CDT Update: Wyoming

Wyoming, rich in culture and scenery, was a stunning, environmentally diverse state to hike through: Yellowstone National Park, the Wind River Range, the Great Divide Basin and Medicine- Bow National Forest. All topped off with viewing a solar eclipse in full totality from the trail. Five hundred miles and 23 days more experienced, more crisped by the sun, and more prepared for what lies ahead in Colorado.

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 Wyoming began with some serendipitous trail magic. Things on a thru-hike, and in this community of like-minded adventurers, often have a way of strangely working out. We share a heightened awareness of our surroundings, where support is unmatched and inspiration flows heavy. The trail sometimes has a way of showing us a path we never intended to look for (except the obvious one we walk daily). The small things; gestures, are monumental. Support from strangers, a community bigger than ourselves to remind us the importance of openness and asking for help without fear of vulnerability; trust without hesitation.

I walked into Mack's Inn, the final stop in Idaho, believing I'd struck out finding a place for Luna to stay while I hiked through Yellowstone NP, and would have to skip a 150 mile stretch of the trail. But just as we got cell service for the first time in days, Dingo had a name: a friend of a friend in Jackson who could help out. An entire network of people who put the word out had made it happen for me. Some last minute logistics, and a 2hr hitch down to Jackson would connect us with Franny, who would generously hang with Luna for 5 days. 

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Then we met Joel. A stranger at the time, who picked up some strangers. He had a lifetime of adventures in his few decades of life, and endless stories to share. He offered to roadtrip with us down to Jackson to drop off Luna and then continue up to Yellowstone, where we'd keep hiking. In this strange, vulnerable moment, he was exactly what we needed, and us for him. We drove and talked about sustaining adventurous lifestyles, living out of vans... an enlightening moment that all we talk about, doesn't need to end. And us, the epitome of his youth, to bring back that energy that had become complacent in him. The winds had changed, and the smoked from fires calmed; now the Tetons in staggering, clear view as we drove by. A refreshing experience that I think we all needed that day.

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So we walked through Yellowstone. The Continental Divide Trail travels right through the center of Old Faithful Village, one of the busiest tourist spots in the National Parks system. To avoid a complete culture shock, we woke before dawn and walked along the ADA-compliant boardwalks through the frost and fog, free of people. Only accompanied by the sounds of bubbling thermals and geysers erupting, we enjoyed the peaceful first hours before the daily chaos. After a few hours at the breakfast buffet, we pushed on, putting in big mile days in the easy terrain (and some night hiking) for the remainder of the stretch. The Bridger-Teton National Forest just south of the Park had phenomenal views and cold springs to keep us entertained until we reunited with Luna.

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As much as I love my dog, it was really relaxing to have a few days free of responsibility. Dingo and I hitched an hour to Jackson to rendezvous with our new friend Franny, where it was a zoo with the approaching solar eclipse. Luna was crazy excited to see me, but was clearly happy and made herself at home in Jackson with her new sidekick. We spent a night there, cooking up some foods we'd been craving and relax on a mattress thicker than 2 inches. It felt like I'd known Franny for years, a free spirit who'd ambitiously landed in this town and we'd stumbled upon .

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Returning to the trail after a comfortable night in town isn't always easy. But for weeks we'd been planning our pace to catch the solar eclipse in full totally just south of Highway 26, so anticipation was high. The night before, we ran into friends Sunny and Killer, which was a nice surprise. The eclipse was an intense, magical, strange experience that I'm not sure I could describe even if I tried. Sunny has a great video of us on that day. Once it was over though, it was over, and back to hiking that afternoon.

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The section of the hike through the Wind River Range was one I'd been itching for. I'd spent a few days last summer day hiking there, and couldn't wait to get deeper into these mystical mountains. They were everything I'd imagined and more. Dingo and I opted to take our time through here, which meant hiking out a side trail 10 miles to hitch to Pinedale to resupply on food in order to take on all the alternate high routes (as opposed to staying on the official CDT). There, Luna celebrated her 4th birthday with a steak and egg breakfast. The North Winds were only the tease, spanned with bright blue lakes and a calm sense of remoteness (until you see the trailhead crawling with cars from the recent eclipse). The climbs gradually became more intense, and if didn't take long to be up high in vicinity of dramatic peaks.

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Knapsack Col was our first alternate route and one of my favorite days on earth. Some steep rock scrambling and snowdrifts, combined with our first climb above 12,000 feet made for tougher hiking. My body felt strong, but my lungs were slow to familiarize with the inability to achieve full breaths. The views at the top were jaw-dropping; jagged, snow capped peaks that can only be achieved by skilled rock climbers. Cirque of the Towers, a famous rock climber's paradise was another exceptional route through the Winds, with more high passes, scrambles and gorgeous mountains to see. Thanks to the sunny weather, there was lots of swimming in beautiful lakes along the way. A spectacular 8 days in a place I'd love to come back to soon.

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The change of scenery dropping out of the Winds is no short of dramatic. The snow and rock disappear and are replaced with sand, sage and endless sun. After a resupply and rest stop in Lander, we began hiking through the infamous Great Divide Basin. A high desert area, where the Continental Divide splits in two directions, leaving a wide open bowl in the middle. It's incredibly vast and remote, crawling with elk, pronghorn and wild horses. It's rich in history of pilgrimages West, and brutally hot. Often with no shade as far as the eye can see, we got creative with our napping shelters. Routine became: get up well before sunrise, hike until early afternoon, nap and eat, then continue again in the evening until the stars were bright and the sky black. While the walking was easy, the heat was not, but we cranked big days to get through and Luna was a trooper through it all (even putting up with the booties I made her wear). The reward for making it through the Basin? Arriving in big chain retailer heaven in Rawlins. 

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As most stays in town go, we're rarely resting. Resupplying often involves navigating around town on foot to the grocery store, outfitters, post office, etc. Five minutes before checkout time at the hotel, we decided to take a zero day to relax. South of Rawlins was one more dry, hot day in the desert before entering Medicine-Bow National Forest. We hadn't seen trees in nearly 200 miles, so the sight of them was a relief. We walked into the first row of trees and immediately sat down in some shade. With Colorado only days away, we soaked in all that Wyoming had been.

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