Day 72: Hat Pass, Wolves, Bears and Eagles

Today is our first day that started with overcast skies and not too long after it started raining. The rain was light and we both put our umbrellas up to use them fot the first time for real rain rather than sun or a passing shower. 

Either we are getting accustomed to the bugs or they are decreasing. They were not as much of a distraction from the spectacular scenery as they have been the previous days. 

We meet Carlos for the first time today. He started the CDT on April 1st and has walked all the way from New Mexico, including a lot of road walking in Colorado to avoid the snow. He is planning to go into Pinedale as well but will hike down the Seneca trail while we plan on hiking the closer Pole Creek Trail. We hike with him for a while chatting away until we start the climb up Hat Pass. Carlos is much faster than us and the last we see of him he is disappearing up the hill while we stop for water. 

Hat Pass was steep but a reasonable climb with the big advantage of having water all the way up. It is wonderful not having to carry water uphill. We did stop to fill up at the last water marked on gut hooks but could have avoided even this as the snow is melting and both sides of the pass have a nice supply of water.

We head off the CDT towards the High Line Trail. On the walk down through the trees the mosquitoes come back with a vengeance. I need to stop for a toilet break and am instantly swarmed. Yeti gets mobbed and they crawl between the buttons on her shirt to unleash a new series of bites on her stomach. I am lucky in that they don’t affect me when I get bitten but Yeti is getting a very large collection of red lumps that are constantly itching. We are quick to start walking again and get away from this shaded spot.

The trail through the trees comes out at Chain Lakes and when we reach the lake shore there is a nice breeze blowing which we take advantage of to have a mosquitoe free break. It is a very beautiful spot and really nice to finally get some time without bugs to sit and enjoy it.

We have set our goal for the day as the Pole Creek Trail which leads down to the Elkhaleart Trail Head and hopefully a lift into Pinedale. 

We still have about 2.5 miles along High Line Trail through the willows at the lakes edge before we get to the Pole Creek Trail so our break is ended before we both would have liked. 
We have been seeing black bear tracks for most of the day and by the lakes edge we come across even more prints that have been freshly left in the mud after the rain earlier today. These tracks have been made in the last few hours so we both go on full bear alert. We are calling out as we walk and breaking into snippets of songs and nursery rhymes to alert any bears to our coming. The willows we are walking through are easily tall enough and thick enough to hide a bear from our sight and what’s worse, hide us from its sight. Each time we enter a new patch we make lots of noise. 

Along with the bear prints we have been seeing a very large dog print in the mud. We come across a relatively fresh set of the prints and take some photos next to Yeti’s hand for reference. We are convinced that these must be the tracks of a wolf. We have been told that they have been moving down the range from Yellowstone along with the Grizzly Bears. 

Near the lakes end we enter more willows and make our usual noise. Halfway through we come to a small stream running down the hill side. As we are about to cross we notice a half eaten fish. This is a fresh kill with the blood still dripping from where something was eating it just a few seconds ago. We look at each other and say Bear? Now we are on super alert and think this is a bad place to dawdle. We take our first few steps on the other side of the creek and hear something big rustling in the bushes. We both draw our cans of bear spray with the speed  a gun slinger of the old west would have been proud of. We are watching the brush and continue walking. Then a giant bald eagle hops out of the willows  and on to a rock at the lakes edge. We both stare at it with a feeling of relief and awe. It is only about 20 feet from us. I try to get the camera out but as I am still holding my bear spray it has taken flight before I even get to the zipper. 

When we reach the end of our trail we have one last obstacle, Pole Creek itself. Where the trail crosses it is wide and about knee deep, on me at least, higher on Yeti. We hate to get our shoes wet this late in the day but the depth, width and speed of this creek leaves us with little choice. 

We get to the other side of the stream and see more bear prints. Our shoes are now full of water but we have made it to where we wanted to so now it is just a matter of going until we find somewhere to pitch our tent. 

Dinner tonight is pasta with Thai Tuna and pesto sauce. As Yeti starts to cook the delicious smell wafts across our camp site. Yeti looks up and says “I think this was a mistake to cook something so odiferous in bear country”. We end up taking our dinner 100 feet down the trail to the creeks edge and eating there. We take extra precautions to make sure none gets on our clothes. After dinner we take extra care to wash everything in the stream including the empty tuna packets and then put everything in my pack and hang the lot in a tree away from our tent and retire for the night.