Not all pictures are in the order, but some are matched to their respective stories.
Day 1: 14.1 miles
And so it began…
I forgot to mention in my last post, but Jessica’s 19 year old brother, “Dakota” flew out with me as well. He will be hiking with us for about two weeks.
After returning the rental car, we caught a shuttle to the tiny novelty town of South Pass City and spent the night on the side of the trail there.
We got an early 6:30 a.m start from South Pass this morning and began the last few miles out of the northern boundary of the Great Basin – into the forested southern borders of the Wind River Range.
After watching several Pronghorn flee across the plains, we were out of sagebrush desolation and officially into Grizzly country. It’ll be “Grizzly country” from here until Canada.
I felt good, if not a little out of shape from taking ten months off from hiking. Either way, I was ecstatic to be back in the winds – even more so to be there with Jessica.
We hiked slow and took it easy, encountering several rain showers. Dakota lead the way the entire time, and like most teenagers, he was very enthusiastic and eager to prove himself. There was A LOT of friendly ribbing between us.
Like a past version of myself, Dakota can’t fathom that walking/hiking can be difficult or taxing in any way even remotely resembling misery. I know that two weeks will be more than enough time for him to learn otherwise.
As it turned out, he got a little taste early this afternoon. He began complaining that one of his testicles was hurting. None of us had any answers, so we kept on. An hour later, he reported that it had swollen up to near grapefruit size, and he could barely walk. I let him know I’d perform the amputation if it came to it, and that he could count on me. He thought this was only a little funny.
In all seriousness, we became concerned, stopped, made him take some ibuprofen, and had an early dinner.
By the time we finished dinner, the swelling had gone down, and he said he felt much better. We decided to go another mile and camp, citing that if it was worse in the morning, then we would go back to the road and seek medical help.
We made camp near a slow moving river, just above and away from the “chill zone.” I feel fantastic. I have zero aches and zero pains. My feet are great, and my only troubles of the day were burning muscles and heaving lungs.
I guess I’ll let you all in on a little experiment I’m doing while I’m out here. No doubt some of you will disagree with it, or be downright repulsed by it, and for that, all I can say is… “Sorry.”
I tried something called the “Carnivore Diet” for about a month before I came out here. It’s basically a more restricted version of the “Keto Diet,” although easier to follow. For the carnivore diet, you pretty much only eat meat, and animal products such as cheese, butter, or eggs.
I know this sounds like a cholesterol and colon cancer nightmare, but new studies are revealing some extremely interesting things we didn’t know about all meat diets and their connections (or lack thereof) to certain diseases and conditions. I urge you to do some real research of your own if any of this interests you.
Anyways, I’ve tried many different diets over the past decade. Vegan, paleo, primal, keto, no diet, etc…. and I have never, EVER felt as good as I have on the Carnivore Diet (with a focus on red meats). My sleep improved. My energy improved with zero crashes or low points throughout the day. I had more vivid dreams, and I would wake up and be ready to go – no grogginess. I felt zero anxiety, and had no nervous energy throughout the day. No gastrointestinal issues, ZERO gas, and solid stools. Also, I ate much less, and only ate once, maybe twice a day. I have terrible short term memory, and even that improved! I could hold more numbers in my head, and for a longer period of time – along with many other little things I noticed. I felt happier! Literally every facet of my physical and cognitive life improved while on the carnivore diet. It was INCREDIBLE.
So, I was very eager to try this diet on trail, as difficult as I knew it might be. I won’t be able to keep to it 100%, since most meats that jive with backpacking contain nitrates and are cured with sugar most of the time. Still, I’m going to give it a whirl. I don’t think the tiny amount of sugars in the meats I’ve packed out will be enough to affect the experiment, but we’ll see…
I’ve packed out pouch Tuna, pouch spam, canned spam, olive oil, asiago cheese, bacon, pork rinds, some olive oil, beef and pork sausages, beef brats, and beef and pork salami slices. All of this is 99% fat and protein. I also plan to catch and cook trout while I’m out here, further supplementing my diet.
I have no idea if it will be enough for 5 or more days on trail, but we’ll see. I don’t know what my hunger and energy levels will do on this diet with this much activity….
Day 2: 16.4 miles
Dakota’s testicles were normal this morning, so we hiked on! He did mention his feet were sore though…
I woke up feeling not the least bit hungry, and didn’t eat until after 10am. I had two pouches of tuna with some olive oil. I don’t think the olive oil is technically carnivore, but it’s all fat, so it will have to suffice.
I felt a little lethargic, but I chalked that up to hiking consistently at 9k feet for the entire day, after having lived at sea level for the past ten months. Other than that, I felt great.
We took a two hour break around 1pm at a vault privy and waited out a hail storm before beginning a long climb up to 10,200 feet. I didn’t eat lunch, and I had no snacks all day.
The climb was very tough on me, but again, I chalked it up to the elevation. My legs and lungs were extremely heavy, but my mind was clear. Usually I get a migraine when ascending to these heights for the first time in a while, but I experienced no such thing this time around.
I ate a big dinner of beef brats at 7pm before we hiked into the dark and finished up a 16 mile day. Tomorrow we’ll begin the brutally beautiful “cirque of the towers” alternate. This was my favorite section of the CDT last year, and I’m extremely excited to see it again. I’m even more excited to see how Jessica and Dakota like it.
I won’t lie, I’m a little nervous about keeping up over the terrain ahead. We’re going to be consistently above 10k feet, ascending to more than 11k feet a few times. The climbs will be long, steep, and dangerous. I only hope I don’t hold the others back. Without a doubt, Jessica (with 1,800 miles under her feet already) is the strongest hiker, and Dakota (who works construction and has about 5% body fat) has started out as a stronger hiker than me as well. Still, I have experience on my side. We’ll see how it goes…
Day 3: 12.1 miles
We got an early start down the alternate, and right off the bat, we heard what sounded like a canine shrieking in pain far away. As the noise continued, we saw a large black bear sprinting through the forest as fast as it could in the direction of the ruckus. It was very bizarre and happened very quickly. I’m really not sure what was going on.
We hiked 6 miles up through a valley saturated in wild flowers and gurgling streams before reaching the base of our first mountain pass. It didn’t have a name, but it would see us up over 11,400 feet. I was ready to be sucking air and fighting migraines… but they never came. I did suck air though, but only because I decided to sprint a couple hundred feet up the side of the pass.
When it comes to improving fitness – short, intense bursts of anaerobic activity are ideal for the quickest, most noticeable gains. They hurt the most, but they also give you the greatest payoff. More so than slowly upping the ante over a prolonged period of time, with lower energy outputs. This is why I like to intermittently sprint up certain sections of climbs. It feels like I’m dying, but it goes a long way to improving my base fitness, and increasing my overall average pace.
I didn’t eat anything until almost 1pm, and felt fantastic! Even when I did eat, it was only a few handfuls of pork rinds before tackling the pass.
Speaking of the pass, Dakota was not in his element. This thing was STEEP, with very narrow trail and lots of places to slip and tumble to your almost certain death. Dakota was on all fours through these sections, verbally expressing how uncomfortable and terrified he was, but still in good humor. I took this opportunity to rib him even harder, since he’d bragged about kicking “my old ass” on the climb up. “Hey Dakota! Look at this!” I called as I ran across one of the sections he’d crawled. “I hate you!” He yelled. “Hey Dakota, this could be you…” I teased as I tossed a rock down one of the slopes. He doubled down on his professed hate for me. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a brutal climb so much. It was all in good fun, and most men can relate to this sort of banter on job sites or what have you throughout most of their lives. It’s how we test the mettle, grit, and character of each other, and it goes both ways. All parties involved are usually well aware of when it’s gone too far.
Before reaching the top, we had one more exchange, which the video below captured perfectly. Dakota was on all fours again when he left out a very loud and distressed “sigh.” Being familiar with this pass, I responded by saying, “You are NOT going to like the other side,” (because I’d already told him it was much worse). To which Dakota replied, “F**k you Kyle!” It’s much funnier on the video, and Jessica’s reaction is pretty good too.
We got up and over without further trouble, and I caught a bunch of trout in the lake on the far side with my Tenkara Fly rod. I kept 5 for dinner, and Jessica caught a few too!
We hiked a few more miles and stopped to eat. I cleaned the trout in a nearby creek, cut them in half, seasoned them with some garlic pepper, then sauteed them in olive oil. I would have preferred to have fire roasted them, but we still planned to go further, and I wasn’t making a fire in a spot we weren’t camping in. Still, they turned out delicious!
My energy felt incredible today, and all I had was some pork rinds, two trout, and about 3 ounces of asiago cheese. We hiked a few more miles and called it a day.
I’m blown away by how little hunger I’m experiencing. Usually I am a slave to food out here, but for once I feel like I’m in control. I have zero joint pain, zero foot pain, and energy levels are holding fast. My lungs and leg muscles are the only thing truly feeling the burn right now, but none of that is out of the ordinary. I feel optimal! Although I am kinda sad that my food weight isn’t getting eaten down…
Jessica is doing fine and loving the scenery. Dakota is loving it too, but his feet are sore and he’s mentioned that his Achilles tendon is beginning to hurt. We’ll see how it goes…
Day 4: 10 miles
We began the day climbing Jackass Pass, and again I felt great. It rained off and on, making the climb fairly chilly. I was glad to have my umbrella.
In the grand scheme of the cirque of the towers, Jackass Pass is monotonous, but it’s not too steep or difficult. We got up and over it without much fuss or muss.
On the far side, we were greeted by the dramatic Pingora Peak, a volcano looking rock formation popular amongst rock climbers. I would personally say that Pingora is the crown jewel of the cirque of the towers, as well as the most iconic rock formation. It’s certainly my favorite.
As we made our way around Lonesome Lake, I caught another large trout and packed it out for dinner. Actually, I promised Dakota I would cook it specially for him. He’s become somewhat of a trout addict since I cooked it for him the other day, and now asks me to catch more at every lake we come to. It’s flattering.
Texas Pass was next, and is easily the most challenging pass in the cirque – half of it trail blazing over rocks and vegetation without trail. I told Dakota I would beat him to the top. He told me I was an “old man.” What I would give to be 19 again.
Long story short, I made it to just below the top of the pass about 15 minutes before Dakota and Jessica, and stopped to wait. In all honesty, I forgot about my challenge and we hiked the rest of the way up together, stopping around 11,400 ft on the edge of a snow field, a short ways below the actual top of the pass. As I put down my pack to rest, Dakota reminded me that the race wasn’t over, because we hadn’t actually reached the sign. He then proceeded to quickly walk across the snow field towards the sign. I didn’t even bother with my pack, springing up and sprinting after him. He began to sprint too, but as I passed him, he tried to trip me with his trekking pole. No dice! Score one for the “old guys,” or maybe the carnivores…
The fun was not over, as the north side of Texas Pass was nearly 700 feet of elevation loss (or gain, if going south) in just over 0.3 miles. Most of it scree, dirt, and boulder hopping.
When we were a little past halfway down, going across the boulder hopping portion, an intense hail storm blew in, painfully battering us. Some of the hail stones were the size of marbles, and stung like paintballs in the high winds. One even cut through my umbrella and struck me painfully in the skull. This prompted Jessica and I to crouch down into some larger rocks, where we hid for the next ten minutes of the storm. It was the worst hail either of us has ever experienced on trail. The video is too long to upload onto here right now, but I put it on facebook the other day. If you’d like to see it, then feel free to shoot me a friend request and view it. I’m one of like 3 “Kyle Rohrig’s” in the world.
The sun came out afterwards, and we hiked another 5 miles out of the cirque. I cooked Dakota some trout, and I fried up a can of spam for myself.
I ate twice all day, and felt amazing once again. It was a brutally challenging day, and I find it unbelievable how little I’ve had to eat in order to contend with it. After four days, I still have almost all of my food. This is ridiculous!
Day 5: 14.4 miles
It was freezing in the morning when we awoke. Ice covered everything. I also did not feel well. I didn’t feel weak, but very tired and out of breath.
We started off slow, and remained slow all day. I couldn’t shake the feeling of needing to sleep, or the feeling of not being able to catch my breath. My muscles felt strong, but I had zero motivation. As a result, the day passed very slowly.
The terrain was beautiful and easy, but it didn’t matter – I was dragging. I theorized that I might be showing the early signs of Ketoacidosis – a buildup of too many ketones in my body. I knew ahead of time that this was a possibility by going carnivore out here, but I also knew it could be avoided if I stayed hydrated, and kept flushing the ketones out. Unfortunately, I was not drinking nearly enough water… not even a gallon per day since coming out. I’d felt so good, I neglected one of the most important chores on trail… to manually keep yourself hydrated whether you feel thirsty or not.
Jessica implored me to take myself out of ketosis by eating some carbs that afternoon, and I obliged. I ate two backpacking meals with around 50 grams of carbs between the two of them, as well as some tortilla chips. I admit I immediately perked up, but my stomach was in knots and I became very gassy. I suppose it was preferable to the fatigue I’d felt before, but it was far from optimal. I felt as though I’d stupidly failed an experiment that had been going exceedingly well. All because I didn’t drink enough water.
After only a couple more hours of hiking, I felt starved – a feeling I hadn’t known since beginning this section. Such is the way of carbs. We stopped again for dinner and I had a flour tortilla and some more chips. I felt bloated and disgusting… but I could hike.
We went another mile to a lake, where I caught about a dozen more trout, keeping 5 to have for lunch tomorrow. The air is already freezing, so they’ll keep just fine overnight.
I’m so frustrated I messed up this experiment…
Day 6: 13 miles
We slept in until 8:30, but I awoke with a migraine, blurry vision, and my knees felt swollen in the joints. None of this had happened in the previous 5 days until I’d eaten that junk yesterday.
I was starving once again, and ate chips for breakfast. My energy felt fine, but I felt jittery, and my depth perception was off. I tripped and stubbed my foot innumerable times as we made our way across the decidedly easy terrain. My knees didn’t hurt, but they just felt tight and bloated as well. Not optimal at all. It really put me in a bit of a slump.
I caught two more trout on our way up to Hat Pass, and we cooked all 7 of them for lunch at the top. I only ate the trout for lunch, and as a result, I felt quite a bit better. Not 100%, as I still had a bit of a migraine. Jessica gave me some Aleve, and the migraine was gone. We made good time for the rest of the day, despite some more challenging terrain later on.
Hiking until dark, we made it about 1 mile down a side trail that will take us another 10 miles to Elkhart campground. From there we can hitch into the town of Pinedale and resupply.
After six full days on trail, I still have more than half the food I started with, while Jessica and Dakota are both almost out. Between them, they only gave up some chips, two tortillas, two backpacker meals (which I had actually been carrying for them from the start) some peanut butter, and a few leftovers from other meals they hadn’t finished since yesterday. I by no means cut into their food supply in any major way, but I was happy to share what food I had left with them on our last night before town. They had a field day with my second unopened block of asiago cheese, 3 pounds of various gourmet Italian salamis, as well as frying up spam I hadn’t eaten. They were floored by how much food I still had after almost a week. I was too.
Done right, I believe the carnivore diet, or even the keto diet would be the optimal way to hike long distance. No crashes. No hunger pains. Steady energy. Less food to carry. Healthier foods. Etc. You just have to drink a ton of water. For that reason, I think it would be mostly viable on trails that have a super abundance of water… or on any trail – so long as you’re willing to carry as much water as it takes in order to drink enough…
Day 7: 10 miles
We got up extra early and knocked out the ten miles to Elkhart. I felt bloated, and so did my knees, but Dakota was much worse off. His feet were killing him, and his Achilles tendon was tearing, making it extremely painful for him to walk. I put some KT Tape on his heel for extra support, but it wasn’t enough.
We made it to the campground and then hitched into Pinedale by noon. After running a few errands and having a huge lunch, we settled into a hotel to finally rest after a week of nonstop hiking.
Sadly, Dakota will not be finishing his two weeks. His tendon is in too bad of shape, and hurts too much. He’ll be flying home in a couple days.
I have a high school friend who is flying in on Friday to hike for a few days. He’s a helicopter pilot and in very good shape, so I’m interested to see how he does. His actual backpacking experience is very minimal, but I think he’ll do great. Should have some great stories in a few days…