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TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

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TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Aug 12, 2016 11:05 am

TR South Fork Bull Lake Creek loop.
Aug 1-7, 2016.

Sorry but I do not have my photo package with me so just words below. I will add photos when I get back in September.

Day 1: TH to Wilson Creek Lakes. 9.1 miles, 6.2 hours, 2870 ft. gain. Left Lander just before 6AM, reached St. Lawrence TH 7:30. I smacked a poor rabbit on the road on the way up. The many antelope quickly got out of my way. Not that one goes fast on this road, more like 10 mph! Note that this trip is mostly on the Wind River Indian Reservation and requires a permit, which is also your fishing license. The senior annual pass is only $65 so it is a great deal for out-of-state fishermen (vs the nearly $120 Wyoming license, which has no senior out-of-state rate).

I quickly reached “The Meadows” and continued to Entigo Pass where I took a break. It was windy enough that I did not stop long, but thank goodness, the wind kept the bugs down. I have been on the trail to Wilson Creek Lakes many times so now I have it down pat. The creeks are really low so I only had one to wade vs the normal three. Previously I have lingered in Wilson Creek Lakes with its stunning scenery and fishing. This trip my agenda was to quickly pass through and find a good route over Windy Ridge into the South Fork of Bull Lake Creek.

I left the trail before I reached Enos Lake and found several game trails to Lake 10331 where I found a nice shady secluded campsite protected from the wind in timber on the north shore and good clear water in the little nearby stream. I was set up by 3:00 and went fishing. I saw fish rise in the small pond to the south. I caught three fish about 12 inches, in about 15 minutes. I cleaned the fish and put them in a gallon zip-lock and headed back to camp. Two tents were camped near me, but I never saw the occupants. I cooked dinner, took some photos, washed up and went to bed early. Getting fish smells off is critical as I was in grizzly bear country. Thankfully I saw no bear sign, but lots of sign of elk.

Day 2: Wilson Creek Lakes to the South Fork of Bull Lake Creek. 7.6 miles, 8.2 hours, 2100 ft. gain. Today was the crux of the route. The 2012 Alpine Lake Fire destroyed the trail from Windy Gap to the South Fork and my goal was to see if it was passable. Studying Google Earth revealed damage, but only boots on the ground can really tell if it is still a reasonable route. Windy Gap is normally reached by trail via Paradise Basin. A route over Windy Ridge from Wilson Creek Lakes would offer a great way to combine two very fine fishing areas for a rewarding loop trip. The draft trip was in my guidebook update; I now just had to be sure it was feasible and reasonable.

I set out at 7AM finding a big elk trail north up the edge if the drainage, avoiding the willow choked creek. The trail veered left into a smaller and steep drainage. At about 10700 feet elevation the elk all took different routes to the top. I picked the route that turned south and steeply ascended a ramp with several levels separated by small cliffs. I was serenaded by howls, probably coyotes, but could be wolves. I took the upper ramp; not great- the elk took the lowest grassy ramp. I should have known they know more them me about this area! In spite of some talus hopping it was a quick trip to the top just south of Pt. 11258. I contoured west into a big broad flat occupied by a huge herd of elk, perhaps 50-75. The smell of elk permeated the air. They spooked when they saw me and headed east. I took a break at a small creek. Then I headed west following grassy ramps to the next ridge that extends to Pt. 11533. Over this ridge is another flat of lush green grass, somewhat boggy. I skirted the north edge and then headed to the third ridge at the base of a series of rock outcrops, and took another rest. The wind up here is steady and wears one down, even on a great weather day. I would hate to be up here on a truly windy day! A contour to the saddle east of Pt 11930 brought me to the top of Windy Ridge, a huge grassy 11,000 to 12,000 foot high grassy flat extending several miles wrapping around the cirque that is the home of Wilson Creek Lakes, and forming the divide between the North Fork of the Little Wind River and the South Fork of Bull Lake Creek.

At this saddle, one could bail off the plateau to Hatchett Lake if weather were poor. I continued another two miles on the plateau, and dropped to Windy Gap where I hid behind a rock and took a rest. I was drained by the ever present headwind and glad to drop down the faint but well-marked trail to a bench, previously timbered, now burned, at about 10,500 feet. There is a small creek and two small lakes here that offer camping if needed. The scene was eerie; lush green grass and totally burned trees with their black trunks and bleached white branches. Surprisingly, not a lot had fallen so deadfall was minimal. In spite of this, I still lost the trail, the ground only being a mix of ash and dirt. Rock cairns guided my way but where blazes previously marked the route I lost the trail. I made one small angle error and ended up on steep slabs that dropped to the South Fork. I headed down zig-zagging on significantly steep rock. This is NOT a recommended route with its exposed class 3 sections. But it did get me down quickly and cut out nearly half a mile of walking through deadfall. I took a break at the creek and then headed upstream. There was a trail but now it had enough deadfall that I opted to stay near the river in grass. In wetter summers this route would be swampy. I finally picked up the trail that went above the creek and dropped to a timbered band between two long meadows, one to the north and one to the south. The view was great. It started to rain and I quickly set up my tent. Other tents were around the bend, but by the time I figured this out, I was not going to move. The occupants were gone.

As the rain stopped I took a bath, washed clothes and fished the creek, which was extremely low. I quickly caught three nice fish in the 10-12 inch range. The trick is to cast once in each pool. The biggest fish usually takes the first hit. I cooked the fish and as I started eating the other group returned. It was a family of eight, grandparents, parents, kids, and three big dogs! How in the world did they get here! I talked with them briefly; they came down the “gully route”, a locally known detour of the burned area. I checked this out and yes, it is the preferred route. On Google Earth it is obviously a debris flow and looked very unstable. Upon inspection I saw that it was fully vegetated and if unstable, only in extreme rain events.

Day 3: South Fork of Bull Lake Creek at 9450 meadows to the “Headwater Lakes”. 5.8 miles, 6.2 hours, 1140 ft. gain. This was to be an easy day so I had time to fully explore the “Headwater Lakes” that sit on a bench under Milky Ridge. Contingency was added in case the “trail” were in bad condition.

I awoke to light rain. By the time breakfast was finished it was clearing. I started walking the edge of the long meadow and easily found the trail at the south end arriving at a crossing in less than an hour. I decided to follow the use-trail on the east side instead. It turned out to have a moderate amount of deadfall and was tricky to find in a few places. The “real” trail would have likely been much better. At 9:40 I came to a crossing and mistook it for the tail junction another half mile upstream. I waded across and soon realized my mistake. I decided to head directly uphill to intersect the trail to the Headwater Lakes. This is a “short-cut” in miles but likely did not save any time. It was steep, difficult to navigate and tricky to find the real trail. I did pass a low timber structure, likely a trapper’s shelter. Once on the trail, I quickly reached the “pass”. The sky was blue with puffy little clouds, although very windy. I was so happy to get good photos since the last time I was here it was overcast and all photos were quite dismal. I followed the faint trail to the lowest lake in the drainage, tempted to stop at the plush although shady campsites. I saw small fish at the outlet. It was only noon so I decided I would wander around the upper lakes carrying my pack and just drop down on a campsite when I found one. At a small lake, I spotted a big fish; this would be my campsite! It was only 1PM.

After setting up I first went back to the lower lake and tried fishing downstream. It really was too windy to cast a fly. I returned to my little lake which was amazingly protected from the wind and fished while the wind roared overhead like a freight-train. One big fish broke my line and ran off with my fly. The second, I nearly landed but he got away and spit out my fly. Third time is the charm. Got this one and held him tightly. I strung him and put him in a pool, as I took a bath and washed clothes. As much as I like catching big fish, I really did not have good cook gear. I had to cut this fellow in half and it took forever to cook him. Early shadows hit my site so I was in the tent to listen to music by 7PM. All in all, a very good day!

Day 4: “Headwater Lakes” to Lake Kagavah. 8.3 miles, 8 hours, 2660 ft. gain. I had no desire to go back over Windy Gap, so instead headed south using Photo Pass and Kagavah Pass to return to the North Fork of the Little Wins River.

I decided to return directly up the drainage to the highest Headwater Lake (10563). It was a delightful route that would not be so good earlier when wet. I suspect that is why the trail does not go up the drainage. I reached the upper lake in an hour, took some photos and then returned the same route I took into these lakes. I lost the trail at the lower end so just went up the South Fork remaining on the southwest side. I had been on this route in the 1990’s with my daughter. It is very scenic and I spotted many features we had seen. I then cut over to the main drainage just below the upper ponds below Photo Pass. I was surprised to see a fairly large fish at the outlet of these ponds. The meadow was dry and there was a huge dirt path made by elk along the pond, until it ended in a bog. I went back to the trail and started up Photo Pass, 2000 feet of miserable loose, exceedingly steep talus. But it is easy to follow and soon I was on the pass. The “trails” on the north side are basically gone, but no matter, as it is easy travel. This bench above Middle Fork Lake is on the Bridger Forest. Kagavah Pass returns you to the Reservation. The trail has had rockfall so is no longer suitable for horses, but is fine to backpack. It is short and soon I was on top. A well-marked (cairns) trail drops to Kagavah Lake and I was looking for a campsite in 45 minutes. I set up on an established site and then dropped another 200 feet to an unnamed lake to the north to fish. I had never been to this lake. Fish were jumping but all out too far for me to cast. An onshore wind and brushy shore made casting far into the lake more than I could do. I tried fishing Kagavah Lake, but not a strike, not a rise. This was the first meal with no fish; however I did “catch” some great evening photographs.

Day 5: Lake Kagavah to Lake above Heebeecheeche. 8.0 miles, 6.3 hours, 1310 ft. gain. This is my “fish story” day; what a day! I am not going to be too specific about these lakes, just that they are in the upper watershed of Lake Heebeecheeche. After morning photography I dropped down the well-marked trail, crossed the creek going into Sonnicant Lake, and hit the major trail. At Sonnicant, there is a HUGE established campsite area with numerous use-trails and confusing cairns. Surprisingly, nobody was there. Finding the trail north to Lake Heebeecheeche was a bit tricky but I finally got on it. Like most trails on the Reservation, it is not maintained and I really had to pay attention to find it. At the outlet of Lake Heebeecheeche I took a break and saw many smaller fish. I had never walked the south side of the lake and found a good fisherman’s trail. Along this trail I saw bigger fish. I waded crossed the inlet and found another game trail to the upper lakes. It ended up something a deer would prefer to a human. But I eventually got to the first big lake at noon. I decided to fish it for an hour.

First thing, the wind picked up just as I reached into my flies. There went one. So I tied on my last “mosquito” and immediately caught a huge fish. Just as I had him near shore he broke my line and ran off with my fly. So I tied on a black fly looking thing. Again, I got the fish to shore, even had my hand on him, and the fish wiggled loose, broke my line and ran off with my fly. (I am fishing 15-inch size fish with no net). By now my 2-pound test leader had lost all its small line, so I probably now had a 4 pound test line, albeit, only about 4 feet long! I put on a “trash fly” – some yellow thing with half the hairs missing. I did not want to lose another good fly. Caught another fish but this time he simply spit out my fly. I gave up, packed up and continued north to the next large lake where I camped.

I had been at this lake four years ago and saw many fish at the outlet. I saw no fish. I took an inordinate amount of time to find a campsite (above timber, very rocky), set up and went back to the lake to fill water bottles and take a bath. It is very tricky to take a bath with black flies swarming. As I sunk into the icy cold water a curious fish swam by. I then got out the fishing rod and spent an hour fishing the outlet area with no luck. The very inappropriate yellow “trash” fly was still on my line. It was 4PM and I got obsessed and decided to walk to the inlet, not an easy task as one side of the lake was all talus, the other longer and cliffy. I chose the talus, thinking if I caught a fish part-way down I would just come back. I did not take time to go back to camp and get a jacket. Off I went. Well, no fish on the way. The talus became larger and trickier. Soon there were spider webs. Soon every path I could take had a web with a big hairy spider! I hate spiders! Talus went from suitcase size to washing machine size to nearly car size.

After an hour I got off the talus at a small bay near the inlet. One cast and the big fish struck. My rod was bending too much, so I threw down the rod and simply brought him in hand over hand on the line. Luckily, he swam into a little rock jail. I shot my hand down and grabbed his gills cutting my finger; not sure if it was the rocks or the fish. It is amazing how strong a fish can be. I knocked him on the head with a rock. The poor fish now had my blood and his all over. I took a photo and then wondered how I was going to get this fish to camp. I decided to clean the fish and cut it into pieces. Technically this is not legal as you are supposed to transport the fish with head and tail. Oh well. I filled the gallon zip-lock with water and off we went taking nearly an hour to get back to camp continuing on the cliffy side of the lake, just as big black clouds produced a few drops of rain. I steamed the fish for 15 minutes added a little instant potatoes and the fish was my entire dinner. Down at the lake to wash up, I set my glasses on the rocks and stepped on them. How stupid. Now I had no glasses and could not read a map. No matter, I forgot the map I would need the next day anyway. Good thing I know this country well! On top of this, I also lost one handle to my cooking pot. Good day fishing; bad day destroying gear.

Days 6-7: Homeward bound. 10.0 miles, 7.4 hours, 1800 ft. gain Day 6; 3 miles and 1.5 hours Day 7. I could have made it out in one day, but my left knee had a serious discussion with me (the last three miles is all downhill). I camped at “The Meadows” and continued out in the morning. I ran into elk on the return trip as well as a group of people on Entigo Creek, the first people I had seen since the family several days ago.

The drive down the St. Lawrence Road is about as challenging as the hike. There is a section of very rough and rutty one lane road with a big cliff to fall off. A few miles down a bus was going up! Thank goodness I missed meeting that bus on the one-lane part. I am terrible with backing up in such conditions. This was a good trip, perfect weather, goals accomplished, and good fishing too.



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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby giantbrookie » Thu Aug 18, 2016 8:46 pm

Wow, another hiking-fishing epic. That was quite a run you had with those lunkers, even if they kept finding a way to escape.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby hjldennis » Mon Aug 22, 2016 7:37 pm

You are insperational! Just saying :)

I wonder, did you say something when you stepped on your glasses? If a tree falls in a forest..... :)
wandering outdoors and the universe
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby windknot » Wed Aug 24, 2016 10:22 am

Great report, WD. Seriously looking forward to those photos (though I suppose "big fish" can appear even larger in the mind without the visual aids!).
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 05, 2016 2:59 pm

PHOTOS

Day 1 ended at Wilson Creek Lakes, here:
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Where I caught these fish:
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Day 2 it was up and over Windy Ridge to the South Fork of Bull Lake Creek
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Great view of the Wilson Creek Lakes
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Ran into elk, this photo is just a small piece of the herd
Image
enede the day here, on a meadow upstream from the devestation of the 2012 Alpine Lake Fire.
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 05, 2016 3:10 pm

Day 3 I hiked up an old trail to the "Headwaters Lakes" nestled below Milky Ridge, the next big plateau to the west.
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camped at this upper lake
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caught this fish

Day 4 I returned to the South Fork. I first enjoyed this sunrise;\
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Then went up the drainage of the "Headwaters Lakes" to the highest
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And then over a small pass and dropped to the South Fork. The beautiful head of the South Fork is shown in the two photos below:
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Then over Photo Pass and Kagavah Pass ending the day at Kagavah Lake:
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Day 5. Being on the east side of the Divide, sunrise at Kagavah Lake was colorful:
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Then I dropped down an unmaintained trail to Sonnicant Lake:
Image
Image
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 05, 2016 3:20 pm

Day 5 continued:

Then on to Lake Heebeecheeche (don't you just love that name!)
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After walking along the south shore I headed up to the lakes in the drainage above, called "Glacier Creek Lakes"
Fished this lake but the fish all got away:
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Then hiked to this lake, at nearly 11,000 feet, where I camped:
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Walked to the inlet and caught this monster:
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First I had to walk the left rocky shore
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Day 6 I dropped back to the bench containing the Glacier Lakes:
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and on to the next lower lake:
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I continued out the Heebeecheeche Trail and stopped to camp at The Meadows. Next day I walked the 2 hours back to my car.
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby balzaccom » Mon Sep 05, 2016 3:52 pm

Great and photos, Daisy. I happy to see that I am not the only person who has days like that....

And would still rather be backpacking than anything else!

Oh--and nice fish, too1
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check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby rhyang » Fri Sep 09, 2016 7:42 am

Beautiful !
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby windknot » Thu Sep 15, 2016 8:52 am

Wow. Again, congrats on the monster! Thanks for another great report.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby Viper » Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:49 am

Thanks for the great report, WD. Your description brings back fond memories of my time in the Wilson Creek Lakes area and Paradise Basin in the mid-90s, mapping the geology and collecting rock samples. Some of our best fishing was at "Eric Lake," which shows as unnamed on many maps but is named on older USGS maps. My thesis advisor, who was a master fly fisherman and coincidentally named Eric, seemed to have success with every cast in that lake.

I hope to make it over Kegavah Pass someday and climb some of the peaks on the west side. And I definitely remember the road up to the St. Lawrence trailhead -- did it many times in my wife's Honda Accord if you can believe it!
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Re: TR SF Bull Lake Creek loop, Wind Rivers 8/1-7

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Sep 23, 2016 1:36 pm

Thanks for your comments. I have not succeeded in getting many "Sierra-holics" here to read these reports on the Wind Rivers (or at least to make comments).

A fellow I know mapped a quad in the Wind Rivers for his PhD in geology way back in the 1960's. There also is a geology field camp (U of Missouri) in Sinks Canyon near Lander. The geology is so spectular in Wyoming because it is so exposed- so little vegetation.
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