Monday, September 22, 2008

Continental Divide Through the Wyoming Great Basin

Rock Cairn Just South of South Pass City

The Great Basin is the only place that the Continental Divide splits, creating a basin. Official CDT routes go around it East and West. I think the best route is right through the middle. Leaving the Oxbow Nat. Forest I suggest cutting cross country to Wamsutter which puts you right in position to cross the Basin in three long days of hiking. This was my experience:

As it turned out, the dragon was fairly tame. I had given much more thought to the Great Basin than was necessary. I left Wamsutter, Wyoming, with two gallons of water and my purifier. I made the crossing in three days and found plenty of water along the way.

My original plan was to head straight north from Wamsutter until I reached a junction with the official CDT route and follow the trail west to Atlantic City. An hour after I left Wamsutter, I was still considering other options. According to my map, the Hay Reservoir was off to the northwest which held the promise of water and a much more direct route to Atlantic and South Pass City.

Shortcuts do not always work out the way you plan them. I considered the Donner Party and their peril as they took the shortcut through the Sierras in the 1800s—one good reason not to deviate from my original plan worked out with the Bureau of Land Management staff. But in this case, my original plan had no more merit than any other cockamamie idea I could come up with. I decided to take the shortest route to the Sweetwater River, the only water source I knew I could rely on.

Because of gas exploration and development in the lower Basin, there are roads going in every direction. Even here in this remote and barren moonscape, the Earth seems in chaos, dealing with the constant onslaught of man. When in doubt which road to take, I pulled out my GPS and cut across the sagebrush until I junctioned with a road that seemed to be going in the same direction that I was. Even though I had not seen a rattlesnake in over two months of hiking, I kept thinking about my breakfast tutor (Oldtimer who told me there were rattlesnakes all over the basin) and looking for serpents on top of each of the million plants I brushed.

The second morning, I found a flowing well at Lost Creek Fork. By noon I ate lunch near the Hay Reservoir, and, though it was dried up, I found enough puddles to pump water through my purifier and wash down my cheese tortilla. The morning of my third day, I passed Scotty Lake which was not saline as I had been told and there was plenty of water. At this point I cut cross country and north around the west side of Picket Lake to reach the Forks-Atlantic City Rd., a two-track which would lead to South Pass City.

During the afternoon, I came across another flowing well near a stock tank. By evening, I was sitting on the shore of the Sweetwater River, drinking my fill. Because of cloudy overcast days with sprinkles now and then, I was able to hike thirty plus miles each day, reaching the trail to South Pass City on the third day.

For me, the Great Basin was a quiet land of solitude with its own magical landscape. I sat in the ruts of the Oregon Trail and looked back over the terrain and time. I realized, once again, that knowledge and experience turn fears into facts, dragons into friends.

For nearly a hundred miles, I could see the Wind River range to the northwest. It seemed like an oasis to be reached, rewarding me for crossing this dry alkali basin. I could see rain from the Winds dissipate as it was blown across the basin.

From "Crossing the Divide" by Richard Mallery

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Finishing the Continental Divide Trail in Glacier National Park

The first part of September, northbound CDT hikers begin showing up in Glacier National Park to finish an incredible journey that has taken them months of hiking along the rocky spine of North America. They are feeling euphoric. They have hiked to Glacier from the U.S. border with Mexico. The weather is usually perfect in Glacier the first part of September, and the hordes of tourist have left for the season.

I remember several casual conversations with people I ran into during the five days it took me to hike through Glacier at the end of my CDT hike. Near the end of the trek it was always worth a laugh when explaining to people that I started in Mexico.

I ran into a guided group returning from Grinnell Glacier. Telling them about my hike I mentioned Andy, Laura and Leslie (the three other Northbound hikers in 1999) also in the vicinity. When I said I hadn’t seen the girls since Colorado and that I had only hiked with Andy for 500 miles, they all thought that was hilarious. Yelling things like, "SINCE COLORADO!—500 MILES!"

Another humorous incident took place hiking through the Many Glacier Lodge area. It was almost dark and a woman sitting out on the balcony of her hotel asked me where I was headed. I told her I was going down the road to the Swiftcurrent campground. She said, "That’s a long way and it’s getting dark."

I said, "It’s only about a mile."
"Where are you coming from," she inquired.
"Mexico," I replied. "I started in April and hiked the Continental Divide."
She almost fell out of her chair.

Once you reach Glacier you can choose several routes through the park to finish your hike. I used what I assume is the default route. For me it was a five day easy hike. With 3,000 miles under my belt I felt bullet-proof. Long mileage days were enjoyable in the perfect Indian Summer weather I was gifted with.

Some Choices (in my opinion)
Once you exit "The Bob" you cross Hwy. 2 at Marias Pass. You will see CDT signs if you cross the road and the RR tracks and look along the tree line. My five days took me first to Two Medicine where I picked up a hiking permit, then Red Eagle Lake, Swiftcurrent, Granite Park, Fifty Mtn. and out at Waterton townsite. The first half of the first day from Marias Pass to the town of East Glacier is boring. You end up hiking through thick vegetation that is not used often. It is not the kind of trails people travel to Glacier to explore. It is a necessary link to the park proper. From East Glacier to Canada you are on some of the premiere hiking tread in the world. Well worth the price of admission.

My suggestion would be not to exit the park at Chief Mountain unless that is logistically better for you because of transportation or scheduling reasons. Going to Goat Haunt and crossing the border into Waterton is so spectacular and uplifting.

Other route choices: a. Instead of going up to historic Granite Park from Swiftcurrent, go north through the Ptarmigan Tunnel and follow the valley up and over Stoney Indian Pass. This is another spectacular route.

b. If you want to stay closer to the Divide proper you can head west from Two Medicine, through the Nyack to Sperry and then take the Floral Park route across to Logan Pass, the Highline Trail to Granite Park and on to Goat Haunt. This is awesome terrain, but needs more respect than it gets. You are not a novice hiker if you have come this far but Floral Park is not a trail, it is only a route. You should be familiar with this route before you tackle it.

Backpacker Magazine did a short story on this route a couple years ago making it sound like a day hike in the alpine that anyone can pull off. No so. An example would be A hiker named, Yi-Jien Hwa, who attempted it this fall and has not been found yet. Thousands of hours of search and rescue with hundreds of volunteers have turned up no sign of him.
I'm not trying to scare anyone from using this route I am just making a point. Wilderness can be unforgiving if you are not prepared, and sometimes even if you are.

If you are as thankful as I am about the many wilderness areas that have been protected by forward thinking individuals in our short history, you will be interested in watching for this documentary set for release next year:

"The National Parks: America's Best Idea" is to air in autumn 2009 on PBS. This will be a six- part, 12 hour series produced by Ken Burns, a name we all equate with quality film.
One of the country's most startling innovations, Burns says, was the creation of a national park system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"For the first time in human history, land was set aside not for the pleasure of kings and noblemen and the very, very rich, but for everybody, for all time."
With the parks project, he says, he wants to explore the movement that set aside Yellowstone and Yosemite and created the national park system. These seem like astonishing, out-of-character moves, he says, "in a culture so dedicated to the almighty dollar, so dedicated to a kind of extractive and acquisitive mentality. So how did this happen? Who were these people?"

These areas continue to be threatened by all of us--all of our needs, wants and desires. Let's pray we make the wise decisions that have protected these areas in the past and have preserved them for our generation. Let's hope we can continue to pass them along to a respectful upcoming generation of conservationist. --Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Thursday, September 4, 2008

BLM to Kill Our Wild Horses

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced plans to kill America's wild horses rather than effectively manage our wild natural heritage. BLM claims it can no longer afford to round up wild horses and confine them until it finds people to adopt them, and the agency wants to euthanize these majestic wild beauties or sell them to the highest bidder "without limitation" - meaning sell them to anyone, even if the bidder also plans to kill these horses.

Why does BLM need to round up wild horses and send them to slaughter? The BLM claims that the agency can't "allow horses to multiply unchecked on the range without causing an environmental disaster." But there are less than 30,000 wild horses on the range versus at least 3 million grazing cows. So rather than address the environmental damage caused by cattle overgrazing and expanding oil and gas exploration on our public lands, the BLM would rather placate corporate cattle ranchers who view mustangs as competition for forage, and drive wild horses - our country's symbol of freedom and independent spirit - to extinction.

If you have hiked the Continental Divide Trail across the Red Desert (Rawlins, Wyo. to South Pass City) you have seen some of these incredible animals and they have made you pause.

Continental Divide/The Backbone of the World

The Backbone of the World is another book I would like to recommend. I bought it because the prologue said the author hiked the Continental Divide Trail the same year I did, starting in April of 1999. I was curious why I never saw or heard of him. As it turns out he only made it to the first stop—Silver City. But he does go on with his vehicle over a period of years and interviews people and covers many of the political issues that plague the progress of putting this thin line of pathway on the ground from Mexico to Canada. Frank Clifford is a talented writer as is Bill Bryson. They just seem to have a hard time putting one foot in front of the other for too many miles and sleeping on hard ground. I found this book to be a great read and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Rocky Mountain region and the Continental Divide.