Friday, September 12, 2008

Wind Rivers 2008 (Titcomb Basin)

Link to more photos:

9/1/08: Leslie and I had breakfast with Chris, Shirin, and Alice right before Chris headed out to the Marine Air Base in San Diego. Good time, even with the anxiety present as Afghanistan marches closer. I was on the road by 10:30, north to Locust Grove (it’s not a suburb) in Eastern Oklahoma to pick up Jeff and then through Oklahoma into Kansas and on to Fort Collins and into town around 6:30am. The Camry camper worked great – very comfortable stretched out in a sleeping bag with feet in the trunk while the miles roll away as the other guy drives. Photo above: Titcomb Basin; Photo below: On the way in

We had breakfast at a Waffle House near the CSU campus. I didn’t realize until I looked at the cooking area that Waffle House is some kind of descendent of Toddle House like where I worked 46 years ago in Baton Rouge at the foot of the bridge from the honky-tonk area across the river. I worked nights, 8p to 6a, 6-7 nights/week, starting at $.85/hour and pretty soon they trusted me so I was making $1.00 and then $1.25/hour working by myself and every night it was drunks coming in from 10 or 11 to 3 or 4 so that a few times I had to pull my butcher knife on guys, and the police were by pretty often, but I cooked up some good breakfasts and burgers (“Gimme one a them masturbators,” they’d shout out when they wanted the ill-named masterburger – you would think that someone would have thought when they were naming this two-pattie cheeseburger, hmmmm, maybe young guys might have some fun with the word, "masterburger," but they didn’t or maybe it was somebody’s idea of a corporate joke and in any case, it boggles the mind, don’t it), with breakfasts being my favorite to cook and after you’re pretty good and fast at cooking you can do it so that it looks kind of effortless with your arms kind of hanging loose and most things done with a flip of the wrist and you’re looking kind of vacantly into the distance with 2 or 5 or 10 orders going, throwing it down just so – just like the young guy cooking at the place we were eating!

We did some shopping in Ft. Collins (Hiker Pro water filter for me and sleeping bag for Jeff) and headed out for Pinedale across the desolate high desert of southern Wyoming. I remembered how lonely and cold Laramie was in the late night on the streets hitch-hiking to nowhere in 1963 like a rolling stone. We went across miles and miles of scrub until Jeff spotted the Wind Rivers far off in the distance. The mountains were high and stark, with clouds heavy around the tops and where there were no clouds, snow and ice. We stopped at the general store in Pinedale and then on to the trailhead and a Forest Service campground nearby. We camped less than a mile from the trailhead and had a nice fire, then a cold but comfortable night in Jeff’s new REI 3 person dome tent. Photo: 2nd morning

In the morning we had the almond butter and preserves on raisin bread sandwiches and cold café sua da I brought from Dallas and hit the trail. The Pole Creek Trail goes gradually up most of the way, with a few sharp (but short) ups and downs. We cut off north at the trail to Island Lake. Before we stopped we had rain, sleet and snow, but not too much of any of them. The weather became more threatening and we were tired, so stopped at a little lake past Barbara Lake and went a little way up the hill to a perfect flat site. Photo below: Island Lake, I think

We went back down to the lake to filter some water and on the way back to the campsite, ran into a man trying to make things right with a woman who was having a complete meltdown. It seems he had hiked too far ahead of her with the other people in their party and she apparently was feeling tired and alone and afraid – “You’re with ME,” she said as he tried to explain. It was an odd scene and we wondered for several days if she stayed with the hike or went back down. Dinner was mashed potatoes, shelf-stable bacon, cheese, and tortillas – excellent.

On day two we headed up the trail past Hobbs Lake, Seneca Lake and Little Seneca Lake. The trail was more up and down now and in the afternoon there was a heavy cloud cover – strangely, the clouds seemed to be blowing toward us from the south and the north. This wasn’t the last time we would see what seemed to be conflicting winds and weather. I’ve never been anywhere where the weather changed as quickly and frequently as in the Winds. With weather coming from two directions we went off-trail and found an okay campsite, again, half way up a hill above a lovely little basin. It started snowing just moments after we got the tent up. We hung out in the tent until it was almost clear and hiked down to a little stream and filtered water with snowflakes swirling around us. Walking back up the hill, we both ran completely out of breath and strength by the time we got to the tent. Photo: from our campsite in the Basin

We had chili with pasta, tortillas, and cheese for dinner. I couldn’t finish mine, so saved it in the bear vault for breakfast.

I awakened to pee sometime in the night and started putting my boots on. Jeff said I might want to pee in a baggie because it had been snowing for more than an hour. I wouldn’t miss it for anything and went on outside where there was about 2 inches of snow on the ground with the sky mostly clear with a million stars shining and still a few flakes falling. It was an all-time great urination, if a little cold.

In the morning there was snow and ice on the tent. A blue tarp answered the where to eat question. Altogether, a more difficult than usual camp to strike. It was here that I had this major insight: it’s easier to get up at home than in the wilderness. Photo: near camp 3

We headed on up the trail toward Island Lake, which was about ½ mile past our camp. We went past the lake toward the basin and had a nice conversation with two brothers we’d met before on the trail. We also saw the couple from Salida we’d met in the Forest Service campground and again on the trail. They had been to Knapsack Col and said it was too icy for them.

We continued on closer and closer to the jagged grey peaks, icy and snowy, that were the northern boundary of Titcomb Basin. By the time we got to the lower of the two main Titcomb Lakes, we were pretty tired, so split up to search out a good campsite. Jeff found an outstanding site, halfway up a hill of domes and overlooking Titcomb Lakes with the peaks close behind and above.

Once again, setting up camp was slow, for me at least. I was seeing some improvement in breathing, but we were at 10,500 feet and had been humping 5-6 hours/day for three days now – after a 1,200 mile drive – so not too bad for two old flatlanders (not too great either). Jeff took a nap and I wandered over and in between the domes in the afternoon sun. I set up a nice little kitchen area with rocks to block the wind with the idea that we’ll be in this same place for two nights. Photo: Jeff

The only people we saw since leaving Island Lake were the four noted earlier and a man wandering far away off the trail.

For dinner I had pasta with sour cream and chives and dried salmon and vegetables. The salmon stayed crunchy and required a lot of chewing. Jeff had pasta alfredo with tuna and of course we both had tortillas and cheese. After dinner we walked along the little ridge behind our campsite to a nice little hollow space with sunlight and no wind, then further along the hillside and then back to camp. It’s 6:45 and we’re in the tent – a pretty vigorous day. Light snow was swirling in the dark when I got up to pee.

We took the next day off. Walked to the end of the upper Titcomb Lake where Jeff talked with the leader of the National Outdoor Leadership School contingent that was camped above the lake. He told Jeff that about 10 people had backed of Knapsack Col (our planned route out). We climbed along the ridges, slept in the sun, let the day drift away … Photo: we passed this little lake ...

Going into places like this and Maroon Bells is a kind of vision quest – not necessarily to see a vision, but to improve vision. What I saw this time were the main things:
- Leslie and David
- My life – church, friends like Jeff, backpacking, working in la clinica, trying to practice mercy, being in places like this
These might (superficially) seem ordinary. One thing is sure though, when you go on a vision quest, you don’t get to specify the vision. This was good vision for me and I’m grateful.

I slept well that night. In the morning, heavy clouds around and over the peaks sealed our decision to walk back out the way we came instead of trying the col deeper in the mountains. We hiked out faster than we hiked in. Going out past Island Lake we saw the man and frantic woman we encountered the first day. She was fine now and they waved gaily and we gave them applause and thumbs up – she passed the test! We made it this day back to our first campsite and passed a nice evening, with a small campfire, very nice. The weather held good and were on the trail early the next morning. Photo: camp 3

The trail out had more uphill sections than we’d remembered. We were back at the trailhead around noon. We went to a pretty nice outfitter for Jeff to get a sleeping pad to replace his “maxi-pad” which had developed a leak. We then looked for a motel – discovering that because of the oil boom and impending winter, there were no vacancies in this or the only other nearby town. We needed a shower and to wash our clothes and to my great distress, broke off the trip. So we did not get to the Cirque of the Towers as planned and instead drove straight on through to Oklahoma to let Jeff off and I continued on home. I wrote to an internet friend that the issue was not that the trip ended early, but the wonder and beauty of what there was.

Ruminations on food:
- Dehydrated marinara, hamburger gravel, and pasta is my favorite; dehydrated chili a close second.
- Idahoan mashed potatoes (“Fully Loaded” or “Southwestern”) and shelf-stable bacon, tortillas and cheese makes a great meal.
- Oatmeal is okay for a few days, then it gets pretty old + it’s fairly heavy.
- The great dehydrated salmon experiment was less than a success (still chewing over here).
- I always take too much food and especially too much trail mix.
- I’m glad I had an extra spoon as I left my favorite spoon at home. I ate with a knife for a day until I found the extra spoon.

Finally: this is an Ultimate Place and God willing, I'll return for at least two weeks next year. I'm grateful to Swimswithtrout, Double cabin, and Dorf for their help and guidance; to Jeff, my trekking partner; and as always, to Leslie, my wife and life partner for her support and everything else.


Philip said...

awesome photos CK, keep 'em coming.

dorfworld said...

Glad I was able to help and that you had a good time in the Winds. Check out the Beartooth Plateau for your next adventure as well.


joyasia said...

This last pic is beautiful. I hope you have it on your wall at home. Scenery gorgeous and you looking mellow and happy.

joyasia said...

PS re the knife and is the little things in life sometimes that feel so good;-)

Boondoggle said...

Great TR and photos! Very thoughtful and substantive reflections.

The winds truly are one of the great places on the planet.