Off the Beaten Path - The Wind River Valley, Part II
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wilderness is necessity, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." - John Muir
Pressing on into the Winds
After a rough evening, we woke up rested and ready to reconsider our plans. Importantly, Mikey was feeling better, and willing to continue into the wilderness.
Once again, after we finished packing up, we took the map out to assess our new situation. We decided on having a rest day at Summit Lake, which was less than five miles away. The lake would be the perfect place to spend our last night, and then we figured we could hike out and back to the trailhead in the next morning. Mikey was on-board and even a little excited about the new plan.
Cube Rock Pass was not easy. It was a mini glacier that carved through the mountains creating a ramp that lead to the next level. The size at the bottom was an illusion, and once we started climbing we realized just how enormous it was. The glacier was too slick to climb without proper gear, which meant we needed to find an alternate route along the edges, where the ice had melted and boulders now lay. There was a lot of scrambling, slipping, and sliding, but we made it to the top in good time - despite Mikey’s woebegone condition the night before, he kept up the entire way.
Once we reached what we thought was the top of the pass, a small icy lake greeted us. We had finally made it above the treeline. The lake, however, seemed small to me. We double checked the map and found that the lake we were staring at was Dale Lake, not Summit Lake. We still had a ways to go.
After another hour of tough backpacking, the opposite side of the mountain finally revealed itself to us. Below laid a beautiful example of an alpine environment. Hearty shrubs dotted soft, grassy patches hugging granite mountain sides. High mountain lakes sipped on the last piles of snow hiding in shadows on their shore. It was warm and sunny out of the shade and glacier snows of the Pass. Summit lake was much larger than I had imagined, I was excited to set up camp and make it our home for the next day.
I spent most of the wandering the perimeter of the lake attempting to fish. I caught a single trout after hours of fishing. I enjoyed every minute of it as I was engulfed in a wilderness playground. The weather changed every few hours, but ultimately remained nice and warm. I gave up finishing just in time to catch the sun setting behind the tall mountains. Golden Hour was upon us.
Once the sun set, Andy and Mikey decided to make a small fire as Juan and I took off to find a good location to try some star photography. I am unmistakably bad at shooting stars, but they were so bright that I found it was easier than normal. The Milky Way lit the night sky in the most amazing fashion.
Leaving the Winds
Summit Lake proved difficult to leave. The rest-day was perfect and the campsite was comfortable, but it was time to go. We found, a few days previously, that Summit Lake was not actually going to be in the 100% totality of the eclipse. We were close though, only an hour drive away from totality. Agreeing it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, we thought it was best to leave early and find a new spot, directly under where the moon and sun crossed. So we packed up incredibly early, made a quick breakfast, said goodbye to Summit Lake, and in an incredible fashion, made it all the way back to the trail head before sunset.
We made impressive time down the various passes we climbed just a few days before. After a light rain, one of the stream crossings became a different challenge than it was on the way up. Juan was the first to cross, and barley made it across the log, slipping and catching himself just before falling in. Andy and I, nimbly and swiftly, crossed the log with no issue. Then it was Mikey’s turn. Even at small stream crossing Mikey struggles, this was not easy for him. About halfway across the log, the stick Mikey was using for balanced snapped and he stumbled. Mikey managed to catch himself, but not before slicing his hand open. It was the only time we have ever had to use our first aid kit.
After the treacherous river crossing (for Mikey anyway) the rest of the trail went remarkably smoothly. Making it back the truck in record time, we figured we even had time to drive all the way back to Pinedale to get a real lunch before heading back into the Winds to find the perfect viewing spot.
A real, warm, lunch was what we all needed. The Winds beat the hell out of us and I could feel my energy returning with each bite of the massive burger I had ordered. Pinedale had become packed. People from all over the county came to the town via a single highway. Luckily, we didn’t have to fight the traffic because we had some south from the Range. Nonetheless, we ate quickly and were back on the road in no time. I wanted a place to ourselves, a bit greedy, but I had no intention to share the moment with anyone but the guys.
So once again, we braved some ‘roads’ in Juan’s truck. We found an unused national forest maintenance road and followed it until the end. If our calculations were correct, we would be directly in the path of totality, and if conditions held up, we would see a full eclipse for a few minutes. The weather, by the way, was perfect - not a cloud in the sky. Along the road we found an abandoned cabin, which we all thought was “pretty cool”.
Our location could not have been better. We had an entire valley to ourselves, a river snaked through the fields below, and we had an unobstructed panorama of the sky above.
Each one of us wanted to capture the event our own way. I was interested in how the landscape would react to a pseudo sunset and sunrise that would take place in less than an hour. Juan was adamant about getting the perfect shot of the sun in totality. Andy was more interesting in our reactions, setting up his GoPro facing us to capture the moment. Mikey was distracted by some dead skin on his hand, and was uninterested in capture any part of the moment.
Our watches alarmed us that it was time. With everything set, we leaned back, donned on our (NASA) approved eclipse glasses on, and watched the show.
It all started slowly. In fact, we didn’t even notice an atmospheric change until the sun was almost completely covered. Though when it was time, the landscape changed quickly. Everything grew eerily quiet. The birds and insects hushed as the light dimmed, and none of us spoke a word. It grew cold and dark - very dark. It was so dark that we could actually make out the twinkling of stars. And then it hit. The full total eclipse. Our reaction was.. unexpected. It was such a phenomenal, inorganic, strange event, that we went tribal. We began dancing and laughing and hollering. It was intense, introspective, and honestly, fun. I was utterly glued to the black dot in the sky, and couldn’t take my eyes off the haloing moon. It was beautiful and terrifying. I, for a moment, thought that must be how the end of the world will feel; quiet, dark, cold, and next to Mikey making very strange noises.