Today was a nero (or nearo) day, as in a near-zero miles day. Top O' and I had less than nine miles to walk before we would arrive at a trailhead called Elkhart Park. From there, we needed to hitch a ride for the 15 miles to the town of Pinedale.
Hikers hate walking far off the trail to get to a town. Those extra miles aren't counted as part of the trail. We didn't have much choice if we wanted to make a resupply stop here in the Winds. There were only two other options. One was to take a different long side trail to Big Sandy. The other was to keep going to the Green River Trailhead, and that would add nearly two more days of food to carry.
I looked at the side trip to Elkhart Park the same way I thought about going off the PCT to Kearsarge Pass and Independence. Adding miles wasn't ideal, but the beautiful scenery made the extra trip worthwhile.
Besides, Top O' and I needed some time off the trail, and we needed it now. There weren't many miles left to hike before we would have to decide which direction to turn to walk around the trail closure near the Idaho/Montana border.
The wildfires there are still burning out of control. This is obvious by the amount of smoke I see each day as we make our way north through Wind River Range.
|Date||Thursday, July 29, 2021|
|Weather||Partly cloudy/smoke with temperatures from the mid-40s to mid-70s|
|Trail Conditions||Rocky ups and downs|
When the trail was closed, the suggested alternate route around the fire zone included about 100 miles of road walking. We knew we didn't want to go that way.
Some other alternates were available. We hoped to figure out the best one while in town.
I told Top O' last night I wanted to wake up early and get on the trail before him. I hoped a head start would help me reach the trailhead around the same time he did, or at least I wouldn't fall too far behind.
This seemed like a good idea, but I didn't count on two things that unraveled my plan.
I saw the first flaw in my plan while preparing to leave our campsite at 5:20 a.m. Top O' was already awake. When I saw the red glow of his headlamp in his tent, I knew I wasn't going to get much of a head start.
Some pretty views appeared along the trail soon after I started walking. The diffused dawn light and calm air made the ponds I passed look like mirrors.
I didn't have to go far before I saw the second thing I didn't count on when I planned my early start. The trail was much more rugged than expected. There were several places where I had to navigate around large boulders.
The dim morning light made it difficult to find my footing, and that slowed me down.
Hobbs Lake was also glassy smooth this morning. I passed it as the sun began to peer above a ridge on the other side.
I met two NOBO thru-hikers who were heading back to the trail. Their names were Samwise and Point Three. We chatted briefly, and Top O' caught up to me soon after they left. He didn't need much time to get out of sight after he passed me. He must have been smelling breakfast cooking in Pinedale because he was in a hurry.
The trail went past the southern end of Barbara Lake. This opened a view to the north. Far beyond the other side of the lake, I could see the tops of a tall mountain range. The mountain seen on the right but partially blocked by trees was Fremont Peak, the second tallest mountain in the Winds.
The trail finally became less rocky about four miles from our campsite. There was also enough daylight now that I felt more comfortable walking faster.
If I had been walking here a few months ago, however, I would have been going much slower. This was another trail that was completely clogged by downed trees during the windstorm that hit this part of Wyoming in September 2020. The trail was clear now, but I could tell a massive effort was needed to get it that way.
When I got within a couple of miles from the trailhead, I met two more thru-hikers going northbound. I had not met them before. One of them recognized me, though Top O' may have tipped them off I was behind him. She said, "Hi, Gravity! I follow you on Instagram."
Their trail names were Hush and Sideview. This was their first long thru-hike, but they have been on many other big trips. Besides this hike from Mexico to Canada, they rode bicycles in the same direction on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Their other adventure travels have taken them to Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe.
The last mile to the trailhead included another long section severely damaged by last September's storm. The trail here looked like it had been in worse condition than the last one. I was grateful a maintenance crew came through to clear it.
I arrived at the trailhead at 9:30 a.m. Top O' was gone, so I knew he had already hitched a ride into town in search of food.
Elkhart Park is the most popular trailhead in the Winds, and that was evident when I saw the parking lot. It was filled with cars. This was one reason we decided to exit here instead of going to another trailhead for a resupply stop. Getting a ride to Pinedale would be easier from here, or so we thought.
That didn't start out being the case for me. I tried to stand where all of the cars leaving would have to go past me, but no one was leaving.
I waited several minutes until two hikers finally came off the trail and walked to their car. More time passed while they loaded their gear into the car. I couldn't see where that was and wondered if they had departed from another exit.
Thankfully, on their way out they stopped where I stood with my thumb out and offered me a ride. After I climbed into the car, I discovered they were the two women who camped near Top O' and me last night. They were a mother and daughter.
They drove me into town, where I met up with Top O' at the outfitter store. Stopping here gave me a chance to buy a new, desperately-needed water filter. We both bought bear spray because we would soon be entering grizzly country.
Wind River Brewing was nearby, so we walked there for lunch. We had to wait a few minutes before they opened and ended up being their first customers of the day.
We hoped to get a room at Jackalope Motor Lodge, a motel on the other end of town. The owner bought it in June and was completely remodeling it by doing most of the work himself. He was already gaining a reputation for being hiker friendly.
On our walk across town to the motel, we met Lone Wolf and her partner Faye. Lone Wolf was taking a zero day in Pinedale, and Faye had come here to meet her. Lone Wolf's dog, Bongo Drums, also made the trip but was back at their motel.
After the owner of Jackalope checked us in, we found the room to be clean and nicely refurbished. Though he didn't have guest laundry facilities set up, he allowed us to wash our clothes in his commercial washer and dryer.
The motel was conveniently located near a grocery store. After we finished cleaning up, we went there to shop for the food needed for the next leg of the hike. My wife had already mailed a resupply box to Brooks Lake Lodge, which was about six days away. I needed to buy enough food today to get me there. Top O' also asked his wife to mail a box to the same lodge.
When we finished shopping, Top O' went back to the motel, and I walked again to the outfitter store to pick up a couple more items. I stopped at a drive-in restaurant called Dick's Last Stand on the way back. Several people were standing outside waiting for food, so I figured the food must be good. It was good, but I think the reason so many people were standing around was slow service.
More hikers arrived at the motel while I was gone. The owner had run out of rooms by now, but he offered Melon, No No, Cheeto Jackson, and one or two more an unfinished room at no charge if they didn't mind sleeping on a concrete slab floor. They gladly accepted this, and Top O' and I let them use our bathroom.
The day was nearly done, and we still hadn't figured out how we were going to walk around the wildfires to the north. We spent the rest of the evening trying to research our options by checking Guthook, Facebook, Reddit, and any other source we could find. We also talked to other hikers.
The consensus was to follow an alternate route known as the Big Sky/Super Butte Cutoff or by a variation of that name. Instead of following a road for 100 miles, this route went through several scenic parts of Montana. It also took a different route through Yellowstone National Park, which included more miles than the official route did.
The cutoff even had better access to some resupply towns. There would still be road walking, but of course, it wouldn't be the Continental Divide Trail without roads to walk.
The Big Sky/Super Butte Cutoff sounded good to Top O' and me until we tried to get specific information about it. Finding details about the route was harder than expected. Many of the descriptions we found were vague. Maps were inconsistent. Unlike other alternates we have followed so far on this trail, the cutoff was not shown on the maps in the Guthook app.
Trying to figure out where we needed to go and where we could stop to resupply or needed to ship a box became overwhelming. There were still many unanswered questions.
Then near the end of the evening, I discovered some unsettling information. According to a comment in Guthook, Brooks Lake Lodge was no longer accepting resupply boxes. That's where Top O' and I planned to pick up our resupply boxes.
This was too much. I turned off my phone and hoped some clarity would somehow come tomorrow.
I must've dreamed a thousand dreams
Been haunted by a million screams
But I can hear the marching feet
They're moving into the street
Now did you read the news today?
They say the danger's gone away
But I can see the fires still alight
They're burning into the night
There's too many men, too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go 'round
Can't you see this is a land of confusion?