June 26, 2019

Tour Divide '19: Day 13 - Togwotee Pass to Cora

By the time I crawled out of my tent, Justin was packed & almost ready to go. Again, it was a borderline cold morning making it hard to believe it was summer. I eventually got my stuff loaded on my bike and started riding around 7:30a.
That was a fun one to get around.
The remainder of the dirt road climb to Togwotee Lodge was much more pleasant under sunny skies and after a night of rest. Like every other recent morning it was a test to see how my butt was going to respond. Early on, I had hope that this day would be better.
The other end of the dirt road didn't look as formidable.

The luxurious Togwotee Lodge.

Didn't realize there was a gas station here, missed that one on my cue sheet!! Didn't need it though.

The views of the now distant Grand Tetons never grew old. Such a magical place.
The ensuing 9 miles of the climb to the pass were on pavement, a wide shoulder on US26. It was just steep enough that I was down in low gear, my most uncomfortable gear for my backside. Not gonna lie, it was a painful slog. I stopped about halfway up to take a break and down some calories and as soon as I got going, I saw Justin up ahead. We rode together for a short bit then he pulled away once more as I crawled to the summit.
Plenty of roadside clearance on US26.

I don't recall how many Continental Divide crossings were made before here, but this was the first signed one.

Interesting geographical fun fact about Three Waters Mountain where three major watersheds join. Water flowing off that peak either goes to the Gulf of Mexico via the Missouri River, Pacific Ocean via Columbia River or the Sea of Cortez via the Colorado River.

Top of Togwotee Pass with Two Ocean Mountain in the background.

Highest point of the route so far.
I knew to be on the lookout for Brooks Lake Rd. just over the pass, but didn't realize it was practically AT the pass. There was a dirt pullout on the opposite side of the road where a car had just pulled in. I couldn't see the dirt road leaving the parking area because it was buried in snow!! The mountain bike tracks told me to proceed.
The beginning of Brooks Lake Rd.

The snowfields were soft and not too long.

I'm sure this was a quadmire a few days earlier, us slower riders had plenty of packed down tracks to follow!!

Look who I caught back up to!! Justin!!

Obligatory snow hike-a-bike pic for my sweltering friends back in AZ. Once again, my ankle gaiters proved their worth.

The snow patches and mud didn't last too long and once the road dried out it was a nice spin around Sublette Peak.

Distant view of the Wind River Range.

The terrain really opened up, this descent was a hoot. You can see Brooks Lake Rd. on the far hillside.

This was odd. A large swath of churned Earth. My guess is it prevented motorized through traffic?? Or perhaps an overzealous snowplow during the winter?? Either way, it was a quick walk around.

The towering Pinnacle Buttes. Jaw dropping scenery.
We had debated on which lodge to stop at for lunch as there were two rapidly approaching. The Brooks Lake Lodge & Lava Mountain Lodge a few miles beyond. As we dropped down to Brooks Lake Lodge it had the appearance of a working horse ranch.

The sign at the gate stated 'Registered Guests Only', so we took that as a signal to roll on to Lava Mountain Lodge.

Justin cruising by Brooks Lake.

There he goes, speeding off towards Pinnacle Buttes.

The Lava Mountain Lodge had plenty of favorable reviews by riders over the years.

'Liquor Between the Peaks!' Ha!

Don't forget to fuel up the snowmobile.

Plenty of solid choices, both for now & the road.

Cool place. A perfect midday refueling stop. Topped off my electronics as well.

Met this guy on our way out, he was riding that 90 lb rig cross country!! And loving it!!
Leaving the Lava Mountain Lodge was a challenge, it was such a cool place and we both knew what lie ahead: Union Pass. My cue sheet was a bit misleading: 1,086' over 4.2 miles. Doesn't sound like much especially compared to many of the other passes. What it neglected to tell me, and Justin had mentioned, was the unofficial climb to the climb.

We still had a few more downhill paved miles until our turnoff. As soon as we reached dirt and looked up, we could see the near mountains shrouded in dark clouds. This could be interesting as Union Pass was a bit higher than Togwotee, but not quite 10,000'.
The riding surface was fine, but my saddle sores perked up and I was reduced to walking more rideable miles.

Ominous clouds closing in.
The rain began, rain gear on. The rain stopped, rain gear off. Repeat. This routine went on for three iterations until the rain made up its mind and became steady for a while.

Short break in between the showers.

There were a few snowflakes mixed in with the rain, but while the road became saturated, it was rideable. However, I was still walking since I could barely sit down for any length of time.
The road finally took mercy on me and leveled out. I could actually pedal my bike for a bit!! Heck, I could even coast slightly downhill while standing on my pedals!! I was thrilled to be covering ground at a much more efficient pace. Justin was now long gone as far as I knew. I rounded a corner on the muddy 2-track and saw a sizable snowdrift in my lane up ahead. No biggie. I'll just cross over to the left siiiiiiiii...and just like that my front wheel slid out from under me. Bonus points for riding flat pedals & hiking shoes as I summoned my cat-like reflexes and jumped clear of the handlebars. The greasy track didn't help my landing. I slipped out and rolled a couple of times before sliding a few feet on my Camelbak. Ugh. Let's just say that I was getting epic'd by Union Pass and I wasn't happy about it. Now I'm covered in mud as is most of my bike.
It's like the mud specifically targeted all my electronic devices...and tent. The only casualty here were a few loose zipties and a scratch on my eTrex screen.

Looks like the seat took the brunt of the blow. This would be the only time of the entire ride that I'd need any bike tool.
I cleaned up the bike as best I could and opted to walk the final miles of the pass. Not like I had much choice. I was ready to get off this mountain and put Union Pass behind me. This was one of my low points of the ride. I just had to keep moving and get through it.
Albeit steep this was one of the better sections, but hey, the sun was shining!!

The steepness here did not translate to photo!!

This does wonders for saddle sores. No thanks.

More slipping & sliding on the way up.

Devil's Hole Trail you say? That's the polite way of calling it the Devil's Anus Trail.
I was spiraling down with negative vibes and needed to snap out of it. The trail began to level out in the nick of time as it poked above treeline. High alpine riding is one of my happy places and I could feel my mood turning for the better. Now, if I could only sit on my bike.

Hooray!! It's time to ride!!!

The skies were breaking up and the Wind River Range was providing a wonderful backdrop.
I did recall a few ride reports stating that there was a false summit on Union Pass, so I tempered my excitement for a bit, knowing my upcoming downhill was probably going to be short lived.

One thing was certain. When you crest Union Pass, get out your Tour Divide punch card and put a hole through #12. That one is hard earned.
Ahhh. And just like that, all is well on the Divide.

Looking back north towards Brooks Lake Rd. Four deer can be seen above the snowfield.
The route crested a small dome and I began to relax. Next thing I knew my GPS is beeping: 'off course'?!? I double checked on the eTrex, yep, looks off route. I saw the pink line veer left on my screen, but the 2-track was hugging the hillside to the right, clearly going farther off route. I guess I missed a turn. I retreated to where the track showed a lefthand turn. There was nothing on the ground, just an open field. I looked for other tire tracks, but didn't see any. WTH?? Freakin' Union Pass, get me outta here. I turned around once again and followed my track off route a bit. Sure enough it came to a well defined 2-track leading left and back towards the pink line on my GPS. Screw it, I'm sticking to the dirt roads. I assumed it was a track error possibly caused when the full route with all the data points gets simplified down to 10,000 points for the GPS. When it was all said and done, it was at most 0.1 mile extra. Whatevs.
The trek up the soggy second summit.

There weren't many gates on the route, but this one deserved a #locorides stamp of approval. *For those wondering LOCO isn't just crazy, it's the Little Off Cycling Organization because you have to be a 'Little Off' in the head to do some rides.

Looking back down the mushy track.

Snake River Range to the far southeast.

What's this?!? Another Grand Teton appearance?? Sure is. Union Pass was trying its hardest to make me feel better. It was working. Such an amazing vantage point.
The time had finally come, the descent. The day was growing very long and my mileage was weak at best, hovering a bit over 40 miles after nearly 11 hours. Ugh. I was in desperate need of fast, easy miles, but Union Pass had a few more tricks up its sleeve.
I've had my fair share of close calls riding into muddy puddles over the years, I wasn't taking any chances. There were 4 or 5 of these behemoths, depth unknown and a bit tricky to navigate around. For the most part, shoes & bike stayed clean. I just want to ride my bike. Please?
 The road eventually stayed dry and generally pointed downhill, but I was on high alert for any trail shenanigans.
Paying homage to another couple of ride groups back in the Valley of the Sun.
I crossed through the above gate and the ensuing forest road felt like a normal, wide, graded forest road I'd come to expect. My Advil kicked in and I could sit and pedal for what seemed like an hour. That was huge.
Fish Creek.

I thought this was a cool view, then realized I caught an antelope in the road!!

I stopped here to eat my Calzone from Lava Mountain Lodge and was again instantly swarmed by mosquitoes. You only have mere seconds before they are all over you. This day was turning into a huge mental test of will. I ate fast so I could get moving ahead of the pests.

Golden Hour was quite a treat. Scenes like this reminded my why I was out here. Soothes the soul.

Oh no!! It's Mosquito Lake!! Egads!! Much to my surprise it was mosquito free for the few moments it took to snap this panoramic. What a serene setting.

Whatta you lookin' at??
Darkness began to settle in and I was pleading to the mountain bike gods for some sustained downhill. I needed a bunch of easy miles, stat. My wish was not only heard, but granted in a big way. The next 15 miles flew by with little effort. I could tell I was in a wide valley as I could see a series of lights off in the distance. No matter how fast I rode or the amount of miles, the lights never seemed to get closer. The road came to a T after crossing the Green River and I began to calculate how much I had left in my tank. I set midnight as a goal.
One more snack break before the final push of the night.
Less than a mile after passing the sign above the dirt gave way to pavement. It felt really good to cruise on the tarmac after the trying day. I was keeping a good rhythm going and eventually reeled in those distant lights.

I knew I didn't have the full push in me to reach Pinedale that night as it was still some 30+ miles away. There was a small up & over approaching and I wanted to at least get beyond that. While I was having this inner dialogue a red light appeared up ahead. It had that suspicious look of a bike light. It was Justin!! He had stopped and noticed I was only a mile or so behind on Trackleaders so he decided to wait. I unveiled my plan for the evening and he was game.

It was nice to have some riding company and commiserate about the days events as we rode down the empty road. We crested the high point and flew down the backside while the temperature sank with us into the valley. A few miles later we spotted a county dirt road on the left and without discussion we both pulled over. There was a nice flat-ish clearing on the shoulder just far enough away from the main road. Perfect. We made a small informal toast to leaving Grizzly country unscathed!! I also noticed my legs had barely swelled this day, maybe all the stopping & walking did the trick.

I glanced at my GPS and was shocked I was able to put together an 88 mile day considering how unforgiving the early hours had been. Justin and I both agreed that night, there are NO easy days on the Divide. Each day has its own challenges. What would tomorrow bring?

Stats: 88.56 miles & 5,547' gained.


Full photo album for day 13.


  1. Thanks for the post. How did you know I wanted to procrastinate at work for a few minutes?!?!? ;)

  2. The push up Devil's Hole was the worst...to be blown from your memory by breaking out onto Union Pass and seeing snow capped mountains on 3 sides! So glad you got up there in the daylight to see it John. The next bit into Pinedale hurt a lot though. You seemed to breeze through it!

    1. That view up on Union Pass sure was something else. I'm surprised you had such a difficult time into Pinedale, but then again, you were doing much bigger days.