Hiking The CDT- part 10- The Wind River Range

The Wind River Range is one of the most Spectacular Places On Earth. The mountains seem endless, the views breathtaking, the wolves wild, the lakes blue /green and the hiking some of the best I would encounter. So good that when I had the chance, I came back a second time.

I hitched to the pass with a local guide who had just finished on Garnett Peak, the highest mountain in Wyoming. I was feeling reasonable strong but still my shin pained a little. Taking care on descents I would manage to keep the pain to a minimum and slowly recovered as I crossed this section. I think it is around 180 miles. Arriving at the Pass I walked several miles down forestry lanes meeting the occasional thru hiker coming North, the first one I met was nervous about grizzly bears. I gave him my can of bear spray and told him of my encounter with a Grizzly Bear, it had been good and I felt lucky to have had it. Grizzly bears don’t get much further south than the Wind River range, and I figured I would rather not have the weight of a can. Since I started this trip it had swung from my chest strap on a piece of cord . Thru hikers rules, every ounce that can be ditched should be ditched. I hiked a good way as light rain splattered down keeping me soaked and cold. I eyed up a cross country route marked on the map that would save on a lot of distance, but was over high open ground. Lightning started cracking overhead, splitting the sky into fragments. A second later thunder would boom and the ground would tremble. I opted for a walk the long way through the forest, feeling secure with dense forest towering all around. I had good music and passed the afternoon comfortably.

Hiking has a lot of slow lessons. It teaches you any wrong decision is yours alone, any frustration is yours alone, and if you’re angry you have no one to blame for being where you are but you. If you’re scared, you have to learn to deal with it alone. I think a lot of people never become comfortable with spending time with themselves but the lesson of solitude and experiencing all emotions while being alone is powerful. There is nothing more therapeutic than being isolated in the wilderness. In cities people always have the stimulus of the others around them, and seek reassurance or spread blame for things not going right. But in always having people around, you never learn self reliance and patience. I think this trail teaches a lot about both.

I camped the night in a small cluster of trees at the top of a pass. The night was brutally cold, freezing over everything including my tent and shoes. It was a slow wake up and I felt almost hungover with dehydration. I had a slow coffee then dropped the tent to shake off the frost, and packed to move. I could hear wolves howling nearby. I hadn’t considered wolves being out here and on hearing them the process went through my mind- they are pack animals and I probably look like an injured animal to eat? But surely they are scared of people, there must be hunters? But this close to a National Park would anybody ever be here to fire a gun and scare them? I would never have an answer and my only option was to proceed as I was. I shivered as I started walking, finding it difficult to get warm blood flowing. It’s difficult to be happy until you feel warm in such a place. But as the sun rises and scatters across the hillside, the feeling of being home comes back. I listened to a few audio books while hiking here.

On this second day towards the end, I bumped into another hiker called Race. I would hike the evening and camp at the top of the pass with him. Having another hiker helped slow the pace and it was great having the evening meal with someone else. It blew my mind when hiking how in a morning I would look across the horizon thinking it was a long way, and by the afternoon I would be over it and onto a new horizon. Each day this would happen, it kept going, and going, and going. There was seemingly no end. It was perfection. I was in an endless cycle of hiking with endless views. Race was meeting a friend at a campground, but I carried on alone and began climbing up into the real mountains.

As I started to climb, the slightly high sides on the trainers dug into my ankle on both sides. It didn’t take long to abrase to the point my ankle was rubbed raw, and reddened with pinpricks of blood. I tried to persist but the pain was high. I sat down. I didn’t fancy trying another four or five days of this. I opened the top of my pack and took out a pair of small scissors to start cutting away at the trainers to lower the sides. I slapped some microscope tape over my skin where it was worn for a little more protection from brushing against trousers and plants etc. I then proceeded to hike. It was such a relief. I climbed up through the forest and broke out into a steep boulder strewn valley. Barron and grey granite that was cold in heart and touch. The first route for me would be Knapsack Col. It’s an alternate to the main route (I think?) but fantastic high alpine environment with a beautiful tarn. There is no real trail but the route is over boulders following obvious directions from one valley to the next. Over the next day the views of granite would be broken up with valleys full of hundreds of small pools and lakes.

A small gap breaks up the mountains between the North and South on the CDT route across meadows with lakes. Here I ran into many Northbound hikers. Probably the mass of them. I didn’t talk too much. Thru Hikers in opposite directions understand the difference it makes getting extra minutes of daylight. I camped before the second section of mountain. Here there was a highly recommended alternate better than Knapsac col, but I didn’t want to break myself again. I was pushing still over 30 miles per day. I knew this route would give more interesting climbs but the official route that wound around the peak would do for now, it still had plenty to climb and scenery.

Near reaching my final pass I was close to running on fumes, and my food was nearly depleted. I had taken other hikers advice back in town and carried less food than usual, and here it kicked me, it wasn’t my style. I was fortunate to come across other hikers that were on a weekend break. When they asked what kind of food I bring on a hike like this, I laughed and shower them a near empty bag saying I guess I was subsiding on cosmic rays and and positive attitude. The said they were hiking out but still had loads of food and showered me in great snacks. It provided thousands of extra calories in much more entertaining food than I would normally carry including some home made beef jerky and energy shot style sweets. This was epic. As I dropped down the other side of the pass the path was steep shingle, not much fun, but I knew this would be my last big descent of the area. As I moved I was now being powered by a sudden high calorie diet. I was a day and a half from being out of a long section and ready for a day off trail. I arrived in the evening to a national forest campground. Pitching up on the gravel after dark I was happy there was less than half a day to the next pass.

In the morning I hiked on, with the trail eventually joining some gravel road then breaking across country one last time to the roadside. The roadside was a small layby on a brow with poor view in either direction. A hard place to hitch from. When a vehicle can see you at good distance, the driver has a chance to weigh things up. When they see you in passing, the chance of a ride is almost always gone. Two northbound hikers were on the other side of the road and had been there an hour. I joined them for a while trying to hitch before I decided three was too much of a crowd and I would try to find a better layby further down. Moments after walking away a car passed me and started beeping the horn frantically. It was Tribhu and Kirsten. I chucked my hat into the air to celebrate and ran over. They were dropping a couple of other hikers off at the pass and now giving us a lift back down.

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