My first hiking trip "Out West" with Powder River was in 2012 in the Bighorn Mountains. And it was the most incredible scenery I think I've ever seen- untouched high alpine lakes, waterfalls, open meadows of wild flowers with nearby marmots chirping "this is my home." He took me to the Cloud Peak Wilderness. And as he says, (Wyoming-raised as he is), there are very few real wilderness areas on the East Coast. He often points out that when we enter a wilderness area on the Appalachian Trail, there are typically paved roads running through. Not so in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. The dirt road just to get to the trailhead is a very bouncy, hour long drive in a high-clearance, preferably 4 wheel drive vehicle. No ATVs are allowed onto the trails in the most serene areas which lead to Cloud Peak, a 13,000+ foot mammoth of grey rock.
Our hike this year, once again with Powder's dad, was to Emerald Lake. This was Cooper's second time in Cloud Peak, and boy did he enjoy it! The constant chirping of picas and marmots really kept him busy and gave us some fun photo opportunities! (No picas or marmots were harmed in the creation of these photos, or during the hike.)
From Coffeen Park trailhead, the hike to Emerald Lake is relatively easy - a gradual uphill hike over fairly smooth, somewhat root and rock free trail. It is only 6 miles to the lake and the hike could be a day trip, but we enjoy camping out. We had great weather and enjoyed the peak of the wild flower bloom.
There were several stream crossings. On about the second one, my foot slipped into the water on a deceivingly slippery rock. For the next stream, I just decided to walk through with submerged feet. Mesh trail running shoes are great for this reason. By the next morning, my shoes and socks were completely dry, just in time to walk through the same streams again as we neared the truck.
It's great to hike with Gary, Powder's dad. He is always positive, even through some of the less fun parts. And we did have some mishaps on our trip! A flat tire on the way up, killer mosquitos, he fell on a rock and had some stomach issues. Yet he constantly smiled. God's joy is so present in his spirit. This has also helped him to run the Sheridan hospital lab for the past 40 years! Keep smiling, Gary!
Once we broke tree line, after about 4.5 miles, we were greeted by some majestic meadows surrounded by rises of granite all around and a stream running through. We climbed the last 250 feet up and over Edelman Pass and were meet with this heavenly scene: the sinking sun was drenching the rock speckled grass all around Emerald Lake. The mountains around the lake make it seem as if you are on the top of the world, and just over the edge would be only air and clouds. It is the kind of "room" I want to live in! We walked a bit around the lake and found a perfect spot to pitch the tents, complete with a flat boulder the height of a table to make dinner on. Dehydrated teriyaki chicken and rice never tasted so good!
Sophie, a 90 pound Great Dane, is one of my product testers this summer. I am happy to work with Sophie, because I can actually visit her in person and see how the big dog pattern is working! She is also the reason I love dogs. Several years ago her parents asked me to take care of her for 3 weeks while they traveled to Greece. Before living with Sophie for almost a month, I was a "cat person." Thank you Sophie for showing me how great dogs can be! Years later, here I am, a proud dog parent. Powder River, the Ulrichs and I like to joke about how Cooper is Sophie's mini me. It's true, maybe Cooper does have a little Great Dane in him. He would love to chase a bore, if given opportunity. I would also like to thank Sophie's dad, Jacob. I worked with him for 4.5 years making custom concrete countertops. He has been in manufacturing for ten years. I worked under him, and he constantly refined my craft and kept us both striving for the best. Jacob's blood is German and he loves good construction... I know he and his wife Liz will do a great job contributing to Groundbird Gear's design!
My Mom and I went out for a second time, this time her neighbor Mic joined us, and it was Mic's first backpacking trip! My Mom so wanted Mic to have a good time, enough so, so that she might consider becoming my Mom's hiking partner. We had such a good time that we actually added a 1000' foot drop (and climb back up) down the blue blaze Jones Waterfall/Doyles River trail. At around 2:30 when we came to this side trail, we realized we'd be very early into camp (Black Rock Hut) and we might as well get some more hiking in. Adding this blue section was a good experience for everyone to see what climbing mountains is all about, because the A.T. through this section (Loft Mountain Campground to Black Rock Gap) is very very flat. And highly recommended to beginner backpackers. This section also has a great reward at the end, if you hike South from Loft Mountain, Black Rock is one of the best views in the Shenandoahs, next to Mary's Rock! ***Dogs must be on leash in the Park, and this is no joke. There are seriously bears everywhere and Mamma Bear will easily be able to kill a dog to protect her cubs. Cooper would surely die if he was off leash in the Park.
Night One: Car camped at Loft Mountain Campground (the campground was fully reserved, but we took one of the walk-in sites)
The Next Morning: We set up our car shuttle, with one vehicle at Loft Wayside and the other in Black Rock Gap (0.7mi hike South from Black Rock Hut). Mic's husband kindly dropped us off in Loft Mtn campground so we didn't have to hike up to the Trail from the Wayside. From here to Black Rock Hut is about 7 mi. Our blue blaze added about 3.5mi.
Night Two: pitched tents at Black Rock Hut. A few good tents sites here, great piped spring and decent shelter.
The Next Morning: very short walk out to the car in Black Rock Gap
We hiked through the boulder field at Black Rock from the back side of the overlook. Mom and Mic were not too happy with me for making them go the "long way." Oops. Made for a nice little workout before the view though! Cooper loves navigating the rocks and does a pretty good job. If he comes to a part and needs some help, the Groundbird Gear harness double handles make it easy to pick him up.
Since my 2011 AT sobo thru-hike, my mom has been inspired to get involved in Trail life. She started with trail magic to me and my friends during my hike and since has joined her local chapter AT club, the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains one of my favorite sections on the entire trail, Reids (Reeds) Gap to the Tye River, including Three Ridges Mountain and the Mau Har Trail. I chose this hike for her first backpacking trip in the mountains for it's minimal elevation gain and fantastic final overlook at Spy Rock. Cooper fully enjoyed himself, as always!
We did not camp here, but this is a very nice campsite North of Seely Woodsworth, called Porters Gap.
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