100 miles in 5 days. Crossing an endorheic basin. Expansive prairie views. Wild horses and wild flowers. Atlas and I had an incredible time crossing the Great Divide Basin.
I’m back this summer to finish up the rest of the Wyoming sections of the CDT that I skipped in 2016. My plan is to hike the Great Divide Basin second week in June then return to hike from Rawlins into the north end of the Rocky Mountains to Steamboat after the snow has melted out, hopefully end of June. It’s been such a huge snow year in Colorado, so we’ll have to see how that goes!
This section, like all sections, started with a boat-load of planning and logistics. To that end, the morning I hit the trail i found myself eating a delicous hot breakfast at my friends’, Bill and Linda’s, cabin in Atlantic City, having the day prior left my car in Rawlins, caught a ride back to Rock Springs and met Bill & Linda there for a ride up to Atlantic City. Atlas was thoroughly confused by the time he got out of the third car having traveled east for 4hrs then west for 1.5hrs then north for another 1.5hrs. Thank you Bill & Linda for your incredible kindness and hospitality, Atlas and I had a wonderful time with you at the cabin!
Atlantic and South Pass City are historic little towns, see my last post for a brief commentary.
Atlantic City to Upper Mormon Spring
Bill and Linda dropped me to the trail and hiked the first mile with me. It was cold, windy and even tried to snow a few flakes on us! My biggest concern with this stretch was how Atlas would do in the heat, so this was a welcome start. In classic CDT style, there wasn’t really a trail, rather just a cross country walk through sagebrush marked by intermittent CDT blazes, of which we only found 1 or 2. A dirt road paralleled the trail for the first 10 miles and so after that first mile, I opted to walk the road instead.
Atlas and I said goodbye to Bill & Linda and started on our way. I turned around a few times to see them becoming small dots behind me and wondered what a crazy person they must be thinking I was headed off across the prairie lands with my backpack and dog.
It felt wonderful to be out on another adventure with Atlas on the CDT. I had been looking forward to hiking across the Great Divide Basin since i first set my eyes on its vast plains last summer. Though i was surprised to see how green the landscape was versus when i saw it last August. It was going to be a great time to be hiking the desert.
The first 10 miles to the Sweetwater River went quickly and Atlas was happy to jump in to cool off when we got there. He even found a stick to play with. Happy boy.
Most of the first couple of days I followed along the California and Oregon Trails along the Seminoe Cutoff. This whole area is really historic and it was pretty interesting walking through it and imagining some of the happenings of the past. The Native Americans originally inhabited these lands and as i passed by small buttes, it was easy to imagine them sitting up there watching the Buffalo herds in the valleys below and planning their hunt. Then the fur traders in the early 1800s explored the West and created what would become the emigration trails. By the 1840s the California, Oregon and Mormon Trails had been established for emigrant travel across to the Western States. In the 1950s about 300,000 emigrants had traveled through this area with their wagons to settle in the West, with a large majority headed to California where the Gold Rush had started in 1849. The Seminoe Cutoff was established in 1853, it peeled off from the main trails a little to the north-east of where i was traveling and connected back near where i jumped on the trail. The cutoff was established to avoid 4 major crossings of the Sweetwater River and a challenging route through Rocky Ridge. It was easy to imagine the wagons making their way across the landscape and I could certainly empathize with some of the major challenges those emigrants encountered like how to manage the heat and lack of water sources, though happily i couldn’t relate to the risk of an Indian attack or acquiring cholera. The trip to the West was long and dangerous, and so by the 1860s sea and then railroad travel replaced wagon travel and these trails ceased to get much traffic.
After the Sweetwater River we turned off the road and followed the Seminoe Cutoff to Upper Mormon Spring where we set up camp. As is usually the case in Wyoming, the wind was pretty brutal and so i found a spot between rocks to provide a little shelter. Just as we pulled in, a hail storm moved overhead and so i threw my tent up quickly and we both jumped in. Atlas ate a dinner of dehydrated pork and pumpkin bars and then crashed-out hard. I cooked dinner in the alcove of the tent and enjoyed my ramen noodles from the warmth of my sleeping bag.
How great it felt to be back in my tent and on the CDT again!
Upper Mormon Spring to near Bison Basin Road.
It was such a cold night, Atlas and I stayed in the tent until the sun rays hit the tent and warmed things up a few degrees. Not what i’d been expecting from the Basin!
Today was a really nice day of hiking with rolling hills of sagebrush and even some wildflowers. Happily, there were plenty of water sources along the way and even a surprise water cache with M&M’s in it!
Today i also officially dropped into the Basin. The Great Divide Basin is an endorheic basin. As i mentioned in the last post, an endorheic basin is where there is no outflow of water. The continental divide splits creating a series of basins and so rain that falls doesn’t leave the basin, rather evaporates or is contained in lakes or swamps. The divide rejoins south of Rawlins and water again runs to the Atlantic or Pacific, depending on which side of the ridge it falls. This is why, since leaving the Sweetwater River yesterday, almost all of my water sources this stretch are springs. I’m coming through early enough that there are some little seasonal streams still holding water, but predominately hikers coming through these parts need to rely on spring water.
The highlight came in the afternoon when a wild black horse on a nearby hill got curious about what we were doing and followed us, from a distance, for about 2 miles. He would run ahead up on the ridge and then stand and watch us for a few minutes before doing the same again. Atlas wasn’t sure what to make of the situation. I’ve always loved horses and so i thought it was pretty darn cool.
I found a nice dip in the landscape to setup camp in and then watched the sunset over the Wind River Range. Have i mentioned how happy i am to be back out on the trail?!
Near Bison Basin Road to near Benson Spring
I slept well last night, although it was still pretty cold.
Last night during my nightly Atlas inspection i noticed that but yet again he had developed chaffing under his arms from his pack. I was really hoping that wouldn’t happen this trip. Earlier this spring I played around with a couple of different packs and settled on this one from Ruffwear. I’d added a rash guard to the pack straps so they wouldn’t rub him. I’d also been putting anti-chaffing cream under his arms, taking his pack off before he launched into any water sources, waiting for him to dry off after getting wet and generally just watching that the fit was good. But alas, last night i discovered it wasn’t going to work out for him… again. I think this dog has a conspiracy going so that he doesn’t have to carry his stuff. Argh. I condensed the contents of his pack into mine and then strapped the pack onto mine, leaving Atlas to trot free of any burden. Shouldn’t he appreciate the history behind his name? Kids these days… Ha.
I really enjoyed today, although the terrain was much more mountainous than i had imagined the trail through these parts to be. I felt like i was back on the Idaho-Montana section of the trail near Leadore. I loved it! There was a large pond that we stopped at for lunch and Atlas got to have a swim. The later part of the day we went up and over a mountain with actual tress on it! I hadn’t seen a tree since leaving Atlantic City. Atlas sure did appreciate seeing some shade.
The only odd thing that happened today was that i blew a snot rocket, for non-hikers, that’s what you do where tissues don’t exist, and my right nostril started bleeding and just wouldn’t stop. I had to stick my dishcloth up my nose for the better part of an hour to get it to stop.
We dropped into a valley and camped under the last tree of the trip a little past Benson Spring. With dirt under my tent and a tree above it, I was looking forward to a much warmer night’s sleep than the past two.
Near Benson Spring to south of A&M Reservoir
We were up and moving by 7 and already it was pretty hot. Atlas really struggles in the heat, so I was hoping to get in 12 miles before the hottest part of the day and then get the rest in later in the early evening hours.
There was a spring near Crooks Creek about 6 miles in and so we stopped for a rest break. While Atlas played in the water, i took the opportunity to wash some socks and stock up on some water. The spring was piped and seemed to be controlled by whatever was inside the metal cylinder nearby. Atlas was jumping up at it and so out of curiosity i lifted up the lid to check out what was inside. To my absolute amusement there were some toys and a tennis ball! Trust Atlas to find a tennis ball in the desert! Ha.
I was hoping to really cruise the next 6 miles but to my frustration the trail was just deep sandy tracks and that made it much slower going than i had anticipated. It was also getting pretty hot so I was keeping Atlas going with plenty of water so he’d power along to the next water source. I also put his cooling vest on at the last water source to help regulate his body temperature in the heat; it really helps him, although in this dry heat it dried out in about an hour and i had to wet it down again.
We arrived at a solar well to find that it wasn’t working and there didn’t seem to be any way to get it to work. Argh. I’d stopped drinking water a couple of miles back to save it for Atlas just in case this would happen, i’m sure glad i had! The well was located in a utility corridor with gas, water and electric lines running through. There was a nearby metal pole marking a buried water line so I used that to set up a shade shelter for Atlas to cool off and take a nap. I ate lunch while he did that. The clock was ticking though, the temps were increasing and i had to get us to the next water source, an electric piped spring that i knew to be reliable.
I rallied Atlas with the promise of lots of cool water and off we went. It was hot but we powered through it and were at our water source in no time. After both drinking lots of water we hid in the shade of the tire water tank until the temps cooled off about 4:30. Atlas slept the whole time and i took advantage of the water to cook an early dinner. As i sat in the dirt eating my ramen noodles, a few feet away from some dried cow patties, I smiled at just how happy this strange hobby makes me. I really couldn’t have been happier in that moment.
The next water source was a reservoir a couple miles down the trail by a county road we would cross. Atlas chased his stick while i filled up on enough water to get us through to lunch tomorrow and then we were on our way again.
It’s really easy to get some fast miles in after 6 as the temps really drop and with the cooler temps Atlas gets a second wind. We got in another 5 or so miles and they were some of the most enjoyable of the whole walk. The trail passed up and over a plateau, the plateau home to herd after herd of wild horses. I watched as two horses fought each other in the distance. It was a pretty special afternoon.
I found a great place to set up camp and was stoked to see a curious horse watching me from nearby as I did so.
South of A&M Reservoir to Mineral X Road/Rawlins
I had a fabulous sleep. The temps had definitely spiked back up to what is more normal this time of year. I was thankful for the cooler weather the first few days of this trip but it did make for some cold nights. Anticipating it would get pretty hot today we were walking by 6:30.
Atlas started to be a bit tentative on his front paws towards the end of day yesterday, so i put his hiking booties on him today. I learned from a trip earlier this spring that he gets sores on his feet using these unless i also use dog socks, so yes, i put socks and booties on Atlas. Ha, looks funny but also adorably cute.
A couple of miles in we saw some other CDT hikers approaching from the south. Atlas trotted ahead and got himself some free pats. He loves seeing people on the trail! When originally planning this trip i anticipated that i’d be the only one out here. Ordinarily the nobo CDT hikers don’t hit the Basin until July and the sobo’s don’t hit it until August, however this year there is still so much snow in Colorado that it’s not passable yet and a lot of the nobo’s have flipped up to the Basin to hike it given its the only stretch of trail hikable other than New Mexico owing to the current snow in Montana, Colorado and the rest of Wyoming. As a result, I had been seeing a couple of hikers a day heading north. None of them were real sure what they’d do when they got to Atlantic City because the Wind River Range isn’t passable yet either. I shared with them my great experience going sobo from Canada starting late June and it seemed like a number of them were leaning that way and would likely hitch up to Montana to start back sobo after they finished the Basin. It’s hard to get a straight shot at hiking this trail, the timing on it is really hard, there’s a pretty short window for getting through Colorado. Indeed that’s why I skipped the Basin when i hiked it in 2016, i was concerned i was getting too late for snow in Colorado, which turned out to be true and why i ultimately skipped the section i did through the Collegiate Peaks and north San Juan Mountains.
A couple miles down the trail i got my first glimpse at the north end of the Rocky Mountains on the WY/CO border, my next stretch of trail. They were still brilliant white snow capped peaks, it might be a while before i can get into those mountains and hike them this year. We’ll see…
The miles flew by pretty quickly in the morning and i got to our first and only water source for the day by about 11. Bull Springs is like a little oasis in the desert, with green grass, birds bathing and there were even a couple of elk in the meadow when we first arrived. I set up a shade shelter for Atlas and let him nap for an hour or so. The boy likes his naps.
I sat and looked at my maps trying to figure out how much water to carry this next stretch. It was only 16 miles but it was now really hot and there were definitely no trees in our future. So, i needed water for Atlas and I to drink, some for dinner and breakfast prep, but also enough to keep his cooling vest wet. I filled up 8 liters, which is a lot of water to carry, 16 lbs worth, but really not that much for what i just described needing.
I was hoping to get another few miles in before we got to the hottest part of the day around 3, but it was already scorching hot. The thermometer on my pack said 95 degrees, but i think that must have been getting influenced by a microclimate as i didn’t think it quite that hot. Atlas’ cooling vest dried out pretty quickly and after a couple of miles I needed to set up another shade shelter for him to cool off under. Hmm.
I sat in the sun, because Atlas was benefiting from all of the shade i could make, and thought about things. I’m not interested in putting Atlas in danger of heat stroke and hiking at this lower elevation right out of Rawlins was going to be a challenge. The trail pretty much parallels the highway after it connects with it 6 miles further along and that wasn’t super appealing to me either. I really don’t like sleeping anywhere near humans and roads. I feel really safe out in the wilderness, but if i get too close to civilization i start thinking of those random axe murderer stories.
I pretty quickly concocted a plan that when we hit the highway we’d hitch into Rawlins and skip the last 20 miles of this section. Then i remembered I had Mike’s number, the guy that gave us a ride to Rock Springs last week. I called Mike a few miles out and he said he’d come pick us up. Yay!! Love it when a plan all comes together like that.
At that point i knew i wouldn’t need all the crazy amounts of water i was carrying and so Atlas and I had a water party on the trail. He was pretty excited, i was emptying whole liters of water on top of him. Happy boy, he likes his water and hates his heat! I also put all 4 of his doggy booties on because the ground was hot and rocks were a bit sharp in the last cross country section.
Atlas didn’t want to be hiking the last few miles but i kept him going with encouragement and promises of sleeping in his own bed tonight and then not walking a single mile tomorrow. I think it would be fair to say the boy plodded along somewhere between an amble and a slow walk, unless of course an antelope or rabbit appeared, in which case he definitely mustered the energy to run at full sprint down the trail. Sometimes i think he plays me a little.
Mike and his wife met us at the trailhead and loaded us both into the nice cool airconditioned car. Ahhh, heaven. I felt really really happy with my decision to end our hike where we did and not suffer through the heat tomorrow, or become a victim in an axe murderer story.
They dropped us off where i’d left my car, which i was happy to see was still there. Atlas was so so happy to be back in his car, and i was too. What a great trip! I really enjoyed this stretch of trail and feel lucky to have been able to hike it in June with its green landscape, cooler temperatures and reasonably abundant water sources.
Thanks for reading.