The Meaning of Life @ 13,167 feet

Julie Frahm

New Member
Sep 9, 2014
Recently I hiked to the top of Cloud Peak with my dad, David Frahm and a family friend, John Harrington. After my returning to the desert of Southern Utah, my dad sent my sisters and I publications from the WY Daily News from those who had also reached Cloud Peak’s summit. Some of the stories recounted included my dad, some did not, but my sister said, ‘it looks like someone should write a new story, these are all outdated!” After much contemplation, I felt a written account of my recent endeavor was a good idea for several reasons:

1. Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so the odds are pretty high that one day neither my dad nor I will remember this story unless it is documented
2. Hiking to the summit of Cloud Peak with my dad has been on my bucket list since I was 12 years old, I am now 30.
3. This was my first backpacking trip, ever, and one of the most fun things I’ve done in 2014

I remember as a child watching my dad lay out his gear for his next backpacking endeavor, he would be gone for a few days and then he was back, unshaven, dirty, and exhausted from whichever peak he had conquered. I remember when my oldest sister was old enough to join him on backpacking trips and she still brags about the size of the fish she caught and how amazing Cloud Peak had been. Whatever the excuse may be, I never joined my dad on a backpacking adventure. I have been asking him to take me to the top of Cloud Peak for years, and the timing never seemed to work out, until August 2014.

Arrangements were made, our family friend John Harrington was invited, and dates were set. I began reading encounters, articles and demographics of Cloud Peak, and the intimidation began to set in! My current residence’s elevation is just under 3,000 feet, Cloud Peak’s summit in the Bighorn Mountains is 13,167 feet. The math was calculated, and the trek would cover about 26 miles round trip. There was mention of snow, rain, hail, and all of this to be done in 4 days with a 45 pound backpack as my life source. I was told I could take anything I wanted to carry.

On Monday August 18th, we started our journey from Battlepark on 4-wheelers, we drove just past Lily Lake, hid the 4-wheelers in the trees, donned our packs, and began to walk. A slow, steady incline for 4-5 hours and we finally reached Misty Moon Lake, and the base of Bomber Mountain. We continued around the ridge, down the hill, across the creek, up the other side, and there we set our base camp. It was a majestic view, a straight line from the tent door to the summit, the water running off the mountain in the creek next to us and the cool mountain air whistling in the few trees around us. We filtered water from the creek for the next day, added water to our dehydrated dinner, did our civil duty eliminating 1,000 mosquitos, gazed at the stars in all their glory, and nestled in the tent for our first 25 rounds of card games of the trip.
base camp.jpg

Tuesday the 19th was designated as our day to reach the summit. It was a beautifully clear day, and it is a long hike to the top! We stopped often to rest our feet, have a snack, and take pictures of the views. After more than 5 hours of zigzagging over the rocks, around the snow, through patches of grass, and around ponds, we reached the summit. I was exhausted. I had fallen through the snow, scraped my leg, and acquired a touch of altitude sickness right before the summit. 18 years of waiting, 4 miles of hiking to base camp, 3.5 miles of hiking to the top, falling through the snow, a headache, and wanting to puke – it was all worth it. 360 degree views of my homeland. Wyoming is God’s country, we all know that, and to look down and see a glacier, over 20 lakes, and to feel the sun on your face and the mountain breeze through your hair, it makes all the work to get there worth it.
west face.jpg

My dad unfurled 2 shirts, identical that read, “I’ve got my ticket for the long way ‘round, the one with the prettiest of view, it’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights that make you shiver, but it sure would be prettier with you.” Lyrics from the song Cups were printed and hauled 8 hours in a pack and up over 4,000 feet to commemorate this moment between my dad and his daughter. Cloud Peak was a personal accomplishment that we conquered and witnessed together, and matching t-shirts were our trophy.
east summit.jpg

If anyone wonders how the cell service is at over 13,000 feet, it is exceptional! John made a few phone calls and we called my mom and sisters, all who reported we sounded like we were in the next room. After 1,000 pictures were taken, it was time to start our descent. Another 4-5 hours and we were safe at base camp. I had murmured these words along our way up and back down, but the only thing I could think as I looked back at the summit was, ‘that is a LOT of dang rocks.’ During our hike, 11 other hikers had set up base camps within our vicinity. We were exhausted from the day’s endeavors, we prepared dinner, the clouds rolled in, and we settled in for another 25 rounds of cards.

As we stirred our oatmeal on the morning of the 19th, we watched as the 11 other hikers loaded their packs and headed towards the summit, one of the ladies was even wearing a skirt. It was a cooler day, overcast, and the summit was hidden in the clouds. We loaded our day packs and headed in the opposite direction, destination: Middle Cloud Peak Lake, and our goal was to catch giant Golden Trout. We had to rock hop around a small lake, I slipped on a rock and thought I broke my knee. We hiked around one ridge, down one valley, up another, the trek for the lake continued. The weather was perfect, for us. We weren’t in the groups headed to the summit in the fog. Finally, we arrived at Middle Cloud Peak Lake. Dad and John could only be described as kids in a candy shop. They assembled their fly rods and started casting. We worked our way along the waterfall and down to the lower lake. I made a mess of my line and luckily dad had a spare, or I wouldn’t have out-fished him! After all the fun could be had and more pictures taken, we headed back to base camp. Of the 11 hikers, we only confirmed that 4 reached the summit, and of those 4, no one saw anything but fog at 13,167 feet. This was our last night at base camp, and the only night of rain. The rain leaked through the vent and drenched the bottom of my sleeping bag, it was possibly the coldest night on the mountain, however, at about 3am, John woke up and said, ‘the stars are out!’ Burling out of my sleeping bag in near freezing temperatures was worth the sight of the speckled sky.

On Thursday the 20th we woke up to ice on our dishes that had been left out in the rain, and our last morning in the mountains. After we passed Misty Moon Lake, as they say, ‘it was all downhill from there.’ It was another cool day, perfect for backpacking out, not so much for attempting Cloud Peak’s summit. We saw a moose, and stopped at a small cabin in the woods, the oldest date we could find carved in the door was 1914. We reached the 4-wheelers and were back in Worland before 5pm unpacking our gear and enjoying the first shower in 4 days.

As I pondered about my Cloud Peak journey on the drive home and in the days that followed, here are my conclusions about backpacking, Cloud Peak, my overall adventure, and lessons from my dad:

1. Only pack items with more than one use. Socks can be gloves, and a pocket knife can be a dinner knife, etc.
2. What happens on Cloud Peak, stays on Cloud Peak – except a few fish, this story, the memories, and about 2,000 pictures and videos.
3. Mountain men still exist, like my dad and John, who grew up hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, climbing mountains, living out of a backpack, and they don’t do it for the money. They do it because that’s who they are and what they love, and it was apparent that their souls were happy at 13,167 feet.
4. We are all spoiled. Carrying my lifeline on my back, it became quite obvious that we don’t need much to survive and be happy.
5. Having no cell phone service, except at the summit, was absolutely liberating to be unplugged, that is when I really felt myself recharging.
6. Wyoming and her mountains will forever be where I feel completely at home.
west face.jpg

After arriving back in Southern Utah and back to reality, I would show friends and co-workers pictures and my battle wounds. I thought they would all say, “Wow! I’m so jealous! I want to go the next time you go!” However, the response I heard the most was, “Julie. That doesn’t sound fun at all, why would you do that and call it vacation?!” My response to them is one of my favorite quotes from George Mallory, who was among those who first tried to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, “People ask me, ‘what is the use of climbing Mt. Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘it is of no use. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you wont see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
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Hike Hard, Tread Lightly
May 15, 2013
Very cool. I've read about Cloud peak and the surrounding wilderness, after your pics, I need to be there.



The mountains are calling and I must go
Mar 31, 2013
Wow! Your experience is the reason I got into BP - to encourage my kids to have the experience you did. Thanks!

Tye Dye Twins

Sep 30, 2014
That summit pic made me move back in my seat to reduce the feeling of falling! Did you find any gold?


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
I get the "why would you do that" question all the time. Good on you for getting up there.


Jul 5, 2014
I get the "why would you do that" question all the time. Good on you for getting up there.

As do I. Especially since hiking/backpacking/camping etc. are not popular hobbies in NJ. Add being vegan to that (another thing most people don't get) and I've pretty much become resigned to the fact that most people think I'm a bit odd. Oh well.. what'd ya gonna do?

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