Fred wanted to get up before dawn (he did) and call my name outside my tent (he did) in case I wanted to get up before dawn with him and hike by LED headlamp up over Jackass Pass to catch the first light of day hitting the Cirque of the Towers (I didn’t…I slept right through his calls outside my tent).
Fred left base camp at a little before 4 am and with camera gear on his back, he headed by headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers, via Jackass Pass, route.
If I didn’t leave before dawn by headlamp with Fred (I didn’t), my plan was to get up right at dawn (I did) and call for SQ outside her tent (I did) in case she wanted to get up early and hike to the Cirque of the Towers with me (she slept through my calls).
The bear cannister lid was covered with frost and ice, so I concluded that Fred hadn’t got any food from it (I was wrong, he had opened it and new frost had formed by the time I tried). I failed miserably to open the bear cannister so decided my diet Mt. Dew would hold me until I got back to base camp and made another attempt at opening the *&%$^ thing. What really ticked me off, was knowing that a black bear in the Ardirondacks has learned to open this bear cannister, yet I couldn’t (score: Yogi the bear – – ONE; OMT – – zero).
I took off hiking at around 6:30 am and didn’t need a headlamp to hike.
SQ (the smart one) planned to ignore a before dawn departure and wait until the sun came up to start her day hike. I later claimed not to have heard Fred’s call for a pre-dawn departure, just as SQ would claim the same when I gave her my dawn call for a departure.
So the three of us each ended up leaving with day packs for the Cirque of the Towers at our own preferred time. Fred had indicated he would likely spend the entire day in the Cirque of the Towers photographing. SQ indicated she would probably join Fred and accompany him on his amblings in the area.
I was hoping I could hike into the Cirque of the Towers, photograph some waterfalls between Hidden Lake and Lonesome Lake then head back over Jackass Pass to base camp; grab a bite to eat and obtain some trail food; then head south in the direction of the granite slab rock hiking between Clear Lake and Deep Lake (which I did).
In the end all three of us got what we wanted most from the day and had a base camp get together early Saturday evening to share a bite to eat and compare "trail stories".
A link to my map showing where we hiked on this trip:
THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012
Wind River Mountain Range – Wyoming
I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don’t have to read one word of it if you don’t want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).
On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept at ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).
So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) or looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).
But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere – I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.
Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming’s Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred’s consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.
The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.
For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred’s sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.
Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren’t old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn’t bother me…so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.
When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning – – backpacks loaded and ready.
As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn’t know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800′) might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.
"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.
As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I’m like a kid in that respect. Can’t wait.
I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.
My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947′) and I was anxious to do so again.
There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.
I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone’s toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver’s seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).
"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.
I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn’t linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.
Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn’t be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.
At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn’t take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.
Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night’s sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior’s rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.
Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row
The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.
After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).
Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir’s "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.
"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.
I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don’t expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn’t see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):
Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn’t see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ………………… I didn’t see a single canary there either.".
I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.
Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.
"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren’t hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.
We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens … behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.
Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.
SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"…she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.
I’m the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.
This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).
We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. **** they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.
When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren’t mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.
We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.
The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.
Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears…they lined up and competed for attention.
Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.
The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake – East Temple Peak area – – if we had time.
That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night’s sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot’s boulder field; then Fred’s tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.
Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred’s camera gear, I’m pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.
We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.
We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.
I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.
A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.
Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.
"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.
SQ, who doesn’t carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother’s hiking friend (me) that can’t seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.
What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred’s tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred…Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ’s Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.
The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn’t get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.
I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.
Then I noticed that Fred’s pack wasn’t in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.
I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.
It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.
I saw Fred’s boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn’t know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.
I won’t try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.
After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).
Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers’ path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.
Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.
Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.
I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.
The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.
I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.
I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.
When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.
Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn’t talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.
When she found out I hadn’t been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn’t have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.
Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ’s trail snacks.
A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter’s big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.
Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers’ trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).
By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.
More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn’t see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.
The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.
When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart’s content. It was really great hiking.
I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.
The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise – – to be ready for work Monday morning.
When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.
"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn’t have missed the night view of the stars.
At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.
We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.
I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.
Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.
I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.
We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.
It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.
I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I’m already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.
By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo – a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.
Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.
After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can’t miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.
Looking down upon the scene it doesn’t take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with – – the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.
You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).
After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.
When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.
I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012.