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Our feature interview today is with Rex McInvale of Canton, Georgia. He tells us about an outdoor experience he had in Wyoming. Here’s the way Rex described the trip….
Last August, five friends and I hiked a modest loop in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. (We were just south of where the fellow mapped the section for Backpacker.) We started from the Big Sandy trail head and hiked through the Cirque of the Towers over Jackass Pass and Texas Pass. For most hikers, the Cirque is a destination, or something you pass by. I found a few references to an unmarked trail over one of the high passes and decided our trip should cross the Continental Divide twice.
Living — and playing outside — in the North Georgia mountains, all of us were accustomed to hiking well used and established trails. A cross country route, with a known beginning, a known end, and lots of question marks in between was exciting to say the least. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to pack as much “wow” into our limited time as we could.
As the trip planner, I was the most familiar with the route. When we arrived in the Cirque for our first night’s camp, we were beaten down. Altitude and a very strenuous hike over extreme terrain and the largest boulder field I had seen to that point (It would be bested the following day.) had taken their collective toll on our weary band. I had hiked the last few miles with the least experienced of our group — an avid cyclist, but he was on probably his fourth hike ever. I showed him the snow covered pass on the far side of the Cirque that we would go over the following day. Later that night he went to pump water from Lonesome Lake, which we thought to be 200-400 yards away. It turned out to be closer to two miles away. As he and another of our group pumped water, a deer ambushed them and spooked them pretty badly. While they were recovering from the scare, he confessed that I had shown him where we were going the next day and said, “Dude, we might die.”. They made their way back in the dark as, in camp, the rest of us plotted the progress of the tiny flickers of their headlamps.
The day that followed was one undoubtedly the best day of hiking I have ever experienced. I am not a climber, but I love to hike up mountains if I can do it safely. After making our way around Lonesome Lake and stopping there for lunch, we started one serious climb from 10,100 feet to 11,500 feet. We started out in low brush and stunted trees. That gave way to grass and then to the most unbelievable boulder field I have ever seen. There were house and car sized boulders for at least 1,000 vertical feet up. We had to follow ducks (cairns) and frequently had to backtrack to the last duck to find the next. If you’ve ever looked for a stack of granite in a huge sea of granite, you can understand the challenge. Eventually, we reached several high meadows before the grass and wildflowers gave way to snow and finally Texas Pass on the Continental Divide. Standing on the Divide for the second time in as many days is awesome! Then the really scary part started…..
We now had to get back down to 10,700 feet and the valley floor on the other side of the pass. We had to lose almost as much vertical as we had just climbed, but in less than 1/4 of the distance. The north side of Texas Pass is essentially a scree field on about a 60 degree slope. A secure footing could almost not be found. We slid from switchback to switchback for most of the distance. Again, we had to find the ducks previous hikers had left and work out for ourselves the best way down. Doing this with a pack does not make for a confident hiker! When we finally reached the valley floor and Texas Lake, one of our group stripped to his underwear and leaped off a house sized boulder into the lake.
We camped at Billy’s Lake that night. The following morning we broke camp early and tried to beat the thunderstorms to our final camp at Dad’s Lake. Now facing west, looking out over Wyoming’s high desert for hundreds of miles, we could watch the weather roll in. Storms in the Cirque and the Washakie basin to our north sounded like military artillery. It was surreal. But, we made it to our camp and amazingly dodged the bullet on the weather. The rest of the trip was a relatively easy, slow descent back to Big Sandy.
We begin a new feature today called ‘Where To Do Stuff’. We’ll check in with Sunday River ski area in Maine, the first to open in the northeast for the season.
Podsafe music on the show from Bob Hughes and some of your comments including one from Claire Walter about Nordic Walking.
Be sure to check out the Doing Stuff Outdoors website for regular blog posts and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes . Call in your outdoor adventures and story ideas to the comments line at 206-600-4557 and email the show at firstname.lastname@example.org.