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Wind Rivers IV- SF Little Wind River

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Wind Rivers IV- SF Little Wind River

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 14, 2014 1:49 pm

Wind Rivers IV: South Fork of the Little Wind River 7/21-7/27 2014

In 1969 I had dropped to the South Fork of the Little Wind River from Washakie Park, ascending the north side over Teepee Pass to Twenty Lakes. I ascended Sand Creek in 1970. During the intervening 40 years these “old Indian trails” grew over and the bark beetle kill in the recent five years has caused nearly impenetrable deadfall. This catch-all trip on both sides of the southern boundary of the Wind River Indian Reservation included assessing the condition of old trails, and finding some new routes and visiting old familiar areas. To complicate matters I had no 4wd so to access Washakie Park and high runoff would make crossing the South Fork difficult. I decided to loop from Dickinson Park up Sand Creek, take the Bears Ears Trail to Grave Lake, drop to Onion Meadow and check out the Teepee Pass Trail, descend the South Fork of the Little Wind River and climb back up to Moccasin Lake while checking out old trails. Not all was accomplished but I still enjoyed this trip. Thankfully the weather improved over my earlier trips and pesky mosquitoes abated.

Day 1- 7/21. Dickinson Park to Bears Ears Lake. Although not far from Lander, a slow going horrible dirt road leads to a junction with USFS Dickinson park to the left and Moccasin Lake on the Wind River Indian Reservation to the right. An early start was rewarded by a wonderful sunrise, complete with a rainbow. I parked at the nearby Allen Brothers Outfitters, old friends of mine. After a short visit I started up Sand Creek at 8:30. Soon I stumbled upon a sometimes difficult to follow use-trail for the 3.3 miles to Sand Lake. At one point I erroneously crossed the creek and immediately was in thick deadfall and huge boulders. My wading shoes “went missing” while I struggled through the thicket. Although I suspected the route moved to the east side of Sand Creek, a well-worn trail tricked me into trying the west side. Big mistake! Returning to Sand Lake would have been the wise move. Moving slowly up the west side, I became progressively more entangled in brush, forced up on cliffs and eventually lost nearly all my elevation gained dropping to the creek to reach the east side where, of course, I found a use-trail. I certainly found the way NOT to go! It was now early afternoon and light rain began which then became a brief torrential downpour. I hid under a huge tree. The wet rock now made the route more difficult. I found a fine campsite at a small lower lake but since the weather was improving and I had plenty of time, I continued to Bears Ears Lake, the uppermost lake in the drainage. Use-trails turned to game trails and soon I had to find tunnels through thick krumholtz. I set up my tent tucked in the wind gnarled trees and soon more rain fell. Wonderful storm lighting filled the skies late afternoon, even with enough sunshine for a bath. The only difficulty was getting through the maze of krumholtz. I spotted a fish in the lake, but had no fishing license for this drainage. Light rain fell off and on. I had come about 6 miles and 1,500 feet elevation gain in about 7 hours, including at least an hour wasted on extracting myself from the wrong route.

Day 2- 7/22. Bears Ears Lake to Grave Lake. It was only 0.6 miles to the Bears Ears Trail, but two obstacles had to be overcome- finding a path through the krumholtz and crossing a steep snowfield. I was relieved when my feet touched the large well-maintained trail. The wildflowers along the trail were in full bloom and a light breeze kept mosquitoes down. It was a pleasant walk with expansive views from the top. Weather was perfect. Descending I met several people on this popular trail. The absurdly shallow switchbacks were annoying so I left the trail to check out Little Valentine Lake, only to be disappointed in this not-so-scenic lake. I followed an old-trail that the Forest Service covered with rocks and logs to discourage use before intersecting the official trail just above Valentine Lake. Quickly I dropped past Ranger Meadow to the official crossing of the South Fork. This upper crossing was not difficult – just wading across knee deep water. With wading shoes gone, I soaked my hiking shoes. After a half hour to eat lunch and dry shoes, I continued down the gently descending creek, then a short ascent was required before dropping to Grave Lake to cross the large bridge at the outlet. I found a wonderful campsite about 2PM, after traveling about 9 miles, mostly on good trails. Soon a fellow came by my camp informing me that he had a dozen scouts camped at the Onion Meadow trail junction. Another group was camped nearby the scouts at an established horse camp. Both groups chose campsites near a wet meadow, out of the breeze, thick with mosquitoes and spent most of the afternoon inside their tents. I gloated a bit; my site, closer to the outlet, enjoyed a stiff breeze due to the fetch over the water of huge Grave Lake. I wandered around and found the trail to Onion Meadow, which I would take the following day. I had to walk a distance to take a bath well hidden from the scouts! Sunset offered good photo opportunities. Skies were clear.

Day 3- 7/23. Grave Lake to Onion Meadow and day-hike over Teepee Pass. Morning broke with a mackerel sky, full of beautifully lit puff-ball clouds. I grabbed my camera and ran to the lake to take photos! Breakfast could wait. Once on the Onion Meadow Trail I entered the Wind River Indian Reservation. Now I could legally fish! It took less than 2 hours to reach Raft Creek and set up my tent at an established horse camp. I put day essentials in my pack, crossed the creek on a log, and found a cairn that marked the trail to Teepee Pass, although there was no trail evident for a few hundred feet. The trial became more distinct as it steeply climbed the east side of Raft Creek, a mass of white water far below within a steep cleft. I lost the trail a few times on the way to the first lake where I took a break. I no longer could find the trail but travel was now easy as I gradually ascended above the upper lakes south of Teepee Pass. Once on the upper slopes I again found cairns. The plan was to go down to Trail Lake, but I decided to see if I could get a better view from the hill southeast of Trail Lake. The wind was fierce, but the view was excellent! Returning to Teepee Pass I ran into three fishermen and we chatted, sharing experiences in this wonderful place, below the shadow of Roberts Mountain. They had come in from St. Lawrence Trailhead, up the rough overgrown long-gone Twenty Lakes “trail. I returned on the same route, still losing the trail in places. Back at Onion Meadow and my camp by 3PM, I took a bath, washed clothes and fished for two hours, easily catching plenty of 8-9 inch brook trout for dinner. I checked out the crossing of the South Fork, which was more than I could do. Based on the high water at this crossing I figured it was unlikely I could cross downstream either, so I abandoned the plan to descend the South Fork. Later I found out I could have; at least I erred on the side of safety.

Day 4- 7/24. Onion Meadow to Dutch Oven Lake (plus day-hike one mile down the South Fork.) I decided to hike down the South Fork in search of an “old Indian trail”, never finding more than discontinuous game trails. Travel was tough in places. I stopped at a large meadow where the South Fork widens into several braids. Although one could likely cross the creek, the surrounding willows made this nearly impossible. I snapped a photo and returned to Onion Meadow where I packed up and reversed my entry route, again running into the scouts at Valentine Lake. I continued to Dutch Oven Lake and found a great scenic campsite early afternoon. After I scouted for an off-trail route towards the Bears Ears Trail I returned to the lake where the scouts were fishing. Needing to wash up I walked to the hidden inlet the bathe. After dinner I had the lake to myself (or so I thought). As I walked around for photos, there in front of me was a huge black bear gathering grouse whortleberries. The wind was blowing towards me; the bear never smelled me. I turned around and quickly returned to camp, moved the bear canister and fishy smelling stuff far away, and placed pots near the tent door so I could bang them if Mr. Bear decided to visit. The sun set, I finally fell asleep, and as far as I know, the bear went his way.

Day 5- 7/25. Dutch Oven Lake to Dickinson Park. Although I had scouted a route, I ended up on another route that worked just as well. The first couple of hundred feet of gain was steep and I ran into a good game trail that cleverly skirted the thickest brush and came out onto a broad gradually ascending grassy valley with a small snow-melt stream that ascended to the Bears Ears Trail. Descending, I reached Sand Creek where I had earlier crossed the snow field. This time did not have to cross as the trail was clear of the broad snow patch. The melting of this snow patch determines when the Bears Ears Trail opens for horse use. A new boardwalk has been installed across the wet meadow of Sand Creek before the trail ascends again to Adams Pass. Here I stopped for lunch and several day-hikers walked by, followed by a pack trail hauling their gear. From Adams Pass, the trail again is over-engineered with abundant annoying switchbacks barely dropping any elevation on any one. Closer to the trailhead, I ran into more people, horses and ill-behaved dogs that jumped on me covered with mud. Argh, back to civilization! I had forgotten that it was almost two miles from the Bears Ears Trailhead back to Allen Brothers. Luckily Jim and Mary were there and we had a great if short visit, not having seen each other for nearly 20 years. I drove back to the Forest Service campground, bathed and washed clothes in Dickinson Creek and set up my luxurious car camping tent. My one beer was still cold!

Day 6- 7/26. Moccasin Lake TH, to the South Fork of the Little Wind River at BM 8192. I drove the 4 miles from the campground to the Moccasin Lake trailhead. As I entered the Wind River Indian Reservation I was jolted when the car hit bottom in deep ruts. Although a plastic piece was dangling, no oil was leaking when I looked under as I parked in the large off-road circle about a quarter mile before the lake. I walked to the boat ramp at Moccasin Lake where the Mary’s Lake Trail starts. In 2013, the Reservation began a long-overdue project to clear the trails in the Moccasin Lake area. The trail was totally cleared and well-marked to Mary’s Lake, where it ended in a large inlet meadow. I crossed the meadow and creek and picked up a maze of trails on the northwest side. First I missed the obscure crossing of Mary’s Creek, then I found it. The trail now had most deadfall cut and the remaining flagged, but few markers were placed and a trail tread was missing. Following the trail became a point-to-point exercise from one fresh log cut to the next. All went well until the trail work ended and I got on a wrong game trail that dropped to the South Fork before going far enough northeast. Soon I was bushwhacking in timber, totally disoriented. I basically blundered downhill a thousand feet ending at a campsite on the river, discovering that this camp was just upstream from the fallen bridge crossing and the location of the old trail. With a bit of scouting I found the trail that I would take the following day. It was mid-afternoon, leaving the remainder of the day to fish. The bank was thickly vegetated in many places. First I fished off some rocks at an upstream waterfall, letting my fly drift down the rapids into a pool. I got many bites and even caught several fish. Then I moved downstream to the dilapidated bridge and caught more. As it turned out my campsite was located at the horse crossing, which although waist deep, was flowing gently, and I could have crossed. Had I know this fact I could stuck to my original plan to descend the South Fork. After several hours of fishing, cleaning, cooking and gorging on fish, little daylight remained.

Day 7- 7/27. The South Fork of the Little Wind River to Moccasin Lake. The return trip started out with a bang as I was able to find the old trail ascending nearly a thousand feet. Unfortunately I lost the trail in the same place that I lost it the previous day! Although I intended to go directly to the outlet of Moccasin Lake, when I finally bumped into the trail, I thought I was left of the Moccasin Lake Trail junction when I was actually right of it, putting me right back again at Marys Creek! Oh well, since I was back at Marys Lake, I decided to see if the trail continued towards Gaylord Lake. No trail clearing had been performed and after a quarter mile, I gave up, and returned to the Marys Lake trailhead. I still needed to check out the trails around Moccasin Lake so I circled the lake before walking back to my car. When I arrived I was tired and hot. A young teen Indian boy came over and asked if I would like some food. Evidently his family was camped nearby and had cooked too much food. He was surprised I was alone, but told me his grandmother used to wander all over this area hunting alone. I reluctantly declined the invitation and slowly drove down the bumpy one-lane road praying that I would not meet anyone while on the outside edge. The drop-offs on the road were amazing. Back in Lander I took a hot shower and drank a cold beer.

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Sand Creek

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Bears Ears Lake

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Grave Lake Sunset

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Grave Lake Sunrise

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Yes-same clouds down at Onion Meadow

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Unnamed Lakes on south side of Teepee Pass

Photos to continue



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Wandering Daisy
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Re: Wind Rivers IV- SF Little Wind River

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 14, 2014 1:56 pm

Next photos are all of Roberts Mountain, Roberts Lake and Trail Lake from a viewpoint hill

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Day hike to meadow 1 mile downstream from Onion Meadow, SF Little Wind River

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Dutch Oven Lake

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View en route to Bears Ears Pass- Dutch Oven Lake in foreground, Washakie Lake in background

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View of gentle valley that I ascended from Dutch Oven Lake to Bears Ears Pass

Next three photos of flowers along the Bears Ears Trail

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Re: Wind Rivers IV- SF Little Wind River

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 14, 2014 2:02 pm

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Snowbank that blocks the Bears Ears Trail

Overnight hike to the South Fork of the Little WInd River below Moccasin Lake

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Moccasin Lake

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Unnamed Lake near Marys Lake

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Lower horse crossing point on the South Fork of the Little Wind River

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Small rapids above the crossing

Note in previous photos, all the dead trees killed by the bark beetle.
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Re: Wind Rivers IV- SF Little Wind River

Postby maverick » Mon Sep 15, 2014 2:22 pm

Love the Grave Lake sunset shot, now if you had the clouds from the sunrise shot in
it, it would have been a dream shot, but mother nature doesn't always co-operate
with the wishes of us photographers. :)
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Re: Wind Rivers IV- SF Little Wind River

Postby fitzpatrick » Thu Sep 18, 2014 7:53 am

Great reports and photos-Thanks for sharing!
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