Bumping Between Borders

After a double zero in Yellowstone, the legs feel much more recovered, and my headspace has improved too. It has been a lot of fun to walk around the Old Faithful area to look at all the geysers and hot pools.

The air is rich with smoke

Evening sun reflecting off a hot pool

It’s a vacation! Also, thanks for the birthday beads, Fran!

I came here a fair amount as a kid and remember feeling like I didn’t really understand the hype. I’m not sure if I was underwhelmed or overwhelmed, but now, sitting and looking into Doublet Pool, feeling the ground thump beneath us, I’m in awe of the whole Park.

Catching bubbles rising up

Morning Glory Pool

We walk along more pools in the morning, it’s a popular area, but it’s early yet, and the swarms of people haven’t made it out yet. Sapphire Pool blinks blue in the sun, and steam rises from the Firehole River.

Sapphire Pool displaying her glory

Streams raging with life

The day quickly becomes dominated by water sources, and we stop for lunch and water at Summit Lake.

Summit Lake

It’s a gorgeous lake, and I would take a dip, except it’s cold and clouds are moving in. We stop to look at the last geothermal area, enjoying our own personal hot pools and mud pots.

We cross the Idaho/Wyoming border and attempt to take one of those classic photos. But I’m uncoordinated and fall a lot before we get a decent shot.

Stop laughing, what is wrong with you?

Whoops

Hey look, Idaho!

We laugh when we leave Yellowstone National Park and are immediately dumped out on an old dirt road. So classic CDT.

Goodbye, Yellowstone National Park!

The next morning we are clumsy and uncoordinated. Trip, stumble, bumble, bobble. Maybe it’s a good thing we’re taking a cut-off through here. Maybe, at this point, the body is just not happy. Maybe it’s just tired. But we are close! Closer, anyway. Lunch is an incredible Chinese meal that catches us off guard as we walk through Sawtelle, where we meet a couple that we ate lunch with on Mt. Taylor, way back in New Mexico, Liam and Kate, and then a long climb up a dirt road before finally branching off onto trail again. Beautiful trail with purple, yellow, and red wildflowers.

As we neared the top, we stopped and chatted with a sobo hiker. He spent some time in Spain and hiked the Kungsleden, a trail in Sweden that we’ve talked about hiking. But the sun was setting, and we all respect the value of daylight. After a short downhill, we hit the source of the Missouri River. There is an ammo box with the story of how the source was found and after filling our bottles right at there, we spend the night in the tent reading this rather than looking at our maps for the next day.

Lewis & Clark never found this. The source of the Missouri!

Brower’s spring, the source

The rain patters on our tent as we fall asleep, and at one point, we wake to coyotes howling and yipping and an owl hooting. I snuggle deeper in my sleeping bag, searching for the pockets of warmth. It’s cold.

As we drag ourselves from sleep, the sound of rain pounding on the tent greets us. Gladly, I would tuck back in and sleep, but instead we pack up and head out, hoping there is a spot of sun sometime in the day to dry our things.

Lots and lots of green

It’s my birthday, and some might be bummed, but the rain is beautiful. A few miles down, we meet Kate and Liam as they are heading out for the day. Immediately afterwards, we find ourselves practically swimming through a swamp. I don’t feel much wetter than before, as it’s been raining so hard all morning. My rain jacket is delaminating, but I’m hoping to coax it through the rest of this trip.

It’s entertaining to walk and talk with people, and we tick off the time chatting. When the sun peaks out for a second, the four of us explode our packs to dry things out and take a snack break. Kate is from South Africa, and Liam is from Canada, so we all have fun talking about different places. Eventually, we drag ourselves up and continue on.

We’re literally on the Continental Divide in the section, and this involves lots of climbing up and down. I hear this is the story for the next couple hundred miles. We are crossing between Montana and Idaho all the time, and I can’t keep track. I’m tired, and I trip, but my legs aren’t burning with lactic acid all the time. That double zero paid, I think. The views are beautiful and the undergrowth has begun to change, reds and oranges beneath the trees.

Ridge walking in Montana

At second lunch, Dan surprises me with a whole box of Chips Ahoy that he brought from Old Faithful. This is truly delightful, and soon half the box has vanished.

At last we reach our water source, and Dan and I begin to set up camp. Liam and Kate decide to stay as well. Liam builds a fire (the Canadian says there is always dry wood, as a Colorado kid, I was convinced everything was soaked) and we spend a good evening cooking, eating, and talking as more rain falls. And then the sun has set and everyone is tired.

I am cold, cold, cold, and there is frost on the ground as we hike out. But soon forward progress come to a halt as we find berries.

Raspberries, and then huckleberries, and then blueberries. As we crest yet another rise, the sun peaks out – and out comes the tent to dry. Sarah and Liam show up and set up their stuff to dry, and before long, Numbskull does too.

It is one of those days that miles aren’t coming easy. I’m not that tired, necessarily, but definitely dragging. Dan says he feels like dog, which spurs a conversation on slang, as apparently that is a phrase not used in Canada or South Africa.

Finally we make it to the cross road we had set as a goal. It turns out to be Cow Area, with cow poop all around, but the option is to set up here, or to do a 2,000′ climb. It’s 8pm, and nobody wants to do that, so we set up.

Around our pots of food, we discuss social media, and how it has influenced people’s lives. We talk about #vanlife and all the “hip” things – how social media spreads the misconception of perfection and simplicity, yet the real story behind these photos is one of stress and time, definitely not simplicity. And then it is quite late, and we’re all too tired for this conversation anymore.

The walk to the highway is boring the next morning and so I plug in a podcast. At the start of the hike, I felt badly about this. On other hikes, we hadn’t even brought a phone. But at this point, I no longer feel that way. We’re out for a long time, and if a podcast is going to help in some sections, I’m going to do it.

It’s just a short wait at I-15, and then the guy who runs the motel pulls up. He gives rides to hikers to town, and the five of us pile into his truck. So far, I have to say, I’ve really loved this section. The hills, the expanse, the feeling of The North. I’m falling in love.

Numbskull, Kate, & Liam as we all wait for our ride

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A huge shout out to everyone who has followed and supported us on this adventure! You guys are all so amazing and bring us strength and inspiration every day.

— Dan and Elaine

North to Yellowstone National Park

Foggy morning in Yellowstone.

North. The word has power. It invokes images. Wild images of deep pine woods, dancing aurora night skies, wolves sliding through the shadows, fog rising off lakes, owls hooting calls to one another through the night. In the north everything intensifies: the sound of a twig breaking raises the alert, a recent bear scat invokes a glance around, the smell of decomposing vegetation a harbinger of changing seasons, of autumn in the not so distant future. 

There is an urgency to this quest. The seasons are changing. The morning light is less than it was a month ago. The mind says move. The body, tired from the 2,000 mile journey thus far, does its best to keep up. At this point, that’s what this is – mental fortitude versus physical fatigue. But then there is something wholly unnatural about walking north in the face of a northern Rockies fall. Your mind plays games with you. Through it all, into the wild, we walk. At this point, it’s what we do.

After a quintessential northern night at Upper Brooks Lake – crisp air, a shimmering moon, a fire – we head northwest. A deep dew coats the land so we wear our rain pants to avoid a soaking from the dense vegetation. That’s a big change from the south…the plants are higher here, thicker, wetter, more. 

The trail rolls thru the Absaroka Mountains. It’s a hard range to get a grasp of, to feel. It’s exceptionally jagged, in many places looking almost unclimbable. The rock is loose, the peaks towering. We pass thru, thankful for a route, because negotiating this mountain range without one would be hell. The northern Yellowstone elk herd does it every year of course, but they are – simply put – better than us. 

Fire has ravaged this range. As recently as four years ago the Cub Fire burned thousands of acres. Black skeletons cover the hill sides, and in between them, vibrant flowers. Fireweed, the first flower to return after burn, resides prominently. 

Our bodies are up and down in this segment, both from the land and how we feel. We have not had any real source of fat in a week, and the lack of that is making us inconsistent. Hills hurt a little more, endurance isn’t quite as deep. It’s a long haul from Pinedale to Old Faithful. From somewhere, Elaine leads us up a long 2,000 foot climb, and it feels like we are fresh again, moving fast, peppy. And then on the next climb, for no reason, we’re sluggish and slow. It’s like that at this point in time. Mental strength, always mental strength to do a marathon a day.


We pass a place called “Parting of the Waters.” Here, phenomenally, a creek divides, never to be rejoined again until it reaches the ocean. One branch heads east to the Atlantic, one branch to the Pacific. Being a human, I change the course of nature, taking a Nalgene full of Atlantic water and dumping it in the Pacific Creek. Always have to tamper with things, that’s the human way.

We camp at the edge of the national park. It is our last day without the requirements of a permit for some time. A site at the bend of the Snake River. I catch a cutthroat trout and release it back into the world. We’re hungry, but not too hungry to negate a life. Maybe later, but not now. It’s a great night – more fires, relaxation. It’s really part of the reason we are here. To be, not just to move. 

We enter Yellowstone. The southeastern part of the park is basically empty of humans. The CDT follows the Snake River drainage west thru fire charred lands. This area was anihilated in the 1988 fire, that great inferno that changed western fire management forever. Thirty years later, and the land is alive. Twenty foot high pine groves are everywhere, healthy. Meadows with flowers abound. The land feels right. Like death, fire is not the end. 

Rain greets us in the morning. We enter the cocoon of wool and Gore. We’re transplanted back to the Hardangervidda, to the far north, to the place of past and future adventures. We pass a lake, a stiff wind ripping across it, driving rain into us, making us wake up and feel alive. There is the smell of wood cutting, as rangers work on putting a roof onto a new cabin. We chat, traveler and caretaker, as a fog drifts over the top of Mount Sheridan. We are technically in Yellowstone, but right now we could just as well be in Alaska, the Yukon, Norway. It has that feel. I imagine Dick Proenneke building his cabin on the edge of Lake Clark in Alaska and envision Elaine and I doing that same thing, sometime down the line, in similar conditions.


We enter the land of smoke and geysers. It’s a land of mist and fire, Nyflheim and Muspell rolled into one, and it feels as ancient and godlike as those realms. The crust boils, a kaleidoscope of boiling water and steam. We reach into a creek, discover it’s hot – perfectly hot – and decide to take a dip as the rain beats down. It’s perfection in nature. 

The days clears, we pass thru pine forests, rolling hills, a large lake, great beauty. In the morning we wake to a world of fog. It engulfs the forest, enters the body as we breathe, cleansing, bringing back to life. In my book, a foggy morning by the lake in the woods is nearly impossible to beat. At this rate, autumn isn’t some distant concept. It’s just about here. Beautiful goes to phenomenal as we enter more geysers, steam and fog mixing. What is this place, how is it that so much beauty can converge in one spot? We are a lucky duo to be here at this time.

And now, a brief respite at the largest campground in Yellowstone, Grants Village. Last night, beans in a can and hot dogs for dinner over a roaring fire, and a campfire talk from a ranger like we used to do as kids. It’s good to be back in civilization, however briefly. Tomorrow, we hike to Montana. 

A thousand miles left. Less than two months. This thing is in grasp. The best part, the northern part, is yet to come. We are happy, we are well, we are loving the moment and this hike of the Continental Divide Trail. 

Out of the Winds

Sometimes, even after a full zero, it's still tough. The infected blister I got in the Red Desert didn't heal (shockingly) in one day. But options are low, and mostly the option is forward, northward, ever onwards. So despite green puss and a toe still too swollen to fit in my shoe, we finished up town chores and headed out to hitch a ride.

Part of the town chores involved picking up mail, one of those boxes being our Lucky Bums skis. Dan and I have skied at least once a month since October of 2010. We weren't about to let that streak die just because of a five month hike. So, after scouring the interweb, we picked these skis, little kids skis (I think they have a weight limit of 80 lbs) with plastic strap-on bindings. With them strapped to my pack, they garnered a fair amount of attention. A gentleman approached us as we stuck out our thumbs as yet another massive truck went whizzing by.

"Those skis?" He asks. I laugh and explain the story, and next thing you know, he's giving us a ride up to the trail head. Turns out this guy skied for the US Nordic Team from '76-'84 – quite the long career. We had a lot to chat about as we headed up, picking up TennesSteve (whom we haven't seen since Chama) along the way.

Soon, we were strapping on our packs, saying goodbye to our ride, and diving back into the woods.


The Winds had a high snow year, and things are still melting out.

The toe, the toe, the damned toe! It's such a tiny thing, but it was being a beastly little thing, and my speed was limited. We debated going over Knapsack Col on the way up – we had 11 miles to make the decision. The information on it was surprisingly differing: at the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale, they told us that a group with crampons and ice axes couldn't get over it, and a thru-hiker in front of us said another thru-hiker did it with no gear, no problem. Which of the two extremes was true?


Little skis, big mountains.


Heading into Titcomb Basin

Of course, we decided to do it, and so took the turn to Titcomb Basin. As we climbed slowly, once again we were surrounded by the immense Wind River mountains. Some of the tallest peaks in the state towered high over great blue lakes, and finally we stopped, finding one dry spot amongst the swampy tundra to set up.


Titcomb Basin is popular, but we had this whole area to ourselves.


What's for dinner?

Before drifting off to sleep, the same incredible thunderstorms that we've been having at night hit, great violet bolts of lightning shooting across the sky and thunder cracking so hard you could imagine the stone giants tossing boulders around. But the deep exhaustion runs so deep in a thru-hiker that sleep won out before long.


Titcomb Basin in the morning

Up and out of camp the next morning, excited to see Knapsack Col. Soon we hit snow, but it was east facing, and so softened early, and huge sun cups pocked the surface, so traction was easy.


Things warmed up fast.


The last push before the top.

Up and up and up, slipping between two gigantic peaks, and then, one last push to the top, where we met TennesSteve again. We laughed and took pictures before heading down the other side – we saw some lower-angle snow down low that maybe wasn't as sun cupped.


Happy we took the alternate.

The ensuing moments were filled with hilarity as we strapped the tiny wooden kids skis to our feet (clearly the binding was meant for kids, too, as Dan's feet barely fit) and skittered around the snow, out of control and off balance, but laughing our heads off. TennesSteve walked by telling us he'd rather keep his streak of non-broken bones. Good point.


Not trying to pursue broken bones

But there were miles to be made, so down, down the valley we swept, past Peak Lake (complete with rock slide to scramble around without falling into the icy depths), over Cube Pass, and down, down, eventually hitting the official CDT again.


The trail around Peak Lake appears to have been taken out


The beauty of the Winds

I poked the trail with my trekking pole when we reached it – a habit I've picked up whenever we take an alternate or end up off trail somehow, I jab the trail with my pole when we come back, emphasizing in my mind that we are "back".


Into the woods


The Green River quickly becomes quite large.

The trail wound through beautiful forest, deep and green and mosquito infested. So infested with mosquitoes that when we set up camp along the Green River, we quickly barred ourselves inside our tent, feeling ever grateful for having a tent with a screen.

Walking along the Green River the next morning was incredible. This hike is full of those moments: I look forward so much to Knapsack Col, and then this little section captures me by surprise with its beauty.


The sections that surprise you.
Getting dumped into sagebrush land.

Soon we were dumped away from the Green River, heading up Gunsight Pass, back in sagebrush land. Both of us, a little traumatized from the Red Desert, rushed past, giving the poor sagebrush some serious side-eye. I don't trust it. This is not a section that is talked about by hikers, I know not what to expect. Do we go back into the desert? But the land only teases us. The expanses of sagebrush seem like they will go on forever, but we make it to the oasis of Lake of the Woods, which shockingly is not a mosquito nightmare, where we hear our first loon of the trip, and drift to sleep listening to that enchanting call.


Lake of the Woods was enchanting.

North, I think. We've walked to The North. I'm feeling a difference here. The bite in the cold, just a little bit, the call of the loon, the track of a wolf print, the shift in Polaris as I stare skywards in the evening. It's higher in the sky than it was when we started. Much higher.


This wolf print was as big as my whole hand spread out.

Dense fog rolls in that night, and we hike through it most of the morning. Afternoon finds us lucky with no thunderstorms as we bounce along a ridge we will learn burned four years ago.

Charred trees, black skeletons, stand stark against the bright blue sky and a true riot of wildflowers erupt in a flurry of colors at their bases. It is beautiful. Life. Death. The Cycle. We walk back, click click click with our trekking poles.


Fireweed, some of the first plants to come back. They help keep the soil stable while more plants grow.


Hiker hunger: when you find a Snickers on the ground, you smile and eat it.

The next morning is resupply day! We are picking up a package at Brooks Lake Lodge, and we have no idea what to expect. We hear there is nothing there. You cannot eat. I don't know how this works, as it's a place people stay (for $350/night, minimum 3 night stay!) and people usually have to eat.


Oh, hello.

We arrive early afternoon, packs light at the end of a ration. Donna, the nice lady at the desk finds two of our boxes, but not our box with my shoes and more food. We sit down outside and explode our packs, trying to do so in a contained sort of way, while we set the wheels in motion trying to find this box. UPS tell us they delivered the package three days ago. Someone else helps Donna search for the package, and I ask somebody else if I can buy food. I'm met with a crisp no. Finally, because I may be a bit of a freak and want to see things for myself, I ask Donna if I can help look, and we find our box. Happy, we sit back down.


Resupply at Brooks Lake Lodge

I have a slightly shameful moment of begging. I'm hungry. I know Dan is too, but he won't say anything.

"Is there any way there is any food I can buy here?" I ask Donna. (I may or may have embellished it into true begging.)

Before long, Dan and I each had a bowl of strawberry rhubarb crumble with whipped cream. Slightly embarrassed from my begging, but pleased with the results, none the less, I cherished that bowl of dessert more than just about anything.

It came time to leave, so we packed everything into our bags again, said our goodbyes to Donna, and headed up the trail.

Leaving Brooks Lake Lodge.


Nothing like the moon on the lake and a fire.

We didn't make it that far, as soon we came to Upper Brooks Lake, and the peacefulness of the area captured us, pulling us in until we set up camp and made a small fire, watching the full moon rise above the mountains.

CDT Journal: Into The Winds

Dense fog came rolling through the spires as we approached the top of the pass. Thick clouds, heavy with moisture, banked on top of each other, so close I could pull their damp woolen threads down around me. After a small snow climb followed by a bit of scrambling up (slightly unstable) rock, we were almost there – and none too soon.

Working our way up no name pass.

Having taken no more than a few steps down the other side of this nameless pass, thunder began crashing over us and the skies unleashed torrents of heavy rain. As we moved as quickly as we could beneath the towering Temple Peak along a sloping snowfield to Temple Lake, I thought to myself:

Welcome to the Wind River Range, Elaine!

South Pass City was a place of transition, for as we headed out of the small historical site, we were heading into the Wind River Range – a place I had been looking forward to seeing for a long time. Dan has spent a significant amount of time in the Winds, and as an employee at Neptune Mountaineering, I often helped people before their trips up here. But I had never been myself, and was very excited to be going there.

Heading out of South Pass City, closer to the mountains!

We camped not far off the north side of WY Highway 28, definitely feeling a bit shelled from the trek across the Great Divide Basin. I performed a short yoga sequence, with the hopes that it would help with some of my issues. Aside from coming out of Wyoming’s Red Desert with an infected toe, I was also just in a lot of pain. My elbows hurt, and my knees and hips hurt so bad that squatting to pee was a very painful experience.
It might look like typical hiker trash, but I cut this hole in my shoe intentionally, as my infected toe was swollen even it no longer fit in my shoe.

Of course, no matter how badly we wished it, we had not magically been transported to the Wind Rivers, and still had to hike through the transition zone. The desert and a mountain range with an impressive number of glaciers are really shockingly close in this part of the country. The next day was spent hiking through that transition zone. We would go through forests (with trees and undergrowth and brooks and everything!) only to be spit out on a sagebrush covered ridge.

The things that are green and growing!

But water was frequent enough and by afternoon we had passed into the Bridger Wilderness to camp next to Larsen Creek, where Dan, who brought along his Tenkara fishing rod, fished a bit and I did an extra long yoga session.

Dan enjoying some moments of peace on the river.

Tenkara and Hyperlite: all you need for the Wild Rivers.

Our next morning dawned overcast, with a ton of condensation clinging to the tent. Soon into our hiking morning we were rewarded with our first glimpse of a classic Wind River view. Little Sandy Lake sat nestled in a basin below us with great granite cliffs rising dramatically up behind, snow still clinging to the flanks of all. Laughing with the joy of being back in the mountains, we swooped down the trail to Little Sandy Creek, where we deviated from the trail. The official route went left while we went right, up towards those majestic peaks. That morning the clouds could not decide what to do, drifting heavily across the sky, followed by patchy sunshine, one moment of which we took advantage of to dry our tent and eat a snack.

With all this moisture come the mosquitos!

Such beautiful trail.

Soon we were by lake 10,800′ (which was still mostly frozen over) and planning our route over the pass to Temple Lake. As we crossed over amidst thunder, pelted by rain and some hail, Temple Lake proved to be just as incredible as the name implied. I had thought, when seeing Temple Lake on the map, that it must be a special place, and truly it was spectacular!


This is my temple.

Crouching under a rock outcropping to inhale another snack, the rain pummeled down and we stared in awe at the beauty surrounding us. Then it was up and moving again, down, down, down the valley to Big Sandy Lake where a bunch of people were coming in to fish, and then up another pass. Jackass Pass (so named because you cannot get a horse over it, as we were told by a passerby) turned out to be slower going than we thought, so we camped at North Lake, under the imposing shadow of War Bonnet Peak. I found myself crying. Not because I was in pain, or necessarily upset. We had been hiking for months, and now I was in a place that I wanted to stay. I had dropped our mileage down to 20 a day, but it felt like too much.
Impressive peak. War Bonnet Peak doing his name justice.

A little yoga at North Lake.

Stars popped out of the velvet night sky, surrounding War Bonnet. I found Polaris, as I have every night, and fell to sleep, enchanted by the Winds.


Some fun at North Lake.

War Bonnet puts on his colors for the morning.

The next morning was a finish up and over Jackass Pass down to Lonesome Lake, which sits surrounded by the Cirque of the Towers. It’s a popular place, though we only saw a tent and no people, and there’s no question of why! Giant cliff walls explode from the ground, rocketing up to the sky, drawing your eye up, up, up. Almost, my senses can’t even take it all in. We lay at Lonesome Lake, staring, staring, trying to make sense of it all. 

This is nonsense. How can a place be so…much?

Eventually the morning ticked on, and we had miles to make. So up we got, packs on backs, and began the huff up the creek bed. We distracted ourselves for a bit when we spotted a couple of climber on Pingora Peak. That’s true badass!

Pingora Peak is the towering peak behind me, lookers right.

Up Texas Pass.

Texas Pass.

On and up, ever up, up the creek bed, up snowfields, and then finally, up on Texas Pass. At Texas Lake, we ate, dried the tent, and watched a rock wren hop about, wondering what he was doing so high up. After snack it was down the valley for us, where we ran into a NOLS group.

Down to Texas Lake.

This triggered a conversation that lasted all down the valley until we rejoined the CDT, where Dan realized he had lost his knife. Reluctantly, we set our packs down and Dan headed back up the trail, looking hard, while I stayed with the packs (we both had nightmare visions of coming back to marmots having eaten our pack straps). After a while, Dan was forced to admit the knife was probably at Texas Lake, and was not going to go that far back. So we headed on, annoyed at our mistake. Usually when we take breaks, we inspect the area when we leave to make sure we aren’t leaving anything.

More thunder followed us, and then a massive storm, lighting flashing, thunder crashing, hail pummeling from the sky, forcing us to take shelter before we headed out exposed again up high. As we couched under a copse of trees, hands over ears, we screamed at each other, terrified by the storm, crazed laughter punctuating our shouts.

“Thor is very angry!” Dan yelled.

“It’s like a toddler is having a temper tantrum, except that toddler is Thor and his Mjolnir!” I shouted back.

Eventually we could continue, and we set up camp at Raid River, when I was so tired that I was tripping over every rock on the trail.

The following morning dawned straight up cold, and we hiked in our rain gear with mitts on for quite a while. The trail took us along a chain of lakes, one perfect alpine lake followed by another. How is it that one place can have such beauty?

Stopped to fish at Sandy Point Lake.

But as we neared Hat Pass, another high, exposed area, yet another thunderstorm rolled in. Instead of the whole song and dance of terror involved with that, we elected to head down to the Highline Trail, which stuck to a lower elevation, to feel safer as the thunder boomed over us. As evening fell, we found ourselves at Chain Lakes, and decided to stop.
Looking over the map for the next day’s travel, while holding my “food baby”.

The sun set as we cooked dinner under the raging sky, but hurried to bed as yet another thunderstorm crashed over us, so close we could no longer count the seconds between lightning and thunder. I fell asleep faster than Dan, pure exhaustion pulling me under.

When we awoke the next morning, there was a certain hurry to packing up, always brought on by the prospect of a town day. We hadn’t had a shower since Rawlins, and had hoped to take a dip in the lakes here in the Winds, but with the thunder storms, and a high amount of the lakes that we’d passed still having ice in them…it just hadn’t happened. And food. Our minds ever revolve around food, and today as we hiked, we let ourselves talk about food, a topic that is usually (but unofficially) off limits. We talked pizza, hamburgers, apples, orange juice, bananas.

A cold morning made colder when you get to start off with a “car wash”!

Saying goodbye to Chain Lakes for now.

It’s the Wind Rivers, and crossing rivers is the name of the game.

Soon, soon, we were at the trail head. No sooner had we stared trying to hitch, than a pickup pulled over. An awesome family sorted themselves around and squeezed us in. It turned out they had been hiking the CDT north of us, and we had a great time talking trail all the way to Pinedale.


At Photographer’s Point, a glimpse of the terrain to come.

CDT hike July 11-14 – Steamboat to Encampment, Wyoming


There are few things better than falling into a deep sleep with the sound of a light rain pitter-pattering on top of the tent, the chirping of frogs echoing off the forest from a nearby lake. Before bed, while brushing teeth, our headlamps betrayed a pair of glowing eyes off in the forest, looking our way. They were white eyes, not the red color of a predator, probably a deer or an elk, and they darted away after a second or two. Elaine and I were deep in northern Colorado’s Zirkel Wilderness, and this type of experience is exactly why we decided to hike the Continental Divide Trail, far from the chaos of society, in deep wild country.

The hike from Steamboat to the tiny northern Wyoming town of Encampment is significant for a few reasons. First, it crosses into a new state, and that’s always an exciting accomplishment, especially on a trail where it only happens three times (four if you count the Idaho/Montana border). It’s also the stage that crosses the halfway mark of the 3,050 mile trail, in far northern Colorado. While we still have a long way to go, there is something mentally good about being on the downward half. 

Beyond borders and miles, this is a section of trail we’ve been looking forward to. Far northern Colorado is new ground for us, and places like the Zirkel Wilderness get much less traffic than the rest of our state. And southern Wyoming – well, that’s practically frontier country, a great unknown. That’s exciting, and that sense of discovery had us ready to hike.


Our good friend Britt took us up Rabbit Ears Pass after a lazy morning start, and it wasn’t long before we entered a land of perfect Colorado wildflowers. They are starting to peak, and the impact on the smell senses is as potent and pleasant as it is visually. The forest and meadows feel alive, blooming and buzzing with insects and hummingbirds. This is a popular area for hiking and mountain biking for Steamboat residents, but everybody was in a good mood, offering a friendly hello.

We continued on, paying a visit and drinking a coca-cola courtesy of a trail angel “Crazy Joe.” Trail angels are basically folks who hang out in the woods helping hikers. A popular phenomenon on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, they have been few and far between on the CDT. Crazy Joe has lived out of his truck for the past three years and enjoys spending time in the woods and helping hikers. We chatted for 15 minutes, thanked him, and headed north. 

A common complaint about Colorado is that there is no water in our state. That’s not exactly true. Consider the area between Rabbit Ears Pass and the Zirkel Mountains. Water abounds. Perfect lakes dot this heavily wooded plateau, and indeed it feels more like Minnesota than the Rocky Mountains. The Colorado lake country is serene and has that perfect feel that only deep, water clad forests have. 

We encountered a Boy Scout troop out camping and fishing, and I couldn’t help but be brought back to some of my own experiences as a youth. My very first backpacking trip was in Nordmarka. We backpacked to a lake, set up camp, caught a trout that we ate for dinner and slept in a blue pup tent. It happened in country not unlike that found in Colorado’s lake country.



FUTURE TRIP IDEA: Mountain bike up Buffalo Pass. Ride CDT East to Rabbit Ears. Bring food and gear for a couple nights. Bring Tenkara rods and fire starter. Fish and have fires. Go in the deep autumn. Loop back to Steamboat. If you are lucky, it snows an inch or two and you get first tracks.

It started to rain. We hiked on, hoods up, past the lakes as the rain beat down. Thunder clapped overhead, but since we were in the trees we were not worried. That changed a bit as we crossed under some massive power lines, buzzing and crackling as the rain hit their high voltage wires, but soon we were back in the woods, and the rain slackened. 

We crossed Buffalo Pass and entered the Zirkel Wilderness. You can’t help but enter Wilderness and feel a jolt of excitement…it is the purest land we have. While I disagree with some of the policies, like a complete blanket ban on bicycles, I appreciate Wilderness for its success in preserving some of our nation’s finest places from development. The Zirkel Wilderness was one of the first areas given such designation, a testament to its value even in the late-1960s. 


The land rose steadily as the damp night turned crisper. Clouds hung over peaks in all directions, and deer and elk scattered about as we continued on across valleys and late lingering snow drifts, alone, not another human in site. It was getting late, so we set up camp on a rise above a perfect little lake with frogs raising a ruckus. Just as we got camp set up for the night, the rain began again, and it was one of the most soothing, contented sleeps I’ve had in years. 

The next morning was cooler still. The frogs were quiet and a mist hung over the land. We shook the cobwebs out, pulled camp and gradually worked our way up something called Lost Ranger Peak. We ran into a couple other thru-hikers and hiked with them for a bit before continuing on our way. Nice folks, but I think our agendas were a little different. Not better or worse, just different. 

We continued climbing, and eventually made it to the top of Lost Ranger, glad to finally be on a mountain not named “Bald,” “Baldy,” “Old Bald,” or the like. We pulled out our tent to dry, and disaster almost struck as a brisk wind suddenly picked up, nearly sending our $600 Hilleberg tent hurtling over a cliff into Wolverine Basin. A blend on quickness and sheer dumb luck ensured we caught the tent and didn’t jam our bare feet on the rocky ground. Rookie mistake that we will not make again.

Other than that episode, it was a lazy lunch, gazing at distant peaks, soaking up the sun and enjoying the moment. We enjoyed it so much that we barely noticed the building thunderheads. Finally, as a dark cloud passed overhead, we ended our laze and headed down the mountain. Not a second too soon, as lightning started crashing on the peak we’d occupied ten minutes earlier. Soon we were dashing across a high plateau, racing the thunder, getting pelted by rain, kicking ourselves for not paying better attention. Fortunately the trail started to drop, and soon we were back in the woods, hiking in the rain in a our cocoon of forest safety. 


After that, the day rolled on like a dream, miles ticking off as we meandered thru forest and valleys. We crossed thru massive forest fire relics, along creek beds and valleys straight out of a western movie. We camped next to a river and an old jeep road, celebrating crossing the trail’s halfway mark and looking forward to entering Wyoming.

The next day turned into a sleeper challenge. There are days where the profile involves long climbs and high 13,000 foot passes. Those days are easier than what we ended up with – an endless series of steep ups and downs all the way to the Colorado border and beyond. The morning was the best, the trail meandering thru a valley with a heavy dew on plants and trees. After that, it was simply a 5,000 vertical up day of endless 200 to 300 foot climbs and drops. These were moto trails, and while fun on a two-stroke they are challenging to hike because they are so steep and loose. I kept telling myself it was great nordic ski training, and indeed my quad muscles burned by the end.

The day was not all suffering. After all, we crossed the Wyoming border. I couldn’t help but look back with pride on what we accomplished and enjoyed in our home state of Colorado. Elaine and I became the first people ever to ski the San Juan entire loop as part of a thru hike. We felt the love from friends and family. We experienced the stunning beauty of Colorado lake country. And of course, there is sadness too. Our partner in crime and family member Stella was alive when we entered Colorado. When we left, six weeks later, she was not. This creates a deep sadness in us that hopefully time and wilderness will help heal.


As we approached the end of the day we saw a massive elk, huge antlers and strong build. May he survive the upcoming hunting season, and if he dies, I hope he dies with dignity and is able to face east to make peace with the maker. 

We entered a new Wilderness area, the Huston Wilderess, an area I didn’t even know existed. This land is full of red quartz rock, lots of deadfall and feels very, very wild. We set up camp, tired from the roller coaster day, too tired to care that we were camped on a somewhat exposed ridge and that thunder was echoing far off in the distance. 

The next morning came, and we were thankful the lightning avoided us during the night. It was a 14 mile hike to the road to Encampment, and we enjoyed the magic of the Huston Wilderness, the meadows, the perfectly clear creeks, the hovering packs of butterflies, the absolute quiet and solitude. If I were a rock climber I would come here, the corse rocks looking inviting and challenging. 




We intentionally slowed down, enjoyed the land, took photos, relished it. We are not on this hike to compete or have our pace dictated by others. That’s why we ski race all winter – to feed that competitive urge. That’s not why we hike. If I ever become one of those hiker just counting miles, staring at Guthooks and not having any idea where I am, kick me. We’d rather emulate John Muir instead of Scott Jurek on this hike, plain and simple. 


The first car heading east from Battle Pass took us to Encampment, a small cowboy town far from the crowds of Colorado. This is the real west – the place where we ate dinner has a bear trap in the restaurant, the lady at the thrift store hates the forest service for killing the towns economy by ending logging and the gal at the post office left work to hand deliver a late arriving package to us. 

If all of Wyoming is like this, we’re in good shape.

Harteigån to Liseth: Day 3 Hike Across Norway

August 29, 2016 – Nedsta Soltjørni to Liseth – 23 miles, 2,867 feet of climbing

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There was a noticeable change in the weather overnight. The wind picked up and by the time we woke there was a light drizzle pitter-pattering on the tarp. Survival instinct said curl deeper into the sleeping bag, while our ambitious itinerary said get up and go. Motivation was still high, so we did the latter, despite the grey day.

A deep fog had moved over the valley of moss, and it was bone chilling. This was a morning for all layers, including rain top and pants. As the trail descended for most of the first part of the day, it required more layers than normal since exercise induced warming wouldn’t happen for some time.

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After the chilled ritual of pulling camp and shaking out the near frozen tarp, we made our way down a narrow trail on the side of a lush canyon. Waterfalls roared to our right, while sheep on the hillside wandered above us to the left. The sheep looked completely unfazed by the weather and I was glad that two of my layers were indeed wool so I could at least pretend to be as warm as they were.

There is something about hiking on a rainy morning with your hood up that lets you isolate into your own mind. I rather enjoy this state of being, simply following Elaine through the narrow path, as fog, rivers and mountains surround. Sometimes it’s good to be quiet and just enjoy the sound of footsteps on trail and rain drizzle on hood. We talk to much in our society…it’s better to listen.

The trail made its way down the valley to a more lush land, filled with blueberries and thicker brush. After indulging in a short berry feast, we crossed an ice cold river. On the other side was a tiny hamlet of three dark wooden cabins, complete with a sod roof. An elderly woman with a bucket was heading into the brush near one of the cabins, no doubt on the hunt for blueberries. A lucky, rare life she had. Of course, who knows what tragedies she has lived through – we all have some – but at least from the external appearance this was an ideal life.

dsc07009dsc07010We continued descending. We had been in this country before, last winter, on a ski between Hadlaskard and Torrehytten. Free of snow, it was drastically different. Travel would indeed be easier in the winter, for in the summer a dense brush and bog replaces a perfect winter cross country skiing surface. Fortunately a trail cut through the brush, making for quick going. We soon were crossing an elaborate suspension bridge right to Hadlaskard Hytte.

dsc07011dsc07014dsc07016-recoveredHadlaskard is one of our very favorite huts – remote, well equipped and located in a spectacular valley. Upon arriving, a couple from the Netherlands was leaving, and we shared stories from the trail and plans for the future. They were heading to Trolltunga…we were simply heading north to somewhere in the Jotenheim Mountains.

We stopped at Hadlaskard, dried some of our clothes, ate some Raman, and made a navigational choice. We had the option of heading up and over the central Hardangervidda on an exact route we skied earlier in the year. It would be straight forward and likely boggy. We also had the option of taking a trail on the west side of the plateau that dropped into the town Liseth before heading back up and circling the remote Hardangerjokul ice cap. Given that we have a penchant for new adventures, we chose the latter.

dsc07017dsc07018The trail worked its way down valley before rising onto some smooth rocky terrain that provided outstanding travel. We passed through a few remnant hamlets from the stone ages, and the combination of that and sheep on the hillside made for a medieval feel to the afternoon. Clouds raged below us, billowing down the glacier carved valley. We finally left Hardangervidda National Park and made our way down to the creek bed.

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dsc07029The trail turned heinous here. Rocky as can be, deep mud trenches and trick brush slowed our pace down to a crawl. Fortunately the berries were good at this low, birch forest elevation, and we feasted between struggling through the tricky terrain. We passed a shelter with a roof made of a section of rock that must have weighed many, many tons. If the weather was bad, this place would hold up.

dsc07026dsc07027As we continued down valley the trail got more and more muddy, to the point where it was quite comical. We would sink to our knees in the mud, the black muck pulling us down. Streams were a respite to clean the feet, and then it was back into the mud to repeat the process.

Before the trip began Elaine and I had a scheme to hike nine days to this spot from the north and then compete in the Hardangervidda Marathon which started in the nearby town of Eidfjord. After figuring out that the logistics to do this would be challenging at best, we decided to scrap the marathon plan. Nevertheless, we were now on a portion of the course, evidenced by the copious flagging the race organizer or a volunteer had placed a few days earlier.

What a course it was – a muddy trench with thick, thick brush all around. When it wasn’t a muddy trench, it was super slick rocks and sheep poop. (We checked times of the marathon upon getting home…winning time was five hours…not exactly the Boston Marathon smooth travel). We climbed yet another pass and it began to rain. The descent to the hamlet of Liseth was perhaps the slickest trail I’ve ever been on, and both Elaine and I took numerous crashes on our way down the steep gully. There are popular trails in Norway, and there was this one…it looked like nobody had used it in months.

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dsc07031As the light rain came down and the fog re-rolled in, we were not sure what to do for the night. The map made it clear that once we hit the valley we were in for 5-7 kilometers of bog before the trail eventually made its way back up onto the Hardangervidda. We hit the river at the bottom – absolutely raging in power and volume – crossed a bridge and just relaxed for a few minutes. As we stopped, the sun peaked through the clouds and a rainbow arced over the northern horizon.

We enjoyed some leisurely road walking before heading up a dirt road to the town of Liseth. According to the map, there was a “hikers pension” there. After a long day, a warm shower and bed seemed like the right call. Our goal for this trip was to spend frugally, but this seemed like a luxury too good to pass up. Besides, everything was soaked and it would be nice to dry out a little bit. We passed two horses, and the scene of the rainbow arcing over them made the whole thing look like a real-life Lisa Frank painting. And at the very end of the rainbow was our lodging for the night, the Liseth Hostel.

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dsc07040We were soaked to the bone and I imagine quite the sight to see, but the hostess was extremely friendly and for some reason charged us an inordinately cheap fare for the night. We went to our room, pulled out items to dry and quickly made a mess of the place! We were hungry, so we took our chances that we might be able to get some dinner. No problem whatsoever – tonight’s meal was salmon, potatoes and hot cocoa – to which we happily obliged. It was fantastic fish, no doubt caught in the Norwegian Sea about 10 miles west of where we were. We enjoyed the warmth and luxury of civilization for one night. It was a brief respite, for the next day would test our mettle to the hilt.

Reindeer Skull Camp to Hårteigen: Day 2 Hike Across Norway

August 28, 2016 – Nibbetjørn to Nedsta Soltjørni – 21 miles, 4,150 feet of climbing

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What’s a natural alarm? How about a brisk wind blowing from the west, rippling your tent, letting you know that nature waits as an honest partner, never too easy and never too hard. We woke on day two, calves a little stiff from 8,000 feet of climbing yesterday, but honestly we didn’t have time to listen to that nagging cry.

A quick pull of camp while simultaneously trying not to freeze and soak the hands while shaking the wet tarp and picking up frozen aluminum pegs. Mornings can be rough when things turn a little brisk. There is only one thing to do: move.

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The predominantly rock terrain crossed a number of short, 150 vertical feet, climbs and descents, over and over again, demanding snap from legs that gave a lot of snap the day before. After an hour or so of this, the route began descending, and to our left, it appeared the world dropped away. We scrambled up a mound and jaws dropped. Words don’t describe this view, and thankfully they don’t have to.

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You just have to soak it in at such times and realize these moments of perfect pureness are brief in life, and need to be savored. We continued on along the ridge and made our way to one of the most bizarre and non-pure scenes of the entire trip: Trolltunga.

Trolltunga – which means Troll’s Tongue – is an iconic Norway tourism destination, gracing the pages of travel magazines, Lonely Planet guidebooks and YouTube drone videos. And there in lies the problem. It is a mob scene of ridiculousness. It’s literally SnapChat central, the place to do a handstand on the rock and send it to your friends on Instagram. The direct route to Trolltunga is no slouch, and every day folks have to be rescued from the large vertical, rocky climb on the edge of the North Atlantic Ocean. We were glad we took an alternate route with no people even if it added a day to the trip. People fall off Trolltunga too – perhaps a handstand gone awry? We observed the chaos (as well as the toilet paper strewn around and about on the cliffside) and quickly made our way out towards more sane locales.

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It’s amazing how easily it is to avoid the crowds. If you see a tourist destination, go someplace else. Ask the locals too – they know where the gems are much better than a British guidebook. Or, just head 500 meters from the destination and find your zone again. And so it was as we headed east away from the fjords and onto the Hardangervidda.

This area is the heart of Norwegian water. There is water everywhere. Water in lakes, water in copious streams, water running from snowfields, water permeating every rock and crack in the area. As such, it’s also a huge area for Norwegian hydropower, with reservoirs and human impacted waterfalls weaving their way through the wilderness. It allows the country to be powered by natural, non-polluting sources. Industry uses it too…my Dale sweater is made from the power of waterfalls in the Norwegian mountains. It’s not perfect, but it’s as good a source of energy as I’ve ever seen.

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This was an exciting day as we were heading into an area where we actually skied back in February on our winter jaunt across the Hardangervidda. Our destination for the evening, somewhere in the vicinity of the mountain Harteigan, was almost exactly where we slept six months earlier. That was sort of the motivation for this trip – we were wandering around the hut, found some patches of tundra popping out through the frozen wasteland, and decided we needed to come back here during the snow-free(ish) months.

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We worked our way east across the rolling, Lord of the Rings-esque landscape marveling in the abundance of water, rock, snow and green. We eventually made our way to Tyssevassbu, one of the very few DNT self-serve huts that has electricity. This is possible because this hut is in the middle of Norway’s hydroelectric hub, and it was nice luxury to be able to charge our electronics while enjoying a snack of hot ramen and solbaer drink. Even on nice days the climate here is raw, the cold wind a constant reminder that things can get brutal in a hurry. Any respite is welcome. As we were leaving the hut, a woman showed up who looked at us in disbelief when we told her we hoped to be at Finse in two days. I’m not sure if her reaction motivated us or made us wonder if we were insane – probably a bit of both!

It was time to head back onto the trail. It meandered over the high plateau, crossing stream and snowfields, with the massive flat-topped mountain Harteigen acting as a lighthouse for our campsite for the evening.

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As the day moved on and the kilometers grew, the temperature began to drop. We were both beginning to experience something of a bonk, with cravings for food moving to the forefront of the brain. Yet the beauty of the landscape acted as something of a distraction, and we began to enter that strange zone where discomfort actually accentuates beauty and wildness. There is something very ancient about feeling this way, in perpetual motion, in a bit of pain, yet overwhelmed by beauty.

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We crossed into a ravine and descended down a slightly sketchy snowfield with a river running underneath it. I tentatively led the way across, hoping the bottom didn’t drop out and we both ended up in the river. Fortunately, it held. Harteigen emerged in front of us, and we knew our day was nearing an end.

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Except for it wasn’t. The trail did one of those annoying meandering things that turned a kilometer into three, and when you are very hungry and bonking that’s not fun. After another half-hour, we made it to Torrehytten (Thor’s Hut) and cooked up four packets of Pasta-di-Parma. This was a decision triggered by extreme hunger, but it was too much as we struggled to eat 3/4 of the feast. Stomachs loaded and temperature still dropping, we headed out into the wild to find camping for the night.

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After another 30 minutes of hiking we found a flattish plateau with thick moss. A fair bit of hemming and hawing later, and we settled on a campsite, pitched the tarp and, as the wind howled and light drizzle started to fall, settled in for a  cozy night of sleep in the heart of the Hardangervidda.

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