Yellowstone National Park to Pinedale
Getting murdered would have spoiled the rest of my day. Luckily, after hiking about two miles into Yellowstone National Park, I made it safely to Wyoming. To reach the campsite I’d reserved on the south shore of Shoshone Lake, I needed to complete my first 30-mile day on the CDT. Fortunately, it was a well-maintained, relatively flat section of trail.
Apart from a group of four at Summit Lake, I didn’t see anyone until I reached Biscuit Basin. I weaved my way through the crowds, crossed the road, and headed for Old Faithful. By the time I arrived, the parking lots were full and the roads were busy. It was lunchtime, and the first café I tried was overflowing with people. So was the next. I wanted some real food, but wasn’t sure I could afford the time. Instead, I bought several snacks, and sat in the shade to eat them.
About an hour south of Old Faithful, I detoured a quarter mile from the CDT to visit Lone Star Geyser. Recent logbook entries noted an eruption every three hours, and I only had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. The geyser erupted noisily for about 20 minutes, then all was quiet. I hastily returned to the CDT for my last seven miles of the day, unaware that I would soon walk into a mosquito-infested hell.
I’ll admit, it was a mistake not to bring insect repellant. Reaching the far side of Shoshone Geyser Basin, I started to understand just how much of a mistake. As I crossed a mile of swamp to get to my campsite at Basin Beach, the mosquitoes descended. There were clouds of them, which isn’t unusual for late July, but I was surprised by their behavior. It was like a feeding frenzy. They seemed more agitated or aggressive than swarms I’ve encountered anywhere else. Even mosquitoes in Alaska weren’t this bad. I swatted and flapped desperately, without breaking stride, but accumulated plenty of bites by the time I reached my campsite.
I was also bitten repeatedly by the time I was safely inside my tent, and it took forever to deal with the approximately 50 mosquitoes in there with me. They were extremely light-sensitive. When the beam from my flashlight hit them, they instantly took flight, so tracking them down took longer than usual. That night, I cooked and ate in my tent, Grizzlies be damned. I also watched a small spider climb up the inside of my rain fly to go hunting. In less than 20 minutes, it successfully caught a mosquito that was almost the same size as itself. That’s the first time I’ve ever cheered for Team Spider.
The mosquitoes might have sensed that their time was short and decided to go out with a bang. Maybe that explains their unusually bitey behavior around Shoshone Lake. Their activity peaked the next day, and quickly died down in the days afterwards.
Creeks and Rivers
My second night in Yellowstone, I camped at Surprise Creek, also known as site 8J3. It’s a lumpy meadow covered in thigh-high grass that was very wet in the morning. If you have the option to camp elsewhere, you should probably take it. Unless, that is, you happen to be a big fan of animal tracks. In which case, enjoy the large bear prints in the dried mud.
After Surprise Creek, I hiked along the Heart River for a few miles, and the Snake River for a further 10 miles. The CDT crosses the Snake twice within Yellowstone National Park, and it was hard to believe this was the same fearsome river that carved Hell’s Canyon. Almost 10 miles beyond the park’s southern boundary, I camped near the southern end of Two Ocean Plateau. From the edge of the plateau, there’s a good view of the Grand Tetons, about 35 miles away.
The Parting of the Waters was on my to-do list for a long time. I never got around to visiting because it was difficult to justify a 30-mile hike (round trip) just to look at a creek. Descending Two Ocean Plateau, the CDT crosses North Two Ocean Creek at the point where it splits in two. It added a little novelty to my morning, and it was nice to finally cross it off my list.
Hitching to Dubois was about as easy as it gets: a car stopped after 10 minutes. When I got in, the driver, Mark, seemed anxious. He explained that Grizzlies were common in the valley, and that sooner or later, I would surely run into one. He was genuinely relieved that I hadn’t already been eaten. I tried to reassure him that Grizzlies don’t routinely snack on hikers, but he was not to be convinced.
One of the first people I met in town was a NOBO, Daddy Warbucks. He was on his way to the Rustic Pine Tavern, so I accompanied him and chatted over a couple of beers until it was time for me to check in. After I’d completed my chores, I met him and three other NOBOs at the Cowboy Café. It was the biggest NOBO bubble I encountered on the CDT.
Rumors about hitching being illegal in Dubois were exaggerated. Most hikers hitched from outside the Family Dollar, and I was still walking there when a pickup truck pulled over. The driver, Danny, and his wife, Connie, offered me a ride. During our subsequent conversation, they mentioned that a friend of theirs had been attacked by a Grizzly bear while hunting. Perhaps, after all, there was good reason for residents of Dubois to be a little nervous on behalf of hikers.
Into the Winds
Almost two days after I left Dubois, the mountaintops of the Wind River Range started to appear in the distance. Approaching from the north, the terrain gradually rises to meet the mountains, and the peaks themselves aren’t particularly prominent. Their lower slopes were hidden behind a ridgeline about five miles away, but I could see patches of snow on the bare, rocky summits.
The rain started early the next morning, and although I didn’t know it at the time, the bad weather would last three days. After almost two hours of uphill, I reached Gunsight Pass, and enjoyed my first proper views of the Winds. As the showers came and went, I descended to the Green River, turned left, crossed a wide valley, and headed up-river. The valley narrowed, the cloud layer descended, and the rain started again. Nearby, the summit of Squaretop Mountain disappeared in swirling mist.
If the weather’s good, I recommend taking the Knapsack Col alternate. (Near the top, the col is rough and potentially challenging, but Titcomb Basin makes the effort worthwhile.) I chose to stay on the redline. At Summit Lake, there’s a shortcut to Elkhart Park Trailhead using a trail that parallels Pine Creek. Again, I chose the redline. Last time I was there, the scenery was obscured in a snowstorm. This time, I was eager to see what I’d missed. The CDT was almost as impressive as the Knapsack Col route, and the low cloud made everything feel slightly mysterious.
Escaping the rain
It’s a busy area, and there were several small groups of backpackers on trail that afternoon. I finished my day at Little Seneca Lake and tried to make camp before the next rain shower arrived. I wasn’t quick enough, so mopping my tent floor with a pair of socks was my first task of the evening.
That was the only night on the CDT my bear canister was disturbed. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that I was using an established campsite in a popular area. It also rained for most of the night, but stopped just long enough for me to break camp. The next shower arrived, grew steadily heavier for about three hours, and because the trail was slightly downhill, I struggled to keep warm. Wet jacket and gloves, wet shorts, wet shoes and socks. Soaking-wet everything.
Near the Elkhart Park Trailhead, several passersby in full rain gear commented about the fact I was wearing shorts. I typically responded with a casual, “Well, my skin’s waterproof.” I had rain pants in my pack, but didn’t need them because my legs and feet were warm enough.
The reason I felt so cold was that I only wore a t-shirt under my rain jacket. Although I was carrying a down jacket, I wanted to make absolutely sure it stayed dry for later, if necessary. What I really needed was another base layer, and I decided to buy one when I arrived in Pinedale. I was already planning to replace my boots at the Great Outdoor Shop, and I figured they probably sold Smartwool clothing or Under Armour ColdGear.
By the time I reached the trailhead, my fingers were numb and my hands were painfully cold, their muscles weak and slow. Uncoordinated appendages without any remaining dexterity.
And I needed to use the toilet.
The first part of the proceedings wasn’t a problem. It was the technical/hands-on aspect of things that was tricky and time consuming.
So, next time you look at thru-hiking photos on Instagram, with their gorgeous landscapes and sunset yoga poses, remember that things are less glamorous behind the scenes. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but sometimes 100 will suffice.
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