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2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:38 pm
by Wandering Daisy
2020 Wind Rivers (3)
North Fork of the Little Wind River. 8/3 -8/11

After a few days rest in town, the little toe was fine except for a bit of swelling at the end of the day, but both ankles were tweaked and I was still limping. My ambitions planned trip on the Wind River Indian Reservation was cut back to accommodate. Wilson Creek Lakes were eliminated because it would require a difficult, talus-filled hike over Saddle Mountain to continue southward. I would instead go directly in via the better maintained Heebeecheeche Trail and perhaps come out via Raft Lake, if I had time (turned out I just came back out same way I went in; another boring backtrack). I would also deliberately place my feet so as not to limp and take plenty of rests. Well, there was a lot of good fishing to be done, so I would still have plenty to do. The trip turned out to be 49 miles in 8 days, mostly on trails, albeit some poor trails.

Day 1: St. Lawrence RS TH to Wolf Creek. 8.7 miles, 2885 feet gain, 7.2 hours.

I left Lander at the crack of dawn reached the St. Lawrence trailhead at 8AM. The road was as bad as ever, and I scraped bottom with my car a few times in spite of going agonizingly slow. There were plenty of antelope and rabbits, but thankfully no cows blocking the road. I parked at the Ranger Station since I did not have a high clearance vehicle. There is a half mile 4wd road to a small parking area. There were a handful of cars at each parking area.

Soon a fellow came by going back to his car because he had forgotten some critical piece of gear. I mentally made a check of my gear! It was more like I was taking too much gear as my pack weighed in at 29 pounds without water. Again I took extra socks and insoles and wading shoes. At The Meadows there was a large group coming out on the trail from Raft Lake.
1464_The Meadows_edited-1.jpg
I continued up the trail over Entigo Pass. Half way up a huge family group caught up to me. A packer was taking in their gear and they were walking in with day packs. They were headed for Wilson Creek Lakes, so we would depart ways soon. I took a long rest on top before dropping to Entigo Creek, which barely had water and a few unhappy small fish. No wading needed- just hop across on rocks. A new sign was nailed to a tree pointing the way to Raft Creek. I took another rest at the Wilson Creek-Heebeecheeche trail junction.
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Then I dropped to the crossing of Wilson Creek, where I ran into another large group of two families with kids of various ages taking a long lunch stop. I crossed the thin single log with a dubious hand rope while they all watched. I half expected a standing ovation when I did not fall off! I continued on; it seemed forever to get to Wolf Creek, the next water source. Although only 3PM I got a nice bath just before the two families caught up with me. A storm was brewing and thunder boomed in the distance. They were absolutely set on getting to Lake Heebeecheeche (more on that later). I quickly set up my tent and ducked inside just as it began to sprinkle. This was a very boring campsite, with no views. I got out and cooked dinner when it began raining again. There was nothing to do but rest my feet and listen to music.
1318_Wolf Creek camp_edited-1.jpg

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:50 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 2: Wolf Creek to north shore Glacier Lake 10643. 6 miles, 1100 feet gain, 7 hours, including fishing

I cooked breakfast, packed up and continued on the trail. I decided to go to Sonnicant Lake first, since I would miss it if I exited via Raft Creek. I had forgotten that I must wade across the creek from Heebeecheeche Lake; it was mid-calf deep and pretty swift but felt good on my feet. I learned later that the two families followed this creek to Lake Heebeecheeche instead of taking the “trail” that is shown on the map (this “trial” has been totally destroyed by deadfall). I took the main trail to Sonnicant , surprisingly finding nobody at this very popular established camp area. I took a few photos and then continued on the less used trail to Lake Heebeecheeche. For the most part the trail is well marked with cairns, if not used much. Deadfall required detours quite often.
1319-20_Sonnicant Lake_edited-1.jpg
I reached the outlet at noon to find the two families camped. We had a nice chat; they had been coming here for years and were very knowledgeable and willing to fill me in on the best fishing. They told me of their short-cut route and said they got there very tired and at dark.
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After eating half my lunch I continued following discontinuous elk trails towards Glacier Lake 10465. The drainage above Lake Heebeecheeche is referred to as “Glacier Lake Basin” and contains many scenic lakes with good fishing.
1338-40_Glacier Creek Basin_edited-2.jpg
I over-shot the elevation so had to drop about 100 feet to the outlet which I hopped across on rocks. I had previously camped and fished here. Shortly I came to another lake full of smaller fish and stopped for a few photos and finished my lunch. Although very scenic, I skipped Glacier Lake 10927 so I could have plenty of time to fish Glacier Lake 10643. This lake had skunked me twice before and I was determined to catch a fish there! From the ridge north of the lake, I had to fight my way through Krumholz to reach the north shores. Later, when I left this lake I found out there was a better route. So it goes sometimes.
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I took forever debating between several campsites. The big meadow had better views but could get buggy if the wind died down. I instead chose a site on a drier spot east which was also closer to the water and had a nice flat rock that made a great “kitchen”. After setting up, taking a bath and gathering water I fished. The lake was rough with whitecaps and the wind was stiff. A little bay west of my campsite was wind protected by a peninsula. I thought fish may like this calm water, and I was right! Soon I caught a 14-15” fat Cutthroat (I think it was a hybrid of some kind). I was surprised to land it since I had only barbless hooks.
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The evening became very windy and I had to cook in the shelter of a big rock and use my backpack as an additional windbreak. When I found wind breaks I would be plagued by black flies, actually Minnesota Buffalo Gnats and unlike mosquitoes, they are active in sunlight, but hide in the grass once the sun goes down. The wind continued through the night, but it was unusually warm.

Day 3: Lake 10643 to small north of Lake Kagavah. 5 miles, 1200 feet gain, 6 hours, including fishing
1333-34_sunrise Lk10643_edited-2.jpg
The morning dawned lighting the tops of the peaks with brilliant orange. I photographed while eating breakfast and packing up. I had explored around a bit the previous day and found a cairned route through the Krumholtz to get to the outlet pond of the lake. You cannot directly follow the shore because you end up in thick scrub timber. I crossed the outlet of the pond, bashing though a bit of brush, and then descended nearly to the inlet of Lake Heebeecheeche. It was a route finding nightmare. I had previously stayed higher and side-hilled in boulders. I thought I could find a better route this time; but it actually was worse. I then ascended elk trails on the north side of the creek that drains Spider Lake, going a bit too high and again running into thick Krumholtz that prevented me from directly dropping to Spider Lake. So I traversed to the creek to reach the outlet of Spider Lake. I took a break and was assaulted by hordes of black flies. After a few photos I quickly left!
1341-2-4_Spider Lk.jpg

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:57 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 3 continued.

After a break at the outlet of Sonnicant I was surprised to again run into the two families, who had just crossed and were taking a lunch break. They were headed south to Lake Solitude for two days; I was headed west to Lake Kagavah (really the small unnamed lake to the north, which has fish whereas Kagavah is apparently barren nowadays). We again changed greetings and went on our ways. I managed to jump rocks across the creek to get on the Kagavah Pass Trail. The steep ascent slowed me down. I found a nice use-trail that goes directly to my desired lake, avoiding having to go to Kagavah and then drop steep slabs to my destination.
After much looking around I settled on a site in timber next to a little peninsula that would be a good place to fish. I set up my tent and it started to spit rain again. As I started to fish three fellows walked by to fish a bit farther down the shore. They had day-hiked here from Sonnicant Lake. Five minutes earlier and they would have caught me bathing! I caught a 14-inch fish and called it a day. I was pretty wet already from the off-and-on rain. It seemed like a long day; my feet were sore. The wind picked up and I was glad I had chosen a site with good wind protection. It spit rain off and on all night.
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Day 4: Lake north of Kagavah to Ice Lake. 5 miles, 850 feet gain, 7.5 hours, including 2 miles/4 hours fishing and photographing.

Overcast skies greeted me when I awoke. It started raining just as I had the tent down but not yet packed. I quickly moved everything under the nearby trees, bunking my head on branches. Then I ate breakfast while trying to keep everything somewhat dry. I became exceedingly disorganized! By the time I left the rain had stopped. It was the tail end of the previous day’s storm, thank goodness.

Back on the Kagavah Lake trail, I headed up to the lake to photograph. I took my pack with me since I was hesitant to leave it since bears were known to ramble around this area. I missed the good early morning lighting on Kagavah Lake, but it was fine for photos back down to the lake I just left. A few years ago I had camped at Kagavah Lake and got wonderful sunrise photos, but fished for hours and got nothing. So this year I got the fish, but not the best photos.
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1361-62_Lake Kagavah_edited-2.jpg
On the way down I met two young fellows day-hiking. I again managed to barely jump the rocks across the stream. Shortly I turned up the VERY steep trail to Lake Solitude. Even with short switchbacks I had to struggle to keep from falling. After about 300 feet gain it flattened at a small lake/pond. I do not know if it has fish. The trail goes missing as I continued to a saddle above the north end of Lake Solitude. I then traversed the ridge west of Lake Solitude and dropped to a small pond before ascending the ridge south again for about 250 feet more gain. There is an off-and-on game trail which someone has added a few cairns as it descends to the lower Ice Lake.
1372-74_Ice Lakes camp_edited-2.jpg
For all the flat terrain near Ice Lakes, smooth campsites were few and far between! Everything was either rocky or lumpy grass. I finally found two good sites that had enough flat, smooth ground to set up my tent, which has a relatively large footprint for a one-person tent. Luckily, but not necessarily intentionally, I picked a wonderfully wind-protected spot behind a small hillside next to the outlet of the lower Ice Lake.
After I set up, I wanted to take a bath at the outlet, but the two family groups were there in force, fishing. They had day-hiked up from Lake Solitude. I walked all the way to a shallow pond to the north, which turned out a good place for a bucket-bath as the water was very warm in the shallows. Back at camp I put my fishing gear together but the wind really picked up. I fished the protected outlet stream and hooked several fish but never landed one. The family had better luck spin fishing in the wind and landed some nice fish from Ice Lake; less luck at Darrin Lake. I was impressed that the Dads were all helping the little kids instead of doing their own fishing.
As I cooked my fishless dinner, I looked up and saw a plume of water being lifted off the lake and thrown 100 feet in the air! Not exactly fly casting weather and I was mighty gland I was protected in my little tree covered hollow. It calmed down a bit so I could walk do some good late day photography looking down at Lake Solitude. The wind howled all night so I put in my ear plugs so I could sleep.

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 2:06 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 5: Ice Lake to Lake Solitude (backtrack route). 6 miles, 1000 feet gain, 7.5 hours including day-hikes and fishing.

The wind had calmed by morning and after breakfast I walked around the lower Ice Lake and up to Darrin Lake to photograph. Back at camp I packed up and decided to take the long route around instead of crossing the difficult talus at the base of Petroleum Peak to reach mid-shore on the east side of Lake Solitude. So I walked 3 miles instead of 1 mile in addition to 3 more miles of day-hikes. Any way you look at it, a very easy day.
1390-91_Lower Ice Lake_edited-2.jpg
1393_Darrin Lake pond_edited-1.jpg
I returned to the ridge on the north end of Lake Solitude and found a well-marked trail to the outlet of Lake Solitude. Here I dropped my pack and walked up to Pt. 10675 hoping for good lighting for a photo of Moraine Lake. I was too late, ending up with shooting towards the sun. I then looked for campsites on the way back to my pack. Again I walked up that hill and dropped to a campsite on the bay north of the prominent peninsula on the east shore. The wind was howling again, and this was the only water that was calm enough to fish. I set up on a very tight spot, barely fitting, not able to use one of my tent doors. But it was sheltered.
1399_Moraine Lake_edited-1.jpg
After a snack and rest I day-hiked to Moraine Lake, even though I knew the lighting was not optimum for photos. If I waited for morning light the next day, I would not have enough time to go to Lake Polaris. A few years ago I day-hiked around Moraine Lake and got some wonderful photos. As much as I would have liked to camp at the inlet of Moraine Lake, this would be a feet-killer, and this trip I was being very conservative. So far my feet were doing great.
1405-6_Moraine Buttress_edited-2.jpg
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1414_Moraine Lake outlet_edited-1.jpg

Back at camp, I tried fishing with not even a bite. Rain ruined dinner, but the storm lighting was perfect for photos. I still would have liked a fish; cannot eat photos. I was now in solitude at Lake Solitude! The families had left. It sprinkled off and on all night.
1419_Solitude camp_edited-2.jpg
1423_Storm at Solutude_edited-1.jpg
1426_storm at Solitude_edited-1.jpg

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 2:14 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 6: Lake Solitude to Sonnicant Lake w/side trip to Lake Polaris. 7 miles, 950 feet gain, 9 hours including 4.5 hours of fishing.

A beautiful sunrise offered perfect lighting for morning photos. I headed back to the trail junction at the saddle above the north end of Lake Solitude. There were cairns everywhere, too much timber to see where one was, and a confusing maze of trails. Luckily I had been here before and recognized the trail I needed to take. The descending trail became less distinct and cairns less until I missed it the last short section before I intersected the trail. A use-trail continued towards Lake Polaris with many splits; I took a high trail and jumped across several braids in the stream from Lake Solitude before intersecting the lower trail (the horse trail) which ran right by a quarter section USGS bench mark. The trail split again and I took the higher trail, which dropped to the outlet of Lake Polaris. Returning, I followed the lower trail system; it was six of one, half dozen the other, neither way particularly better.
1430-32_morning at Solitude_edited-2.jpg
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Four years ago there were fish at the outlet. I fished about an hour both along the shore and in the outlet stream and did not get a bite. The wind was strong and water rough so perhaps the fish simply were hanging out on the bottom. I did see a few very small baby fish. It was tempting to camp here and check a potential route to the inlet to Moraine Lake. But my feet were healing and I did not want to rock the boat.
1436_Polaris Lake_edited-1.jpg
After an hour and half, I returned to the trail and ate lunch at Wykee Lake. I did not try to fish Wykee. The trail up to Sonnicant quickly deteriorated into a mess of deadfall. As I neared the top threatening clouds quickly built and a brief downpour hit just as I crossed the outlet and hunkered under trees. I wanted to camp at the north end of the downstream unnamed lake and got about half way down the trail when another storm was upon me. Rather than hunt for a campsite where I had never been, I turned around and went back to Sonnicant and quickly set up in an established site just as rain again began to pour down as I set up the tent. It was over as soon as it came! I decided to fish the lower lake anyway, taking fishing rod and rain jacket. I caught a fat 12-inch Brook Trout. Back at Sonnicant I could not even get a bite, so took a bath instead.
I cooked my fish and had a leisurely 3-course dinner when a packer came by to unload gear at the adjacent campsite about 5PM. I did not talk to him because I knew he was running late and needed to quickly get out of there to return before dark. Half hour later three very tired guys (father and sons) arrived, quickly set up and went into their tents.

Day 7: Sonnicant Lake to The Meadows. 9.7 miles, 1960 feet gain, 8 hours, including side trip to Lake 9892.

I got up early to avoid eating breakfast with black flies. I then walked to nearby ponds where I could get morning reflection shots. When I returned to my campsite the fellows were up and I spoke with them. They were base-camping and staying a week.
1442_Sonnicant Pond_edited-1.jpg
My intent was to carefully place each foot, not limp and stop near Entigo Creek. When I reached the point on the trail where I could look down on Lake 9892 I decided to drop down. I always just passed by and wondered about that lake. The lake is choked with vegetation but accessible by walking on low angle slabs. There were two crude campsites and a fire ring. I did not try to fish, but it looked like it could support fish if anyone had planted them; waterfalls downstream and upstream precluded any natural migration of fish from Lake Heebeecheeche or Movo Lake downstream.
1448-49_Lake 9892_edited-2.jpg
Returning to the trail, I chugged on, stopping to photograph a few of the ponds along the trail, including one with lily pads. When I reached Wilson Creek, I hopped across rocks at the outlet of the lake above instead of walking the skinny log high above the raging outlet stream. I would have fished the lake but one had to wade through a swamp to get to the shore; same with the next shallow lake.
1456_Lilipad Pond_edited-1.jpg
A week earlier there still was water in a small creek just before Entigo Pass. I thought camping in the surrounding trees would be better than the horse camp below. Unfortunately the creek had dried up! On the way up the trail, a badger was walking down the trail; I had never seen one before. What a silly looking animal! I stopped and said out loud, “who are you?” He scampered off before I could get a picture. With no water I had to continue and I my feet began to hurt, as well as my back, slowing to the point of a crawl. I stopped and put in more cushy insoles, which helped a bit. In the back of my mind was the constant fear that there would be no water at The Meadows.

It was nearly 6PM when I reached the little spring with its cool water and nearby campsite. Thank goodness! It again was very windy and I was thankful for the sheltered site. I cooked up a concoction of all my left over food into one soup, which was surprisingly good. The next morning’s breakfast would be half of a pack of trail food. I had only planned on seven days food. I was beat and happy to end the long day. The constant coyote calls were a bit disconcerting, so I put in my ear plugs, took Advil and slept well

Day 8: walk out. 3 miles downhill 1500 feet.

I was up early and my feet felt good! I met three fellows who were going up. When I reached my car, all tires were still inflated and it started. I was thankful that I did not meet any other car on my drive down the horrible road. This road is so narrow with steep drop offs on both sides in a few places that I think I would have just stopped the car, got out, and cried and told the other person to move my car. The shadows in the road made it difficult to see the killer rocks, so I scraped bottom a few times. Once down to the flats, the road turns into massive ruts that would eat my car. I was so glad to reach the cracked pavement that lead to the highway. Half an hour I was in town; real coffee and a hot shower!

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 4:25 pm
by Harlen
Fantastic WD! We love the look of Lake Solitude and Sonnicant, and, and... What a couple of great trips so far, and these are the ones you had to amend a bit. Looking forward to the rest.
You say about the noble Badger:
What a silly looking animal! I stopped and said out loud, “who are you?”
And the Badger replied?

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 5:21 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Here is the map that I forgot to put in.

St Lawrence Loop.JPG
Harlen, I did not hear what the badger said. I would guess it was "what the fXX" I own this trail, and who the xxx are you?"

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Thu Oct 08, 2020 5:26 pm
by robertseeburger
I really enjoyed this trip report as I have been in this area twice now. But I have never been to Polaris and Moraine Lakes.
Your pictures are so much better than mine! In this area on fishing, I remember one of the folks from Lander replied to a question about which lakes to prioritize and he said "they are all good". I thought he was just being evasive, but in retrospect after two visits, I think that is just the correct answer.
Beautiful area, great trip report.

On trail conditions, you mention the downed trees.. I remember a lot of downed trees and very slow going from Movo Lake to Wykee Lake as well.

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; North Fork Little Wind River

Posted: Thu Oct 08, 2020 6:44 pm
by gary c.
I always enjoy your pictures and report so much.