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:

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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:

ID – Wildflowers of the Snake River Trail- Hells Canyon National Recreation Area

Wildflower viewing was one of the primary reasons I wanted to hike the Snake River Trail in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Here are a few of my favorites, with names based on limited research. ENJOY!

Brodiaea

Who am I?

Narrowleaf Skullcap (?)

Larkspur

Fiddleneck

Balsamroot

Aster (Tragopogon dubius)

Paintbrush (bonus: tent worm?)

Three Flowered Avens (Old Man’s Beard)

Phylox

Aster (?)

Redstem Filaree (?) Geranium (?)

Sweet Pea or Milk-vetch

Flax (lewisii)

Prairie Star (bonus: poison ivy)

Ladybugs love Milkweed

Date(s) Hiked: May 4-8, 2017

Spring 2017 Road Trip: Days 67-71 (out of 78)

Resources:

Links:

ID – Split Creek, Scenic Highway 12 Adventures

I was ready to find my climbing endorphins after a flattish hike along the Selway River the previous day. I stopped at nearby Fenn Ranger Station to solicit additional hiking options with Split Creek Trail #133 as today’s recommendation and ultimate selection.

The trailhead is just off Highway 12 (A Long and Winding Road) aka the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

Crossing the Lochsa River on this lovely bridge marks the beginning of the hike. 

The trail was well signed and easy to follow. Even in the early season it was in good shape.

I like trails that begin with a warm up. This one started with about a half mile paralleling the river. Trillium were abundant. 

Surprises await. 

I watched the storm develop as I climbed ever higher. The trail was well designed with long winding switchbacks. My car is way down there on Highway 2.

My goal was the ridge. 

Synthyris (Kittentails) have become my favorite flower of Idaho this spring season. 

Sweet pea blooms. 

Finding this one solo dogwood tree blooming was a sure sign that I’d found spring. 

These yellow lilies were the predominant flower on trail today. Per a pamphlet from the Idaho Native Plant Society, these are called Dogtooth Violets (Erythronium grandiflorum). I’m more familiar with the alternate names, Fawn Lily or Glacier Lily.

The finally rain caught me before I made it to the top and with visibility gone, I decided I’d had enough and descended before the trail became a muddy slimy mess. It was exactly what I needed. My lungs and legs felt great. This hike reminded me of how much more I prefer sweeping views to river corridors. Since this is an out and back hike, you can extend to a 22 mile round trip option.

The only thing I disliked about this hike was TICKS! I found several and was reminded it was time to treat my clothes and gear with Sawyer Permetherin.

After my hike I drove back to the Selway River and explored O’Hara Creek Road, ultimately camping near the creek. There are many early season surprises when exploring backroads. 

Date(s) Hiked: April 24, 2017

Spring 2017 Road Trip: Day 57 (out of 78)

Links: