Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Wind River Range, Wyoming Part II (Days 6-10)

Day 6; Off Trail to High Meadow and down the boulder field

Yesterday was a 7 mile (on the map) day, being on switchback trails certainly made it much longer. Today would be mostly off trail, shortening the mileage but making the inclines that much steeper. We began the day on the High Meadow trail to its namesake lake and then up the draw to the high meadow between the two cirques. But I get ahead of myself. Coffee always starts the day and today was no different, paired with cream of wheat it makes a quick breakfast. The trail climbed a short ways to High Meadow Lake which had numerous boulders surrounding the outlet. Dan tried out a new fly on the brook trout in the outlet with success. I captured one of the hookups and landings on a 25 sec video. From the outlet we could see the draw which we would soon be climbing. Working our way around the lake and then started heading uphill rather steeply. Dan commented that this was the level section. As the pitch increased we began following a game trail which headed in the same direction we wanted to go. Back and forth, we went quickly gaining elevation unlike the long switchbacks on the marked trails. The woods were open, the ground was soft and sandy with pine needles. Not easy to get a good grip with the boots, my hiking poles helped tremendously with this. Dan kept us on a steady pace, but slow enough for me to not fall too far behind. He spotted some fresh scat, and hoped if went went slow enough and stayed quiet into the pass we might catch a glimpse of some wildlife. The rocky areas off to our right looked to be prime wildlife hiding areas. I wondered to myself whether being quiet in grizzly territory was such a good idea.

Sighting of wildlife was not to be, but the view as we approached the opening anf then across the pass, even turning around so see where we had come from was breathtaking. The meadow was gorgeous, spreading out in front of us providing a foreground for the mountains in the distant background. We sat down to rest and had a snack. Just enjoying being there, and taking some pictures. It had taken just about an hour to make the climb. After our break we began our descent. This part would be completely different from the way up. First we had to walk down the meadow's north face which still had patches of snow and what appeared to be sheep prints in the soft soil. We passed through a few trees and entered the boulder field. Like the other day, dan pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Some of this traverse would have been difficult even without a pack. Apparently I survived. As the boulder field ended we entered the woods which still found us descending rapidly. Eventually we made it to Cook Lake. Scouted a few small fish and an OK campsite. Following a compass bearing to Cloverleaf Lake where we had heard the campsites were better. We intersected the marked trail to the lake and followed it to the campsite. The site was quite large, up the hill from the lake with a large firepit. Unlike the previous night, the area where the horses were stabled was far from the camping area. A late lunch of camp bread and fried trout. Dan is off exploring another lake while I finish up camp chores and get caught up in the journal. There is fresh bear scat only a few meters from camp, so we somewhat expect a midnight visitor. Hopefully not.

Day 7; Changing weather

A later rise than usual, but the typical morning routine of restarting the fire, fetching water and retrieving the bear bags. Dan went fishing for breakfast while I started making bread. I finished the bread and started to get my gear packed up when motion out of the corner of my eye made me freeze. I slowly turned to see a mule deer enter camp. He slowly made his way around and I quietly retrieved my camera glad I turned off the sound. I was not sure how long the deer would remain so I started just taking pictures. He continued in his circle and I was able to get a few good shots when I spotted another deer part way up the hill. After they departed I had to go restart the fire. I had hoped Dan would get a chance to see the deer, but the fish were slightly more hesitant to take a fly this morning.

After breakfast we loaded up and made the short hike to Middle Lake which we had seen from up on high meadow the previous day. We made our way around the lake, fishing and checking out the campsites. There were at least two groups here; busier than most other lake we have seen. After Middle Lake we arrived at Cathedral Lake. Dan wanted to hike to Upper Cathedral so he emptied the heavy gear from his pack and I filled up his water bottle. I found a nice log to sit on to sketch and enjoy the magnificent view. After my sketch I was inspired to write down a few thoughts. Not something I usually do.

The steady gurgle of the outlet,
a crow in the distance,
the hum of mosquitoes.
A gentle breeze, clouds drifting and parting.
Occasional warmth on my back from the sun.

I sit in my pew, just a log at the base of Cathedral lake.
Looking, thinking, wondering, dreaming, enjoying.
I gaze in amazement at the awesomeness before me.

The present calm of the lake's water shines in contrast to the gray violent past of the mountains in its background, as does the annual fragile alpine flowers interspersed with the age old granite boulders.

The sounds, the sights, my thoughts.
Right here, right now all is perfect.
In my catherdral, my church.

The sky turned more gray as the clouds hinted yesterday. Our goal later this morning would be to again go off trail and follow a drainage part way up to Bear's Ears Mtn and then down the other side. Short miles, but plenty of elevation. The rain plan is to stay on trail and go the long way around.

One of the camping groups came by also on their way to upper cathedral. They apologized for disturbing me; even though I had no claim to where I was sitting. A few raindrops fell so I covered Dan's gear with his rainfly and put on my jacket mostly to mitigate the intensifying wind.

The sky continued to threaten but so far no real rain. Dan returned shortly thereafter so we headed back to Middle Lake. The sky seemed less threatening by now so we began our climb up the hill by the stream on the way to Bear's Ears. Like yesterday, it was steep going. We paused for lunch at a meadow about halfway up, we used the stream to fill our water bottles before we angled away from it for the next, steeper section. From the meadow we could see our route to the saddle on the left with more trees. The steepness in the woods gave way to boulders. It was windy as we made it to the pass. From there we could see the bowl below us and the saddle just beyond. We contoured around the bowl to reach the saddle. It was slow going as we neared the other side due to the tree growth seemingly interwoven among the rocks. Once we got through that obstacle, the saddle opened up with Bear's Ear Peak to our left. We had climbed the 1400ft from Middle Lake and now had to go down to the meadow below. We could see the Bear's Ear Trail from our vantage point. I was glad to see the meadow was not that far down and would be an easy walk. We would need to find a place to camp somewhere among the trees on the other side of the meadow. A large snowfield was on the left of the meadow as a backdrop to the pool of water which sourced the creek running through the meadow. The meadow was covered with willows, but growing more as shrubs. They were wet, apparently this side of the mountains had received more rain. We crossed the creek and went searching for a place to camp. In the trees was remaining hail stones. I guess it wasn't just rain. Dan found a great spot and we set up our tents. While up in the saddle we could hear thunder way off in the distance so we wanted to be ready just in case. It did not take long for the rains to find us. The rain was cold. We got a fire going and made soup for dinner. Fortunately the rain stopped just long enough for us to eat, and clean up. It would get cold over night.

Day 8; Thunder and Hail on the Lizard Head Trail!

Neither of us slept very well last night so we both got up late. We had a big day ahead of us, almost 10 miles involving a lot of elevation change and traversing the Lizard Head Trail; an exposed area. Dan fetched water and food while I prepped the fire. To save some time we had a simple breakfast. After packing up we began our day's trek at the snowfield and followed the Bear's Ears Trail up the slope. This is a horse trail so the switchbacks were long on the steepest sections but then it began to follow a more straight line. In general it was a long slow climb. Overcast and a little chilly with great views of the valley below as well as the Bear's Ears and Mt Chauvenet. at one point we crossed over the actual continental divide. we paused to fill up our water bottles from a small rivulet just before the trail turned South. As we made our way around the bend the Mtn which backdropped Cathedral Lake the previous day came into view. Soon we were looking back towards the outlet of the lake. After consulting the map, the actual Cathedral Mtn is a bit farther back from the lake and not the prominent one in the pictures. also from our vantage point, the junction of the Bear's Ears Trail and Lizard Head trail could be seen in the next valley over. Dan spotted some wild sheep on the hillside across from us. They were so far away one had to wait for movement in order to see them. As we gazed over the valleys, other hikers approached in the distance along the Bear's Ears Trail. We met up with one of them at the junction. He was carrying a fly rod. Dan traded him a fly for some leader. The group of 6 hikers were also heading up the Lizard Head Trail. The sign here said "stock animals not advised"

Our trail led directly into a snow field, and not wanting to trudge through more snow, we stayed below it, and then made our way straight up the rocky hill to intersect the trail. As the sign pointed out this trail is not suitable for stock animals due to its pitch. We came around to the far side of Cathedral Peak and took a lunch respite behind some rocks to block the wind. With lunch barely started, the winds really began to pick up. We donned our rain gear and stowed our remaining lunch. By now the group pf 6 had caught up to us, although they were quite spread out. The next section of trail would be downhill for a short while followed by a significant climb/ All of it on the exposed ridge for the next 6 or so miles before dropping down to the Bear Lakes.

Hardly more than a few steps and the hail began. The quarter inch pellets stung with a direct hit on exposed skin. To go with the hail, thunder in the distance. Both Dan and I increased our pace. It wasn't as though we could outrun the storm. For the most part the lightning kept its distance, but a few flashes and booms were a little unsettling on this exposed ridge. As the hail continued, the ground began to be covered with it. From afar it would look like snow cover, but it was an inch deep of hailstones. Following the cairns we quick stepped our way across the the next few miles. As the hail subsided, we would stop to capture some photos just as the Bear Lakes came into view below us.

The hike on the Lizard Head trail was a grind. Not so enjoyable as we were doing it, a little unnerving at points, but I am glad I did it. The campsite at Bear Lake was not very good, so we explored a bit seeking a better option. It began to rain so we opted to head towards Lizard head Meadow where plenty of campsites should be available as it was on the way to the Cirque of Towers. At the Lizard Head Meadow the weather was kind enough to stop raining as we set up camp and have dinner. As the sun set, the stars emerged. Hopefully tomorrow would be better weather.

Day 9. The Grumps

Must have gotten colder last night as there was frost on the tent. For the second night in a row I did not sleep very well. Not sure why. So I was not in a chipper mood. I mentioned to Dan I had the grumps. he understood as apparently he felt the same yesterday. Our plan for the day is 12 miles, although we could knock off a significant portion by skipping the cirque of towers. Dan allowed me me to make the call since he would be visiting the cirque later in the month when the others join him. After some coffee, map consult, and personal reflection I opted to hike to the cirque. We would just have day packs since we would be coming back this way, having lunch and then moving on. We pre-made lunch so it would be awaiting our return.

The Cirque of Towers is likely the most popular spot in the area were are traveling, for hikers as well as climbers. The trail was wet from all the recent rain. As we approached the cirque I was rather unimpressed with the view. It was beautiful, but some of the others cirques we have seen were also spectacular. I suppose I had expected this one to be "better" due to its popularity. I wondered if its popularity had to do more with ease of access along a straight trail. Anyway, it didn't even crack the top three of what we had already seen. We were not alone at the cirque. The folks from our Lizard Head trail traverse were also there. They had their gear spread out trying to dry it in the morning sun. A few were fishing. We all chatted a bit, laughing about the the craziness of the previous day. From across the lake we could hear climbers on one of the towers. "on belay" clearly carried over the water.

we took a slow hike back to camp. Dan fished in the Popo Agie, the outlet of the lake below the Cirque. A few raindrops fell, so I donned my jacket. These droplets were a harbinger of what was to come. No sooner did Dan make it back up to the trail did the sky open up. We hurried back to camp. I am not sure why our pace increases in bad weather, but we made it in half the time. We packed up our tents and gear from the inside out to keep the dry stuff dry. I kept my rainfly up so we would have a dry space to eat lunch. Just as Dan finished packing up, the rain subsided. Not wanting to tempt fate too much, we sat under a tree overhang which had remained dry to eat. As we ate our prepared lunch, what a smart move by us, the sky cleared. We often joke about Adirondack weather changing quickly, but here in the Winds it is crazy just how fast the weather shifts and also how specific to an area it can be. The next few miles would be a gentle downhill. We should make good time. The canyon had some great views along the entire stretch; mammoth cliffs followed us on the other side of the river.

At the next junction we would head away from the main trail and begin our climb. 600ft over one mile to the next junction. Followed by another 200 ft section over a half-mile. Since it was a horse trail, it would be a long switchback. We had come down this section earlier in the trip and were heading back to Baer and Echo Lakes. While filling water at Lower Baer Lake, we noted signs of horses crossing the outlet. Dan fished a bit while I went to explore for a potential campsite. I reported back, " I found the spot where we will be drinking coffee tomorrow morning". It was a fantastic site up on the hill overlooking Lower Baer to the South with the mountains behind it. It was 5:30pm. Camp set up, hot bath, late dinner. A small amount of rain, possibly some snow mixed in. It all ended before we went to bed. I can hear an airplane high overhead as I write this. Big climb tomorrow.

Day 10. Up, Up and more Up.

Our campsite was very nice. At 6AM the fog and the moon at the breaking of dawn was fantastic. The view from where we had our morning coffee was just as nice as expected. With our coffee we had trout tacos for breakfast. We also pre-made our lunch. some time was spent drying out our gear in the morning sun so we didn't head out until after 10. The trail was a gradual ascent to the Echo Lakes and then the 800ft climb up to Deep Creek Lakes. Even with our light packs (almost no food as we will be picking up our stashed bear canisters at Deep Creek Lakes) it was tiring. Dan was waiting for me at the cached food which had not been disturbed. After re-arranging the gear in our packs to accomodate the canisters we dropped down to the Deep Creek Lake junction with the Ice Lakes Trail. From there it was a short 100ft climb up to the first of the Ice-Lakes where we had lunch. Dan is off fishing now one of the upper lakes. There is thunder in the distance to the SE.

From the Ice lakes we had a long 500ft elevation gain to the the top of the next pass before we would drop down to 9800ft. The first time below 10k in a few days. This climb was the most difficult of the trip, but after the last few days and this mornings mornings climb it felt like it. Oh, and our packs just gained 10+ pounds with the food resupply. Some fisherman passed us going the other way. They provided some info about which of the lakes held fish and which didn't. By the time we finally got to camp a few hours later, both of us were whooped. Dan was starving, I figured the dehydrated black bean stew would be a fast dinner. It wasn't. For some reason the black beans would not rehydrate and remained crunchy. Seeing it was not a large volume fo of food to begin with, dan decided to supplement the meal with a brook trout appetizer. He headed to the stream to catch a pan full of brookies. By now it was much later and the beans had still not fully rehydrated. Very odd since the black beans the other day rehydrated just fine. I added more water to the stew while Dan cooked up the fish. It was dark before we ate. I was bummed the black bean stew was a dismal failure as it is typically one of my favorites. At least we went to bed warm and dry. Clear skies signalling a possible cold night. Even though it felt like we all we did was hike up hill all day, it was actually a net elevation loss of 200ft.

Video of still photos taken on trip. Please excuse the date error on title page.

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