Historic South Pass City, generally marks the end of the Great Basin Divide Section. Although it really lies in a canyon in the Foothills of the Wind River Mountains, the South Pass area is still arid, rolling land dominated by Sagebrush and Antelope. A day’s walk north continues through this bleak landscape, but the Wind River mountains, once on the distant horizon now draw closer and loom, physically and psychologically, over everything. Entering the Bridger Wilderness at its southern border, we are still walking through sage and cows, but one long pull up and over a no-name pass on the Continental Devide and we drop down into the mecca of lakes and granite known as the “Wind Rivers”. The Little Sandy Creek Valley and Lake are there to greet us.
The transition to a landscape shaped by water, both frozen glaciers as well as deep snow and its prodigious run off is remarkable. The lake sparkles in the sun. The forested valley is cool and the air is still. As we walk up the valley, the walls of granite are as closed in as the sagebrush plains had been wide open. This is a land marked by its verticle nature with towering peaks, spires, cliffs and early sunsets.
The next morning we start up Temple Pass as clouds roll in and are confronted with rain, then sleet, then hail and snow pellets, eventually rising right into the clouds themselves as we cross over the pass. No time to stop at the top, as the windchill has left our feet very chilled. The Wind Rivers are throwing everything they have at us, as if to tell us that to enter this Temple penance must be paid up front. The price of admission seems worht it as we drop into the next valley where tall mountains surround Big Sandy Lake and the scenery grows ever more stunning. A brief repreive of warmer weather that afternoon would be our last for several days.
The CDT meets up with and follows the “Fremont” trail northwest passing the tall jagged peaks and spires to the east which mark the actual Continental Divide. For three days we walk along this rolling plateau dotted with many small, medium and large lakes and with ever increasing ridges that divide and seperate the lakes. For three days we have storm clouds swirling tossing rain, hail, sleet and snow pellets at us. And cold. How cold? So cold that the Carrot’s saline solution for her contact lenses freezes; olive oil buried inside the pack comes out congealed; socks strapped to teh back of the pack at mid day to dry out end up frozen stiff as cardboard. Needless to say, the water bottles were mostly solid each morning. One night we wake several times to “punch” snow off the tarp tent, so it doesn’t sag too badly. But the return matches the challenge as this is some of the most dramatic and stunning scenery of the entire trail. When some sunlight sneaks through to spotlight mountain peaks which are otherwise hidden in a whirlwind of clouds, the effect takes your breath away.
Finally, the storms break and we have 3 sunny days to end the section. Still cold, but at least sunny. This is the ying/yang of the CDT. With 8 days in the Wind River Mountains we figured we would have some sunny and some storming.
Our last day of the section, and out last day of the final “big leg”, was epic in many ways: we had ”trail” that was supposed to be a cross country bushwhack (and it was); we had trail that was supposed to be easy to follow where we were still trailess and whacking away at willows, sage and marshes; we had “bonus miles” where the good trail tread went where the route was not intended and we had to back track; we had the threat of rain; we had cows; we had “map inconsistencies”. But we also had some stunning mountain vistas near the end, with flat top mountains, tall cliffs and the rocky “fins” that they create, we had pastoral valleys, mixed meadows and trees and we ended with a walk along an old closed jeep road. It was a microcosm of the entire trail.
We also pushed hard to make it to the highway in time to hitch into town before dark. With all the above challenges, we still made it to the road before sun down, but just barely, covering almost 28 miles in the process. Only to find that the roadway was under construction, with all traffic stalled. We waited 20 minutes and waived down a “pilot car” who was leading the way for a dozen cars. He let us get into the back of his pick up and took us another 5 miles to the end of the construction zone, where all the cars behind him zoomed past while we were getting our gear out. Now dark, with another wave of cars quite some time off, we were pondering our situation when we noticed one pickup had stopped so it’s owner could let her dog do it’s “business”. We chatted with her and in a stroke of great fortune she gave us a ride all the way into town (another 30 miles) even though it was well out of her way. We arrived in Dubois, only ten minutes before ther last restaurant in town closed (at 9pm) so while the Carrot checked us into a hotel room, I nabbed a booth and 2 menus and we managed to get dinner and then back to the room for showers. The CDT continued to challange us to keep trying even as all seemed to be almost beyond reach……but, from here we can go anywhere….
Now we are going to Glacier National Park to finish up the final few miles (about 20-30) between Many Glacier and the Canadian Border. The we will be done, with the CDT, and going home. And from there we will go, some where. Anywhere.