Wind River High Route

Nearly 100 miles, over 30,000 feet of ascent, glacier crossings, snow slopes, one microspike, a two season sleeping bag at 12,000 feet,  and a pointless laptop on my back i forgot to send before the trip. Lets Go!!

Flying by the seem of my pants seems to be something i can thrive on. This trip started one morning in Salida where i didn’t quite know what to do with myself.

‘Come do the wind river high route with me’ Said Cheetah, an Ultra runner.

A hour later I had salvaged some food from a hiker box, enough for about 3 days (just), and packed up and walked out the door. Hitching back to Kathleens’ house, a half way point on the hitch route she provided maps of the Winds, a bonus as I had no idea where the route went or what was involved.

The next morning we hitched to Lander with the plan of kitting out properly for the route. I had a list of equipment i would need- an extra fleece, extra food, microspikes as a minimum if not crampons as there would be a lot of time on snow and glaciers and mail off my laptop so I don’t have to carry it. We spent the night in Lander. Next morning after getting no where trying to find microspikes/crampons suitable for the route, and finding no fleeces at decent prices I hitched to the trailhead frustrated, eased slightly by Cheetah sharing some fried chicken.

The first afternoon we went a few miles down the trail from bruce bridge (7,142ft), swam in the river and drank a few beers. I was carrying 3 days food. Most people would probably want a weeks supply for this route.

Day 1

Wind river peak(13,192ft)- I think this was about a 6000 foot climb. It passed fast, but the descent was knarly, Steep steep talus that seemed very unstable (we moved single file), followed by the first steep snow slope. We devised a plan for one of us to go first, tying some para-cord between us to pass the microspikes after the first was down. This worked well until the 30ft of cord proved about 70ft short of what we would need. What followed was Cheetah chucking the spikes as hard as possible, and me leaning down the slope with an extended trekking pole to try to reach where they managed to wedge themselves. It worked to a fashion and a short while later we were scrambling down a talus field feeling pretty good. A long descent to Big Sandy Lake, lunch, the a climb up to ‘The Cirque’, a beautiful mountain area. We squeezed one more pass, the third of the day, (Texas Pass) giving us near 10,000 vertical feet this day. Camping next to a high lake we pitched tarps for the night and drank whisky. I’m not going to bore you too much with the elevation gains and drops, but its serious up and down.

day 2

The food situation was very clear, there wasn’t enough. From this morning rationing started. By substantially reducing calorie intake and increasing daily mileage we might just swing the route if we go partly hungry every day and even hungrier with no food the last day. We had to make around 30 miles today, on a normal hiking day this wouldn’t be bad, but this was back country travel, no paths, talus, big passes, lots of snow. Cheetah shared one of his micro spikes (like mini crampons) and we both went with one each. The approaches to passes were epic, the bluff climbs enjoyable and snow firm in the morning and slush by lunch.  The end of the day was a surprise we didn’t notice when planning the night previous, after doing a mammoth 3 passes as fast as we could, we climbed a rise to a shocking site. A big pass, the biggest yet. At 6pm high in The Winds, a 3000 vertical feet climb to 12,750ft (Blaurock Pass)was a tiring odious thought. Reaching the top at 7.15 felt great. The descent was a mix of glissading and rock hopping. Camping in view of Garnett Peak, the highest in Wyoming, I was freezing. Dinner was a most miserable chicken noodle soup, the kind you put in a cup as a 4pm snack, I pretended to myself there were plenty of calories in it. Deep down I knew this was a lie.

My skimpy bag wasn’t up to a cool summer night, never mind a alpine frost. I shivered quite a bit, but consider it a good sign my body was still moving. Whats the worst that can happen right?

Day 3

Breakfast- a premix bag of oats and a breakfast essential mixed together. Today would be my last bag of MnM’s which was also my last food. Not the worst thing ever, and a coffee. In reserve i had more instant coffee and herbal tea. We approached Garnett Peak ready to turn up to Garnett Glacier near the base. A group of climbers were descending and after hearing we were torn between an ascent of Garnett Peak or attempting to finish the high route due to lack of rations they gave us a big bag of almonds, some cliff energy bars and a couple of extras. The decision was made for us, with this stroke of luck, and still short on supplies we approached Garnett peak. After assessing the route, I decided it was too dangerous to take on the steep snow gully with snow bridge over crevasse with only one microspike, (also a monsterous death drop if a slide was not arrested) so passed it to Cheetah and he went for a summit attempt. I was gutted not to be making the climb but knew it was the right call (a lot of people climb this with ice axe, crampons and roped together). I did climb around half way up as far as the rocks would allow. When Cheetah arrived back at our min camp we changed direction back to the glacier route. The glacier itself was uneventful apart from the rumble of thunder keeping us moving. When your that high there isn’t really any point in trying to run downhill.  The ascent out the other side of the glacier for those interested I would suggest warrants sturdier footware and crampons, even an axe if you can be bothered to carry one, but with one microspike on and clutching my hiking poles tight looking a little like a praying mantis I staggered up the slope above the crevasses (they were small here). A quick glissade down and one more climb out the next valley. We pushed hard over more open ground, more rock hopping, plenty of extra up and down, across a safer beautiful glacier and onto the most northern mountain of the route ‘Downs Mountain'(13,350). I’ll be honest and say I despised this mountain. I felt like Alice in wonderland on mushrooms. Giant boulders continually thwarting forward movement as my dehydrated body struggled up, continually trying to decide if I could step up, or jump across gaps, I was drained. We descended a short way down to the final camp. Cheetah cooked up the last noodle pack, added some almonds and split it with me. Man it was good to eat. This night was like the previous nights but more so, more vibrant shivering all night and frozen shoes and socks in the morning. My footwear and feet for that matter didn’t get to dry out at any point during these few days.

There are so many awesome pics and so much I could say but I’m burned. I’ll rewrite this later. Theres also going to be an awesome vid of this trip soon enough in 4k highlighting my terror and joy onroute. Here I lie battered and bruised but content in dubois. Where should I head next?

 

Fearing I would be trapped in the hostel till the cogs in my mind fuse into a solid state I decided to take a friend up on an offer and go for a hike for a day or two and make a decision on where to go next. In the car as we drew closer to the pass and starting point speckles of rain began to accumulate on the windscreen.  At the top of the pass we picked our packs out the trunk and set out up the hill. 6pm. The clouds were low and a cool breeze swept around the hill. Walking this part of the colorado/continental trail is refreshing, staying high on easy trail in and out of trees. I knew from 2 years previous of a 3 sided wooden shelter with metal roof 8 miles away. This was the target, we drew towards the shelter at around half 8 as darkness was setting in and rain becoming heavy. To my surprise there were tents pitched around but nobody in the shelter itself. Saving a tent from becoming heavy and wet and having space to move and think it was the only logical place to unroll a sleeping bag and heat some noodles. It rained the whole night. I tried catching rain dripping off the roof but every time i placed my pot the drips seemed to change landing patterns.

In the morning the tenters joined us for breakfast. The day continued much the same as the evening before, in a semi-concious zombie state soaked to the bone and hands numbed enough to move slowly when trying to use them. I was calm and composed, trying to be at one with the rain and embrace the cold, not entirely believing myself it was worth coming out.  I fashioned what I would call a pumpkin prom jacket out of an orange coated survival bivi bag, this added a small amount of warmth at the expense of my dignity and of Sabrinas’ who hiked with me. Towards the middle of the day we arrived at the summit of Sgt. Mesa. A beautiful high hill with meadows and trees and fluffy black storm clouds a mile or two off to the side.

Sabrina said “As least the storm cloud is over there”.

Moments later lightning forked across the sky close above out heads with a tremendous crack like a wagon plowing into a concrete bunker. Where most people would stop and sit or panic the thru hiker mentality of ‘stay calm and carry on’ shone through boldly and we kept hiking along the ridge line like a couple of idiots. The addiction to hiking building, adrenaline growing, and tree cover getting thinner. The ridge line narrowed slightly and the rumbles became bombs detonating very close. Another hiker called Steven was heading the opposite direction towards the Mesa summit. I wouldn’t want to be him.

We pitched tent about half way along the 6 mile ridge close to where a tree had been previously struck by lightning. They say lighting doesn’t strike the same place twice, a myth I was willing to believe for the evening with impending rain seconds away. Pitching early did not save us from rain splashing up between the fly sheet and inner tent. This did not put me in the mood to attempt to cook noodles alfresco so we went to sleep hungry questioning why it was so. I dreamt about bears savaging the tent and other wonderful things. My sleeping pad still deflates every couple of hours waking me to the real horror of trail life, the sound of everything becoming wet. This morning was glorious, not sunny, but not raining. It was nice being high up early and having a vile concoction of triple herbal tea with extra sugar from my unofficial trip sponsor ‘the hiker box’. Three miles down the path in fairer condition was where my and Sabrinas’ path would split. I turned north and down hill back towards the road and pass. Deep house tunes blasting out (a one hour kygo mix) I ran the next 6 miles. I felt alive, this is what outdoors was meant to be.

At the roadside I stuck my thumb out and the first truck pulled over.

“Jump in!!! theres a car behind I dont want to get past me” shouted the driver.

I hopped up, “Beer?”

“Yes” I replied. The next half hour back to Salida was nice. I was Acutely aware of how bad my trainers were smelling after fording a stream the colour of cow muck. The driver seemed to understand.

Salida! I’ve wound up back in Salida! Of all the towns in all the states in America, why am I going back to Salida again? With no decision on what I will do next the Vortex has me. The sirens beckon.

‘Wakey, Wakey Rise and Shine! and don’t forget your booties, its cold out there today’

 

‘The Vortex Is Real, It Sucks You In’

I’ve been trying to leave Salida for a couple of days now. But its fighting me , its like being on a ship in rough water constantly trying to trip me up, and as I climb through the decks I fall over buckets and mops tumbling head over heal to the previous level . I’m concerned I’m going to become swallowed up by the furniture. A downward spiral of soft pillows and comfy chairs with backpackers and hikers never going anywhere. Its dangerous. My mind runs through the potential jobs of busking and bar work. Here there is no politics, no stress, just laughter. Its easy to forget why you came to a place, ‘have I really just travelled half the world and hiked and cycled thousands of miles to sit here?’

I’m in a hostel, where several people have stopped a day or two, or three. I’ve fixed  my bike and adjusted everything to go but inertia has slowed me down. I have packed several times to leave but the stairs going up to the dorm room seem to be a slide down hill for my kit and I get spun around trying to find the exit which evades me every day at 11. By the time I find it its 3pm and too late to go. I wake again at 9 am, its Ground Hog Day. Sitting back each day listening to music, singing to songs with other backpackers, and short walks around the town. Everybody here has given up everything at this moment and its peaceful. Backpackers go out to the shop, buy cheap food and cook it. Then share everything. When someone new walks in, they are invited without question. Life is cheap to sustain. There is no tearing hair out with big bills. Every hiker has a different colour and energy and its wonderful.

Yesterday when walking to the shop we came across a scared bear in a tree. The ranger in charge of the taped off area said he will likely come down in the evening when all the people are gone and run straight out the town to a quieter place. I kinda felt sorry for the poor fella, so many people vilify these black bears but he looked exhausted draped across a fork in the tree petrified of the people nearby. I hope he made it out ok.

Hopefully I do too.

Benjamin.

 

 

 

 

 

Always Pee with a View!!

A couple of days ago a friend offered me a camping pad after I explained my goes down after a couple of hours use which i believed to be the valve leaking slightly. This is good when I wish to get up in a couple of hours but not so good when i want to sleep, its resulted in an upsetting wake up and blow up the pad night shift every night so far. I said I would persist with my pad and set off on a 115 mile ride. That night while pitching up next to a river up a cold cold pass (near Copper Mountain), the whole valve ejected itself from the sleeping pad. This left me feeling rather deflated. I took a few plasters out of my pack, kind of re-inflated the pad and taped the valve into place. It wasn’t perfect but hey, I got some sleep. The next day I woke to police lights 20 meters from where I was camped, there was a bike race crossing the main road, I packed up and rolled onto the path like I was racing.  After climbing over the last few hundred feet of pass I rolled down to Leadville where I purchased some solvent glue hoping to make a more permanent solution to my camping pad troubles. I still have not tested it.

I carried on out of Leadville to Twin Lakes where I have based myself for climbing 14ers (peaks about 14,000 feet). There is a nice small hostel, like an old village hall, with bunks down the sides, a big table in the middle, and sofas and a coffee station at one end. A lovely cosy place. The hostel owner informed me of some free wine left in the fridge going spare and food in the hiker box and I was sold. Around 7 other people stopped in the hostel, mainly CT hikers and the owner joined us for the evening. This hostel also comes with free pancakes with strawberry and rubarb in the morning, but my mind was set on an early summit.

I packed my bag in the evening, put my bike in a corner and preped. At 3.30am my phone vibrated followed by me sitting up drowsily, why do I do this to myself?? I slipped out into the night. It felt frosty and crisp. I turned on my head torch and started walking. I think it was about a one hour walk to the trailhead to go up Black Cloud Creek. Perfect darkness, I could see the Milkyway. I started climbing the 5500ft to the summit. Through dense Aspen trees I wondered if a bear would hear me coming. Would it be small enough for me to fight it if startled and aggressive?  As I cleared the treeline the sky began to lighten. I hurried to the ridge line that would take me to the summit. Just as I arrived on the ridge the sun came over the horizon, It was worth the racing up and early start. Morning light and evening light always seem best for photos. I did plan on going fast today and possibly doing a second peak, but I decided to enjoy it. The biggest mountain in Colorado to myself. I took photos getting as creative as possible. (see pics) then jogged up the ridge to the summit. Arriving on the summit at 7.15am I decided to mess with my camera and the brilliant photo op the American Flag gave me. After which i sat and ate a few energy bars. I descended fast, running past other hikers from around half way up. When I arrived back at Twin Lakes, I decided that was enough for one day, and so, I chill.

The forecast for the next few days is grim, but, there is movie theatre in Salida about 50 miles down the road that could kill a few hours indoors and i do quite fancy a movie.

Later

Benjamin

 

 

Steamboat- going slow

I don’t think much can beat some tropical deep house music out on a porch overlooking a town while working on a bike. Today like yesterday has been a day of rest and recovery for me and the bike. I snapped a spoke about 300miles ago and have just got around to fixing it now. I had bought a spoke yesterday, went and sat in the park and stripped the back wheel to fit it, only to find the spoke was just too small to catch the thread. Round two today went without a hitch. and its satisfying to have straightened my first buckled wheel this trip, now spinning withing 1mm tolerance. I feel pretty good about this as its my first ever attempt at tightening spokes.

I’m stopped at a friends in Steamboat. Kathleen, a strong hiker I hiked a couple of sections of the CDT with in 2015 seemed more than happy enough to accommodate. She lives in a shared house with 5 other people. They are all healthy runners, cyclists and fitness trainers and fanatics. Eating healthy salads, and carrying pineapples to work for lunch. It puts my diet to shame but I make the excuse I’m burning more calories. I did eat a health dinner last night. Only to be wronged by an obtrusive box of chocolate cupcakes covered in choc mouse and white flakes this morning. (but they were really, really good!!). I washed it down with a couple of cups of strong coffee and carried on fixing and planning.

Colorado is a tricky place to cycle and climb, and stringing an efficient line through to 14,000 ft mountains without adding double passes each day seems no easy task.

 

My hair is now sufficiently down past my eyes enough to cause a hazard when cycling downhill or just around the town in traffic. Hopefully not long now till I can do the panten pro-v head shake to get it out of my eyes and look LIKE A BOSS!!

The skinny 40mm tyres I have been using have been just holding on the trail, allowing cruising at good speed on the smooth gravel and road sections. But negatively they have been wearing fast and skittering about on the downhill, the lack of traction is a minor concern. Its a surprisingly hard tyre size to get hold of from bike shops, bigger than the average hybrid wheel, but smaller than any other mountain bike tyre.

I think when i head off I will not look at the map but go by the route that looks visually most appealing. The wing it approach seems to serve well. With a 50/50 chance at any fork in the road. I’ve downloaded way points to the summits of the 14’ers roughly on route using Gaia gps showing me where i need to go. Ill cycle to Silverthorne have a easy day then begin (i don’t feel fully committed to this yet so the plan may change, I’m not sure where I can stash my bike while ticking peaks).

 

Choose Junk Food

Choose Junk food

Choose smarties, choose snickers, choose candy and hope diabetes wont catch up with you.

Choose double espresso for breakfast with donuts coated in sugar and chocolate and tell yourself you’ll burn it off in a workout.

choose 5 coffees to stay awake then energy drinks to peak the rush you chase every day.

choose 5hour energy for motivation, choose babe ruth bars for dinner, choose 2 burgers to comfort you when the days been long.

Choose candy for hikes, choose m&ms for biking, choose pop-tarts for alpine ascents.

Then wash it down with an unending quantity of Pepsi, Cola, monster, relentless and all the soda you can get your hands on.

This is my life, this is what i do. I’m a sugar junkie. It fuels me.

IMG_20170719_212444219

On the trail, I eat eat like this. The above writing is just a bit of fun. It is exactly how I eat.

 

After The Basin, from Rawlin to Steamboat

I’ve just felt my face. It felt like it was covered in grit. I’ve looked in the mirror, its covered in salt, white from the effort and sweat. Today I cycled 85mile off road and 30 miles on. I felt unstoppable, until the climb, then i felt like a uncooked beef steak chucked over the handlebars. The end of the gravel cycle had a 1500 ft climb, but the road kept dropping hundreds of feet every few miles adding hundreds more to the ascent. All I could think is the surveyor who planned the road despised cyclists, he probably sits at the front of a log cabin on the way up. Smugly grinning each time he sees a cyclist collapsing over the handlebars with exhaustion, covered in sweat, trying to suck in air that doesn’t seem to exist. After the effort the reward was a smooth paved descent through a lightning storm towards Steamboat Colorado. It was brilliant.

 

This day started with the sun beaming at my face under the tarp sheet, the wind had been flapping it all night due to my lazy attempt of stringing it up, I envisioned it blowing away in the night but it held on.  I packed quickly, I drank a one dollar energy shot and hopped on the bike. Within a few miles a rattlesnake blocked the route, at first I thought it to be like every dead snake, stretched out along the gravel after a driver swerved to get it, but this one was slightly different in that when I drew closer and it snapped up into a coil. I hastily braked. I feel positive of my identifying this as a rattle snake due to the rattling its tail made. Fortunately the road was wide enough for both of us and I carried on with my odyssey.

I met a few CDT hikers, one called J who happened to be in the right place for a kinda cool photo. Later in the day up the pass where I rested for ten minutes I was entertained by many many humming birds. I have noticed the past couple of days the variety of birds along the way. I don’t know what they are called but keep meaning to snap some photos of the colourful ones, but it seems like effort to stop the bike and so I have only the two photos so far. I have made a few frantic grabs for my phone, but by the time the pin is typed in and camera activated, the desired shot is one hundred meters past already. And so, I sigh.

Its nice to have a motel bed tonight.

Ps. I have noticed when cycling and nearing or cresting a summit, Americans do this fist pumping action thing like a sign of victory along with an agreeing nod and big smile, sometime a ‘Yeah!!!!’. If it happens again tomorrow, I will fist pump back!! Goodnight world.