CDT 2021: Day 102, outside of South Pass City to Sweetwater Guard Station Campground

Looks as though tomorrow I'll do pretty much the same

Large rocks stand against a smokey sky

I've noted before how the trail has a repetitive rhythm. In a few posts, such as here about the AT and here about the PCT, I talked about my daily routine. "Wake up, pack, walk, stop, set up camp, sleep, and repeat" is a simple summation of each day.

My days are repetitive in this way, to be sure. Yet despite the sameness, I pointed out there are many little occurrences in the days to keep them from being monotonous. Often an interaction with another hiker makes the day memorable. Then too, the scenery changes with each hill or mountain I crest, so days on the trail are never entirely the same.

DateSaturday, July 24, 2021
WeatherMostly cloudy with temperature from the upper-50s to mid-80s
Trail ConditionsUps and downs with many blowdowns; some poorly-marked sections
Today's Miles21.1
Trip Miles1458.5

There is one kind of break in the daily routine I would like to do without. Several times I've had to walk through, over, and around fallen trees. This has sometimes happened for miles at a time. Blowdowns are one of a hiker's biggest annoyances. They are tiresome and slow us down, and sometimes they create dangerous situations.

Blowdowns can be found somewhere on nearly every trail. Mother Nature tends to be relentless when it comes to knocking over trees. Removing them is hard for trail crews, and they're usually found in remote locations, sometimes requiring days of walking just to reach them.

Without a doubt, however, there have been many more downed trees on the CDT. They have occurred so frequently, I'd almost say they are part of my daily cycle of repetition.

Wake up, pack, walk, navigate through blowdowns, stop, set up camp, sleep, and repeat.

I looked back and found 15 days so far on this trail that included at least one section of multiple downed trees. Day 74 was one of the worst. The trail was in such bad shape, Top O', OldTimer, and I were forced to slow to about a quarter of a mile an hour.

I have been flashing back to some of those days lately because there are reports of a long section of bad blowdowns ahead. It should appear just as we enter Wind River Range. I'm already dreading tomorrow.

A wide view of the trail and a mostly-cloudy sky

Today started well, however. Despite last night's rain, my tent was mostly dry this morning. The breeze that followed when the rain ended helped to keep out the moisture.

When I left our campsite at 6:15 a.m., the sky was mostly overcast but there didn't appear to be a threat of more rain soon.

Wyoming Highway 28 outside of Lander

There was only about a mile to walk before I reached Wyoming Highway 28. This should have been simple, especially because I could see the highway from a long distance away. The route got a little complicated, though, because several Jeep tracks crisscrossed in the vicinity.

There weren't any trail markers, so I had to guess which track to take. My assumption to keep going straight turned out to be a bad guess. I should have turned where one of the other tracks crossed. My error was quickly obvious because I soon saw I wasn't heading toward a gate in a fence along the highway.

When I caught up to Top O’ a short time later, he told me he made the same mistake.

The highway was a route to the town of Lander. Many thru-hikers hitch from this crossing and go into town to resupply. With a population of 7,550, it's large enough to have grocery stores, motels, restaurants, and other services hikers seek when they stop.

Top O' and I didn't need to go there because we had just picked up resupply boxes yesterday. This was one of those occasions when I was glad we didn't need to stop. It was only our third day on the trail since we flipped north from Colorado, and I preferred we keep on going.

Top O' walks ahead on the trail

I was carrying six days of food, but when my back started to ache, I didn't feel like the extra weight was the cause of the problem. I'm sure the added pounds didn't help. It just felt like there was some other cause of the pain. I stopped to see if the load was poorly balanced.

Nothing appeared out of place, so I took a couple of ibuprofen. The pain relievers were enough to fix whatever was wrong because the backache went away soon after I got back to walking.

A downed tree across the trail

At 10:15 a.m. I came upon a blowdown across the trail. "Wait a minute," I said to myself. "I thought these weren't supposed to be a problem until we got to the start of Wind River Range." We were still a day away from that.

There was an easy way to step over the downed tree. Once I got past it, I continued on and hoped this tree was an exception.

The trail makes a climb up a hill with rocks

The trail began to make short climbs, and a couple of them were steep. Overall, the trail didn't change a lot in elevation. The highest point was only 1,200 feet higher than the lowest point.

A section of the trail is covered in downed trees

The trail began to go in and out of wooded areas. About 30 minutes after the first blowdown, I came to several more in one spot. I was surprised again to see downed trees. This wasn't where we had been told the blowdowns would start.

Getting past these was a little trickier but only a minor annoyance. I continued on for close to an hour more when I found Top O' taking a break. The time was a little early for our lunch break, but we decided to stay there and eat anyway.

A tangle of tree branches and trunks litters the trail

The trail was comparatively gentle for another three or so miles. Then I came to a depressing scene. Trees were down everywhere. There was no easy way around them, and there was certainly no graceful way to climb over them.

A massive storm with wind gusts greater than 60 mph hit a wide area around Wind River Range in September 2020. I had hoped that the last ten months would be enough time for crews to clean up the resulting damage to trails, but now I was seeing the job was much larger than I thought.

There simply weren't enough trail crews to cover all of the impacted areas, which stretched from here far north to the Green Lakes area. Indeed, the storm didn't just topple trees onto trails. Roads also had to be cleared in several spots.

The storm must have been a terrifying experience for hikers who were in the backcountry when the storm hit. Several rescue teams were called in to extract hikers from the debris. One man was airlifted out after being stuck for two days.

At least for us here, we didn't have to scramble over dead trees for miles at a time. There were gaps with no blowdowns. This included some areas that were covered in sagebrush and grasses instead of trees.

A hiker from Germany named Blitz

I met a hiker from Germany near a stream in one of the gaps between blowdowns. His trail name was Blitz. Although he and I thru-hiked the AT and PCT in the same years, we didn't recall meeting each other on either trail.

A section of the CDT without blowdowns

The blowdown sections didn't end, but the stretches of trail that were clear were long enough to almost make the bad stretches bearable. They allowed me to pick up speed again after slowing down to navigate around downed trees.

A view of mountains at the southern end of Wind River Range

When the elevation rose high enough in some of the clear sections, I began to get glimpses of some of the mountains in the southern range of the Winds. Sweetwater Needles was especially prominent with its sharp, jagged peak projecting skyward.

The sky was also noticeable to me. It was looking smokey again. After hiking in several days of smoke in Colorado, the last week or so had been mostly clear. Visibility was hampered again today. I didn't know for sure the cause of this, but I wondered if the source was the fire near the border of Idaho and Montana. That was the fire we learned about as we were finishing our last day in Colorado.

Maybe I should speak of fires in the plural form because apparently there were at least three burning out of control to the north. The CDT was still closed, and I was starting to think we would not be able to stay on the official route to get to Canada.

A section of trail has been cleared of downed trees

Just before 6 p.m., I saw another surprise. There was a section of the trail that had been cleared. Besides being startling, this sight was also confusing. I was unsure how a crew got here to work on this section because I didn't see any other trails.

Perhaps they had been working their way south, I thought. How great would it be if the trail was clear from here all the way north into the Winds?

A section of trail has not been cleared of downed trees

I got my hopes up much too soon. Within five minutes, I came to another brutal section of blowdowns.

This presented a problem. Where was the trail under all of those dead trees?

I spent several minutes trying to sort out where it went. There were no signs or markers, and the footpath wasn't visible under all of the branches and tree trunks. I ended up using my trail app to guide me while I picked my way through and around downed trees.

Another cleared section of the trail

Another section of cleared trail eventually appeared on the other side of the blowdowns. With much relief, the trail remained mostly clear for my last hour of hiking.

The best view so far of Wind River Range

The last open area offered the best view of the Winds so far. I didn't stop to figure out what exactly I was seeing because the time was now 7 p.m. If I had stopped, I would have discovered I was looking straight ahead toward Temple Pass, which was 12 miles away.

Temple Peak stood next to the pass, with an elevation of 12,620 feet. The trail will lead me tomorrow up the approach of the pass.

Sweetwater River near Blair Creek

With the trail free of blowdowns, I tried to pick up my pace. After another mile of walking, the trail took me across Blair Creek and then turned to follow Sweetwater River.

I was getting close to where Top O' and I said we would stop to camp, but I was also about out of water, so I stopped to collect and filter some. While I was there, three hikers I had met in New Mexico passed me, No No, Tumbleweed, and Two Taps.

Crossing Sweetwater River

The trail continued along the river until reaching Sweetwater Guard Station Campground, which was operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

It was located on the other side of the river at the former site of a U.S. Forest Service ranger outpost. A cabin that stood here was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937-1938 and burned down in 1975.

I soon realized there was no way to get across the river except to ford it. Fortunately, the water wasn't much higher than my knees. It was also nice to have my feet in cool, refreshing water after a long day of dusty hiking.

Sweetwater Guard Station Campground

I found Top O' at one of the campsites. No reservations were required for this campground. Although there were a few RVs parked here, there were several open sites.

Before long, No No, Tumbleweed, and Two Taps arrived after stopping for a break on the river. Several other thru-hikers streamed in about the same time, including Pressure Drop, Cheeto Jackson, Peach Fuzz, and Jazz Hands. I'm always a little amused by how I can walk all day seeing hardly any hikers, then suddenly at the end of the day be joined by several.

Seeing all of these people confirmed what I had suspected. Top O' and I had hiked south through Colorado at about the same pace as many hikers had gone north. We crossed paths near Berthoud Pass, and now we're hiking together in the same direction.

I still don't regret that, unlike most of the other hikers, we flipped to hike south and then had to flip again. We made our hike far less stressful and miserable than it would have been if we tried to go north through the deep snow in the San Juan Mountains.

Nevertheless, there was one thing I regretted tonight. I was disappointed and concerned to know the blowdowns I walked through today were just the beginning. More were still ahead and waiting for me tomorrow.

Now I get to do the whole routine again of picking my way over, around, and through tree branches and logs.

I turn and walk away
Then I come round again
Looks as though tomorrow
I'll do pretty much the same

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