A group of OWA vets return to the Wind River Range for a backpacking trip.
The seven of us met up in Lander, Wyoming on Sunday, Sept 22, 2019, for a backpacking trip into the Wind River Range. For many years, the town had served as the base of operations for a multitude of Outpost Wilderness Adventure trips in the area, so we all felt like we knew it well. It was the logical choice for our meet-up spot, and so that’s how we used it. At some point in the past, each of us had been involved with Outpost (or OWA). Now, some years later and as OWA veterans, this was our third return into the wild outdoors. The group consisted of David and Brian Barrow, Chris Brown, David Guillory, Barry Hunt, Patrick Cone, and David Appleton. The ages ranged from Brian’s early ’30s to Barrow and Appleton’s mid-’60s. Most everyone had ventured into the “Winds” previously, but none in the past 15 years. While some change had crept into the town, once we got on the trail the following day, it was nice to see that the backcountry was as wild and spectacular as ever.
“You’re not lost if you don’t care where you are,” or something to that effect is a famous quote. I repeated it several times to myself as we kept walking into the thick fog, headed toward the summit of Chiefs Head, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. I was bringing up the rear of a group of ten, mostly teenage backpackers. Typically, I was confident about wherever Mike was leading us. But in this instance, one of his Colorado Mountain School guides, Dennis, was at the back of the line with me and kept muttering about how we were going up the wrong mountain.
The sixteen empty soda bottles sat on the counter in the Cerro Colorado store for two days, before the shopkeeper finally stuck them down with the others. They were a good conversation piece while sitting out there in the open. But when he found a spider in one, and since they needed to be moved anyway, he put them into some empty slots in the Fanta case down on the floor. After he tidied things up, he thought about dragging the whole box of empties out from behind the Sabritas rack, so that they would still be visible. That way, they would continue to be the talk of the town, but he realized that if he did so, they would just be in the way and would make things look disorganized. And so he just stuck the case in the back room.
Deep in the heart of Wyoming’s Wind River Range, there’s a place that we called Golden Lake. No marked or named trails go there, and if you look on a map or search a guide book for information about it, you’ll find nothing. While there actually is a lake there, it has another name. It sits in a glacial cirque, or basin, along with two others at the top of an obscure drainage that leads down to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River. The main lake of the three is full of Golden Trout. Thus, the name.
We called it the Valley of the Dinosaurs mostly because of the humongous rock formations that were scattered all around. Besides just overwhelming the remote high valley in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains with their sheer size, they breathed a strange sort of life into the area that had convinced me from early on that the whole place was on the move. I could never pick out any one thing that caused me to think that—it was more like a general, overwhelming, and deep in the gut feeling that had me convinced. I was consumed by the place’s pure and simple beauty and a sense that the whole area was way more alive than me from the very first time I blundered into it. Through the years, I took every opportunity to return and while the physical cost of getting there was never cheap- without fail, it was always worth it.
There must’ve been close to 100 elk filling the valley below me, and I was astounded. I didn’t want to do anything to call attention to myself, so just sat there quietly peering over the boulder from afar. It was some sort of luck or fate that put me in that right place and at the right time, because getting into a position to see a big bunch of any sort of wild animals was not one of my goals for that day.
Old trails never die, they just get harder to see.
I remember those times of daily use well. Back then, many of the out of place rocks, logs, and limbs scattered along the way, were intentionally moved to where they ended up to improve a particular line of travel. Most people didn’t consider either of the trails to be particularly well-groomed, although they actually were. Regular maintenance was performed to keep them “clean,” and obstacles were moved around to create interest and make things flow better. But like many regularly used trails, both were mostly kept in their prime condition by constant use. Hikers moving fallen limbs out of the way, runners beating the tread in deeper, and mountain bikers flicking loose rocks off to the side with their tires all did their part. Any sort of unintended or unplanned obstacle that might get in the way of good trail time was not allowed to be there for long and was ultimately cleared out of the way.
Adventurers weather a violent storm near the Continental Divide in the Wind River Range.
It’d been a long day. But by mid-afternoon, our group was finally up on the spine of Wyoming’s Wind River Range and walking along the Continental Divide. The “Divide” is a mythical line along the crest of the continent, which in the case of North America, separates the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds. When a drop of rain or snow falls anywhere along it, the water from it inevitably ends up in one or the other of the oceans. To that end, many times, I had straddled the line while it was raining. And I’d watched the drops roll down my raingear and onto the ground, and then visualized the long journey that they’d be taking from there to the ocean.
The stillness was almost eerie. I’d never been on a mountain summit when there was anything less than a stiff wind blowing. Since I didn’t have to try and find any sort of wind break, there was extra time to sit and take it all in. A pure luxury. There was plenty of time, no approaching storm, all kinds of sunlight and we all had full water bottles and snacks to spare. Continue reading “The Summit”