TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

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TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by oddtiger » Sat Sep 26, 2020 4:44 pm

2020 is the third year I backpack with kids (Laura is 7 and Mia is 5, our dog Chopper is 8). The recent fire/smoke situation has resulted in three permits canceled and I finally got some time writing trip reports about backpacking with kids, before daydreaming next trip. This one is about our trip to the Winds last month.

At the beginning of 2020, we had a summer plan: wife and kids going to Malaysia in July and August, me and dog exploring Sierra every weekend. Well, nobody expected the whole world would get stuck in 2020… No more school, wfh, no international trips/flights. Good news is that we have more time for mountain activities. Our august plan is to visit Yellowstone/Grand Teton for a few days, and backpack a loop around Cirque of the Towers: Big Sandy TH -> Marms Lake -> Billys Lake -> Texas Pass -> Lonesome Lake -> Jackass Pass -> Big Sandy Lake -> TH. I had this backpacking plan with kids long time ago, but didn’t expect we would do this with a preschooler...


Anyway, my proposed plan to my ladies, was a 5-day backpacking trip with 5-7 miles each day. But plan always changes. We ended up finishing the same itinerary in 4 days including a zero day at Lonesome (with a side trip to Lizard Head Meadow). Here are some pictures/details of the trip:


Day 1: Big Sandy TH -> Marms Lake. About 7.5mi and 1500’ elevation gain.

We arrived at the TH at 7pm the day before. This is the most crowded TH I have ever seen … packed with vehicles within about 0.7 miles from the actual TH. As we drove a RV we had to park further but that’s not a big deal. It’s a quite/clear night, and happened to be the active time of Perseid meteor shower. Laura and I saw 5 shooting stars before sleep while Limo and Mia got 2.

We started our hiking around 9:15 in the morning, which could be considered “early” for our family trips. Cars packed all the way out of the sight from TH. Laura counted them from our parking spot to the TH, more than 200!:

parking lot:
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After a flat section of around 0.7mi, we headed to northwest (Fremont trail on the map). Weather was a bit hot for climbing up but kids seemed to be entertained well by picking some wax currants and wild mushrooms. There was another group (two dads and three boys) passing us on the way up and they also planned to get Marms Lake for the day.

potty break at Meeks Lake:
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After Meeks lake the mountain range started to show up, Laura and Mia took turns to lead the group, and Chopper always followed the very first person.
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We had our lunch (dried braised beef with soybean sauce, wrapped with tortilla) at Mirror lake after passing Fish Creek Meadow. It’s almost 1pm, and the cloud started to roll in. Forecast said a 40% chance of thunder storms, and that usually meant 20% chance of hail to me at high altitudes. Our plan was to camp at Dads Lake if we had to seek a shelter and call it a day. Fortunately, the rain/hail didn’t fall until we arrived at Marms Lake at around 3pm.

The troop arrived at Dads Lake before 2pm, Mia helped carry the backpack on downslope:
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And we set up our tent at Marms Lake a bit after 3pm:
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It rained a bit and then hailed for a short period. After that girls enjoyed their pretend play in hammock, and Limo started to cook the main course, a backpacking version of Hong Kong claypot rice bowl (without claypot). I tried to catch some fish for dinner, and succeeded with three brookies somewhere between 10-12”. We grilled the fish over the charcoal, with garlic salt and olive oil. The wind went down at night and it was pleasantly warm, and there’s no bugs. I set the tent door towards the northeast so that we could watched the meteor shower before sleep. We also discussed the itinerary of following days. Since our pace was pretty fast in day 1, all three ladies thought we could be more aggressive and possibly finish the trip in 3 days! Guess who’s the most conservative person in this family😊. I tried to make a point that Texas Pass might be a bit difficult for little kids and we'd better take our time, but my opinion was outvoted. So, the new plan was to push it all the way to Lonesome lake the next day, which meant more than 7.5mi and 1850 gain for the kids.


Laura with our dinner fish:
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Hammock is a nice addition to keep kids busy at campground:
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Day 2: Marms Lake -> Billys Lake -> Lonesome Lake. 7.75mi, 1860 gain/1580 loss.


The day started with a calm morning and hot breakfast (oatmeal with powdered milk for me and Mia, fried flour with honey/nuts/sesame for Limo and Laura, and, well, Kirkland dog food for Chopper…). We managed to depart right after 9:30am.

Chopper’s morning routine at Marms Lake:
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Mia helped fetch water in the morning:
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We met with two groups (2 backpackers each, father and son) heading north to Hailey Pass in the morning, and a large group camping at Shadow lake with a couple of beautiful horse. The horses were very tall and I almost mistook them for moose in the meadow. The view got better as we marched to the east along Washakie creek. The wind picked up in the afternoon with fierce gusts and pushed us forward for the most time, but apparently for the several groups coming down from Texas Pass it’s not much fun. We arrived at Billys Lake at 1:15pm and boiled some water for our freeze-dried food. Limo got a pouch of Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken, I had Beef Stroganoff, kids shared a pouch of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, and Chopper got a treat and chance to clean up all dishes.


Girls hopping over Washakie creek:
IMG_2268.jpg
Lunch time at Billys Lake:
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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by oddtiger » Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:07 pm

Around 2:15pm we headed to Texas Pass. The wind got stronger as we climbed higher, and I had to agree that camping at Billys Lake or Barren Lake was not a good idea. There’s not much wind-proof site up here. The trail was a bit steeper since Shadow Lake, and for the first time of the trip Laura complaint of her backpack. From our past backpacking experience, once the kids started to complain, they would lose interest to everything soon. I tried to interest her by offering several rounds of snack and resting often, which seemed to work well. Eventually we arrived at the bottom of Texas Pass around 3:30pm.

Mia hiking towards Barren Lake from Billys Lake:
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Texas Lake and Texas Pass:
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There was a faint trial up Texas Pass but we missed it at the beginning, and ended up with a steep talus hopping. This part was always kids’ favorite in all of our backpacking trips, but not Chopper’s. It’s because Chopper’s backpack would get him stuck between rocks. It led to injury in the past, so Limo and I split his saddle pack for the talus climbing. The wind was really strong at certain point, especially for the little ones. Limo and I had to hold their hands to make sure they don’t lose balance.

Everyone’s working on their own route up:
IMG_2301.jpg
Here is a short video on our way up, you can hear the wind:



At 4:15pm we arrived at the top of the pass, and it felt like the gust wind pushed/blew us over it. We met a couple of young hikers and they took a family photo for us:
IMG_2341.jpg

On the other side of the pass, the wind magically went down to nothing. We really enjoyed the view along the trail down to the basin, especially when Lion’s Head showed up in front of us, then the “towers”. There’s a patch of snow below the pass, and grassy trail down to the woods after that. The mountain looks much greener than the same elevation in Sierra, at least in this region. The very last section down to Lonesome Lake was very steep and loose, and we probably just walked along a seasonal creek bed, not a trail. Anyway gravity does most work so we took our time and again had quite a few snack breaks. Mia was pumped with chocolate cookies while Laura was satisfied with home-made beef jerky.


Coming down from Texas Pass:
IMG_2376.jpg
Cirque of the Towers from the north:
IMG_2359.jpg
At 6pm we finally descend to the north shore of Lonesome Lake. It had been a long day, but it’s not over yet. We need a good level site for our 4-ppl tent, and there was no camping allowed within 0.25mi of the lake (and yet a few groups still camped at the lake). So we hiked down along North Popo Agie River hoping to find one. Oh boy that’s hard with exhausted kids. At exactly 0.25mi away from the lake, I went solo downstream to search around, and eventually found an OK one next to the meadow. It’s pretty dry near the meadow at this time of year, but there were a lot of bear scats and we literally just slept on the poop. It’s already past 7pm when we set up the tent. We had some instant noodles (Korean spicy ramen, Japanese soybean ramen and Taiwan Mazesoba noodle), and retreated into our tent after. The gust wind was still there but we all slept well after the long day. Limo downloaded some kids audio books in her phone for story time. I asked the girls which part was the their favorite so far, the answer was “climbing Texas Pass” and “marshmallow over the charcoal”.

Lonesome lake:
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Our tent under the towers:
IMG_2383.jpg

Day 3: Zero day. Daydreaming/fishing at Lonesome Lake, a short walk to Lizard Head Meadows. Probably 2-3 miles.


There’s not much to say about this day. Weather was perfect, no wind. We relaxed in the hammock at the lake. Mia went to fish with me on the north side of the lake while Laura did some stretching routine learned from her rhythmic gymnastics class. The first two casts Mia made, got us one brook trout and one cutthroat. Then I tried for an hour and only landed a couple of hybrid that looked more like cutty. They were not big (10-12”) but pretty fat. Girls also swam/role played in the lake, and tried to pond some larva at the outlet with their aquarium fish net. During the day It’s actually pretty empty near the lake, but there are many groups showing up after 4pm.


At 4pm we then hiked down to Lizard Head Meadows along North Popo Agie River and then back to our campsite. We grilled the fish, had dinner (claypot rice and sausage) and roasted a few marshmallows. This was a typical zero day with kids in the backcountry: a little bit of everything and a happy wife. Some pictures:


Morning reflection at the creek:
DSC02393.jpg
Activities at the lake:
DSC02358.jpg
IMG_2421.jpg
Camp photo:
IMG_2438.jpg
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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:29 pm

What were the dates of your trip? By the time I got there on 8/17 a campfire ban was in effect so no roasting fish on a campfire. And yes, the number of cars at the trailhead was crazy. Kids and dogs can do better off-trail travel then you think they would. I think walking on trails for kids is a bit boring whereas kids are natural climbers. That was a long day for kids of that age. Yes, you missed the trail at the bottom of Texas Pass. It has been a long time since I was there but a good trail goes all the way down. Likely you started up a bit too soon. Were the kids impressed by the view of Pingora? I think that view coming down off Texas Pass is one of the best in the Wind Rivers.

Favorite picture is Laura with the fish. I love that expression on her face!
Last edited by Wandering Daisy on Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by oddtiger » Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:32 pm

Day 4: Back to Big Sandy TH over Jackass Pass, 9.1mi, 1000’ gain and 2200’ loss.


This was a big day for the kids as we had to cover the distance that I originally planned for the last two days. But after the Day 2 challenge, I felt pretty confident. We left our campsite around 9:30am and arrived at Jackass Pass at 10:45am. It’s a very hot day and Chopper tried to hide in any shade he could find along the trail. We spent 20min at the north side of the pass to rest and take some pictures.


Hiking up Jackass Pass:
DSC02441.jpg
Picture time at the pass:
GOPR0842.jpg
IMG_2468.jpg

Going down to Arrowhead Lake, there were two options at the inlet. One could either hike up 200 feet along the marked trail, or hop over the talus along the west shore following a “climber’s trail” (there was actually a sign saying it’s climber’s trail). We did the latter one and that might be a mistake, as I had to carry Chopper’s pack again.


Walking down Jackass Pass towards Arrowhead Lake:
IMG_2487.jpg
Arrowhead Lake:
IMG_2494.jpg
“climber’s trail”:
IMG_2497.jpg


We dropped down to North Lake at 1:15pm, and the trail became really busy. A lot of day hikers showed up and most of them camped at Big Sandy Lake. After a short break, we decided to keep moving as there’s not much shade until Big Sandy Lake.


North Lake:
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The weather was a bit tough for the little one, and she came up with her own "cooling system":
IMG_2518.jpg

At 1:45pm we arrived at Big Sandy Lake and had a much-needed lunch break (freeze-dried Teriyaki Chicken, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce). Mia tried to fish but it’s too shallow on the west shore, so she gave up. I promised her we would fish in Sierra later this year.


Lunch break at Big Sandy Lake, kids got their energy back:
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Big Sandy Lake:
GOPR0872.jpg

For the rest of the day, it’s a death march. As we would walk out one day earlier, we started to dream what we should do with it. Girls wanted to go to a waterpark and it's amazing that they could just keep talking about it and pretending to do it for hours...It’s a long walk but the weather cooled down in the late afternoon, which helped a lot

.
About one mile before the TH, Limo, Chopper and Mia walked in the front, while Laura and I were about 30 feet behind. None of us paid much attention to the surroundings. A moose ran out of nowhere, made a sudden stop 6ft in front of Limo and Mia, stomped on the ground. That happened so fast that we barely move before it retreated back to the bush. Fortunately, it’s just a bluff and that felt much more dangerous than our last encounter with a grizzly family within 20ft. Bears seem to be more predictable.

Sunset at Big Sandy River
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Moose behind the tree
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We arrived at TH around 7:15pm, took a shower on RV, and drove all the way out. The parking lot was not as packed but still felt like Santa Monica pier. This trip has been the longest walk for both girls, but for little kids, distance doesn't matter when they enjoy it. They don't worry about how far it will be to the next lake, and walking in the dark is even more fun. Both kids want to do another trip to the Winds next year, and I have got some ideas after reading Wandering Daisy's trip reports.
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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by kpeter » Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:38 pm

A lovely trip, lovely scenery, lovely family. So happy you managed to get out to have a great experience despite the pandemic.

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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by oddtiger » Sat Sep 26, 2020 7:05 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:29 pm
What were the dates of your trip? By the time I got there on 8/17 a campfire ban was in effect so no roasting fish on a campfire. And yes, the number of cars at the trailhead was crazy. Kids and dogs can do better off-trail travel then you think they would. I think walking on trails for kids is a bit boring whereas kids are natural climbers. That was a long day for kids of that age. Yes, you missed the trail at the bottom of Texas Pass. It has been a long time since I was there but a good trail goes all the way down. Likely you started up a bit too soon. Were the kids impressed by the view of Pingora? I think that view coming down off Texas Pass is one of the best in the Wind Rivers.

Favorite picture is Laura with the fish. I love that expression on her face!
We started the trip on Aug 12th. I checked the forest website the day before, and the trailhead bulletin on that day, and didn't see any campfire ban at that time. Now you mentioned this and I just checked it again, there was indeed an order issued on 13th for the Bridger-Teton National Forest but not for Shoshone. That's interesting. Technically we set a campfire within Bridger-Teton boundary on 12th and another one within Shoshone on 14th, but I feel bad about it. Wish there were someone who could remind us.

You are absolutely right about kids on off-trail travel. They get excited whenever there is a scrambling and for that reason Joshua Tree is their favorite. For trail walking we usually have a field guide in hand and that keeps them busy for most time, and there are tons of snacks. It's funny that my kids have had very different interests from the very first backpacking trip. Laura was always impressed by the view and the the geological mechanism behind the landscape, while Mia was fond of bugs, fishing and rock climbing. When Pingora showed up, Laura just sat down and enjoyed the view, and Mia caught a grasshopper there :lol:

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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by wsp_scott » Sun Sep 27, 2020 9:56 am

Awesome trip report, the kids look very happy :)
My trip reports: backpackandbeer.blogspot.com

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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 27, 2020 12:04 pm

My intent was not to make you feel bad about your campfires. The fire restrictions are posted on the TH information boards, and sometimes put up late, so once out on a route, if a restriction is placed, you have no way of knowing about it. Often I find out when I run into someone who has just come in. When I came out of my trip, August 21 I thought there was a nearby fire for all the smoke, but asked someone coming in, and they said it was from California fires. This has always been a problem- the FS has no way to communicate with people once they are on their trip. I mainly wondered if we had crossed paths at Big Sandy trailhead; missed you by two days. Your timing was good, you managed to just miss the mosquitoes and blackflies.

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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by gary c. » Sun Sep 27, 2020 12:58 pm

Really nice report and pictures. And such a great way to spend the summer days with your family.
"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."
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Re: TR: Backpacking with kids -- Cirque of the Towers loop

Post by windknot » Sun Sep 27, 2020 5:22 pm

Thanks for the great trip report! This looks like a beautiful area -- I need to just commit to the long drive and make a trip out to the Winds someday soon. And I'm wowed by the hiking strength of your kids -- that's an impressive effort by a 5 and 7 year old!

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