2020 Wind Rivers; Smith Lakes

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Wandering Daisy
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2020 Wind Rivers; Smith Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Sep 08, 2020 5:20 pm

2020 Wind Rivers; Smith Lakes
7/19 – 7/22


Hopes of doing a thru-route were off when I could not yet get my broken little toe into my regular hiking shoes. Fortunately I had also planned many loop trips, so now I had only to pick two for my 14-day “self-quarantine” as well as an easy early trip due to my toe. Big Sandy or Dickinson Park trailheads had good options. I was swayed by having a safe, cool storage for all my backpack food and the thought of a nice hot shower, so I continued over South Pass, quickly dropped off my summer’s food in my friend’s basement in Lander (which is as good as cold storage), took a quick shower and bought my fishing licenses, a $120 annual out-of-state Wyoming license and a $70 annual senior discount Wind River Indian Reservation license/permit ($180 total!!!). The road to Dickinson Park was as bad as ever; exceedingly slow going. I stayed at the free and empty FS campsite.

Since I had to hike in my old overly large Keen heavy hikers, I decided to do a 4-day test trip to easy-to-reach Smith Lakes, hopefully including a short but difficult off-trail section to High Meadow Lake for a nice loop (more on this later). Years ago I had taken my 5-year old daughter here! Although not big peaks or cliffs, this area is quite pretty with lots of easy to catch fish, if not the biggest fish and of moderate elevation for acclimation.

I stayed up until dark getting organized. Having mistakenly put the 2-man tent poles in the 3-man tent that I brought for car camping, I had to make do with my old Copper Spur1 with broken zippers. Thankfully it was cold enough the mosquitoes had already left.
Smith Lakes Loop.JPG

Day 1: Smith Lakes TH to Middle Lake. 6.7 miles, 1225 feet gain, 5 hours (plus 1 mi/1.5 hr. fishing)

I was awakened early by the ring of bells on several horses (pack station down the road). Good alarm clock! I needed the extra time to finish packing. I then put the food for my second trip in the bear box and drove to the trailhead getting on the trail about 9AM.
The trail immediately crosses a large bog on a boardwalk (thank goodness!). My little toe was a bit sore, but I had cut the forefoot section from an old wool sock to give it more room. I was pretty klutzy in oversized shoes, but limped along at a reasonable pace the 6 miles on a good trail to Middle Lake. Not liking the established campsite I continued to the inlet, where I failed to find a better site, so returned and set up. Three other hikers came by as I was setting up.

The wind formed whitecaps on the lake so I fished the more protected southwest side of the lake and caught three smallish brook trout and then hiked further along the shoreline on a use trail which disappeared before I reached the inlet. Murphy’s Law of campsites; here I found a much better campsite but was not going to move at this late time. Back down the trail and across the outlet to camp I then cooked dinner and retired before dark. In the middle of the night, I heard odd sounds and though I saw a person lurking among the trees. I later learned from the other hikers that they saw a big bull moose at my campsite the next morning after I had left. I wonder if that is what I had heard.
1110_Middle Lake_small.jpg
Day 2: Middle Lake to Mendarrin Lake. 3.3 miles, 765 feet gain, 4.5 hours (plus 1 mile, 2 hrs. fishing-photographing)

I went back to the southwest shore to take photos in the better morning lighting before packing up and leaving. On the way I took a short side-trip to Cloverleaf Lake for photos. The trail drops to Cook Lake and then gets somewhat confusing at the west end as several use-trails head off in different directions. I pretty much followed a use-trail all the way to Mendarrin Lake. It did help that I had been here twice before. Both Cook Lake and Cloverleaf have fish but I did not want to carry fish up to Mendarrin Lake.
1118-19_Cloverleaf Lk_small.jpg
1127_downstream_Mendarrin_small.jpg
I found a wonderful campsite and then took a bath, washed a shirt and wandered around before lazily fishing for a few hours. I caught several 8-9 inch fish for dinner. Although my right little toe felt fine, it was swollen and my limping had created a tweak in my left ankle. I was exceedingly clumsy so had to reconsider my intended route. The direct route to High Meadow Lake was a “fall you die” route up a steep granite ledge. Trip over myself, I probably would, so I decided to go the long way via returning to the Meadow Lake Trail, trading a 2 mile off-trail route for a 7.5 mile trail route. If my foot felt bad at the trail junction, I could simply walk out to my car.

I rested my feet, now a swollen little right toe and a tweaked left ankle. After cooking the fish for dinner I wandered around for a few more photos before heading into the tent quite early to listen to music.


1161_Mendarrin_outlet.jpg
1167_Mendarrin_camp_small.jpg




1132-34_Mendarrin.jpg
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Smith Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Sep 08, 2020 5:26 pm

Day 3: Mendarrin Lake to High Meadow Lake. 7.5 miles, 1050 feet gain, 6 hrs (plus an hour of fishing)


I returned to Cook Lake and dropped down to the outlet to get some photos. Nobody was camped there. In fact I only met one other person the entire day. Unknown to me, I took the wrong trail back from the outlet. Thankfully I realized this mistake soon enough to cut over to the correct trail where I had left my pack.
1172_Cook Lake.jpg
Then it was backtrack to Smith Lake, where I ate lunch, but did not fish. Smith Lake is choked with trees so casting would be difficult. Another 2 miles backtrack and I took the High Meadow Lake Trail. Shortly I had to wade across the creek, annoyed by mosquitoes but the cool water on my feet felt wonderful. The two miles to the next trail junction (Sanford Park-High Meadow junction) seemed to go on forever. I struggled with the two more miles to Cliff Lake where the trail turned into a bog. This stretch of trail is on the edges of several large grass-filled meadows with a small stream meandering down the center. From Cliff Lake a short 200-foot steep climb brought me to High Meadow Lake. Cliff Lake has very limited camping and is quite buggy.
1181_High Meadow Lk camp.jpg
At High Meadow Lake, there were dozens of established campsites- all empty. I set up, bathed and then went fishing. The fish here were much larger (looked like 12 inches or more) but I failed to land one. Unbeknownst to me, I was fishing with a barbless hook; the flies were a gift and I did not notice that they were barbless. Had I more energy I would have changed flies and kept at it but I was pretty worn out by this time, so called it a day. Did not help that the wind was howling and the lake was full of whitecaps.
1201-03_High Meadow Lake.jpg
1195-97_High Meadow Lk.jpg

Day 4: High Meadow Lake to Smith Lake TH. 8.5 miles, 1215 feet gain, 6 hours.

I awoke and dropped down to Cliff Lake to photograph before breakfast. Then after breakfast I photographed High Meadow Lake. When on the east side of the Wind Rivers, early morning offers the best lighting for photos. By 9AM I packed up and left. The walk out was pretty boring, as I limped along.
1188-89_Cliff Lake.jpg
I reached my car mid-afternoon and drove the two miles back to the campground, first stopping for a bath in Dickinson Creek, just as a group of people on horses passed by down the road. Then I filled up my water jugs, picked a campsite and re-packed for the second trip. A nice couple camped next to me and we had a nice “social distance” conversation.

My husband bought me an InReach mini and I had tested it out on tracking. Unfortunately, it was now nearly out of power. I soon realized I would not be able to recharge it in my car while it was idling, so I drove to the pack station to see if they could recharge it. I know the owner but he was in town, but the staff was helpful and they had recently converted to solar power so would be able to charge it overnight. The friendly young wrangler who helped me was a high school math teacher in a nearby town.

I was up late packing for my next 8-day trip. I walked around in my regular hiking shoes and the over-sized ones, and decided that my toe would be fine in my regular shoes. It is amazing how much better I could walk in shoes that actually fit! Instead of Crocks for wading, I took comfortable tennis shoes that I could walk out in if needed. This added weight, but did give me a backup. It was an exhausting day, but I was ready for trip 2.
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Smith Lakes

Post by Harlen » Tue Sep 08, 2020 7:58 pm

That was fast! What a pleasure to have your Trip Reports back online so soon. That is some pretty lake country. I hope the toe comes around for the subsequent trips, so we can see you up on the top of the peaks. Cheers, Ian.

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Smith Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Sep 09, 2020 7:26 am

When faced with the chores of clean-up after the long trip and cleaning the house, I usually default to processing my photos :D . Trip reports are more fun than cleaning.

Turned out that Dickinson Park was the perfect place for a "quarantine". It was pretty empty, with only a handful of cars at either trailhead (Smith Lakes and Bears Ears). The pack station had cut its clients to half. The horrible road and the fact that you need a Reservation permit to drive the road (although the trailheads are on FS land) keeps a lot of people away. Actually more horses than people. Later in the summer I did a trip out of Big Sandy, and it was a zoo! packed with people.

Before the toe problem, I had planned to combine the first 2 trips into one 10-day loop, a much more efficient way to see the area with less back-track. I am afraid that reduced expectations was the theme of my entire summer. But I guess any trip is better than none.

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Smith Lakes

Post by Harlen » Wed Sep 09, 2020 9:32 am

WD writes:
Later in the summer I did a trip out of Big Sandy, and it was a zoo! packed with people.
We can only hope that beyond the hordes of people you were seeing the storied peaks of the "Cirque of the Towers?" And that stunning, jagged beauty-"Warbonnet Peak?" I think the name "Jackass Pass" is a great draw for Americans-- I know I just had to get there.

BTW, when we were there, early in a snowy year, we had it to ourselves.

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Smith Lakes

Post by gary c. » Wed Sep 09, 2020 11:00 am

As always a great report and pictures. It's easy to see why you love that area so much.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray

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