During week 13 on the Continental Divide Trail, Appa and I continue through Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin and make a resupply stop in Lander via South Pass City and Atlantic City before entering the Wind River Range with our bear spray where we take the Cirque of the Towers alternate and encounter the worst mosquitoes of my entire life (and some particularly violent weather).
CDT Day 85: Wild Horses
To be responsible and grown-up hikers, Appa and I have committed to (trying to) get early starts; today’s alarm brings me out of my hallucinatory unconscious state at 4:15. I may or may not snooze said alarm until 5:00.
At least we’re walking before 6:00? When thru-hiking, it’s the thought that counts. Or is it the miles? I always forget this one.
As the sun creeps higher into the sky as we make our way north following the parallel dirt tracks cultivated by (what are presumably) large trucks driving (cattle?) across the Basin. A barbed-wire fence materializes next to the road/trail and stretches into the nothing ahead of us. Following the fence, we find a lonesome cow who has ended up estranged from the herd and is now very distraught as a result of not being able to get back on the other side of the fence. Guess we’ll have to eat this one.
Yes, life in the Basin is exciting.
It’s not until 14.7 mi / 23.7 km into the day that we hit our first water source – A&M Reservoir (sadly, it turns out this place has no relation to the root beer).
Much like our time spent in the New Mexico Bootheel at the beginning of this Continental Divide Trail adventure (now over three months ago), life in Wyoming’s Great Basin revolves around the availability and location of water. We’ve gone from hiking through literal mountains of the stuff in the San Juans (albeit, most of it was frozen), to now being concerned we aren’t going to find any and die of dehydration in Middle of Nowhere, Wyoming (I guess this probably describes most of Wyoming).
But before we get to our glorious water acquisition, I must talk poops.
Our re-entry into a flat and featureless landscape has more drawbacks than simply the sun being able to blast us with its cancer-giving rays all day, we now lack adequate privacy for our bathroom breaks. Leaving the reservoir, I allow some space to develop between Appa and me and then find a depression in the terrain to dig a hole and take care of business in.
But enough of that. Onward to the most important thing in our lives right now – more water. It seems strange that our mission is currently to find water, drink/stock up on water, and then leave behind said water in search of more water. Honestly, it’s surprising there’s any water out here at all.
At our next water source, 10 mi / 16 km past the reservoir, we find a group of wild horses (feral horses) who appear to want some water as well – but they keep their distance, watching us from the top of a nearby hill. We’ve seen a lot of cows on this trip, but not so many horses.
That said, after spending time staring into the eyes of each, I can confirm – cows are dumb, horses are smart(er).
Hiking in the Basin hasn’t been as terrible as some people would have you believe.
Sure, it’s monotonous but it’s nice to have a bit of mindless walking on the Continental Divide Trail for once. I’ve just been murdering podcasts and audiobooks without the constant interruption of having to look at my phone and confirm I’m still on the trail.
We end up doing what’s our biggest day of the trail at 38.1 mi / 61.32 km and we camp near two ponds in the middle of the trail (that’s a road). The bad thing about camping near water? All of the flies and mosquitoes we need to share the campsite with. The good thing? Well, water, I guess.
CDT Day 86: Magic Grass
We wake up and get a not-so-early start. The good news? The thunderstorms that greeted us on our first day in the Basin have yet to return. The bad news? We’re still in the Basin (and will be until sometime tomorrow since topping our biggest day with an even bigger day isn’t realistic – not because it can’t be done, but because we’re lazy).
According to the CDT hiker rumor mill on Guthook (the app everyone uses for navigation where hikers are able to leave comments for others for each waypoint), there’s a cache maintained by a trail angel coming up soon.
Caches are a tricky thing. When you’re hiking, they can be some of the best parts of the trail. Water, food, sometimes even supplies, at places where there is otherwise nothing. That said, they can be incredibly dangerous as well. Many caches, particularly the more well-established ones, become pseudo-trail fixtures. This means that, despite being reportedly warned not to, hikers end up relying on them. Best case scenario, hikers get the water they were hoping for – worst case, they die.
Not relying on a cache and then finding it to be full can be frustrating since you end up carrying a lot more weight than necessary in your pack, but if you do the math, not relying on a cache will win every time.
But, as a hiker, I’m glad this cache was stocked – with water and Gatorade.
Since there’s nothing else to talk about in the Basin, we will now discuss the next water source – apparently, a metal lid located somewhere in a field of grass.
When we arrive, I am surprised to find an actual field of grass (it’s green!) to explore as we search for a metal lid with (hopefully) water beneath. I see Appa in the distance and it looks like he’s already found what I’ve come here looking for.
I was determined to make it to the next water source before camping and so I took off ahead of Appa. It’s not like we have anything new to talk about at this point.
I walk down the first gravel road of the basin (something that looks like you could drive down in a regular car and not something with four-wheel drive) as the sun sets (right in my face, of course) and I encounter my first southbound thru-hiker. We have a brief and uninteresting chat.
Hiking southbound…huge life mistake. Basically, throwing away your one chance at CDT glory on a poorly conceived idea of what a thru-hike should be – what? Not really, friends. Do what makes you happy.
But in all seriousness, that one southbounder was an interesting one.
I have set my eyes on the next water source for camping and since the sun is going down, I don’t stop to wait up for Appa.
One of the things that make for a good hiking partner? Not having to worry about waiting up for them and being able to simply desert them in cow-filled darkness.
I make it to the water and set up my tent among a field of cows I’m sharing the area with. Appa is nowhere to be seen. However, as I drift off to sleep, a headlamp shines through the mesh of my tent (which I’ve set up mostly because I’m afraid of a cow trampling me in the night), and I hear a familiar voice, “Mac?”
Hello, Appa. Welcome to camp. I’ll see you in the morning.
CDT Day 87: Farewell, Basin (Arrive Lander, WY)
We’re within striking distance of town which means that today is one of my favorite days on trail. This town/resupply stop can seem tricky on paper since there are actually three different places hikers can stop: South Pass City, Atlantic City, and Lander.
South Pass City is not actually a city but instead, an unincorporated community that’s been designated a State Historic Site. It was once a gold rush town, then later a ghost town, and now a CDT resupply stop (and a tourist stop, I guess); there is a small tourist shop that accepts resupply packages for hikers here.
Five miles (8 km) up the road from South Pass City is Atlantic City, a census-designated place with an official population of 37; there are two small bed and breakfasts here where hikers can send packages and/or get a meal.
However, if you want to “go into town”, then Lander is where you want to head – a proper city with a population of 7,551 – complete with hotels, outfitters, supermarkets, fast food, and delivery options.
Appa and I are heading to Lander because 1) we haven’t sent resupply packages to South Pass City or Atlantic City, 2) we love town and are in desperate need of some time spent eating pizza in a hotel room, and 3) we need bear spray.
Yes, north of the Wyoming Basin, the CDT enters grizzly bear country. And how do we protect ourselves in grizzly bear country? Apparently, with cans of souped-up pepper spray.
There’s not much traffic in South Pass City since it’s essentially a dead end with what would appear to be few compelling reasons for people to venture to, and so Appa and I begin the 2.5 mi / 4 km walk toward Highway 28 where we hope to have better luck finding a hitch.
Luckily, after just a couple minutes of walking, a pickup comes up behind us leaving South Pass City and we’re able to finagle a ride in the back to Lander.
It’s a rough 35 mi / 56 km drive in the truck bed from South Pass City to Lander, but we make it there safely and are dropped off at the southern edge of town.
We get a room at the Rodeway Inn where we drop our packs before walking the 1 mi / 1.6 km to Safeway (the supermarket) to collect our resupplies (and snacks and beverages) for our night’s activities (eating, drinking, lying, and television watching). That 1 mi / 1.6 km might not sound like much compared to the literal thousands we’ve walked to get to this point, but when you’re in town, long walks are truly terrible (Lander lacked any form of ridesharing service when we passed through).
On the way back to our room we place an order to the local Domino’s Pizza and by the time we’re back and showered there’s a knock on the door – salvation has arrived.
CDT Day 88: Bear Spray (Leave Lander, WY)
We are graciously allowed a late checkout (at no additional cost) and we slowly pack up before vacating our room at noon. Since the temptation to take a zero day was very high today (leaving town is oftentimes difficult), instead of heading straight to the road for hitchhiking, we took up residence in the local McDonald’s.
Thanks to some prominently placed advertisements, Appa and I discovered the McDonald’s app available for our phones and quickly realized that it could be used to grow our fast food bounty at little or no cost. What was originally slated to be a quick trip to the fast-food restaurant, slowly becomes an hours-long affair
Before leaving Lander, I head across the street to an outfitter where I buy bear spray, a new fuel canister, and some insect-repellant wipes. Before hitchhiking, it’s back to McDonald’s for one final bathroom break.
We get lucky hitchhiking out of town as we are picked up by a woman who works at South Pass City and whose sister lives in Atlantic City. After driving to a home in Atlantic City to drop off said sister, we switched cars and continued the rest of the way to South Pass City.
When we arrive, there are four other hikers – JPEG, Bones, Prophet, and one other who stayed hidden in their shelter – with tents pitched in the grassy area along the single dirt road running through the middle of the place. I guess they allow people to camp here – that’s nice of them.
While we’re all getting acquainted (Appa and I actually met JPEG down in the Gila), the woman who gave us a hitch emerges from the back of her car with beer for everyone (this will nicely supplement the ones Appa and I packed out from town). What a fantastic day of not hiking this has been.
We hear a story that two of our fellow thru-hikers, Treeman and Apache, bought cheap bicycles in Rawlins and rode them to Lander instead of hiking the Basin. I’m excited to find them and find out if this is true (and how it was).
Since we know that the more distance we put between ourselves and the temptation of town (this includes a town as lacking as South Pass City), the better off we will be as far as making miles, Appa and I decide to not make this a zero day and elect to put a few miles between us and South Pass City.
Just before sunset, we head north back out into the wilderness and once again, we’re hiking the CDT.
The next section of the trail is back to the mountains, the Wind River Range.
Instead of walking long, flat, dry roads into the horizon for days at a time, we’ll be back to crossing high-altitude passes and possibly having to deal with the snow for the second time this hike (but this time, with grizzly bears).
We set up camp in the coldest, windiest spot we’ve slept in for almost a week now. Looks like we’re back in the mountains.
CDT Day 89: The Wind River Range
We’re heading back into the mountains which means it’s time to be afraid of thunderstorms again. We wake up early, at 4:45, to get a jump on the day, but due to the snoozing of my alarm for nearly an hour, we aren’t leaving camp until nearly 6:30.
The morning is relatively flat and easy hiking on dirt roads, but when we finally end up hitting some trails, they are unmaintained and we’re met with dozens (hundreds?) of downed trees to crawl over as we progress, now more slowly, into the mountains.
Trying my hand at some trail maintenance, I nearly crush myself under a tree attempting to move it off a small bridge over a creek (I did manage to get it off, but it was pretty scary – shouldn’t have lifted it above my head). This will probably be the highlight of the day.
Then something strange happens. First, the trail goes upward for 1,000 ft / 305 m, and then, not too long after, it climbs another 2,000 ft / 610 m; after nearly a week of hiking in Wyoming’s Great Basin, I had nearly forgotten what climbing was like.
That second climb takes us up and over a pass and we’re officially in the Wind River Range – or, from here on out, the Winds.
On another note, my socks are filled with incredibly annoying and prickly plants. I really need to get new gaiters (I didn’t replace mine after ditching my snow gaiters after the San Juans in Colorado).
It starts to rain a bit, but just that annoying amount of rain – not quite enough to justify putting on my rain jacket.
The scary clouds of darkness are threatening but they never manage to close in on us – which might actually be too bad since the mosquitoes do. It’s a good thing I bought those wipes in Lander – the bugs are getting intense.
We descend from the second pass, grateful that Zeus has spared us from his wrath – at least for today – and we make the decision to take the Cirque of the Towers alternate route. The official CDT continues a little further west before turning north and running along the outer edge of the range.
Rumor has it that the Cirque of the Towers alternate is nicer than the official CDT and it’s also 1.4 mi / 2.25 km shorter. More beautiful and shorter? We’ll never say no to that (just like the Gila).
We stop and make dinner next to a lake about an hour before sunset and decide to camp for the night (because we are trying our best not to invite grizzly bears into our campsite).
While eating, we spot an animal swimming in the lake and can’t quite tell what it is. Very exciting – much more entertaining than Netflix.
Our dinner and entertainment is cut short by the increasingly terrible swarms of mosquitoes. This is not a great sign. Until now on the trail, bugs haven’t been much of a problem. I’m not sure if it’s because of the bugs or because we’re simply tired of walking for the day, but we settle on one of our worst campsites of the entire trail.
At least there’s lots of white noise from the nearby river. On another, unrelated note, we didn’t see anyone else today.
CDT Day 90: Cirque of the Towers
Mosquitoes. Horrible, horrible mosquitoes in the morning. Possibly the worst mosquitoes of my entire life. What else about this morning? Mosquitoes – my fucking god – horrid, abominable, most heinous mosquito-filled world. It’s truly horrendous.
Have I painted a detailed enough picture for you? In case I’m still failing here, just picture the cruelest, most anxiety-inducing mosquito hellscape imaginable and that’s what we wake up to.
We pack up as quickly as possible and get moving. I should have filtered water last night because I am dying of thirst but I am too afraid to stop to get any hydration (let alone filter it).
But besides the mosquitoes, the mountains are magnificent. We climb up an unnamed pass (at least on my map) between Temple and East Temple Peak and cross a steep and sketchy snowfield on the way up. I kind of wish I still had an ice axe.
At the top of the pass, by some incredible miracle, the mosquitoes have vanished and we stop for a break and to take in the sights. JPEG catches up and joins us as we descend to a lake just north of the pass. The eastern shore, where the trail goes, is covered in snow.
Said snow has covered the landscape at the exact right angle and extends just the right amount out over the water to make you think, “Hm, it looks like that snow would make a nice slide down into that lake if it 1) wasn’t snow and 2) that lake wasn’t assuredly freezing.” Snow that, despite the aforementioned points, makes you consider taking out your inflatable sleeping pad and using it as a raft to slide down into the lake.
Snow that makes you do this.
We continue north and into what’s one of the most awesome sights I’ve ever seen in the mountains. We definitely made the right decision by taking this alternate.
As we grow closer to Jackass Pass and the Cirque of the Towers, we begin to see groups of what I can only assume are day hikers and weekend backpackers; there’s a vehicle-accessible trailhead around six miles west of us. I don’t know if I can overstate how beautiful this area is – I definitely need to come back and spend more time here when I’m not running through on a thru-hike.
Appa and I continue down from Jackass Pass, around Lonesome Lake, and then begin making our way up Texas Pass – just as the clouds begin to darken and clump together – fantastic.
The route up to Texas Pass isn’t incredibly clear or well-defined (or maybe we’re just off-trail), but it’s clear where the pass is so we just make straight for it. Towards the top, we hit a snowfield and fortunately, it’s not too steep or slippery that we can’t just continue hiking up.
The north side of Texas Pass is just as glorious as the south side, but we descend quickly for fear of thunderstorms. Fortunately, it looks like the darkest clouds have diverted a bit and the sky above and in front of us is beginning to break up a bit.
We pass a series of four lakes and cross a couple of streams in the last 5.5 mi / 8.85 km of the Cirque of the Towers alternate before we meet back up with the official CDT. I can’t imagine we missed much of anything compared to what we just went through.
But remember how the clouds were breaking and it looked like we were in the clear in terms of weather? Well, things have changed once more and after a few miles of being back on the CDT, we are forced to shelter in some trees as we’re rocked by hail, thunder, and lightning for close to 30 minutes.
It’s late enough in the day that we almost consider camping, but we’re not planning on leaving the Winds to resupply in Pinedale (mostly because it requires hiking extra miles) and so we need to put in big days to make sure we don’t run out of food (I guess we could just eat less too, but that sounds less fun).
We end up hiking until after sunset and are disappointed when the mosquitoes fail to die down post-mosquito hour (dusk). If this wasn’t some of the most spectacular landscapes of the trail thus far, this would most certainly be my most hated section of the CDT.
I set up my tent and am saddened to find that my sleeping pad is still wet from earlier – not sure how I was expecting it to magically dry whilst rolled up in my backpack, but it never hurts to hope for a bit of trail magic.
CDT Day 91: DIE MOSQUITO, DIE!
In our endless battle with the mosquitoes of the Winds, we wake up early in the hopes of avoiding the plague with some pre-dawn hiking. Our plan works, but only briefly.
After less than a mile (1.6 km) of hiking, we encounter a water crossing. Not wanting to hike the rest of the day with wet socks and shoes, we stop to take off our feet clothes and are caught by JPEG whilst doing so. The effort of keeping our feet dry proves useless, as we end up needing to cross multiple large streams shortly after.
It was a nice thought – having dry feet. I guess hiking in wet socks (and shoes) has once again become a fact of life on the CDT. We had a good run back in the Basin, I suppose.
Our morning is spent hiking in wet shoes through clouds of mosquitoes – not quite ideal. By the time we decide we’ve hiked long enough to justify our largest single intake of calories for the day (i.e. lunch), we decide to do something I’ve never done before while hiking; we set up our tents.
We literally haven’t stopped walking all day (except to briefly grab up water from streams – filtering is no longer an option) since movement is the only thing that seems to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
The time and effort it takes to erect our shelters proves to be well worth the calm we find within. I wish it made sense for us to simply stop hiking now – or to simply night hike – but, as I mentioned earlier, we don’t have enough food for leisurely days and the landscape is too beautiful to make night hiking a rational decision (no matter how bad the mosquitoes are).
The trail takes us over Hat Pass and then 10 mi / 16 km later we cross over Lester Pass. The passes in the Winds are different from those in the San Juans as we are again going up and over them instead of down to them.
In Colorado, passes usually marked the lowest points on the trail (and were oftentimes the place we would find a road – and hopefully a hitch – to get us into town). In the Winds, passes are once again our high points as we scurry through the valleys between them.
The sign at the top of Lester Pass has a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) marker attached to it. Whether this was done on purpose or on accident, it’s still entertaining. Most of the thru-hikers we’ve met on the CDT have also hiked the PCT and the two are so commonly mixed up in conversation that mistakes supplanting “CDT” with “PCT” (or vice-versa), have almost become unrecognizable.
Descending into another glorious valley, we encounter our first non-CDT hikers since before Texas Pass yesterday – a group of about ten on horseback.
Honestly, I wouldn’t say no to a horsey ride to finish up my miles for the day – that’s not cheating, right? Whatever, I’ve already cheated enough on this trail with all the shortcuts and hitchhikes on long road walks. Unfortunately, we are not offered a horse and must continue on foot (horses are probably just insect magnets anyway – it’s for the best).
That said, about twenty minutes after passing the horse brigade (they were stopped when we saw them), Appa and I notice a dog (looks like a border collie) hanging out around fifty meters behind us.
It appears to be following us?
It gets close enough that we can see it has its tongue sticking out the front of its mouth – quite derpy looking – but it never gets close enough that we can pet it.
We’re not really sure what to do about this doggo. It brings back memories of when we got a dog back in New Mexico, but this one seems to have chosen us instead of the other way around.
Does it belong to the horse people? Should we walk back to them? Can it just find its own way back? Has it just been lost in the mountains for months/years surviving on the generosity of passing hikers? Has it decided that we are weak and is it just waiting for us to collapse so that it can make us into meals?
We cross a stream and decide that the dog definitely will stop following us there, but it doesn’t; it jumps right into the water and keeps on following. Eventually, it appears to warm up to us and it brings us a stick – which we repeatedly throw back the way we came from and which it repeatedly brings back to us.
When the dog finally disappears we’re not sure if we’ve somehow doomed it or if it simply got bored with us and decided to return to whatever it was doing pre-stalking us (we’re not sure it belonged to the horse people…or if it was even real at all).
When we finally pitch our tents, we’re met with yet another massive thunderstorm that lasts well into the night. Hopefully, tonight’s not the night we’re dragged from our tents and eaten by grizzlies; but if it is, I hope our doggo companion will return to save us.
Week 13 Totals
- Day 85 (July 22): 38.1 mi / 61.32 km
- Day 86 (July 23): 25.5 mi / 41.04 km
- Day 87 (July 24): 14.9 mi / 23.98 km (Arrive Lander, WY)
- Day 88 (July 25): 5 mi / 8.05 km (Leave Lander, WY)
- Day 89 (July 26): 28.4 mi / 45.71 km
- Day 90 (July 27): 25 mi / 40.2 km
- Day 91 (July 28): 26.35 mi / 42.41 km
CDT Week 13 Total: 163.25 mi / 262.73 km
- Day 1: The Middle of Nowhere
- Week 1: The Bootheel
- Week 2: The Gila
- Week 3: We Got A Dog
- Week 4: One Month In
- Week 5: Don’t Die
- Week 6: The San Juans
- Week 7: Big Decisions
- Week 8: Three Is Company
- Week 9: Moist Is Dead?
- Week 10: Shortcuts to Town
- Week 11: Farewell Moisture
- Week 12: Wyoming!
- Week 13: The Winds
- Week 14: Yellowstone
- Week 15: The Final State(s)
- Week 16: MURKAH
- Week 17: Fires!
- Week 18: Canada
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