, ugh.
 Colorado River canyon above Radium Hot Springs.  Got to visit here with the staff from Shadowcliff.  I elected to be a wimp and not jump from the 60 ft cliff into the river below.
 Random shack filled with Forest Service radio equipment atop Parkview Mt.  A very tiring climb.
 One of the hilarious signs posted before going above treeline in RMNP.
 View from Flattop Mt in RMNP.  The mushroomy looking cloud in the distance is from the Collins Park fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado history.
More fun and exciting trail coming down from Bridger Pass.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Landed in Lander

Hi all, writing today from lovely Lander, WY, where I will be taking a few days off to reconnect with Kate when she gets here on the 4th.  The town isn't one often frequented by thru hikers, as there are several other, more conveniently located resupply options, but given its size and relative nearness to a bunch of activities, it seems like a good place to spend the holiday, particularly with several cheap lodgings available.  The trail itself passes through South Pass City ("city" being a very loose term out here), which is actually a preserved historic mining town complete with log cabins, gold panning demonstrations, small exhibits, and a general store, but no place to actually stay.  It also runs concurrent with the Oregon Trail through the area, which is a neat little bit of history to be a part of, but it does raise concerns about my oxen dying of rattlesnake bites, or Mary getting typhoid again (who says video gamjes can't be educational?).  

This last stretch was one of the more psychologically challenging areas I have encountered so far, on any trail.  The trek across the Great Divide Basin, which is thankfully over and done with having crossed South Pass, was a long, dry, hot, and flat one (though not also crowded; sorry Friedman).  The trail mainly follows dirt roads or buried pipelines the enitre way, which can seem to stretch for endless miles straight across a relatively featureless savannah of scrub grass and sagebrush.  While this makes for fast hiking and big mileage, the hours seem to drag by as that hill on the horizon just... won't... get... any... closer.  You know when you are in trouble when you can literally see the next 15 hours of your life traced out as a line receding into the distance. 

The mind can do wierd things in an environment like that, particularly when there is no tangible peak to set as a goal; the only motivations to keep pushing are mental and invisible -- the promise of a spring in several hours time, or the though of reaching an arbitrary border.  The body, however, doesn't always do so well with such distant promises, often resulting in an antagonistic dialogue between my brain and the thing it supposedly controls.  When anywhere is as good a place to stop and rest as the next, why keep walking?  Because I told you to, Feet, thats why.

Thats not to say the area wasn't without its moments.  The huge skies this area is know for didn't disappoint when it came time for the sun to rise and set, particularly when colored by smoke from (yet more) wildfires on the western horizon.  Thankfully these are once again distant enough not to be a worry, but the threat is always there; I should be out of the perpetually fire ban once I get to Idaho and into slightly wetter climes.  Ironically, the highly flammable shrubland does have a nice velvety glow to it at magic hour... until one realizes there is no place to actually camp in it.  When the trail does climb high enough to get a sense of the surroundings though, one can't help but feel the vastness of the place, and wonder at how continued exposure to its light and space must have affected the settlers who traveled across here.  The ocassional cabin or RV parked in the few year round stream beds attests to the fact that some do find this place hospitable. 

The wildlife in the area, though not so varied as before, does at least provided some entertainment as well, as innumerable pronghorn antelope could be seen racing in small groups everywhere thanks to the incredible sight distances (btw, a baby antelope would make a great Christmas present... just saying).  Lastly, the sparseness and scarcity of...well, just about everything in the region makes one appeciate it all the much more.  The shade provided by that one tree can seem a huge blessing.  The fleeting breeze can be a godsend.  And finally reaching that one flowing, non-cow-contaminated water source after 28 miles of trudging?  Forgetaboutit.

Clearly, 5 days of desert is enough to get my brain pretty chatty, but its time to go plan some activities for the next few days.  It will be good to have some rest as the next section through the Wind River Range is supposedly one of the hardest, most rugged, isolated and beautiful on the trail.  I am looking forward to reaching Yellowstone and the last leg of the journey, but for the meantime viva Lander.  The trail will still be there in a few days, and who knows, I might even finally meet some other thru hikers if they catch up!  Talk to you later.   

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Like "Mediocre" Basin

Hi all, just got into Rawlins, WY, and damn I am tired.  This town is reminiscent of those in New Mexico, where a long road walk leads right into civilization.  It seems like a mirage, an incongruous collection of buildings huddled around a span of railroad tracks hard up against a set of hills in the middle of a desert.  The people seem friendly enough, and a man even drove some ways off road just to offer me some water on the way in to town.  Even funnier, I was mistaken for a homeless traveler, this time by a woman who has "been there" before.  Despite my insistence that I was not "where" she thought I was, and my patiently explaining what the trail was, she shoved $5 in my hand and gave me a hug before jetting.  It never ceases to amaze.  Maybe I'm just not explicit enough, or should carry some CDT Association literature on me for such occasions. 

The area also shares the unfortunate distinction of being cattle country, which means several things.  First of all, poop.  Poop everywhere.  Wherever you want to set up camp, there it is, dried up or fresh, constantly taunting with its seeming invulnerability.  It makes one question the wisdom of eating red meat, seeing home much of the stuff these animals can produce.  Second, the random dust storms that occur with their frantic flight from any hiker, particularly when they run in the direction you are already walking on the road.  And third, the trampled ground around any water source that turns it into a muddy mess, and renders ground unwalkable once hard.  Why anyone would choose to raise such animals in an environment like this is beyond me.  

The Great Basin is a giant bowl formed where the Divide splits in two, resulting in an area where all precipitation flows inward, with no outlet to the ocean.  Because it is in a perpetual rainshadow, the whole region is exceptionally dry, and all the groundwater eventually evaporates.  This leaves behind excess salt in most of the drainages, meaning potable water is dangerously scarce.  Its a bit cruel to be walking beside a flowing stream in the middle of an arid wasteland and yet not be able to drink a drop of it.  I was forced to filter water from a cold but sulfurous spring just to make it to town, which, if you've never drank sulfur before, is ewwww plain and simple. 

But not everything out here is bad.  The famous big sky is present with every sunrise and set, the temperature isn't as bad as it could be (particularly with brisk winds during the day), the trail is an easy dirt road for the most part, and the fauna is different than I've been seeing; pronghorn antelope are literally hopping around everywhere, as are badger, muskrats, and, paridoxically, gulls at the saline lakes.  These water sources can look suspiciously like a white sand beach, what with their salt-crusted shores, adding more insult to injury.  Beautiful, but ultimately useless.  Ultimately, the trail continues in the basin for... longer than I would like to contemplate right now, but its continued distance will make the entry into the Wind River Range and Yellowstone all the better.  The fact that Kate is coming out to take my mind off things for a few days doesn't hurt either, but it will certainly make this next section seem like an eternity.  Regardless, the trail goes on, and I'll talk to you all from South Pass City in a few days.