CDT Day 66: Halls Butte to Jackass Pass via Cirque des Towers alt. – Knapsack Hangover Camp to Big Time Towers Camp
Miles hiked: 21.3
Total miles: 1134.6
Another tough day emotionally. Another awesome day from a scenery standpoint. I left the official CDT once more to hike an alternate route through the Cirque of the Towers, an amazing place that defies worthy description. SpiceRack, for various reasons, didn’t want to join me for this adventure, so this was mostly a solo affair, although the Labor Day crowds kept me in touch with humanity.
I left Spice just a couple of miles from camp after we figured out the logistics of our reunion in Atlantic City in about three days. It crushed me to leave her behind, but I respected her decision to hike her own hike through the rest of the Winds. Not wanting to interfere with that or change my mind, I hiked as fast as I could away from her, stopping only once in the 13 miles to the junction where our trails would part.
Patches of rain dodged me as I sped across wide meadows of dry grass and lakes. Big views of big granite towers kept me distracted as I moved closer, trying to figure out my future route through them. I took a long lunch within sight of the junction, hoping to see Spice turn my way, but happy not to by the time I left to start hiking before that big storm gave me a direct hit.
I followed a steady stream of weekenders up the pleasant trail to Shadow Lake. It was warm in the bright sun after the major clouds passed by, but I didn’t stop for a dip. Too many people, too many miles to hike, and more lakes on the way. I did stop to ogle the views however. Towers, the Towers, shot skyward above the blue water forming a wall of smooth granite with pointy turrets combing the clouds. They each had names, but I didn’t bother trying to remember them. Quite a place. And in a few hours I’d be on the other side of them. Cool.
I lost the trail a little on the climb to Billy Lake, but found it again when I emerged above the treeline. A bald eagle did patriotic things, I stood and stared. Barren Lake then Texas Lake were quiet versions of the lower spots, hidden at the top of the valley. Just a little more effort and totally worth it. I took a break to recharge before the big climb out of this valley and into the next. The weather was holding, so everything looked good to go.
The ‘trail’ up to Texas Pass was a choose-your-own-adventure of braided scramble paths ascending a 1,000ft pile of steep scree and talus. It was nothing compared with Knapsack Col, but breathtaking nonetheless. My arms were tired from using my poles by the time I crested the crumbly saddle (11,444ft). My legs? Yeah, they were pretty tired too. But what a view! How worth it! I left behind the granite and lakes from where I’d come, and plopped down to consider the grassy benches and eastern tower faces. Freaking ridiculous. I was alone on top, just me and the wind and the views. I wondered what Spice was up too and wished she was next to me. Spice would eat this up.
The descent was easier, down to the busy Lonesome Lake. I grabbed water at the outlet, looked at a moose for a while, talked to some climbers, then hiked up to Jackass Pass (10,791ft), chased by shade as the sun set behind the Cirque. I found camp on top of a knob just above the pass and settled in for dinner and a light show.
It was only 7pm, a little early to stop, but this is the perfect place to catch an epic sunrise. The panorama of towers is spread without hindrance at my feet and I am counting on it catching early morning light. Plus, I need to do right by Spice. She would definitely camp here. I miss her, but couldn’t be happier with where I am in this moment. A strange contrast. Time and sleep. That’s what I need.