CDT Days 52-70: Wyoming

Encampment to Rawlins

On the morning of 6/30/22 rain pounded my tent. The rhythm of the precipitation lulled me into a sense of sleepiness. It wasn’t until 7:30 AM that we finally packed up and headed northward through Medicine Bow. Everything we touched was saturated from the night before, making for a wet walk. Intense thunderstorms littered the afternoon forecast, so I opted to hitch into Encampment, WY while Cleansweep headed on towards Rawlins. While in town I received some incredibly generous trail magic: one local secretly paid for my meal while another, who owns a motel in town, offered me a free room. I was so relieved to have shelter from the storm!

I hitched out of Encampment around 8 AM the next day. I didn’t see any other hikers as I made my way out of the mountains and into the southern steps of Wyoming’s Great Basin. It was 24 miles down to Sage Creek Road, which would take me directly to Rawlins in 32+ miles. I stealth camped along the highway.

The next morning I awoke at 3 AM and immediately hit my road walk. It was a boring slog, but the solitude of the open road in the morning paired with the beautiful sunrise made for a time of reflection. Closer to town I called family, before finally meeting back up with Cleansweep at the Econolodge. 28 miles in 9 hours – not bad!

Rawlins to South Pass City

We checked out of our hotel in Rawlins and began our walk into the basin around lunch time. The afternoon offered scattered thunderstorms. Things were relatively dry until around 7 PM, which is when vast columns of darkness and lightning began to sweep diagonally across the open landscape. At that moment we happened to cross a paved road and a van appeared. The driver offered us shelter and a few beers inside his mobile domicile – who could say no? The man’s name was George, and he was an accomplished mountaineer, hiker, and Wyoming native. We exchanged contact info and departed as the storm picked up. Cleansweep and I would literally run through the evening in hopes of getting ahead of the clouds, but to no avail: we’d spend the night on the basin floor, with lightning raging around is for hours on end, like ants under a magnifying glass.

Wet and exhausted from lack of sleep, we packed up the next morning and made our way briskly northward. I hiked 20 miles by lunch before noticing my cellphone had service. To my surprise, I had a text from George, the trail angel we had met the evening before: he was offering to pick us up at Crooks Gap Road and take us into Lander for the 4th of July! With that, we quickly packed up and hiked another 10 miles to our rendezvous. George not only showed us an incredible 4th of July Lander style (they do it big in WY), but he dispensed life wisdom and perspective on us as well.

I was a bit hungover the next morning but still ready to hike. George, Cleansweep, and I got breakfast then hit the trail. Despite hiking around 1:30 we still managed to put down over 20 miles before making camp.

We were up before the sun on the following day with hopes of making it to South Pass City by nightfall. The basin was beautiful in a way, but largely boring: we saw wild horses, elk, and pronghorn, but otherwise walked a long and dusty dirt road. By evening I had merely 1 liter of water for about 15 miles. Just as I hit the wall of fatigue, I saw Cleansweep talking with a car in the distance – it was none other than George! Our good man had taken the liberty of leaving us a few care packages at the visitor center at South Pass City as well as a handful of icy beers. My beer was soon empty, but my heart and spirits felt full. We walked the remaining 5 miles to cap off a 43+ mile day and made camp on the lawn of the visitor center.

South Pass City to Dubois

I slept-in on the morning of day 59. We organized our resupply and I even scored a can of free bear spray from the hiker box in town. Later in the morning we departed for the Wind River Range, but first we traversed the last hot dregs of the Basin. Around 24 miles in we make camp and I watch a bull moose walk through our camp.

The first full day in the Winds began with frustrating blowdowns, which reduced our speed to about 1 mile per hour. After that, however, things quickly improved. We took the Cirque of the Towers alternate through the section. Hiking was hard but rewarding: the region was strikingly similar to the Sierra Nevada of my home. I swam in Temple Lake, glissaded Jackass Pass, saw a porcupine, and relished in what was otherwise in my opinion a top-3 best section of the entire Triple Crown system.

Day 61 would be a bit quicker than the day before. Trail was flat as we skirted the eastern border of the Winds, but mosquitos were some of the worst I’ve ever seen. This made for quick walking despite numerous river crossings. It was another epic day in the mountains and we made camp in a high basin surrounded by snow run-off.

The mountains of WY are as challenging as anywhere else in the lower 48. We battled miles of snow and icy rivers the next morning while traversing near Cube Pass. Afternoon presented a steep descent through old growth lodgepole pine and into the Green River Valley. The river itself boasts sublime shades of green reminiscent of Havasupai and made for a pleasant (and thankfully, flat) walk. We battled hoardes of day hikers near Green River Lakes before ascending up and over Gunsight Pass before bed.

No more than 1 mile from camp the next morning we came across a fresh pile of bear scat. Not only was the mound huge, but the sheer size of the feces itself was enormous: without a doubt, we were officially in grizzly country. Throughout the day the trail transitioned from glaciated granite mountains into rolling hills with intermittent woods. The bugs and temperature kept us humble but somehow we managed to break 40 miles by nightfall.

The following morning was short; we walked about 5 miles to the road and hitched into Dubois, WY, where we would proceed to take a 0 day. This was my second 0 of the entire CDT (first was Grants, NM). That afternoon George from Lander visited us again, as he was running errands in Jackson and Dubois was on the way. The 3 of us enjoyed a few drinks, resupplied, and talked grizzlies into the evening. George even allowed us to borrow some chord and other bear-hang materials. What we did to deserve just altruistic generosity, I’ll never know.

Dubois to Idaho

On day 66 Cleansweep and I depared Dubois with another nobo named Denver. The 3 of us happened to have the exact same permits arranged with Yellowstone NP, and since we were beginning to get late in the game of the CDT, we decided to hike together. It was a mellow 17 miles out of Dubois and underneath thunder clouds. We’d spend the night at a sweet equine camp near a scenic stream.

Due to backcountry permit regulations in Yellowstone, we were unable to camp within the park boundary except for specific campsites on specific dates. This means our miles were entirely dictated by the permits we had in place. No matter – day 67 would still be a hair over 30 miles. We encountered several solid river crossings, at least 6 separate mule trains, and several elk. The 3 of us made camp on the edge of the park boundary and lightning shook the sky.

Our first campsite was a mere 14 miles away. We slept in, dried our gear, and cracked jokes that morning before entering the park. I hate to admit it, but the southern section of Yellowstone was pretty boring. It was just a lot of hot grassland and the occasional shallow river to cross. We got to Heart River campsite by early afternoon and spent the rest of the day sweating in our tents and splashing in the water.

Luckily, the following day’s permit had us waking a more appropriate number: 32 miles. Within a few miles we skirted the banks of Heart Lake and walked into our first geothermal zone, which was a real delight to experience. Afterall, I’d been to Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park on the PCT, but that was baby-stuff compared to Yellowstone. Trail was otherwise flat. Highlights included Shoshone Lake, a bog section, and more geothermal sections that made me feel like I was in Northern Europe. Around 6:30 we made camp at Upper Firehole Creek camp and hid inside our tents from mosquitos.

Day 70 was a big one: after years of dreaming and months of hard work, I finally arrived at Old Faithful Village. Moreover, I’ve worked with and in National parks for years now, so to experience perhaps the most iconic feature in the entire NPS system was a real treat. I enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the historic Old Faithful Inn (nothing on Timberline Lodge though) and sat in the front row of Old Faithful herself. We resupplied, then battled legions of tourists along the boardwalk. Numerous geysers were active that morning. Later, we came across a guide van from REI Adventures – my former employer. We came across a group that was being guided from none other than Jason aka Steel Cranium, a former colleague who Cleansweep and I had met on the AZT in 2017. The 3 of us laughed and swapped stories before heading our separate ways. Cleansweep and I, some hours later, enjoyed a few adult beverages at the Idaho border. We still had many miles to hike, but at last it felt safe enough to begin considering that our hike was coming to a close.

Here’s the deal plain and simple: Wyoming took whatever expectations I had, crumpled them, lit them on fire, then batted them into the stratosphere with all the explosiveness of an in-his-prime Barry Bonds. I seriously cannot fathom how more thru hikers do not hype up the Wind River Range or why so many disparage the Great Basin. The people of Wyoming are heartwarming and authentic, and frankly, make me want to be a better neighbor myself. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this special region.

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