IntroAugust 4th-14th, 2011
With our Indian guide following an ancient path, we steadily made our way up the eastern flanks of the mighty range that lay spread out before us. Finally, after many miles, we reached the point where we’d part ways with our guide. From here on, we’d be on our own. We made “arrangements” with the guide to rendezvous at the same spot, 8 days hence, to guide us back to the white man’s world.
Sounds kind of romantic doesn’t it? Well, truth be known, it wasn’t quite that romantic. Some might call it, “Poetic License” but a more realistic version might sound more like this:
Ramona’s (Mony, the licensed Indian outfitter) cousin, Cal (Certified 19/64 Native American) drove us up the Old Gannett Peak Hwy in the back of his Chevy pickup. After about 13 rough, dusty miles we reached the end of the line - the Cold Springs Trailhead. We unloaded our gear, told Cal we’d be coming out a week from Saturday for the ride back to Mony’s house and from there, back to civilization.
The statement that we’d be on our own however, was a statement of singular truth, no matter how you say it. From the second day of this journey til the next to last day, a full weeks time, we would not encounter another soul.
Our group was the same as the last three trips - Chris, my 25 year old son and his dog, Chewy, Mark our friend, former Eagle Scout, master knot tier and myself. Also along on this trip was my new techno aquisition, SPOT-the Global Positioning Tracker and preset message sender. Got it so our loved ones would know that we were OK and so that they could track our movements.
Our destination this year, took us back to a place we'd been to twice before, in 2004 and 2009 - Dry Creek/Horse Ridge area on the eastern side of the Wind River Range in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness. On our previous trips, we'd gone in a "back door" to avoid paying the Indian guide. This time we ponied up and went through the front door, which made for a very different experience in some ways.
Unlike previous trips, our plans did not include any climbing. This trip's goals were to explore a seldom visited corner of Upper Dry Creek, check out some routes for future trips and to spend alot of time flyfishing.
And so it beginsDay 1-Thursday, August 4th ~ Fort Collins to Lander
Made it to Lander about 7 PM on Thursday the 4th of August. Had to show our AARP cards to the wench that owns the Pronghorn Motel, as we knew we would from past experience, to get our geezer certified, discounted rate. That done, we headed over to the Quick Stop for our Reservation Permits and beer. Cash only for the permits! Back to the motel to unload our stuff, a couple beers on the deck by the Popo Agie River then on to the Gannett Grill for dinner. With our alarms set for 5:30 AM, we turned in a tad early for our last night of “bed sleep” for a while.
Day 2-Friday, August 5th ~ Lander to Crowheart to Cold Springs to 1st nights camp in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness
After the industrial strength alarm at the motel woke us, we cleaned up and went across the parking lot to the Oxbow for breakfast. We were packed and on the road by 7:15, heading north to Mony’s house in Crowheart. Forty minutes later we were there, stopping at the Crowheart Store first, to ask where Mony’s house was. Chris asked me if I’d brought his headnet and any bug juice for him. “No” I replied, “figured you were taking care of your own stuff.” He grimaced and scored some juice but no headnet at the store. I had a feeling he was gonna miss that headnet and, so did he. After buying a ridiculous looking “Crowheart Store” ballcap, he and Mark mailed their postcards at the store and we were off to Mony's place.
They told us that her house was the green one, just north of the store. We drove the short distance, parked in the yard and knocked on the door. Ramona answered the door and invited us in. Her kids were eating cereal at the kitchen table. We squeezed into the kitchen, showed our permits to Ramona and met our driver, the aforementioned Cal. With all of us crammed into that little kitchen, while the kids ate their Coco Puffs, we did the deal - $250 apiece, cash or check, for the roundtrip ride to Cold Springs.
Once we got outside, I gave Cal my little cooler filled with beer and asked him if he could ice it and bring it to the trailhead when they picked us up. He said he would. Turned on Spots Tracker for the first time. Loaded our gear into the back of the pick-up while Cal grabbed a bench seat from some car of the past and set it in the back, behind the cab for Chris and Chewy. Mark sat up front with Cal while I squeezed into the club cab seats. Cal was a good guy, we talked about a good many things. From his time living in Denver to grizzly bears in the Winds. I gathered that he preferred the bears. He told us some funny stories about dealing with black bears that raided their hunting camps over on the Bob Lakes. According to Cal, cans of spray paint wrapped with bacon worked wonders on the bruins bad habits.
A few miles of pavement, thirteen miles of dirt, an hour and a half later and we were at the Cold Springs TH. Weather was picture perfect, blue skies, a few clouds and warm temps. Once we were ready to go, Cal walked us up to the start of the trail then bid us farewell. It was 10:30 AM.
After cruising through the forest we reached the edge of a large meadow. A 1/4 mile or so into the meadow and we reached the boundry of the Indian Reservation.
Once we reached the south end of a long meadow, we began the climb to the high point of this leg of the hike at 10,250 feet. Very mellow hike so far. At that high point, while taking our first pack-off break, we ran into another group of guys coming out. Five guys from Texas, very happy to hear that they were at the top of the hill. Told us they’d left 20 pounds of “stuff” near Native Lake to lighten their load. We were taken aback by that news and could only wonder why some people carry so much. These guys were not young and some appeared to be no where close to being in shape. They moved on, planning to camp near the fence for their next day pick-up.
We started down the big hill, knowing we were heading into familiar territory. At the bottom, we made for our old campsite near the bridge to take a break. The elk jaw from last trip two years ago was still there though it was laying on the ground in 2 pieces. A pack-off break with food was what we had in mind but it was looking like Mother Nature had other ideas. Dark clouds looming to the west seemed to be moving in our direction so instead of relaxing and eating, we found ourselves scrambling to get our rain gear on and hustling to get back on the trail. Didn't really get our break which wasn't good. The rain came and we trudged on, hoping to make camp near the Moose Lake outlet.
This section of the trail took on an undulating, up and down character that drained our energy quickly. After 5.5 miles, we started looking for a campsite. Found one overlooking the creek at about 6 miles and were glad to get the packs off and camp set up. Sent the first SPOT message-”We’re OK, having a great time.” Bugs weren’t too bad and the openess of the site allowed breezes to keep the bugs that were there, at bay, some of the time. Beef stroganoff for dinner, had a good, relaxing evening.
Day 3-Saturday, August 6th ~ We leave the main trail above Moose Lake, traveling into unknown territory over a little used path
Got off to a late start with our goal being the area between Norman and Rock Lakes, another five plus miles beyond. Took our packs off near the Moose Lake inlet and searched for a bit before we found evidence of a crossing point and a faint trail on the other side of the creek. Also, in our searching we found a large dump left by travelers of the past, before the term “Pack it in, Pack it out” came into vogue. Forgot to turn SPOT Tracker on.
Crossed the ankle deep stream and continued on a good trail for about 3/4 of a mile where the trail faded into the willows in the creek bottom. The map showed our trail staying on the west side of Dry Creek, but all evidence pointed to the east side and another crossing. We went with what looked right and crossed the creek, which was a little deeper and colder than the last crossing. Picked up faint traces of the trail again on the other side. Going was slow as we had to pick our way along the edge of the forest that skirted the willow lined creek bottom. When the forest became impassable with downed timber, we were left with trying to find the driest path through the increasingly boggy meadow. We were successful for a while until we tried cutting straight across the upper part of the meadow. We all emerged on the far side with bog muck in our boots.
A well used campsite made for a good break spot and after further consideration, our campsite for the night. We decided that it wasn’t practical to continue, given that it was getting late in the afternoon, we were still a mile and a half away and 500 verticle feet below the first lake. So, in spite of only making only 3 1/2 miles for the day, we cashed in our chips and set up camp. Looking back on it, it was a good decision, though it cost us a day.
Many little T-Storms hit us just after camp was set. Put the bugs down for a bit at least. Spent the evening relaxing by the fire, swatting mosquitoes and enjoying the views that camping on the edge of the meadow afforded. Looked for wildlife in the meadow as the sun faded and saw none. Nice alpenglow on Dry Creek Ridge above.
Day 4-Sunday, August 7th ~ Final push to our base camp between Rock and Norman Lakes
Norman Lake is a large, beautiful alpine lake bounded by steep, rocky slopes on it’s SE side and not quite as steep, tree covered slopes on the NW side. Moved on along the NW shore of the lake, following the very faint trail until it was gone. Headed up the slope gradually from the lake hoping for a trail and found none. Left our packs on a large rock overlooking the lake and bushwacked upward, in the general direction of Rock Lake. Followed a draw up until we reached an open area just below the lake. From there, we began our search for a campsite which turned out to be harder than we figured.
Our only salvations from the bugs were the wind, the fire smoke and our tents. We used them all. After a light dinner of mac & cheese, we went over to the lake to try a little fishing. Frequent storms in the evening kept us hopping in and out of raingear.
Day 5-Monday, August 8th ~ Moving slow - coffee and breakfast got us going for some fishing along the east side of Rock Lake
Chocolate Hazelnut Pirouettes with coffee and cheese and pepper omelet for breakfast, mmmmmm good stuff! Another beautiful start to the day with clear skies and temps in the low 40s. Plan for the day was to stretch our legs a little, without the backpacks, and try the fishing along the east side of our lake.
On a brighter note, we kept two fish for dinner. Baked them in the fire and served with rice. Great meal, very filling!
Enjoyed the rest of our evening by a nice, smokey fire before turning in. The bad thing was, that while Mark and I could escape the bugs in our tents, Chris could not. Every time Chewy went into the tent, hundreds of gnats went in with him. Like Greek soldiers hiding in the Trojan Horse, the gnats hid in Chewy’s fur, only to reveal themselves once they were in the tent. Sadly, Chris had to spend his first hour of tent time k