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EXPLORED ON 25 MAY 2009 - # 152

 

SIZE MATTERS. VIEW LARGE SIZED IMAGE HERE

Please forgive me for the copyright watermark on the image. In today's times, it is essential to protect our work.

 

I love night time photography. Somehow there is a magic in long exposures that is very enticing to me.

 

On recommendation from a photography friend, I went to Labrador Park by sunset time and set up my equipment. I shot a number of beautiful images from a very low angle capturing the light of the sky and the waves of the ocean. All of them were with my 16-35mm Lens. I would have shot almost 100 images, from just about sunset time, to well past sunset.

 

As I was happy and started packing up, I realized that from the on coming waves two water drops had sat on my lens filter. I checked the LCD to see if any image was affected. Since the drops were small, it was not visible in normal size. But when I zoomed in, I realized that every image I had taken was affected. I was disappointed. I did not want to clean the lens in the dark, so I just change my lens into the 24-105mm and set up shop again at a different location.

 

Even with a -1 stop exposure compensation, the meter indicated 30 seconds. I fired away and waited. When the image flashed on my LCD, I was overjoyed. There was enough light in the sky to capture this moment.

 

Having lost so many wonderful images because of two drops of water, I was thrilled to see this capture. This Light of the Night, filled me with warmth in my heart.

 

Photograph © Kausthub Desikachar

 

Photographed with Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and Canon EF 24-105mm F4 IS USM L Lens, with Sigma DG Filter. Set on a Tripod for 30 seconds.

 

Please do not reproduce in any form without prior written consent from the copyright holder. Please contact the photographer through Flickrmail, to inquire about licensing arrangements.

This is the view from our tents of the last light hitting Haystack Mountain, across and reflected in, Big Sandy Lake. Saturday had been a full day of hiking and sight seeing in the Wind River Range.

 

It didn't take long after the three of us got back from our enjoyable day hikes on Saturday, for the sun to start setting, the temperature to drop, and our second and last night at the Lost Creek on Big Sandy Lake base camp - - to come to an end.

 

All that would be left after these Day Two, Saturday photographs were taken, would be to get a good night's sleep and backpack out to the trail head, the next morning. We had all seen a lot of remarkable, scenic and rugged country.

 

All too soon, this backpacking trip in the Wind River Range of Wyoming...was coming to an end.

 

A link to my map showing where we hiked on this trip:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/7986908652/in/photostream

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THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept at ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) or looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012

 

If you liked the photos and the story that go along with this backpacking trip into the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming's Wind River Range, you may enjoy sampling some of my photos from a September 2011 backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin in the Northern part of the Wind River Range. Fred was a co-conspirator and participant on that backpacking trip as well as this one:

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/sets/72157627678112546/</

Waterfalls:

N42 46 13

W 109 13 12

Elevation 10,408'

 

This is where I wanted to go and once I arrived here, I spent a long time enjoying these small falls. I took way too many photos, but when you know you may not return to a place such as this, you want to make certain you capture the spirit of the memory. I used both cameras (Canon G9 & G10) as "image insurance".

 

So, I have already gone through many of my photos of these falls just to get to these (and a few more). I will, in time, start removing some of these waterfall photos from my flickr site and try to get down to the best half dozen or so. Meanwhile, I just can't decide which to keep and which to delete, so I present them all.

 

These waterfalls are located at around 10,000 ft. They are along the creek coming down from Hidden Lake and high above Lonesome Lake, pretty much in the middle of the cirque of the Cirque of the Towers. You can see them from a long way away.

 

You could hike north over Jackass Pass, spot the falls, and make your way across contouring the slopes and arrive here. You could try hiking up the creek from the area of Lonesome Lake, or you could do what i did and that is take the climbers' route at the unmarked trail intersection north of Arrowhead Lake, travel up and through the notch below Warbonnet Peak, then make a bee line to the falls from there.

 

After visiting the falls I contoured over to the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass then hiked up over Jackass Pass from north to south, to return to base camp at Big Sandy Lake.

 

If you go the route I did there is one boulder field with boulders the size of small houses, that you must negotiate for about 30 yards. I found a good way through.

 

I hope you enjoy these photographs of these small but "what a location" waterfalls. If you haven't already been there, perhaps one day you will.

 

Thanks again to Andy Porter (flickr's: I8Seattle) for giving me some information on finding these falls via flickr email, before I made this trip to Wyoming).

 

A link to my map showing where we hiked on this trip:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/7986908652/in/photostream

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fred left our Sandy Lake base camp at a little before four in the morning, hiking into the Cirque of the Towers by headlamp (with his quality camera gear). Fred went up over Jackass Pass into the Cirque of the Towers and remained in the area all day, following photo op after photo op.

 

I left our Sandy Lake base camp at about 6:30 am with no need to use my headlamp. I saw Fred's boot prints on the trail and admired his dedication to getting up and hiking by headlamp and his ability to follow the route, which with carins, you had to pay attention to, even in the daylight.

 

When I reached a trail junction north of Arrowhead Lake I decided to take the climbers' cutoff over to a notch at the base of Warbonnet Peak.

 

From the notch I saw the sun filling the Cirque of the Towers and warming the peaks. I could easily see Hidden Lake and the stream running down through the middle of the cirque to the waterfalls I wanted to visit and photograph. Everything worked out well.

 

I dropped down to the waterfalls hiking cross country and keeping a heading to intercept the creek above the waterfalls. After visiting the falls (beautiful and the highlight of my hiking on this trip), I contoured over to intercept the trail leading from the top of Jackass Pass down to Lonesome Lake.

 

I hiked south up over Jackass Pass to the four way trail junction I had left earlier north of Arrowhead Lake, then started down the trail toward base camp at Sandy Lake.

 

Along the trail I met SQ hiking at a nice brisk easy pace, coming the other way. We sat beside the trail and had a great conversation. Climbers and other hikers came by and joined in our discussions and the highlight was the appearance of our "dog buddy" Walter the Great (the beagle/Aussie shepherd mix) and his three German shepherd buddies.

 

SQ feeling sorry for me for being unable to open the bear cannister earlier that morning, gave me one of her peanut butter and jelly "mini bagels" then headed on up the trail for Jackass Pass to join her brother for the day and explore her own routes.

 

I was back at base camp before 1 pm, eating lunch and getting ready for a hike south to Clear and Deep Lakes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept at ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) or looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012

The first British canals were built in Roman times as irrigation or land drainage canals or short connecting spurs between navigable rivers, such as the Foss Dyke, Car Dyke or Bourne-Morton Canal; all in Lincolnshire

  

A spate of building projects, such as castles, monasteries and churches, led to the improvement of rivers for the transportation of building materials. Various Acts of Parliament were passed regulating transportation of goods, tolls and horse towpaths for various rivers. These included the rivers Severn, Witham, Trent and Yorkshire Ouse. The first Act for navigational improvement in England was in 1425, for improvement of the river Lea, a major tributary of the River Thames

  

In the post-medieval period some natural waterways were 'canalised' or improved for boat traffic, in the 16th century. The first Act of Parliament was obtained by the City of Canterbury, in 1515, to extend navigation on the River Stour in Kent, followed by the River Exe in 1539, which led to the construction in 1566 of a new channel, the Exeter Canal. Simple flash locks were provided to regulate the flow of water and allow loaded boats to pass through shallow waters by admitting a rush of water, but these were not purpose-built canals as we understand them today.

 

The transport system that existed before the canals were built consisted of either coastal shipping or horses and carts struggling along mostly un-surfaced mud roads (although there were some surfaced Turnpike roads). There was also a small amount of traffic carried along navigable rivers. In the 17th century, as early industry started to expand, this transport situation was highly unsatisfactory. The restrictions of coastal shipping and river transport were obvious and horses and carts could only carry one or two tons of cargo at a time. The poor state of most of the roads meant that they could often become unusable after heavy rain. Because of the small loads that could be carried, supply of essential commodities such as coal, and iron ore were limited, and this kept prices high and restricted economic growth. One horse-drawn canal barge could carry about thirty tonnes at a time, faster than road transport and at half the cost.

 

Some 29 river navigation improvements took place in the 16th and 17th centuries. The government of King James established the Oxford-Burcot Commission in 1605 which began to improve the system of locks and weirs on the River Thames, which were opened between Oxford and Abingdon by 1635. In 1635 Sir Richard Weston was appointed to develop the River Wey Navigation, making Guildford accessible by 1653. In 1670 the Stamford Canal opened, indistinguishable from 18th century examples with a dedicated cut and double-door locks. In 1699 legislation was passed to permit the Aire & Calder Navigation which was opened 1703, and the Trent Navigation which was built by George Hayne and opened in 1712. Subsequently, the Kennet built by John Hore opened in 1723, the Mersey and Irwell opened in 1725, and the Bristol Avon in 1727. John Smeaton was the engineer of the Calder & Hebble which opened in 1758, and a series of eight pound locks was built to replace flash locks on the River Thames between Maidenhead and Reading, beginning in 1772.

The net effect of these was to bring most of England, with the notable exceptions of Birmingham and Staffordshire, within 15 miles (24 km) of a waterway

The British canal system of water transport played a vital role in the United Kingdom's Industrial Revolution at a time when roads were only just emerging from the medieval mud and long trains of pack horses were the only means of "mass" transit by road of raw materials and finished products (it was no accident that amongst the first canal promoters were the pottery manufacturers of Staffordshire). The UK was the first country to acquire a nationwide canal network.

 

Canals came into being because the Industrial Revolution (which began in Britain during the mid-18th century) demanded an economic and reliable way to transport goods and commodities in large quantities. Some 29 river navigation improvements took place in the 16th and 17th centuries starting with the Thames locks and the River Wey Navigation. The biggest growth was in the so-called "narrow" canals which extended water transport to the emerging industrial areas of the Staffordshire potteries and Birmingham as well as a network of canals joining Yorkshire and Lancashire and extending to London.

 

The 19th century saw some major new canals such as the Caledonian Canal and the Manchester Ship Canal. By the second half of the 19th century, many canals were increasingly becoming owned by railway companies or competing with them, and many were in decline, with decreases in mile-ton charges to try to remain competitive. After this the less successful canals (particularly narrow-locked canals, whose boats could only carry about thirty tons) failed quickly.

 

The 20th century brought competition from road-haulage, and only the strongest canals survived until the Second World War. After the war, decline of trade on all remaining canals was rapid, and by the mid 1960s only a token traffic was left, even on the widest and most industrial waterways.

In the 1960s the infant canal leisure industry was only just sufficient to prevent the closure of the still-open canals, but then the pressure to maintain canals for leisure purposes increased. From the 1970s onwards, increasing numbers of closed canals were restored by enthusiast volunteers. The success of these projects has led to the funding and use of contractors to complete large restoration projects and complex civil engineering projects such as the restoration of the Victorian Anderton Boat Lift and the new Falkirk Wheel rotating lift.

  

Restoration projects by volunteer-led groups continue. There is now a substantial network of interconnecting, fully navigable canals across the country. In places, serious plans are in progress by the Environment Agency and British Waterways Board for building new canals to expand the network, link isolated sections, and create new leisure opportunities for navigating 'canal rings', for example: the Fens Waterways Link and the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway.

 

Shropshire Union Canal at Croughton Cheshire

 

Second Valley South Australia This was taken a couple of weekends ago down at Second Valley during a dawn that I thought would never happen because I looked up the wrong information ! Somehow I had looked up the wrong date which stated sunrise to be at 655 when in actual fact it was due at 705am. So by 7am when no light was happening through thick cloud, I had actually started to pack up. But then when the sunrise actually started to happen, it happened in a rush ! Fortunately the tripod was still in position but I didn't like the composition the light gave me anyway and moved . I've also been having a blast taking short and long exposure images of the same scene and most of the time, I'm preferring the simplicity of the long exposure but at least I have the shorter exposures for when my mind changes in the future. Also, I am now an official Nisi Australia ambassador , so if you are interested in their filters and live in Australia, drop us an email dm@everlookphotography.com . I may be able to help you take the edge off the price of the filters :) [Essential Field Guide Ebook] [Video Tutorials] via 500px 500px.com/photo/155043577

The district of Wayanad has plenty of tea plantations. Every time we visit the place we end up drivng through the rolling hills packed with tea estates. The sparsely spaced Silver Oaks you see are essential for the plantation's survival. Tea is a rainfed crop. The Silver Oak does give the shade, but doesn't compete with the tea crop for soil moisture. Tea plants are bushy and pruned making the plucking easy.

Hiking down the creek that flows from Hidden Lake, I soon came to the quiet pool of water, immediately above the waterfalls I wanted to hike to and photograph.

 

The morning light had reached the falls and all the Towers (spires, peaks, and walls) of the Wind River Range's "Cirque of the Towers,

 

This is what Ihad come to see and I wasn't disappointed.

 

Fred left our Sandy Lake base camp at a little before four in the morning, hiking into the Cirque of the Towers by headlamp (with his quality camera gear). Fred went up over Jackass Pass into the Cirque of the Towers and remained in the area all day, following photo op after photo op.

 

I left our Sandy Lake base camp at about 6:30 am with no need to use my headlamp. I saw Fred's boot prints on the trail and admired his dedication to getting up and hiking by headlamp and his ability to follow the route, which with carins, you had to pay attention to, even in the daylight.

 

When I reached a trail junction north of Arrowhead Lake I decided to take the climbers' cutoff over to a notch at the base of Warbonnet Peak.

 

From the notch I saw the sun filling the Cirque of the Towers and warming the peaks. I could easily see Hidden Lake and the stream running down through the middle of the cirque to the waterfalls I wanted to visit and photograph. Everything worked out well.

 

I dropped down to the waterfalls hiking cross country and keeping a heading to intercept the creek above the waterfalls. After visiting the falls (beautiful and the highlight of my hiking on this trip), I contoured over to intercept the trail leading from the top of Jackass Pass down to Lonesome Lake.

 

I hiked south up over Jackass Pass to the four way trail junction I had left earlier north of Arrowhead Lake, then started down the trail toward base camp at Sandy Lake.

 

Along the trail I met SQ hiking at a nice brisk easy pace, coming the other way. We sat beside the trail and had a great conversation. Climbers and other hikers came by and joined in our discussions and the highlight was the appearance of our "dog buddy" Walter the Great (the beagle/Aussie shepherd mix) and his three German shepherd buddies.

 

SQ feeling sorry for me for being unable to open the bear cannister earlier that morning, gave me one of her peanut butter and jelly "mini bagels" then headed on up the trail for Jackass Pass to join her brother for the day and explore her own routes.

 

I was back at base camp before 1 pm, eating lunch and getting ready for a hike south to Clear and Deep Lakes.

 

A link to my map showing where we hiked on this trip:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/7986908652/in/photostream

 

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THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept at ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) or looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012.

This photograph of the ranch outhouse on the Moulton place along Mormon Row, is dedicated with respect, to our long time friend Irving Petite, who passed away on the 27th of November 2004. He was a fine writer (he had a bestseller titled: "Mr. B" the story of black bear cub he raised in his homestead south of Issaquah, Washington). He moved in his later years to a "homestead" along the San Poil River near Keller, Washington. He lived happily "off the grid". No electricity (except from a solor panel) and no running water, just a snug cabin heated by a wood stove. He had an outhouse and it faced Northeast with a view over his forested land and the San Poil River. Like this outhouse, it didn't have a door. Space provided privacy and Mother Nature provided the view.

 

Here is my photo set in tribute to my friend Irving:

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/sets/72157615437954593/

 

Thursday morning 9.6.2012 I woke up before dawn at my camp along the Gros Ventre River in Teton National Park.

 

I couldn't wait to see the sun come up on the Grand Tetons. It was cold as I drove north up the gravel road to the historic barns and buildings of "Mormon Row".

 

At first my attention was to the west as the first light of morning, reached the tops of the Grand Teton Mountains. Later I turned around to watch the morning sun "light up the sky" facing east.

 

It was a lot of spectacular and historic scenery to take in during a short amount of time, but it was so great "being there". I can still smell the sage and the aspen leaves....and hear the small irrigation ditches "gurgle and bubble" with cold clear running water that was the life blood of these homesteads back between 1910 and the early 1930s.

 

Dawn. The best time of the day.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept and ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012.

The Cirque of the Towers and the waterfalls on Hidden Lake Creek are more spectacular BUT, here at Deep Lake I found the place I want to return and backpack with my wife. I want to spend the night here and watch the sun set and the sun rise over this outstanding high landscape with its razor sharp granite spires and a cold clear alpine lake (Deep Lake) to reflect the beauty.

 

The section of granite slab rock that I hiked between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable hiking of this trip. Again, I want to go back.

 

The peaks that embrace Deep Lake are from north to south (or left to right): Haystack Mountain [11,978']; Steeple Peak [12,040']; Lost Temple Spire and East Temple Peak [12,590']. Looking south and a little bit west over the end of Deep Lake you can see Temple Peak [12,972'].

 

A link to my map showing where we hiked on this trip:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/7986908652/in/photostream

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fred left our Sandy Lake base camp at a little before four in the morning, hiking into the Cirque of the Towers by headlamp (with his quality camera gear). Fred went up over Jackass Pass into the Cirque of the Towers and remained in the area all day, following photo op after photo op.

 

I left our Sandy Lake base camp at about 6:30 am with no need to use my headlamp. I saw Fred's boot prints on the trail and admired his dedication to getting up and hiking by headlamp and his ability to follow the route, which with carins, you had to pay attention to, even in the daylight.

 

When I reached a trail junction north of Arrowhead Lake I decided to take the climbers' cutoff over to a notch at the base of Warbonnet Peak.

 

From the notch I saw the sun filling the Cirque of the Towers and warming the peaks. I could easily see Hidden Lake and the stream running down through the middle of the cirque to the waterfalls I wanted to visit and photograph. Everything worked out well.

 

I dropped down to the waterfalls hiking cross country and keeping a heading to intercept the creek above the waterfalls. After visiting the falls (beautiful and the highlight of my hiking on this trip), I contoured over to intercept the trail leading from the top of Jackass Pass down to Lonesome Lake.

 

I hiked south up over Jackass Pass to the four way trail junction I had left earlier north of Arrowhead Lake, then started down the trail toward base camp at Sandy Lake.

 

Along the trail I met SQ hiking at a nice brisk easy pace, coming the other way. We sat beside the trail and had a great conversation. Climbers and other hikers came by and joined in our discussions and the highlight was the appearance of our "dog buddy" Walter the Great (the beagle/Aussie shepherd mix) and his three German shepherd buddies.

 

SQ feeling sorry for me for being unable to open the bear cannister earlier that morning, gave me one of her peanut butter and jelly "mini bagels" then headed on up the trail for Jackass Pass to join her brother for the day and explore her own routes.

 

I was back at base camp before 1 pm, eating lunch and getting ready for a hike south to Clear and Deep Lakes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept at ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) or looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012

 

If you liked the photos and the story that go along with this backpacking trip into the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming's Wind River Range, you may enjoy sampling some of my photos from a September 2011 backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin in the Northern part of the Wind River Range. Fred was a co-conspirator and participant on that backpacking trip as well as this one:

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/sets/72157627678112546/

Thursday morning 9.6.2012 I woke up before dawn at my camp along the Gros Ventre River in Teton National Park.

 

I couldn't wait to see the sun come up on the Grand Tetons. It was cold as I drove north up the gravel road to the historic barns and buildings of "Mormon Row".

 

At first my attention was to the west as the first light of morning, reached the tops of the Grand Teton Mountains. Later I turned around to watch the morning sun "light up the sky" facing east.

 

It was a lot of spectacular and historic scenery to take in during a short amount of time, but it was so great "being there". I can still smell the sage and the aspen leaves....and hear the small irrigation ditches "gurgle and bubble" with cold clear running water that was the life blood of these homesteads back between 1910 and the early 1930s.

 

Dawn. The best time of the day.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept and ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012.

[This image, even more so than others in my stream, looks MUCH better on black -- just click it!]

 

Altocumulus clouds and reflection over a backcountry lake | Sequoia National Park

 

Okay, so I posted a few shots of crazy sunsets over remote alpine lakes from this summer...some people said they wanted to see a perfect reflection...so I thought I'd start to send a few of those your way.

 

To get this shot, on the tail end of a six-day, 80+-mile backpacking trip, I endured 4 hours of intense, constant lightning, heavy hail and gale-force winds, as I trekked several miles both on and off trail. At some points, the storms grew so intense that I had to drop my pack and hide in lone clusters of foxtail pines. I barely made it over a high pass before the worst of the weather hit. But things began to clear up in the late afternoon...and this was part of the reward. Enduring weather like this is quite a moving experience. With no manmade shelter in which to hide, we finally realize just how vulnerable we are and how small we are in this world.

 

I had good luck with reflections on this lake this past summer, so I'll soon be posting more shots in different light.

 

So many of the best places in the world are off the beaten path...

 

Hope you enjoy, and have a great week! As always, I welcome your feedback and any suggestions.

 

- Jeff

 

www.landESCAPEphotography.com

    

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Tyndall Frog Ponds between Diamond Mesa and Bighorn Plateau, Sequoia National Park, California.

 

Better on Black

Original and other sizes

 

This is another in my John Muir Trail series. It is a single exposure made with a Nikon D7000 and Tokina 11-16mm. Please view my other JMT images in my JMT set.

 

This is one of the Tyndall Frog Ponds just before sunset. All through the afternoon the cloud coverage increased but there was no rain this day. I set up my tripod in the shallow water to compose this image and then fought off the millions of mosquitos that attempted to suck my blood. Fortunately, I was well-covered and also had a headnet (essential gear in the Sierra during the summer) but I had to constantly check my lens for mosquitos that landed on the glass. I have multiple images from this location where mosquitos caused big blotches on the image.

 

This was a fabulous day; the Sierra is so amazing and beautiful.

 

110907173924

 

John_Muir_Trail_D7K3650-2-08763_FUM_NSE-2-2

This is where I wanted to go and once I arrived here, I spent a long time enjoying these small falls. I took way too many photos, but when you know you may not return to a place such as this, you want to make certain you capture the spirit of the memory. I used both cameras (Canon G9 & G10) as "image insurance".

 

So, I have already gone through many of my photos of these falls just to get to these (and a few more). I will, in time, start removing some of these waterfall photos from my flickr site and try to get down to the best half dozen or so. Meanwhile, I just can't decide which to keep and which to delete, so I present them all.

 

These waterfalls are located at around 10,000 ft. They are along the creek coming down from Hidden Lake and high above Lonesome Lake, pretty much in the middle of the cirque of the Cirque of the Towers. You can see them from a long way away.

 

You could hike north over Jackass Pass, spot the falls, and make your way across contouring the slopes and arrive here. You could try hiking up the creek from the area of Lonesome Lake, or you could do what i did and that is take the climbers' route at the unmarked trail intersection north of Arrowhead Lake, travel up and through the notch below Warbonnet Peak, then make a bee line to the falls from there.

 

After visiting the falls I contoured over to the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass then hiked up over Jackass Pass from north to south, to return to base camp at Big Sandy Lake.

 

If you go the route I did there is one boulder field with boulders the size of small houses, that you must negotiate for about 30 yards. I found a good way through.

 

I hope you enjoy these photographs of these small but "what a location" waterfalls. If you haven't already been there, perhaps one day you will.

 

Thanks again to Andy Porter (flickr's: I8Seattle) for giving me some information on finding these falls via flickr email, before I made this trip to Wyoming).

A link to my map showing where we hiked on this trip:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/7986908652/in/photostream

 

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Fred left our Sandy Lake base camp at a little before four in the morning, hiking into the Cirque of the Towers by headlamp (with his quality camera gear). Fred went up over Jackass Pass into the Cirque of the Towers and remained in the area all day, following photo op after photo op.

 

I left our Sandy Lake base camp at about 6:30 am with no need to use my headlamp. I saw Fred's boot prints on the trail and admired his dedication to getting up and hiking by headlamp and his ability to follow the route, which with carins, you had to pay attention to, even in the daylight.

 

When I reached a trail junction north of Arrowhead Lake I decided to take the climbers' cutoff over to a notch at the base of Warbonnet Peak.

 

From the notch I saw the sun filling the Cirque of the Towers and warming the peaks. I could easily see Hidden Lake and the stream running down through the middle of the cirque to the waterfalls I wanted to visit and photograph. Everything worked out well.

 

I dropped down to the waterfalls hiking cross country and keeping a heading to intercept the creek above the waterfalls. After visiting the falls (beautiful and the highlight of my hiking on this trip), I contoured over to intercept the trail leading from the top of Jackass Pass down to Lonesome Lake.

 

I hiked south up over Jackass Pass to the four way trail junction I had left earlier north of Arrowhead Lake, then started down the trail toward base camp at Sandy Lake.

 

Along the trail I met SQ hiking at a nice brisk easy pace, coming the other way. We sat beside the trail and had a great conversation. Climbers and other hikers came by and joined in our discussions and the highlight was the appearance of our "dog buddy" Walter the Great (the beagle/Aussie shepherd mix) and his three German shepherd buddies.

 

SQ feeling sorry for me for being unable to open the bear cannister earlier that morning, gave me one of her peanut butter and jelly "mini bagels" then headed on up the trail for Jackass Pass to join her brother for the day and explore her own routes.

 

I was back at base camp before 1 pm, eating lunch and getting ready for a hike south to Clear and Deep Lakes.

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THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept at ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) or looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012

Grus canadensis (sandhill cranes) are distinguished looking birds with distinctive vocalization and mating rituals. These are in the "rust brown" summer plummage.

 

I don't know whether the small birds feeding along with the cranes are blackbirds, cowbirds, or what..but they clearly enjoy the safety of having feeding partners. like the sandhill cranes, who can spot land bound predators from a distance, with their tall POV. Strange field friends.

 

In a deliberate attempt to drive a back road I had never traveled, I turned south on Wyoming highway 89 from Alpine and drove to the curious little town of Freedom, Wyoming/Freedom, Idaho (I would read about it when I returned home). Then taking Idaho highway 34 I traveled through some "bring a smile" small towns like Henry, Idaho until I reached Soda Springs, Idaho.

 

From Soda Springs I took Idaho highway 30 over to catch I-15 and head north to Pocatello. Between Freedom and the Interstate (smile) - - I saw a lot of different things and enjoyed the slow pace of travel immensely.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept at ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) or looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012

 

If you liked the photos and the story that go along with this backpacking trip into the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming's Wind River Range, you may enjoy sampling some of my photos from a September 2011 backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin in the Northern part of the Wind River Range. Fred was a co-conspirator and participant on that backpacking trip as well as this one:

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/sets/72157627678112546/

Waterfalls:

N42 46 13

W 109 13 12

Elevation 10,408'

 

This is where I wanted to go and once I arrived here, I spent a long time enjoying these small falls. I took way too many photos, but when you know you may not return to a place such as this, you want to make certain you capture the spirit of the memory. I used both cameras (Canon G9 & G10) as "image insurance".

 

So, I have already gone through many of my photos of these falls just to get to these (and a few more). I will, in time, start removing some of these waterfall photos from my flickr site and try to get down to the best half dozen or so. Meanwhile, I just can't decide which to keep and which to delete, so I present them all.

 

These waterfalls are located at around 10,000 ft. They are along the creek coming down from Hidden Lake and high above Lonesome Lake, pretty much in the middle of the cirque of the Cirque of the Towers. You can see them from a long way away.

 

You could hike north over Jackass Pass, spot the falls, and make your way across contouring the slopes and arrive here. You could try hiking up the creek from the area of Lonesome Lake, or you could do what i did and that is take the climbers' route at the unmarked trail intersection north of Arrowhead Lake, travel up and through the notch below Warbonnet Peak, then make a bee line to the falls from there.

 

After visiting the falls I contoured over to the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass then hiked up over Jackass Pass from north to south, to return to base camp at Big Sandy Lake.

 

If you go the route I did there is one boulder field with boulders the size of small houses, that you must negotiate for about 30 yards. I found a good way through.

 

I hope you enjoy these photographs of these small but "what a location" waterfalls. If you haven't already been there, perhaps one day you will.

 

Thanks again to Andy Porter (flickr's: I8Seattle) for giving me some information on finding these falls via flickr email, before I made this trip to Wyoming).

 

A link to my map showing where we hiked on this trip:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/7986908652/in/photostream

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fred left our Sandy Lake base camp at a little before four in the morning, hiking into the Cirque of the Towers by headlamp (with his quality camera gear). Fred went up over Jackass Pass into the Cirque of the Towers and remained in the area all day, following photo op after photo op.

 

I left our Sandy Lake base camp at about 6:30 am with no need to use my headlamp. I saw Fred's boot prints on the trail and admired his dedication to getting up and hiking by headlamp and his ability to follow the route, which with carins, you had to pay attention to, even in the daylight.

 

When I reached a trail junction north of Arrowhead Lake I decided to take the climbers' cutoff over to a notch at the base of Warbonnet Peak.

 

From the notch I saw the sun filling the Cirque of the Towers and warming the peaks. I could easily see Hidden Lake and the stream running down through the middle of the cirque to the waterfalls I wanted to visit and photograph. Everything worked out well.

 

I dropped down to the waterfalls hiking cross country and keeping a heading to intercept the creek above the waterfalls. After visiting the falls (beautiful and the highlight of my hiking on this trip), I contoured over to intercept the trail leading from the top of Jackass Pass down to Lonesome Lake.

 

I hiked south up over Jackass Pass to the four way trail junction I had left earlier north of Arrowhead Lake, then started down the trail toward base camp at Sandy Lake.

 

Along the trail I met SQ hiking at a nice brisk easy pace, coming the other way. We sat beside the trail and had a great conversation. Climbers and other hikers came by and joined in our discussions and the highlight was the appearance of our "dog buddy" Walter the Great (the beagle/Aussie shepherd mix) and his three German shepherd buddies.

 

SQ feeling sorry for me for being unable to open the bear cannister earlier that morning, gave me one of her peanut butter and jelly "mini bagels" then headed on up the trail for Jackass Pass to join her brother for the day and explore her own routes.

 

I was back at base camp before 1 pm, eating lunch and getting ready for a hike south to Clear and Deep Lakes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept at ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) or looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps a bit of the "story" as well. OMT September 2012

Here is a photograph I took back in the spring (May) of 2009 of these spectacular waterfalls:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/12150532@N04/3555183299/in/set-7215...

 

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THE CIRQUE OF THE TOWERS Backpacking Trip: September 7th through 9th 2012

Wind River Mountain Range - Wyoming

 

PREFACE:

 

I often write a "story" to go along with the photographs I post on my OLDMANTRAVELS flickr site. I can get pretty wordy and long winded with these stories but the beauty of the situation is you don't have to read one word of it if you don't want to. Just look at the photographs (if you want to).

 

On occasion I have received some flip Flickr flak for my long photo "stories" but, trust me, I am adept and ignoring criticism. Ask any of my photographer friends who try to talk me into using a tripod or even try to become a "real" photographer (instead of a hiker who likes to snap pictures).

 

So, you may be sitting in a work cubicle in a high rise office in L.A., wishing you were any where else in the world but preferably up in the mountains with a pack on your back. You may sitting in an easy chair in your ranch house in Halfway, Wyoming (I want to go there some day, just to say I have been there) looking at flickr photos on your PC or surfing flickr photos on your iPad in a cafe in Halfway, Oregon (I have been there. Cool little town).

 

But wherever you are, be it Halfway,Anywhere or Alltheway, Somewhere - I hope you enjoy some of the photographs and perhaps, some of the story that goes with them. Have fun.

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Fred and I put together a backpacking trip into Titcomb Basin, in the Northern portion of Wyoming's Wind River Range for September of 2011. With Fred's consent, my brother and a friend of mine, accompanied us on that backpacking trip. We backpacked 27 miles over four days and had spectacular weather. No bugs and very few people. In fact, we pretty much had Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes to ourselves.

 

The September 2011 Titcomb Basin backpack, was the first time Fred and I had hiked together. We got along great so it was only natural to plan a "follow up hike". During the always long, with short days, winter or 2011-12, we exchanged emails and it became evident that both of us longed for a return trip to the Wind River Range. So early in the year of 2012, we set our sights on the Cirque of the Towers, located in the Southern portion of the Wind River Range. The planning began in earnest.

 

For our 2012 backpacking trip, we invited Fred's sister, whom I shall call "SQ". Fred had told me about her before. He claimed that she was an excellent hiker, backpacker and outdoors person and would be fun to have on our backpacking trip. He was 100% right.

 

Both Fred and SQ both work (they aren't old living on government dole like me) so we set the Cirque of the Towers backpacking trip dates for Friday 9.6.12; Saturday 9.7.12; and Sunday 9.8.12. Weekends might mean more people on the trails but for good company on a backpacking trip, that didn't bother me...so subject to a "reasonable" weather forecast, those are the days we picked.

 

When we got we got within a ten day weather forecast window of our backpacking trip and the forecast looked good, the three of us agreed to "go for it". We all reserved cabins at the Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming for Thursday night September 6th. Our plan would be to head for the Big Sandy trail head on Friday morning - - backpacks loaded and ready.

 

As a shiftless (you could add lazy, stubborn, and unconventional to that) retiree, who no longer works (my wife still works part time), I was free to drive down to the trail head and return back home, at my own whims and predilections. Early on, my wife and I agreed not to include her on this particular backpacking trip as we didn't know how "tough or easy" the route up Jackass Pass (10,800') might be and it would be difficult to get the right days off in September.

 

"THE STORY" DAY ONE: I left our home in Eastern Washington at four in the morning. I had our small, old, high mileage SUV packed with both my backpacking gear and "road travel" gear. It had been packed and double checked, the night before.

 

As with any road trip or hike, the earlier I get going the better I like it. I'm like a kid in that respect. Can't wait.

 

I drove the interstate (I-90) east and at a steady pace. My goal was to reach a camping spot anywhere between Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth Pass, leading into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

 

I stayed on I-90 all the way through Spokane, Missoula, Three Forks, Bozeman, and the small town of Columbus, Montana. Here I left the interstate and purposefully drove a highway I had never traveled before. I took Montana highway 78 through Abarokee and "downtown" Roscoe to Red Lodge, Montana.

 

My plan was to camp between Red Lodge and Northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP, so I could travel the spectacular Beartooth Pass highway, right at dawn. My wife and I had tried to travel the pass a few years ago (from south to north) but it was closed so we improvised an took the scenic highway 296 highway to Cody, Wyoming on that trip. But it had been many years since last crossing the Beartooth Pass (10,947') and I was anxious to do so again.

 

There was a problem and that was forest fires. Whether started by lightening, careless people, or on purpose as "managed" fires as they call them, the smoke can diminish the scenic beauty of an area quickly and I had driven through lots of such wildfire smoke on this trip already.

 

I found an excellent place to camp just as dark started to arrive. I backed my old RAV4 up to within a stone's toss of the rumbling creek (Rock Creek) and slept in the bed I had prepared in the back of the old Toyota RAV4 with 150,000 miles on it. Breaking camp the next morning would consist of crawling from the bed in the back to the driver's seat and starting the engine (followed closely by turning the heat to high and the fan to full).

 

"THE STORY" DAY TWO: I arrived at the summit of Beartooth Pass at dawn. As I suspected and feared, the forest fire smoke filtered the landscape views and at times irritated my eyes. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the drive. It is big, spectacular country and I kept reminding myself that forest fires were as much a part of the grand scheme of Mother Nature, as were winds, rain, four seasons, and flowing rivers and streams.

 

I stopped to take a few photos at "Little Bear Lake" and then continued on through Cooke City and Silver Gate into Yellowstone. I drove slowly through Yellowstone, admiring the wildlife (bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, and sandhill cranes) and the scenery. Dunraven Pass had lots of wildfire smoke so I didn't linger there. On through Canyon Village then Lake Village exiting the park on highway 191.

 

Entering Grand Teton National Park on the venerable highway 191 route, I decided to stray from convention and loop over to Jenny Lake, a place I had not visited for many years. So at the south end of Jackson Lake, I took the Teton Park Road to the Jenny Lake visitor center. Lots of people. The tent camp was already full so I spent some quality time talking to a young lady park ranger, with a map spread out in front of us, talking about any places I might camp that night, that wouldn't be full. She recommended Gros Ventre camp, so off I went.

 

At Moose Junction I turned back north on hwy 191 to Antelope Flats Road and headed east. I went past the north end of "Mormon Row" but didn't take time to stop as I wanted most of all to secure a campsite for the night. I then took the paved narrow two lane road south to Kelly (a small "pocket town" on the Gros Ventre River), and turned back west to the Gros Ventre campground. On the way I passed the south end of the gravel road that travels the Mormon Row barns and homesteads, so I now had the lay of the land in my mind.

 

Two women at the campground office worked at finding me a campsite for the night that would lend itself to my goal of a quiet night's sleep with an early morning departure. They put me up at site #199 in Loop "D" for a modest "senior's rate" camp fee. It turned out perfect. My only camping neighbor was a nice couple from Emmett, Idaho, who were in a truck camper and as they said "prepared to camp until the leaves changed color". I liked that.

 

Having secured (posted my receipt on the campsite post) my camping spot for the night, I drove the gravel road north to enjoy the much photographed old buildings of Mormon Row

The places along this row of farms were built in the 1910s up into the early 1930s. The people, who lived here were mostly the Moultons, some Chambers, Thomas Murphy and Thomas Perry. Many of the buildings are gone and all that remain are now part of the national park system. The views of the Grand Teton Mountains from these old buildings are spectacular.

 

After taking some smoke filtered landscape photos at Mormon Row, I was hungry. I carried and ice chest full of cold soda pop and a well stocked plastic tote of sandwich making material, so I drove north up to the Snake River Overlook (a place my wife and I have often stopped at when driving highway 191 through Grand Teton NP).

 

Here I fixed and ate dinner, walked the rim of the Snake River and waited with others for the sun to set behind the Grand Teton range. Now I began to appreciate the forest fire smoke in the area as the sky turned bright orange and pink behind the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Well worth the wait. After the sunset scene, I drove back to my campsite, read John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" by LED headlamp, and fell blissfully asleep.

 

"THE STORY" DAY THREE: This was an uneventful, slow paced, rest up, organize, and get ready for the backpacking trip day. Enjoyable.

 

I drove the Moose Entrance to Wilson "scenic road" for the first time. The north end had some good "moose country" habitat and it was an enjoyable drive, but even early in the morning don't expect solitude. It is a popular route. Postscript: I didn't see a single moose along the MOOSE to Wilson road (which reminds me of a joke):

 

Said a well traveled young man: "I spent an entire week on the Canary Islands and during my entire stay, I didn't see one canary. I then traveled to the Virgin Islands for a week long visit there as well. And you know what? ..................... I didn't see a single canary there either.".

 

I stocked up on "hiking food" (scones) at the Albertson store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then drove on to Hoback Junction and on to Pinedale, Wyoming. I checked into my cabin there and started organizing my backpacking gear, making sandwiches for the backpacking trip, reading, relaxing and hoping that Fred and SQ would arrive without problems from there homes in the Boise, Idaho area.

 

Fred called me by cell phone at 1:30 pm on Thursday and said that they were "on their way" with an ETA of around 9:30 pm (which is about when they arrived). Fred came to my cabin when they got to Pinedale (SQ went directly to her cabin) and the two of us talked about the upcoming hike plans and agreed upon when we would leave Pinedale in the morning.

  

"THE STORY" DAY FOUR: We drove to the Subway for our last "civilization" meal for a few days, then headed off to the Big Sandy trailhead. In some hiking guide books, they make finding the correct turns to make as complicated and difficult. We found quite the contrary. There are just two major turns to make after leaving the pavement on Wyoming highway 353. They aren't hard to find. The dirt roads are in great shape except the last ten miles (when you make the last turn north). There it is pretty rough in places but the scenery and anticipation of the high quality hiking to come, makes it a cinch as well.

 

We signed in at the trail head, shouldered our backpacks and headed up the 5.5 mile trail (with only 600 ft. of elevation gain) to Big Sandy Lake. Fred is a strong hiker and a professional photographer (in addition to his professional "day job"). So it is difficult for him to leave a tripod, camera body, or lens ... behind. SQ whispered to me that he was able to leave his wooden pin hole camera behind on this hike but he took it with him on our September 2011 Titcomb Basin hike.

 

Fred always carries the biggest and heaviest pack but he knows what he is capable of and takes the cameras, lenses, and photographic equipment it takes to get the professional results he does with his photography.

 

SQ had the next biggest and heaviest pack. She too is a strong competent hiker and backpacker and as Fred once warned me "She will out hike us both"...she did. So we put SQ in the lead and asked her to slow down if she saw us "fading" on the trail.

 

I'm the wimp. I carried the lightest load of the three of us. And here comes the first of a couple of backpacking vignettes: Leading up to our backpacking trip, Fred and I exchanged emails dithering and deliberating over how to save weight to carry on our backpacking trip.

This meant all was subject to being left behind , except camera gear for Fred (of course).

 

We both decided that with the favorable weather forecast, for example, we could leave rain pants behind. Nylon hiking pant and long poly prop underwear would handle that issue for me. Then the topic came up of "bear vaults". Both Fred and I have each owned one for years but NEVER has either of us used ours. Hell they weigh TWO pounds each and they are bulky. Besides, we are real men. We can hang our food properly in a bear bag over a cliff or on an sturdy tree limb. So went the thinking.

 

When I confirmed by phone that bear vaults weren't mandatory in the Wind River Range, Fred and I gleefully agreed that we would leave ours at home. Well you have probably already figured out the punch line. given our situation of "the beauty" (SQ) hiking with "the two beasts" (Fred and me). SQ brought her bear vault and Fred and I shamelessly made use of the bear vault SQ packed all the way to Big Sandy Lake in her large heavy backpack.

 

We leap frogged a few backpackers on our way up to Big Sandy Lake. Two women and their four pack carrying dogs became our instant trail favorites. We would run into each other on the backpack into Big Sandy Lake; on the trail coming out of the Cirque of the Towers on Saturday and at least twice on our backpack out to the trail head on Sunday.

 

The four happy hiking trail dogs were a real study in different dog personalities. Walter, was the smallest, slightest built dog of the four and clearly liked to lead. He was also the most affectionate to trail strangers (like us) and seemed to be having the most fun. He was a mutt, as many smart endearing dogs are and a mix between a beagle and Australian shepherd. The other three were magnificent purebred German Shepherds.

 

Walter was always "first up the trail". He made friends quickly with his adorable expression and straight forward manner. As soon as the three German Shepherds saw how well Walter was being petted and scratched behind his ears...they lined up and competed for attention.

 

Almost 75% of the people we saw hiking in and out of Big Sandy Lake had dogs with them and I can tell you that every dog we passed was well mannered and friendly. They were welcome trail companions in my book.

 

The three of us arrived at Big Sandy Lake and were impressed by both the appeal of the lake and the dramatic mountains that surround it. It is a truly lovely lake. I think if any of us had hiked the Cirque of the Towers trail up over Jackass Pass before, and seen the available "best tent sites" in the area, we might have continued to hike there on Friday. We had enough daylight. But with a wind and clouds rolling in at the moment, we decided it would be best to secure a good camping spot at the far end of Big Sandy Lake and then do our exploring with day hikes to the Cirque of the Towers and later to the Clear Lake & Deep Lake - East Temple Peak area - - if we had time.

 

That decided, we set up our three small lightweight backpacking tents in a well spaced row up the left bank of the almost dry creek bed of Lost Creek. The spacing would assure that SQ would not have to lose a night's sleep listening to two world class snorers (Fred and I have our reputations to uphold in that classification). SQ took the top site up close to the marmot's boulder field; then Fred's tent; then mine. We all had quality views of Sandy Mountain; Big Sandy Lake; Haystack and East Temple peaks.

 

Our intent was to spend both Friday and Saturday nights at our Big Sandy Lake/Lost Creek "base camp". Then we could spend all of our time hiking our favorite trails with light day packs (though with Fred's camera gear, I'm pretty certain his day pack load would be close to my entire backpack load in weight). This is what we did and it worked out great.

 

We ate camp dinner and talked for awhile and took a couple of short "reconnaissance" hikes close by camp. We now had a feel for the "Miller Lake/Little Sandy Lake" trail; the Clear Lake/Deep Lake trail; the Black Joe Lake trail as well as the trail junction for the hike up past North Lake and Arrowhead Lake, over Jackass Pass and into the spectacular Cirque of the Towers area.

 

We all retired to our tents for the night. I had brought along a copy of the Sep+Oct 2012 Washington Trails magazine for camp reading. The magazine came with membership in the Washington Trails Association that was "gifted" to me by a good hiking friend of mine, HC.

 

I turned on my LED headlamp and opened up the magazine. There on page three was a familiar name: Andy Porter. He was listed as a "guest contributor". He is a flickr contact of mine and he does indeed take excellent photographs. It seemed ironic, that I had written one person about a waterfall location, in the Cirque area between Hidden and Lonesome Lake, and that was Andy. He was quick to send me a Flickr email back with information that I requested. His Flickr site is: I8Seattle.

 

A quick side note: Flickr has been a wonderful resource for me when researching upcoming hikes and road trips. I really appreciate people like Andy, who willingly share information. I always write to thank people for their help. Some people sent me a flickr email a couple of months ago asking for camping information for the Titcomb Basin hike and some specific camp location questions. I wrote them providing what they asked, and never heard another word. There are people that are "takers" out there, who think nothing of requesting information then are too lazy (or rude) to send a two word reply back. Thank you.

 

Thanks Andy for the "waterfalls" info. Thanks too "HC" for the WTA membership gift and the Trails magazine that comes with it.

 

"THE STORY" DAY FIVE: Fred, the professional photographer, wanted to head up the 2+ mile trail over Jackass Pass before dawn, hiking with a headlamp. I told him I would be happy to join him and asked that he call for me outside my tent if he got up before I did.

 

SQ, who doesn't carry a camera but instead hikes to see and enjoy the scenery, said she would sleep in Saturday morning and start up the trail when she had something to eat and was good and ready. I hope you are starting to get the picture here. A competent smart woman hiker and her brother and her brother's hiking friend (me) that can't seem to wait to get going .. no matter what.

 

What happened Saturday morning? I got up at six. I went over to Fred's tent and said in a nice strong voice "Fred, Fred...Fred". No response. I headed down where we had placed SQ's Bear Vault (filled equally with her food, our food, and our camp food garbage). My intent was to open the bear vault and get some hiking food for my day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers.

 

The lid of the bear vault was iced over and try as I might I couldn't get it open. I squeezed the lid in; wrestled with it; cursed it; but could not open it. I admit to being shamed in knowing that a black bear in the Adirondack Mountains has learned to open the blasted things..yet I could not.

 

I decided with my ample "fat reserve" that I could make it without food for my day hike over and back to the Cirque of the Towers. I threw a couple bottles of diet Mt. Dew (my caffeine fix) in my pack; two small cameras (Canon G9 & G10) a few essentials and a coat, into my light Marmot "day pack" and got ready to head out.

 

Then I noticed that Fred's pack wasn't in sight. So I returned to his tent and called his name a few more times then opened the rain fly of his tent to find him gone.

 

I now concluded correctly that: #1 he had left before dawn and had been unable to stir me from my sleep. AND #2 incorrectly that Fred too had been unable to open the bear vault so he too would be hiking without trail food. I thought the ice and frost on the bear vault lid proved that but I was wrong. Fred (like the black bear in the Adirondacks) did get the vault open but had left so early that a new coating of ice and frost had formed on the lid by the time I tried it. Off I went.

 

It was light enough for me to hike easily without a headlamp up the Cirque of the Towers trail. It did get tough to find the route in a couple of places though and the trail was much more work that I thought it would be so it took a little longer than I might have guessed. I was just amazed that Fred had been able to successfully negotiate the route in the dark, even with a good map and headlamp, given that none of the three of us had ever hiked in the area.

 

I saw Fred's boot prints on the occasional dirt or sand portion of the trail. I just didn't know how early he had left camp, nor how fast or slow he might be hiking, given his load of camera gear.

 

I won't try to describe how magnificent the scenery was on this hike and I hope a photo or two of mine does some justice to it, but my head was constantly on swivel enjoying the ever unfolding beauty of this world class rock climbing area.

 

After a few steep ups and downs in the cairn marked trail, I came to a four way trail intersection above Arrowhead Lake. To my left a faint path lead down to the north end of Arrowhead Lake. to my right was a straight up the hill wide, heavily eroded, rock strewn trail that was clearly the route to Jackass pass (10,800 ft.).

 

Straight ahead was a faint but inviting "climbers' path" that led up to a notched saddle, that I just knew would have a tremendous view of the Cirque, the rock faces, and the landscape as the morning sun was starting to move down the rock faces. I chose to take the path straight ahead.

 

Coming over the crest of the saddle and looking down below at the Cirque and across at all the tremendous spires, faces, and peaks of the Cirque of the Towers was the most dramatic moment of this trip. Wonderful. Beyond words.

 

Right in the middle of the Cirque was "the waterfalls" I wanted to visit and photograph. It was right where Andy Porter said it would be. I could follow the creek down from Hidden Lake (not labeled on all maps you will see of the area) and then see it as it flowed down over the falls and on into the Lonesome Lake basin.

 

I studied the topography of the cirque basin for awhile and picked a line of travel that would avoid tight patches of alpine conifers and the boulder fields that might slow my progress. I had lots of choices and I sat off on what looked like the "best route" down to the waterfalls.

 

The waterfalls are small but their setting makes them dramatic. While at the falls I saw a few rock climbers making their way to Pingora or Wolf Head or some other peak of the Cirque of the Towers, with their rock climbing gear slung across their shoulders.

 

I met a retired backpacker from Kellogg, Idaho, who was camped a ways down stream from the waterfalls. He had his binoculars out and was getting ready to watch the rock climber ply their avocation and skills.

 

I contoured from the waterfalls over to intercept the trail between Lonesome Lake and Jackass Pass. No sign of Fred anywhere but I just knew wherever he was he had a big grin on his face and was happily following photo op after photo op. I knew he was in his element.

 

When I got to the main trail, without losing any altitude, it was a short hike up over Jackass Pass, heading south. Quietly I hoped I could hike fast enough to get back to camp at Big Sandy Lake, eat something (I was determined to get into the Yogi Bear proof bear vault) then head out for a hike to one or more of the lakes down by Temple Mountain.

 

Between Arrowhead Lake and North Lake, on the trail on my way back to Big Sandy Lake camp, I saw SQ coming up the trail at a nice even brisk pace. We hadn't talked much up to this point but there is something about a "side of the trail" talk, that brings out topic after topic.

 

When she found out I hadn't been able to get into the "anybody can do it" (except me), bear vault she started throwing food out of her day pack, insisting that I eat something of hers. I didn't have the heart to eat any of her precious trail chocolate but willingly ate one of her mini-bagel peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

 

We talked on and on and every few minutes, hikers or climber going in or out of the Cirque of the Towers would stop by and the conversation would expand in topic and in number of participants. What fun.

 

Then we looked down the trail and saw a familiar face coming up the trail. It was "Walter the wonder dog" the trail beagle/Australian shepherd mix, sweetheart of a dog. He seemed to recognize us and made a bee line over for some ear scratching and encouraging "dog talk". He may have also spotted SQ's trail snacks.

 

A much repeated trail ritual ensued with Walter's big German Shepherd companions appearing on the trail The moment they spotted Walter getting attention they once again lined up for their share. The two women, who owned the dogs (by now regular "trail friends") came up too and another animated trail information sessions began again. They told me of how much they had enjoyed the granite slab rock hike between Deep and Clear Lakes, so that nugget of information lodged in my mind.

 

Finally SQ and I headed our different ways. She headed up toward Jackass Pass (armed with my recommendation for at least sampling the "climbers' trail" to the notch). She would find Fred and probably the two of them would spend the rest of the day in the Cirque of the Towers area. I expressed my wish to eat at camp; secure food; and then head south from Big Sandy Lake to hike the Clear Lake/Deep Lake slab stone route OR the entire loop if I found I had time (returning down the Miller Lake route).

 

By 1:30 pm I had successfully opened the bear vault back at "base camp" and had a big lunch. I packed my day pack with more water and my water filter and readied for a day hike toward Temple Mountain. I left an irreverent note for Fred and SQ in the bear vault, so they would know what time I headed out and what my intended destination would be.

 

More hikers and backpackers were now arriving at Big Sandy Lake. That came as no surprise to me given the great weather and it being a Saturday. What did surprise me is that when I took off on the trail up to Clear Lake, I didn't see another person or backpacking tent, until I had hiked up to Deep Lake and returned to Clear Lake. Then, and only then did I run into a few hikers.

 

The hike up the granite slab rock between Clear Lake and Deep Lake was the most enjoyable section of "trail" that I have hiked in the Wind River Range. I just loved it. The steep white granite walls of Haystack and East Temple Mountain were tremendous sights.

 

When I looked at my hiking maps the route from Clear to Deep Lake was obvious so I ignored the cairns and any trails wandering in and out of the woods and just hiked the slab rock to my heart's content. It was really great hiking.

 

I lingered at Deep Lake to filter some water (tasted great), and just enjoy the outstanding views. I was tempted to hang around or perhaps hike on over to Temple Lake so I could be at Deep Lake when the pink early evening light started to hit East Temple Peak. But I thought it best to return the way I came and get back to Big Sandy Lake "base camp" in time to have a early evening meal with Fred & SQ, who would likely be returning from the Cirque of the Towers at around the same time.

 

The weather forecast for Sunday was a 20% chance of rain, which according to hikers coming in, had jumped up to 30%. Fred and SQ had the two plus hour backpack out from Big Sandy Lake to the trail head to do Sunday morning; then a two plus hour drive to Pinedale; then an 8 hour trip back home to Boise - - to be ready for work Monday morning.

 

When the three of us ended up together at our tents at our Big Sandy Lake "base camp" we all agreed to "sleep in" then head out together first thing Sunday morning. Saturday night was a still star filled night. It was a great way to finish out this backpacking trip. We all went to sleep with our own thoughts.

 

"THE STORY" DAY SIX: We all got up the next morning about the same time. Without words we immediately ate something and started striking our tents and packing our packs. Ice had formed on the inside of my rain fly as I had slept with the rain fly door wide open. Still I wouldn't have missed the night view of the stars.

 

At 8 am Sunday morning we shouldered our backpacks and headed down the gentle easy trail from Big Sandy Lake back to our vehicles at the trail head.

 

We talked to several hikers and backpackers as they were heading in and we were heading out. We met two older, but fit looking, women with quality backpacking gear, coming up the trail. Their accents quickly gave them away. They were from Adelaide, Australia.

 

I quickly teased them about the 1/2 hour time zones I had run into when working the area in the 1980s. SQ and the two Aussie women found some common topic threads and a full scale trail meeting began in earnest. Fred and I slowly backed away into the shade of a small pine and watched with pleasure and amusement as the women adroitly shifted topics and punctuated their discussion with hand waving.

 

Then a familiar hiker came running down the trail toward us. Walter the wonder beagle. How funny. Same routine, different location. Now the two dog owning women hikers; joined the two Aussie women; and SQ (surrounded by attention seeking canines) and the trail meeting took on a life of its own.

 

I circled the trail meeting with my camera trying to catch a snapshot that would capture the essence and the spirit of the "meeting". The meeting finally ended and off we all went. it was a good ending to our trail encounters with other hikers and Walter will always have a special place in my heart and a deserved title as "Trail Ambassador" and a very cute and clever dog.

 

We were at our vehicles by 11 am and digging into our ice chests for cold rewards for our three day backpacking and day hiking efforts. We chatted and talked trip highlights at the trail head then convoyed our vehicles back to the paved road. I stopped to photograph a cow and calf moose along the road on the way back to Pinedale but ran into Fred & SQ at the Subway, where we parted ways for the last time on this trip.

 

It had been a wonderful backpacking trip for me. If you made a short list of the qualities you would want in backpacking and hiking companions it would probably include adjectives such as: dependable, fair, courteous, considerate, flexible tolerant, competent, confident, honest, happy, flexible, fit, and a couple of phrases like "great attitude" "self sufficient" etc. Fred and his sister were all of those and more.

 

I have a feeling we will hike together again, unless I get too old too soon to keep up with the two of them. If they ever switch to lighter packs, then I'm already out matched. But somehow, I think the two of them would be fine with hiking slower because that is the kind of nice people that they are. Thanks Fred. Thanks SQ.

 

By the way if you have not yet hiked this area and are thinking about doing so, I highly recommend the map "Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range" by Backpacker Magazine (mytopo - a Trimble company). Fred found it and being the considerate person that he is, bought and sent a copy of the map to both me and to his sister, before our backpacking trip.

 

Also: I have read many backpacking "guides" and the one that hits the right balance for me and seems to be filled with good and "reasonable" advice is: Backpacker: "The Hiking Light Handbook" (carry less and enjoy more) by Karen Berger. I highly recommend it.

 

After leaving Pinedale in the early afternoon I had a planned stop at Trappers Point, just north of Pinedale off highway 191. You can't miss the place now as they are putting in a million dollar "antelope, deer, elk, and cattle" overpass right near the site.. You take a short rough dirt road to the top of a hill and you are looking down upon where Horse Creek enters the Snake River. Here six of the sixteen fur trading "rendezvous" took place.

 

Looking down upon the scene it doesn't take much imagination to time transport your thoughts to the 1830s and 1840s and imagine the colorful events that took place where you are looking. You will be standing where many Native Americans have stood, when hunting at this natural big game corridor. You can understand why this location was chosen for the rendezvous with - - the combination of wood, water, grazing, and bountiful game that would have made this the "place to be" for those many years.

 

You will share views and boot prints with mountain men like Jim Bridger (my hero); the Sublette brothers; Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Jedediah Smith (his story is a great read).

 

After spending much time at Trappers Point, I drove the familiar route through Bondurant, to the Hoback Junction; then down the Snake River to Alpine. From here I purposefully took yet another back road I had never before driven. I took highway 34 through small towns like Freedom, Henry and Soda Springs. I saw moose and pronghorn along the way and lots of early fall color.

 

When I arrived at Interstate 15 the "get home" bug hit me in full and I kept with the interstates from then on, driving up to Pocatello; then over to Burley, Twin Falls, Boise, La Grande, Pendleton and home. I pulled into rest stops, picnic areas, forest camps etc. to catch three of four hours of sleep in my RAV car camping bed, then drove on sipping cold diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made along the way using fresh coarse great tasting wheat bread I purchased near Daniel, Wyoming.

 

I got back home Monday morning. You might think I surprised my wife by getting home so early after leaving the trail head at close to noon on Sunday, but not so. She knows me well and greeted me with a big hug and a knowing smile. A good trip. I hope you enjoy some of th