The last time my wife, Lynda, had gone backpacking was in September of 1982. At the time, it was just another backpacking trip, we didn’t realize it would be the last time she would go for 26 years.
Last backpack, Sept, 1982.
We started our family the next year which brought our backpacking and climbing adventures to a screeching halt. Our mountain outings took a different turn as we introduced our children to camping, hiking, fishing and skiing in the Rocky Mountains. As the kids grew up, I managed to get out a little more each year, with Lynda’s encouragement. By 1999, our 13 year old son Chris, was ready to join me on journeys into the backcountry and we had some great outings, including weeklong backpacks to the Winds in 2001 and Rocky Mountain National Park in 2003. In 2004 Lynda expressed some interest in accompanying us on our next trip.
I planned a trip that I thought she’d enjoy to one of our old stomping grounds - the Snowy Range. I thought it would be perfect because- we knew it well, it’s spectacularly beautiful and it’s relatively easy hiking.
Chris went with us and he was eager to show his mom what a good backpacker he’d become. Two problems arose in the early hours of this trip, the second of which hit us with a knockout punch. We made an adjustment for the trailhead road closure, but couldn’t quite overcome the thunderstorm that mother nature hit us with. So, after a two mile hike to the trailhead in monsoon-like conditions, we unanimously voted to get the hell out of Dodge and slogged down the “closed” road to the highway.
I was a little surprised in late August of 2008, when Lynda asked to go backpacking again. Four years I guess was a sufficient amount of time to erase the bad juju of the Snowy Range debacle. This time, her motivation was to accompany our son and his girlfriend on a Labor Day weekend backpack. My mission was to provide an experience, after which I hoped, Lynda would want to go again. I looked for a relatively short hike (no more than 3 miles in) with minimal elevation gain. I settled on an area that we’d never been to before, though we’d driven by it a hundred times-Trap Park. It looked low key enough that it might work, even on Labor Day Weekend. The hike looked doable, only about 3 miles to the end of the park with most of the elevation gain (600’) coming in the first mile. With the memories of the Snowy Range painfully fresh in my mind, I hoped for the best and awaited the reality.
Late summer in Trap Park
I knew we had most of what we needed for a two night trip, though our supplies were really leftovers from my recent Wind River trip. For the trip I’d bought a new stove to replace my 30 year old Svea 123. As it turned out, the Svea would see us through, due to technical difficulties with the “new” MSR stove. Our group consisted of: myself, Lynda, my son Chris and his girlfriend, Rebecca. Lynda and Rebecca were both sporting new Osprey backpacks.
We left the house a little later than planned, and reached the TH at about 11:30. Chris & Rebecca caught up with us a half hour later. We hit the trail at 1 and began the climb up the old road, which was the most difficult part of the hike, After 40 minutes, we entered the park and were taken by its simple beauty. We encountered a few people, all day hikers, on the trail. The weather was spectacular-bright blue skies and puffy little white clouds and the meadows were alive with the spectacular hues of Autumn, from electric greens to rusty browns. So far, so good, I thought.
Near the end of the meadow, we encountered a group of bull moose, hanging out in the timber on the north side. There were 4 or 5 of them, the largest of which sported a huge rack and was laying down in the tall, grass. We kept a close eye on them as we made our way up the trail. As we penetrated the upper portions of the park, we began a concerted effort to locate a good campsite. Reasoning that this area had been used by hunters for years, I thought good sites would be easy to find- turned out I was dead wrong. Campsites were pretty much nonexistent. Only explanation we could think of, was that the Forest Service must be dismantling any old sites they find that are out of compliance with the 200’ rule or, simply to discourage repeated use of any site.
We settled on a clearing on the south side of the creek that seemed reasonably flat. The kids set up their tent a little way off, behind a stand of trees. I really had trouble picking a spot for our tent on the lumpy ground. Finally settled on one, though I was less than thrilled with it, and got our camp setup.
The weather was still beautiful as the day moved toward evening and we could see moose browsing amongst the willows in the meadow. Lynda was lovin’ this because moose are her favorite wild creatures. After dinner and a few sips of brandy, it was time to hit the sack. When we crawled into the tent, I found out exactly how lumpy the ground was. I also discovered that a sharp rock lived underneath my sleeping pad, right in the middle of my back. Interestingly enough, Lynda said her side of the tent was all good. That’s all right I thought, better me than her, I can handle a little adversity, no problem. Somehow after moving around, trying different positions, I managed to catch a little shuteye, but morning came all too soon. The thermometer I kept in the tent showed 41 degrees, a bit warm I thought for the last day of August at 10,600 feet.
Our plan for the day was to attempt to climb 12,265 Iron Mountain, which lay a mile or so away as the crow flies, slightly to the south and west of our camp. Lynda has never been much of a climber, but said she was up for it, though I’m sure it was because Chris and Rebecca were doing it. After we got up, a good deal of time passed, during which coffee and breakfast were consumed, two moose passed through our camp, and a major excavation took place under my side of the tent. When that was done, we were ready to go. 11 am is not usually the best time to start such endeavors, but late starts were the norm on this trip.
Cow and calf moose passing thru
Chris led the way, going straight south from our camp, aiming for the ridge that stretched from Flat Top Mtn to Iron Mtn. What started out as steep quickly got steeper and about 300’ from the ridge top became very steep. The worst of it was, the gravelly/loose rock slope offered virtually no solid footing. The fact that we were wearing low cut hiking boots didn’t help either. Almost everything we stepped on wanted to move. Feeling increasingly less comfortable, I thought it was time for a tough decision. I could tell that Lynda didn’t want to be the “quitter”, so I volunteered. I radioed Chris, who was by now a ways ahead and out of sight, that we were bailing out. He replied that they were almost to the ridge top and pushing for the summit. We sat down to rest and rehydrate. The slope was so steep and unstable that I was a little worried about standing up. We pondered it for a few minutes before attempting it. The first thirty yards were the hairiest and it took us a good ten minutes to negotiate our way down it. For the next twenty minutes we picked and chose our way down, avoiding the loose gravel and rocks whenever possible, till we reach the comfort of the lower slopes. Looking back on our difficulty, I think our route drifted too far to the west, leading us onto a steeper, more unstable slope.
Upper Trap Creek Drainage
From the radio, we learned that the kids were approaching the summit, and that the weather was starting to look a little sour. Chris reported that rain hit them in their final push to the top and that they were on their way down, via the more direct descent at the head of the drainage. About that time, rain starting falling on us at our camp. We scrambled for rain gear, covered our packs and just putzed around camp doing chores. Eventually, I fled to the confines of the tent for a little R & R. Our campsite lacked what I would consider “the basic comforts”. No rocks or logs to sit on, except one crumbly, rotten log that was home to ten thousand ants. The tent felt kind of comfy, especially with the pad and sleeping bags underneath. The lack of the iceberg like rock in the middle of my back, certainly helped. I don’t know why, but the sound of a gentle rain falling on the tent is somehow comforting. Guess it’s because I’m safe from the elements in my little comfort zone, anyway, it always feels nice.
Just about the time I was starting to drift off, I heard the kids coming into camp. I tried to linger a little while longer, but got up when I couldn’t stand not hearing their account of the climb any longer. They filled me in on the climb and rapid descent. Chris couldn’t say enough about the view from the top.
Spent the rest of the late afternoon and evening, chillin’ in camp-cooking, eatin’ and drinking kool-aid and, some other liquids. It was a pleasant but uneventful evening that lacked the entertainment of the night before’s browsing moose. My sleeping spot was better than the previous night but still less than stellar. On the other hand, Lynda enjoyed another good night’s sleep on her new, pink sleeping pad.
In the morning I managed to throw my back out while crawling around on all fours, trying to shut the stove off with one hand and grab a piece of plastic that the wind was trying to blow away, with the other. With my back being out of whack, packing up was a major bitch for me. Thankfully, Lynda helped quite a bit and volunteered to carry some of my load. Once my pack was on, the pain wasn’t too bad. The backpack felt almost like a back brace and I experienced no pain on the three mile walk out.
Brooding Clouds over the Park
The weather was cloudy and windy and it felt like snow might be on the way. As we made our way down the trail we saw another cow moose and calf the eastern end of the meadow. A good note to end the trip on. All things considered, it was a great trip. Lynda enjoyed it, Chris and Rebecca enjoyed it. Couldn’t ask for more, really, though I could have done without the back problems.