Absaroka miscalculation: “You thought I would enjoy this??"

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Georgia Yankee

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First off—Stacy and I are still married and she is looking forward to backpacking trips with me in the future. But I didn’t do the greatest job planning this one. We had fun (well, except for one part—or maybe two) but decided to cut the trip short. Even without the benefit of hindsight I have to admit there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me this was not the best trip for the two of us. With hindsight? My god, what was I thinking? Well I know what I was thinking—there is some country back there I want to see and life is short.

Anyway the plan was to do a weeklong trip starting at the Meadow Creek trailhead, which is on the road to the ghost town of Kirwin. We’d walk up the road to Kirwin, over a bunch of passes and finally back down to the car via Meadow Creek. We ended up bailing and doing a shorter loop back to Kirwin.

In spite of setbacks we had a great time in the Absarokas and also had fun poking around in the Wyoming desert and other places. The trip stayed interesting right to the bitter end. We were probably four hours from home when our Subaru blew a head gasket and died (in the middle of nowhere in a thunderstorm, of course). We spent some quality time with Tommy the tow-truck driver and heard some crazy stories of life in his business.

Here are the planned and actual routes
Click here to view on CalTopo


From Meadow Creek Kirwin was four miles of easy walking up the road.
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We were hoping to catch a ride but the only suitable vehicle that passed by did so while we were off the road looking at this old cabin.
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Sometime I would like to explore Kirwin but we were eager to head into the back country.
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Our first camp was below East Fork Pass in a hanging valley above the Wood River valley. It sprinkled on us during the climb and rained harder just as we were setting up camp. The pine beetles have killed almost all of the mature trees in this area. Really sad to see.
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The scenery up here was reminiscent of Scotland or somewhere in the arctic.
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We like to get up at first light, break camp and stop for breakfast at the first pleasant, sunny spot. That seemed like the ideal approach to this day, except that all the water in the upper valley was from small snowfields and nothing was melting yet! I used Survivorman skills to catch dribbles of water from an iron-stained, muddy rivulet. It made for terrible tea but didn’t seem to make the oatmeal any worse.
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East Fork Pass. We are using our 1970s vintage Jansport packs again. For this trip we retrofitted modern hip belts onto the frames. A big improvement.
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Looking ahead down East Fork valley. Steamboat rock and the Wind River Mts. in the distance. Our route goes down into the East Fork then over the ridge in the middle distance and down again into Bear Creek valley.
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East Fork valley
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On the ridge before Bear Creek. A lot of the rock here was almost white.
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Typical Absaroka rock assemblage. At some point through here Stacy slipped and caught her fall with her hand. She broke that wrist a few years ago and now has a plate and a bunch of screws in there. She was worried she had messed it up again and would not be able to hold a trekking pole.
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Camped in Bear Creek valley near the junction of the Absaroka and Bear Creek Pass trails.
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Here I did one of the stupider things I have done on a backcountry trip. When setting up camp we fell off of our routine when I got impatient to cool off in the creek. It was a dead calm so I thought nothing of leaving the tent set up, empty, but not staked down. Just as I was making my way into the creek I hear Stacy shout, “THE TENT!” A gust of wind was rolling the tent down the valley, fortunately in our general direction. I took off after it, barefoot, trying to calculate an intercept and not step on anything sharp. I caught it just before it rolled into the creek. But when I grabbed it it pulled me off balance and I stumbled into the creek after it. In the process I ripped the toenail completely off of my little toe. It was--briefly--exquisitely painful but subsided quickly. All in all a mild punishment for gross negligence. It could have been so much worse. Stu-u-upid!
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The next day was short so we slept in a little and had breakfast at camp. We were heading for an unnamed pass west of Bear Creek Pass and planned to camp at the first nice place we found on the other side. Not really a trail at this point. Just cairns and marker posts through the meadows.
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View back down toward Bear Creek.
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Here's the pass.
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All was well until we started down the other side. The trail was very steep and perched on the edge of a steep slope. It slanted sideways toward the edge and was covered with loose rock. Stacy has to be very careful with her feet and ankles so this part of the trail was miserable and she was afraid she'd lose her footing and slide down what amounted to a giant cheese grater. And she had to be careful with her injured wrist. On top of that the scene was just apocalyptic—weird rock formations, barren, eroded slopes, oddly colored rock and clouds of drizzle wafting through—Gates of Mordor stuff.
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We got past the worst part of the trail and sat down in the drizzle for a snack and Stacy turned to me and said, “I can't believe you thought I would enjoy this.” I had no answer for that but we discussed the route ahead, considered options and decided the best plan was to turn around, head back over the pass and back down to Bear Creek for the night. Then the next day we would go back to Kirwin via Bear Creek Pass.

The planned route would have headed down this valley then to the right at the bottom and up toward Burwell Pass.
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Headed back up to the pass.
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So Stacy thought she broke her wrist again, I mangled my toe, and we almost lost the tent. Then I laid down to take some flower pictures. It was a nice, soft meadow so I left my pack on and just relaxed into the cushy grass to get a good angle. Well, Stacy didn’t see me lie down—she looked up and there I was on the ground, motionless, obviously incapacitated and maybe even dead. Somehow the perfect conclusion to the day. We agree now that it was hilarious but she was not laughing at the time.
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Back down to Bear Creek.
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The weather cleared up and we had another beautiful evening. I meant to take a picture of us having dinner but had to settle for just our kitchen.
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The next day we headed up to Bear Creek Pass. The trail starts out pretty much in the creek before heading up onto the slopes above. By this morning Stacy's wrist was much better and it was clear she had not done any real damage.
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View over the pass toward Wood River. Kirwin is down to the right a few miles.
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A little further down.
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Headwaters of the Wood River.
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Back at Kirwin we met Pat from Kentucky. We talked for a long time then he offered to drive us back down the road to Meadow Creek! He was on a months-long road trip to Wyoming and Montana, among other places. From L to R: Pat, Stacy, me.
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We stayed in Meeteetse before and after the trip. It's a tiny place with only one restaurant serving dinner--the Elkhorn Bar and Grill. Great burgers and a good variety of beer on tap. We had Tensleep Brewery, Speed Goat Ale.
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We had a great time in spite of setbacks. I am disappointed we missed out on some of the more remote country back there, but you never really know how trips like this will play out. If I've learned anything over the years it is to plan your trip as best you can and then enjoy and appreciate whatever fate throws your way, planned or not!
 

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Jackson

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It's incredibly interesting to see that area. I always enjoy seeing your reports from areas that see so few visitors. Those landscapes you captured are surreal.

Sorry to see it didn't all work out, but it certainly made for a memorable trip. It seems like when things start to go wrong or deviate from how you had envisioned a trip, anything else building onto it adds to the desire to turn around and bail, and sometimes you just hit the threshold. Happens to me far more often than I'd like to admit!
 

slc_dan

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Thanks for posting about this area, and sharing your experience.
 

regehr

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Love the trip report. I frequently subject my family to type 2 fun, so know how this goes.
 

scoags

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Wow, looks to be a fantastic area to visit. The Absarokas offer so much. Also congrats on making the right choice for yourselves and bailing when the time was right. If it's any consolation I also made some real boneheaded decisions on my recent trip near there, for which you gave me some good advice about Younts. Hopefully we can all have a good laugh when I get that TR together soon.

That gates of mordor stuff looks legit, but man I can imagine it was some tough walkin! Did you see any people or animals up there? It seems like you had lots of unobstructed views.
 

Georgia Yankee

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Wow, looks to be a fantastic area to visit. The Absarokas offer so much. Also congrats on making the right choice for yourselves and bailing when the time was right. If it's any consolation I also made some real boneheaded decisions on my recent trip near there, for which you gave me some good advice about Younts. Hopefully we can all have a good laugh when I get that TR together soon.

That gates of mordor stuff looks legit, but man I can imagine it was some tough walkin! Did you see any people or animals up there? It seems like you had lots of unobstructed views.
We saw a couple of hikers who had come up the East Fork from the Dubois side and two forest service employees. Except for a few short stretches the trails were in great shape. There is a lot of horse traffic during hunting season so the trails get decent maintenance. Yes, it is very wide-open country. Kind of an arctic vibe to it. Almost forgot--we saw some bighorn sheep and elk. The last part of the route was supposed to be prime grizzly habitat for that time of year but that will have to wait for another trip.
 

SteveR

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Nice trip report. I heard something similar from my wife on an off trail dayhike loop on Sunday- "you said there would only be a little bit of scree". It turned out to involve a lot of tedious steep grovelling on loose bouldery terrain, with some bushwhacking thrown in for good measure whilst getting down from the alpine. In my defence- I had only been there in springtime on skis with a 2m snowpack. Everything seemed so much easier then!
 

Georgia Yankee

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It's incredibly interesting to see that area. I always enjoy seeing your reports from areas that see so few visitors. Those landscapes you captured are surreal.

Sorry to see it didn't all work out, but it certainly made for a memorable trip. It seems like when things start to go wrong or deviate from how you had envisioned a trip, anything else building onto it adds to the desire to turn around and bail, and sometimes you just hit the threshold. Happens to me far more often than I'd like to admit!
I've sort of gotten hooked on that area. Another great thing about the eastern Absarokas--no bugs! It's dryer than areas to the south and west so by late July there are very few mosquitoes or flies.

If you read incident reports where trips go horribly wrong it's often a matter of one little thing on top of another until you're screwed. Yup--we hit the threshold. That about sums it up.
 

Jackson

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If you read incident reports where trips go horribly wrong it's often a matter of one little thing on top of another until you're screwed. Yup--we hit the threshold. That about sums it up.
Those survival instincts started kicking in. "Better safe than sorry" is a great way to live!
 

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Georgia Yankee

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Nice trip report. I heard something similar from my wife on an off trail dayhike loop on Sunday- "you said there would only be a little bit of scree". It turned out to involve a lot of tedious steep grovelling on loose bouldery terrain, with some bushwhacking thrown in for good measure whilst getting down from the alpine. In my defence- I had only been there in springtime on skis with a 2m snowpack. Everything seemed so much easier then!
Sadly, I have to admit this was not the first time...
 

OldBill

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Thanks for an enjoyable read and showing how amazing the Absaroka scenery is. Your route took you to near Wiggins Fk, which is I know has a fair amount of griz as probably does the rest of the range. It's one of the factors that keeps me from doing solo trips there. The Mordor comparison is spot on! Volcanic formations.
 

Georgia Yankee

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That was the funnest trip report I've read in awhile, hope your toe recovers well and her wrist isn't too badly aggravated. Thanks for the post
Toe is fine, although it looks pathetic. Stacy's wrist was much better after a couple of days and also seems fine. So no real damage!
 

Georgia Yankee

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Thanks for an enjoyable read and showing how amazing the Absaroka scenery is. Your route took you to near Wiggins Fk, which is I know has a fair amount of griz as probably does the rest of the range. It's one of the factors that keeps me from doing solo trips there. The Mordor comparison is spot on! Volcanic formations.
We were hoping to see bears (from a distance) in the later part of the planned route. Still might get up there.
 

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