Top O' walks on the CDT near Indian Pass Trail

I have seen the light!

Day 108, Elkhart Park/Pinedale to north of Indian Pass Trail

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The problems we tried to solve last night didn't magically disappear by the time I awoke this morning. The Big Sky/Super Butte Cutoff still looked like our best option for hiking around the fires in Idaho and Montana. We just didn't have enough information to feel confident we knew where we were going.

It seemed that all of the hikers Top O' and I talked to were planning to go that way. We didn't know then that the Continental Divide Trail Coalition discourages the use of this alternate, saying, "CDT hikers are advised to avoid the Big Sky Super Butte Cutoff Alternate due to it crossing onto private land."

Nevertheless, it's a known route that has been used by previous thru-hikers. There just haven't been a sufficient number of them to publish detailed information and maps.

Weather Partly cloudy with a late afternoon shower, temperatures from the mid-50s to mid-70s
Trail Conditions Rocky ups and downs
Today's Miles 11.0 miles
Trip Miles 1,539.6 miles

We may not have solved that problem right away, but our concern about another problem was quickly solved. We were alarmed last night after learning someone said boxes were no longer accepted at Brooks Lake Lodge. We didn't want to show up there and discover ours had been refused and were sent home.

Top O' called the lodge this morning and was told his box was there. The person he talked to said she thought mine was there as well. That didn't give me absolute confirmation, but I decided it was close enough.

We then left for breakfast at Heart and Soul Café. Soon after we arrived and ordered food, Melon and Hobo Toe joined us at a table on the patio. The conversation quickly turned to the cutoff.

This was the turning point for resolving our problem. Hobo Toe told us we needed to use the Gaia app. Then he shared a link where we could download GPS tracks for the alternate route to use in the app. At last, we had what we needed.

The conversation then turned to other difficulties on the trail, like the weather and some of the trail's inhospitable flora and fauna. Melon summarized this well: “Why is this trail trying to kill us?”

The café's patio was a pleasant spot to sit and we had access to free wifi, so Top O' and I stayed to look over the map of the alternate. We discovered that because we would be taking a different route through Yellowstone National Park, we wouldn't be able to send a resupply box to the post office at Old Faithful Village.

When I saw the route would take us past Shoshone Lodge & Guest Ranch near the entrance of the park, I called there to ask if they would hold a resupply box for us. I was told they would, so I asked my wife to send a box there. Top O' did the same. This will free us from needing to make a long hitch into Cody, Wyoming.

Top O' Faye, Bongo Drums, Lone Wolf, and Gravity

When we ran into Lone Wolf and Faye yesterday, they offered to drive us back to the trailhead this morning. This was an offer we couldn't turn down because there is never a certainty a ride will be easy to get.

Lone Wolf brought her dog Bongo Drums with them when they met us at the restaurant's patio before taking us to the trailhead. We arrived at Elkhart Park at 10:45 a.m. Before we left to start hiking, we thanked them and told Lone Wolf we hoped to see her on the trail again soon. It seemed like a good bet we would.

Llamas on the trail

We needed to hike back to the CDT the same way we came yesterday. About a mile up the trail, I stopped to get out of the way of a team of llamas. I had to move aside again later for some horses and mules on the trail.

The trail was much busier today than yesterday, and I don't mean just because of the pack animals. There were also many backpackers returning to the trailhead after hiking in the Winds.

A view from Photographer's Point

We walked for 4.5 miles until we reached Photographer's Point. I passed it without stopping yesterday but now could see how that spot got its name. It offered a clear view of the northern range of mountains that form one of the most scenic parts of the Winds.

We ate lunch there while sitting on large boulders, which gave us an elevated view of the mountains. In the middle of the range was Gannett Peak. From our perspective, it was 11.4 miles away and didn't look as tall as some of the others. Fremont Peak was only 8.1 miles away, so it looked taller because it was closer.

Gannett is the tallest mountain in the Winds and Wyoming. At 13,804 feet above sea level, it is 34 feet taller than the more famous Wyoming mountain, Grand Teton.

The largest glacier within the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. is next to Gannett Peak. It wasn't visible to us because it sits on the north side of the mountain.

We spent so much time figuring out our route this morning, I only talked to Kim briefly when I asked her to send a resupply box to Shoshone Lodge. Now I had cell service and more time, so I called to give her an update on the rest of the plan we worked out. I was feeling good about it.

I told Kim I was starting to feel like Montana was in sight. That might have been a little optimistic. We still have at least two more weeks of walking before we cross the last state line. Still, I had a reason to be upbeat. Figuring out the next part of the journey made me feel like a heavy weight was lifted from me. I was seeing everything fall into place.

A view from Barbara Lake

Top O' left Photographer's Point before I finished my call, so I walked alone when I continued hiking. When I came to Barbara Lake, I stood again on the shore but in a slightly different spot than yesterday morning. The view across the lake was from a different angle. I didn't notice Gannett Peak yesterday, and now I could see it well.

I had to conceal a smile when I passed a group of backpackers a few minutes later. They looked glum and exhausted, which I'm sure was because of the huge packs they were carrying. Each pack looked like it weighed at least 40 pounds.

I didn't want to appear to be smug when I saw them. I knew what it was like to struggle with a heavy pack.

You can't see it in the photo I posted of my son and me when I talked about our trip to Mt. Zirkel Wilderness in 2002, but I was wearing a knee brace then.

Pain in my knees had forced me to re-evaluate the gear I was carrying. I knew this was necessary if I wanted to continue backpacking. That trip to Colorado was the first one I made after replacing my backpack, sleeping bag, and tent, and removing any gear that wasn't essential. I wore the knee brace on that trip, but only did it as a precaution and soon stopped needing it at all.

I immediately saw the value of making my pack lighter. Without making those changes, I would not be on my way today to completing long-distance hiking's Triple Crown.

A view of Fremont and Jackson peaks

I didn't have to go far past Barbara Lake before coming to another opening for a view. This one was an excellent spot to see Fremont Peak (13,745 feet) and Jackson Peak (13,517 feet). Jackson is named after William Henry Jackson, a painter and photographer of the Civil War and western scenery.

Glaciers can also be found on the north side of these mountains.

Top O' sits on a large boulder

Top O' stopped to rest and wait for me on a boulder near where we camped the night before last. I took a short break too before we started walking again.

The time was now 4:15 p.m., and the sky was becoming dark and overcast. The weather forecast called for rain, and from the looks of the clouds, it seemed like it would arrive soon.

Dark clouds over Seneca Lake

That turned out to be correct. A light rain began to fall just a few minutes later as we continued our way around the rocky shore of Seneca Lake.

Without knowing how long the rain would continue or how much farther we would walk today, we decided this was the best spot to collect some water because it was easy to reach. This way, we wouldn't have to take time for it later if the rain was coming down harder or if we decided to stop where there was no water nearby.


As I rounded a corner at Little Seneca Lake, I heard some shouting. I knew right away Top O' had met Thirteen on the trail. It was an easy guess because she texted me yesterday, so I knew she would be heading this way.

Top O' and I were delighted to see her again. We stayed in touch but hadn't seen her since we left New Mexico. We just missed her on Day 84 in Colorado when we walked past her tent while she was still sleeping.

Thirteen told us she was planning to take a zero day in Pinedale. She added that Beer Goddess was about one day behind her. I was glad to know both of them weren't far behind us. That meant there was a good chance we would see them again farther up the trail.

The junction of the Highline Trail and the Seneca Lake Trail

The rain began to stop while we were talking to Thirteen, though depending on the direction we looked, it seemed likely more could come our way.

When Top O' and I started walking again, we didn't have far to go to reach the trail junction where we could reconnect with the CDT.

The trail makes a short, steep climb

The trail took us immediately up a narrow slot between two knobs. The climb was short but steep, going up 170 feet in two-tenths of a mile.

Rain fell again for a few minutes, then stopped again.

Fremont and Jackson peaks

After cresting the top of the climb, we came to another trail junction. If we turned right here, we could follow the Knapsack Col Alternate. That route went 13.5 miles through Titcomb Basin and over two passes, Knapsack Col (12,288 feet) and Cube Rock Pass (10,738 feet).

You will often find words like "stunning" and "spectacular" in the descriptions of the scenery on this route. They usually come with warnings of a difficult, even sketchy section along the way. Top O' and I talked about going this way, and some hikers told us they intended to do it. We were concerned about the weather forecast, though.

We had already gone over a couple of difficult passes on the Cirque of the Towers Alternate. Those were climbed in clear weather. Doing another pass like that in rough weather didn't appeal to us, so we decided against it. I sometimes wish we had decided to go that way, yet we probably made the correct call.

There was no reason to regret the decision because of the views on the main route. We still had gorgeous looks at mountains like Fremont and Jackson peaks.

Top O' walks down the trail

The time was now past 6 p.m. The sky wasn't any clearer than before, so rain still seemed to be a possibility at any time. We decided to stop at the first spot that looked suitable. Thanks to our decision to get water back at Seneca Lake, we weren't concerned about finding a campsite near a water source.

A pond near Indian Pass Trail

We found a narrow spot with just enough room for our tents that was wedged between large boulders on a climb beyond a small, unnamed pond. Top O' decided to backtrack toward the pond to see if anything looked promising down there, then decided the spot we first found was better. It was about seven-tenths of a mile past the junction of the Knapsack Col Alternate, which was also called Indian Pass Trail.

Today had been a much better day than I might have predicted last night. We were able to make a lot of decisions that will help us in the next few weeks. We also had an enjoyable time with some of our hiking friends.

Despite the rain, the weather didn't cause any trouble today. A couple more light rain showers passed through later after we were already in our tents. It's tomorrow that I'm concerned about. The predicted storms could be troublesome. We'll have to see how it goes.

Elwood (Dan Akroyd): Jake! Are you alright?

Joliet Jake (John Belushi): The band... The band...

Rev. Cleophus James (James Brown): Do you SEE the LIGHT?!?

Jake: The band!

Rev. James: Do you SEE the LIGHT???

Elwood: What light?

Rev. James: Have you SEEN the LIGHT?

Jake: YES! YES! Jesus H. Tap Dancin' Christ! I have seen the light!

Jake: The Band Elwood! The Band!

Elwood: The band. The band. The Band? The band!

Rev. James: Praise God!

Elwood: And God Bless the United States of America!

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