Silas Creek to Atlantic Creek. Thr-Fri, July 10-11. This was my first trip of 2014 in the Wind River Mountains. This was my summer to walk several “missing pieces”- short parts of routes that I had put in a guidebook that I had written, yet had not actually done. Since 2014 was a high snowpack year for the Wind Rivers, my first trip was on the less snowy southeast side. Silas and Atlantic Canyons are two small scenic drainages at the very southeast end of the Wind River Mountains, accessed via the Louis Lake Road. Silas Canyon is the more popular and in my opinion, the more scenic. Atlantic Canyon is, however, more remote yet still beautiful. The “agenda” was a 3-day trip, first day at Island Lake in Silas Canyon with plenty of time to explore the upper lakes, second day to check out a route off Roaring Fork Plateau to upper Upper Atlantic Canyon and third day out x-country down Atlantic Creek. Things did not go as planned! It actually took two trips to complete my goals.
July 10 I left at 7:00 AM, fighting the mosquitoes in the dead-still air. At 10,400 feet elevation I left the trail (too early) and traverse to the saddle at 10,800 below Roaring Fork Plateau. This was not a good route (lots of talus) and ended up high above Island Lake. Rather than drop to the lake, I decided to continue over Roaring Fork Plateau into Atlantic Canyon. The weather looked stable enough to get off the high terrain before afternoon storms. Snow patches covered the route I had taken in previous years so instead, I followed a cairned route up ridge to the east that involved a short section (10 feet) of steep scrambling before reaching the gentle sloping plateau covered with grass and brilliant wildflowers. Clouds built as I crossed over the saddle east if Point 11,960 and descended towards Atlantic Canyon mostly on grass with a few rocky spots with even more wildflowers. The “pass” I was checking out was actually a notch on the sloping south flank of Roaring Fork Plateau just before the cliffs that drop to Atlantic Creek. I crossed some snowmelt streams before reaching the notch where there actually was enough flat ground that one could camp if needed. Across the notch, the descent route was the only break in the cliffs – an exceedingly steep slope of scree, talus, sand and grassy patches. Although obviously well used, likely by animals, footing was difficult. A few “fall and you die” places unnerved me. From the bench at 10,900 feet elevation I traversed to Ham Lake, taking a rest and ate lunch at 1PM. Weather was still OK so I toured the upper lakes for photos before dropping to the unnamed lake SW of Windy Lake. The route followed cliffy but easy benches. As I reached this lake at 2:30, rain started so I quickly set up camp on the north side in sheltered scrub timber. Later I wished I had continued to Windy Lake which is much more scenic. It spit rain all afternoon and I took short hikes to photograph, ate an early dinner and was in the sack by 7PM.
Wildflowers on Roaring Fork Plateau
Scary steep pass off Roaring Fork
Upper Lake (Saddlebag Lake)
Next morning, July 11, I dropped to Windy Lake just in time for sunrise photos, then continued SE down a series of small gullies before crossing Atlantic Creek at about 10,520 feet elevation, hopping rocks. The north side of the creek is the easier route to Atlantic Lake. I passed a small buggy/swampy lake. Near the outlet from Atlantic Lake a NOLS group and another large group broke my solitude, the first people I had seen on this trip. I waded across below the outlet where the creek splits into three branches. All along the south side of Atlantic Creek below Atlantic Lake, numerous well defined yet discontinuous game trails headed away from the creek, due east heading towards more gentle terrain. I wished to stay within earshot of the creek, so jumped from trail to trail reaching the stream at a meadow where across Atlantic Creek the tributary from Calvert Lake enters. Atlantic Creek was quite pretty with many small waterfalls but traveling near creek was more difficult than I had expected. I struggled along the creek to the larger lake at 9,840 where a horse trail begins at the outlet. This trail continued to the lower large meadow with an odd sand hill (small circle contour on map). I ate lunch on the top of the hill where the breeze kept the mosquitoes down. The horse trail continued around south side of the two little hills, leaving the riparian willow-choked meadow and entering timber. Instead I stayed near the stream – not good idea! –Travel was slow and tedious. At 1:30 an intense storm dumped rain and hail for an hour. Unable to get under cover, I was soaked. When I finally intersected the Christina Lake Trail, it was literally a river of water running water into Atlantic Creek. A goat packer was huddled under the nearby trees. I was already soaked so I crossed shoes and all and tromped back to my car in continuing rain. Surprisingly, I met several hikers going in! At the car, I inventoried my situation; my rain jacket totally failed soaking all my clothing. In spite of lining my pack with a compactor bag, my sleeping bag also was slightly wet too. So instead of car camping at Worthen Meadows Campground (start of my next planned trip), I returned to Lander to dry my gear in a clothes dryer! This was my wake-up call that I was back in the wet Rockies! Next trip I took a pack cover, rain pants, and a better rain jacket!
Unnamed Lake en route to Atlantic Lake
Upper Silas Canyon- Day Hike 8/01. I finally hiked the missing piece of my originally planned trip. The weather was better but still got a few drops of rain returning in the afternoon. Although nearly a month later, all the rain had kept the wildflowers at peak bloom. The maintained Silas Lake Trail ends shortly before Island Lake. A cairn marked use-trail continues to Thumb Lake, a popular destination for fishermen (golden trout) and commercial goat packers. Silas Canyon ends at a stark but beautiful small lake above Thumb Lake. Clouds again were quickly building so I returned shortly after noon. The sky was black behind me as I outran the oncoming storm, meeting crowds of weekend day-hikers (several youth groups), in shorts and no jackets, heading into the rain.
Island Lake (Silas Canyon) - route to top of plateau on skyline
Thumb Lake, upper Silas Canyon
Unnamed lake at head of Silas Canyon
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