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  


Day 106: Nero + Back to Atlantic City

Waking up in the City Park was rather comfortable. The excited kids that were running around the playground and the teens that were doing donuts in the gravel parking lot had long gone and quietness laid out over the green grass of the park. This morning we woke up to green walls surrounding us instead of the orange of our previous tent. We will definitely miss our orange tent and all the miles and memories but we have to say our new tent quickly became home. We love all the slight changes and the different layout, plus Garbelly has more head room. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 grew leaps and bounds from last year's model to this year's. Immediately, we could tell that the rainfly material improved as well as the pole configuration. We had high hopes it would solve our condensation problems of the previous one. It was also such a pleasure to work with Kathleen at Big Agnes' customer service she was so helpful and friendly, being a thru-hiker herself. Essentially, we were to buy a new tent, send back our old one, and receive a credit for the tent we sent back.

We packed up and without much of a plan for the day, we all headed towards the Lander Bake Shop to help us get oriented. There with the help of coffee and breakfast, which consisted of an egg and cheese bagel sandwich and a giant cinnamon roll, we decided there was not a real rush to get out of town. After breakfast, we very slowly worked our way up to the highway to hitch back to trail. One last stop to pick up more bug spray at Wind River Outdoors, and we were on the road.


It took two hitches to get back to South Pass City. The first man had given a ride to Thor and crew a few days prior. The second ride was an Atlantic City resident, one of the twenty that live there year round. He took us into the historic town of South Pass City, home of the first vote by a woman, and where our resupply boxes were being held. We picked up our boxes and then hopped back into the car and headed to Atlantic City.

He dropped us off at the Grubstake and gave us a heads up about their pies. Once inside, we found two seats at the bar and settled in. Laurel, the owner, was working behind the bar. She took our orders for drinks and food. From the beginning of our interaction with her we already could gather how much she cared about hikers and how much pride she took in taking care of them as they came through town. For such a small town, this was so amazing to see. 

At the bar, we met an incredibly friendly woman who was writing a story on Atlantic City, the Grubstake, and hikers. As we were talking with her, locals started to take their place at the bar. Among these locals where a handful of cowboys, a man we met in Encampment (who drove three hours to have dinner), and a man with a loaded and cocked gun on his belt and a face which could have only been weathered by a tough life lived. Laurel gave us a slight warning about the weathered man before going back to her story of how she ended up here in Atlantic City from California. It seems that all the locals we spoke to did just that, they "ended up here". In way, we kind of just "ended up here" too, and by the simple fact that all of us, cowboys, bikers, hikers, outlaws, and a writer, were alike in that way.

Kate, the writer, turned to the weathered man and in her professional, yet kind voice, asked him, "So how to do feel about the hikers?" His eyes fell shy of making eye contact when he muttered back grunts and shrugs. As we spoke to the man from Encampment, he caught him up on the trail since the last time we had seen him.

Fishing was brought up, at which point, the weathered man muttered, "I only fly fish." We shot back with "oh, so do we," and for the first time, his eyes laid on ours before quickly looking back at the ember at the end of his cigarette and his double shot of whiskey. We continued on with talking about fly fishing, the flies we have been using, where we have fished, and what we had caught. Not too long after, the weathered man got up and left the Grubstake. He stepped back through the doorway as the light from outside flooded into the dark bar, and he came right up to us holding in front of him a small red fly box. Inside there was a handful of flies. He pointed out three in particular: a bee pattern, an ant pattern, and a teeny, tiny adult fly pattern. The tiny fly, tied on probably a 20 hook size, was his proudest one. He wanted to see how small he could tie a fly, a delicate, patient task to say the least. He grabbed the bee and the ant patterns out of the box gifting them to us. He walked away before we could say much of a thank you and sat back down at the bar. We dug into our packs grabbing our small Altoids tin full of flies, picked out one of Marty's flies that he had presented to us as a going away gift, and walked up behind the man staring into the wall holding a new cigarette between his fingers. Critter put a hand gently on his back, as to not startle him, and handed him the fly from Nashville. "Can we give you this as a thank you?" He did not make eye with her but immediately fixated his eyes on the fly, mesmerized. He flipped it back and forth in his ruggedly wrinkled hands, admiring the bright orange of the tail, the lightness of the hackle, and the fluidity of the silhouette. "Thank you," he whispered.

Not just were we strangers, but the worlds we live in might as well be strangers too. Currently sitting in the Grubstake in Atlantic City seemed at first to be the only similarity between us and him, a brief passing of worlds barely touching each other as they go by, but in reality, there was a much deeper vein running between us, fly fishing. It just took the right cast and perfect presentation to catch his attention and then to reel his world in closer to ours and our world to his, meeting somewhere in between.


After we finished up packing up our food bags from our resupply, Kate offered to give us a ride back to trail. We had a couple of miles to do to catch up with Liam and Kate. At this point, we were hiking through a weird limbo between desert and mountains. We were getting so close to the Wind River Range, by far our most anticipated stretch of the trail. We walked up on their campsite and they let us set up our tent near them for the night.



Garbelly & Critter