So its been 3.5 months since I’ve been off the trail. Saying good bye to AJ (Mudslide) was really difficult. I hitched into Rawlins from Dubois and managed to catch my bus to Denver. I spent some time with Becca and Nate before I flew back to Switzerland to start work. AJ continued hiking but had to do a lot of it on the roads because of fire closures and then heavy snowfall. We plan to finish on trail in the summer of 2019.
After I finished work in Switzerland I found a cheap flight and headed back to the US to visit AJ again and got a great tour of Kansas City.
Hiking near the Missouri River
It’s not easy having a long distance relationship and I have to wait until March to see him again but stay tuned for more adventures because we’re not done yet!
This morning we woke up to frozen ground. It had been so cold last night that everything was frozen. Grass, water and ground. The start to the morning was through tall grass. We were going to get so wet and be so cold! It’s August, its not supposed to be this cold in August!
We looked at the maps and as we’ve become accustomed to we check what Ley has to say, compared to the Guthooks App. Ley says there’s a shortcut, cross country, but easy cross country that rejoins another alternate that cuts off about 5 miles into town. Ley knows what he’s talking about, Ley has actually hiked these trails. We’ll take Ley’s advice. Well, maybe it was easy cross country a few decades ago but everything was so overgrown and there were so many blow downs that even though we cut off miles, time was not on our side. It took us an hour to do the 1 mile cross country section! Thankfully after that we hit the actual alternate which was a trail. A faded trail, perhaps a hunting trail but it was a trail. This trail was supposed to take us about 5 miles to a road that would lead us to the main road into town. After about 3 miles, the trail started fading in and out and we started to worry that this road did not actually exist and the whole route would be like this into town. It was still another 17 miles into town. Mudslide and I looked at each other in despair. If we didn’t find that road, we might not make it into town that day.
At this point its too late to turn around and follow the GPS app so we keep going and hope that, since Ley has not let us down yet, he won’t now. Mudslide was starting to get pretty pissed off, he’s wearing shorts and the sage brush rips his legs apart. I’m wearing trousers so I’m ok with just charging straight through the stuff, which was what I did to try find this bloody road. Mudslide is just starting to suggest impossible alternatives to the situation we’re in and what we might do to get out of the sage when I suddenly stumble onto the road. Literally stumble. Its a small dirt 2 track road that just magically pops up. I have no idea how Ley found this road, its not on the maps but it is there in real life.
So this is the road. We followed it all the way to the main road that leads into Dubois. There was nothing difficult about it and we were able to maintain a steady 3 miles/hour. We walked the whole day together. This is my last day on the trail. I have a bus from Rawlins to Denver in 2 days.
We were able to hitch into town with a couple of women who were section hiking the CDT and wanted to be in Dubois for the eclipse in a few days time. We were planning on staying at the church in Dubois which also lets people sleep there for free. We were very thankful because hotel rooms were insane prices because of the eclipse. Looking forward to my last zero on the trail! I’ll definitely be back to finish the rest!
There were no more mountains today and we’re back to big open plains and farmlands. This morning we spent a good while herding some cattle about 2 miles. We felt dreadful about it but these cows were right on the trail and no matter how we tried to walk around them, as soon as they saw us approach one would run off the the rest would follow. This process repeated itself over and over and we just couldn’t find a way to stop the cows running off and still keep hiking. After about 2 miles a few of the more intelligent of the beasts moved off to the left of us and when the rest followed, we were able to keep walking straight and they settled down. I get why farmers can get frustrated with hikers stressing out the animals but there wasn’t much we could do.
The walk today was not particularly exciting until after lunch. I was slightly ahead of Mudslide (I tend to walk faster when I find the scenery boring) and I took a wrong turn! The trail just seemed to go that direction Usually I’m pretty good at noticing junctions and checking the map. Wrong turns are Mudslide’s specialty. I’d probably gone a mile downhill before I got suspicious. The CDT is never this easy. Sure enough, I was off trail. But the trail I needed was about 300ft above me. Instead of walking back a mile I decided to just head straight up. It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be but now I didn’t know if Mudslide was in front of me or behind me. I had flash backs to earlier on in Wyoming. If he was in front he’d keep hiking til he found me and he wouldn’t find me because I was behind him. But he may have taken a wrong turn too and be behind me. If I raced on ahead and he was behind me then I’d get even further ahead of him. I didn’t know what to do. The ground was too dry for me to see footprints and it was getting later on in the day. I continued walking, then decided to stop and wait thinking if I waited about half an hour he’d catch up to me if he was behind me. If he was in front of me he’d have to stop at some point. I waited about 10 minutes before I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to write him a note, I would stop and camp at the next water source and I dated it and wrote the time, then raced off to see if he was in front of me. I must’ve been walking almost 4 miles/hour.
I got to the water at 7pm which is later then we usually stop and gives us about an hour before dark. I found the spring, which was amazing and fresh and coming straight out of the ground. I filled up 3 litres and went back to the trail to set up the gravity filter system. I’d just finished filtering the first couple of litres and was starting to think it was time to set up camp and who should walk over the hill but Mudslide, same carefree look on his face. “Sure”, he said, “I found your letter, I think I was 10 minutes behind you. Lets set up camp.” And just like that all my stresses and worries were over and we found a great little spot under the trees near the water.
Today could not have been more different from yesterday. We spent most of the day heading down from the Col, we rejoined the official CDT and continued heading downhill all the way to the Green River. I was on a high today after a good night’s sleep at our perfect campsite and the thrill of having done Knapsack Col. I feel like I was floating on the trail all morning. Mudslide was ahead of me for most of the day I think because I was just having such a good time walking on a real trail and seeing the forest service guys doing trail maintenance. Nothing makes me happier than walking passed a fallen tree that’s been sawed in half to clear the trail. THANK YOU trail maintenance!
The Green River eventually meets up and becomes the Colorado River, which we walked along coming into Grand Lake. I have a special affection for this river that seems to be travelling the same route as we are. Seeing the source of the Green River was kind of special and I just had great feelings all day.
While I was filling up with water a couple hiked passed and told me there were moose up head, I forgot to ask how many and how far but I kept my eyes and ears open hoping to catch a glimpse. Just my luck, as I saw a young bull, a bloody dog barked and chased the moose away! I was fuming! Around the corner a couple with their horses were out for the day and had their dogs off leash! The woman was tying them up and planned to go look for the moose. I gave her a dirty look and told her, her dog had already chased them off. Mudslide was a luckier and got some good pictures.
He had stopped just ahead of me where he’d met up with another hiker who’d come out with her family to give out some trail magic and we were presented with fresh peaches and apricots that they insisted we finish! Hell, no problem!
So, with the end of today, we leave the Winds and I get closer to Dubois which is going to be the end of my hike. I have to get back to Switzerland and go back to work. Mudslide will be continuing without me. It not ideal but I’m running out of money and I have to earn something to keep me going before the winter starts.
This morning we’re going over Knapsack Col. We’re following Ley’s maps again because its a CDT alternate. He does mention that the trail is not amazing through here, but its a col (col stands for couloir which in French means corridor, or gully) and its pretty easy to look up at a couloir and see where to go.
The first indicator that is was going to be a lot harder than expected was the weather. I was happily walking along the trail that you see above in the picture when the clouds started coming over the mountain and a thick mist descended and I knew it was going to start pouring with rain. I was slightly ahead of Mudslide and saw to the side this perfect rock overhang that would protect us from the rain. I hurried towards it, hoping Mudslide would see me and follow me. He did and we both took shelter while the hail beat down for about 10 minutes. He laughs at me for constantly wanting to get out of the rain but I feel like I’d rather spend 10 minutes waiting under a rock and not be beaten to death then to carry on hiking, go an extra half a mile and have tiny stones smashing down on my head. So we waited.
The storm passed and we carried on hiking. The trail started to disappear under the snow but we could see from the map and the position of Knapsack Col which way we wanted to go. The terrain was extremely rocky and scrambly so we abandoned any hope of finding an actual trail and just headed off around the glacier and on the rocks as much as possible. Ley had a warning on his maps about walking along the snow as very often a thin layer of snow would cover a big hole between rocks, causing unnecessary risk.
The final stretch was more of a rock climb than a hike and some points were rather dodgy as we climbed higher and higher towards the Col. We met a few people coming down and they were planning on walking across the glacier to get down, far faster but far more dangerous as far as i’m concerned. And incredibly steep.
As we made it to the top we had a brief moment of enjoyment before the cold really hit us, me especially, and all I wanted to do was get down. The walk down was something else! A woman we met at the top told us to follow the cairns down and stick to the left, thankfully she gave us this advice because it was a rocky mess getting down. I was suddenly glad we came up the way we did.
The weather was not kind to us. The rain carried on in a pretty consistent drizzle and it was so windy that stopping was very difficult.
The rain started pouring down again and insisted we get out of the rain and take shelter again. It was also around 2pm and we hadn’t eaten much besides clifbars. I was so cold that when Mudslide took a video, I wasn’t even able to pronounce words properly and I’m slurring because my lips are numb. At this point I’m wearing my shirt, thermal top, down jacket and raincoat to try keep warm. That’s every item of clothing I had.
After the scree field that welcomed us on the other side, we were faced with a boulder field that we had to scramble over, then some snow fields that obscured the tiny sections of trail there were and then a lake where the trail had been washed away. On the bright side, the sun was trying to peak out through the clouds and my raincoat managed to dry in the wind.
Our only goal at this point was to get out of this rocky terrain, find clean water and a flat spot to camp and go to sleep. We managed to get each other through this dreadful terrain with the awful weather and after we rounded the lake where the trail had washed away we sat for a bit in the weak afternoon sunshine and smiled and laughed about the entire adventure. What a crazy, fun pass. And how thankful we were that it was over but also that we’d done it. The views were some of the most incredible we’d seen and even though it was cold and rainy, we never stopped appreciating how breath taking the views around us were.
In the end we managed 13 miles in 11 hours! Mudslide was his usual perfectionist when it came to the campsite and if it’d been up to me we probably would’ve only done 11 miles but in the end his insistence was rewarded with the most perfect campsite imaginable, 4 pine trees in a small, flat clearing with a river about 100 ft away.
Finally, we are leaving Pinedale. Sad to say goodbye to such a great small town but also time to get back on the trail. We have more of the Winds to look forward to and so far its been both mine and Mudslide’s favourite part of the trail.
We found a hitch into town so easily, we thought it would be just as easy getting back to the trail. It appears not. We waited about an hour before we were picked up and the kind couple that gave us a lift weren’t even going to the trail head, they just thought it would be a nice drive up there so they offered us a lift! He’s a local farmer in the area and had a lot of interesting little things to tell us on the drive up.
Since we got to the trail head pretty late we weren’t being too ambitious about how far we wanted to go and just aimed to do the 11 miles to get us back on trail for the next day. We also didn’t need to get too far in because the next alternate we were taking, Knapsack Col was only a few miles from the junction.
Filtering water, again!
Back to picture point
We were surprised by how many people we encountered as we were walking on the trail, the first few lakes we came to had people literally bordering every free spot, then we realised it was Saturday, plenty of weekend hikers taking advantage of the amazing weather. The hike back in did not seem nearly as long as the hike out, so I think both of us were just really tired when we were hiking into town. I’m so glad we made this stop in Pinedale. I don’t think I’d be enjoying the Winds as much if we’d decided to race through to Debois.
Once we hit 11 miles there were slightly fewer people and we chose a spot on Island Lake to camp. It wasn’t a privacy we were used to but the view was worth it. I’ve stolen some of Mudslide’s pictures here to give you an idea. (He’s a much better photographer than I am).
Tonight we settle down in the mountains, surrounded by like minded people, back in the tent doing what we love. Very grateful that nausea was nothing serious!
Mudslide and I decided to spend a zero in Pinedale because we got in so late the other night. There are no showers in the church so we had to go to the rec centre to shower, which was on one side of Pinedale and then to the laundromat which was on the other side of town. Pinedale is not a big town but hikers do not want to have to walk anywhere on zero days, thats why they’re called zeros. We visited the rec centre, paid our $7 for a shower, did our resupply and our laundry. There was also a small town market that day so we bought some fresh fruit and veg for dinner.
The next day we were supposed to hike out but I woke up feeling dreadful with stomach cramps and didn’t feel like I could move, let alone hike. Mudslide was fantastic, running around town for me, getting food and gatorade and generally doing a great job of looking after me. After an entire day curled up in a ball, hoping it wasn’t something more serious, I thankfully felt better at the end of the day and managed to cook and eat a proper dinner. All set to head off tomorrow again.
Today we both woke up excited, we have 22 miles to go to get into town and we’re hoping we’ll be there by late afternoon. 3pm if we’re really optimistic! Of course, nothing on the CDT happens like you expect.
My watch battery died yesterday and because its been so overcast my solar charger hasn’t been able to charge so watch battery remains dead. (On a side note, the Suunto Ambit3 has been incredible on this trip and this is the first time the battery has completely died). I never realised how much I used the watch for checking my progress until now. The tough part is, this is probably one of the few days that its dreadful that the battery has died because we have to go off the CDT to get into town and neither of us actually have maps for about 8 miles that we head off trail. We also only have a rough estimate of the distance to the trail head mentioned as a brief comment on Ley’s maps. Its not even mentioned on the CDT app.
The morning starts beautifully with us once again choosing a Ley alternate as it looks more scenic, less elevation gain and brings us slightly closer to the trail to the trail head. Ley does not disappoint and we find ourselves wandering through beautiful terrain with intermittent lakes to add to the beauty.
Luckily when we came to the junction to get to the trail head it was really well marked and we came across a group of fathers and sons who confirmed our route. Since we had taken the Ley’s alternate we figured we only had 9 miles to the trail head, we’d saved 2 miles. It was around midday when we turned off the CDT to get into town. We should be there around 3pm! 3 miles an hour is not a stretch for us, we could arrive in Pinedale in time for happy hour!!!! Or not.
The group we met earlier told us about a beautiful photo spot that was 4 miles from the trail head so that was about all we had to go on as to how far we’d walked and how far we still had to go. I don’t know if AJ and I were in a time warp but by 2 pm we still hadn’t reached the photo spot. That meant that in 2 hours we hadn’t walked 5 miles. The trail was flat and downhill. How were we walking so slowly!?
Eventually we find the lookout point and it was photo worthy.
We still had 4 miles to go. We confirmed this with other people sitting there. 4 miles. It seemed so so far and long and impossible. And yet what else is there to do but go on. Mudslide and I started listening to comedy shows to try and pass the time but that also seemed to make each half hour seem longer instead of shorter. We started looking at how sweaty people were to try judge how far away the trail head was, it didn’t work. We started looking through the trees and any clearing we saw got our hopes up that we were near the trail head. So many clearings, none of them for a parking lot. But as happens in life, eventually you get to your destination and suddenly, without a clearing in sight, we turn a corner and there’s this enormous parking lot in front of us. Just as we’re heading to the road to hitch, the group of fathers and sons emerges and they offer us a ride into town. Amazing! Its 5pm. So much for happy hour!
After about an hour in the car we arrive in Pinedale and head for the church that allows hikers to sleep in their basement. (Its a nice basement). There we meet up with Napoleon and Red Cross who I haven’t seen since the start of Colorado! Mudslide and I go out for Chinese food and then collapse on the floor in tired heaps, with potential plans of a zero tomorrow.
Today was such a pleasant day. I didn’t let Mudslide out of my sight for very long and I made sure that I carried the tent. I’ll let the photos speak for today. Tomorrow we’ll take a 11 mile detour to get into Pinedale. It was a very hotly debated idea but in the end we decided that we’d rather take our time in the Winds and do all the alternates and not carry 8 days worth of food with us. Most of the hikers we’ve spoken to who are not going in to Pinedale skipped the alternates to make the miles they need to to get into town with enough food. To us, that’s not why we’re on the trail so in the end we’ll be going 22 miles out of our way but this allows us to see more of the beauty of the Winds.