Quick jaunt up Cloud PeakAfter starting rock climbing and mountaineering at the age of 8, I had taken 5 yrs off due to 3 kids and business obligations. 2011 marked a rebirth of sorts back into the game! Cloud Peak in the Bighorn mountains, right in my backyard, seemed like a great training peak to get back into shape. With 22 miles of round trip hiking, 13,167ft of elevation, and almost 4,000ft of elevation gain, it fits the "training" bill perfectly! A drive on I-90, up over Powder river pass on 16, and a nice gravel road on FR27, I parked at the West Tensleep trailhead at 6am and was on my way.
The TrailThe trail starts in some tall timber and makes it's way along West Tensleep Lake. After crossing a meadow and another short wooded section, you come to a creek crossing. This creek is easily passable in late season, especially on drier years. Early season crossings can be tricky as most of the upper elevation snowmelt is making it's way down this narrow channel. There is an earlier crossing to the left before the trail ends at the creek. This section is narrower and some hikers have gradually laid large timber across to make a makeshift bridge.....this bridge may not be there early season. Immediately after the crossing you are in a meadow with a sign marking a trail junction....take the one headed right(north). The trail will take you back into timber with an easy but gradual grade gaining in elevation. There are plenty of deer, elk, and moose along this trail.....especially early morning in the marshy sections near the lakes.
About 5 miles in you'll come to the second lake on the journey, Lake Helen. This is one of the prettiest lakes in the CPW and the surrounding hills on the north end of the lake frame Cloud Peak beautifully! 1.5 miles later you come to Lake Marion(lots of moose between Helen and Marion), and shortly thereafter, Misty Moon lake. There is a trail junction at the south side of Misty Moon. The trail to Cloud Peak will bear left and head around the west side of the lake toward Paint Rock Canyon and Paint Rock Creek. If you head east(right at the junction), you'll head to Fortress and Golden lakes, Florence pass and Lake Florence, and the base of Bomber Mountain on the opposite side of Florence. After bearing left at the junction at Misty Moon lake, the trail takes you over a crest and begins to drop into a canyon with a large meadow and stream at the bottom to the right. This is Paint Rock Creek. Follow the trail for about 1/2-3/4 of a mile and you'll see a faint trailheaded down a steep grassy bank toward Paint Rock Falls.
These falls mark the base of the route up Cloud Peak, which goes up and right in a diagonal direction up a narrow pass. There are numerous rock cairns that mark the route to the top, and it's nearly impossible to get lost. Even if you lose sight of the cairns, keep heading in the same general direction and the route finding pretty much takes care of itself.