Last week I threatened you with multiple pages from my journal about the trek to the Bridger Wilderness.
Like so many of my miscalculations during that trip, I grossly underestimated the number of pages. The 17 single space pages were mailed to Ellen and Reid this morning. I’ll post the entire diatribe and photos late this week once they’ve had a chance to receive it.
But until then, here’s one page as a sampler of what’s ahead for those of you who have patience.
Day 5, Tuesday, July 15
There’s a lot to think about as you roll around in a sleeping bag trying to avoid rocks and sticks beneath your tent as you hyper-listen for any noises that could be construed as a marauding grizzly.
I thought a lot about the stream and the trail, and I know Tom did, too. It is his style to methodically explore all options whether it’s the weight of materials – or escape routes.
It was very wet and clammy in the morning. Everything would need time to dry and after the bags and tents were hung out in the sunniest spots, we ran through what we might do from here. Tom wanted to get to the path as soon as possible. There is a sense of security on the path. The map, however, showed conflicting whereabouts of a trail we’d not really set foot on in more than two days. After another breakfast of instant oatmeal and coffee, and back in my still wet boots and socks, I led Tom to our potential salvation from this portion of the wilderness. We could see the first two of four portions of the stream. The individual fords looked doable although the precise location of the trail was a bit dodgy. He agreed, and now we were in business. We packed our gear and within minutes had crossed each waterway.
To our utter amazement and relief, no sooner had we stepped on the north shore of the fourth fingerling than the path appeared before us. It was not 150 yards from the spot where we had forlornly bunked for two anxious nights. Not perhaps where we expected it, but it was still the path. It was the first cheery news we’d had in a couple of days. From where we stood we could turn left toward Hailey Pass or turn right and continue onward in a big 25 mile arc to the Cirque.
There was one problem with turning right. We heard through the hiker grapevine that one key pass, Texas Pass, was also thought to be unnavigable due to heavy snow. Without any verification, and in view of our tumultuous experience at Hailey, we chose to turn left. Hailey was a known quantity and we were relatively confident we could scale the slope that had taken hours for us to descend.
We were also well ahead of schedule. My computations were that to find the path might take hours, and we were already on it and headed upward and west. The river just to our left was still a raging torrent but it was quieter – less water flow – in the early morning hours before the afternoon sun accelerated the snow melt. I wondered if this might be our chance to safely ford the beast as we neared the bog. Indeed, by 9:45 a.m. we reached the point where the path intersected the 40 yard wide stream. The water was down sufficiently that we could wade through a slower current nearly up to our waists and use our poles for stability. The body of water we most feared was bypassed in a matter of a few minutes. Hailey Pass lay straight ahead three-quarters of a mile.
Now our attention turned to scaling the pass. We knew the east side, with its scree and snow and boulders, could be handled. We’d done it before. At the foot of the slope – we had about a 1,200 foot climb ahead of us – we talked through how to get from our Point A to the saddle’s Point B. There would be no avoiding the snow. Tom suggested we tape both hiking poles together should the more stabile points need to be jabbed into the snow to stop a fall. He also thought we should use parachute cord to tie the poles to our belts to avoid the loss of the poles sliding down the steep slope in the event of a mishap. It was another good idea.
To minimize tromping on the snow and avoid the boulder fields, we plotted a new path that would steer us wider and up the east valley wall. We could see strips of green – solid footing – that would keep us largely off the boulders. We started the climb about 10 a.m.
Going up proved easier than the trip down. You can press your weight forward into the slope as opposed to leaning backward as you descend. This made a huge difference. We pretty much followed the tracing of the snow much of the way up and walked on green spaces where we could. There was very little boulder hopping. Once on the snow I kicked steps for Tom to follow. The final quarter mile featured a 100 yard strip of snow on the steepest part of the slope. The trail was visible at the top end of the snow and zig zagged all the way to the saddle. We made the final yards in good order and continued to the top of the ridge marking the pass where we high fived each other and knelt in a moment of thanks for our deliverance. Our planning, experience and guile had paid off. We were no nearer the Cirque but at this point we felt relief. By 11:30, the ascent was finished, several hours ahead of my forecast.
Rejuvenated, we continued past Twin Lakes and over the familiar snow fields and fast streams. Our initial goal was to get to Dads Lake, but we instead descended about three miles to an all but deserted Mae’s Lake
and about 4 o’clock came upon an incredible camping site atop a plateau overlooking the lake to the south. We’d get plenty of sun, there was ample wood for a fire, the ground was dry and the trout were on the rise.
My Mountain Hardwear tent went up quickly, my pack was emptied of gear, I pumped water for Tom’s Platypus and my SmartWater bottle, a fire ring was built and wood collected for the evening fire with the full intent to catch something to cook over it. This evening would end much better than those before it.
While Tom went on with his preparations, I asked him: “Could you eat one fish or two?” “Two” he responded. I rechecked my clinch knots, and in a few minutes of moving along the shore to cast to the circles, I had my first fish, a nice 8 inch brookie. It didn’t reach my recently revised (upward) size standards so back it went. But the next fish was a keeper in the 10 inch range. I yelled to Tom to get the fire started. Trout two, three and four of similar size were collected in short order. I stripped a willow of all but one twig as a temporary stringer and slid the now gutted trout through the gills onto the branch and headed the 200 yards up to our fine encampment. I unfolded the non-stick foil (barely wide enough to contain these beauties) and dusted the brooks with seasoning as Tom reduced the fire to coals. There’s nothing like mountain trout at the end of a long, but thankfully successful, day. We returned to the lake once more to pump water and for Tom to get an impromptu lesson in casting a fly. In moments he was floating the line like an old pro. He’s a studious guy and it was impressive to see him handle the rod. Later, and like you guys did as kids camping in Minnesota, we kept tossing sticks into the fire to keep it aflame into the evening as we sat on our bear canisters and recounted our adventure – to this point – into the darkness.