Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 39 - Leadore!

Ah, our re-entry into civilization. We woke up early (for us), and were out of camp by 730am. Nice trail / jeep road winding across the ridges to Bannock Pass. Many curious deer along the way, bounding merrily across the trail, then stopping to look back at us. Unsure if we were threats or not, the deer would stare directly at us, then spring away a few hundred feet before repeating the process.

At first, I was in quiet awe of this encounter with wildlife, then I began to worry for the deer's longterm survival. If the deer is this ambivalent about a pair of unarmed girls, I don't think she's going to make it through hunting season. I did see a 10 point buck sprint across the trail though--with his rack, I think that means he's smart enough to know to stay away from humans.

At our first water source out of camp (~5mi), we caught up with Grinder who told me that the Swiss Fits and BR and just left, and were planning to push the last 12mi without a break down to the pass. Aaron and Little Bug (aka Aarbug) were breaking, and in my excitement, I slipped down the slope in a cartoonish pratfall with a big puff of dust. Though everyone who witnessed the fall was convinced I was injured, it was as cartoonish in consequence as it looked, and I was fine.

Aarbug mentioned that they were going to take the alternate down to Bannock Pass, which shaves off 2.6mi, and walks out onto an open ridge of sagebrush. On the plus side, the path is more direct. On the minus side, there is a 1-2mi bushwhack through waist-high sagebrush. Gangles and I quickly did a Monte Carlo simulation (N=1,500), and determined that at best, we would save 30mi, and at worst, probably lose ~20mi. So, really a toss-up, if you factor in the potential emotional trauma of being really lost on the CDT (again).

We did have a few miles to think about it, and as we reached the junction, we saw Aarbug's tiny figures receding in the distance. Why the heck not.

We followed them up the steep half mile climb to the side trail, and started off on our gamble. The first ~3mi were relatively straightforward, which I dutifully tracked on the GPS. We emerged into a beautifully open ridge which looked on to the pass, and we had amazing 360 degree views. The sun and wind were brutal though, and though we applied sunblock and were wearing hats, we still felt exposed. We walked to the nose of the ridge, and the GPS said to start bushwhacking down, at roughly 1 o' clock. We began our descent through the sagebrush, which wasn't too bad; a bit prickly, but with wide alleys between the brush to speed things up.

We suddenly noticed that there was a herd of brownish creatures at the bottom of the ridge, maybe ~50 altogether. A mother and child cantered away from the herd, and moved towards us. They stopped and stared curiously at us. They were much darker than deer, with long velvety ears--we guessed it was a large herd of elk. The elk shyly moved into the stand of pines just above them, and we could still see them watching us through the trees.

We continued down the hill, down to the creek, which we followed up to a jeep road. From the jeep road, we followed that to the dreaded gravel road (the only one in Idaho), which runs through Leadore. We had heard this was a terrible hitch, and were bracing ourselves for a long wait. Once we hit the road, we were below the pass, and had to climb steeply up 1.2mi to the pass proper. With ~0.8mi to go, we finally decided to take a break. Since we had left the water ~8mi ago, we had stopped for maybe a total of 15m. We were hiding under the shade of a tall pine on the side of a highway when a pick-up truck pulling a horse trailer approached. (Given the barren, dusty terrain, we could see approaching cars from literally miles away as a big yellow plume of dust). I braced myself for the dust bath, and hurriedly covered the protein bar I was eating to keep out the grit. The vehicle stopped just beside us, and I waved.

"Are you okay?" Hmm. I think we're okay. And then I realized, it does look like we're in dire straits. It's the height of the heat, and there are a pair of girls cowering under a pine tree on the side of a seldom travelled road. We assured them we were okay, and then made our way up to the pass. From the top of the pass, since we could see the cars from so far away, Gangles and I actually had time to debate hitching strategy. Hat on or off? Should I keep my hair in a ponytail or let it out?

Fortunately, we weren't up there long, when the second car, a Passat with an elderly couple (Lyle and Juva) stopped to pick us up. The gent said he wanted to get a good look at us, as he was particular about who gets in his car (as he should be!). As we were getting in, BR and Very Fit were approaching. I felt bad that we were leaving just as BR and VF were approaching, so I asked if he could take one more. He said emphatically, "I don't give rides to boys". Which is completely understandable, a big bearded guy getting in your backseat can be terrifying.

Lyle and Juva kindly gave us a lift to town. Thank you again for the ride--it was very much appreciated.

Town, finally.

We stopped for lunch at the Silver Dollar Diner, which had a new waitress in training, the 10-yr old granddaughter of the proprietor. She adorably and capably took our orders, and even gave us 7-Up from the temperamental soda machine, which kept getting stuck and flooding the area. We stopped drinking 7-Up and switched to root beer. We then checked in to the Leadore Inn, which very clean and nice. And no visible taxidermy, though the Silver Dollar Diner had quite a bit.

We are all in for the night, with Moosie, Bigfoot and SLAM! (the hiker formerly known as 'Trailbait'). Glad we're all safe together.

Mileage: 18mi from the spring past Gucci Polaski to Bannock Pass (Leadore)

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