WY – Cirque of the Towers, Southern Wind River Mountains, Bridger and Popo Agie Wildernesses

It’s a morning of anxious anticipation. Will I have clear skies? Will the sun be in the optimal position for good lighting? Will the Cirque of  the Towers be the “be all and end all” of the Winds? Will it be the just reward I’ve awaited? It was time to find out! After enjoying sunrise at Bear Lakes (see previous post for hike details), I quickly broke camp and was on trail. Goodbye Lizard Head

First glimpse of Cirque of the Towers. Go away clouds! 

By 8am I was back on the Lizard Head Trail #714 headed toward Jackass Pass

I was greeted by some perky Monkey Flowers

I could feel the anticipation. Somewhere in these 4 miles, I’d find the Cirque. 

After everything I’d seen over the past few weeks in the Winds, I was feeling a bit meh. 

Pingora Peak and Lonesome Lake. Clear blue skies, light behind me, everything I could have asked for, and yet I found myself under impressed.

Even as a lake backdrop, meh . . . 

Each day, I’ve enjoyed watching the nearly full moon slowly drop toward bed; today was not an exception. 

Nearing the top of Jackass Pass, War Bonnet Peak became prominent. I didn’t see any climbers this day.

The heart of the Cirque with Lonesome Lake. I’m enjoying them more as the clouds provide shadows and the light continues to enhance the shapes.

Then there I was at the top of the pass. I’d considered hanging out for the day among the towering giants and hiking to Cirque Lake, and possibly even camping at Climber’s Camp, but my soul just wasn’t feeling it.

War Bonnet Peak was impressive. 

Looking down at Arrowhead Lake

There is a little snowfield to traverse on the descent. Thankfully for me, it’s a bit of an ascent, much easier with my trail runners. 

This stretch was an accident waiting to happen. 

There’s a false summit with a rocky outcropping as you ascend from Big Sandy Lake. It provides an excellent viewpoint. 

As I descended I started seeing more wildflowers. 

Those mountains behind Big Sandy Lake had me gawking. I’d had the Temple Peak and Lake areas on my possible itinerary, but my body was ready for a rest so I decided to save that loop for another day. 

Look at those wildflowers! 

After a bit of a rest, it was time to crank out the remaining six miles to the trailhead. 

I’m sure there were easily 100 vehicles at the trailhead with nearly every state represented. It was fun to see plates from as far away as Alaska and Florida, and to meet hikers from Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc. The bulk of the crowds were between the trailhead and the Cirque. Big Sandy Lake is definitely well loved and a staging area for day hikes. I was intimidated by the number of vehicles but pleasantly surprised by the ease at finding solitude. 

After a physically challenging week, it was time for a hotel room and a soak. 

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 8/12/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 12 (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown, constant up and down (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: moderate on main trails
    • Terrain: rocky and steep in sections, mucky in others (my most challenging day, the worst section for me was the rock scramble around North Lake)
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: excellent
  • Solitude: Minimal, but available. This section of trail is well loved and high use.
  • Bugs: plentiful but I didn’t need deet
  • Wildlife Sightings: none beyond birds, squirrels, chipmunks, pika, and marmuts
  • Precip: expect thunderstorms in July/August; I’ve been wet and dumped on with hail and rain nearly daily
  • Temp: Overnight varied and seemed to fluctuate a lot in the 30’s and 40’s, highs were probably in 60’s-70’s.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4+ cherries (out of 5).

Tips:

  • Be prepared for altitude, elevation changes, weather changes, bugs and navigation. Also review current food protection requirements/guidelines (I used an Ursack with an Opsack liner). 

Links:

Resources:

WY – Lizard Head / Bear Lakes, Southern Wind River Mountains, Popo Agie Wilderness

Soon enough it was time to say goodbye to South Fork Lakes (see previous post for hike details). 

Valentine Lake was much larger than anticipated. 

The day started with a climb on Bears Ears Trail to the junction with Lizard Head Trail #714. Nancy’s book provided an off-trail option direct from South Fork Lakes. In retrospect I wish I would have taken it.

The trail is nicely switchbacked and sandwiched between the boulders. This is a group of NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) students working their way down the trail while I’m climbing up. The gap is the junction for Bears Ears and Lizard Head Trails. If I’d gone cross country, I’d be coming up on the shoulder, bypassing this climb. It took me about 90 minutes to climb the 2.5 miles from the Moss Lake junction to the Lizard Head Junction.

Look closely and you can see the group of 10 NOLS students now down below me. 

This cairn marks the summit, false summit that is . . . . 

Final push. 

Success! 

My guidebook recommends visiting a viewpoint. I’m assuming this is it as I saw a couple people standing on top as I was completing the climb. This gully is where I would have been ascending off trail. Looks can be deceiving. Easier? Who knows. 

And then it was time for more ascending and earned views. 

Are you Lizard Head? Cathedral Peak? or the Viewpoint? With heavy legs, today would not be one for additional exploration. 

Lizard Head Plateau was so different from anything I’d seen to date in the Winds. Quite enjoyable and the first flattish hiking I’ve experienced in this range. 

Even flattish had summits marked by a stick or cairn, or in this case both. 

I believe this is Lizard Head Peak and Lakes

Lizard Head Peak and Bear Lakes

I was so thankful to see this sign as I’d been descending for a long time on a pretty steep trail. My body was tired of fighting gravity. 

This somewhat fresh kill bone was on the trail to Bear Lakes. Any ideas? I’ve been told possibly cow. If so, it was either carried a long distance or a lost stray as there is no open grazing for miles and miles. 

There were quite a few campers in the area, but I found a nice view with waterfall feature site, ensuring first I was the mandatory 200 feet away from the lakes edge. This was my first day in nearly a month with dry feet and even though I was camped in a green area, I had a dry tent in the morning, thanks to a breeze to dry out the few overnight sprinkles. 

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 8/11/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 10 (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown, constant up and down (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: moderate on main trails
    • Terrain: rocky and steep in sections, mucky in others (my most challenging day)
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: excellent
  • Solitude: Moderate. I saw a solo guy on the ascent to the junction of Bears Ears and Lizard Head plus the group of 10 NOLS students. Didn’t see anyone else until Bear Lakes where there were lots of folks including another groups of NOLS students. Overall it was quiet and there were plenty of spots to camp away from others.
  • Bugs: plentiful but I didn’t need deet (my second lake with overwhelming gnats)
  • Wildlife Sightings: none beyond birds, squirrels, chipmunks, pika, and marmuts
  • Precip: expect thunderstorms in July/August; I’ve been wet and dumped on with hail and rain nearly daily
  • Temp: Overnight varied and seemed to fluctuate a lot in the 30’s and 40’s, highs were probably in 60’s-70’s.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4++ cherries (out of 5).

Tips:

  • Be prepared for altitude, elevation changes, weather changes, bugs and navigation. Also review current food protection requirements/guidelines (I used an Ursack with an Opsack liner). 

Links:

Resources:

WY – South Fork Lakes, Southern Wind River Mountains, Popo Agie Wilderness

I prepare for trips by giving myself many options. This gives me the flexibility to revise my loose itinerary on the fly. Today called for cross-country travel to Rabbit Ears Lake, over Macon Pass and on to Washakie Lake, my legs were feeling the fatigue of the previous days so I told myself I’d make a decision at the junction. I said goodbye to Baptiste Lake and Mount Hooker (see previous post for details).

Soon enough I was back on Bears Ears Trail #716 heading toward Grave Lake

The sound of rushing water always gets my attention. 

Soon enough I found myself at Grave Lake. What a HUGE body of water. It was so nice being on trail. The fatigued muscles said we like this option. To reach Rabbit Ears Lake, I would have crossed the Grave Lake outlet and worked my way south along the outlet stream. I’m sure it would have been fun, but I’ve learned to listen to my body and that internal voice. For safety reasons, I send out an InReach message whenever I change trails, go off trail, or find myself in a risky situations such as crossing rivers. 

I found a beach at Grave Lake

More importantly I found a civilized way to cross waterways, not that it mattered at this point as I’d had wet feet for days. I wear quick dry trail shoes with merino wool socks for blister management. I dry out my feet on breaks. Putting on wet socks in the morning is still one of my least favorite things but since they’ll be wet within 5 minutes it doesn’t make sense to put on dry ones. 

Grave Lake

I dropped back into tree line where I found these gems. 

I decided it was time to rebuild my log crossing confidence. SUCCESS! 

This junction is a little confusing. It was time to look carefully at the map. 

I’d be staying on the Bears Ears Trail to the Washakie Trail junction.

This junction at Ranger Park had met continuing my journey east on the Bears Ears Trail

I believe this is Payson Peak. 

As per usual, I was hiking through yet another afternoon thunderstorm. Favorite gear these past few weeks in the Winds has been my umbrella and poncho. 

Upper Valentine Lake

First view of South Fork Lake

The smallest of the lakes in the South Fork Basin. Notice the waterfall! 

I positioned my tent to enjoy nature’s music while also having views of the lake. Yes, those are my socks on top of my tent. I was hoping for drying time between storms. 

South Fork Lake. Here’s a fun story. Upon arrival at the lake, I found my friend Bill who I met a few weeks ago, shared some miles and camp at Tayo Lake. The Winds are indeed a small place. He was parked at the furthest northwest trailhead while I was at the furthest southwest. What a coincidence! 

I had the basin to myself as far I could tell. There had been four fishermen visiting, including Bill, when I arrived but they all returned to Valentine Lake before sunset. 

I was entertained by this light show as the sun slid behind the peak. 

Watching the sun kiss the mountains is my favorite morning activity. 

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 8/10/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 8-10 (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown, constant up and down (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: moderate on main trails
    • Terrain: rocky in some places, mucky in others
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: excellent
  • Solitude: High! Met a large group hiking toward Hailey Pass, one solo guy, and a group who’d stayed at South Fork Lakes the previous night, plus the four fishermen at South Fork Lakes
  • Bugs: plentiful but I didn’t need deet (overwhelming gnats at South Fork Lakes)
  • Wildlife Sightings: none beyond birds, squirrels, chipmunks, pika, and marmuts
  • Precip: expect thunderstorms in July/August; I’ve been wet and dumped on with hail and rain nearly daily
  • Temp: Overnight varied and seemed to fluctuate a lot in the 30’s and 40’s, highs were probably in 60’s-70’s.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4+ cherries (out of 5).

Tips:

  • Be prepared for altitude, elevation changes, weather changes, bugs and navigation. Also review current food protection requirements/guidelines (I used an Ursack with an Opsack liner). 

Links:

Resources:

WY – Hailey Pass / Baptiste Lake, Southern Wind River Mountains, Bridger and Popo Agie Wildernesses

My next destination was Pyramid Lake. It was a cross country trek from East Fork Lakes (see previous post for details on the hike to the lakes). With Pyramid Peak flagging the way, it’s pretty hard to get lost. 

These cute little trees made me giggle. I think Dr. Seuss has been visiting again. 

Looking back at the East Fork range and the pass to Pyramid Lake

Looking south from Pyramid Lake. As per usual, it was thunderstorm time. 

Those dark clouds surrounding Pyramid Lake sure add to the ominous feeling. 

After waiting out yet another hail storm, followed by cold rain, I elected to take anti-hypothermia measures by setting up camp at Mae Lake. The next day I’d tackle Hailey Pass which is tucked in that ridge behind Pyramid Peak

The next morning it was go time. 

Nancy Pallister’s book, “Beyond Trails in the Wind River Mountains,”  showed an off-trail short-cut saving about a mile. With everything being wet, I decided to play it safe and take the trail. I was in no mood for slip sliding slogging.  

Looking back at Mae Lake and Mount Gelkie (I believe). 

Find the cairns and do a little boulder scrambling. 

Almost there. 

First though, time to plow through a little snow. 

Darn false summits. First I must pass by partially frozen Twin Lakes

What? another false summit. 

Second Twin Lake.

Now I’m almost to the top of the Hailey Pass

Looking back at Upper Twin Lake

YIPPEE!!! It took me about 2.5 hours to cover the 1.8 miles; however, I stopped at one of the Twin Lakes to dry my gear and eat a snack. 

I absolutely loved the views from the pass vantage point. 

In the Winds, you soon learn what goes up must go down . . .in this case all the way to the bottom, which happens to be the drainage basin from Graves Lake

The descent begins with a snowfield, not my favorite. If you look closely in the middle, you’ll see a couple who’ve made it through the steep and are now on the flatter snowfield. It gives an idea of proportions. 

I had a terrifying descent at Mount Whitney last year and was not looking forward to a repeat. I did not have microspikes with me, and was not prepared for glissading as (1) I was wearing a skirt and did not have rain pants; (2) it was hailing and raining so I did not want to expedite hypothermia; and (3) I’m not comfortable with out of control speed. 

Looking back up at that snowfield. 

My direction of travel. 

Looking back at Hailey Pass

Time to head east on Bears Ears Trail #716.

Baptiste Lake. According to Nancy Pallister’s book, “only the south tip is on public land, the remaining is on the Wind River Indian Reservation, only accessed if you have a permit for the day.” I heard it’s a $10,000 fine for being caught without a permit. As of this writing, permits are $80 per person per week, available also in other increments.

See my tent snug as a bug? 

Morning light on Mount HookerNotice the waterfall? This was the first of three I slept near. 

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 8/8-9/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 12-13 (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown, constant up and down (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: moderate on main trails
    • Terrain: very good, a few spots of muck
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: excellent
  • Solitude: High! Saw a handful of people near Pyramid Lake, didn’t see anyone at Mae Lake until I was leaving in the morning and they were several tents at the opposite end. Met a couple who were also ascending Hailey Pass. I had Baptiste Lake to myself until around 8pm and then one hiker arrived and set up tent on south side of lake whereas I was on west side.
  • Bugs: plentiful but I didn’t need deet
  • Wildlife Sightings: none beyond birds, squirrels, chipmunks, pika, and marmuts
  • Precip: expect thunderstorms in July/August; I’ve been wet and dumped on with hail and rain nearly daily
  • Temp: Overnight varied and seemed to fluctuate a lot in the 30’s and 40’s, highs were probably in 60’s-70’s.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 5 cherries (out of 5). This was a high WOW day!

Tips:

  • Be prepared for altitude, elevation changes, weather changes, bugs and navigation. Also review current food protection requirements/guidelines (I used an Ursack with an Opsack liner). 

Links:

Resources:

WY – East Fork Lakes, Southern Wind River Mountains, Bridger Wilderness

After spending three weeks on the east side of the Winds, it was time for an introduction to the west side. With the high snow year, it made sense to start in the south and work my way north. Using Nancy Pallister’s book, “Beyond Trails in the Wind River Mountains,” I mapped a tentative route with plenty of alternatives. I began my trek from the Big Sandy Trailhead south of Pinedale. 

I waited until morning to decide if I was going to hike clockwise or counterclockwise. The skies were quite overcast and hazy from wildfire smoke. Since I knew I wanted the best possible conditions for Cirque of the Towers, it was an easy decision to start clockwise, making Dads Lake the first destination. The hike began on the Meeks Lake Trail/Fremont Trail #096/CDT (Continental Divide Trail).

The trail became a bit confusing just before this next sign. Several social trails ran through a meadow, most likely heading to Meeks Lake

Less than 10 minutes later, these signs appeared. Notice how it’s now 4.5 miles to Dads Lake.

And then I FOUND the wilderness. 

Although views were hazy, wildflowers popped. I was especially happy to find tall Elephant Head orchids as those I’d seen on the east side were only about 6″ tall. These were easily 1-1.5 foot tall.

There’s nothing quite like flowers on a dreary day to keep me happy and smiling. 

Easy terrain trail was a welcome change from most of the miles I experienced on the east side. 

Mirror Lake lived up to it’s namesake with so much reflectivity. 

Dads Lake

Marms Lake

More trail happiness. 

My plan was to depart the trail at East Fork River (staying on the Fremont Trail toward Cross Lake until that junction).

Leaving Fremont Trail, I was pleasantly surprised to find fairly well defined tread along the East Fork River

Even thistle like the river. 

This is a ground cover. In the early season yellow but as they mature they get multicolored and then mostly pinks. 

These Queen’s Crown were such Dr. Seussish looking plants. 


Thunderstorms slowed me down, so I didn’t make the lakes the first night and decided this pond would do. 

Not a bad view from my tent where I could watch the storm progress and recede. I was thankful for my umbrella and poncho.

Sunrise the next morning. 

Nothing like drinking a cup of coffee which watching the ridge pink up. 

By the time I was ready to continue north, the skies looked promising. 

The thunderstorms may have cleared, but the wildfire smoke was still hanging around. I was so glad I’d saved Cirque of the Towers for dessert.

Why YES this is the Winds I wanted to find. 

And I found the East Fork Lakes

There were also nearby waterfalls to explore. 

I found this pack stashed presumably by someone out for a day hike. Note to self: might be a good idea to leave a note. I took a photo and marked the waypoint in case I hear of someone MIA. 

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 8/7-8/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 12 (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown, constant up and down (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: none
    • Overgrowth: none
    • Signage: moderate on main trails
    • Terrain: very good, a few spots of muck
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: excellent
  • Solitude: Shared the trail with others between the trailhead and Dads Lake, but then saw no one until I met two CDT thru hikers near the East Fork junction. I also met three guys at Upper East Fork Lake who were out for a 12-day jaunt.
  • Bugs: plentiful but I didn’t need deet
  • Wildlife Sightings: none beyond birds, squirrels, chipmunks, pika, and marmuts
  • Precip: expect thunderstorms in July/August
  • Temp: Overnight varied and seemed to fluctuate a lot in the 30’s and 40’s, highs were probably in 60’s-70’s.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4++ cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Be prepared for altitude, elevation changes, weather changes, bugs and navigation. Also review current food protection requirements/guidelines (I used an Ursack with an Opsack liner). 

Links:

Resources:

WY – Roaring Fork Mountain, Southern Wind River Mountains, Popo Agie Wilderness

My recent visit to the Stough Creek Lakes Basin was all too short and left me fantasizing about rambling those beautiful ridges of Roaring Fork Mountain.

My friend Keith joined me for this adventure. The plan was to take the Stough Creek Lakes Trail #702 directly to the Stough Creek Basin which is surrounded by Roaring Fork Mountain, a U-shaped range.

Just a short-distance down the trail, we ran into the Llama Mamas from Colorado, whom I’d met at Big Stough Lake during my previous trip. It was their first day and my last day; this time the reverse as it was my first day, their last. What a fun reunion! 

I confidently but erroneously led us down the Sheep Bridge Trail #701. I could blame Keith for the distraction, but maybe it was just meant to be. Thankfully I had maps and realized we could take new-to-me trails, Twin Lakes to Stough Creek, turning this into a loop trip. I call these happy accidents!

One of the Twin Lakes

It would have been easy to miss this junction as the sign was on the ground, and the trail immediately crossed a creek. 

The Stough Creek Trail . . . as suspected meanders along the creek. It was in pretty good shape and a great alternative to taking the Roaring Creek Lake Trail.

This Middle Fork sign is cause for confusion as you’re on the Stough Creek Trail, which according to my map you’d continue on west for 1.4 miles prior to reaching the Middle Fork trail. 

Because of our alternate route, we had to cross Stough Creek at the place were I’d fallen off the log the previous week, wrenching my knee. We both elected to walk through the water skipping a potential repeat experience. 

This is another confusing sign. It’s only about a mile, not 3 miles to the Stough Creek Basin. The Middle Fork Trail is now 1.7 miles west (not north as the sign points). Roaring Fork Lake is 5.7 miles not 4. 

It’s pretty hard to keep your feet dry when tromping through wet meadows and muck surrounding the lakes. 

Although we could have avoided the snow, it was an easy walking surface in the afternoon. 

We camped near Footprint Lake, under thunderstorm skies. 

Just after dinner we were treated to a hail storm. 

Not a bad room with a view. 

Our goal is the high ridge on the left of the lake.

We started with a traverse on the right of Footprint Lake

One concern was whether the shelf in the middle (under the pointy peak) would be sufficiently wide to safely traverse. 

Wonder what’s behind the ridge? 

Keith successfully made it to the top of the first hump. 

We found Toad Lakes and Ponds. There are a couple wildfires in Wyoming with subsequent smoke in the air. 

It was exciting to discover partially frozen Eyrie Lake.

Then it was time to work our way up the next slope. 

Lightning Lake on top, Zig-Zag Lake to the left, Footprint Lake at bottom. 

Finally we found the namesake shape of Footprint Lake

We arrived at the shelf and found it plenty wide for safe passage. 

Then it was time to traverse around Lightning Lake

Our goal is still the ridge on the other side of Lightning Lake.

Lightning Lake had many faces. 

Working our way up. Where’s Keith? 

The final push to the top. Can you find Keith? 

We made it to the first viewpoint where we could see Canyon Lake

We found a good lunch spot before scrambling just a bit higher. 

And a treacherous cornice. 

We had a great view of Stough Lake basin including Lightning Lake, Footprint Lake, Shoal Lake and Big Stough Lake

What did our route look like? 

Our ramble wasn’t many miles but it sure was a workout. 

Back at Footprint Lake, it was siesta time! 

Another night with glorious views. 

The next morning we were treated to a colorful sunrise. 

We returned to the trailhead via Roaring Creek Lake, first enjoying a view of Wind River Peak, the highest mountain in the Winds, thus aptly given the namesake. 

The finale was crossing Roaring Creek Lake.

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 8/2-4/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 22 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown, but a LOT. Thus far in the Winds I’ve found very little flat.
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: All clear!
    • Overgrowth: Main trails, zero. A bit on the secondary trails to the lakes
    • Signage: Confusing at a couple junctions; mileages inaccurate
    • Terrain: Good on main trails with some snow and muddy muck conditions
  • Water: Plentiful
  • Camping: Plentiful
  • Solitude: Moderate. We only saw the Llama Mamas between the trailhead and the basin. There were a few groups camped in the basin. We crossed paths were several groups near the trailhead as we exited.
  • Bugs: Plentiful although I didn’t need deet
  • Precip: Thunderstorms daily in July and early August
  • Temp: Lows of 30’s to 40’s, highs 60’s to 80’s.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4++ cherries (out of 5). Would be a 5 if trails weren’t so mucky from livestock.

Tips:

  • Be prepared for altitude, elevation changes, weather changes, snow, bugs and navigation.

Resources:

WY – Stough Creek Lakes, Southern Wind River Mountains, Popo Agie Wilderness

Under crisp blue skies, Bill and I said goodbye to beautiful Tayo Lake. This is a continuation of a trek which started at Sheep Bridge Trailhead and traversed counterclockwise to Deep Creek Lakes (link to Part 1), then south through Ice Creek Lakes and on to Tayo Lake (link to Part 2).

We hiked cross country in search of Coon Lake.

From Coon Lake we hiked to Mountain Sheep Lake.

Back at the Ice Lakes/Tayo Lake junction, it was time to say goodbye to my new friend Bill. He was headed north, while I began the eastern trek to hopefully complete my counterclockwise loop. 

Based on beta, crossing the Middle Fork of Popo Agie River may be my turnaround point. I’d been told it could be too high, to look for braided waterways for safer crossing, but instead I found a wide slow shallow outlet. 

The worst part was wading through the 6-8′  stretches of muck on both edges of the outlet crossing. 

I’d been stressing about this crossing since the beginning of the trip. I was so glad to have it behind me, avoiding a dreaded reverse course. 

Tayo Park. I passed through many of these meadow or green belt areas and sadly didn’t seen any big wildlife.

I’d asked Bill about Sweetwater Gap and he said it wasn’t memorable, so I’d planned to skip this short out and back. It was getting late and I was thinking it was about time to find camp. 

I didn’t consult my map and for some reason thought I was supposed to take the Sweetwater Gap Trail #700 to connect with Stough Creek Lakes Trail #702. Along the way I heard crashing water and just had to go off trail to find this waterfall. Maybe this was why I was destined to take this trail?

Looks like Yogi liked this trail also. 

I found a nice campsite and the next morning continued upward to the gap. 

Bill was right, nothing too memorable. Looking south into Bridger Wilderness.

Looking north into Popo Agie Wilderness. 

The Sweetwater Gap Trail, as well as the Stough Creek Lakes Trail were used frequently by livestock thus they were quite mucked up. 

I stopped at the waterfall again to enjoy them in much better light. 

Back at Tayo Park, still no wildlife. 

Cool find along the way. 

I love finding the little pops of color. 

Heading back into open grazing area. 

I wasn’t really convinced this sloppy x gate would do a very good job keeping the cows out, especially given the human element of placing the log back in the correct position. 

I was on the final stretch to close the counterclockwise loop as I stepped onto the Stough Creek Lakes Trail #702.

I love bridges and am thankful everytime I find one over waterways or marshy areas. Thank you again trail builders and maintenance crews. 

When there isn’t a bridge, water crossings look like this. If you look around you might find a log, such as this one upstream, or rocks providing opportunities to keep your feet dry. 

Over the years, I’ve become more proficient with log and rock crossings. For some reason today was not my day. I stood on the end of this log and felt slight vertigo. Instead of listening to my intuition, I took a second step, immediately loosing my balance and falling in. I twisted my knee in the process. Thankfully the water was shallow. I’ve never experienced vertigo on a log crossing before. It’s gonna take a while to rebuild confidence. I should have just walked through, afterall my feet were already wet. 

I arrived at Big Stough Lake to find these llamas. Later I met the five gals who used them as pack animals. Convenient yes, but they sure mucked up the trails. 

I spent time exploring the areas searching for a view campsite. I landed near Shoal Lake

This rocky hillside beckoned me to the top so I could get uninterrupted 360 degree views of the area.

Shoal Lake

Views from the top. 

It was hard saying goodbye to this beautiful place the next morning. But given I had very little food left and hoped to meet my friends later that day, it was time to say so long. 

I’ll be back I’m sure. 

So much water coming out of the outlet. 

The llamas were getting ready for another day of adventure also. 

Back on the main trail, my feet were feeling the urgency of town calling. Real food! 

All of the main trails on the loop have been logged out. Some very recently by the smell and look of those trees. Thank you again trail maintainers. You are my heroes! 

Another new find. 

When they are in full blooms, they are going to be an amazing sight. 

My pole gives an idea as to size of the plants. 

There were a couple rubble fields and it sure was nice to have a trail cut through. 

Stough Creek Pass provided some WOW views! I’d love to camp up here, but carrying water up the long steep ascent makes it a highly unlikely possibility. I truly lucked out getting to enjoy these views before the thunderstorms turned this peaceful setting into a forceful one.

There was a little snow on the trail as I started down the pass. Not 15 minutes later, it started sprinkling. I attached my umbrella and kept hiking. Soon it began to hail. 

Then the skies let loose and I got a real soaking as the trails turned into rivers. I was thankful for both my umbrella and Frogg Toggs poncho. The rocks and mud made for a slippery treacherous descent, especially with my sore knee from my water crossing incident of the previous day.

What? Another lake outlet crossing? More muck to wade through at the Roaring Fork Lake outlet. 

I’m standing in the middle of the crossing at Roaring Fork Lake. Swim anyone? Maybe on a different day. I was plenty wet after an hour or so of rain. 

Oh how you have to love Mother Nature.

The completion of the loop. Success!

A few things I picked up on my way out the last day. It’s important to practice LNT (Leave No Trace). 

I could have survived a few more hours on the food I had left. I love it when my planning works out and I don’t carry home extra weight. The Pro Bars are my meal of last resort and they seem to get carried more than ever eaten. I ran out of fuel my last night and had cold breakfast thus the reason my oats were not eaten.

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 7/27-29/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 20-22 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown, but a LOT. Thus far in the Winds I’ve found very little flat.
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: All clear!
    • Overgrowth: Main trails, zero. A bit on the secondary trails to the lakes
    • Signage: Good on main trails. Non existent on secondary trails.
    • Terrain: Good on main trails with some snow and muddy muck conditions
  • Water: Plentiful
  • Camping: Plentiful
  • Solitude: Moderate, although I didn’t see anyone between Stough Basin and Tayo except for the group of 5 gals. I saw quite a few people between Stough Basin and the trailhead.
  • Bugs: Plentiful although I didn’t need deet
  • Precip: Thunderstorms daily in July
  • Temp: Lows of 30’s to 40’s, highs 60’s to 70’s.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4++ cherries (out of 5). Would be a 5 if trails weren’t so mucky from livestock.

Tips:

  • Be prepared for altitude, elevation changes, weather changes, snow, bugs and navigation.

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