Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Return to Whitney (Wilderness)

It has been a few years since Chris and I have canoed together. We planned the dates for this trip back in the Spring, but left the final destination to the last minute. As we got closer to the trip dates, we decided to return to the Whitney Wilderness, specifically Little Tupper Lake and also the Round Lake Wilderness. we have used basically the same menu for the last few canoe trips so I modified one of our old ones and sent it to Chris to review. Once the destination was chosen, menu planned and all other logistics worked out we met for dinner and to put the canoe rack extender on my car.

I picked up Chris around 8am and we arrived at the Whitney Wilderness HQ and were met with a full parking lot. The side road parking for the Round Lake Wilderness was also quite busy. With the wind swept lake we needed to go to Round Lake and hoped to find an unoccupied campsite. Paddling East on Little Tupper was easy although I had a difficult time keeping up with Chris and his double blade kayak paddle with my single stick. I could close the gap, but it took effort. As we made our way through the connecting creek, the water and wind was against us though the weeds showed the current was with us. We stopped to check out campsite #1 as it was unoccupied. The waves made the landing difficult. Chris went up on shore and I struggled to hold his canoe (and myself) from crashing into the rocks or drifting away. I opted to drift away and then paddle back when Chris returned. Next time I suggested he bring his boat onshore as there was no way to hold it in these waves.

The site was ok, "a 6" according to Chris. I downgraded it in my mind due to the landing. The next site was taken and the one after than had been "closed". The other sites were at the northern part of the lake, so we continued to paddle up against the waves. The number of boats and people did not seem to match the number of vehicles fortunately. We eventually found a pretty good site with a pebble beach landing in a protected cove. The site was up the hill as is the new design by the DEC. It doesn't make sense as these designated sites are set back far enough than they do not need to designate them to be legal (150' setback from water). Camp was set up and we went for an evening paddle. The lake had begun to calm down. I fished a little and caught a couple tiny perch. Back at camp, dinner was later than usual and included dessert. We each brought "extra" items so going hungry was not going to be a problem. It felt great to climb into my hammock, I expected to sleep well.

Chris was up first. I did not sleep as well as I thought I would. Not sure why. Chris was building the fire. He wasn't sure if he was doing it right. I told him I would let him try and learn. He struggled getting it lit and asked me to intervene. I gave him some tips and showed him how to get it going. After breakfast we paddled back the way we came to Little Tupper. The plan was to paddle the length and head to Rock Lake and camp on the island. we had all day to get there so we weren't rushing. I fished along the islands as we passed by them. Got one real nice sized bass. No picture, but Chris said he would be my witness. Stopped for a break at the beach on Eagle Point and for lunch at one of the island campsites. While we were eating it was decided that we would stay there. The landing had a small sandy beach and was protected. After setting up camp, we went for a paddle and fished a bit. I was tired and could have easily taken a nap, but I resisted knowing I would not be able to fall asleep later if I did. after a big dinner, we watched the sunset over the lake and I went to bed early.

Our last morning and the lake was glass. We had about half the distance to paddle then we planned so we took it slow and just enjoyed the gliding across the water. I changed to my to my other paddle and was surprised at just how much more water I could catch with it, and the control. Chris said it was probably because I was used to that paddle. That would explain my control with it, but the ease at which I could keep pace was more a result of the paddle blade shape. The other paddle was designed for use with a faster cadence, it certainly excelled at that, but was inferior with a relaxed solo cadence. The beavertail shape was also much quieter slicing through the water. The paddle back to the put in was a joy. This is what canoeing is all about.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Wind River Range, Wyoming Part III (Days 11-15)

Day 11. The Best Campsite Ever!

I slept in until it was fully light out. I must have been quite tired. Not surprising after the last few days. After a quick breakfast we spent time drying out the condensation from the tents. On trail a bit after 9am. The trail started off downhill to the river where we would have to ford it again. Only up to my knees this time and not so much current. It was marshy for about 50m before and after the river. The goal for the day was the Stough Creek Lakes about 6 miles away (map distance). Along the trail we crossed paths with 3 other groups. Most people we have seen in quite a while. Snack break was against a nice sitting log overlooking a meadow. With the heavier packs and the last few days distance and climbs, I was hiking slow I thought. The entire trip I struggled to keep pace with Dan with his much longer stride (and being 10x in better shape than me). At the next trail junction the sign had us 3 miles from the Stough Creek Lakes. Like most days we seemed to be climbing. To be expected in the mountains. At a high point on a meadow not long after we stopped for a break. Dan stepped a few few away from where we stopped and exclaimed, "the lake is right there". I didn't believe him as there was no way we had come close to the 3 miles from the last junction, but there it was. The lake was just down the hill. We loaded up again, remembering our fishing and hiking poles. "Poles" was always the last thing we would say to each other as we began hiking. Like a pre-flight check to ensure we didn't forget them.

As we approached the lake, we dropped our packs to search for campsites. West for me, and East for Dan. Up on the hill I found a good site used by people with stock animals. It was large, nice firepit and they stabled the animals far enough away from the main campsite. Dan located a few sites. Some seemed like sattelite sites from when the area was busy, but we were the only people here today. The farthest site was fantastic. A giant boulder the size of a small house provided an overhang and a backdrop for the firepit. We didn't have to walk up/downhill to get water. Our tents would be at higher ground. I found a spot on a ledge about 30' up which had a great view of the lake. Hoping to see a good sunset. It was only 1pm when we arrived. After a few hours of setting up camp and doing chores, Dan is off fishing and I am boiling some water and then fishing. Stough has some decent brook trout which one can watch hit the lure. Both of us were to keep 2 trout for the next meal. Within minutes I landed a pretty 8" brookie. Knowing there are bigger ones, he was set free. A 9" took the hook in the tongue, so I kept him. Soon after a 10" hit the lure, but I didn't set it. I could see him, so i cast about 5ft past him and brought the spinner right back to him which he attacked. I had my two, so I continued to catch and release a few more. I am sure Dan would be returning with at least 2, and likely larger ones. He brought back 3, so we had plenty. All were saved for breakfast since our soup dinner would be too much to finish anyway. A storm began brewing in the distance. We were able to get everything stowed and into our tents before the rains hit. It was over rather quickly, but the winds continued all night.

Day 12. Mental Preparation

Fish and bread for breakfast. One of our staple meals. Today was set aside as a short day to explore, fish and to rest in preparation for tomorrows adventure. We dropped our packs after crossing a small outlet. It took a while to find a place to cross; slightly easier for Dan with his longer stride. We day hiked up to one of the lakes which was situated just below a huge cliff with a chasm cut into it. The hike up required some more boulder scrambling some of which really tested me especially as we neared the lake. It was an eerie blue color, and the snow pack on the other side continued into the water. Obviously quite cold. We were sitting on a boulder about 15' up from the water. Both of us had left our cameras in our packs. Too bad, as it was neat to be so close to the mountain with the crack right in front of us. It was massive. The next stop would be to find a place to camp up one one of the knolls just before the the uppermost lake set beside the rocky steep section we would be climbing tomorrow. It took a while to find a decent spot as there were no established sites in this area. What started out as a make-do spot turned out quite well. As we set up our tents trying to get the most shelter among the small trees, black flies swarmed us. Hundreds made it inside the tent but they all stayed in the one corner. Later in the evening I had to sweep them out. The climb tomorrow was weighing heavy on my mind. Just looking at the ridge we would have to climb up to, it was steep. I was mostly concerned with what would come after, which I could not yet see. Dan tried to calm my nerves reiterating the ridge was wide open and not a knife edge. The map confirmed this, but still I was uneasy. My camera is signalling the battery is almost dead. I will have to rely on Dan's pictures for the last few days when he returns. I might be able to sneak in a couple more.

Day 13. Where do we go from here?

My sleep cycle has settled into a routine. Very sound until about 3-4am, and then toss and turn and am awake every hour or so. The hammock is so much better. I regret not bringing it. I was awake at first light, knowing we needed to get an early start I quickly sat up. Moments later Dan was at my tent getting the dry firewood from the vestibule. After a quick breakfast we headed to the lake to find away around the cliff to begin our climb. we found a way up and around the cliff, the final step down was almost a jump for me. We then began our climb up the steep rocky slope with grassy areas interspersed and accented by alpine flowers. It was pretty, but a grueling climb. It took us about an hour to ascend the 1200'. From there we would take the open ridge (and gain more elevation at a much gentler grade)to the next Canyon to look for a way to get down. It was quite windy up on the exposed ridge. As the other canyon came into view, we tried to determine which lakes we could see and then cross reference with the map to determine a suitable climb down. Some of the lakes shapes didn't seem to jive with the map so we spent extra time to determine our exact location and the safest route down. Dan went to check out a possible route while I sat behind some rocks out of the wind.

He returned with a plan. We had to climb a bit more and circle around one of the peaks to descend into Saddlebag lake. As we began our descent all I could think of was "this is crazy". I am climbing down, over, between boulders at an almost vertical pitch. I thought I was tested earlier, holy crap this was insane. I didn't even have an opportunity to get nervous, I was just going, climbing down a crack and at the same time trying to figure out which way to go next. I put myself into some rather precarious positions by way of my route. My only choice was to figure a way out or climb back up; which wasn't going to happen. I was smart to have have disassembled my hiking poles as I needed both hands most of the way. By now Dan was much farther down the boulder scramble where the ground began to level out (a little). It would take me some time to get there, as I still had about 200' to drop down. I am not sure how I made it, but soon I was at the gentler grade and saw Dan waiting at the shore of Saddlebag Lake. Dan had lunch waiting for me. I turned around to look back at the 800' drop I just descended and shook my head in disbelief. From the base of the lake it looked almost straight up (of course it wasn't). I ate my lunch, Dan told me to take as much time as I needed. He would slowly wander ahead and fish the outlet.

We had barely covered any mileage on the map as we were only a half mile from the site where we camped in the other canyon. I was mentally exhausted but surprisingly not physically. I didn't linger to long and made my way to the outlet. Since Saddle bag is a the uppermost lake in this canyon, we had still had to drop down as we checked off each subsequent lake. The next couple of lakes had more boulders and minor cliffs to contend with. Nothing like what we conquered earlier. We stopped at Windy Lake (aptly named) and filtered some water. From here we would continue East through the Atlantic canyon to Calvert Lakes where good campsites were supposedly found. After Windy Lake we criss-crossed a small stream where Dan landed his first true golden trout. What a beautiful fish. Dan caught a few more. And then it started to rain.

we followed the stream for a bit and then hit a gorgeous pond punctuated with rock walls. It looked fishy and was. Big brook trout 14"+, nice and stocky too. 4 of these would make a nice dinner. We followed some game trails around the lake and eventually some cairns which went in our direction. they led us right to Calvert Lakes and an ok campsite. We dropped our packs and went looking for others. We found a fantastic one at the other end of the lake. It was up on the hill and surrounded by massive rocks stacked with some "caves" and overhangs. We went back for our packs as this site was awesome. With potential rains threatening us, we set up tents first. I then got a fire going while Dan fetched water. A few feet behind us was a nice flat rock which made a great platform and bench for our hot baths. The wind was chilly though. Dan caught some more fish to save for breakfast. Fried trout dinner with potato soup. As we ate, Dan reminded me to write in the journal that getting to camp at 5pm makes for a relaxing evening with plenty of time to get everything done. Tomorrow is our last full day which is hard to believe. I am also unsure of how our bear canisters seem to still be completely full. Also need to remember to bring more tortillas in the future and that pre-cooking lunch "for the road" sounds better in theory, but no-cook is much better. Anyway, today was brutal. Not so much because of miles hiked, but the mental fatigue from climbing down off that ridge. I am certain to have a little muscle soreness especially in my arms. Time for bed.

Day 14. Last full Day

I could not fall asleep for the longest time, but I must have eventually. Had strange dreams of which I cannot recall. I wonder if it is knowing the trip is coming to an end. It has been a tough adventure and I think I am ready to head home. I know that within minutes of getting home I will wish I was back in the woods. I was up first, just barely. I restarted the fire and got the bread rising. Dan prepped the fish and it wasn't long before we were passing the frying pan back and forth. The plan for the day was to basically head back close to the campground area so that we could meet our shuttle early tomorrow morning. since we had all day, we would take a roundabout way.

As we left "our" Calvert Lake heading towards the other, I noted a brass plaque on one the rocks. The engraving read:
"CALVERT LAKES"
A Tribute to the Calvert Family
in memory of Charles Calvert
He represented what was right about Wyoming and still is.

From here we started bouldering again. I thought to myself, "I am officially sick of these boulders, my legs cannot take it anymore". We worked our way up towards the trees at an angle gaining elevation to the uppermost Calvert Lake. A semblance of a trail was discernible with infrequent cairns. We followed it for a bit and headed up the drainage to wards the pass. As we approached the more open section the cairns became more frequent showing the way. We hadn't gone very far and already my legs felt like we had done 20 miles. I kept trudging along with many breaks. From the top of the pass we could see Island Lake below us. We took a 10 minute break to enjoy the view. Following the cairns down to the Lake was easier than the way up (600ft gain). As we leveled out, Dan motioned for me to stop. I froze, heard a splash, a young moose appeared and sauntered off into the woods seemingly unaware of our presence.

The main trail through Silas Canyon was just ahead as was a larger hiking group from NOLS. We found a nice point on Island Lake. Dan made lunch and I filtered water. Dan wanted to head west up the canyon to explore and fish. I needed to rest and took the time to sketch the view across the lake. The NOLS group including some learning to fly fish. It was warm in the sun, but would get shilly quickly as the sun moved behind a cloud. Dan was back earlier than I figured with 2 large brook trout for dinner. As we hiked to our final campsite we discussed our plans for dinner with the remaining food. The trail here was well established and we made good time. That is until we came close to one of the lakes and the many braided herd paths caused us some confusion. apparently the main trail headed away from the lake so we we headed uphill (of course) and eventually intersected it. Back to our food discussion. We had leftover salami and cheese wraps from lunch so those would be our appetizer. This trail seemed to take forever. At a stream I filtered some water and we consulted the map. It showed a pond where now a meadow exists. A few feet later and a side trail appeared. This was an old connector trail to the campground where we would meet our shuttle tomorrow. We found a spot to make camp, and our evening routine ensued. Tents, fire, water, bath, dinner. After toasting our lunch wraps we thought it would be neat to make a cheese and salami stuffed bread, like a calzone. Just as I finished cooking it, the rains came. I carried the bread to my tent and am keeping it dry in the vestibule along with the frying pan Dan had just added oil into for the fish. The rain eventually stopped long enough for us to eat. Dan cooked the fish and we packed it away for tomorrow. Raining again as we head to bed.

Day 15. Heading home

We packed up wet tents and hiked the quarter mile to the campground. Made coffee on the stove and Dan had just started on his granola when the shuttle arrived. We expected Christian to be punctual. He expected to be early and wait for us. We loaded up our gear into the van. with ur traveling luggage kept safe at Christians house. Like usual the last thing we said before drove off... "poles".

We drove the winding roads back to Riverton. I took a quick shower at Dan's motel room and the shuttle brought me to the airport. Being early for a delayed flight, I inquired about setting up my tent in the parking lot to dry it out. No one will bother you I was told by security. All my gear is dry and the few people in the airport were called to their flight; a delayed flight from earlier on the same airline as me. With some fast packing and security I was able to jump on this flight. I would much rather hang out in the Denver airport instead of Riverton. Heading to the plane.