Monday, August 10, 2015

Tallest Ridge

Our first day was behind us and a 1,800 foot elevation gain before us.  Lizard Head trail was where we where headed.  Knowing most of today would be up hill left me with mixed feelings.  I love ridge hiking, where you're walking on the tippy-top of the mountain.  I love being able to see glaciers, and myriads of mountain tops poking their heads up in the distances. I love feeling small in comparison.

Usually the first mile in a hike is a good warm up for the rest of your day. This however; was not the case for this hike. The first mile was very pleasant as we walked away from the Cirque. The terrain was green and lush making the surrounding mountains look very harsh and powerful in contrast. There was no gradually gain of  elevation. One moment it was like a morning stroll in the park and the next you got slapped in the face with the reminder that, no, this is not a walk in some quaint tame little city park, but this was a hike through a wild place. A place not made for the faint of heart.

The sign in the photo to the right was also a good reminder of this. You may or may not be able to see, but the sign is no longer informative. The words have been scrapped off either by wind and snow or animals. Though I'm sure both have worked together to leave the hiker questioning for a moment as to whether or not they should proceed with their intended route.  We of course decided to continue full speed ahead.  It would be hard and most likely we'd each take turns attending our own pity parties, but they would be very short lived in light of what we had the privilege to see.

I could continue to write about how extremely heavy my backpack was and how it really cramped my style during this extreme uphill climb, but I won't waste your time by going into so much detail about that. Instead I'd like to tell you about all the amazing flowers there where the  higher we got.  

It was truly incredible. Who would think at once you were above 11,000 feet that the ground around you would explode into so many colors.  We saw columbine, ox eye daisies, buttercups, Indian paint brush, queens crown, common fireweed,  mountain lupine,  monkshood, alpine for-get-me-nots, and marsh- marigolds. I'm sure there were many more, but this helps give you an idea.  Here we where in a harsh environment with thousands of delicate flowers blanketing the mountain sides.

Another thing we found as we continued to climb was water.  And this wasn't visible snow melt which is so common, but spring water.  Water so clear and cool bubbling right up out of the ground. Being on top of the ridge and seeing water flowing everywhere around us was amazing. I thought by August everything but the glacier produced streams and drainages would've been dry.
This is Lizard Head Peak and the lake closest to it is Bear Lake.

Oh, and let me just say, if you've never gotten to see a glacier, you need to. Now these glacier are not as big as they once used to be, but they where no less impressive in my mind. Just look at this! As you look at all the rocky ridges around you, you see that at one time they all house glaciers of their own. You could see where the glacier slid down out of the mountains carving a path for themselves and the water to follow.

All day my mind was being blown by the astonishing creation surrounding me. I still can't understand how most people can look at these incredible works and attribute them to chance. If you listen you can hear them screaming out that they were hand crafted. Chance could not ever make something so inspiring. The beauty of this place was hard to take in.  I wish these photograph did their reality better justice. I almost hate photographing these mountains and glaciers because the photographs are completely unable to capture their immense majesty. I am humble by such landscapes, it makes me ask the question, "Who am I?"

Cathedral Peak 12,000ft high

The river in the picture is the Wind River. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

First One Step Then Another

This past Monday night flew by in anticipation of our backpacking trip the following morning. It had only been the pervious week that we decided to make this trip work  in conjunction with our 3rd wedding anniversary.  I was feeling a bit overwhelm or maybe over packed and terribly excited. It had been four years since I'd gone backpacking.  All I could think of was being over 11,000 feet in the air and seeing oceans of mountain tops and ridge lines.  

Tuesday morning dawned, we grabbed our packs and jump in our truck. We were off!  Because the short planning time frame of this this trip I neglected to look up the distance to the trail head. All I knew was that is was down highway 28 going toward Farson, (wy) and that from the highway we'd be making a right turn. For the future I will be figure out the distance from the ranch to  the trailhead. We had no trouble finding the turn off for the Big Sandy Opening Camp ground, but what I wasn't counting on was the fact that from the highway it was another 36 miles back to the camp ground. 

For some reason I was figuring on the camp ground being only a few miles off the highway and if it had been it would've taken just over any hour to get there and we'd be hiking by 0900. As it turns out we didn't start our hike till 1100 . . . and we had 9 hard uphill miles to hike our first day, not that either James or I really cared. We were actually going on a trip we'd talked about for the last 3 years.   

The parking lot at the Big Sandy was packed to over flowing with vehicles from all over the country; there were people everywhere.  It was an easy enough hike to start off with. This part of the trail was wide and very well traveled, with ventrally no elevation gain. Big Sandy Lake was our first stop and that was about 4 miles into the hike. By the time we reached the lake I realized that I over pack our food,(by 20 pounds) and that my backpack was not made to comfortably support the weight I was carrying (my pack weighed in at 50lbs).  

My feet were already protesting with a few blisters; which is frustration when you're wearing a pair of very broken in boots, but no worries we had a couple of foot kits on hand. We stopped by the lake side where I pulled off my boots and James whipped out the map. Our first real elevation gain was just around the corner! I could feel my excitement growing, it's that feeling that sits low in your stomach, making you take deep intentional breaths. It was about to start really looking like the beautiful wild wilderness I loved.  This hike was about to get real, real hard that is. 

The funny thing is that the higher you climb the more your body protest the weight on your back and the lack of oxygen in your blood. You can feel it in your legs with each step upward, you can feel in the your heart as it beats in fast, short pulses and in your erratic breaths that fight to be controlled. It's worth all that uncomfortableness and more when you reach the top; you start to see the world around you falling away and beginning look more like painting than something tangible. 

Our goal for our first day out was to hike to the Cirque of the Tower. I'd been there before, but I'd not gotten there from crossing Jack-Ass Pass. The name of the pass should have been enough of a warning. I'm not sure that I need to say more on that, it's should be pretty obvious. Unlike most mountain passes, Jack-Ass pass was not a switchback but it went straight up and over. This was defiantly not the easiest way to the Cirque. The trail presented one challenge after another with no break in between. 

Before we actually made our final ascent into the Cirque of the Towers we crossed a tremendous boulder field and I mean it was tremendous. As I looked as the boulder field before us I couldn't help think of Mordor in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Each step you took had to be thoughtful. Falling could not be an option. The consequence for a fall had a high possibility of ending the hike before it's even really begun. There were a few times I found myself thinking about how I would hike out with a crack skull or a broken ankle. Thankfully though, we were able to toil through this almost half mile of rock with no accidents.  

Once that agony was completed it was time to hike straight up a mountain. Our pace had slowed considerably, but that just gave us more time to admire all the flowers that began to appear as we continued to gain elevation. By the time you reach the top your muscles are feeling every pound in your pack, but once you crest the pass all that weight feels like it slipped from your shoulders and all you could do at that point is gawk at the grandeur towering around you. 

 Now that we made it to the top it was time to come down. I've decided it is considerably worse than going up. It makes me feel three times my age. This trail also looked suspiciously like an old donkey path. It'd be fine if we had a donkey with us to carry the weight down the mountain, but with every step down my aching knees where  making me wonder why no one had thought to redesign it for human feet.  

  9 miles 7 hours, not to shabby when you consider that more than half our hike was up hill on some pretty brutal trails; which, quit honestly were probably originally made by donkeys for donkeys.  Dinner, of course, was amazing and please don't even get me started about my sleeping bag.

Side Note
 I just wanted to give a short note about food preparation and backpacking: A good rule of thumb is for food while your backpacking is one pound of food per person per day. I think I must have packed 3 pound of food per person per day(which is just ridiculous). I can't stress enough about the  important of having enough time to adequately plan your backpacking trip. It really makes a noticeable outcome in your trip.  I took time to make sure I had the right gear: i.e. sleeping bag, first aid kit, cooking stove, fuel, maps, compass, R.A.D plan exedra . . .  but to be honest I really slipped on the food preparation. The hike would been much easier will 20 less pounds of weight. Another important thing to take note of is the weight limit of you backpack.

All backpacks are not made equal. I have the Gregory Sage women's backpack which is only 45 liters.  It's max carrying weight is 30 pounds, anything much over 30 pounds will be uncomfortable. I'll talk more about my pack problems in the next few posts, so I'll just say that you'll save yourself a world of hurt it you take the time to know the in's and out's of the gear you're using.