Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's not a cliche to call the Wind Rivers magical

I had been promising to get up to the Wind Rivers for a backpacking trip for several years.  When I say promising, I mean to myself and to my dogs.  And before you call me a "crazy dog-lady", I will be the first to admit to you that yes, I probably am a crazy dog-lady.  I love my dogs.  And I had been asking them, "Do you want to go to the Wind Rivers?  Do you want to go backpacking?" To which they would respond, no words necessary, with wagging tails, sparkling eyes, and smiling thoughtful panting, that yes, they were game for a trip.

The last trip I went on to the Winds was gorgeous and was four years ago (August, 2009).  It's hard for me to believe that it's been that long already since I was there.  There is something very special about the range.  It's almost indescribable, the draw that this range has once you have been there.  People whom I know who have spent time in the Winds know exactly what I am talking about when I say that  it is no exaggeration, nor is it a cliche, to say that this is truly a magical place.

Unfortunately, halfway through the work day at the clinic on Monday I came down with a nasty sore throat.  I saw two patients with head colds on Monday and both of them complained of it starting out with a sore throat, so I am certain that I caught a virus from one of them.  One of the hazards of the job, and a total bummer given my plans for the week.

I tried to burn the sore throat out with copious amounts of hot tea and soup and was quite successful, except for the fact that the virus decided to then move into my sinuses and produce copious amounts of clear snot.  Major bummer.  I also was feeling quite wiped-out energy-wise, and had a bunch of errands to do that no responsible adult could avoid, so my Tuesday of imposed rest before my trip turned out to contain much less rest than I had intended.

I woke up Wednesday morning, packed and ready to go, except that my body wanted to stay in bed.  Those happy, wagging, smiling doggie faces eventually won out and convinced me to get out of bed, take some Sudafed and Ibuprofen, and toughen the heck up.  So by noon we were on the road to Pinedale, Wyoming and by 5pm we were cooking dinner in the parking lot of the trailhead, loading up with kibble, and hitting the trail.

We hiked just an hour and a half in, and camped at Miller Lake.  Of all the beautiful places in the Winds, this was not one of them.  Forests of beetle-kill trees surrounded the lake, but I was happy to have a flat camping spot to set up the tent and rest my weary head.

I don't know why I was surprised when at about 11pm I awoke to flashes of lightening and rumbling thunder.  The Wind River Range is known for its frequent thundershowers.  Indeed, the last time I visited in 2009, it snowed on us (in August) and was quite cold and miserable.  I counted the thunderstorms this first night out, and they passed through with the accuracy of a Swiss watch, precisely on the half-hour with a half-hour breaks in between.  I must have counted at least 6 showers passing through although I think I was finally able to doze off for a bit of rest somewhere around 4am.

Something else that kept me awake was the constant dripping of rain through my leaky rainfly covering my 18-year old tent which had finally given out.  I would spend the rest of the trip (with each drip of rain that hit me in the face) reminiscing about all of the trips I have done with this amazing little tent over the years. Needless to say, between being hopped-up on Sudafed for the head cold, camping at 10,500ft of elevation, and the thundershowers all night long, I did not get a whole lot of sleep.

Next morning the storm had cleared, and I made a quick cup of black coffee and ate a Larabar and some dried apples (I'm not a real breakfast person and while camping I think "making breakfast" really only delays a good, early start on the day).  Packing up my gear, I was not surprised that my pack had gained several pounds of "water weight".  I decided to hike through Sweeney Lakes, although it would add a mile or so on the day, because I had wanted to check them out after seeing them on the map.  Not a mile down the trail and hiking through a boggy area, I did a quick head count and realized one of the dogs was missing.  After several calls, I heard some splashing in the bog, and realized that Vernon, not as accustomed to traveling with a dog pack, was trapped in a bog and could not pull himself up over the over-hanging brush.  He was panicking, and thrashing.  I believe he thought the dog pack was trying to pull him under, and he was not used to the added weight on his back, although only a few pounds.  I could see he was scared and I quickly dropped my pack and ran over to the bog.

I tried to convince him to change his game-plan and come over to my side of the bog and I would pull him out.  I tried a coaxing-soothing tone of voice, then got more demanding, and finally pleading and he simply kept thrashing and panicking, all the while thinking that he was going to get pulled underwater and drown.  My only choice (and it was quite instinctual) was to jump into the bog and help him.  So I did.  Little did I know that the mud was going to try and pull my shoe off (thankfully I did not panic and I slowly eased my foot out of the mud) or that the water was going to be chest-deep.  Woo Hoo!  What a way to start the morning, standing chest-deep in the cold water!

I successfully pushed Vernon out of the water and pulled myself up (shoes intact) and looked at Vernon, calling him a silly dog.  He looked back at me and wagged his tail and genuinely looked quite embarrassed about the whole thing.

We proceded on our way...

Passed Sweeney Lakes that were quite delightful and I would highly recommend them as a camp spot to anyone going that direction in the future (and a note to self).  We stopped at an overlook of the 13,000ft peaks and took some group photos with the camera on self-timer setting.

It would probably be too much for me to write about our entire trip in the amount of detail that I have just used for the high-mountain dog-bog rescue.  Suffice it to say that I will bring it down to the top three high and low points of the trip, and will leave it to you do decide which group is which.

Group A:

1) Meeting up on two separate instances with two different groups who were thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail (two guys in their late-twenties/early thirties, and a guy and woman who were in their late-thirties/early forties).  Upon light pressure for information, one group had started in Glacier National Park (in Montana) and were planning on going "all the way to Mexico".  I suspect the other group was doing the same.  Both groups took time to hitch rides in to Pinedale to re-supply and have a day of rest.  They took time out of their 25-mile days to chat with me and pet the dogs.

2)  As the dogs were swimming in Senaca Lake and imbibing in some quick liquid refreshment, a clattering of horse-hooves could be heard coming down the trail.  Never in my life have I witnessed a pack-train move so quickly, and I was afraid on the narrow trail that we were going to be mowed-over. After letting the train pass and reconnecting with the pack train in a larger meadow area, I learned that the 62- and 67- year old riders were on vacation with their horses and mules all the way from Colorado, because they really "just like the Wind River Range".  Amazing.

3)  On the last day of the trip, meeting up with a half-dozen septuagenarians (that's right:  they were in their 70s, and one guy was actually in his 80s) on a week-long backpacking trip.  They were from the East Coast, and one of them had been to the Winds each year for the past 20 years.

Group B:

1)  Realizing that my 18-year old Sierra Designs tent, the one I got after my Alaska NOLS trip, would likely need to be retired after it couldn't keep up with the pounding rain showers produced by the Wind Rivers climate, resulting in three nights of very little sleep and resorting to covering my face with my waterproof map at night.

2)  Waking up (on night number three) at 4am to the "hurk-hurk" sound of one of the dogs beginning to puke up what turned out to be the largest grass-bezoar I have ever seen in my life (and I've seen a few).   Don't worry, I did not take a picture.  I was unsuccessful in getting the tent unzipped to get her out the door, but was able to keep her from puking on my sleeping bag.  Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice my one handkerchief that I had on the trip for blowing my drippy nose and was relegated to farmer-blowing the rest of the trip.

3)  Not figuring out until the third night that when the Backpacker's Pantry meal says "mix well before allowing to sit for a full 15 minutes" that they really mean it, otherwise you will end up with crunchy bits of pasta and clumps of sauce in the bottom of the packet.  Eating on solo-backpacking trips always seems like such a chore to me and I always tend to eat much better when I am on a group trip.  The dogs were more than willing to eat my leftovers, however.

With that, I will simply say that my trip, at times, seemed more like a 4-day long dog walk in a quest for hunting the elusive, yet noisy, Wind Rivers red squirrel.  I'm entirely Ok with that and quite pleased with myself that I was able to completely render useless three very energetic canines.  Some of the photos turned out to be "Christmas-card worthy" and that speaks to the beauty of the mountains and the happiness that was had by all.  I consider myself so lucky to have been accompanied by what might quite possibly be the most delightful group of backpacking partners I have ever had the pleasure of sharing company (and tent space) with.  Even if they do eat horse-droppings and pass nostril-burning gas at night.

First night in the tent ~

Vernon overlooks 13,000ft peaks
after an embarrassing rescue out of the bog

Group shot ~ beginning of the trip

Franklin taking advantage of a
lunch-time nap opportunity

Happy tails before the pack-train hit

A refreshing dip in Senaca Lake

Left-center is the pack train

Artemis, very tired after day 2

Franklin and Vernon,
resting in camp after day 2

Artemis, fully rested, hunting
squirrels before dinner

Vernon is really never too tired
to hunt for squirrels

Morning of day 3, Franklin
scouting Lester Pass

Vernon was the first to reach Lester Pass

Nearing Lester Pass, and looking
North to the 13,000ft peaks of upper
Titcomb Basin, the gem of the Wind Rivers Range

Group shot at Lester Pass, 11,560ft elevation

Artemis comes back to the pass to see
what's taking me so long:  I was just enjoying
the beautiful view!

Taking in the view to the South of Lester Pass

Descent through Pole Creek Lakes

Chain lakes through Pole Creek

Tired dogs in camp, after day 3

Morning glories, Mary's Lake
on day 4

Vernon sporting his sporty-sport
coat at Mary's Lake

Eklund Lake on the hike out, day 4

Vernon surveys his domain at
Photographer's Point

Group shot ~ end of trip.  We bonded.

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