BIG HOLE PASS
CDT Day 84: 22 miles/35 km
CDT Mile 635.0 – 657.0
Tuesday July 9, 2019
Last nights rain returned with a vengeance. An almighty thunderstorm arrived just as we were falling asleep. Lightening lit up the sky and the time gap between lightening and thunder got smaller and smaller. It was close and getting closer. One clap of thunder struck so close it felt like the ground shook beneath us. It was frightening. I said to Hammer “Are we going to be OK?” ‘Yes, we’ll be fine’ he replied. Heavy rain was falling, it took us a while to realise that it wasn’t rain but hail and slushy snow. It was a great relief when the storm passed and the thunder got further and further away. It was the most frightening thunderstorm we’d been in. The thunderstorms we had in New Mexico passed over us fairly quickly. This one hung around for a little bit longer.
The morning was cold and quite. Not even the birds were awake by the time we were up and started to pack up. The morning hiking was over a series of very steep ups and downs and occasional great views of rugged mountain peaks we’d been seeing for a few days now.
The trail was covered in patches of last nights snow and hail. The trailside vegetation was wet and our shoes and socks were soon soaked. We were at Big Hole Pass by the time the sun broke through the lingering clouds. It was nice to stop here, have breakfast and dry out a bit. It was also a chance to reflect on the history of this Pass. We learnt that Big Hole Pass was the location of a not too proud a moment in American history: the massacre of the fleeing Nez Perce Indians by US troops.
The next couple of hours were pretty dull hiking through a gulch which was wet and dark. It was a long steep descent on a rough trail. It was nice to come out of this gloom into an short section of open sunny area with beautiful wildflowers. Shame the creek was not closer to this spot, it would have made a great lunch spot.
We went a bit further and stopped at North Fork Sheep Creek to filter water and have lunch. We were still in a gully but there was a sliver of sunshine, the sound of running water and riotous birdsong. Not too bad at all.
Paya passed us here and it looks like we won’t be seeing him again. He needs to do longer days, as he does not have enough food. We are not in a rush as we have to wait in Leadore till Monday for the post office to open.
From here the afternoon hiking was diabolical. The trail was almost vertical and it was neverending, with three more crossings of the South Fork Sheep Creek. On the first crossing Hammer tried to go across a log. It was slippery and he fell breaking one of his hiking poles. Luckily no other injury. We could see that somewhere above us it was a beautiful sunny day. But we were deep in a narrow gully and not a lot of light penetrated, moss covered rocks and lush green growth predominated.
It was five tortuous hours of climbing and we were finally out on a ridge and in sunshine. We climbed 3,000 feet over nine miles on some of the steepest trail weve hiked on so far.
From the top of the climb we passed into a totally different landscape. It was incredibly beautiful. We were high on a ridge following a mountain over a pass. Wildflowers were everywhere and sunshine, it could not have been more different to the first part of the day. How effortless hiking seemed when the senses are engaged with the beautiful surroundings. I felt like I could just keep going.
We reached our campsite by a lake just before 7pm. Mosquitos were plentiful but it was a small price to pay for such a magnificent setting.