When your great passion is the wild mountains and the rest of the world pretty much feels like a cage, it's not exactly exciting to find yourself in Casper, Wyoming. Not when your plan had been to arrive there late in the afternoon and find a cheap motel room but you reached it early in the afternoon instead.
It's not that I particularly have something against Casper. I don't. In fact, I'd probably rather live there than where I do now, all other things being equal. But considering the time of day, I had to move on. The original idea had been to spend the night in Casper, leave early the next morning, get to Kirwin around lunchtime, spend a few hours with a book while letting the lungs adjust, and then climb something during the late afternoon, weather permitting.
So I made it to Meteetse, 30 miles south of Cody and the closest town to Kirwin, by dinnertime, and, as I did back in 2001, I got a room at the Vision Quest Motel, now under new management but still just as quiet and just as reasonable in price. After eating dinner and settling in, I stood outside as the winds picked up and a thunderstorm pounded the mountains. It was almost like a distant, mystical land out there, and how I wanted to be in it!
Dawn was clear and the conditions were too good to pass up, so I accepted the likelihood of the headaches and shortness of breath resulting from my first full day of the trip being a strenuous one at high altitude, and I was at Kirwin and on the trail by 7:30. It was 90 minutes later than I typically like to start but pretty good considering where the morning began. Driving the rugged road to Kirwin in the dark would not have been advisable, so 7:30 was really pretty good.
After six years, I was finally back to Kirwin, and this time to do some mountaineering, not mere hiking.
First goal: Point 11,694, the highpoint of the ridge connecting East Fork and Bear Creek Passes. My intended route involved hiking to East Fork Pass, traversing the ridge and descending to Bear Creek Pass, and then hiking back to the trailhead.
Getting to the summit, all went according to plan; the hardest it ever got was 2+, and the scariest was some very exposed Class 2 hiking near the summit itself.
Descending was a different matter, though. First was the issue of getting off the summit block itself to pursue the logical course to Bear Creek Pass since, contrary to what the topo map suggested, cliffs blocked the direct route. Instead, I had to negotiate exposed, terribly loose Class 3 rock (details on the mountain page) to reach easier ground, only to find another surprise: more cliffs blocking the direct way to the pass. These cliffs presented a pitch of no more than 50' on "easy" Class 5 rock, but with the awful quality of the rock, there was no way I was taking that downclimb on. From the pass itself, I probably would have done the climb, but not going down.
I never did reach the pass that day. Rather than retrace my route back to East Fork Pass, I did find a gully and drainage that got me to the trail below via some knee-buckling scree (again, please see the mountain page for details).
When I got back to the car around noon, Kirwin was actually pretty busy. My previous visits had been on weekdays under mostly crummy weather, and I had seen very few other people visiting the old townsite. But this day, there were several cars in the lots, people walking among the ruins, and families having picnics. There were even some yahoos packing pistols. They probably would have said the guns were for protection against grizzlies, but anyone with an IQ high enough to provide self-awareness probably knows that you won't encounter any grizzlies in the middle of the day with two or three dozen people around. More likely, the pistols were to score macho points with the girls accompanying them.
And I thought my semi-heroic diving catches at the feet of bikini-clad chicks at the beach were pretty lame...