Friday, July 13, 2007

Wind River Mountains

I just returned last night from a week of backpacking in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, on the Continental Divide Trail. What a grand hike it was. I walked with two great hiking companions: Burt Webb is a biology prof here at IWU and has hiked with me almost every summer somewhere or another for a week—he is the guy who often just shows up and joins me for a week somewhere along the trail so we are long time hiking friends. Also along this time was Mason, Burt’s son who is in High School. Mason had pity on my old age and carried 6 pounds of my weight for me which made the trek much easier for me (and also made him wait less time for me to catch up at the tops of high mountains passes!).

We started at the Big Sandy Trailhead at the Southern end of the Winds and spent almost all of our time above the timberline, which in the Wind River Mountains is often below 10,000 feet. The Winds give that High Sierra feeling without having to go much above 11,000’ so we had no elevation sickness this time.

We followed various trails (mostly the Highline Trail and the Freemont Trail) which the CDT is proposed to follow some day when the CDT actually becomes the CDT. The only evidence of the CDT we actually found was a tiny CDT carved into one of the signs by a thru-hiker though. The Continental Divide Trail is still a concept in many places—a trail-to-become. But with Mason’s good map-reading and trail-finding skills we only got “lost” a few times. On one of these “lost” episodes we “simply followed a creek” to where we were supposed to be—which meant scaling a 40’ high wall which brought back memories of my 1960’s rock-climbing days—but Burt scrambled up declaring it was a “piece of cake’ so I dutifully followed (it was only a 5.6 or 5.7 cliff BUT it dropped directly into a raging river rapids at the bottom which made it seem worse.) Burt was right—and we got back on the trail again.

We saw a bunch of wildlife including moose but no actual bears, (though we saw their tracks and hung our food each night). The biggest joy for me was hiking above timberline so much—I love high mountains. Of course, since the snowmelt was right at its end the Mosquitoes were right at their zenith.

After the Winds we entered a section of more conventional CDT running up toward Yellowstone. I was less excited about this section of CDT—it was more like much of the CDT I’ve already experienced—which is “Where’s the Trail?” hiking—we traversed miles and miles of open sagebrush with nary a sign or path (can YOU find the path in after clicking this picture?). That’s bugs me about the CDT…somehow I prefer hiking a trail that is an actual trail not merely a “route.”
When we got to the big re-supply city in the area (Dubois, Wyoming population 991) on Tuesday we ate a huge breakfast then thumbed for a few hours before a guy let us ride in the back of his pickup over the mountains three hours to the Jackson Hole airport where we rented a car for a day (and the 300 mile round trip) back to our car at the south end of the Winds. Hitching all the way back to our car was not likely since we had parked it at a dead end dirt road several hours up in remote mountain. We got the car and Burt and Mason followed me back to the airport to drop off the one-day rental then drive the 1500 miles back to Indiana with happy memories of the Wind River Mountains.

The Thru-hikers on the CDT consider the Winds the highlight of the CDT (like the PCT hikers consider the High Sierras the highlight of that trail). So I have cherry-picked the CDT now—the Colorado section and the Winds are the brightest “Cherries” on the CDT tree (which has plenty of barren branches).

I had three goals for this hike. 1)To enjoy Burt and Mason’s company—hiking with people you like makes a hike good (accomplished: Burt is always a pleasant companion and Mason is an unusually likable and mature teenager and he took all these pictures too). 2) Finish the Wind River range, considered one of the “ten best hikes in America (Accomplished and I agree-they are equivalent to the High Sierras, in some ways better) 3)Decide if I want to consider hiking the whole CDT (Accomplished: I do not want to do the CDT except the cherry-picking areas like the Winds and Colorado. I’ve decided to cherry-pick the best hiking sections of trails until I’m 70.

Next week Sharon and I are going to Hawaii for the rest of the month. Then in August we’re both going to join Phil Woodbury and Kerry Kind for a week on the CDT in Colorado (Salida to Creede) then back to school.

Next year I will probably return and do the Wind River Mountains over again, this time with Sharon and we’ll walk slower. Now I’m feeling that we did too many 20+ mile days this time—Sharon and I will do 10-12 mile days next summer I think, and take time to drink in more of the views, and cook delicious meals—I “ate shakes” this time and didn’t cook. We’ll enjoy cooking again I think, though we’ll have to do that away from camp due to the bears.

I’ve got the “triple crown” off my back now. I do not plan to add the CDT to the AT and PCT. Rather, I’ll return to the “best hikes in America” list and finish that off. I still want to do the “cross the Great Divide” in the Canadian Rockies near Banff. And there is that section of the Superior Trail I need to get under my belt too. As far as the Appalachian Trail I already did a re-hike of all of New Hampshire with Phil, Josh Jackson and Justin Johnson a few years ago though I need to return and do the Kathdin section with Sharon some time soon. I’d like to return to the High Sierras and do the John Muir section of the PCT again, along with doing the Cascades again in snow (Canada south thru Northern Washington state—the section I did with Mark and Rudy). And there are some trails in South America to do, and Sharon has been wanting to do the West Highland Way in Scotland—so I might do that again with her this time.

A new factor for me is Sharon’s now job teaching in the Doctoral program where she gets July and August off each year. She is not a long distance hiker (though she did one hike of 1000 miles with me on the AT). Now, she prefers a week at a time—and I find that at the same time I am now preferring that length hike too—just a hundred miles or so at a whack. So I’m gonna’ make a new list and pick all the cherries I can until I’m 70. What then? Well, there’s always canoeing and kayaking—you can do that until you’re 90!
Great Hike Burt & Mason--thanks for being such good hiking companions!