Mountains of Light and Wind

We have just returned from 6 days of walking through the Wind River mountains. Again we spurned the CDT propper for a more adventurous and wilder route, but moving steadily South.

We started out in the town of Dubois (pronounced: Doo-Boys) and after aprox 15 miles of trail into the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, left preformed trails and notions behind and headed straight up Shale Mountain over a wild, broken plateau of tortured looking granite slabs and not much else. It was freeing to be rid of the trail! Our route led through wildly undulating landscape past deep blue lakes rimmed by snowpatches and steel granit slabs. Every 20 minutes the views changed completely. Small alpine flowers gave it their best before the onset of winter: purple primroses, alpine asters and sunflowers.

One afternoon a thunderstorm brewed above our heads and out of nowhere, lightning struck a cliff 200 meters above us. We could see a small cloud of smoke or rockdust followed by a chunk of rock tumbling into the valley. The electric discharge increased our walking pace valleywards considerably.

We spent fun hours bush-wacking through blowdowns and burns until we got to the valley of the Green River and the Green Lakes. The river eventually joins the Colorado (in the state of Colorado) and flows to the Pacific – or rather it doesn’t make it there for abstraction and damming, but that’s where it is headed.

From the Greenriver Valley we crossed into the stunningly jagged Titcomb Basin via a coll called Knapsack Pass which sounds like fun and picknicks but turned out to be a pretty hair raising lose-boulders and semi-frozen scree affair. Luckily the glacier hanging under the far side of the pass had retreated and softened (thank you global warming) significantly and we were able to leave the tottering boulder fields and run down the ice (much safer).

In Titcomb Basin (did I mention it is very beautiful?) we made a base-camp and the next day climbed the 2nd highest peak in the Windrivers: Fremont Peak at 13700 (or there abouts – map and guidebook could not agree on its actual hight) to gain wonderful views of the area (did I mention it is VERY beautiful?).

There was a puzzling absence of wildlife in what is a huge wilderness area. None the less we saw 2 moose, an osprey carrying a fish, the first marmot (yellow bellied) since Glacier National Park as well as the usuals small friendly mammals (Pika, Chipmunk)…and a dead horse (!?).

Now we are resting in Pinedale and are heading back for a 2nd part of the Windrivers tomorrow. Hoping to post some pictures at the next stop (did I mention it is very beautiful here?)

Leaving Griz-country

One day in Yellowstone National Park we had just descended into the big valley formed by the Yellowstone River upstream of the big Lake, when we saw 2 horses and 6 mules trotting along the path towards us. They were riderless, bridle-less and looking very naughty. None the less, the lead mule walked right up to me (even as I stepped off the trail to let them past), sniffed my hand which I extended in welcome, and then gave me a dismissive looked and lead his little herd on past us and towards the Lake. 40 minutes later, a gentleman and a black horse gallopped past us as we were sheltering from a rain shower under a large pine. A further 3 hours later, the same gentleman overtook us again, leading 2 horses and 6 mules, all looking very guilty, dusty but also slightly smug. ” Don’t know where they thought they were headed, ” he said to us as he passed. “Home?” I suggest – after all, camping in grizzly country for nights on end is pretty nerve wrecking …

PS: that is NOT one of our photos thank goodness! We’ve still not seen any bears though lots and lots of signs of their omnipresence! We are now heading South and up (in terms of elevation) and will soon be out of range of the Grizzly bears. The one above is shown in full flight – they can sprint at 30 mph apparently!

Yellowstone National Park

Being off the CDT has been great fun! For the last 8 days, we have been in Yellowstone National Park, walking through the park on a route east of the caldera and lake. This is the serengeti of the USA! We’ve seen lots of buffalo (bison!), herds of antelope (they are not real antelope but that’s what they call these aninmals here), elk (wapiti deer) and their shed antlers (too heavy to carry – alas!), wolf tracks (lots!) and more evidence of bears than is good for a peaceful night of sleep: the euphemistacally named “bear cake”, hairs stuck to trees, scratch marks 3 meters high on trees and foot prints (look a lot like naked human feet). We also saw a badger, a fox, coyote, two toads and two frogs and the last third of a snake! Still waiting to see moose.

Because this is Yellowstone, we’ve also walked past steaming springs, lots of interesting vulcanic rocks and other signs of the areas eruptive past. Particularly amazing are pieces of fossilised wood that lie around here and there – some red, some white with clearly visible fibre structure of wood which could easily be mistaken for bleached bits of old timber … but they are 50 million years old! At the North edge of the park we passed an erroding hillside where whole logs of these trees were exposed.

Today we are resting after 9 very hot days in a row (still can’t cope with the heat!) in Cody, tourist town and famous for Buffalo Bill’s travelling show of “the Wild West”. He practically invented the whole romantic cowboy thing.

Brian has worn out his 3rd pair of shoes and my hiking dress (dress number 2) is starting to fall to pieces so we will be shopping for new apparel.

Deliberating over whether to hike a detour through the Tetons or whether to rejoin the CDT in 4 days distance and continue straight towards the Wind River mountains on the CDT.

Big Sky Variant (aka the Butte Super Cut-Off)

Dear Reader, please be not be alarmed when we tell you that we have parted company with the CDT (for now)! We are still hiking, just not on the CDT. And we are still moving South in a continuous line, just not on the CDT. Why not the CDT? Well, compared to our new chosen route, the CDT is slightly longer and reputedly offers just more of the same i.e. trees, trees, trees.
We will meet the CDT again in South Yellowstone however, to follow it through the Windriver Mountains to the end (to Colorado).

So we are now on what B likes to call the “Big Sky Variant“, a line going from Whitehall more directly South than the CDT. We’ve just crossed a lovely mountain range called the Tobacco Root Mountains and are headed for the Spanish Peaks. Should be in Yellowstone NP in about a week.

On our way into the Roots, we got a tip-off from a passing local (as well as a cold can of Miller Light each!) to stop by some lovely wild hot springs in the Jefferson River Valley. They were literllay on route and we gladly stripped off and hopped in. We even had a little bathing companion in the form of a small swimming snake who paddled past my shoulder, head above water, beady eyes looking at me slighly annoyed at being disturbed. Sunflowers were framing the scene and an eagle was flying overhead! Apparently there are petroglyphs on the hill nearby. As soon as we were out of the water, the little snake was back.

Yesterday it rained quite a bit, so last night we went into the town of Ennis (very nice!) and got a cabin and watched “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” on video in the evening. Today we head for the Spanish Peaks.

Urban Montana

Three days gliding over gently rolling hills full of flowers and berries, to the left the yellow velvet of the prairies, to the right the dark green of the fir, spruce and pine covered “not so rocky” mountains. Above: the BIG SKY that this state is rightly known for. Heard coyote song again for the first time in a long time. Also had the company of lots of young ravens, squaking and honking joyfully as they surfed the thermals next to us on the divide. A silent deer occasionally appears on the edge of our vision, looks at us solemnly and then disappears into the half-dark of the trees again. If I carried any butter, we could have had wonderfully fried mushrooms every night. They grow everywhere, big and brown as newly risen loaves of bread. But I don’t carry butter.

Two nights ago we finally got into farming country: cattle grazing in open meadows and thin woodlands. We camped with some cows in a herby meadow next to a fenced-off spring and a tank with water for cattle. The water came out of a spout and ran crystal clear so memories of New Mexican cattle tank gunk where quickly banished.

As we were eating our dinner (reclining in the tent like Romans at a feast), we heard a truck drive up – farmer checking his cows. Truck stops a wee distance away, quiet, then the engine is started again and the truck comes closer, stops again. We hear a door slam (we’re too tired to pop our heads out of the tent). And then someone suddenly pings the back bungee on our tent !!! I shoot out of the front door and see a cowboy in his mid 20’s with a big stetson, big mustache and 80’s aviator specs looking startled as he fiddles with the back of our tent. “Ah didn’t even know it was a tent! Don’t look like one to me. Just though I aint never seen that thing there before – goan check it out” he appologised once I had given him a potted version of what we were doing and why we were there. (We were on public lands, so there was no argument about our right to camp there).

That night we had thunderstorms (again) and rain. In the morning we were woken by sonorous, low moooooooing and huffing. We were surrounded by 30 odd cows and calves – and 3 bulls giving it lalldy: peeing on the ground, kicking dirt around themselves, rolling their heads in the dirt, head butting each other and generally making a big song and dance about their virility. The cows had obviously seen the show before because they congregated in a semi circle around our tent and instead of paying the bulls much attention, watched us nervously dismantle our shelter and pack our bags. We were very much hoping that the bulls didn’t feel we were stealing their limelight and wouldn’t turn their excess energy on us in order to impress the cows. They didn’t – we got away unmolested!

So much for camping on range-land! And to think that we’ve been worried about camping in the woods with the bears!

Horse Whispering

160 miles since Glacier National Park and I am sorry to say, dear readers, that most of those miles were in the trees! Through the Bob Marshall Wilderness and most of the Scapegoat Wilderness, the CDT has been routed up and down river valleys in the forrest – our theory is that it’s all the horses’ fault: this is horse country, Rohan in the trees so to speak. The thing to do here is to pay an “outfitter” to take you into the back country on a horse for a weekend or longer. That also involves big tents, a cooking tent, mules to carry the gear and mules to carry horse and mule feed! So you end up with a pack train of 5 to 25 horses. Wonderful to see with the big western saddles and the fine shiny animals. Slightly less fun if you are a hiker in trainers following one of those horse trains. So the horse trails were here first and horses seem not to like the ridges and seem to prefer to be close to lots of water, so the CDT maybe just takes the existing horse-designed trailes rather than forging new, interesting and walker friendly trails higher up? That’s our theory.

Talking of excrement: we also saw lots of bear poo but had no direct contact with the big predators. Still, we had lots of fun trying to throw our bear cord over branches and hoisting our food bags onto a safe branch for night-time storage (10 feet up and 4 feet from the tree trunk) every evening before going to bed.

We had a few interesting things to see: a long limestone escarpment called the Chinese Wall and a hill that took us briefly above the trees. And the last day and a-half of the trail were on the divide itself and above tree line. What a relief!!! The flowers are starting to look a little tired now but in exchange, there are lots of berries to be picked in the forrest: huckle berries, strawberries and whortleberries we’ve eaten already – thimble berries are just about to come out!

We also had a day rest in a small town called Augusta which lies in the Prairies East of the Rockies. Augusta was great! We stayed in a tiny historic hotel from 1917. The town had a grocery store with the motto “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it” painted on the outside. It also had 3 bars where men in check shirts wearing stetsons sat drinking. We even got an excellent vegetarian pizza (though only after some deep soul searching from the lady who runs the diner – vetetarianism is not a common affliction in Montana). I can proudly say that we’ve managed so far not to crack any jokes about “Brokeback Mountain” to any of the locals.

Now we are in a place called Lincoln and are resting up. Our next stop will be the state capital Helena.