Day 109: The Cirque de Towers- Texas Pass


We did not wake up early this morning by any means. Garbelly watched the sun rise over Lonesome Lake, quickly illuminating Pingora and the rest of the Cirque. Rolling back over to wait until 7:00 to wake up Critter, his sleeping pad ended up acting as an alarm clock. Since the camp spot was directly next to Liam and Kate's tent, everyone awoke from the plastic rustling.

We were ready around 7:30, but all took time to drink coffee and admire the view. Secretly, we were all stalling our climb up and over Texas Pass. It was not until forty minutes later that we got started hiking. Walking around Lonesome Lake, we heard climbers hundreds of feet above us on the side of Pingora. We would have killed to have climbing gear with us. However, thru hiking is not the best thing for a climber's body. Critter's climbering feet have certainly been going through an identity crisis with all this walking. 


The climb up to Texas Pass was very steep. Not steep in a "fall off of a cliff" type of way, but more so in a "make your calves burn" type of way. We slowly trudged our way to the top. It had been surprisingly easier than we had made it out to be. As we climbed, the Cirque rose high behind us and seemed to be just an arm's length away. We were at the same elevation that the climbers we saw earlier were at. As we climbed towards the pass, a feeling of excitement took over us thinking about our view on the other side of the pass. Another feeling of sadness crossed our minds. We were leaving the most beautiful thing we had seen in almost two thousand miles.


Then we entered the corridor of Texas Pass. It was a narrow pass that felt like a hundred foot tall doorway to the next part of our hike. As we reached the middle, everything became completely quiet. None of us said a word. We just stood in the pass and listened to the lack of wind blowing through the trees or the sound of water rushing down the mountain. Even though we were over 12,000 feet, we felt comforted by the security of this pass. After taking it all in, we ate a quick snack and headed down the mountain.


On the other side, we basically had a controlled free fall down a slide of scree. We got our first views of a partially frozen Texas Lake and the valley below. A single iceberg wondered through the lake, appearing like a small sailboat to us from high above. As we got closer, we began a mile traverse across a snowfield that fed into the lake. There was not necessarily a steep slope on the snow, but one slip would have sent us sliding into a frigid lake with our packs still on our backs. We stepped quickly and carefully and made it across with only a few slips that raised our heart rates.


From here we walked down to Billy's Lake to eat lunch. Getting over the pass and down had taken the better part of our day, but this lake was too pretty to pass up a relaxing place to fish. The lake overlooked the opposite side of the Cirque and we were able to see large towers we had not previously seen. Here Liam admitted he was feeling very ill and did not know if he could do the big miles to the trailhead into Pinedale that we had planned on doing. We hated to break off from hiking with them, but it is definitely smart to listen to your body out here. Yes, anything is possible if you push hard enough. However, sometimes pushing too hard leads to more days off trail recovering than just dealing with it right away.


From leaving the lake, we spent the rest of our day fording creeks and dropping elevation. Dodging in and out of thunderstorms, we struggled to stay dry and safe from mosquitoes. The further we hiked, the more pools of stagnate water we passed, the worse the mosquitoes got. As it began to get darker, we could not take it anymore and decided to set up our tent. We were a mile short of our mileage goal for the day, but the mosquitoes were terrorizing us. Without stopping, we took out the tent and tyvek and walked in fast circles while setting up and slapping our legs. As soon as the mesh was up, Critter got in and quickly zipped the door shut. Garbelly continued running circles and staked down the tent before quickly getting inside. In the three seconds the door was unzipped, ten to twenty mosquitoes followed us inside. After killing them all we looked out at our packs to see them covered.


We still had to cook dinner and an oncoming storm meant we had to put up the rain fly on the tent... After a few dozen more mosquito bites, we fell asleep to the sound of buzzing and the sound of thunder overhead. We are not sure which was louder.


Garbelly & Critter  


Day 108: The Cirque de Towers- Temple Lake & Lonesome Lake

We woke up to the sound of wind on our improvised camp spots. As Garbelly woke up to take down the bear bag, he was greeted by Driver and Pitstop. They were a couple from Mississippi that we had recently met in Atlantic City. We seemed to all have a similar pace, they just woke up much earlier than we did. Sometimes that is how the trail culture works. You meet someone you hit it off with and know you would enjoy hiking with, but if you go two miles more or less than they do every day, it is almost impossible to see each other anywhere except towns. After they passed, we finished packing up and followed behind.

Our hike started with a climb next to Little Sandy Lake, even though we were never blessed with a view of the water from trail. The trail then wound its way through the trees and a few large rock outcroppings. Our day looked the exact same as the day before with the tunnel of trees leading the way until we rounded a corner and hanging high over a small lake, a massive monolith of granite was there to greet us.


After climbing away from the lake, we rounded the hill into a glacial basin. We spent the next few miles walking through meadow with 2,000 foot granite cliffs on either side. Snow appeared in the distance and we knew that had to be where we were headed. As we walked next to a frozen lake, thoughts went through our heads of the dangers of this alternate. Seeing this much packed snow on a pass that was not even named on our maps made us more worried about the larger passes we had ahead of us. As soon as Garbelly placed his first foot on snow, we both knew it might be a sketchy climb up the pass.

Garbelly lead the way cross the first traverse. After getting halfway across he told Critter to scramble up and around the snow. Even though it was still before noon, the snow was icy and covered in a thick layer of slush. Halfway across, a large crack ran underneath his path and the snow below belled out too far to see the ground. Carefully he stepped across the snow, picking up his pace as he got closer to the rock on the other side.


Seeing this traverse, Critter decided to take a more direct and safer approach. As she kicked her steps in to the snow, she slowly made her way to a pinnacle of rock and climbed around it and upwards towards Garbelly. Finally the hardest part was over and the rest was simply a scramble up the pass. At the top, Liam and Kate were laying down on a large flat boulder. It was definitely snack time and we readily joined them. Our bags of chips never last long.


Heading down this pass, we were transported to a different world. As far as we could see existed thousand foot walls of granite and deep blue alpine seas. It truly was paradise and we could not hike fast enough to get there. As we shoe skied down the pass, we laughed and never stopped smiling at the unimaginable views. The nearest lake to us was Temple Lake and the closer we got, the more we all agreed that we could not pass up a lunch break and an icy dip here.


During lunch Critter ended up catching a couple fish and Garbelly decided to take a couple polar plunges into the icy waters, (No one else joined him). The sun passed through dark scattered clouds overhead painting the gray rock with patches of light and warmth. Even though we heard a few rumbles of thunder, we all agreed to take it all in a bit longer. We did not think it could get any better, but the day was far from over.


Leaving our beautiful lakeside lunch spot, we hiked onwards towards Big Sandy Lake. This areas was a popular entrance point for climbers heading to the Cirque. As soon as we descended to the sizable lake, we started getting poured on and hearing large booms of thunder. With our heads down we continued to hike while trying to stay warm in the storm. Here we saw multiple tents strewn over the wild flower covered grass.


We decided not to go all the way over Jackass Pass to the Cirque, but after running into Driver and Pitstop around the pass, we decided we had plenty of daylight to make a push to the top. It was a relatively easy pass to climb, but we were all worn out from a long day of having to much fun and taking a lot of breaks. Nearing the top, we began to see the top of the Cirque. We were all silent as we stared onward towards the granite spires.


It was the most beautiful place we had ever been.

We slowly climbed down. Liam found an awesome campspot high atop a rock overlooking the towers. As we ate dinner, the sun set and we saw the headlamps from climbers descending the mountains. We fell asleep as millions of stars.


Garbelly & Critter