Living the Dream - a Photo Trip Report on Cloud Peak
Cloud Peak over Mistymoon Lake
Just a little over a year ago, I had no idea (nor did I care) that Cloud Peak even existed, and I certainly did not have not have plans to reach its summit. As a young teenager, I devoured the entire mountaineering section at the library and dreamed of climbing Everest, but as I got older and other things (college, career) became more important, I never took the time to even try reaching an easy summit and I gradually forgot about my armchair peak conquests. However, after rediscovering my passion for the mountains during a chance trip to the mining ghost town of Kirwin
in July of 2008, I came across Bob Sihler's
SummitPost page while researching the area, which in turn inspired me to return a few weeks later and climb Mount Crosby. I joined SP soon after that, and I am now a hopelessly addicted junkie (to both the mountains and
I discovered Cloud Peak while browsing on this site, and knew right away that I had to climb it, setting it as a goal for 2009; I can see the Big Horns from my house, and its status as the highest peak in Wyoming outside of the Winds and the Tetons sealed the deal for me. I waited all summer and finally was able to fit it in on Labor Day weekend. I was climbed it during my first marriage with my now ex-wife Lindsey, whose mother graciously agreed to watch our kids during the trip.
Day 1: Trek to Mistymoon Lake
As the weekend approached, the weather forecast improved from iffy to just a very small chance of storms with hot temperatures, which meant a snowstorm like the one that dumped on Cloud Peak two weeks earlier was unlikely. After dropping the kids off with Grandma on Saturday morning, we left Cody at 11:30 and reached the West Tensleep Trailhead at 2:30. As could have been expected for a holiday weekend, it was packed and both the day use and overnight lots were filled to overflowing.
At the West Tensleep Trailhead; you have to register by filling out a free Wilderness permit
After heading north on the Mistymoon Trail (Tr. 63) along the shores of Tensleep Lake, we encountered the spot where the trail crosses the stream and starts heading up into the forest. For reference, the bridge has been removed and the creek must be crossed on foot; if you backtrack left about 50 yards from the most obvious crossing place, it is possible to rock-hop it fairly easily.
On the Mistymoon Trail just after the stream crossing
From here, the relatively easy 3.5 miles to Lake Helen passed by very quickly, and we waited out a short rainstorm next to the lake.
The first glimpse of Cloud Peak over Lake Helen
After this, the beauty of this hike became more and more awesome, as the mountains and their reflections in the lakes were simply stunning. It is no wonder that this is such a popular place!
Mountain reflections in Lake Helen
As we reached the shores of Lake Marion, we found ourselves just short distance away from a great wildlife spectacle:
These three bull moose were doing battle on the shores of Lake Marion as we were hiking through; we heard from a group that passed through later that the biggest one took the spoils and ran the other two off.
We reached the shores of Mistymoon Lake about 6:00 p.m. and ran into a trio of guys who had just climbed Cloud Peak as part of a really long day hike and were on their way back to the trailhead; they gave us some information on the route and conditions (no snow) before heading on their way. We set up camp high above the northwest side of the lake before eating and filtering some water for the next day. The night was uneventful besides a mild storm around 9:00 p.m. - one of the groups camped below us had a moose in their camp at about 3:00 a.m., but we didn't get a visit!
Our campsite - Cloud Peak is in the background
Day 2: Lots of Boulders, Great Views, and a Brutal March
Moonset over the southwest ridge of Cloud Peak
We left the tent at 6:04 a.m. by moonlight and stayed on the trail until the falls across the valley on Paint Rock Creek came into view, at which point we descended through the valley and rock-hopped to the left side of the stream just below the waterfall.
Paint Rock Creek Falls with the early morning colors from the sunrise
The climber's trail up from here was a lot of fun, and the scrambling was pretty easy; the hardest part was following the minuscule rock cairns, but this was not a worry because the route direction is obvious.
Looking back down the Paint Rock Creek drainage from the southwest ridge of Cloud Peak
Lindsey was doing pretty well, but was complaining of some dizziness through the scrambling sections before she realized that she was holding her breath while concentrating on finding solid places to put her feet! Once she got that figured out, life was much better.
Looking northwest at Peak 12473
The imposing west face of Cloud Peak
The views intensified once we reached the Narrows section of the ridge, which made up for my disappointment at how wide
this section really is - I was hoping for something with at least a little exposure, but no such luck!
Scrambling just past the Narrows section
We crossed under the large snowbank just beyond this section and headed a little to the right before making the final arc left to the top. A party of three people passed us about 200 feet from the summit, making us the second group on Sunday to reach the top (about 10:20 a.m.).
It was a pretty clear day and the views from the top seemed to stretch on forever, and we could make out the Winds and parts of the Absarokas in the distance. The jagged peak spires of Black Tooth, Mount Woolsey, and The Innominate away to the north were quite a sight as well; we didn't know it at the time, but Lindsey's cousin Rocker Paully
was in the middle of making a successful ascent of the Innominate at the same time we were on Cloud Peak!
The classic view from Cloud Peak; Glacier Lake is the foreground over 2,000 feet below, and Sapphire Lake is above it to the right.
Looking towards the giant spires of the Big Horns; Black Tooth is on the right, Mount Woolsey is in the center, and The Innominate is on the left
After the usual round of pictures, we headed back down, meeting many other people making their way to the top. One guy I talked to mentioned that he had stumbled across the carcass of the still-decaying elk that is mentioned in this trip report
, and that there are still pieces of hair attached to the remains, but the skull is gone. All told, there were probably 25-30 people on the mountain that day, which was a little different experience for me, considering that most peaks I visit in the Absarokas see just a couple ascents a year.
Descending the boulders
The descent back to camp was uneventful except for the moment when I lost traction walking down an angled slab and sat down rather quickly and unexpectedly, which was more comical than painful. Thankfully, I don't think anyone had the pleasure of viewing this graceful spectacle!
This picture shows the climber's trail near the place where it starts at the falls; the storm brewing in the distance over Cloud Peak didn't look too bad, but it made us thankful that we had gotten an early start!
Paint Rock Creek
We made it back to camp at about 2:40 p.m., slowed a bit by the blisters that were developing in Lindsey's too-small shoes. After packing up the tent and a short rest, we were back on the trail within an hour. At Lake Marion, the largest moose that won the previous day's battle was still standing guard over his lake, giving us intense looks as we hurried past.
The King of Lake Marion
We reached the trailhead after the grueling and exhausting hike out at 7:00, having walked close to 18 miles in 13 hours; after gorging ourselves at Taco John's in Worland, we picked up the kids in Cody and finally made it home about midnight.
This trip was an amazing experience, and there's no doubt that I'll be back in the near future to see and explore more of this beautiful place!