Tag Archives: Continental Divide Trail

A travelogue from the couch …


I guess this is what retirees do. Hit the road. 

This must be – has to be – the first letter Ellen and Reid have ever received that deals exclusively with their old man’s travel. Maybe not the travel itself, but the looking forward to it. Now if only I was better at the planning …


June 12, 2017

Ellen/Reid: Tomorrow marks a drastic change for me in terms of fishing with Miss Emma in Charleston; I’ll finally overnight there to milk a second day out of the excursion. I booked a fleabag on the west end of Rte. 17 north of Bowens Island. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out since the down-and-back in one day routine just flat wore me out. Don’t ask why this tact has not been taken before. Beats the hell out of me. I’m cheap, I guess.

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Bowens Island is my escape route. Escape to the water. Miss Emma got a full taste of the brackish salt creeks last week, and she’ll get more of same this week, too.

There’s an added factor in that my friends Jill and Troy want some of my fish as an glitzy appetizer for a big, formal sit-down meal they plan to serve to 20 – 25 guests. They are both chefs as opposed to cooks so they’ll doll up whatever is caught and really make it delicious. So for once we will be a production fishing operation. It means we can spend way more time on the water on Day One rather than scoot out of town at 2 p.m. or so to beat the horrid Charleston traffic. So it’s exciting in a way.

Wyoming is really creeping up soon. This time next month everything might be in the pack. Got to get some new tires for the Camry for the Westward trip since there are nearly 48,000 miles on the car in barely 19 months. My trail meals have already been purchased from an outfit called Packitgourmet.com. The food is all dehydrated rather than freeze dried which takes, in my opinion, too much time to rehydrate. What I’ve seen from Packitgourmet.com is some really good stuff. Almost cuisine. Lunches will be the standard peanut butter and flour tortillas along with tuna in foil packs. Tom buys dried fruit at Trader Joe’s which is really good. Breakfasts will be equally standard; oatmeal with raisins and Starbucks instant coffee. The Tyvek hustled from a construction site has been trimmed to fit the one man tent (and the two person tent, too, Reid). That saves some weight and it compresses better than the plastic sheets. We’ll stay at the super-duper Four Winds in Jackson on the eve of the hike. Reid, Pinedale was nearly full. I had to scrounge for a motel. Must be a lot of roughnecks staying overnight. No way I want to spend another night in the car under a full moon like we did 11 or so years ago. What a memory that is.

Been paging through the Camino de Santiago guide, trying to wrap my arms around the whole idea of an enormous trip. It’s interesting that the author of the guide asks readers early in the book to consider why they would make the trip at all. Really a good question. He assumes, and treats readers thusly, that most make a pilgrimage rather than treat it like a hike or sporting event (my friends Tom and Vince and Richard who’ve all made the trip think it’s more of a walk than a hike). Certainly it’s not race walking or push every day for miles, miles, miles. As I look at the map of Spain – my sense of geography is just awful – my anticipated side trips to Madrid and Barcelona won’t happen. Both are just too far off the trail. In fact, I might book my initial flight in to Barcelona rather than an airport to St. Jean Pied de Port, France, the traditional starting point for the Camino. That way I can spend a day or two traipsing around Barcelona and then hop a bus toward Pamplona which is three days walk from St. Jean. Tom sent me his exacting and incredibly detailed (go figure, huh, Reid?) gear list and that is an enormous help. I’ve been bending Vince’s ear, too.

All this has me thinking about other adventures of this sort that might be made since we shouldn’t be afraid to live. It would be so fun to launch Miss Emma offshore to paddle the length of the Carolinas. It’d take some planning but what fun that would be. There isn’t much other international travel that trips my trigger. Reid, remember that guy we saw up in the Bridger who walked the Continental Divide Trail? Now that would be an extraordinary feat. I’d do that, too, but again, I’d need Tom’s sense of planning since such minute details tend to escape me. No surprise there. Sigh.

Love, Dad

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Damn I love these mountains, the last steps on the last day and time for that beer…


If you think about the planning and sweat equity that went into our 2015 excursion to the Bridger Wilderness, what is truly amazing is how fast it comes – and with even greater speed how it ends in a blink of an eye. There is a sadness of sorts in that something so anticipated is now in the rear view mirror. It is gone, and all that’s left is what you see in photos or care to remember. But that’s why they allow a 2016 version of this adventure – you can relive it all over again. Count me in.

This is the last of seven installments. Maybe that’s good news to you, but for me and my trekking companions – Rebekah, Katy, Vince, Tom and Reid – there’s a wistful hope that what is now final perhaps might have lasted a few more glorious days longer.

Send Dave a note if you’re interested in 2016: david.bradley@yahoo.com.

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Our tent city was truly a moonlight kingdom, and as Vince captured we had a full moon on our final night in the back country.

Our tent city was truly a moonlight kingdom, and as Vince captured we had a full moon on our final night in the back country.

Day 7, Thursday, July 30

Our last day starts about 6 a.m., and for me it comes after a good sleep in relative warmth. That’s testament to my Mountain Hardware bag. What is gained as added weight is offset by a comfortable night’s rest. The others shivered throughout the week as they tried to sleep and this was by far our coldest night.

I go about my typical pack first-leave the tent second approach. It helps to get the juices flowing.

A 19 degree morning will do this to a guy's fly reel bag left outside overnight - coat it completely with frost.

A 19 degree morning will do this to a guy’s fly reel bag left outside overnight – coat it completely with frost.

My boots are ice cold. The grass is frozen and crunches as I exit through the zippered doorway. The tent will dry soon enough as the sun rises but that’s still some time, maybe 30 minutes, away.

My guess is the temperature bottomed out in the low to mid 20s.

Wrong again. Tom, also usually up and around earlier in lieu of later sleep, reports a bone-chilling 19 degrees, the lowest in memory and in part thanks to clear skies and no wind. If the breeze was up we’d ask Tom if he had windchill app but the wind has mercifully laid down. We’d be far colder.

Reid’s Nalgene is frozen solid and he smiles as he mentions it in some sort of morbid pride in the fact the temps dipped far lower than any of us might have expected. Condensation has crystalized inside most tents. It’s good we are in a broad open area; our gear will dry quicker in the sun that is just now peeking over the Continental Divide. Unlike other campsites in the canopy of trees, we will benefit from the warmth of the sunlight sooner than later.

I ask Tom about the whereabouts of Dan; he replies that Dan was up in the dark, packed quickly and efficiently and was on his way before dawn. No telling how far he is along on the trail. Good luck to him, I think. He was a valued newcomer to our little brigade, however briefly.

My mind turns to coffee. Like everything else, my bear canister is crusted in frost and I wipe it down with the cuff of my pants. I continue to be amazed that of the 11 oz. of denatured alcohol that has made the trip, at least five to six ounces remain. The lightweight and nearly-windproof stoves are incredible if boiling water is all you need.

A young ranger stops by the camp on his way out of the high country. Nice kid, and what a helluva job that would be.

A young ranger stops by the camp on his way out of the high country. Nice kid, and what a helluva job that would be.

And that’s just about all of us really want in a stove. Boil water. The instant oatmeal most mornings has been okay, if not good, but I’m ready for a real meal. So is Reid and, probably, the rest of our band. Trail food is trail food. You eat it because it comes together fast and fills your stomach. We wrap up our final meals.

Our little tent city sprang up quickly but after a frigid overnight, the sun dried us out quickly.

Our little tent city sprang up in a jiffy but after a frigid overnight, the sun dried us out quickly.

There seems to be a little greater sense of urgency to breaking camp this last morning in the back country. My sense is we’re ready for this to conclude on our terms. We’re lucky; there have been no blisters, no major injuries, no truly getting lost (we quickly corrected whatever missteps we took on wrong paths but our brief errors were nowhere near the magnitude the befell Greg the missing hiker),

Our final breakfast on a final cold morning. I like oatmeal, but damn, enough already.

Our final breakfast on a final cold morning. I like oatmeal, but damn, enough already.

no significant gear issues, more delicious fish than we deserved, and a crew of people who meshed and got along well.

I take a look around our final campground as we near the time to hit the trail. This was a good place for a last night stopover. The fire ring will be left undisturbed for the next hikers to use. The matted spots on the cushy grass where our tents were pegged down stand out in the morning frost. A last appreciative gaze is made toward the lake. Trout, in their voraciousness, create dozens of dimples as they continue to feed at the surface. Like the internal clocks of aging hikers, their seasonal clocks tick, too.

We have roughly six miles ahead of us. Our camp at the north shore of Big Sandy Lake adds only marginal distance to the hike. Tom and I know the Big Sandy Trail. It is as arrow straight as a trail can be, decent mostly rockless terrain and it should make for a quick, easy day. We heft our packs to one knee for the final time, insert one arm through a shoulder strap, give the packs one more upward motion to insert the other arm, and at about 10 a.m. off we go. Rebekah and Reid can smell the finish line. They take off and Katy and I, in the rear and moving as fast as we can, won’t see them nor Tom or Vince again until the parking lot. People, all of us, are really hauling.

Vince continued his photographic mastery even through the final day.

Vince continued his photographic mastery even through the final day.

We deserve a stress free path. We pass many other hikers, a mix of the young, the old and families on their way up to Big Sandy Lake, the Cirque or points beyond. We talk to briefly to some that stop momentarily. Invariably they all ask how long or how far to Big Sandy Lake. They probably don’t like our responses. It’s not an apples to apples comparison. We are on the downhill side and groups headed the other way have some steep, slow stretches ahead of them. They probably all wish the distance was shorter. All of us are anxious to keep going, those going up and us headed down.

Our trailside chats done, Katy and I never do stop to officially rest. Our packs never come off. We are the last cars of a train that races down the tracks.

I ask myself, not aloud, how many more of these adventures are left in me? Probably not very many which made this trek all that much more rewarding. It means every time you look at the mountains, you really look. Sure, there’s no absorbing what you see in totality. You can pause to appreciate the landscape for what it is and how it tolerates your temporary presence in its realm but it is never really yours to have or own. We borrow what we see.

The views slipped away rapidly as we made a fast exit out of the Winds and the Bridger. There seems to be a great sadness in that. Hard work, but why is it gone so soon?

The views slipped away rapidly as we made a fast exit out of the Winds and the Bridger. There seems to be a great sadness in that. Hard work, but why is it gone so soon?

The Big Sandy River, a beautiful wide slow flowing river, is to our left as it accompanies us virtually the entire distance. It features oxbows and long stretches of flat water with almost no discernible rapids. Nothing beyond ripples. We know there are fish along the banks but we aren’t about to stop to find out for certain. The Scott stays in its cloth sleeve.

The Biug Sa

The Biug Sandy is just a tremendous stretch of water. It really is divine.

I keep looking not only at the river but to keep an eye open for the idyllic camp site Tom and I called home for our last night in ’14. It’s where we watched a school of 7 – 8 brookies swim in place in a lazy clockwise eddy as they vied for whatever food might drift by. The larger fish idled closest to the surface and hence closest to the hatch.

We really make good time on our walk as we leave the Bridger in our rearview mirrors. Our quick pace exposes my poor estimations of time and distance. My ‘educated’ guess had us stroll into the parking lot about 3:00 p.m. Was I ever wrong.

Katy and I sense the finish line and motor at a good clip and arrive at the parking area way, way ahead of my faux-schedule. I was only off by the slimmest of margins: 90 minutes. How you err by a full hour and a half is beyond me.

Our lead pack - Rebekah, Reid, Vince and tom - beat Katy and Dave to the finish line by at least 45 minutes.

Our lead pack – Rebekah, Reid, Vince and tom – beat Katy and Dave to the finish line by at least 45 minutes.

Tom, Vince, Rebekah and Reid lounge on a table in the shade and only then does it occur to me that handing the SUV keys to someone else back at Big Sandy Lake could have allowed them to conveniently pre-load the beast. But no, the keys jingle at the bottom of my Osprey pack. Way to plan, ditz.

Dave checks our group out on the forest service visitor log. All are accounted for.

Dave checks our group out on the forest service visitor log. All are accounted for. God damn, I love these mountains. What am I going to do without them?

All that is lost in the wash as we high five and slap backs and congratulate ourselves as we celebrate our feat in which we came through unscathed and thankful. At last we could now talk about prior taboos that were off limits for conversations; showers, honest-to-goodness hamburgers and fries, an air conditioned car and yes, cold beer. In a swap probably engineered on the trail, Rebekah volunteers to ride back to Pinedale in the jolt seat previously occupied by Reid. She finds out the hard way that the dirt and gravel road hasn’t gotten any smoother in the week we’d been up top in the Winds. Although we don’t feel worse for the wear, one look in the mirror shows the cumulative effect of no shower or stream side bath for days on end. My face is caked in grime although no one ever bothers to point this out to me, probably as a hiker-to-hiker courtesy. The dirt was likely not just limited to my face.

Return trips on the same road always seem to feel faster than when you first drive it. I’m not sure why that is. We browse for more antelope on the same stretches of gravel or pavement we just drove past the week before. His hard work done, Tom nods off in the passenger seat. Vince finally can close his eyes, too, without the interruption of the three most dreaded words in backpacking: let’s saddle up.

Nothing wrong with a final beer after a journey well taken: from left to right, Reid Bradley, Tom Bohr, Rebekah Fergusson, Vince Pratt, Katy Hill.

Nothing wrong with a final beer after a journey well taken: from left to right, Reid Bradley, Tom Bohr, Rebekah Fergusson, Vince Pratt, Katy Hill.

We make a pit stop in Boulder for something salty and liquid that isn’t pumped water and then it is on to Pinedale. Our first stop is the ranger station. We are anxious to rid ourselves of the bear canisters. We dissemble the pile of packs, remove the infernal barrels and stash the heavy plastic containers alongside the building. I go in to report the return, and just as I am about to leave the front desk, the ranger on duty asks if we’d been up near Hailey Pass during the heavy winds. Indeed so, I say, and add that the winds were the strongest I’ve ever felt anywhere at any time. I estimate 75 – 80 MPH – but she revises that upward to a stunning 100 MPH. All I can do is stand there and shake my dirty, unshowered head. Pinedale had seen the fierce winds, too, as Mother Nature had swept the entire range clean.

We pile back into the Yukon for the short ride down West Pine Street for our second visit in seven days to our traditional host for pre and post-hike celebrations, the Wind River Brewing Company. We trudge up the stairs to the upper terrace, plop down on real chairs and exhale, all seemingly at once. The waitress stops by for our order but she doesn’t need to ask what we want.

It is time for that beer.

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The sweep of the Cirque and Rebekah’s fish …


Most times, good things happen to good people. In the case of Rebekah, the new fly fisher, she fell for the craft hook, line and sinker. In a manner of speaking, so did her first trout. Rebekah’s was a double-dip for she and her companions: Our first up close and personal look at the Cirque was all it should have been if not more.

This is the sixth of seven installments about a 40+ mile walk through the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming’s Wind River range.

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Day 5 included an evening fire for cooking trout and for quiet conversation. Nice that the wind wasn't whipping for a change.

Day 5 included an evening fire for cooking trout and for warmth and for quiet conversation. Nice that the wind wasn’t whipping for a change.

Day 6, Wednesday, July 29

We have reached our stated goal and now the Cirque of the Towers lies squarely before us, scarcely one mile away yet hidden from sight by tall pines.

Our reward is there will be no rush this cloudless morning to break camp and get a move on. Per Tom’s carefully crafted spreadsheet that shows potential camp sites, distance and altitudes to and at various check points, we’re within five miles of tonight’s camp site, Big Sandy Lake. After five days we are on the trail with ever increasing efficiency. By 6:30 a.m. my pack is ready (short of the bear canister) and my tent dries in direct sunlight on a 20 foot length of paracord tied off between two pines.

I head down to the North Popo to pump water. In the river before me swim trout to the left and right and within yards of the bank. For fisher people, particularly aging fishermen whose clock is ticking, you either fish now or the opportunity may never present itself again. At age 65 there’s no telling when or if I will habituate any mountains in the next year or two or three, let alone this spectacular back country. Coffee, tiresome oatmeal, the tent and the damn bear canister can wait; it’s time to put a line in the water.

As a practice, we haven’t eaten fish in the morning. It takes time and effort to get a fire going when we’re mostly on the clock to get going on the trail. The Scott is retrieved from its propped up position on a pine. I goop fresh floatant on the Adams set to work in the spot where Vince scored his break through monster. When the first fish is landed, it is immediately freed. Same with the second and third fish. It’s nice to cast in relative calm without wind whipping your fly all over the place. A three weight rod doesn’t have the muscle to heave line out against a stiff breeze.

As with several other trout forays, there is an interested onlooker – Rebekah.

A big whoop from the North Popo meant only one thing: Rebekah had her first ever trout and it was a beauty of a cuttie.

A big whoop from the North Popo meant only one thing: Rebekah had her first ever trout and it was a beauty of a cuttie.

The young woman is nothing if not persistent. I’m only too glad to give up the Scott. Like Vince, Rebekah has put in her time and paid her dues by going fish-less these past few days and her first trout is overdue. At least Vince has his trophy. The distance of her casts has improved to 15 yards or more. That’s plenty long enough to reach the fish zone. After a few quick pointers – 10:00 to 2:00 o’clock casting position, tend/strip line with her left hand, where they trout might hide near the cut bank, etc. – and she’s on her own in a stretch just below some riffles. She doesn’t need the nagging presence of my jaundiced eye. I wish her well and head back to camp for coffee and another breakfast of sweetened instant oatmeal. Yuck.

It’s a fairly relaxed morning absent the push to pack and go. As we’ve done most days, Reid and I use only one of the denatured alcohol stoves to heat enough water for pair of us. The little stoves continue to amaze in their efficiency. It is totally wild that 1/2 oz. of fuel is enough to boil a full pot of water for breakfast and a couple of stern cups of coffee. The MSRs guzzle five to six times that amount of fuel to achieve the same end. Sure, MSRs have their merits in higher altitude environments, but my days of lugging several heavy aluminum bottles of white gas are over and long gone. This is the new order of cooking.

The men sit around the fire ring on our bear canisters as we usually do, our impromptu kitchen gear spread before us. At least the canisters weigh less now as our food stocks have dwindled. Katy goes to the river side to watch her daughter ply the water.

The sun is still relatively low, and from the river side of the camp comes a back lit person silhouetted by the sun. It’s Katy, here to announce to all that Rebekah has her first fish. I rush to the river.

Rebekah beams as she stands on a rock holding her catch. It’s a gorgeous cuttie that she catches and lands by her own devices. Since the fire is still aflame this fish will not go to waste. Rebekah is apparently a student of the whole process, including the cleaning. We squat by the river a few yards from where she claimed her prize for a quick lesson on how to prep a river trout. A few minutes later some foil is located and the trout is seasoned and on the grill. She was about to find out your very first fish tastes the best.

The hike to the face of the Cirque was easy and routine. We had immaculate weather - and you know there are those who walk all this way only to have the peaks shrouded in clouds and rain.

The hike to the face of the Cirque was easy and routine. We had immaculate weather – and you know there are those who walk all this way only to have the peaks shrouded in clouds and rain.

Our camp was low enough in the valley that we won’t see the Cirque until we’re well along the North Fork Trail. Rebekah’s fish is history, we are packed and start to walk on the flat trail about 11 a.m. Events of the past two hours are a good way to break in the day.

After 30 minutes we reach Lonesome Lake at the very base of the Cirque itself. The peaks spread out before us – Watchtower, Wolfs Head, Sharks Nose, Symmetry Tower and Pingora – are spectacular and beyond belief, neither of which adequately describes the panorama. The Cirque of the Towers is everything we thought it would be, and then some. Although we’ve been on foot only briefly, we jettison our packs to give ourselves adequate time take in the vista we’ve walked more than 30 miles to attain.

Rebekah and her mother Katy lounge at Lonesome Lake and take in the panoramic view of the Cirque itself.

Rebekah and her mother Katy lounge at Lonesome Lake and take in the panoramic view of the Cirque itself.

Rebekah and Katy stake out a viewing spot on flat slab of granite that juts into the lake while the rest of us mill about, taking photos and gushing in glorified terms about what we think we see. It’s too bad a light breeze creates a light chop on the lake. What photos there would be of the water and the peaks beyond if the surface was as smooth as glass. Rebekah draws our attention to still more big trout cruising the shallows but not a moment’s thought is given to fishing. This is no time for fly rods. This is the Cirque.

Tom is first to heft his pack, our signal to get a move on. We will continue our southward exit from the mountains, but not without an ascent up Big Sandy Pass Trail to Jackass Pass, our final real pass of the trip. I’ve scanned the topo map and the isobars don’t look narrow-ish. This portion shouldn’t be that big a deal.

I am again proven wrong in the space of a few lung-burning steps. The trail becomes very steep, very fast and we are now in the midst of what seem to be a never-ending succession of damned switchbacks. Switchbacks are terrible, the absolute worst torture the mountains can inflict. They are a god-awful affliction, a pox on tired, drained hikers. The back-and-forth, back-and-forth zigzags mean you walk further and never seem to gain appreciable ground on the top. It’s exhausting to trudge up one stretch of path, make a sharp turn, then be required to endure yet added suffering until the next turn. And the next. As it is, switchbacks or not, the path seems near vertical to me. I’ve cruised along, unaffected by the altitude and challenges, except for today. I huff and puff like a friggin’ locomotive. So this is what oxygen deprivation must feel like on Everest or K2. Of course, Rebekah, Reid and Tom do their best mountain goat imitations as they seem to scamper up the hillside. Vince, Katy and I aren’t so spry this morning. We are the anti-goats.

We stop regularly, or at least I do, to catch our breath with our packs still on and also to look back on what we just saw a little while ago but only on a wider scale. It’s a view that would never get old.

The exit from the Cirque wasn't nearly as easy as the morning hike to the base of this spectacular ring of mountains. We ran head-on into a series of grueling switchbacks.

The exit from the Cirque wasn’t nearly as easy as the morning hike to the base of this spectacular ring of mountains. We ran head-on into a series of grueling switchbacks.

There is no wonder why the Cirque is a destination hike and is so much more overrun with hikers compared to the northern half of the Bridger. It is that spectacular. (A person could set up a nice base camp at Big Sandy Lake and walk to the Cirque and back in a relatively easy day. Many do.)

The hunched-over grind of climbing to Jackass Pass put our faces uncles and personal to flowers, such as this Indian Paintbrush.

The hunched-over grind of climbing to Jackass Pass put our faces uncles and personal to flowers, such as this Indian Paintbrush.

After what seems like forever, we eventually we make it to the curved saddle at top of the aptly named Jackass because that’s how it can make you feel as you inch your way up the steep slope. These past several hundred yards of Big Sandy Trail will be our last significant grade. It’s mostly downhill from here.

We make a well deserved rest stop between Warbonnet and Mitchell Peaks, each something over 12,400 ft. I joke, again, that I’ve put a $20 bill at the top of Mitchell for anyone who’s game enough to claim it. It’s a stale, old joke. There would still be no takers if the prize were a $100 or $1,000 bill. We scramble packless up a rock that juts up from the saddle for

Rebekah scampered up this rock during photo-op with the scale of the Winds behind her.

Rebekah scampered up this rock during photo-op with the scale of the Winds behind her.

goof off photos as we stand victoriously atop the boulder with the emptiness of the thin air of the valley behind us. We are very near to the spot where last year Tom and I went no further in our derailed quest to reach the Cirque. Below us to our right is Arrowhead Lake, a slender mountain lake that in 2014 featured actual icebergs from a vantage point some 600 or 700 feet above the lake where we could see ice protrude above the clear water as well as the bright white ice that sank below the cobalt blue deep-bottomed lake. There’s no ice this time around.

Now it is downward in earnest, for the most part, as we leave the last of the big peaks behind us. The trail is very rocky and is solid stone in many places, which makes it all the more unusual to meet a pair of non-typical hikers, a cowgirl and a cowboy, during one of our 10 minute respites. There are no horses with them.

It's not often you meet real honest-to-goodness cowboys hoofing it on the trail, but we did. Their gear had to make it a tough slog for them.

It’s not often you meet real honest-to-goodness cowboys hoofing it on the trail, but we did. Their gear had to make it a tough slog for them.

Both are in full western regalia. She’s a tall blonde in chaps studded with conchos, a pearl buttoned shirt, wide brimmed hat and boots with spurs. He’s a little overweight but he’s in a tee shirt sans chaps but otherwise looks and acts the part. This twosome is the real deal. They ask us how far to views of the Cirque. The pair is from Missouri and had trailered their pack horses to Wyoming just for the experience of being in the high country. They’ve visited a veterinarian in Pinedale as one of their horses had some sort of injury which the vet said would be remedied with a couple of days of rest. We ask where their horses are, and they say ‘back down the trail.’

Neither of them carries even a day pack. No water bottles. No hiking poles. No nothing. We say goodbye and part ways and only then does it occur to me that we should have offered them water since they had at least a couple of hours of stern walking ahead of them to see the same vistas we just exited. Given what they wear, they’ll heat up in a hurry and will need the liquid. But it’s too late now.

When they mention the whereabouts of their mounts, I assume ‘back down the trail’ to mean not very far away. We’re on the lookout now for the horses and further assume they’re tethered at North Lake, a near-twin to Arrowhead. There’s a flat spot on the northwest side of the lake. It’s perfect for rest and is at the bottom of a steep section of trail that would be a tough climb for horses. North Lake would seem a logical spot to park both animals. I now share the lead with Rebekah and Reid because I’m anxious to see horses that could navigate this sort of difficult trail.

But the nags are nowhere to be seen and we’re at least one mile from our meeting point with the cowboys. We press on and skirt the lake to the east and the trail is somewhat hidden and very rocky. This is no terrain for pack animals. I wonder, too, how the cowboys made it with heeled boots. Another 500 yards past the lake and we come upon the horses. They are handsome animals, a pair of roans tied off to a pine tree literally a few feet from the trail. What a surprise these beasts would be to unknowing hikers. I’m no horse expert, but one of the horses appears lame. It holds its left lower leg off the ground while its companion shifts on all fours. Perhaps this ailment is why the riders sought out veterinary help during a stopover in Pinedale.

The cowboys said we could pet the horses, and we do. These two are such a fine pair.

We wonder aloud how the horses could make it this far. Just below where the horses stand is a sheer slab of angled granite that makes footing problematic for us, let alone horses that weigh upward of 1,200 pounds. Perhaps the cowboys knew their steeds labored unsteadily up that rock and could go no further. Certainly, even before this point, the cowboys would have been forced to dismount and lead their horses by the reins. The trail features still more solid stone surfaces as we descend making us wonder to a greater degree how the horses got to their current spot at all. If the cowboys return sometime later we will likely see them again as the downward trail goes only one way, and that’s to Big Sandy Lake, maybe a couple of miles, if that, from where we are at the moment. But we never see the riders nor the horses again.

We easily cross a minor stream which is our last true crossing of the trip. Soon, we see the lake. It’s a big, broad body of water and a hugely popular overnight place for backpackers and day hikers since it is at the juncture of several trails; Big Sandy Pass Trail, Big Sandy Trail and Little Sandy Trail  as well as the jumping off point for pushes to the Cirque.

Our preference for camp would be somewhere close to the cover of trees on the west side of the lake but already we see smoke from campfires in several desirable spots where we hoped to spend our final night beneath the stars. At the north shore of the lake is a large grassy meadow, perhaps 600 yards across and several hundred yards deep. We know people have camped there before and it offers the closest stopping potential to us right now. We halt momentary to weigh our options. The open meadow would expose us to whatever weather might rush in but the treed areas already appear to be claimed. One plus to the meadow is we will get early sun to dry out our tents. We can’t go to the attractive east side since it’s way too far. It’s getting on in the afternoon and we need to set up camp before dark sets in. Besides, it’s our last night to fish and that’s a worthy consideration.

We take the shore trail east and soon we tromp through the grass looking for flat spots. There are plenty underfoot. We spread out with at least 25 yards separating each tent. The grass will be a good secondary cushion beneath the tents. Part of me laments that we are entering the final few hours of our adventure. We prepare to exit the Bridger just about the time we find our sea legs. At this point two weeks in the back country seems eminently doable. Just not this year.

The lake is alive with fish feeding at the surface but first there’s the matter of fire wood, a fire ring to be built and water to be pumped. I collect rocks for the ring. Those I can’t carry are rolled with a shove from my boots. I head into a nearby stand of pines in search of wood which seems not very abundant. Other campers have used up the resource. That scarcity pushes me several hundred yards away from camp. A big armload is gathered – the first priority is enough to cook our final night’s dinner of trout – and back I go. Reid sees his dad and beelines it toward a long dead pine up on a hillside and he returns toting a large armload, too. Directly adjacent to our ‘kitchen’ is North Creek which flows south from the lake of the same name. Another 150 yards further down stream it empties into Big Sandy. The inflow should be a good spot to fish as trout wait to ambush food that pours from above into the lake below.

The water is calling. I have to fish. It’s our final opportunity.

The north end of Big Sandy is relatively shallow. The incoming North Creek has created a sandbar that runs away from the shore and there appears to be a drop off. That’s where I’ll first try my luck. Another Adams is plucked from the tin fly box. I use an Improved Clinch Knot to affix the fly to the 3 weight line. A dab of floatant and the Scott is in business. Line is stripped out from the Orvis reel and after a few casts to load the ever-lengthening line, the final cast puts the Adams about 30 yards into the lake to the right side of the sand bar.

The late afternoon sun is such that I cannot see the first trout streak in to wallop the fly. What I find peculiar is fish seem to slam ersatz flies, but when they suck down other natural food, only a dimple is made. There is no rhyme nor reason for the savage attacks on something so obviously artificial. But this becomes a moot point as what feels like an okay fish makes a brief, and unsuccessful, bid for freedom. Another stringer of willow is the new temporary home of the 10 inch cuttie. I return to the shore to fish for more.

So does Reid. His rod is an old Orvis model that he’s had since he was four or five years old. It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase before I became somewhat more knowledgable about the weight and length and the other nuances of what makes a rod a good rod. It’s the only fly rod he’s ever known so he’s used to the quirks of a five – six weight rod that is one foot longer than mine. It might not be the best small stream rig ever invented but on a big lake like Big Sandy size won’t matter. That an artificial that drops plausibly on the water seems all trout are concerned about. Fish don’t know rod weight. Reid wields the Orvis like a pro. He’s off to my right about 30 yards and already he’s onto his first trout, something in the 10 to 11 inch class. That’s two on the willow. Four to go.

This is good trout action for a lake we presumed got a lot of pressure since many, many hikers find it to be a much-desired camping location. Hey, check this out. There’s a trout-filled lake adjacent to our tent. To our right 75 yards or so is another fisherman who can’t like that we’re pulling in trout and calling out to each other with each hooked fish. We haven’t seen the guy land anything. Could be that we are in the best spot where feeder stream meets lake.

The two of us trade catches and within 15 minutes we are at our dinner quota for the night. I am still amazed at the length and mass of what we bring to shore. Reid continues to catch-and-release while I head back to camp with our entrees. Who can blame him for staying put when there is fishing like this? He’s not sure when he’ll be back this way, either. When in doubt, keep fishing.

In something of a baton handoff in a relay, Rebekah is waiting at the camp for her turn. She grabs the Scott and she and Katy head down to the water’s edge. I go about cleaning our fish. It crosses my mind as it has on other nights: ‘This girl likes to fish.’ Rebekah is bound and determined.

The fire comes together pretty fast in the absence of howling winds that dogged us for days on end. However, there is one slight hitch in our meal plans. We are low on non-stick foil. We’ve reused the foil twice over prior fires and whatever spare sheets brought in reserve are on their last legs too. I try to cobble together enough foil but it will fall well short of what we need. If we place the cutthroat directly on the foldable steel grill the fish will burn and stick. I stew about a possible workaround. There is none. Around the campfire fixing their last meal of the trip are Tom, Vince, and now Reid comes to join us. Rebekah and Katy can be seen down at the lake.

It will be dodgy to cook these trout. I feel bad about the foil situation. Some fish are so big their heads and tails simultaneously stick out from the ends of the foil, Not a bad problem to have but never a good situation when it comes to turning the fish from one side to the other. We manage to put broiled fish on the plates of Vince and Tom but I make a royal mess of Reid’s fish. In the process of removing it from the grill with less than desirable cooking utensils (a forked stick), I dump his trout into the fire. The ‘five second’ rule is not in effect and Reid summarily rejects the retrieved fish. I toss it into my pan and use a spork to flick away the embers and dirt. The fish still tastes as good as ever, if you like the dull tang of carbon with a little grit tossed in.

The sun isn’t far from setting on the slope of Laturio Mountain (11,342 ft.) when Rebekah and Katy march triumphantly into camp. Rebekah has caught another large, gorgeous fish. It dangles from the line as the Scott is bent over. She intends to eat it. This is because, as she said, for the better part of 20 minutes the mother/daughter tandem tried without success to free the trout from the hook but could not. The trout is long since dead. I tell her, laughing, it’s a hook. How does it take 20 minutes to dislodge a size 14 hook? All you do is pull it out.

We stoop by the stream for Rebekah’s first hands-on lesson in how to dress a trout. I hand her my small Swiss Army knife, handle first, with another set of instructions to zip the blade from the anus up to the head of the fish. She squeezes the fish and inserts the blade but finds it difficult to run the business edge up the gut. A upward forward pressure and the blade should slid easily as if the fish were a stick of butter. You can chalk this up to instructor error since by this point I am laughing again, and as I laugh the harder Rebekah tries. Finally, the fish is slit from stem to stern and she handles the innards with ease. She gives her meal a good rinse and it’s upward to the cook site where she assumes responsibility for the entire cooking process with a newly discovered sheet of foil. The fire gives off a nice light as the real light of the day fades out for good. Rebekah seems to enjoy everything about the preparation from the cast to the catch, the cleaning and finally, her meal.

It will be a glorious full moon night that will be even more glorious in its streetlight effect on the open space where our tents are spread out. By now it’s about 9 p.m. and for some unknown reason I stand 50 yards away over at the trail. Maybe to look at the rising full moon. Coming from the east, and outlined by the rising moon, is a hiker. As the figure comes closer, it is a man in shorts and tee shirt carrying a small pack. How is he not cold? I think since the temperatures have dropped like a stone now that the sun is gone. I wear just about every stitch of clothing I own and am glad of it. But he looks unaffected and smiles as he nears.

Dan is one helluva hiker - the 'through' hiker variety. He was on the Continental Divide Trail and after months of walking, his goal was nearly in sight. He borrowed our fire to cook trout he caught with chunks of cheese. I said brookies weren't too smart.

Dan is one helluva hiker – the ‘through’ hiker variety. He was on the Continental Divide Trail and after months of walking, his goal was nearly in sight. He borrowed our fire to cook trout he caught with chunks of cheese. I said brookies weren’t too smart.

We’ve been universally accepting of all walkers we encounter who are willing to exchange pleasantries. We talk many of them up; a German father and his daughter at Dad’s Lake, a couple moving up the north slope of Hailey Pass, the scout leaders on Lizard Head Trail, the cowboy and cowgirl, and now this young man who appears in his 30s.

I ask where is he going – his name is Dan – and he said he is a through hiker on the CDT – the Continental Divide Trail from New Mexico to Canada. The CDT isn’t for the faint of heart. Only dedicated walkers, adventurers, and individuals comfortable in their own skin for months at a time need apply for such ruggedness. And here he is doing this epic journey on his own. I ask Where are you headed tonight? His intent is to walk through the darkness by the light of the moon. Tom is over at the fire and I yell for him to come over. Dan is Tom’s sort of distance hiker. Both (Vince conquered the AT in sections) have walked non-stop the full length of the Appalachian Trail. Dan has trod many of the major routes including the Pacific Crest Trail and others that are news to me but will be known by Tom, who I think aspires at age 66 for a few more good hikes. (He does have more long walks in him.)

These two, and Vince, hit it off instantly. Dan is a kindred spirit that Tom and Vince can relate to. None of the rest of us can relate to conquering the full length of the 2,000-plus mile AT in one sitting. But our two and Dan have much in common; strong knowledge (and opinions) on stretches of the AT trail, ultralight gear, through hiker practices, names of through hikers, and other resources that the rest of us can only scratch our heads and wonder about. This is fodder for a hiker-on-hiker conversation that could last awhile. We invite Dan to the warmth of our campfire and he accepts.

We immediately huddle around Dan to hear of his many exploits. He departed Mexico in May and literally he is on the home stretch through the upper reaches of Wyoming and then into Montana (we share routes that are squarely adjacent to and intersect the Continental Divide in several locations). In typical through hiker fashion, his possessions appear to be minimal. What we do know is he has two small trout in a baggie that he intended to eat at some point during his light-of-the-moon trek. I am amazed Dan has no rod nor reel. The fish were caught with a hand line and a piece of cheddar. No high-dollar Scott or Orvis gear. A line he slings out and chunk of yellow cheese. The man is an improvisor. Dan subsists on food drops (as have Tom and Vince) along the route. His apparent plan is to veer off the Continental Divide once he’s parallel with Pinedale and perhaps where he can find work until he earns sufficient money to continue his walkabout. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s ventured to Pinedale. He worked in the gas fields until he tired of it, and he also spent time in the Great Outdoor Store where we bought a few final small items of gear. He accepts a shard of tin foil and proceeds to cook his fish on the grill and prepares another side dish of a rather simple meal. I have no idea what he uses for heat for all his other meals. He carries no stove.

It is now past 9:30 p.m. and it is pitch dark except for what is illuminated by moon glow and our final fire. It is now really cold and getting colder. The night air already has to be around 30 degrees and I shiver. Dan has put on a shirt, flannel I believe, in a simple acknowledgment of the air temperature. Several of us are ready to call it a night, and we tell Dan, not ask him, that he is welcome to pitch his tent in our small encampment. He accepts that offer, too,

Tom, Vince and Dan stayed up into the night to talk about serious hiker stuff.

Tom, Vince and Dan stayed up into the night to talk about serious hiker stuff.

but he and Tom and Vince are in the midst of some serious hiker talk so they continue the discussion while Rebekah, Katy, Reid and I retreat to our tents.

I bring my SmartWater bottle into the tent for fear it will freeze although with one day to go it wouldn’t be a huge loss if it froze and burst. I slide all the way down into my sleeping bag, don a fleece cap, zip up and cinch the hood of the bag tightly. The moon light brightens the interior of my tent. Too bad the moonbeams offer no warmth.

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