It was Saturday, July 24, 1999. We had just arrived at the Dickinson Park campground in the Shoshone National Forest and the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. Elevation at the campground is 9,300 feet. We were only a mile from the trailhead, which we would depart from in the morning.
Ben, 20, was excited about walking with us. He is dating the daughter of a friend, Rip. It was Ben’s first time out. There were two other regular walkers with us, Jim, who like Rip is 49, and Gordon, who is 45 years old. I am 39 and the guy who keeps the others feeling young.
Sunday. After a good breakfast, we all got packed up and were ready to go. As always, we split the community gear evenly among everyone. This was going to be a light trip for me. I only had to carry a tent. We were off. The first day would be relatively easy. The elevation gain would be from 9,300 feet to 10,500 feet, and about five miles in was a nice little camp site only about a quarter mile off the trail.
Here’s the author at Bears Ears Pass (11,800 feet) looking southwest to Washakie Pass (11,600 feet).
Ben, trying to keep up with Rip, started to cramp up on the last stretch over Adams Pass. Not wanting to let on to Rip, he pushed on. The rest of us, knowing that you don’t try to keep up with Rip, plodded along at our own slow pace. We felt great when we got to camp. Ben, he had that look about him. You know the one that says; “What in the heck am I doing here with these guys, and how come these old guys feel so good when I feel like don’t!”
The spot where I was going to set my tent, Gordon reached down and picked up a beautiful little arrowhead made of slate. We now knew that this was going to be a spiritual walk. The ironic thing was I set this same tent on the same spot in 1997. How many hundreds of years had that arrowhead been there?
Monday. Today was going to be great, 3-1/2 miles to the top of Bears Ears Pass (11,800 feet) and another 3-1/2 miles to Dutch Oven Lake (10,600 feet), if we stayed on the trail. We all felt good walking that day. Ben finally figured out that his pace was better for him than Rip’s. As we approached the top of Bears Ears Pass, we all knew what was ahead, so we kept a keen eye on Ben. When he crested over the top and saw the spectacular mountains, crystal clear lakes, and the green carpet of pines, his jaw about fell into the sea of wild flowers that were at his feet. He looked like that little kid on Christmas morning that had just gotten that brand new shiny bike he had always dreamed of. Ben was now beginning to realize why we go through what we do on these walks. He had never seen anything like this in his life. But, after all, he had never been much more than a mile off any road before either.
It was decided that we would get off the main trail and bush whack down to Dutch Oven Lake. The way down was a bit steep, but it saved about 2-1/2 miles of trail. We found a real nice place to camp on the south side of Dutch Oven on a nice knoll overlooking the lake.
Ben, Rip, and Jim decided it was time for a dinner of fresh fish. After all, the lake was boiling with the tastiest of brook trout. Gordon and I stayed in camp and got the firewood gathered up for the evening campfire and star gazing session. Dinner consisted of au gratin potatoes and fresh trout for everyone.
We knew we would have a full moon for the entire week, but since it took so long for it to get over the mountain, we had some fantastic star gazing sessions. While we were sitting around the fire, a cow elk decided to walk right through our camp, shortly after that we had a snowshoe rabbit that thought he would try to get in one of the packs. He didn’t succeed. Although he looked tasty enough, we did decide to let him survive.
Tuesday. We decided we should take Ben over to the South Fork Lakes and show him the scenery. The southern end of South Fork Lakes is surrounded by this enormous cirque, along with some really large snowfields. As a matter of fact the Cirque of The Towers (COTT) is on the opposite side of where we would be. To the east of South Fork Lakes, the Lizard Head Plateau stands guard over you. On the plateau is the Lizard Head Trail, which leads to the COTT, a world famous area for climbers.
We had told Ben stories of this lake and described the fish to him, so he was bound and determined that he would catch them. It was frustrating to Ben at first, because he could see these monsters swimming around, looking at his fly and just shrugging it off. After quite a while and a variety of flies, he finally did hook in to one of the monsters. After fighting the thing for a number of minutes, it was successfully landed. 20 inches and about three pounds, honest! We got the pictures taken, the fish revived and then released back to the lake.
Ben was excited because it was the largest fish that he had ever caught, and we showed him where to catch it. This, he said, made the whole trip worth while!
Wednesday. Gordon and myself decided to take a hike up to the top of Valentine Peak (11,360 feet). The others decided to hike over and down to Moss Lake to test their fishing skills out again. On the way up, Gordon spotted a few elk. The calves must not have seen any two-legged creatures before, because they were giving us the most stupid look, like, “what the heck are those and what are they doing up here?” But mom pushed them on down the mountain. It was only then, did we realize how many we had spooked out of bed. They filtered through the trees below us like a bunch of women scurrying at a sale at the mall. We continued to the top where the view was indescribable. We could see for miles!
As Gordon and I were wondering about, checking out the scenic vistas, we heard voices. Could it be the spirits of some long lost Indians? As it turned, it was the others in our party. Upon arriving to the top of the pass and looking down into Moss Lake, they decided it was too far to go, and it looked like mosquito heaven. Being the kind souls that we are, we decided to go back and show the others everything we had already seen, including the Bull Moose, which was hanging out in the swamps by ‘Mosquito Heaven’.
After a couple of hours, we decided to head back to camp. On the way we all split up to look for arrowheads. It wasn’t too long before we heard Rip screaming like a wild banshee. He had found a beautiful point made of obsidian. This was too spiritual! Two points on the same walk! After admiring Rip’s find, we continued down the mountain.
Thursday. Time to get headed back towards the trailhead. We decided to stay at the same campsite as we did on the way in.
With this being our last night on the trail, things were getting rather quiet. For those who have spent time walking you know what I mean. Everyone realizes that tomorrow we would be back at the trailhead and reality is going to slap us in the face!
When I get this way, I take the time to go off by myself, and give thanks to whoever it was that gave me the opportunity to visit and to whoever it was that let me get through another walk safely. I also think that is what everyone else does.
Friday. Everyone moves slowly in the morning taking advantage of the last few remaining minutes of solitude. We had one last look at the Bears Ears. There is a discussion whether the group should bush whack across the creek bottom and scramble up to Adams Pass, or take the long way on the trail. Three of us opt to bush whack, and the other two opt to go the long way. When we got to the top of Adams Pass, we looked back and Jim and Gordon still hadn’t crested over the hill on the trail (About 3/4-mile back). We decide to get going because the clouds were starting to build and turn quite black. We were now starting to run into more hikers. We got to the truck in about 2-1/2 hours, or 2 p.m., and we were met with some good news. The beer was still cold after a week! Gordon and Jim didn’t arrive until around 3 p.m. We did have their lawn chairs ready, along with a couple of cold beers.
As always, we stayed at the trailhead for a quite a while. We drank the last of the beer, debated as to where the trail actually went up through the trees and over the pass. There also was some discussion as to where next year’s walk would be, but no final decision. It was obvious we were all stalling to keep from leaving this fine place.
Terry Ziehl (email@example.com) aka Chief, has been an outdoor enthusiast since he was a small child growing up in northern Minnesota. When not enjoying the outdoors of Wyoming, Terry works as an Engineering Technician for Marathon Oil Company.