Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wind River Titcomb Basin

I made it. It was quite a journey, the kind that make these trips worthwhile.

It started in Pinedale. The Elkhart Trailhead is 16 miles up a paved road from Pinedale, where I spent the night prior to the trip. This is the only paved road to a trailhead in the Winds. The others are rough gravel roads of 10-25 miles. Pinedale and Elkhart were the starting point of my first visit here in 2006. The picture below shows the Winds from a suburb of Pinedale. Quite a view for a really nice small town.

Last time, I took just a 10 mile day trip to Photographer's point and back on the Pole Creek Trail. I traced those same steps on this trip, so I got some friends I made on the trip to reprise this photo from the previous trip.

But, this time I continued on to Titcomb basin on the Seneca Lake, Highline, Indian Basin and Titcomb trails for a trip of about 31 miles, billed by my guide book as the best of the Winds. My original plan was to camp about halfway to Titcomb at Hobbs lake, making the trip in 4 days of about 7.5 miles each. However, I reached this location about 3:00pm. I was tired, but while I rested and thought about it, I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I knew the next good camping area was about 3 miles further, along the Highline Trail. I decided to push on. Little did I know that the most rugged pieces of the trail were still to come. I finally arrived, dog tired, at a beautiful site on a 10,600' knoll near the intersection of the Highline and Indian Basin trails. It was a rugged day of 10.5 miles with about 2000' of elevation change.

The net result was that I was able to complete the trip in 3 days of a little over 10 miles each day. It also meant I could hike the second day with only a partial pack. Good thing, because I don't think I could have made it with a full pack. But, best of all, the camp site was probably the most beautiful I have experienced.

From beginning to end, the trails were both difficult and beautiful. Much of the high country trails were still covered in snow. But the snow was rapidly melting, making for muddy trails and high water crossings. In places we were forced into scrambling up almost sheer cliffs to avoid areas where the trail was underwater. In others we had to make our way around downed trees. Where the trails were not snowy, muddy or water covered, they were rocky. Meanwhile, any rest or meal stops were swarmed with mosquitoes, so it was not practical to take extended rest stops, despite generous applications of deet. The result is that I arrived in camp each night dog tired, barely managing to force down some dinner and hit the sack. Not that I slept...I always have a problem sleeping on these trips and that continued. But at least my tent and sleeping bag gave me some rest and respite from the mosquitoes.

Forgive my fanciful engineering, but I calculate that between weight carried, slipping in snow and mud, rock hopping and elevation change, my efforts were equivalent to running a marathon on three consecutive days. And yet, around each corner was a spectacular view that made it all worthwhile. Here are a few more pictures from along the trail to give you a sample.

I mentioned the campsite. My guidebook had indicated that there were good campsites where I camped, but I was so tired by the end of the first day that I was ready to accept anything. Suddenly I look up a knoll and see what looks like a beautiful spot. Sure enough, after climbing the knoll, it was perfect. I had a least 2 parties along the way remark about seeing my tent on the knoll and what a great site it was. Here are a few pictures taken from the campsite.
And finally, I arrived at the coup de grace, Titcomb basin. This is an area of 12 glacial lakes completely surrounded by 13,000' mountains. They fail to do it justice, but here are pictures looking in all directions from inside the basin.

Wildlife? Not so much. I failed to see signs of bear, deer or elk, though we are assured they are there. About the best I could do was this marmot, whom I saw both out and back in nearly the same spot before he spied me and ran for cover.

I've had people ask me if I'm worried about hiking solo. While most hikers do travel in groups, it feels perfectly safe to hike solo. Everyone is extremely nice and friendly, and there is enough traffic along the way in case of emergencies. I probably passed an average of 5 groups per day. I even met one female hiking solo.

All in all, a great trip. But, it took so much out of me, I've decided to head back to Texas tomorrow for a more docile life of grilling steaks over a mesquite fire followed by a real bed on my farm in Temple, and maybe an occasional visit to the big city for some football.

Ah, life is good.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

PoPo and Bridger Wilderness

After checking out things for a couple of days on the east side of the Winds near Dubois, I decided I might be better off on the west side, near Pinedale. Access is a little easier and I was hoping the mosquitoes might be a bit less dense. Besides, some of the best hikes go from there. Unfortunately there is no road directly across the Winds, so I worked my way south and cut across the southern tip, making short hikes as I went. Again, I found PoPo Agie wilderness to be surprisingly interesting.

I have managed to see a bit more wildlife, For instance, this mule deer seemed pretty unafraid as I snapped multiple pictures.

Some of the wildlife is a bit too well adapted. I caught this bighorn sheep visiting the lew near the trailhead. He was definitely a male, so I assume he was just following the time honored traits of males everywhere, waiting outside the ladies room for his mate to appear.

Scenery abounded, even in the less well known areas. I snapped this photo of Fiddler’s Lake with the Wind River Peak in the background from a short walk near the Continental divide in PoPo.

On arrival in Pinedale, I drove up to Elkhart Park, one of the most popular trailheads in the Winds leading into the Bridger Wilderness. On a whim, I decided to start with an easy 4.5 mile day hike to Long Lake starting at 9450’ Elevation. And to help me get acclimated, I carried my full pack. Unfortunately, it went straight down to 7800’. That wasn’t so much a problem, but the hike back up had me thinking I’m too old for this. I was bushed after the short 4 hour hike. I felt a bit better when I consulted my book to learn that the author labeled this one of the most difficult trails in the Winds. For my trouble, I took this picture of Long Lake.

I camped near Elkhart Trailhead last night. I don’t think the mosquitoes were quite as bad, but they still were pretty bad. Add swarms of horse flies and I spent almost as much energy swatting as hiking and was forced to retreat to the tent early, even with heavy doses of repellent. I did get this shot of Mount Freemont from near the campsite.

One of the best hikes in the Winds is from Elkhart to the Titcomb basin. It is a 30 mile round trip, mostly above 10,000’ elevation. The ranger reported that there is quite a bit of snow remaining up there, but that it is passable. She also tells me the mosquitoes and flies are not as bad at the higher elevations. I’ve decided to try that hike over the next 3-4 days, but I needed a good night’s sleep, a shower and shave. So, I splurged with a $130 hotel room tonight. It was the cheapest I could find at a little place called the Riviera Lodge. Not a bad place and it has WiFi. I’ll head out in the morning. Look for me to be back on line in about 4-5 days with a report.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wyoming 2009
Well, the 2009 version of my Wyoming adventures is underway. I plan to focus primarily on the Wind River Range. But, on the way up, I visited Hell's Half Acre west of Casper. This is an area of erosion in the high plains (about 7000'). There was a restuarant overlooking the canyon, so I hoped to have lunch there. Unfortunately, the restuarant is closed, so I climbed through the fences and took a short walk along the rim. Here is what is left of the restuarant and a picture of the canyon.

Then, it was on to Wind River. The mountain range which provides most of the interesting hiking is actually west of the river itself, and includes the Shoshoni Indian Reservation, the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, The the PoPo Agie Wilderness, Bridger Wilderness, the Shoshoni National Forest and the Bridger Teton National Forest. But, before you reach the mountain range, there is a scenic drive along the river itself. Here is a picture of the river downstream from the dam and the lake upstream of a dam along the river.

My second night in Wyoming I camped in Sinks Canyon in the southern part of the Winds along the Popo Agie river. Since the mountains are smaller along the southern end, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was very interesting. The Popo Agie river descinds from the mountains and disappears into the ground not far from where I camped. Then it reemerges a quarter mile away into a pool. It travels through cracks, sand and gravel between the two. Here is a view of the river from near my campsite.
Here is a picture of where the river goes into the ground, called the Sinks.
Finally, here is the pool where it emerges from the ground, called the Rise.
Although always suspected, for many years it was not proven that the two were connected. But recent dye tests concluded that they are. Interestingly, the ink took longer to emerge than expected, and more water emerged than went into the sink. Very interesting.
Later, I drove to Dubois, the kickoff point into the northern Winds on the east slope. You access the trailhead into the wilderness via a 9 mile gravel road. Then I hiked on the Whiskey Mountain and Glacier Trails up to Lake Louise. (No, not that Lake Louise... I promise I'm still in Wyoming, not further north in Canada.) It was a very interesting hike. Here is a view of the lake from around 85oo foot elevation.

And here is a view of the falls at the outlet of the lake. It was impossible to get a good picture, but it was pretty impressive to see the huge volume of water leave the lake and drop several hundred feet.
I haven't seen too much wildlife, but I did get this picture of a chipmunk getting ready to try to steal my afternoon snack on the bluff overlooking the lake.
Finally, a couple of views from along the trail toward bomber falls. I didn't make the falls. I'm finding out that my old sedentary life in North Carolina has left me in too bad a shape to see all the things I wanted to see. I'm also finding out that July is not the time to visit. The nights are just as cool as when I was here before in September, but the mosquitoes are swarming. Apparently, they come out when the weather gets warm enough in July and the thaw is coming down the mountain. By September they've gone back into hibernation. Besides that, the hotels are outrageously expensive for my occasional night in town. Oh well, I'll see what I can see before I get carried off.

Monday, July 13, 2009

When In Rhome

I’m just sitting here in Rhome, watching my dad catnap in between a few minutes of looking at his magazine. Yeppers, there are lots of exciting things going on around here.

For instance, here is a picture of dad inspecting his poke salad (or poke berry, as Gail would say). This was our followup to hours of discussion about whether it is poisonous. Dad says he eats it all the time with no problems, fresh or cooked. In fact, he even takes care of it to make sure he always has plenty on hand.

Then, of course, there is all the excitement of visiting across the fence with my brother and his family, or looking at the latest progress on their house rebuilding job..

A couple of days ago I took this picture of the house next door. It is on a ranch called the Chisholm Trail ranch. The Chisholm trail apparently ran through here. The house was built with a well inside to help hold off the siege of Indians in the old days. And, tradition holds that the Indians camped near the spring behind our house, where they had plenty of cool, clean water. Of course we’ve lived next door for over 50 years, but for some reason it seemed interesting enough to photograph on this day.

Of course, when all else fails, there are the absorbing pastimes here…like debating whether the high temperature each day will be 102 degrees or 103. Or whether to pick the tomatoes and squash in the morning or afternoon, and trying to decide if they’ll survive another day.. Or, arguing about the details of things that happened 40 or 50 years ago.

As is plainly obvious, it is time to head for Wyoming. So, I'm on my way. I'm filing this report from Amarillo, on the way to the Wind River Range in Wyoming. I plan to spend 2-3 weeks backpacking there before heading back to the farm in Temple, Texas, and then eventually to Houson.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Just a short post to let everyone know I've arrived in Texas. I'll be visiting my parents in North Texas for a few days and may even visit my place in Temple, but eventually I'd like to get in some backpacking in Wyoming, and also spend some time in Houston. I'm not sure of the timing, but probably Wyoming before football season, then Houston after it starts so I can fully utilize my Texans tickets.

Meanwhile, it looks like the cruise to Alaska may have to wait, but there is a new adventure on the horizon... looks like I'll be spending Thanksgiving in Ireland with the kids. A great deal opened up, so we jumped on it.

I'll post again when plans take better shape or something worth reporting takes place.