Friday, August 16, 2013
Day 60 - Pinedale or bust?
Couldn't sleep last night because some animal was running around our tent last night making that noise. I sleep with earplugs in, but the animal was so loud that I could hear it. I immediately thought we were in mortal peril, and was petrified with fear. I could hear the large sounding animal walking around the surrounding creek, meadow and our tent. Through process of elimination, I knew it wasn't a bird (since it was walking around), and it was large (since it was breaking branches). I was mostly sure it wasn't a bear, since it was not interested in the food we hung far from our tents. But my overactive imagination had me carried away--I was sure it was a badger or wolverine. I calmed myself down and made myself go to sleep. We slept fitfully throughout the rest of the night, hearing these strange noises. Plus, at some point, Gangles woke me again with a deathgrip on my shoulder.
Thankfully, we survived the night, and it was as though nothing happened. There was too much pine duff to see footprints. That said, we had to get out of there. Today, we were going to try to push the ~21mi to Elkhart trailhead and hitch to Pinedale.
A few miles out of camp, as we were climbing Vista Pass, we came across an amazing sight: a group of older women packing up their tents at ~10,000'. It turned out to be a Sierra Club women's group outing. The trip leader is a feisty 69 year old woman named Jill. And we met Debbie and Margie from Tampa Bay, FL. I'm so impressed that they went from sea level to ~10,000' and were so perky and healthy. I was incredibly inspired by all of them--it gives me hope that when I'm their age, I'll be as dynamic and exciting, and backpacking in the winds. And not playing shuffleboard. Not that there's anything wrong with shuffleboard. Meeting those women was my highlight of the day. Superheroines in every day hiker clothing.
And they were so nice to us. They gave us the scoop on Vista and Cube Rock Pass (a rock scramble, just follow the cairns). Plus, they insisted we take some extra food--some delicious protein bars. They wished us luck, and it completely made my day.
The climb up Vista Pass was straightforward, switchbacks up to a great view. Cube Rock Pass was as described, with the trail fading out into a boulder field. As a point of pride, I didn't want to use my hands, so I was walking boulder to boulder, testing each one that it was stable. Giant rock fields always make me a little nervous, since all the rocks are there because they've tumbled down the mountain. Thankfully, they were mostly stable, and we climbed up to Peak Lake, which was a gorgeous blue glacial lake.
From there, we made the ascent to Shannon Pass, which marked our first time above 11,000'. We'll climb higher in CO, but this was our highest point on this thruhike to date. Unfortunately, I could definitely feel it. Slight headache, sluggishness, increased thirst. Definitely feeling the altitude. I was surprised, since we had been camping at ~9,500' for the past few nights, but the jump up to 11,200' was a bit too much for one day. Both Gangles and I were definitely feeling a little altitude sickness, so we tried to race out of there. Unfortunately, the Winds stay relatively high, and we were both a little woozy.
A few miles later at at Upper Jean Lake, we ran into Mike, from Kalamazoo, MI. He was taking a zero day up on the lake since his heel had a huge blister. We chatted for a bit, and gave him some bandaids. He wished us luck, and said he would pray for us. We've met so many kind people who have told us that they're praying for us. Really appreciate the kindness of the wonderful people we're meeting along the way.
We continued down the way, and met ~30 people in total. I was surprised by how populated the Winds are, given the remoteness of the section. But, believe the hype! The Winds are every bit as beautiful as described. Breathtaking. Cash mentioned that there is an amazing lake every 30m on the trail, and he was spot on. Superlative spots everywhere.
Oh, and I should mention, for every person we chatted with, I was doing my best impression of the strange animal we heard outside our tent. HRRRRRH! Consensus among the people we met, it was a moose! It all makes sense. I wish I had just looked outside the tent, and not been such a chicken about it.
On our last mile or so down to the trailhead, we ran into a fun group of 5 Nobos: Cactus, Nicotine, Trip, Virgo and The Tourist. They had been in Pinedale, staying with some ranchers they met in the Southern Winds. They seemed like a really fun group. And they're 1,650mi (+/- 200mi) into their journey. Cut from the same cloth as Cash. I wished we were heading in the same direction. They assured us that the trailhead was packed and that we wouldn't have any trouble getting a hitch.
We got down to the road at 7:45pm, and it was like a zombies had ravaged the place. Completely quiet. Tumbleweeds quiet. A parking lot full of cars and devoid of people. For the first time today, I was feeling pessimistic that we would make it into Pinedale. We had been meeting people who were skeptical that we would get in. That was understandable, since most people hike 5-10mi per day, and we were going 20+mi. So, many people openly doubted that we would make it. 12mi out, someone even said, "Pinedale's two days from here! You're not making it in". Not the most encouraging.
In that parking lot, I started to think they were right. We pulled out the map, and saw that any traffic on this road would take us down to Pinedale. Unfortunately, anyone headed back to Pinedale would have probably left already. So, hoping against hope, we decided to walk to the scenic overlook (~1mi) away, in case there was a car there. And if it was teens necking in a car, I had already resolved to slink quietly back to the trailhead and pitch the tent.
The scenic point was beautiful, but no cars. We saw one car go up to the trailhead, in the wrong direction. We sadly waved, and sat down on a large boulder to watch the sun set behind the ridge. We had made peace with the fact that we would sleep at the trailhead tonight and try in the morning.
Then, we heard a remarkable noise. It was the same car we had seen a few minutes ago, headed now to Pinedale. We waved excitedly, and they pulled over. Laurie, from Houston, was a perky blonde woman wearing an orange UT Austin shirt. She was travelling with an older woman with grey braids. They had been llama packing in the Winds, but one of their llamas took ill. They gave him an enema and everything, but he still wasn't right. So they were headed out early to Pinedale. They kindly gave us a ride to the Brewery, and we settled in for a late dinner.
A long, exhausting and wonderful day on the trail. Thanks to all of the great people we met today, the Sierra Club women's group, Mike, the hikers who diagnosed the moose sounds, and the women who gave us a ride to Pinedale. I wish you all well.
Mileage: ~21mi from Trail Creek to Elkhart Trailhead (Pinedale)