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 – 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 – Deep Creek Lakes, Southern Wind River Mountains, Popo Agie Wilderness

After my previous week’s trip where I spent most of my time wishing I’d chosen a different itinerary, I knew I needed more WOW factor this time around. You may recall I started my first trip at the Torrey Creek/Trail Lakes Trailhead (near Dubois) as I was shuttling friends from that location to the Middle Fork Trailhead (near Lander). Task accomplished as I said goodbye to Mike and Ryan. 

The next day I began my trek from Worthen Meadows which contains two trailheads, Sheep Bridge and Roaring Fork, making for convenient loop opportunities. 

The Worthen Meadows Reservoir is nothing special, but gives you a first look at the Wind River Mountains, and provides a potential place to swim and clean up after the trip. There are also nearby camping opportunities. 

My plan was to start at the Sheep Bridge Trailhead and travel counterclockwise unless egress was prevented by snow or water crossings or other yet to be determined obstacles. Self registration is expected as permits are not required in the Winds unless you are traveling through the Wind River Indian Reservation.

By the way, a little trivia. According to Wyoming Public Media, “Popo Agie Wildernes (Puh-POE-zha), a true word stumper that is not pronounced as it looks, meaning “beginning of the waters”. The Wilderness runs through the Shoshone National Forest, which stretches out over 102,000 acres of rugged topography in the Wind River Range.” 

I was beyond excited to be on maintained trail flanked by aspen trees, which I have on my list to enjoy the changing colors this fall. 

All of the trails on the main loop are well signed, although varying a bit from map names and denoted distances. At this junction, I chose to take Sheep Bridge Trail #701, which I’d been traveling since the trailhead.

I can’t remember what these are called, but they are the primary ground cover at lower elevations (7-9,000′).  It’s fairly uncommon to see the mixed colors as they turn from yellow to pink during maturation.

It’s about 3 miles from the trailhead to Sheep Bridge itself, which provides safe passage across Middle Popo Agie River.  

Who let the cows out? Yes, there’s open grazing along parts of the trail. Yield to these wild beasts! 

I truly love visiting the various wilderness areas of our country. 

Another junction, another decision. I choose Middle Fork Trail #700

The one and only Mariposa Lily I saw on this trip. I should also mention, I saw many of the same flowers I’d seen the previous week at similar elevations, and did not repeat the photos unless there was something exceptional.

First of the season penstemon, although a breeze was preventing a great capture. 

I transitioned to Pinto Park Trail #708 at this junction. 

Elephant Head Orchids are indeed a rare beauty. They are much smaller here than in Washington. 

This was a tough choice junction. If I continued on the Pinto Park Trail, I could see Baer and Echo Lakes. 

But as I was getting tired, I elected to take the Deep Creek Cutoff Trail #709 with a plan to camp at or near Pinto Park Lake. This sign might need a little TLC. 

In many ways Pinto Park Lake was a bit of a disappointment. There were no signs pointing the way to the lake and I hadn’t noted it was off trail. There were several social trails which I explored but found thick willow and marshlands preventing lake access. However, the inlet provided great water access with nearby extremely peaceful forested campsites. 

As I continued west on the Deep Creek Cutoff Trail, I found these beautiful and interesting rock formations. There’s a lot of interesting geology in the Winds, something I’m looking forward to learning more about.

Monkey Flower are one of my favorites. 

This Columbine was so striking in it’s pure white. 

It was a low overcast morning, making Lake 10054 look a bit dreary and not very inviting. 

The trail continued to be gorgeous and in great condition. Thank you trail maintenance crews! 

And then I found snow, nothing on trail that couldn’t be avoided.

These flowers were small and low to the ground. 

These were quite prevalent at around 10,000′. I’m guessing a type of lupine? 

This was a curious grass and possible seedpods or buds, again around 10,000′ elevation? 

Two more beauties I’ve not previously seen. 

Then there I was at the end of the line, looking directly at the outlet of Lower Deep Creek Lake

Weather was deteriorating fast. My choices were, cross the outlet toward Ice Lakes Basin (on maintained trail) or continue west exploring Middle and Upper Deep Creek Lakes (without trail)? After my experience last week, I was drawn to keeping to maintained trails until I got in better shape and gained confidence with this new landscape. 

Looking east from the Lower Deep Creek Lake outlet. Maybe finding early spring maintained trail is a bit much to ask. 

Lower Deep Creek Lake as it started sprinkling. 

Although I’d only hiked 3 miles, and it was way too early to set up camp, Mother Nature had other ideas. I tried waiting at the storm under my umbrella, poncho and ground cloth, but it just got too cold. It looked like this precipitation was going to stick around for a while, and since I was here for the views, why hike with none? Setting up my tent in the rain and wind is never fun. It’s much harder to keep a two-walled tent dry during setup. Definitely not my favorite thing to do, but all I could think of was my nice warm bag and a hot cup of tea or cocoa.

It rained and hailed steadily all afternoon, so I whiled away time reading. My book of choice was Temperance Creek: A Memoir by Pamela Royes which is quite suiting after my recent trek in Hell’s Canyon on the Snake River, albeit the Idaho side. Lots of references I could relate to and a book I’d recommend. 

First light the next morning confirmed my decision to wait out the storm. 

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 7/24-25/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 11 (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: near excellent
    • Terrain: very good, a few spots of muck
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: moderate
  • Solitude: Depends, could be busy, but mid-week with early summer conditions, it was very quiet except for a few groups of NOLS kids.
  • Bugs: plentiful but I didn’t need deet
  • Precip: expect thunderstorms in July
  • Temp: Overnight varied and seemed to fluctuate a lot from 32 to 50, highs were probably in 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.

Links:

Resources: