We get up very early to make it through the Togwotee Pass construction with enough time left to hike 20 miles. It goes smoothly, and we’re hiking around Brooks Lake by 8 am. We haven’t hiked an hour when we see two bears retreating up the valley.
The trail here is most heavily used by horse parties from the Brooks Lake lodge, and we’re lured off our route onto one of their loops. I catch the mistake shortly before we’ve made the full side trip to Lower Jade Lake.
The terrain is mostly forested with a lot of short climbs and creek crossings until we hit our first significant challenge at the South Fork Buffalo River. The crossing is about three feet deep and swift. That’s deep enough to make it hard to stay standing, but shallow enough to offer a real beating on the river rocks if you go down. We all make it, but we’re rattled, and Ann is left in dread of more crossings like it.
In the evening we get our first real rain since the Sticky Mud of Battle Pass south of Rawlins. Thankfully the trail mud is much less sticky, but it is slippery and a bit treacherous.
It’s still raining when we reach the next fork of the Buffalo River, the Soda Fork. There is a group of teenage kids on the other bank. Thinking they’ve just crossed, I take a quick look at the water and start crossing to talk with them. On the close bank it’s shallow, but the far bank is crotch deep and fast. I lose a foot and dunk up to my belly button in icy water, scrambling onto the bank with the help of one of the kids. They look at me wide-eyed, and their leader explains quickly that they’ve been afraid to cross. I advise against it, but start scanning up and down for a crossing for Ann and Pete. Eventually they choose a bridge of thin trees, crossing on all fours without incident. The group decides to postpone their crossing and starts making camp on the bank in the rain.
We walk a ways further. The rain lets up a bit, but we still have to make camp in the drizzle, and I have to strip down and air dry naked in the tent before putting on my dry sleep clothes. Once in my bag I’m warm and dry, but dreading the morning when I will pay again for my foolishness.