It's been 3 years since we've driven to Wyoming with Cooper to hike in the Bighorns. This was also our first backpacking trip in the past 2 years without our toddler Wes. He's good for about a mile on his own feet and is now too heavy to carry in the pack so sadly he's gonna miss out on the longer trips til he can build up his mileage. Powder River's dad Gary joined us once again on this trip. At 72 he's still going strong with backpacking at high elevation! Powder's folks live in Sheridan, WY at the base of the Bighorns, an impressive but often overlooked range for travelers. This is in our favor: we love hiking with no other people around and having such beautiful country to ourselves!
This trip we tried a new trailhead for us, Lower Paint Rock Lake. It was the longest drive we've done for a trailhead out from Sheridan- long mainly because we were on gravel road of variable conditions for 25miles. The total drive was 4 hours, the gravel section took us 1.5 hours.
From Lower Paint Rock Lake, we took trail no. 59 to Teepee Pole Flats. We made a base camp in the North Paint Rock Creek Valley, a bit beyond Teepee Pole Flats. We spent two nights camped there and day hiked on the second day to Cliff Lake using trail no. 38 and no. 60.
We initially thought we'd base camp at Cliff Lake and then day hike the trail no. 60 and 38 loop. After the long drive and a decent 5 mile uphill hike to Paint Rock Creek (breathing heavily and taking lots of rest stops since we were up at 9000ft but left town at 3700ft), we decided to pull up short and make camp. This made for a nice hike out on our third day to the closest cheeseburger. We started missing Wes pretty bad too so it was nice to catch him for a few hours before bedtime on our final hike day. Compared to other sections we've done in Cloud Peak, we really enjoyed the variety this trail had to offer. The first leg sadly meanders through a vast blow-down section of pines. The best we could figure is maybe a squall swept through- the trees here were not diseased at all, so maybe a fierce wind alone took them down in a somewhat straight swath. The trail maintenance was superb- the blow-downs were chainsawed through, making a nice wide path. Once we crossed into the wilderness area, we climbed through pristine pine forests dotted with wildflowers which then opened up to a vast park ("park" means meadow) called Sheep Creek Park. Compared to any meadow on the AT- for example, Grayson Highlands- this Sheep Creek Park is enormous. It's immense size is hard to fully take in- like looking out on a sea of grass. Cooper enjoyed rolling rolling rolling and we were happy to have clear skies on both the in and out traverse of this high alpine meadow. You surely would not want to cross it in a thunderstorm!
For parts of this hike we felt like we were in the Lord of the Rings when the fellowship is running from Orcs right before they take the shortcut to Rivendell. My favorite terrain in the Bighorns are the meadows around the high alpine lakes. Cliff Lake did not disappoint and we took note of how this was probably one of the best days of Cooper's life hiking and swimming!
We figured Cooper might be pretty stiff after this hike but he really surprised us and didn't act tired at all when we got back to Sheridan! He's almost 8 now and since he's got a toddler, his walks are limited to what Wes can do. We're so glad we made the drive so Cooper could come too. He is at his happiest in the wilderness and he was such a good boy on the hike. It helped that we didn't encounter many chipmunks, marmots or pika- actually we didn't see any marmots or pika, though we heard them from a distance. We also didn't see any elk or moose- but of course saw lots of poop. We leashed Cooper on large sections of our walk, especially in moosey looking spots like river marshes. We did encounter a pack of 4 horses with 2 riders, on their way to "pack out some kids." Not sure we met the kids or quite understood why they needed "packing out" but we suppose some folks go-heavy in the backcountry. The Bighorns aren't very well known to the ultralight backpacking community and the couple of hikers we did encounter all had huge external frame packs.
Cooper enjoyed wearing his Turtle Top Quilt on this trip- it did feel pretty chilly at night, probably in the upper 40s and we had rain the second night. I enjoyed not having to check on him in the middle of the night, to make sure his blanket was still on, because our Turtle TQ doesn't slide off- it stays on and fully drapes your dog all through the night, even when they get up to circle! We used a piece of a Thermarest Z-rest for his ground insulation.
The only downside of our trip was the bugs! Poor Cooper got eaten alive with black flies and had blood welts on his belly. We tried using Picardin on ourselves, but when it didn't cut-it after about an hour, we switched to our old standby, 100% deet. We were glad we had pre-treated our clothes with Permethrin. I sure regretted not bringing a pair of pants. I was going light with only my hiking dress and my wool long underwear. Man I missed the rainpants- they work great when there's biting flies around. Biting flies could care less if your legs are covered in 100% deet.
The best view of the hike was when we were on our way back to the truck and found this overlook. We had a view up a large canyon. Cooper was quite done with biting insects at this point and we realized the quilt helps protect him from getting bitten when we lays down while wearing it.
Thanks for reading! Please let your friends know about our Turtle TQ!
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!
Please note: dogs are NOT allowed in the backcountry of Teton National Park. Sadly, Cooper did not join us for this hike. Instead, he enjoyed the joys of life as a suburban dog in Sheridan, WY with his Grandma and Grandpa.
The Teton Crest Trail is a very popular small 40 mile thru-hike. It is considered to be on a par with the John Muir Trail in AWEsomeness and since it is a 6th of the length of the JMT, we can consider it to be the most spectacular hike for its length in the US. The Grand Teton National Park regulates how many backpackers can be on the trail by requiring that you reserve a specific campsite for each night you will be out. Only one third of the limited campsites can be reserved in advanced through their website. We chose to get up at 5:30am and stand in line for two hours the day before our trip to get our permits. We were first in the ever growing line. It is probable that some of the folks who also got to the Visitors' Center before the doors opened at 8am, did not get the campsites they wanted. The ranger advised us to not finish out through Paintbrush Canyon because the snowy trail in that section would require crampons and ice axes. So instead, our thru-hike was cut short by 8 miles and we exited via Cascade Canyon at Jenny Lake. We claimed the following campsites "by a hair:" night one- Middle/South Fork of Granite Canyon; night two- Death Canyon Shelf; night three- South Fork Cascade. It is possible to backpack this trail without permits because there are two National Forest sections that you can camp in that do not require reservations. It is best to hike North, so that you can see the majestic Grand popping up over the smaller mountains as you progress.
We hiked with our friends "Teeny" and Dana. I met Teeny on our A.T. sobo thru-hike in 2011. She and I were hiking partners for the last 800 miles of the South on our way to Springer Mountain. Her boyfriend is working at the Old Faithful clinic in Yellowstone this summer and was able to take a few days off to meet us. Teeny is an incredible athlete. I owe part of my success in completing the A.T. to her. Her constant, powerful drive also helped to keep me driven- through the snow, bitter cold and pain we experienced off and on during the last stretch of the 2,181 mile hike.
We began our Teton Crest Trail hike from highway 22, west of Jackson Hole Resort. Some hikers choose to use the resort's tram for $30 per person. We're cheap and like the extra sweat factor of climbing up from the parking lot :).
When we arrived at our first night's campsite, we were somewhat surprised to find several groups already set-up, as if they had already been there for hours (they probably had). We found a bare dirt spot on the other side of the stream from everyone, later to be challenged by some tired, grumpy boy scouts who claimed we were "in their group site." That didn't go over great because they were accusatory and we knew the "group site" was a mile back, according to the map. It's a wonder the scouts didn't scout out a site, but instead just followed our tip on walking a few paces up the hill from us to find another flat spot we had seen. Turns out there was a post 15o yards away from our spot that vaguely referenced a "group site" in our vicinity. It would help everyone if the Park Service made this crystal clear, for the sake of keeping grumpy boy scouts at bay.
We ended up changing our plan and only spent two nights in the woods. We arrived at Death Canyon Shelf camping area around 2pm and decided to continue hiking to camp in Alaska Basin instead. No permits are needed there, so besides taking our reserved sites from someone else in the permit line, we did not break any rules. We were so glad we camped there, it was just incredible. The next day, we hoofed it up and over Hurricane Pass and all the way down Cascade Canyon to Jenny Lake. We saw many groups of people around the Teton Crest Trail/Cascade Canyon Trail junction. Pretty impressive to find so many people about 7 miles from the parking lot! They all would have walked 14 miles that day, whereas we did about 12 and saw more incredible views by a factor of 10. Our final day was filled with ice-melt waterfalls, lovely flora and shade by the Grand. Once we got to Inspiration Point at the far end of Jenny Lake, we decided to take the shuttle boat (!) across for a one way price of $8/per person. There were so many people on the two mile stretch of trail to the parking lot. We didn't want to dodge them with our poles and heavy packs and didn't want our stench to interfere with their "serenity," so the shuttle boat ride with 70's mustache dude Captain Dave was perfect. We finished off our caloric-depleting day with a really delicious dinner at the Q Roadhouse in Moose.
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