Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wind Rivers 2009 - North

(For travel in Asia, go to 11/2008-1/2009 & see link below right. For backpacking, see links at right: Wind Rivers 9-20-09, Grand Canyon 4-7-09, Winds 9-12-08, Maroon Bells 7-21-08, Bandelier 5-23-08, Big Bend 3-12-08)

Friday, 8/21 (More Wind Rivers photos here)
I left the clinic at 11:15, had lunch with Leslie at Whole Foods, home, packed car, and on the road about 1:15. Driving along, having all these sad feelings and after Wichita Falls, feelings of dread. I was out of cell range, but near Clarendon checked phone and was able to call home. What an enormous relief to talk with Leslie. Photo: clouds and rain in the trees

With a happier heart I drove on through Amarillo with Texas seeming endless. I stopped near Clayton New Mexico and slept fitfully for a couple of hours. I was dreaming something about Rabbit in the Moon and then heard this big noise and awoke as a train rumbled by. Back on the road ~3am and drove to Walsenburg and pulled off again at 5 to sleep soundly until 7 and drove on into Denver. Photo: chipmunk

Saturday, 8/22
I stopped at the big Denver REI in an upscale “old town” sort of area where waiting at Starbucks for REI to open I was surrounded by outdoor-type people – fit and tanned with bike and climbing stuff all around. I heard at a conference a month or so ago that Colorado has the highest level of health in the US. I was inspired to (plan on) ramping it up when I get home. I bought an ice axe and drove on to Fort Collins – one of the places of my dreams – a place where people look like me vs. Dallas, where I always feel a little like a minority. I went to a food fest where there were easily more than a hundred artisan food producers (chocolates, breads, salsas, soups, etc., etc.), musicians, and other entertainment. It was the best sampling ever. Got a decent room at Motel 6, thanks to Leslie’s Trip Advisor search. Pored over maps, read, watched CNN and Cops, went to sleep early, and slept well. I had planned on getting up at 4:30 so I could be on the trail around 1pm, but fortunately came to my senses and slept until 7:15. Photo: camp site 1 in trees to left of pond

Sunday, 8/23
Had a leisurely drive into Wyoming, through Laramie, across the high desert, and finally the mountains coming into view. Big! Got into Pinedale around 3pm, glad that I hadn’t pushed it to get on the trail today. The sky was heavy with steel grey clouds and by the time I got to then trailhead, rain … and here I sit, in my Campry, dry and warm as can be. Slept fitfully, dreaming of Judo climbing a wall and going after something and someone asked, “How does he do that?” I answered, “That’s just what he does.” What a great dog. It rained all night and I was cozy and semi-comfortable. Photo right: junction Seneca Lake & Highline Trails - classic Winds topography

Monday, 8/24 (day 1 on the trail)
Woke early and slowly got my stuff together in the misty morning. Basically I had a sense of dread about the whole thing – and anger at my friend for leaving me hanging and then alone on this trip. Yesterday, talking with Leslie I committed to being cautious and not going forward regardless of risk (is not going forward really an option?). Photo: hawk catching fish from Freemont Creek

Today was hard – as 1st days always are, because, of course, it’s all uphill, even if not steep – and I just drove here from Dallas @ 500 feet above sea level and now I’m at 10,000 feet and I’m 5 days from having 65 years and I’m carrying 12 days of food and it’s raining all day, with a little sleet now and then, and I’ve been nauseated most of the day and forcing myself to drink, grumble, mumble, groan, blah blah blah. By the time I got to my goal campsite up the hill from a tiny pond past Eklund Lake it had stopped raining. It took more than an hour to get the tent up and filter water. I felt really bad. Many mosquitoes. I lay on a piece of blue tarp outside the tent for about 30 minutes and finally felt some better. It’s 6:10pm and I still have no desire to eat. I think I’ll force the granola bar I didn’t have for lunch. And at last I’m completely set up and cozy in the tent. Photo right: camp at Lower Jean Lake; Left: Lower Jean Lake

People I met today: 77 year old man from Wyoming who passed me by – sheesh – and a serious talker; man from San Diego; medical student from Seattle; group of 4 men from Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, 8/25 (2)
Slept okay. Got up a few times and the stars were out, but many trees so the stars partially obscured. In the morning it took forever to fix breakfast (splurged on dehydrated eggs, cheese, and tortillas – too much food) and break camp. The tent was really wet and though I shook and shook, packed up wet. On the trail about 8:30, grateful that I got the Spot tracker to check in with Leslie and call for help in emergency. Photo right: Lower Jean Lake in the morning

The trail still mostly up – trudge trudge trudge, past Hobbs Lake, past Seneca Lake, Little Seneca, unnamed tarns, up switchbacks and I’m sucking air and not getting all I need. Basically wasted. Finally over the last little saddle at 10,600 feet and I’m where I want to be: alpine country, above the treeline, glacier-scoured granite domes, tarns, creeks. The Highline Trail cuts off to the northwest and I walk about ½ mile on the Highline and go off trail for a little way to find a good campsite next to a boulder about 10’ high and 20’ long and between several tarns with a few twisted alpine pine trees. I set up the tent and lay the rain fly over a rock to dry. I’m tired, but not sick like yesterday – just lounging around on a rock, enjoying the place, the breeze. The mosquitoes are still swarming – flying to within about ¼ inch before repelled by the DEET. Photo: Elbow Lake in the distance

After I filtered water I came back to the campsite and kind of went through the motions of cooking. Despite no enthusiasm, I ended up with a tasty dinner of pasta with chipotle cream sauce (Wagner’s, from Central Market), cheese and tortillas. After dinner I walked up the hill a ways and enjoyed the view. Back at camp I fixed a cup of orange tea, which wasn’t very good. The DEET started wearing off and so here I am, in my cozy little home away from home. Photo: icy tarn along the trail

People: the only people I talked with today were a father and son from Duluth. They have exactly the same plan as mine – Peak Lake, maybe Mammoth Glacier, Knapsack Col. I took their photo, thinking about what a treasure a photo like that is. The man told me about two people who were caught by weather at Knapsack Col and had to be rescued by helicopter.

I’m sticking with my original plan to camp as high as I can above Peak Lake and if the weather is good, make a dash (haha) over the col. If weather is bad, maybe head to Mammoth Glacier and try the col the next day. Photo left: Peak Lake

Wednesday 8/26 (3)
Everything remains just this HUGE effort. I’ve made it to the lower end of Lower Jean Lake and though that’s only a few miles from where I started, I’m still happy – happy to be here by this lake, in the raw alpine. There’s a snowfield ~100 meters from the tent and the lake less than 100 meters the other direction. One of the factors that decided me to take this route is the presence of Upper and Lower Jean Lakes. That was my mother-in-law’s name: Jean. She was a good person, a good m-i-l, and a great mother. Her last several years were unhappy and her mind slipping away, but those aren’t the years that mattered. They are the years that cloud memories of her, but what really matters is the other 60+ years. Anyway, I’m dedicating this trek to Jean Shirley. Photo: camp at Peak Lake

I always think of the Corps when I’m on these hikes – especially the 20-30 mile forced marches in landing force training with full gear (flak jacket, helmet, food, water, weapons, etc .– for me, a 23.5 pound machinegun). And I always think about Gunny Evans, a superman, a bad man, a good man, an ultimate Marine, a warrior. He had super strength, abnormally long arms, and he could see in the dark. We made a landing up near the DMZ where we were in about 5 days of off and on true battles (vs, firefights). At one point me and Charlie Parker were getting it on with some automatic weapons at the right flank point when like some kind of hallucination Gunny Evans comes charging toward us from the front carrying a wounded Marine. How he got there I have no idea, but there he was, Gunnery Sergeant Ernest Evans, USMC. Photo: from tent, Stroud Peak

People I met today: man from Wisconsin, a prodigious hiker; man from Utah, another strong one. Animals: eagle catching a fish out of Freemont Creek, marmot, chipmunks, squirrels, mosquitoes. Photo: a great dinner

I just realized that on this trek my legs hurt less than on previous ones. Later I awoke with my legs hurting enough to take an ibuprofen.

Thursday, 8/27 (4)
A good day – hiked from Lower Jean Lake past Upper Jean, past the trail to Elbow Lake, on to Shannon Pass Trail, over the pass, up to Cube Rock Pass, and off-trail to Peak Lake where I discover that the reports of a rock slide over the trail on the north side of the lake are true. It looked unstable and like a slide into the icy water was possible. So tomorrow I’ll head around to the south into a most amazing boulder field.
My campsite is on the south of Peak Lake in a tiny space among boulders and directly below Stroud Peak. Dinner tonight was great: mashed potatoes, bacon, cheese, and three cheese toast. Excellent!

Leslie, you’ve been deep in me this trip. I think about this and that hiking along and resting, but the steady stream is you. Even in this grandeur I miss you – sometimes thinking of being in Hong Kong with you (of all places). What a time we’ve had. Traveling, working together, David, still working together! And of course the whole thing of being married to you – in love for so many years.

People: saw the father and son again – they decided not to try Peak Lake Basin; man from Boulder – just getting back to backpacking and this hike the big one for him. Later I thought I should have asked him if he’s on BP forum. After passing trail to Elbow Lake I saw a three people off in the distance and that’s all. Photo: THE boulder field

Friday, 8/28 (5)
This has been a tough day. The trail around the north of Peak Lake is covered for about 50-70 feet from a fresh rock/earth slide, which is likely to be unstable, so rather than risk a slide into the icy lake, I went through the boulders south of the lake. It’s a huge maze of piled up rocks ranging in size from cottage on down (some shifting, even a few big ones). Quite a challenge, with my backpack creating balance and space issues. At one point I was resting and smelled a chemical. Uh-oh, denatured alcohol, my cooking fuel leaking from the newly cracked Nalgene bottle. I chugged my small water bottle and poured what alky was left into that. Hmmm. Think I’ll start carrying 2 small Gatorade bottles of alky. There were a few patches of dirt up high in the boulder field and I made my way that way, only to find that the dirt was completely unstable and I was better off in the rocks. Probably also should have stayed lower in the field as well.

Finally I got through the rocks and into a pretty meadow with scattered boulders and rock alongside a rushing mountain stream and on up into the basin to a waterfall with a milky blue/white pond (color from glacier ground rock) and a sheltered campsite above. It was ~2pm – good enough!

Clouds were gathering and I got the tent up faster than usual. Then the clouds blew on by and I’m resting in the shade on a rock platform with the waterfall cascading down a few feet from my feet and between the rock I’m sitting on and the rock I’m leaning against is a smaller rivulet running into the main fall. Quite a day.

I’m guessing I’m at about 11,000 feet with Sulphur Peak above me and the back sides of Bow Mountain and Mount Arrowhead on the south. Across the basin are Mount Whitecap, G-4, Split Mountain, and then Twin Peaks on the north side of Knapsack Col and Winnifred Peak on the south side. I had thought I might go up between Split Mountain and G-4 to Mammoth Glacier. LOL! I don’t think so! It’s doable, but I want to get over the col while the getting is good.

Doing this solo really changes my mindset. What would be a challenge with a companion seems a major challenge alone. There is also a lack of mutual motivation. Instead of hiking all over the place at the end of the day, I’m staying close to camp. Basically, I’m in a risk reduction mode all the time. Photo: alpine flowers, late season color

I can see four waterfalls from my campsite and there was a nice little water slide on the way up to here – all are glacier run-off. I’m thinking that not that many people have been in this place and seen what I’m seeing.
I like my little tent. It’s an REI ¼ dome UL 2 person tent. I could have saved a pound by getting a one person tent, but I sure like the extra room. I’ve slept in some pretty bad places in my day: pool halls, troop ship, cars, Garden Guest House in Rangoon, rice padi, VN cave with rats – the first 7 months in VN I slept on the ground, usually without air mattress (we called them rubber ladies).
It’s raining, windy, colder, and I’m worried about tomorrow. If the weather is too bad to try the col, it’s not like I can easily go back through the boulder field if it’s iced or wet. Hmmm. People today: none.

Saturday 8/29 (6)
I got an early start, dehydrated eggs ham & cheese for breakfast, and hiking a little after 8am. Contoured an easy start and then up, up, ever up. There was no trail except from time to time I’d come across a faint one, then lose it in the rocks and snow. I stayed to the right and it got steeper, with a few stretches of clambering. I took my gloves off for a better grip on the rocks, which felt good since when I’m at the clinic I wash my hands 30 or 40 times a day. The steep, unstable scree was most challenging for me. Getting close to the top I used the ice axe on a steep snow field – chunk, kick, chunk, kick, chunk, kick … I was really working and had to rest more than I’d like (even more than usual!) – especially considering the lowering clouds. Finally, Knapsack Col at >12,000 feet. Photo: Peak Lake Basin, Stroud Glacier in distance

Now the descent. There was a kind of rounded cornice at the top, so I went around to the north on a talus slope, then to the snow-covered glacier for a long, beautiful glissade. Made an arrest, then down again, then on my butt (but who was there to see?) – snow in my pants via the tear in the seat gotten from an ignominious fall in the rocks above. Altogether a long and fun slide. Then the long trudge through scree, water, and so on. I fell again somewhere along the way, from fatigue and loss of focus. Man, am I happy.

At the very head of the Titcomb Basin, I found what I guess is a climber’s camp – who else would be there long enough to build a 1-2 foot wall/windbreak on 2 sides of the site right beneath the big walls of either Forked Tongue or Mt. Helen? Looks like home to me!

I don’t want to overstate things, but this was a crux day for me – the most challenging day of the trek. I’m really glad to be here. Photo: challenge to cross this snow field

As always, thinking about Leslie. Having been to the moon today, Standing on the Moon comes to mind. Standing on the moon
With nothing left to do
A lovely view of heaven
But I’d rather be with you
Somewhere in San Francisco
On a back porch in July
Just looking up at heaven
At this crescent in the sky.

These backpacking trips are, in part, vision quests and you’d think I’d get the picture/vision – because it’s always the same. Like in the Dedication to my terminal illness book: I lay dreaming and there was a band setting up to play, tuning, and then in a beautiful clear voice a woman sang, “Who knows where the time goes” and in that moment I awoke and said aloud, “To Leslie.” People today: none. Photo at left: looking waaay back down Peak Lake Basin

Sunday, 8/30 (7)
Slept in to 7:30 or so. Sleet on the ground. Leisurely breakfast, leisurely packing, and head on down the Titcomb Basin, past the lakes. At the 2nd lake I encountered the first person I’d seen in several days. The hiking was easy, mostly level and downhill alongside the Titcomb Lakes and then around the south side of Island Lake, my planned stop. I found a nice, sheltered place to camp with Titcomb off in the distance. Happy 65th, CK. Photo right: Twins Glacier; left: looking down the glacier into Titcomb

A storm was developing out to the west and here it comes: big wind, lightening, thunder, rain sprinkling, splattering, now sleet, hail, BIG wind. Glad I’m a little sheltered. Much cooler now, rain steady and lightening and thunder passing. Rain slacking, wind rising. Hongry.

Storm on past and I jumped out to fix dinner – chili with pasta, cheese, and the whole $.99 bag of Doritos (at home I stuck a pinhole in the bag and squeezed the air out and smashed the chips some to end up with a small bag). Mmmm, Doritos. My appetite is returning – the last few bites not a chore.

People: young man from Oregon filtering water, down from mountaineering with his uncle – “on the front (crampon) points. Awesome.” Yeah, awesome all right. A man back from 20 years in France. And at Island Lake, probably 15-20 people. Photo right: happy man in Titcomb Basin

Monday, 8/31 (8)
Hike today took me from Island Lake, where the trees begin again, through sub alpine meadows and basins, and on into the forest and through the meadows. Even though the trend is downhill, I still hiked tired. Some would be “trail hardened;” I’m trail worn. I got a little past my objective and am camped in a meadow at the junction of trails to Sweeney Lakes and Pole Creek. I started out in the woods, but couldn’t hack it in there and moved to the edge of the meadow next to a big patch of salvia. Dinner was alfredo, pasta, basil, pepper, Italian toast. Yeah! Photo left: Island Lake

Tuesday, 9/1 (9)
I’m tired. Thinking that you don’t know your limits until you find them.
There’s much more wildlife in this lower area. In the evening yesterday birds singing and screeching and this morning a cacophony of birds. Carnivore scat on the trail. Got to trailhead about 1pm. Sitting on a planter in front of the general store in Pinedale, talking with Leslie (she was in Central Market) – happy day, talking with my wife.

Had a fantastic cheeseburger & fries at Wind River Brewing Company. Got a room for two nights at the Sundance Motel, an unremarkable, but fairly cheap place. Showered. Showered. Ate. Sorted gear. Watched TV. Washed clothes. The next two nights I stayed at the Signal Mountain campsites in the Grand Tetons. Some people had travel trailers, campers, RVs, and some had tents. I was thinking, these are my people – my tribe. Quiet, friendly, respectful, families, couples, retired people – no urine on the toilet seat – just your basic nice WASP scene. I’m enjoying it. Last night man at next camp site brought over some cornbread and honey. We hung out, talking – somewhere in middle America. Photo: taken from my last camp site

(More Wind Rivers photos here)

Wind Rivers 2009 - Cirque of the Towers

(For travel in Asia, go to 11/2008-1/2009 & see link below right. For backpacking, see links at right: Wind Rivers 9-20-09, Grand Canyon 4-7-09, Winds 9-12-08, Maroon Bells 7-21-08, Bandelier 5-23-08, Big Bend 3-12-08)

Saturday, 9/5 (1) - more Cirque of the Towers photos here

Headed to Jackson to pick up Mike H, my trekking partner for the Cirque of the Towers in the southern Winds. I was early to the airport and got some completely wrong information from the woman at the Frontier Airlines. Thanks a lot. Picked up Mike, drove to Pinedale, sorted food, stopped by outfitter, and headed to Big Sandy. It’s a long drive through Wyoming high desert over a steadily worsening road and finally into aspen and then pine forests where the road was pretty bad, at least for a Camry. Saw several herds of pronghorns, some up very close, and actually had to slow for two bucks in the road. Photo above: Along Big Sandy Trail; below: badger

We were finally on the trail about 3pm. It was a lovely slightly uphill walk along the Big Sandy River. Uneventful except for seeing a badger. We made it to the junction of the V Lake trail, about 3 miles. Found a nice camp site in the woods next to a huge low granite dome.

Sunday, 9/6 (2)

Back on the pretty forest trail until we got to Big Sandy Lake about 11am. Then the fun started with switchbacks up, up, up and after a lovely park-like section of trail, the trail pretty much quit being a trail and we ascended through well-cairned steep rocky shelves, gaps, boulders with first Sundance Pinnacle, then the mighty Warbonnet Peak looming over us. Around 3pm we’d made about 3.5 hard miles and huge clouds were blowing in, so we found a decent camp site right under Warbonnet. We had a good 15-20 minute rain just as we got our tents up. Photo: Mike on the "surprisingly awkward" trail to Jackass Pass

Monday, 9/7 (3)

The trudging scramble upward continued. On this, as on previous days we met some nice people. I’d say I’d like to know at least 90% of these people. Most were young (younger overall than I met in the northern Winds), all strong, ready to hear about our trek and ready to tell about theirs. The women reminded me of when my mother realized Leslie and I were going to marry. “None of her friends,” my mother said disapprovingly, “wear makeup.” Everyone we saw – women, men, dogs – looking good. Trudge, trudge, pant, pant. We’re at about 10,500 feet – a 10,000 foot gain in 24 hours for Mike, gasp, pant and finally the last descent to Arrowhead Lake and then the long ascent to – at last Jackass Pass. Being as how donkeys, etc. can’t get to the pass, I wonder which jackasses they named it after. I gave a raspy, sorry yodel, unappreciated by my partner, and then we were over the pass, over the Continental Divide and down into the awesome Cirque of the Towers – from Pingora Peak to Warrior 1, the most amazing array of big walls in the Rockies and we are here! Photo above: Jackass Pass; right: The Cirque of the Towers

We headed down the trail, then west toward Hidden Lake, through (what else?) more boulders. It’s important to understand when I say boulder field, I’m not talking about a field with some boulders, but great jumbles of boulders of all sizes – but not as taxing as the Peak Lake boulders. We got through these, stopped to filter water, headed up a small ridge pretty far above Lonesome Lake, and stopped for the night at about 10,400 feet (just inside tree line). Warrior 1, Warrior 2, and Pylon Peak are close above us, but we still haven’t gotten to Hidden Lake.

I feel good about our progress. One full day of hiking plus two half days have gotten us well into the Cirque – not bad for a combined total of 126 years of age! I can see myself returning, making a wider loop, Jackass into the Cirque, Lizard Head Trail north out of the Cirque, Bears Ear, Washakie, and south, past Marm’s & Dad’s Lakes or over Texas Pass for a smaller loop. On the other hand, the northern Winds are higher and I love the alpine … Photo: Warbonnet, Warriors

Tuesday, 9/8 (4)

Today was a rest day. We got a late start and hiked for less than 2 hours, mostly downhill (through a few boulders, of course), to a dell in a grove of old pine trees above Lizard Head Meadows at about 10,200 feet. Leisurely set-up, hung out talking for an hour or so, wandered down to Lonesome Lake where we watched 12” trout swimming in the shallows. Mike caught 3 cuttthroats and threw them back in. He taught me some about fishing, but I caught none. Photo: trout in the shallows

Found myself thinking about the Drop Inn on Sukhumvit Soi 20, coffee on the patio, the pad see eu place around the corner, hanging out in the aircon … Got back to the camp site about 4, fixed Thai noodles with lemon grass, chilis, and chicken. Ate in a sunny place on the side of a hill. Ahhh, the wilderness ain’t all harsh.

Yesterday a girl told us about seeing a moose cow and calf in the meadow, and we found fresh tracks close to our camp site, so we have high hopes for that. Now that Labor Day has passed, this prime Wind Rivers area is almost deserted. A couple hiked past us earlier today and we saw three men across the lake while we were fishing and that’s all. Photo: Pingora

Wednesday, 9/9 (5)

We headed back up to Jackass Pass. As we walked (up, of course) we looked back and saw three moose (bull and 2 cows) standing in a marshy area of the lake. Getting up to the pass from this side is much easier than from the other side. We were resting at the top when who should appear but the man from France who I’d met at Island Lake a week ago. Had a nice time talking, then down, down, down, up, up, up, so on and so forth, clambering down the rocky areas. Dedicating this hike to the cairn makers – Thank You! Pretty tired by the time we got to a camp site at the bottom of the switchbacks. Set up tents, filtered water, dinner. I walked a way up the hill to pee and out of nowhere some people appeared. What? Oh, I forgot that there were switchbacks, so I’d walked almost to the trail. Oops. Photo: morning in the Cirque

Saw an eagle soaring across the lake toward us. Photo: Mitchell Peak

Thursday, 9/10 (6)

I got up early with a song in my mind. Sat on a granite dome and wrote:

In the early morning sun,
Wishing you were here with me
Knowing we’re together soon
Knowing that’s forever more

I’ve loved you for these many years
I’ll love you many more
We’ll be together now
And forever more

Sun coming up (now) over foothills
Like it’s come up these past days
Over mountains stark and grey
How can I be here
In this place so high and wild

All these years passing by
Not like a dream, not like a mist
Like treasures one by one
Passing through my life enriched

Working hard to make it so
Lucky that it’s turned out like this.

When I finished writing I cried, for the beauty, for life. My life.

The hike out along Big Sandy River was beautiful: the river, meadows, forests, dells, mountains, and sky. And finally the trailhead and now we’re on a cheeseburger and fries mission. The Wind Rivers Brewery did not disappoint. Back to the Sundance for a shower, another shower, and sleep in a big bed. Then on the road to Dallas, through huge storms in Kansas, rain in Oklahoma, and home.

More Cirque of the Towers photos here