Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Day 92- Cirque of the Towers Alternate

Sunday July 15, 2018 
Larsen Creek(1774.5) to Lonesome Lake(Alternate mile14.3) 
17.8 Miles 
Total Miles: 1550 
Elevation: 10,200 feet

I have been looking forward to today since I began planning this hike. The Cirque of the Towers alternate is one of the best days on the Continental Divide Trail. Almost everyone who hiked this trail takes this alternate. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to skip it and take the official cdt. I stayed toasty warm last night. Taking the time and effort to wash my sleeping bag was the right decision. I slept in my shorts and t-shirt for the first time since beginning this hike. I mistakenly turned off my alarm this morning instead of hitting the snooze button. As a result I didn’t start hiking until almost seven o’clock. Dang! I really could have used an early start. Today was much more difficult than I had anticipated. The first six miles of the trail was really hard to follow. I kept having to check my position every few minutes. Even with my Guthook app I was constantly off trail. I kept hoping that the trail would get easier to find as the day progressed, but that was not the case. If anything it became more difficult at times. The first six miles of the day was a lot like yesterday. I walked through the woods on an indistinct trail, weaving around and over downed trees. That was not how I thought this morning would go. I began to get really frustrated. At one point I was obviously off trail. I walked to the edge of a cliff and could see the trail below me. It was tempting to try to down climb, but that had not worked out well for me in the past. I made the correct decision to turn around and find the place where I went wrong. It didn’t take me long. I should have dropped down to walk next to a creek and pond instead of climbing up. 

Interesting stream crossing

Back on trail 

Just about the time I got back on trail the views became one million times better. I was finally hitting the awesome part of the day. It was a surprise that the first part of the alternate was so blah. I really thought that from the second I started the alternate it would be amazing. I guess that it just part of embracing the brutality of the cdt. I walked along side of the creek in a valley for several miles. I could see these huge granite towers all around. For some reason I thought that I would stay down low all day, but once again that was not the case. At the end of the valley I had to climb up to the ridge line before dropping down into a different valley. I could see the pass ahead of me for awhile. The climb did not look very difficult and I thought that I would be up and over in no time. The cdt, however, had different plans for me. There wasn’t much of a trail to follow on the way up. I took the time to check my map and get a bearing. Then I followed that bearing instead of trying to follow the trail. My way was probably more difficult and steeper than where the trail would have gone. About halfway up the climb I found the trail and stuck to that. 

Through the valley

Couldn’t find a dry way across this stream so I went through in my shoes

Pass ahead of me with no visible trail in sight

I had almost finished the climb up to the pass when I hit a giant snowfield. It looked like a really steep traverse so I decided to go above the snow by climbing through some loose scree. That ended up being a poor decision. The loose scree crumbled beneath my feet with every step I took. If I had lost my footing it would have been a horrible fall. It took me four times longer than if I had just crossed the snow field, but eventually I made it to the top of the pass. 

Snowfield I should have taken
Beautiful alpine lake

Top of the pass 

The way down the pass was very steep and included a lot more crumbly rock. I took my time and watched every step. Until my knee is fully healed I’m constantly worried about taking a fall and ripping the wound open again. It took me over and hour and a half to make it down to the lake. The trail followed along the edge of the lake. Most of the time there was no trail, but I could use the lake side for navigation. 

Natural beacon

More snow. See the path 


As you can imagine walking around the lake was slow going. Eventually I left the shore of the lake and gained some elevation to walk around it. Once again there was no trail, but I knew the general direction that I needed to go. On days like this I really miss how well the trail was marked when it coincided with the Colorado trail. That trail was so easy to follow that I got spoiled. Every part of today took about four times longer than I thought it would, but at least the terrain was beautiful. 

An actual trail to hike on

On my way to Jackass Pass 

I was rapidly running out of daylight. I had hoped that I could get in another ten miles, but Jackass Pass really slowed me down. In theory it should have been an easy climb up and over. The reality was very different. Like most of the trail today there was no real path to follow. I tried spotting cairns on the way up, but I couldn’t always see them. I did however get a great view of the Towers that this section is named for. I was really impressed. For the most part this entire day has been stunning, but Watch Tower, Black Tower, Overhang Tower, Sharks Nose, and Wolf’s Head(name of the individual peaks) were in a whole different league. If I wasn’t on such a strict timeline because of food I would have set up camp on the top of Jackass Pass so that I could have seen the sunset over the Towers. Unfortunately, I am on a timeline so after taking a quick picture at the top of the pass I continued on. 

Cirque of The Towers

Block Tower, Sharks Nose, and Overhang(I think)

The hike down from the Pass was much smoother than I expected. I thought it was going to be steep and full of loose, crappy rock, but it was well graded and easy to hike on. I passed a few overnight backpackers on the easy down. One lady left her group to go for a pee, I guess she didn’t know that she was right next to the trail. I averted my eyes  to try to give her privacy, plus who wants to see that. She figured out I was there when I said hello to the rest of her group. They all laughed at her. It was pretty funny. I rounded another bend in the trail to find a naked woman take a bath in a stream. Her dog was close by and let out a bark/growl. I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t there, so I just called out, “don’t mind me.” Her response of, “ no, you don’t mind me” was pretty funny. More power to her for bathing in an ice cold stream with absolutely no shame. I made it to camp much later than I would have liked. It was after 8:30 and I still had to set up my tent, cook, and eat. I would have liked to have cooked and eaten from inside of my tent because of the hordes of mosquitos, but with grizzly country approaching I can’t afford to have food smells in my tent. I ate down wind of where my tent was. I thought the mosquitos would drive me insane they were so bad. 

Temple Lake

Great day

Lakes all around 

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.” – Vince Lombardi Jr.


  1. A rough start, but beautiful scenery! Ladies and their needs😊 Glad you are sticking to your plan and not cooking/eating in your tent, safety first. Hope knee is staying glued. Green all around, instead of sagebrush, is pretty. Love the pictures. LU

  2. Stunning! Alpine lakes are my favorite!! Mosquitos are not! Enjoy your hike Yoda!

  3. Good decision not climbing down that cliff early in the day! Cirque of the Towers is very impressive. Can see why you would have wanted to see sunset from there.

  4. Those pictures are amazing! Hike on Yoda!