Trails and Tribulations, NW WY: Sep 7-Oct 1, 2017

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OldBill

Member
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Messages
66
Sept 7- Oct 1, 2017

This won't top the list of the greatest trip reports from NW Wy but I had a lot of help from folks here in planning last year's trip ("Intro to NW Wy in 9 days?")so I felt it should get posted. There were 2 goals of the trip: (1) introduce my girlfriend to my favorite stomping grounds and (2) make yet another attempt at finding golden trout.

For those that want the ending first: tough trip, but I always return.

The plan was to spend the first half of the trip fishing and backpacking for golden trout in the Winds. Originally my nephew was to join me but work prevented that. My GF scheduled her flights for Sep 21-Oct 1 and wanted to see both parks as well as the Winds.

The weather did not help me out for either goal. Honestly, the worst in the almost 20 yrs I've been visiting.

I arrived in Jackson to the typical after Labor Day crowds (which have grown a lot since I first started doing this trip). I headed for Pinedale to fish the Green R while acclimating. The haze from the fires was still noticeable.

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Not having much luck on the upper Green (unusual) I drove over Union Pass to Dubois and followed up on Absorkanaut's recommendations to fish the Wind tributaries. Had better luck there though not as good as my neighbors in camp. With their help I learned more about specific spots to target next year. Great campfire conversation as they were headed back to South Carolina to deal with hurricane damage. One of the guys had been coming to the area for almost 50 years.

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Ready for my backpack, I crossed back to Pinedale and prepped for 5 days to get to Flying Monkey. The forecast called for a major cold front coming in on day 5. I didn't want to be trapped by possible heavy snow on the East side of the range (no traction or communication gear) so wanted to get going. Sunset over Fremont L was spectacular even with the haze (or maybe partially because of it).
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The next day was perfect hiking weather. Photographers Point offered the usual fine vista.
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Pushing on along the Pole Creek trail with Mt Baldy my destination for the night in sight much of the way.
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Switching to the Bell Lakes Trail I made camp near the intersection with the Baldy Lake trail.
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It's a nice established site, great water supply, but being low near one of the lakes heavy morning frost can be an issue. It even came decorated with flowers.
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Luckily, none this trip so no drying of the rain fly needed and I was on the trail fairly early. The meadow at the intersection with the Highline Trail is a favorite spot. The monkey was a gift from my GF in honor of Flying Monkey Lake expedition (attempts).
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Passing Timico Lake on another spectacular day in the Winds.
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Had to navigate a little on the snowfields still present at L11045 and descend a snowfield on the other side of Fall Ck Pass.
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After a lot of boulder hopping, I finally found the trail down to Upper Golden.
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I noticed 2 guys near the lake. They were rather shocked when I called out a "hello". Said they hadn't expected to see anyone that time of year in that area. They had fished the lake with no luck and were headed over to Island. We discussed routes and they elected to go up the Middle Fk to Pass 11663 north of Angel Peak. Not a route I'd try but they had GPS, sat-phone, weren't solo and were much younger. But they also let me know the weather had changed with the front due in the next day. So much for this trip I thought.

I set up camp and fished the areas near the connecting stream between Upper Golden and Lake Louise until sundown. No luck, but only lost one Jake's Money Clip. Didn't even see a fish.

The next morning, it was clear that weather was coming in. Knowing I needed 2 days to get out and not wanting to go over the boulder field again, I went over Hay Pass and reconnected to the Timico Lake trail using the Round Mtn cutoff. The views of the Middle Fk valley are stunning, even with the weather. Really did not want to leave but I know my limits. Safety first.
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Made decent time and neared Mary's Lake when I was feeling drained. The skies were darkening fast, so I set up tent, cleaned up and crawled in just when the high wind, rain/sleet started. Only to realize that I'd forgotten to put a plastic sack over my pack... With that taken care of, I dozed off pretty fast.

It was a pleasant surprise to find the rain had stopped the next morning. I packed the wet tent up and quickly hit the trail. The sun came out for great views over Eklund Lake. But clouds were rolling back in by the time I passed Photographers Point. By the time I got back to town, the view from Fremont Lake led me to believe I made the right call.
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A few days (and inches of snow) later the weather cleared and was forecast to remain clear for a few days. From advise of fellow bp'ers and a great chat with a local fisherman at a Lander sporting goods store, I thought I'd try fishing Thumb Lake. Unfortunately, I got a late start having had to drive back to town to pick up signal and make an important call.

From Fiddler Lake trailhead it was an easy 3.6 mile to Upper Silas. Then the trail vanished. As it's always easier to walk on trail, I spent some time looking for it, finally picking it up after seeing some footprints and paw prints in occasional patches of snow. That was helpful staying out of the meadows and forest. Played the lose-it/find-it game until Island Lake came into view. It was already late afternoon so I decided to set up camp and dayhike Thumb the next day.

Grabbed my rod and headed for the lake. The wind really started to pick up. As I rounded a bend I saw a fellow and his dog across the way. Probably the same whose tracks I'd been following. Announced my presence (shocking another fellow outdoorsman). If you look close, you can see him in the middle of the photo on the rock across the water. Note the blue sky - that would not last.
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In a bit he strolled up with a couple of nice rainbows, saying his camp was close to mine but the fishing had slowed up with the wind. He went off to cook his fish and I tried my luck until the wind and cold just made it unpleasant. Returned to camp to the smell of frying trout while I ate my beef jerky! Actually, I'm catch and release anyway.

About 15 minutes later it started snowing. Hard. That was *not* in the forecast. Thought it might just a flurry but after 10 minutes a 1/4" had fallen. Great, now there is no hint of a trail to follow. So I wander over to my neighbor's camp to see what he thought about it only to find he was gone. My next thought was "I hope he disposed of those fish entrails properly."

Seriously considered pulling out myself as I didn't want to get stuck in a foot of snow but there was only an hour of daylight left. After another 15 min the snow tapered off and the wind really picked up. So, I pulled the guylines tight and got out of the weather.

I awoke the next morning to about an inch of snow and grey skies. Thumb Lake will have to wait, so I headed back. By the time I got to town the mountains were socked in but weather low wasn't bad. I decided to try the N. Fk of the Popo Agie. Saw a nice run, tied on a grasshopper and caught a decent brown on the first cast. Not a bad way to end the day.
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Sept 19 the snow and cold hit and didn't leave for quite some time. At least the snow was mostly higher elevations. But the rain had turned the rivers into mud, particularly the Wind. Headed for Pinedale and found Togwotee Pass and Tetons buried:
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Conditions on the Green weren't any better so I gave up on fishing as my GF was arriving the next day anyway.

Welcome to Jackson & NW Wy which I swore isn't this cold, wet and dreary for long in Sept.
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Not much to do in the cold rain. Tried moving south near Lander for slightly better conditions. It was good enough for a short hike to Lake Louise near Dubois, though again the peaks were hidden.
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At least there were occasional nice views from Hwy 26. But mostly we just had to wait for improving conditions. Even just driving up Louis Lake Rd was a waste as nothing could be seen.
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After a few days, we went to GTNP staying overnight at a cabin in Colter Bay. I had developed a bad cold so tenting got vetoed. At least it had improved enough for a quick tour of Yellowstone: just 1 day of the lower loop. I'll leave out most of those pics as there are far too many better ones available, but we did encounter more wildlife out during the day than usual.
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We found a nice campsite at Signal Lake just a few steps from the shore and spent the next day going up to Ampitheater. Luckily, no microspikes needed as the trail was fairly well packed down.
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A spectacular sunset a few steps away from camp and a very cold morning.
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After defrosting the tent as much as possible we broke camp to go on to Pinedale. A rather tight fit in the SUV rental, but we made it work.
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Finally a warmish, clear day to hike up to Photographers Point. Quite different than what I'd seen the week before. The nearby tarn had completely frozen over.
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The other dayhike at the top of the list was the Natural Bridge at Clear Ck. Cold, grey skies, and some sleet on this one but there were ocassional gaps in the clouds.
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Finally, a rainbow on our way back from Green River Lakes and a moose on our last day in Pinedale.
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It was raining slightly the next day at GTNP (what's new...) but we did a short hike near Death Canyon (might have that wrong - working from faulty memory).
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After that, it was over Teton Pass to Idaho for the only reasonable motel/cabin accommodation. Even Motel 6 in Jackson is expensive these days due to the Arts Festival. So, we got up at 3AM to make it back to the airport the next day.

Sorry to say, that was the trip. At least she's willing to try it again this year (early Sept) so I'm hoping for better conditions and she'll want to do an overnight so I can show off the Winds. The camp at GTNP was the highlight for her and wants to explore more of the parks. One of the big differences between the Winds and other wilderness areas from National Parks is that you have to work much harder for most of the views with at least an overnight in the backcountry. I like it that way, but it is a challenge for those used to the hikes on the AT, etc.

My nephew is joining me mid-Sept for another 50+mile 3-5 day backpack and hopefully another overnighter somewhere in the Winds. That needs a lot of planning so I'll probably once again request ideas from fellow BP'ers. In his early 30's he wants to use his limited vacation to explore the rest of the world (which is great!) so this may be the last opportunity to share the Winds with him.
 
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Ugly

Life really is better Here
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Joined
Apr 20, 2013
Messages
597
How many miles did you drive with the back and forth?

Sorry the weather did not work out for all of your plans for backpacking or for fishing really.
However that pink morning shot with rising fog, and so many of the others with the fresh snow, autumn leaves, rocky crags... Nice! :twothumbs:
 

OldBill

Member
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Messages
66
How many miles did you drive with the back and forth?

Sorry the weather did not work out for all of your plans for backpacking or for fishing really.
However that pink morning shot with rising fog, and so many of the others with the fresh snow, autumn leaves, rocky crags... Nice! :twothumbs:
Thanks! Wouldn't be surprised if it was over 2000 miles in the month I was there. On all my trips I hit Dubois, Lander and Pinedale, usually in a big loop around the Winds. The extra work to get to slightly better weather might have added 500+ miles. Not sure it was worth it, after the fact. But, it was too wet and cold to enjoy the outdoors and my GF isn't much into museums so I just did the best I could.

At least we had enough time to have a few good days. Have to sympathize with folks that have their entire backcountry trip ruined by bad weather. This year can't be as bad and I already promised no more long drives to avoid the weather.
 
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Ugly

Life really is better Here
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Joined
Apr 20, 2013
Messages
597
Sometimes Ruined is a relative term... just gotta be flexible or take what happens.
 

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