Week 14 on the Continental Divide Trail takes us through the northern end of the Wind River Range, over Knapsack Col and then out to the town of Dubois just as we're running out of food. The trail then heads into Yellowstone National Park where we make a stop in Grant Village before heading toward the Wyoming-Idaho border.
- Day 92: Knapsack Col
- Day 93: Food Shortage
- Day 94: Old Friends (Arrive Dubois, WY)
- Day 95: The Worst Trail Angel (Leave Dubois, WY)
- Day 96: The Parting of the Waters
- Day 97: Yellowstone (Arrive Grant Village, WY)
- Day 98: Lone Star Geyser (Leave Grant Village, WY)
CDT Day 92: Knapsack Col
I was repeatedly woken up during the night by rain, thunder, and lightning – by the time it's time to start hiking we're (fortunately) left with just the rain to deal with.
Fortunately, the morning's rain is short-lived and the skies clear up nicely for our second alternate of the Wind River Range, this time over Knapsack Col. We've heard this route is far more scenic than the official CDT, but also that it's more challenging. It's also 0.2 mi / 320 m shorter than the official CDT. As is the criteria for all CDT alternate decisions, if it's both shorter and more scenic – we take it.
The valley leading up to Knapsack Col is stunning, and I am quite happy the thunderstorm has passed since we are well above treeline.
As we grow closer to the 12,280 ft / 3,743 m Knapsack Col, the loosely-defined trail we've been meandering around gradually turns to snow.
Now, we're left to our own devices as we pick what we hope is the best way up to the top. Ahead up us is a steep snowfield with patches of equally steep, but even sketchier looking, talus and boulder fields.
We take a low angle up heading up the snowfield and then switch back before ending up on a flattened section of snow around halfway up. There's a cornice (like a snowy overhang) on the side we're approaching Knapsack from, so continuing up the snowfield just beneath it isn't an option.
Instead, we end up on some scramble and sketchy rock as we climb up just above Knapsack Col and then slowly pick our way down through the rocks. Whatever it is we ended up doing here I'm sure it ended up taking longer than that extra 0.2 mi / 320 m would have taken us, but the views from the top of Knapsack are some of the best on the trail.
We descend past the source of the Green River and Stroud Peak before climbing up to Cube Rock Pass and eating lunch. We're running low on food (especially snacks), and so we end up cooking lunch (since cooked meals are the one thing we have any extra of).
We see a group of hikers heading up a snowfield below us, and once we're finished eating our disappointing lunches, we gallop down the snowfield to begin what I am pretty sure is the longest downhill of the entire trail. Three miles (4.8 km) after eating lunch and we've met back up with the official CDT.
It's only 2,600 ft / 790 m of descent, but it's certainly the largest in Wyoming thus far (if you know anything to the contrary, please let me know). We have a couple more river crossings as I suspect our time in the Winds is coming to an end.
We pass two southbound CDT hikers who flip-flopped earlier in the trail and who road walked around the Wind River Range earlier in the year. Why you would road walk around one of the greatest sections of the trail is beyond me. But according to their report, a lot of people ended up doing this due to snow.
Northbound was the right way to go.
We get down into what I can only assume is called the Green River Valley and have nearly 10 mi / 16 km of flat hiking ahead of us. We nearly miss the epic-looking Squaretop Mountain as you have to turn around to see it if you're hiking northbound.
Don't forget to stop and turn around every once in a while (and take pictures of your fellow hikers).
Once we're into the valley, we start to see a lot of other hikers. Must be near a trailhead. The sun's going down and the mosquitoes are terrible, but once it starts getting dark the bugs let up a bit.
We find a nice spot to camp near a stream for some much-needed white noise (I don't usually sleep through the night without any).
CDT Day 93: Food Shortage
Pouring crushed Pop-Tarts into my mount for breakfast? What a glorious way to start the day.
We're hiking by seven and pass a campground as we leave the Bridger Wilderness and begin a climb (after a very long flat section) up toward Gunsight Pass. Fortunately, the mosquitoes aren't too bad (for the first time in what feels like nearly a week), and we are even able to stop and chat with Atlantis – a southbound hiker who tells us to expect more mosquitoes and lots of cows on the other side of the pass.
Sounds like more of what we've come to expect in Wyoming.
About halfway up the climb, I stop to get some water in a mosquito-ingested stream that I slip into while balancing on a rock and filling my water bottle. Another morning of hiking in wet shoes and socks – fantastic. I also nearly miss an unmarked trail junction where the CDT sharply cuts back and follows a faint path up the climb instead of an obvious and well-maintained trail directly ahead of the trail we've been on.
There are mosquitoes the entire way up to the top of this pass. Atlantis lied to us. Can't trust southbounders. We should have learned this by now.
We make it up to the pass and find some relief from the mosquitoes and we lay out our tents and sleeping bags to dry (lots of condensation last night).
It's not clear where the trail goes, but Appa tells me that it goes off to the right. I have to poop (for the first time in two days) and so as I set off to find the bathroom, Appa hits the trail and continues north.
I return and head right as instructed by Appa. After about ten minutes, I have decided that I am not on the trail. There are a ton of bugs and I'm incredibly frustrated. I head back to the pass to try my luck again – very angry at Appa for telling me to go the wrong way (my phone's GPS has decided to stop working for the time being).
Back at Gunsight Pass, I now head the correct direction as I follow the faint trail through the grass.
And what do I find on the other side of the pass? A ton of cows. I guess that southbounder wasn't full of shit (but I still don't forgive him for lying about the bugs). The mosquitoes settle down as I head through an open field, fairly certain I'm still on the trail.
And now it's raining. I guess that's why the bugs have settled down. I know that Appa will be waiting for me at a road crossing coming up (how do I know this? When you hike with someone long enough, you just know these things).
We examine the map and decide that it will be faster to walk the forest service road instead of the trail for the next section. The CDT is always evolving (as is a rash on my right ankle, it would seem – let's hope we can ignore this and it will go away).
The road eventually takes us into a small community with enormous homes and we see a sign for a place called Crooked Creek. Said sign also promises 24-hour gas and a bar/restaurant.
A bar/restaurant? Suddenly we are prepared to do nearly anything to make it there.
Appa has service and we call the phone number on the sign. Shockingly, the place is open and even more shockingly, they have wifi (an important question to ask on the phone). It's .7 mi / 1.13 km away.
We head down a side road and are there in no time. Inside, we find two women dining and three people working (all of who are very friendly). Appa and I get two spaghetti specials which turn out to be massive helpings of pasta with meatballs – exactly what we needed. The chef gives us some extra sauce and puts an extra meatball in each. Glorious.
The bartender asks us what music we want to play. We ask him if he's sure that he wants to give us this power and he confirms. We request Gaston from the original Beauty and the Beast film. The place (surprisingly) starts to fill up and he's not amused. Our music privileges are taken away and we leave (but still friends).
We walk for about forty minutes down a road and end up camping next to an abandoned trailer. Overall, solid day.
CDT Day 94: Old Friends (Arrive Dubois, WY)
There's lots of condensation on my tent this morning, but that's okay because we're heading into town – a place where all the troubles of the trail (like running out of food and having a wet tent stuffed into my bag) just melt away.
We begin walking down the road toward Highway 287/26, thinking it will be difficult to catch a ride into Dubois before making it down to the road. Fortunately, one of the (assumedly very few) people who live in (or happens to be in) the community we walked through last night, has decided to make a trip to town and we're picked up sooner than expected. Our new friend is an old man with a thick North Carolina accent who used to work for the Forest Service.
He drives us into town and drops us at the supermarket where I discover that there's, apparently, no Verizon cell service in the entire town. Very strange.
I leave Appa in the supermarket and head to the nearby post office to pick up a box I've shipped there with some new socks. There's nothing like getting a fresh pair of socks on the trail.
On the short walk there, I spot some familiar faces across the street – Endless and Queen B. We haven't seen them since Lordsburg (our first town stop in New Mexico), and despite only having spent a short time with them, it feels like we're old friends being reunited (this happens a lot on the trail when you run into people you haven't seen in a while). They're hitching back to the trail and we're staying in town tonight, but hopefully, we'll catch them sometime soon.
Leaving Endless and Queen B to resume their CDT journey, I begin my assessment of the motels on offer in Dubois. They all cost over $100 a night with the exception of the $87/night Wind River Motel – which is a total dump. I ask the owner if I can test out wifi before committing to a room and she tells me no. She also tells me that we can't stay in the office and discuss things further because she's “suffocating in here”. I guess she should open a window or get a fan.
Needless to say, not staying here.
We end up at the Stagecoach Motor Inn. There's good wifi, a queen bed, a sofa bed (for Appa), and a bar (for some reason). There's also a shower, television, small refrigerator, and flushing toilet – all things that you can't just assume motels along the trail will have.
Before retreating into our room for the night we hit the liquor store across the street. We'll need to be well-hydrated if we're going back to the trail tomorrow (which we will be since I'm not staying another night in Dubois, Wyoming).
CDT Day 95: The Worst Trail Angel (Leave Dubois, WY)
We drag our feet getting out of town today and spend the better part of the morning in a local coffee shop and at the local outfitter where we buy head nets for just $3 each (I had lost mine and Appa never had one).
As we walk north out of town toward the post office, an old guy pulls over and asks us if we're looking for a ride to the trail. We tell him yes, but that we have to make a stop at the post office first.
He tells us that's fine and that he'll wait for us outside. Good deal.
We finish up at the post office and get into his car. He drives us the 15 mi / 24 km or so out of town back to the trail and even offers us some candy on the way. I'm in the backseat and can hear little of the conversation happening in front due to all the noise from the car and the road. When we arrive back at the trail, Appa turns around and asks me if I have any money.
Yes, apparently this old man, who I remind you, stopped us and offered us a ride, was asking us for money for him having driven us back to the trail. Now, I have no problem with people giving rides with the expectation of financial compensation, but this needs to be made clear upon acceptance of the ride. I don't invite you over to have dinner and then ask you for money when you're leaving to cover my costs. No, that would make me a shithead. And that's what you are, old man, a shithead.
I have $2 (why the hell would I have any cash?) which I hand to Appa. I am much more upset by the way this has played out than I should be, but I'll live.
The trail is basically invisible as we essentially bushwhack until we make it to a dirt road that leads us down to some horse-filled ranch.
A couple of groups of horseback riders pass us heading back toward the ranch as we pass an RV-only campground. It's a good thing it's RV-only because if it wasn't, we may have been tempted to call it early today (leaving town, so hard).
The trail is fairly calm, gradually rolling up and down, and everything is going well until all of a sudden I have a horrible pain in my stomach. I really hope I don't poop my sleeping bag tonight.
As it begins to get dark and we begin looking for camping, we hit a river where a hiker we've never seen before, Jeremy, is camped. The current is swift and we're definitely going to have to get our feet wet to cross.
Jeremy tells us that he crossed, couldn't find anywhere to camp, and then crossed back. That seems like not the greatest idea? We decide to cross and find camping. No way there's no camping on the other side of the river.
We cross the river and find camping. I think we won the CDT?
CDT Day 96: The Parting of the Waters
Hiking by 6:30 – I think that's acceptable by this point in the trail.
We begin the day with a 1,000 ft / 305 m climb which turns out to be fairly nice given the low temperatures and lack of mosquitoes. There must be some trailheads close to us because there are people fishing everywhere.
One day, I will take a leisurely hike through the mountains and catch (and eat) fish on the way. The ultimate ultralight food solution.
We hit 12 mi / 19.3 km by 10 am thus accomplishing our arbitrary 10 by 10 goal (an arbitrary mark many hikers set for themselves – but only when they actually accomplish it), and arrive at the Parting of the Waters.
This is a magical(?) place along the Continental Divide Trail (and the Continental Divide) in the Teton Wilderness area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest where Two Ocean Pass separates the headwaters of Pacific Creek – flowing west to the Pacific Ocean – and Atlantic Creek – flowing east to the Atlantic Ocean. As a geological idea, it's a fairly interesting concept; as an actual place, it's not terribly interesting.
But we get pictures of a sign, so that's cool?
We see what I think is the first porcupine of the trail as we attempt to follow a GPS track that leads us in the completely wrong direction. We backtrack and find that we were actually meant to cross a river. The most obvious way isn't always the correct way on the CDT.
Yellowstone National Park is just ahead of us but we don't have permits to camp overnight in the park. The mosquitoes are dying down and we stop for dinner to evaluate our options. We plan to camp just outside the park boundary and then hike 27 mi / 43.45 km to a road where we can hitchhike our way into Grant Village to get permits (or sort out whatever it is we need to do).
A couple more miles of hiking and we've hit the boundary. By 9:30 p.m. we're tucked away in our tents. Tomorrow, we enter CDT national park number – number one was Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
CDT Day 97: Yellowstone (Arrive Grant Village, WY)
Getting into a national park is (generally) just a step below arriving in town (i.e. it's incredibly exciting). After about ten minutes of hiking, we enter Yellowstone with little fanfare – there's a small trailside sign letting us know that we're entering, but that's it.
The trail here is a lot less well-marked and maintained than I would expect in a national park. I guess this southern bit of Yellowstone doesn't get much foot traffic as it's fairly far from any trailhead. We end up having to get our feet wet at a stream crossing shortly after entering the park – where's all the infrastructure, huh? Is the National Parks Service going to replace my now-ruined hiking shoes?
Following the Snake River, we pass four southbound CDT hikers – I guess this is “the bubble”. As we get nearer to the park (or at least the part that people visit via car), we begin to see more day hikers. Passing Hart Lake we end up walking along what could almost be considered a beach (I'm sure in the Midwest people would call this a beach) and if not for being within reach of a beer and a hot meal, I'm certain we would have stopped for a swim.
We pass a cabin – being rented out by two hikers – and our first park ranger of the entire trail. Shortly after, we are forced to climb 600 ft / 183 m before encountering our first geysers of the park. Yellowstone if one of the few places on Earth where you can find geysers – which is also what makes it a perfect candidate for the inevitable super-volcano – and it's nice to have one to ourselves (I don't expect we'll find the same solitude at the park's most famous geyser – Old Faithful).
It's a good thing we're close(ish) to civilization(ish) because I make the mistake of not filling up on water at the beach with the expectation we'll pass another water source before making it to the road. We don't, and I am very thirsty by the time we arrive. We stick out our thumbs and are quickly picked up by a girl traveling around the country in her van. Her van which, for some reason, is littered with bags of her poop that we are told to be wary of as we're bounced around the back on our way to Grant Village.
After getting dropped off, we head to the general store where I get something to drink and we make inquiries as to the location of the backcountry permit office. Nobody can help us.
We leave the store and head in the direction of the visitor center. On the way, we pass a park employee whom we ask to point us in the right direction. Somehow she doesn't know where it is? Apparently she's only worked here for two months? Okay, great. We bid her adieu and find the visitor center literally 200 meters further down the road/through the parking lot. Fortunately, the employee here is much better informed than the previous two people we spoke to and she tells us that we should head to the hiker/biker campground where we can pay $8.80 per person/night for a spot to pitch our tents.
Our new friend also provides us with the menus from the two nearby restaurants and we find out that one has a breakfast buffet. Most excellent. After loitering in the cafeteria place for a bit we buy beers from the store next door and ask about wifi since neither Appa nor myself has cell service. Apparently, there's no wifi in the park except for at the hotel for $5 an hour (which may only be available to hotel guests). That's too rich for our blood; we return to the cafeteria for more loitering and eating.
I get (and eat) two grilled cheese sandwiches – each with fries. Excellent. While we're eating, we're surprised by Endless and Queen B – literally the first people we met on the trail – who show up seemingly out of nowhere (we haven't seen any other CDT hikers since arriving in Grant Village).
Apparently, Endless and Queen B couldn't get a permit for camping in the park so they hitched to Old Faithful Village and then hiked south to Grant Village. Tomorrow, they'll hitch back to Old Faithful Village and hike north out of the park. This is probably what we'll end up doing as well. They're also heading to the hiker/biker campground and so once we finish stuffing our faces, we all head over together.
We pay our dues and pitch our tents at the campground where there's a loud group of children nearby whom I need to reprimand at around 11 PM. Don't be a dick at campgrounds, friends.
CDT Day 98: Lone Star Geyser (Leave Grant Village, WY)
We wake up around 7 and waste no time getting to the breakfast buffet. At $14 per person, we're not disappointed – certainly room for improvement, but we're not complaining. Once full, we make for the backcountry permit office (a small office next to the visitor center) and we're able to get permits for camping in the park tonight. Endless and Queen B had warned us that the people working there weren't too helpful when they talked to them yesterday, but we must have a different shift this morning because they don't give us any trouble whatsoever.
With our permits secured, we hit the general store one more time to get some trail beers.
We have to road walk a bit to get out of the village and out to the main road where we eventually get a ride back to the trail. She's on her way to the airport where, as you might expect, she's getting on a plane. She donates an almost-full fuel canister and a canister of bear spray from her before she drops us off.
The trail here is wide and nicely maintained (as you would expect near easily-accessible trailheads in a national park). We run into a southbound CDT hiker who shows little interest in talking to us (I can't blame him) and reach a trail junction where we hang a left and follow a lakeshore to what appears to be a long stretch of water that we apparently need to cross.
It's a long way to the other side and we're unsure of whether or not we need to actually ford the lake here, but we spot a hiker on the other side (I think it's JPEG?) which is enough to confirm our suspicions. The water looks a lot deeper than it is and the ford ends up being less challenging than expected. I guess this is the part of the trail where Endless said he “thought he would need a boat to make it across”.
We start climbing a bit and are reunited with our friends the mosquitoes as we continue past more water and more breeding grounds for the evilest of insects.
Eventually, we're far enough from a trailhead that the trail decides it can just become a marsh and we're walking through ankle-deep mud. I prefer walking through water. I have to retie my shoes to keep my feet from popping out (I generally wear them pretty loose). To reward us for putting up with the marshy mud mosquito trail of our nightmares (but it really isn't that bad), we find ourselves at another geyser field.
The trail takes us along a river where we rinse the mud off our shoes – now happy to have wet feet (much better than muddy feet). We find one more southbound hiker who sounds like he really wants to talk to someone (it can be lonely hiking southbound), but we're on a mission to make it to our campsite before dark.
Continuing north we're met with more geysers and more mosquitoes, but we eventually make it to our campsite. And what's this? There are people camped at our campsite. And no, in case you're wondering this is not a group campsite or a campground with multiple sites, this is one single campsite that Appa and I reserved (and paid for) this morning.
Ready for a confrontation, we are surprised to find that we know the two campsite usurpers – two CDT hikers, Apache and Quicksilver. We like Apache and Quicksilver and so we forgive their transgression – we'll all share the campsite tonight.
Just up the trail from the campsite is the Lone Star Geyser – which apparently is pretty cool? Appa and I walk the 0.5 mi / 0.8 km to see if we can catch it erupting. According to the information we got it only erupts every three hours. We find a register when we arrive where people record; it looks like we have two hours before the next show.
Good thing we packed out trail beers.
We end up seeing it erupt in near-complete darkness. I don't know that it was worth waiting for, but it was cool to be all the way out in seemingly the middle of nowhere and to have the geyser to ourselves.
Apache and Quicksilver are fast asleep by the time we make it back to camp, but I don't feel too guilty about blasting them with my headlamp since they technically shouldn't be here in the first place. Appa and I retire to our tents in anticipation of an early-morning hike to Old Faithful Village where there will be a breakfast buffet waiting for us.
- Day 92 (July 29): 26.4 mi / 42.49 km
- Day 93 (July 30): 34.2 mi / 55.04 km
- Day 94 (July 31): 3 mi / 4.8 km (Arrive Dubois, WY)
- Day 95 (August 1): 15 mi / 24.1 km (Leave Dubois, WY)
- Day 96 (August 2): 35 mi / 56.3 km
- Day 97 (August 3): 28 mi / 45 km (Arrive Grant Village, WY)
- Day 98 (August 4): 24 mi / 38.6 km (Leave Grant Village, WY)
CDT WEEK 14 TOTAL: 165.6 mi / 266.51 km
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