June 27 thru July 5, 2020
Carly and I had started planning a big road trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer. Obviously, circumstances in the world, not to mention specifically in the US prevented from considering that trip to be prudent to take this year. My new job started at the beginning of July and so we opted to take shorter trip to Wyoming the last few days of June and over the 4th of July.
We headed out Friday the 26th towards Wild Iris, one of our favorite sport climbing areas. As it got later in the evening we stopped at Little America, essentially a rest stop on I-80. If you’ve driven anywhere near it, say within 100 miles, you’ve probably seen the signs on the highway. While we driven passed before we’ve never stopped. The signs make it out to be quite nice with lots of ammenities. The reality is their marketing budget is greater than their capital expenditure budget. Nevertheless, it is a good spot to sleep on the road if you have a van. Plenty of parking, a 24 hour grill, and clean bathrooms.
Continuing on towards Wild Iris the weather didn’t look super promising, rain and kind of cold. This turned out to be the case as well. Despite the forecast the place was pretty packed with campers. We ended up staying on top of the mountain near the radio towers—not the most convenient place to park for climbing, but plenty of space and no other people. It was quite exposed to the afternoon storms that came through though. One squall I estimate to have had 50mph winds and sideways rain. Luckily our van was parked head into the wind so it wasn’t tossed around too much.
Speaking of the van, this was our first long trip in the van and it was great! Just before the trip we decided to spend the money on a 12V fridge from Dometic. It was a very worthwhile purchase. We have plenty of battery capacity and recharge with the solar so there were no power issues. The 45L capacity model was a great balance between physical size of the unit and food storage capacity. Since it is a fridge (or freezer, it’ll go down to 4F) there’s no ice or ice packs to take up usable space. Since it’ll stay at whatever temp it is set to, you don’t need to keep all beer for the trip cold, just what you are planning to drink that day. Gone are the days of wondering if that chicken that’s been in the cooler for three days is still good. Such a great addition to the van, particularly for longer trips.
We are both coming off not climbing much so we did moderate at Wild Iris and repeated some of our old warm-ups for when we were climbing harder. A little bittersweet to not get back on some projects, but there is still time left in the year for that.
Our overall plan was to go to Wild Iris, Ten Sleep and the Winds. The weather unfortunately wasn’t really looking good for backpacking so we opted to head to Fremont Canyon. This is an area I’ve wanted to explore for a while. It is a granite canyon above a river. Many of the climbs require rapelling in and climbing out of the canyon as there is no way to walk out in most cases. The weather here was difficult for climbing. While it was sunny it was a little hot, but only as long as the breeze wasn’t blowing, and it was often windy. So windy that it was a bit chilly. Difficult for layering. We only did a little bit of climbing on easy routes, but explored some of the other areas with harder climbing. It looks really wild and committing despite being mostly single pitch. I’ll have to go back.
From Fremont we headed more or less north to Ten Sleep, WY a spot Carly had climbed but I haven’t. It is sport climbing on Limestone some of it like that at Wild Iris. It is a long canyon above a sleepy town of 200 people. The canyon has two roads, the new road and the old road. The old is dirt and has lots of primitive camping at it, but not much climbing. The new road has most of the climbing. The weather here had finally turned clear, but a little hot. Our first climbing day was above a lake with a great view, it was higher elevation and so was a bit cooler. The second day we made an error in the zone we went to and it was too hot. While the climbing was good, almost traditional climbing like, it was baking in the sun and we left after two routes. Since it was so hot we decided to go into town for a water refill, food, and ice creams.
While I’m less surprised at climbers on road trips, that’s why we were there, I was more surprised at the retirees with their bus RV’s who were traveling and with little safeguards for themselves. One group of 5 we saw ticked all the boxes for comorbidities for COVID-19: obese, hypertension, >75 yo, diabetes, etc. Nevertheless, in one of the Walmarts we went into in WY, no in Ten Sleep, many if not most people had masks.
With the weather forecast looking up we headed back east for some backpacking in the Winds. Our trip last year was great, though difficult because of the damp snowpack. The beginning of the hikes from both Big Sandy and Long Lake TH are kind of boring. The wind through the forest for miles before getting anything resembling a view. Hoping for something new we went to the east side of the range to the Trail Lake trailhead. This gave us the change in scenery we’d hoped.
We picked an objective about 8 miles in for our camp, at Bomber Lake. Our guidebook made it sound like there was a trail for most of the way and then there was a bit of off-trail travel to get to the Lake. Since our other hikes in the Winds were either the same or more mileage we didn’t think too much of it. The trail first wound through some high desert we red sandstone and limestone cliffs. As the forest grew denser we could start to see the granite. The trail roughly paralleled Torrey Creek. We continued on passed where the main trail splits left, which was in a nice meadow with lot of fishing spots.
The trail from here was still fine to follow though we did get off it a little as we escaped left of Bomber Falls. Once reaching the rocky mound to the east of the falls the trail started to wither a bit. Once back down to stream level it was even more difficult to follow. We often found ourselves crossing some bedrock and finding ourselves 20-30 feet off trail once it went back into the trees. At some point even this ended and we were faced with talus hopping, swampy grass near the stream or endless deadfall in between. A wildfire came through this point some years ago and killed many of the trees, many of which have since fallen over. This is where the going got tiring. We were more than a few hours into our hike and our progress slowed to 1/2 mile per hour. Worse than that we were still a couple miles from our hoped destination. Even worse still the number of flat spots to set a tent up were even fewer. At least the weather was perfectly clear. We decided to take was seemed to be the last flat spot we’d have for a while before entering a moraine of talus.
The next morning we took a short hike from the tent through the talus to get a look around the bend in the canyon towards where we’d hoped to have ended up. The peaks looked good at the end of the canyon, but we couldn’t see the lake from our vantage point. This short hike would be our consolation prize for the trip. Heading back to camp we packed up and started heading back towards the van. Since we had good weather we opted not to hike all the way out, stopping about three miles before the trailhead. There was a nice camping spot along the stream with a small fire ring and wood already stacked up.
At this site I was able to get a little fishing in. I’d pack the 5 piece rod my father gave me and it was fun trying to find spots along the stream to toss a fly in. I was surprised that on the third or fourth cast I caught a small brook trout. A little while later I caught another as well. I’m sure there were more in the stream, but I didn’t have the right stuff to find them.
In the morning we packed up again and headed back to SLC. It was fun trip to finish out the first half of 2020 and I’m hoping that the rest of 2020 it is easier and safer to head out on more trips like these.