Friday, August 08, 2014

Best of July 2014

Middle of Summer month.   Happy 4th and the annual backpacking trip.   Click through on any photo for more details.

1. My Name is Pete - This is My Lake
My Name is Pete - This is My Lake


2. Fire in the Sky
Fire in the Sky


3. Lemah and Chimney
Lemah and Chimney

4. Kasey
Kasey


5. Backyard Rockets
Backyard Rockets


6. Roman Candle Bokeh
Roman Candle Bokeh

7. Lillian Meadow Flowers
Lillian Meadow Flowers

8. Along the Blue
Along the Blue

9. Above Lillian
Above Lillian

10. Uncle Wayne
Uncle Wayne

11. Crossing The Popo Agie
Crossing The Popo Agie


12. The Fire Boy
The Fire Boy


13. Spencer
Spencer


14. Winds Forest
Winds Forest


15. Elephant's Head
Elephant's Head


16. Fire Reflected
Fire Reflected


17. Hunting Pingora
Hunting Pingora


18. Sunrise over Lonesome Lake
Sunrise over Lonesome Lake


19. A Lonesome Sun
A Lonesome Sun


20. Pingora Sky
Pingora Sky


21. The Milky Way
The Milky Way


22. Morning Elephant
Morning Elephant


23. Sunrise over Lizard Head
Sunrise over Lizard Head


24. Best Buds
Best Buds


25. Regal Llama
Regal Llama


26. Burn Sky Blue
Burn Sky Blue


27. Grand Teton Sunset
Grand Teton Sunset


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Wind Rivers Llama Trip - 2014

The Winds
Cirque of the Towers

The ritual of the summer is to complete some sort of adventure and then immediately start dreaming and planning for next year.  Last year was an epic 50 miler canoe trip down the Upper Missouri River in Montana.  I don't honestly recall how we came up with a back packing trip to the Wind Rivers in Wyoming to the Cirque of the Towers, but very early on Seth and I did plan on llamas in order to make it easy on the younger boys.  A trip of this size doesn't come off without a lot of planning and Seth and I went back and forth off and on all year planning.  You can read more details about route and gear at the bottom of the blog.

Through some google research it became clear the Lander Llama Company was the source of llamas and we booked at the beginning of March for our July trip.  We went back and and forth on which side to approach the Cirque.  You can do so from the west at Big Sandy or from the east through Lander. We opted for the solitude of the east entrance and booked our drop off and pickup dates.  In the end there were 10 of us going on our Wind River trip and Monday was a travel day to meet in Lander for llama training and prep. Seth was coming with his Dad Erik and his two boys Ian (14) and Ben (12), they were to be joined by Conner (14.9), a long time family friend.  My brother Jon was coming with two of his boys, Joe (9) and Spencer (15).  And I was coming with Miles (10).

Arrival Day - Monday July 21st

Seth, Erik and myself had appointments for llama training at Lander Llama company at 4:30 (turned out I got the start time wrong we were supposed to be there by 4).  Seth had a 7 hour drive from Bozeman and I had a 4.5 hour drive from Rexburg where we were visiting Kiah and Ramon.

Seth, myself and Connors Grandmother all arrived within minutes of each other at Lander llamas at 4:30 and joined the already in progress class with Scott and one other gentleman in a corral with three llamas. We spent 90 minutes covering llama basics which I include here for your education and understanding :

Crossing The Popo Agie
  • Lama genus and background - member of the camel family, domesticated and bred for 10,000 years as a pack animal. The are social (you always travel with two), they will hum when bored or expressing some sentiment, the don't spit at humans rarely, mostly at each other, they don't kick, they do NOT like their heads touched (don't try to pet them like a dog) and they kush (kneel with the legs folded under them) even with a full load.
  • The lead rope to the llama, never have them off a rope.  Tying to tree or post properly using a bowline. Tying up long to let them kush or graze and tying them up short when saddling
  • Saddling - each llama has their own saddle fitted for them. They are small metal saddles with padding underneath and 4 crisscrossed horns. There are two cinch straps on the saddle that go under their bellies. The first is placed four inches behind their shoulder straight across a heavy kush breastplate. You tighten this strap as hard as you can (you really have to pull with all your weight) and the second strap goes four inches in front of the genitals (the pack llamas are all male) and is at a slight angle and pulled hard enough to make a concave indent on their belly. This firmly places the saddle on their backs for loading, you should be able to move the llama around by grabbing the saddle, it should not slip. Too loose and you will actually cause saddle sores, tighter is better.
  • Packing : Each llama carries two panniers (bags), which are 3.5 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 2 ft opening.  They are loaded with between 25-35 lbs, evenly balanced  and they are paired, with one pannier having two long straps.  Using a partner they are hooked over the horns on the saddle.  Long lightweight items like tents, sleeping pads or fishing poles are lashed on top of the saddle and then a tarp called a mantie is placed over the loads and the saddle. The total weight should be between 55 and 75 lbs. Then using the two long straps from one pannier you cross them over the mantie and tie down to the other pannier. By cinching you lift the panniers both slightly so they are perpendicular to the ground.
  • Leading - the lead rope is coiled in your hand with 6 feet spare. Not around your hand, waist or neck as a sudden jerk by the llama can dislocate fingers or worse.  They walk around 2 to 2.5 miles and hour.
  • Encounters : your most likely to encounter humans, everyone wants to pet them like dogs, they don't like their heads touched.  Dogs can bark and often off leash, have their owner hold them as you pass. With horses make sure you move the llamas off trail (15-20 feet), this is for the horses sake who can spook, not for the llamas.
  • Feeding and Resting - they will graze along the trail as you walk, grabbing leaves and grass whenever they can.  When you arrive at camp, after unpacking them you take a 20 ft tether attached to a metal screw and stake them out so they can’t reach each other.  They graze on and rest in the grass.  A bag of oats offers them a handful of treats.  This is generally the time when they will drink though we never had any luck getting them to drink.  So we’d try and stake them so that on one side they had access to water. I only really saw them drink on the last hot day as we climbed back up the hill to Dickinson Park.
Each llama of course had their own personality that we would learn over the course of the trip :
  • Sonny - long whispy white coat who was very gentle mannered.  He was Miles and Joe’s favourite and he liked to lead.
  • Alpine - lazy droopy eyed llama that didn't like going too fast but was also a good lead llama.
  • Shoshone - thick matted coat with dark brown splotches who couldn’t be bothered to go fast.  Often time we’d give him to Spencer to slow Spencer down and speed Shoshone up.
  • Jupiter - a stud meaning he still had his testicles and all his testosterone.   He was the most troublesome of the bunch and we took to cataloging what we called the Sins of Jupiter.   By this I don’t mean I wouldn’t take him again, just he was the most “handful” to deal with.  He was only two years old, had been trained by following other llamas and therefore he did not like to lead.  He would kick when you tried to load him.  He kicked Erik and Jon; you had to really let him know who was boss.  He stepped on Jon’s toes.  He also was the only llama to ever spit, and he spit on Jon.  Jupiter didn’t like water and he would gallop through the water so you had to really hold him back or be ready to go through the river with speed.  Once he dragged Joe through a mud hole.  We learned to not let any of the little boys lead him, not because he was dangerous but he was a little much for them to handle.  One day his mantie came off of the front and got stuck on his hind legs and he kicked around and around until we got him settled down.  We took to all week saying : “Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider” :)
We spent Monday night at the Pronghorn Inn.  We booked two rooms, each with two queen bends and a couple of boys slept on the floor in each room.  That evening we went to the local market to buy the required Shoshone Indian fishing right of passage licenses.  To access Dickinson Park you cross Indian lands, we needed one license to enter and one to return, it was $25 for the first day and $20 for the second.  Each adult over 15 required a license.  This expense is one of the reasons that few people enter at Dickinson Park.  We considered risking crossing without the license, but if caught we’d be subject to Indian law not state or Federal law and we decided to not risk it. We also purchased Wyoming fishing licenses which were $14 a day for anyone over 15.  That evening in the parking lot as dusk fell we sorted gear and loaded the panniers they had given us after training.  We had a scale they had also provided and we attempted to get the weight evenly distributed in each pannier set.  We loaded them to around 30-32 lbs each.  With all the food and gear they were overflowing but on weight.

Departure  - Tuesday July 22nd

Tuesday morning we set our alarms for 5:45 am.  We took our final shower and dressed and met down at the lobby for the continental breakfast at 6:15, which really opened at 6:30.  The breakfast lobby was fully by 6:35 so getting there early was a good idea.  We loaded up on some breakfast food and then drove over to the Lander Llama company to follow them up to Dickinson Park.  The cut off for the road is 15 miles outside Lander at Fort Washakie and while we could have all fit into two cars I didn’t want to drive back into town to pick up Jon’s car, so we set off in three cars.  We drove out to the trading post at Fort Washakie but there wasn’t really anywhere to park there either so Jon decided to drive his car the rest of the 25 miles up to the trail head, a decision he’d be grateful for later.

As you start the drive to Dickinson Park there are no high mountains in sight. A low set of hills dominates the horizon and they gently uplift. The paved road winds through the sagebrush and farmland.  The pavement soon ends and the gravel road begins. The road cuts big switch backs along the grass covered hills that in reality are steeper than they appear from Lander. As you climb up through the grass in the early morning, a herd of pronghorn lifted their heads to warily watch us as we passed.  The truck with four llamas ahead of us went between 10-15 miles an hour.  The pace was very slow. I recommend just using Google maps and starting after the truck, it shouldn't take more than 60 minutes and we spent 90 minutes plus driving.  Eventually after gaining around 2500 vertical feed you cross the crest of the hills and start winding through high meadow and forest. The gravel road hangs a right and you wind around to Dickinson Park a huge meadow expanse, devoid of trees until a low hill covered with trees and a ridge rises in the far distance.   There is a set of logs for parking your cars and a trailhead marker with maps and register. There is no bathroom or running water.

Starting Out

The handlers unloaded the llamas and we tied them to trees and then they watched us load one llama to ensure that we remembered our training.  Satisfied they said goodbye and we set about loading up the rest of the llamas and getting our boots on and packs ready.   Before we left I set up my mono-pod and we posed for the requisite setting out group photo.  Then the boys each led a llama and we walked across a boardwalk that crossed a wetland and started up the gentle rise.  Maybe 1/2 a mile from the cars Erik remembered he forgot his fishing license in his pants back in the car.  Connor volunteered to run back and grab the license.  Miles, Joe and myself carried on.  As you come to the tree line at the crest of the hill the trail divides with a marker. To the right is the Smith Lakes and Hidden Meadows trail and to the left is the North Fork Trails.  We turned left and the trail meanders along the top of the hill through a forest of pine with many bare dead snarls that were a rich butterscotch brown.

Joe and Ben

We paused for a break. Before we left Miles and I had gone shopping for lunches and snacks.  I had let him pick out whatever candy he wanted.  Each day I made him a bag of motivational candy : liquorice, gummy bears, sour patch kids, sour patch watermelons and swedish fish. Just enough to satisfy him and keep him moving down the trail.  In the side pouches of my pack I had ShotBlok’s and some kind bars for myself.  While resting at our second break, we had been going for sometime, Spencer ran up ahead to tell us that Erik had grabbed the Indian passage license and that Seth had run back to get the fishing license.  We carried on and made our way down in a circuitous route around the large hill and then started descending down until we came out on the side of the far ridge at the edge of a large burn.  By now Jon and Ian and Conner had caught up to us with a couple of llamas.

Through the Burn

We made our way down through the large bounders and stark white pines, dead from fire pointing up in the blue sky.  With no undergrowth you could begin to see the valley of the North Fork of the Popo Agie River (Pa Pough Jhaa).  The boys were hot and tired as was Erik.  When the trail finally came near the river we stopped for lunch.  Tying the llama’s to trees, we plopped to the ground. Miles was beat and he laid down in the dirt on his pack and closed his eyes for a nap. I pulled out our first days lunch : Nature Valley Granola bars with a big squeeze of peanut butter on top.   Afterwards I scrambled down the river, took off my boots, socks and shirt and sat in the water to cool off.  We rested for almost an hour before saddling back up and starting back down the trail.  We quickly came to the Shoshone National Forest and Popo Agie Wilderness signs as we crossed into the back country.  Before long we came to the first of our river crossings before Lizard Head Meadows.  This first crossing is rather wide, the water quite shallow, maybe up to just below the knees. The boys easily crossed with poles on their own.  The older boys or adults leading the llamas across.  On the other side we took off our river shoes, dried our feet and put our boots back on.

Miles Crosses

Another mile plus and we came to the second river crossing and the southern end of Sanford Park. Here the valley opened wide, a large green meadow almost quarter to a half mile across is the setting for the river that runs slow and wanders back and forth on itself.  The grass at times gives way to a low shrub.  This second crossing was a bit swifter, we helped the younger boys (Joe and Miles) across and led the llamas across.  On the other side we waited for Seth and Erik to arrive at the crossing.  While waiting, a couple of cowboys in jeans and cowboy hats approached the water on the far side.  They were getting fresh water and were camped along the river up from where we crossed.  After Erik and Seth crossed safely, we grabbed a couple of llamas and headed up the trail.

Sanford Park

We had thus far hiked around 6 miles and the question now became how far before we would find camp.  Scott at Lander Llama company had said there were good camps at the north end of Sanford Park which was our aim.  We hiked along the trail which sometimes came into view of the meadow, but mostly hugged the large ridge line that rose above us on our right.  We passed the Hidden Meadows trail junction and crossed over the shallow Hidden Meadows Creek.  We managed to cross on a log without having to take our boots off as a couple of boys who kept their water shoes on ferried the llamas across.  Now we were tired and hot and just wanting to find camp. The mosquitos started getting bad.  Our application of Deet earlier in the day had worn off.  The repellant was somewhere stuffed deep in my pack as were the mosquito nets. I didn’t want to stop and dig them out, so pulling on the leash of Shoshone I went as fast as he’d let me.  I kept having to swat at the bugs, sometimes killing three that were sucking blood from my wrists or neck.  Finally we came to what was a perfect camp right on the river but it was right next to the trail and there was no where to stake the llamas.  We kept on about 50 more yards and the river took a hard left back into the meadow away from the trail and the grass started opening up.  We pulled off and found a nice camp off the trail. Dumping the llama packs, we staked them out in the grass and then started setting up camp.

Grilled Steak

My first task was to build a fire and get ready for dinner, I needed a nice bed of coals for our tri-tip steak that we had stuffed into a refrigerated bag in one of the llama panniers.  The boys grabbed their fishing poles and headed off to the river to fish.  Joe helped me feed the fire with small sticks and Miles set up our tent.  Before long the coals where hot and I had managed to set up the small portable titanium grill that I set right over the coals.  I put some Montreal Steak seasoning on three strips of the steak and started roasting them over the fire. By this time Erik and Seth had arrived.  The first steak off I cut up with my knife and we passed around hot pieces of meat to chomp on while we let the rice boil.  After we had eaten the first set of steaks we yelled at the boys that dinner was ready and I started cooking another round of steak.  We scooped up piles of rice and a bunch of chopped up steak for each boy to eat.  We had so much meat that everyone had their fill and we had a strip of steak left.  After cleaning up dinner I made up a couple of raspberry chocolate crumble deserts which we all devoured.  Some of the boys sat in their tents watching a movie on their iPads while Seth, Jon, Spencer and myself sat around the fire talking.  We’d end up doing 8 miles that first day and we all felt good since we hadn’t had to carry much weight other than water and cameras.  We turned into bed around 10:30 tired and ready for the next day.

An Evening Fire

To Lizardhead Meadows - Wednesday July 23rd

Wednesday morning I woke up at 5am to see the sunrise. I hoped for something looking up the valley across the meadow.  I carried my pack with my boots on and my water shoes.  I walked north up the trail to see what lay ahead.  7 minutes walk and I came to the 3rd crossing of the North Fork. The sky was still dark and I could only hear the roar of the water. This was supposed to be the deepest ford. A week prior a guide had not dared to cross and had ended up back tracking crossing in the slow section and making her way up through the thick forest.  Our assessment would have to wait for daylight. I walked back down the trail past where everyone was sleeping to the first camp we’d passed the evening before. I put on my water shoes and forded the slow moving river to the other side.  Sadly there was no open grasslands, the wide expanse was covered with scrub brush and big hillocks of grass with either wet or muddy rivulets between them.  I sat by the side of the river and waited for the sun to rise.  The mountains were too far distant to show any real alpenglow and the sky wasn’t much interesting.  Seth made the right decision to sleep in.  As the sun finally crested the ridge I went back to camp where I set up a time-lapse on the llamas and went to build up the fire and get ready for breakfast.

Spencers Fish

Around 8:30 folks started finally rising and I added water to the dehydrated eggs and started “cooking” the pre-heated bacon in my pan and heating up the tortillas by laying them on rocks next to the fire.  I scrambled the eggs and we added eggs, bacon and some shredded cheese to a tortilla for a breakfast burrito.  Miles was only interested in the bacon and I gave him one of the pop-tarts I had stashed in our food for just such an occasion.  The boys and Erik went out to fish again and we slowly started packing up.  We got away late around 12:30 heading out up the valley.  Given my note about how close the water crossing was everyone left camp in their water shoes.

3rd Crossing

We approached the crossing and Jon and myself headed across each with a llama.  When crossing the river with a llama you want to be upstream side of the llama so if they should stumble they won’t fall into you and push you into the water.  The crossing was swift there was a 4-5 foot section where the water was 4 inches above the knees and you had to cross slowly and ensure that you feet were placed prior to taking the next step.  We tied up the llamas off the trail and returned across to walk Joe and Miles across the river. Even Ben and Ian had to be helped across this swift section but we all made it across safely.  We stopped on the other side for some lunch and then put on our boots.  Just above this crossing there were a set of falls and the trail started steeply up the slope as we started to gain some elevation.  We hiked up through the dust, along talus and the river for a mile or more until we came to the fourth and final river crossing.  This was not as swift as the 3rd though there was a couple of swift and deep sections as well.  Spencer and I, each with a llama were well ahead of everyone else.  Miles was in the rear with Erik and Seth.  Spencer and I made our way across the river and then up through a gorgeous forest.

Winds Forest

The beginning the cirque towers began to appear on either side of the valley.  Huge boulders, some the size of semi trucks were scattered through out the forest floor which was covered in a small short bright green shrub.  The skinny pines, many dead and stripped of bark lay like bleached white bones on the forest floor, like limbs from deadfall they look like dropped antlers from fall deer. Eventually the valley opened up and Lizard Head Mountain came into view on the right and a the first small lake came into view. There was a group camped by the lake across the river on a small bluff.  We kept up the trail and as the trees opened up we round a nice camp next to a run off stream.  We unpacked the two llamas and staked them out.

Llama in the Cirque

I started getting dinner ready as I knew everyone would be hungry by the time they arrived.  I saw Jon, Ian, Ben and Conner approaching with the other two llamas  I waved them on and I went to get a change of clothes. After two days I was ready for a bath. I made my way in the last of the strong light in the valley to the run off creek just as Erik, Seth and Miles arrived.  After they crossed I stripped and screamed as I splashed myself in the very cold creek.  Clean and changed I hurried back to back to camp to start cooking our dinner for the evening : spaghetti with pesto, sun dried tomatoes, chicken from a bag and parmesan cheese with a slice of bread. Miles had his usual pasta with butter and everyone else woofed down their portions.  After dinner the sunset in the valley was phenomenal and I raced back and forth up the meadows taking photos one way and the other. In the early darkness of the evening Seth and I sorted through climbing gear and setting up our packs for the alpine start the next day.  Tomorrow would be a rest day for everyone else, as we went off in the morning to attempt Pingora.  I put the rope in my pack and Seth carried the rack.  We turned in by 10 and were quickly asleep.

Fire Reflected

Pingora Attempt - Thursday - 24th of July

My alarm went off at 4:30 am.  We were dressed and ready to go with packs on by 5 am.  We were above 10,000 feet and the quick pace caused me to have to pause and catch my breath. I begged for a more even pace as we made our way up the trail toward Lonesome Lake and the true Cirque of the Towers.  Just as the sky was beginning to lighten we jumped across the input runoff creek that filled Lonesome Lake and paused for a photo in the meadow at the base of Pingora.  We had both prepared notes in Evernote for the route up Pingora.  I had even bought the Falcon Guide : Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Range.  The route descriptions are sparse and vague Becky like descriptions and the photos of Pingora routes are all taken without including the lake setting or from high above from a peak across the cirque. This made the photos hard to place in context.  Even after returning and staring at photos I took and the route photos we had I couldn't orient myself.

Hunting Pingora

We both had also admittedly read too quickly what sparse descriptions there were and we assumed the approach was to the left.  We circled to the right of the Lake and crossed the inlet stream and climbed over a massive field of car sized talus until we reached the southern base of Pingora. Already high above the lake the sunrise back down the valley was spectacular with light pink hues across a fire smoke haze.  We climbed up the cliff bands only to find the scrambling harder than it should for a "easy class 3 scramble”.  We down climbed.  We looked at the route overview and assumed were no the wrong side and need to head to the “right side” / northern slopes. So we descended down and around quite a ways and around some vegetation to more cliff bands.  There was some very nice water flowing over a series of large granite slopes until we made our way to the souther base and we saw a group ahead of us and figured we were finally on the right rack.  By now some 90 minutes had passed since we first started approaching the base of Pingora.  We put on our helmets, harnesses, got the rack and rope ready and Seth set out leading.

Sunrise over Lonesome Lake

Seth ended up taking a right line that ended up being in the wrong direction and had to down climb again.  He scampered up to the last of the climbers and asked if we were on the Pingora Southern Buttress, the guy hesitated and then said yes (turned out he was wrong).  He asked if we wanted some beta and said there was an easier line lower.  Since there was a long line of climbers ahead of us on the route Seth came all the way back to where I was and we headed left up some minor 4th class cliff bands where we set an anchor and I put him on belay again.  The crack initially was at a moderate slope and easy to walk up, then the climb turned up and ascended a right facing dihedral.  Basically this if you cup your hands at a 45 degree angle and then rotate your hands right until your left hand is vertical, then lift your finger tips up you have the slope and shape of the crack.  In addition the left hand was curving.  There was a huge crack that you could jam hands or toes in.  I could tell Seth felt a bit off his game. He was moving slow. He was placing a lot of gear.  (I make this observations with the full admittance I am not (nor may never be) a lead climber).  As the crack got more vertical and almost overhanging he moved slower and more deliberately, often pausing to catch his breath.    I waited on belay a long time watching the rope play out. I could see the entire pitch and I could tell he was almost at the vertical crux move and to the top of the pitch, but I was running out of rope to play out.

Seth and Pingora

The wind was howling at this point and it was difficult to hear even at a full yell. I managed to signal him to hang on, when he appeared safe and his last protection was at his current position. I quickly tore down the initial anchor and scrambled up the easy first section of rope to the next protection and clipped in and put Seth back on belay.  This gave him enough rope to reach the top of the pitch, where he went over the top of the crack out of sight and could set up at the belay station.  Calling down to me and jerking on the rope I started up the easy crack at first and then reached the more vertical section. I was able to make it up about halfway before I ran out of gas in my forearms, and as well as moving into territory beyond my abilities to stem and climb.  I was only able to make it up by wedging my feet into the crack and then pushing myself into the right hand wall and slowly inching my way up.  I’d end up scraping hands as a shoved them into the crack and my ankles as I drug them over the granite.  A few feet before the top I was dead tired. 11,000 feet and I felt it. I lay back on the rope and rested for a bit, gaining some reserve back. I pulled myself over the top and Seth and I both rested safe at anchor.  We were done.  We knew it.  Our faces said it; our arms and legs, our burning lungs felt it.  We both verbalized it and decided to head back down.  One pitch up and worn out.  So we abandoned the climb with our tails between our legs. But it was still a gorgeous morning in the mountains.  It's not often we are actually faced with out limits and viscerally feel them.  In the end upon further research back home the route to the South Buttress is to the left we just weren't high enough.

"The Summit"

One additional point is that at the top of the pitch it was already 11 am and I’d told my brother we should be back by noon and to be concerned if we weren’t back by 2 pm.  We rappelled down and then down again and to the left to reach the ledges.  We rested, had some bars, took off our gear and changed out of our rock shoes and started back down to Lonesome Lake.  By 1:00 pm we were at the lake where Seth took a quick bath. The entire cirque and lake was empty, there was not a soul to be seen.  Strange given the descriptions of crowds that we’d seen on climbers and hikers to the area.  Back down the trail around 1:15 we ran into my brother Jon and Spencer coming up the trail to meet us.  They were concerned and had started up a bit early to see where we were.  We chatted as we walked back to camp and immediately set out to eat some real food. I cut up huge blocks of cheese and dry salami with crackers and Seth downed a bag of tuna salad with crackers.  We both drank a litre or water or more.  Fed and hydrated we both grabbed our fishing poles and headed to Lizard Head Meadows lake to try our hand at fishing.  The wind was blowing and I ended up catching nothing that day on spinners, though I sat on a rock in the middle of the lake for quite some time attempting.  Tired I headed back to camp where I took a wonderful nap in the tent while Joe and Miles played some made up game where they stuffed their shirts full of coats and talked like turtles.

Brooks

That evening the fisherman returned with a nice set of brook trout from the days efforts. Jon filleted them with his knife and we cooked them up to add to our dinner of Annies Mac and Cheese.  After dinner there was a bit of light left in the day and we went out to the middle of the meadows and took a series of portraits.  That evening was the 24th of July, the day we celebrate the arrival of Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley.  We built a big fire and Erik told the story of an ancestor who was in the Willy Martin Hancock company, and we sang Come Come Ye Saints before heading off to bed.  It’d been a long day and I was tired.

Brothers

Return to Sanford Park - Friday - 25th of July

Sunrise over Lizard Head

Friday morning I woke up early to catch the sunrise, which had fantastic colors and clouds.  We cooked breakfast early at 7:30 with pancakes and syrup and then got started packing up camp.  We paused for our ritual morning group photo and headed out with the llamas by 9:30 am.  The plan for the day was to hike 8 miles that day all the way through Sanford Park, complete three of the river crossings and camp just past the second river crossing where we’d seen the cowboys on the first day.  This was 2 miles further than what we’d hiked into Lizard Head Meadows but we wanted a shorter day out on our last day back to the trailhead and since it was mostly down hill the going this day should be easy.  We all made it to the first river crossing where Jon and I went ahead with Spencer, Joe, Miles and two llamas.  Erik and Seth stayed back with the three other teenagers and two llamas.
    River Crossing

Erik was feeling the impact of the trail mileage and was tired and needed a break.  Jon the boys and I carried on and we arrived at the 3rd crossing if your coming and 2nd river crossing if your going back at 12:45 pm. This was the deepest and fastest flowing crossing  and we stopped here for a break,  lunch and to wait for the rest of the crew.  Around 1:30 Spencer decided to go on ahead and he took Miles and Joe across and they got a head start back to where our evening camp was to be.  By 1:50 pm I was getting worried as neither Seth and his Dad or the boys and llamas had shown up. I figured that if anything had gone wrong Seth would have sent one of the boys ahead as a runner.  I set a mental deadline of 2pm for when I’d start heading back up the trail to see what was happening when Seth and his Dad walked up at the crossing.  Immediately Jon and I enquired about the boys and the llamas?  I knew as soon as Seth said they had gone on ahead that the boys had taken the wrong turn.  The river crossing is at the bottom of a short but steep hill.  At the top was a junction sign that went right or south to Deep Creek Lakes or you continue straight or east down the hill to the river crossing.  The boys had gone left towards Deep Creek Lakes and had around a 90 minute head start on us and I knew we had a hell of a ways to go to catch them.

Best Buds

Jon and I immediately started running up the trail to find them; I was wearing my Chacos and Jon had on his water shoes.  Jon soon outpaced me as a ran out of wind.  We quickly came to the junction and head up the Deep Creek trail.  This trail was also steep and climbed up through a narrow rocky set of steep switch backs.  Jon would stop at the top of a switch back or ridge and yell back down to check on my progress.  I’d whoop back.  I knew there was another junction coming up and when we yelled back and forth at the next ridge I yelled that at the next junction he should stop and we should reconnect on which way to go.  I made it to the top of the ridge and there was a junction. The trail split left and right;  Jon was no where in sight.  I decided to go left. Very shortly after the split there was a wet muddy section and I found recent llama prints so I figured I was on the right trail. I came to a shallow gravel creek crossing.  Running through I had a dozen pieces of gravel stuck in between my Chacos and my foot that I had to stop and shake out.  The trail was flat for a while and I jogged on and then another steep section climbed again.  Finally as I came to a small running stream I finally heard Jon yell that he’d found the boys.  We’d been going hard for 35 minutes but the boys had luckily (finally!) stopped to wait and consider what to do.  I sat in the creek and cupped my hands gulping handful of water again and again until I rehydrated.  It’s amazing when your moving so hard to feel the water almost coursing through your body reenergising you.  I was mad. Mad at the boys for going for 1.5 miles and almost climbing 900 vertical feet over a very hard steep and rocky trail before they realised they were on the wrong path.  As Connor came by with a llama I bit my tongue to not sound too angry : “What is the first thing you should do at a crossing? Wait before making a decision on which way to go!”  Conner replied : “Where were you waiting for us?”  Touché’!

Taking a Break

Jon hiked back with the boys and I ran back down the trail to let Seth and Erik know that everyone was ok.  Along the way I thought about the lessons learned.  First teenagers are generally oblivious about where they are or are going on backpacking trips. This is partly the general role of a follower who is along for the journey vs. someone who is navigating and memorising the journey there and thinking about the back again.  Second they should have had maps and we should have more explicitly called out what happens at junctions and ensured that they knew where we were headed.  A simple reading of the sign that pointed to Dickinson Park would have helped them to make the right decision.  And lastly this was a metaphor for life in that at critical junctures in the lives of those we care about we should be there to help guide them on which turn they take. Conner was right we should have waited or at least made very sure that they knew where we were headed.  We could have also made very explicit attempt to make a sign about which direction we had gone and they should follow.

Leading Llama

Back together at the river crossing.  Jon myself and Ian and Conner set off with four llamas across the river and for the trial.  Ben, who I think was pretty shook up, stayed back with Erik and Seth who noted they would be going at a slower pace. We finally came to the 3rd if your going and 2nd if your coming river crossing.  We crossed the river and hung a right, opposite the direction of the main trail, down a narrow but well worn trail that followed the river. We shouted for Spencer who replied. We came into a camp that was away from the river in the trees but with a very large meadow just beyond.  We unloaded all the llamas and led them out to the meadow to stake them out, the meadow was dry enough that there was plenty of room to stake them out.  Seth and his Dad arrived before too long and I walked out across the meadow to gather water for dinner.

River Line .

The river is wide, slow moving and mostly pretty shallow, however right at the edge where I approached the river looked to be at least 4 to 5 feet deep. I was tired hot and dusty and I couldn’t resist stripping to my shorts and I immediately jumped in the river to refresh and cool off. We gathered water and headed back to camp.   I set up the MSR reactor stove and pulled out the 8 double serving Mountain House Beef Stroganoff meals. I set up two at a time, boiled the water, measured out 2 cups, poured them into the bag, sealed them and shouted out the time they’d be done.  We started a strong rotation of eating; everyone was starving and all 8 meals were fully consumed.  For comparison Seth had thrown in a Backcountry Pantry Beef Stroganoff which I cooked up last, but it paled in comparison and was pretty awfully inedible.  Even Spencer the hungry teenager who will eat anything would only eat about 1/4 of it and we ended up burning it in the evening fire.   After dinner Seth, myself, Spencer and Jon headed out to the river to do some more cleaning off, bathing and swimming.  The water was actually really quite warm, in the shallows it was at least almost 65 degrees and we swam around for a long time. Back at camp the boys made up the last of the chocolate raspberry crumble, which I got one bite of and Ben mostly ate for himself.  The camping spots were sparse and we mostly pitched our tents in the middle of the trail.  We were all tired from the extra long day and we hit the hay early knowing that tomorrow we’d need to get an early start.

Out for Grass

Return to Dickinson Park - Saturday - 26th of July

Saturday we woke early and had our final breakfast of oatmeal.  We set out on packing up camp.  We had a 4pm meet at Dickinson Park for the llama pickup.  We had 6 miles to go and even at the slowest pace we should have plenty of time.  We were on the trail by 9:30 am.  We left the river behind hiking down the dusty trail to the last river crossing.  I’d forgotten that there was one more river crossing as had everyone else. We’d gotten confused by the Hidden Meadows Creek that you cross between the 2nd and 3rd Popo Agie River crossing, and ended up counting that as a crossing towards the four.  My river shoes were packed in some pannier on the side of a llama and I didn’t feel like digging them out. So I took off my boots and crossed in bare feet. The going was slow and at times painful but the crossing was so shallow that it wasn’t really a problem.  By this point Erik and Seth had arrived and we split into two groups.  Jon, myself, Spencer, Joe, Miles and Ian in one group going ahead with all four llamas and Seth, Erik, Ben and Conner going at a slower pace.  After the last crossing we came to the burn section with big boulders, no shade and the stark trees against a blue sky. There was no clouds but there was a nice strong breeze.  Miles was hot and tired and going slow, Jon egged him on, getting Miles to hold on to a pole while Jon pulled him pulled him up the hill.  This burnt out section was longer and steeper than we remembered.  Which leads to a truism on out and back hikes, you take for granted the up on the way down.

Crossing the Golden River

We finally crested the ridge at the burn section and we stopped in the shade to take a break, eat some food and drink some water.  We then started out again, which again was a lot steeper and a lot lot longer than we remembered when coming down. I pulled out my phone to follow the topo lines on my GPS app, eagerly looking for when we’d cross over the top of the ridge.  Miles continued to need frequent rest breaks and motivational speeches to keep him going.  Spencer even agreed to give him a piggy back ride though that only lasted a couple of hundred yards.  Finally we crested the ridge and made the gentle meandering but flat traverse around the ridge through the forest.  Eventually we broke through the final tree line and the open grass lands of Dickinson Park came into view.  We could see down the hill, across the wetlands to the trailhead and the parked cars.  It was 1:15 pm. Miles and Joe had both been dragging their feet broke into a run as they scurried down the trail for the cars and the awaiting electronics.

Up through the Burn

Back at the cars we short roped the llamas and unloaded them.  Knowing it would be a while before pickup we then staked them out near the meadow and set to sorting gear. We made three piles behind the three vehicles, Seth, mine and Jon’s.  Jon loaded up his gear into his car and he set off early down the road to get a head start on his 5 hour drive back to Salt Lake City.  I spent the next 45 minutes sorting gear in my own pile and packing it into two duffle bags in the back of the car.  The horse flies were horrible and they keep biting my legs and ankles.  I then got in the car, turned on the AC and Ian, Miles and myself engrossed ourselves in our electronics.  (I started writing this blog).  Ian and I kept twitching and swatting at bugs that weren’t there.  We realized that despite the safety of the car we had post bug bite stress disorder where we felt bugs that weren’t even there.

Dickinson Park

I was watching the clock and watching the horizon for Seth and crew.  I saw a couple of figures coming down the trail and at first at the long distance I thought it was Seth, but quickly realised it was a couple and a dog. I met them as they entered the parking lot and asked if they had seen a group of boys?  They reported they had come from Smith Lakes and hadn’t seen anyone.  At 3:30 a full 2 hours after unpacking the llama handler from Lander Llama company arrived. Miles and I helped him load up the gear and the llamas into the truck.  I signed some paper work and by 3:45 he was gone. I was now concerned as still no sign of Seth, his dad or the boys.  I set my alarm for 4pm and if they hadn’t appeared by then I was going to start out looking for them.  At 3:58 pm I finally saw Seth, Erick Ben and Conner break out of the trees and make their way to the car. Grateful they were ok, I helped Seth load his van and we set off down the dirt road for Fort Washikie.

Burger Time

I was in a Highlander and Seth was in a mini-van so I could go a bit faster. I came to the first major creek crossing.  The bridge had recently been re-done and there was a lot of water running. I saw Seth drive up as I walked back to the car. I had a bar of soap in my hand that I had taken from the hotel and kept in the car. I showed Seth the soap and he didn’t understand. I said I am hot and tired and dirty and I am going to stop and go wash off and change clothes in the creek. So he grabbed his gear and we bathed under the bridge and changed into clean clothes.  Very refreshed we got back in the cars and headed back down the road.  This time we could fly down the road and before long we were back on the main paved road and heading for Dubois. We stopped there for some food and ate at cafe where most everyone had burgers though I opted for a steak. We shook hands and said goodbyes and we both headed for Jackson at our own pace where Seth would head north through the park for Bozeman and I would meet Stac and Sofi at the hotel.  Miles and I stopped one more time for some congratulatory ice cream to eat along the way. As we dove over the continental divide, the sun started setting behind the ridge line.  The Teton’s came into view at the horizon down the road and as I approached them the sky lit up with red fire sunset and I pulled over to snap some final sunset shots of that classic mountain lines. Our trip was over for another year, though the next day I still had a 12 hour marathon drive to get back to Seattle in time for work on Monday. But that would wait and the memories of the trip were fresh and cherished.

Grand Teton Sunset

A closing thought about llamas.  I was really glad we took them. It was very nice to have them carry the gear. The younger boys wouldn't have made it with heavy packs. And at the end of the trip my legs and feet felt fine. I felt fine. I was full of energy and felt that I could spend another week on the trail. I didn't have the usual back packing fatigue that you get from a week on the trail.  Highly recommend them if you can find them for your routes.

Other Resources

Small tips

  • Croc's as camp shoes but not for river crossings
  • Collapsible chair
  • Cushioned sit pads 
  • Reactor stove : boils water fast!
  • Wet wipes work wonders
  • Bug spray a must - mosquito net a very very nice to have

Photos



Attendees

  • Erik Neilson - age 62
  • Seth Neilson - age 38
  • Ian Neilson - age 14
  • Ben Neilson - age 12
  • Conner Tarbot - age 14
  • Jon Griffith - 43
  • Spencer Griffith - 15
  • Joe Griffith - 9
  • Mark Griffith - 46
  • Miles Griffith - 10
Miles and VerticalGoogle Sheet 

Routes :

Gear List :

  • sun hats / hat
  • hat / gloves
  • sunscreen
  • sun glasses
  • prescription
  • non-prescription?
  • contacts
  • Glide
  • Desiten - baby rash
  • mosquito nets (2)
  • repellant
  • long sleeve thin
  • 2 shorts 
  • 2 shirts 
  • pants
  • 3 pair socks 
  • puffy (will be cold in AM above 10K feet)
  • shell 
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Camp towel (2)
  • Headlamps 
  • Pad (2) 
  • Tent 
  • Bag -  mid weight - temps at night can be 30s
  • knife
  • Clothes line
  • Fishing poles 
  • Hiking Poles
  • Water/camp shoes
  • Hiking shoes
  • nalgene bottle
  • camelback x2
  • toilet paper
  • harness, climbing shoes, helmut
  • day pack (miles)
  • Group Gear
    • Filter : need 2
      • MSR small one 
      • Drip Filter  
    • Bear Pepper Spray
    • Hang Bags and Line
    • Rope For Help Crossing rivers  
    • first aid kit
    • folding saw
    • GSI campset
      • Two big cooking pots
      • 8 cups
      • 4 plates
      • Frying pan
    • 4 more GSI Plates
    • 3 fuel canisters