July 8: Day 20 (1800.1 – 1810.8) 10.7 miles
After having fallen asleep to the sound of the “jet engine” creek, the night before, we awoke to frost on the grass and ice in our water bottles. This was totally unexpected and should have been an omen for the day’s progress.
We had the Fremont creek to cross in 2 miles, and from the sound of it, we hoped there was a bridge.
We were pleased to find a bridge when we turned the final switch back down the the “creek”, which ran more like a river.
Just after we crossed over the bridge, we spied a hiker headed our way. His attire and pack screamed “thru-hiker”. We were correct, as it was “Feral” (as in cat) and he was doing a flip-flop section thru-hike of the CDT. He too had started in Rawlins. His phone was his only means of mapping, and communicating, and he was low on battery. He had lost his USB-C cord to charge his phone with his extra battery.
We lent him our cord and shared stories and trail information as he charged his phone. His predicament, further justified our choice to buy the Garmin (formerly Delorme) inReach Explorer +, as opposed to the smaller and lighter Garmin Mini. Both devices can link to your phone display via the Earthmate app, but with the Explorer+, you have an additional screen option to view routes and trails in the event your phone dies, is lost or damaged. Back up plans and some redundancy are crucial, we believe, when hiking such a remote and brutal trail like the CDT.
Feral gave us some “good” intel about what lay before us. ” You got a little bit of uphill coming up here after Lower Jean Lake, with some snow, but it’s not bad. There’s only one place I could have used microspikes, but I worked around it.”
Now Feral seemed credible enough. We just wished he used a few more adjectives, nouns and even verbs when he “reported” to us, what to “expect”. He, was correct, in what he told us. There was uphill. There was snow. There was a point where microspikes would have been helpful. And we “worked” around, and literally through it all. But it took ALL DAY!
I am NOT fleet of feet on dry land, and even less on snow (unless of course I have skis attached to my feet). This meant we often were moving at the snail’s pace of one MPH. It was a crazy hard day! Let me “walk” you through it… visually.
It all started once we began our approach to Lower Jean Lake.
By the time we passed the “north” end of Lower Jean Lake, we had climbed to 10,722 ft. Now we had to cross the “beginnings” of Fremont Creek no less than THREE times!
A giant snow drift, complete with its own cornice covered the trail that normally weaved beside Fremont creek. We climbed up and sideways along the face of a snow free “hill” to avoid the cornice. (Too sketchy for a photo in the moment)
Down the other side we picked our way back to the waterlogged trail.
From here we tromped through soggy “grass cups” toward Upper Jean Lake (10,801 ft), but not before walking on a stretch of snow beginning to soften.
Once past Upper Jean Lake, we have one more pass to breach. The pass tops out at 11,722 ft.
Just past here was nothing but snow. Our travel method consisted of a combination of shuffle, slide, and post hole. I was tense the entire time. It’s like winding up a Jack in the Box (not the fast food place). You never know when it will “pop”, or when you will post hole. It is physically and mentally draining.
We reached the apex of the pass and the wind chill factor had to have dropped the temperature to the low 30’s. From here you follow the trail and then make a “U-turn” of sorts and drop into another snow laden bowl that empties into Elbow Lake, where two guys were fly fishing.
Rather than worry about walking the trail, we cut a beeline through the snow, past Elbow Lake, to a visible portion of the trail. Sometimes snow works to your advantage.
As we dropped in elevation the snow disappeared. We reached a lookout point of sorts that gave us Verizon 4G cell coverage for a few minutes.
Down we wound till we reached Summit Lake. We had hoped for at least a 15 mile day, but settled for just shy of 11 miles.
The day was both exhausting and exhilarating. The trail was brutal. The views were enchanting and overwhelmingly beautiful!
Simply put. It was a Brutiful day we will always remember.