Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Day 106: Cirque of the Towers

August 4: I was up and hiking by 6:30am. The morning was surprisingly chilly and condensation was a small issue, but I still found it surprising how dark it was so late in the morning. At least it gave me more time to sleep in during the mornings.

It wasn't long before I reached the Bad Blowdowns. Hundreds of fallen trees had fallen over, and my progress slowed to a crawl as I bushwhacked around and through them. It didn't take long before I lost the trail completely and just had to follow my GPS tracks.

Today, the blowdowns would be bad. Very, very bad, and it was just beginning!

Almost immediately, I ran into two other CDT hikers, a couple of south-bounders! They said they were from Switzerland so I wished them a good morning in Swiss-German ("Gwita morka!") and compared trail notes.

I assured them that they were almost out of the really bad blowdowns, but they assured me of the complete opposite--I still had a long way to go. They had come up from the Cirque of the Towers alternate, and cut the corner where the CDT normally intersects with the alternate. 

This was the same alternate that the hiker I met in Rawlins made me swear to take before he let go of me, and I had every intention of doing just that. By all accounts, the main red-line route was essentially impassible. One Guthook comment I read left by a south-bounder was pretty amusing. He'd read the comments from the north-bounders and figured we didn't really "know" what we were talking about. They had seen some pretty bad blowdowns in Montana and figured this couldn't be any worse than they had in Montana, but this south-bounder who tried it anyhow admitted to being "humbled" and urged his fellow south-bounders not to dismiss the warnings. They were real. It was bad. It would rip up your legs and could take you all day to go 5 miles. It was dangerous and to be avoided, and he had learned his lesson the hard way, but that they could learn from his mistakes.

However... the alternate didn't avoid all of the bad blowdowns. I was still in the middle of it, after all. But some hikers had noticed the alternate intersects with the CDT at a right angle, and it was possible just to bushwhack cross-country between the two trails making the overall route a bit shorter. The blowdowns were still bad, but there was less that would have to be traversed. And my new Swiss friends informed me that someone had actually set up small, rock cairns along this alternate of the alternate. They were only a few inches tall, however, so you really had to keep your eyes open for them and they'd help get around the worst of the blowdowns.

The trail for the Cirque of the Towers alternate was along the left side of that lake. And in this case, the best way to it was directly down this mountain and cross-country through the trees.

So we parted ways, and I started following the small cairns down a steep hillside filled with blowdowns. Through gaps in the trees, I could see a lake near the bottom of a valley, and I knew the Cirque of the Towers trail passed by the left side of it, so I just had to aim toward the lake.

It probably took me over an hour, but I finally reached the edge of the lake and largely got out of the blowdowns. I still needed to bushwhack a bit around the edge of the lake to the other side then find the trail there, but I was able to move a little faster now. Just a little, though. You can't go fast where there is no trail.

There were some muddy areas with stagnant water that I had to get around, and I had to backtrack a couple of times when I followed social trails to dead ends where found myself surrounded with impossible-to-pass boulders, but eventually I made it around and found the actual trail again. It was a time to rejoice! The worst was finally behind me!

Or so I thought....

Once I hit the bottom of the valley, the blowdowns largely stopped and the route became a bit easier.

I took a break near a creek at around lunchtime. Ate some food, rested, and I rinsed my socks with the creek water. I didn't wash my socks--I never do that on the trail--but my socks had been feeling sticky and gross and I figured a good rinse would do them well. They were wet afterwards, but it felt like pure bliss after that. What a different just a rinse can do. I went ahead and soaked my feet in the creek as well since my socks were going to be wet anyhow.

The trail largely followed a pretty creek upstream. At first it was easy going, heading steadily uphill, but continued to grow steeper and steeper the further I went, eventually crossing over a big pass before the trail crashed steeply downhill into the next valley.

Later in the afternoon, I passed another south-bound CDT hiker. Three in one day! They were getting thick now! We stopped to chat for a few minutes. Mostly, she had concerns about how the trail looked up ahead after hearing all the same horror stories that I had, and I told her that yes, it was as bad as described, but fortunately the really bad stuff was pretty short if she took the same cutoff by the lake that I did and followed the little cairns.

Her name was Sprout--the third Spout I'd now met on the CDT. Then she told me that she was running a bit low on food, having only a day's worth left, and was trying to make it to the next town before she ran out completely. I wasn't sure she'd be able to make it to town in just one day. It might be possible, but it would be a challenge. I did, however, have plenty of food and even a little extra and offered to give her some.

For some reason I still don't quite understand, I had grabbed a package of mashed potatoes from the hiker box in South Pass City which I didn't really need. I think I grabbed it under the theory that it was better to have too much food than not enough, but now that the really bad section of blowdowns was behind me, I was less concerned about the extra food and heavy weight. And I also had an extra bag of Skittles that I really didn't need. Between the two, I probably lightened my load by a whole pound, which pleased me greatly.

Sprout seemed a little concerned. "Are you sure you don't need this?" 

"Definitely!" I assured her. "You'd be doing me a favor and lightening my load by taking them off my hands. I have plenty of food still to get me to the next town."

Then we continued on our separate ways.

This alternate route was truly spectacular! Difficult, but spectacular!

Near Big Sandy Lake, the trail must have approached near a trailhead because the number of weekend backpackers absolutely exploded! It seemed like there were hundreds of people around, but it probably was no more than a few dozen. By my standards, however, it felt pretty crowded.

At one intersection, I noticed a woman coming up a side trail. She had a total thru-hiker look about her: an extremely small and light pack, seemingly hiking alone and wearing a short skirt which didn't seem like the traditional gear most weekenders would wear or could be purchased at an REI. The only reason I had my doubts if she was a thru-hiker was the fact that she was coming in from the wrong direction. A north-bounder like me would be coming up from behind me on the trail, and a south-bounder would have been coming toward me from the trail on the right, not the one on the left that she was following. Unless, perhaps, she had taken a wrong turn and was returning to the trail?

I wasn't sure, but I didn't worry about it too much either way. When she reached the trail, she turned north-bound on the CDT, the same direction I was heading, and we passed each other a couple of times as we both ascended the steep climb over Jackass Pass. She complained about being winded from the altitude. I complained about being winded because it was hard. =) But she flew over the trail much faster than I was hiking, but I would catch up when she stopped to chat with others we would pass on the trail.

Eventually, we started chatting with each other and she introduced herself as Little Red Riding Hood. She was not, in fact, thru-hiking the CDT, but my gut feeling about her being a thru-hiker held true in the sense that she had thru-hiked the PCT before. She had a thru-hiker look because she was a thru-hiker--just not currently thru-hiking. She had taken a few weeks off work to do a little backpacking, however, and wanted to go somewhere where there would be thru-hikers and heard this area of the CDT was pretty amazing.

She also had what sounded like a British accent so I asked where she was from. I was more than a little surprised when she told me Seattle.

"No way! So am I!"

So then we talked about Seattle a bit. =) I did ask about the accent, curious about how she ended up in Seattle, and she had spent a great deal of time in the United Kingdom. I don't remember all the nitty gritty details, but as I recall, I think she had some sort of duel citizenship, perhaps because one of her parents was American? I'm not really entirely sure about that, however, so don't quote me. She said that in England, however, they think she has an American accent. I guess her accent lies somewhere between the two, which seemed fitting given her situation.

Anyhow, we continued on at our own paces, and eventually she out-distanced me.

I finally made it up to the top of Jackass Pass--I love the name of that pass, btw. I might use it more often than is strictly necessary. ;o)

Jackass Pass, the name is real! I swear I didn't make it up! The climb up is a pain-in-the-jackass, though.

And found it a little disheartening to see the trail descend so steeply back down toward Lonesome Lake--which was anything but Lonesome. Signs said that camping within 1/4 mile of the lake shore was prohibited, but that didn't stop seemingly a hundred people from camping just outside that limit. And this time, it was not exaggeration. I didn't count all of the people in all of the campsites that I passed, but it would not surprise me if they numbered over a hundred.

Two people I passed told me that they were guides for a NOLS course and that there were NOLS participants all over the area. Last I had heard from Evenstar, she was taking a NOLS course and was heading to somewhere in Wyoming and on portions of the CDT. Once the course started, her cell phone was taken away. Against the rules (or something), so I hadn't gotten any updates for a couple of weeks, but it was quite likely that Evenstar was somewhere in the area so I tried searching the faces of all the groups I passed. 

I never did find her--it was kind of a long-shot anyhow--but she did text me later that she had run into a few CDT hikers during her NOLS course that she knew from earlier on the trail. Just not me!

I was hoping to camp with Little Red Riding Hood for some company in the morning. I figured she was probably camped somewhere around Lonesome Lake, but I never spotted her. Probably camped far enough off trail that I couldn't see her. Oh, well. Another night by myself wasn't the end of the world.

The hoards of people camped near the lake did bother me, however, so I followed the trail to the far side of the lake hoping it would be less crowded. Unfortunately, however, there weren't any campsites available that were a quarter-mile away from the shoreline. I really did want to follow the rules!

Lonesome Lake

So I kept following the trail where it left the lake, heading up toward another high, steep pass. I did not go far, however, before I found a small space between a tree and a boulder where I thought I could fit. I wasn't strictly certain that I was at least one-quarter mile from the shoreline, but it was probably close. I feared, however, if I kept going further, I might not find anywhere else available to camp. The hillside was just so darned steep! The only reason this tiny piece of ground was so flat was because it was behind a boulder that seemed to prevent erosion above it that caused it to level out, but the space was maybe six feet long and a few feet wide--about the size of a coffin, actually. I could make it work, though.

No rain was expected during the night so I didn't have to worry about setting up my tarp, and the branches of a large tree hung over the site which would probably protect me from condensation in the morning. It was a bit cramped, but it would do.

My goal for the day had been to do 20 miles, but I failed. I pulled a measly 18.1 miles according to my GPS, but I was completely exhausted and set up camp perhaps a half-hour before sunset. It was a tough day. Not just because it started off with all those blowdowns, but the terrain was far more rugged than I had anticipated. The steep ups and down and ups and downs. This alternate was listed on Guthook, but it didn't show the elevation profile of the trail so I hadn't realized how rugged the terrain really was. 

When I checked my GPS, I was astonished to see it had recorded about 5,000 feet of elevation gain and another 4,000 feet of downhill travel. That's a lot of elevation change in a single day. *nodding* And only in 18 miles, no less! But at long last, my day was finally over, and I was so ready for it to be over.

After sunset, I could see the headlamps of all the hikers camped on the other side of Lonesome Lake. Kind of like fireflies from my point of view as their headlamps flickers through the trees. =)

I'll share a few more photos of the blowdowns in the morning to give you a sense of what it was like, but in the really worst areas, I needed both hands available to climb over and around the blowdowns which meant that I couldn't get photos. I could only get photos of the "easy" blowdowns!

I'm not sure what this dam was doing here, but it made a convenient place for me to cross the river coming out of the lake.

Such gorgeous views! I absolutely loved them! But dang, this trail is tough!

Big Sandy Lake

1 comment:

Georgia Candy Girl said...

Some of the most beautiful photos on this trail.