This short hike features incredible history and excellent fishing for a rare species of trout. It’s best if you have two or more nights available.
In this post:
- ➻ Quick Facts
- ⤷ Intro
- ⤑ Day 1: Arriving Late
- ⤑ Day 2: Minimal Orienteering
- ⤑ Day 3: Exodus and Home
- ⯈ Conclusion and Rating
➻ Quick Facts
—Date of Visit: Sep 14-16, 2018
—Notable Features: West Tensleep Lake, Lake Helen, Lake 10,547, Gunboat Lake, Florence Lake, Bomber Mountain, Wreckage of B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed “Scharazad,” Mistymoon Lake, Lake Marion
—Total Miles: 15.37 miles (sans all excursions; minimum distance ~14 miles)
—Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-3428 feet
—Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 9084, 10,022, 11,911
—General Route: West Tensleep Trailhead—>Tr 063—>Off-trail—>Tr 038—>Off-trail—>Tr 038—>Tr 063—>West Tensleep Trailhead
—The GaiaGPS recording below has more detail. If you click through, I’ve made it so that you can download the KML or GPX file for your smartphone or GPS; just grab yourself a free account to get access. They won’t email you at all.
Zoom in for detail.
I decided to visit Bomber Mountain, starting at West Tensleep trailhead. I woke up at 0400 on Friday and hit the road. My drive was long, as you can see, thought not quite as long as my previous drive to hike Middle Cloud Peak Lake, or a subsequent drive to Coffeen Park for perhaps my favorite hike ever. Welcome to living in Cheyenne…
⤑ Day 1: Arriving Late
I arrived by 3PM and was on the trail by 3:15. The Cloud Peak Wilderness has a lot of regulations—more than the Winds—but they let you camp within 100-feet of water, which is nice. The entire trek to Bomber Mountain is very easy.
The trail starts out by West Tensleep Lake, going through boreal forests, and then goes through some grasslands. You’ll be in and out of trees, cross a stream twice, but the uphill is, at least to me, almost unnoticable. The total vertical climb for this trek was an easy 6081 feet, and the first 6 miles are incredibly gradual. Here are some common sights during the section:
I had decided to camp at Lake Helen as it appeared to have more trees than the other lakes, and high winds were in the forecast. I reached Lake Helen by 5:15, which is a nice, leisurely pace. It had only been 5.2 miles of hiking, so I was still fresh, but also ready for bed. On the drive up, my stomach had felt a little…off…and I’d thought about turning around. This comes into play later.
I immediately saw a tent, which was there for the duration of my stay, but never had a resident. Later on, I would find out that a hunter had gone missing. Instead of camping by the trail, I crossed the outlet to the east and looked around. Good choice! Tons of places to camp, and all better than where everyone else camps on the other side of the lake. Plus there was no one around my edge.
After putting up camp, I thought about dinner, but I was feeling wretched. I cleaned up a little, but the wind and cold were out in force, so I quickly retreated into my tent to read some SCPs (think free, Twilight Zone-like writings) and then watched an episode of a historical-based fiction series…The Looming Tower! It’s about 9/11, well-acted, and will make you very upset. I quickly fell asleep to elk bugling.
⤑ Day 2: Minimal Orienteering
Waking up at 7, I ate some Further Fuel, which my stomach was mostly OK with. I had a full-day ahead of me of climbing and fishing, and at least 50% of it would be off trail, so I was on the “road” so-to-speak by 8:30. There was no wind at my camp. My toe hurt very bad, to make things worse. It appeared that I had an ingrown nail that was also getting infected.
Instead of using the trail, I had discerned that it was better to go through the trees on the east side of the lake and orienteer through a gap in the mountains, which let me see Lake 10,594, an unnamed lake. My route took me through a number of small meadows and was very easy walking Here’s an overview of my entire route for the day, followed by some pictures as I walked along the eastern side of the lake:
I recommend not getting too high as you approach the gap north-northeast of the lake. While it seems wise, it’ll get you in the only section of thick forest. Remain low and you’ll save yourself effort. The gap is located near an inlet by the NE end of Helen; this is less effort that going to the gap by the inlet from Lake Marion a bit further on. Smart decision.
The climb was very quick, with only a couple of boulder patches, and mostly it was just ascending grassy ramps. I was at Lake 10594 by 10:00, which included some downtime by a pleasant stream where I drank 80oz of fluid with electrolytes. That made me feel quite a bit better, though my stomach was doing very poorly.
I spent a couple of hours catching trout-after-trout at this unnamed lake, which I’m calling 10594 by the elevation I mapped it at. Most of the fish were golden trout, which are not native. Fantastic tenkara fishing. Almost too easy. I often find late August and early September to be the best times for camping, because the temperatures are better and the fishing is the best. Earlier in the season, the trout will often be too content with the excessive numbers of other bugs just pummeling the waters, but in fall they start becoming greedy and stupid.
I listened to some podcasts on metaphysics and also some the SlashFilmCast on the Mission Impossible series as I headed out under cloudless skies. The rockfield between 10594 and Gunboat Lake is really not a bad one, and I never felt any perilous movement, which is much unlike my previous hike. I was to Gunboat Lake within 15 minutes, and Bomber Mountain came into view. I tried fishing at Gunboat for a couple of minutes with no luck. It probably has a great deal of fishing pressure. Leaving the lake, I intersected the trail up to Florence Lake.
Oddly, a tiny stream between Florence and Fortress Lakes has full-sized Brookies. Weird. I wandered around the creek and got some distance away from the very well-built trail, but returned as I exited the parks and got into the boulders. By this point, I was behind a small ridge and Bomber Mountain had disappeared from view. I was tempted to make a straight-shot through the boulders, but decided not to. The trail itself was easy and not too steep.
I finally crested the little hill between me and the final lake of the ascent. While you can use either the west or east side of Florence to access Bomber Mountain, I think that the east side is easier, as there are more granite ramps to follow, rather than pure boulder fields. (Best hikes to avoid boulder fields in the Bighorns are the Powell or Middle Cloud Peak Lakes.)
On the eastern edge of the lake, past the outlet, you’ll also find a memorial to those who lost their lives in the crash. It’s on the eastern face of a rock by the trail, and often marked by a cairn, which people like Mountainpooper of instagram hate. I also climbed up the grassy ramp to the south of Florence to look down toward Soldier Park. It was pretty enough. I’ve been on those trails, too.
Soon enough I was climbing Bomber Mountain, and I was at the wreckage within 40 minutes, with a vertical climb from 10,875 feet to 11,946’, which puts it at a fairly low elevation and easily accessible to anyone in decent shape. Again, a leisurely pace as I just didn’t feel all that well. I felt very sad at the wreckage, and even sadder when I found a memorial to a young kid who had died. He had always wanted to hike to Bomber Mountain to see the downed aircraft, but he passed away before he could. Truly heartbreaking.
Sadly, much of the wreckage has been defaced by chuckleheads who have to put their signatures on everything. I find it highly grotesque. The rubber parts of the plane are in exceptionally good condition. There is even still oil in them.
Instead of returning the way I’d came, I decided to navigate around the “peak,” if that’s what you can call the boulder-strewn hellscape, and descend via an unnamed chute and Mistymoon Lake. A smiliar approach last year had saved me 18 miles (don’t ask) coming off of Goat Flat outside of Dubois, WY, which, by the way, is a similar alien hellscape. The contour lines for my planned route were just on the verge of being unsuitable, but I figured that I’d give it a shot.
As I made my way up and around, the drainage to Lake Solitude came back into view. To my right was…more wreckage! How??? Did the Army blow it up after they found it? I know that such used to be a common practice, but I can’t figure out how the pieces came to be so widely scattered. I inspected the bits that I found while listening to the Flop House’s Godzilla review, then aimed down along the path of least boulders. Cell service here was excellent and I messaged my girlfriend that I was safe.
Eventually I was getting near a pseudo-precipice, and my inclination was to follow some grassy ramps off to the left, instead of taking the chute down. I had a hunch that I could perhaps even find a straight show down with grass if I went beyond the view-horizon. Despite this hunch—which I would later find to be absolutely correct—I decided to navigate to the right of the main chute, which had some grass, but was still mostly scree, talus, and shifty boulders on an incredible angle. I mostly did this because I thought that the view was worth the extra time spent picking my way down (I’m a rock nerd), and it was.
Soon enough I was at a creek where I drank three, 32-oz servings of water and electrolytes. I then walked on down the draw, keeping to the right, and crossed the creek closer to the bottom. I saw a small game trail through the rocks that simply started and ended in nothing, along with a panoply of pikas. While I expected that I might have a lot of uphill as I angled over to the left, such was not the case, and the walking, other than a couple of spring-fed marshes, was easy. I observed that my hunch about the grassy-descent on the far side of the mountain to be spot on as I rounded the hillside. Regardless, I was finally off of Bomber Mountain!
I had picked up an old trail, and I honestly don’t know what it had been used for. It was mostly grown over, but still deeply rutted. Never seen the likes of that before. I shot past a couple of meltponds and through a gap to find myself overlooking Mistymoon, Marion, and Helen Lakes. It looked like a short jaunt, but I knew that I still had 4 or so miles to go, and it was getting dark, with the sun below the mountains. Unfortunately, getting this view meant that I was away from the trails, so I had to cross more boulder fields to find the trail back.
This same trail goes down to Lake Solitude, and a branch goes over by Lily Lake and to Battlecreek trailhead, which I used earlier this summer to access the Middle Cloud Peak drainage. Oddly, while the trail shows up on the map, and I could see it faintly from high up, I was never able to locate it when I was on the Solitude/Grace Lake trail. My suspicion, based on some discrepancies that I noticed back on my birthday, is that it as “moved” approximately 1-1.5 miles from its original intersection. I might check that out one day.
The trail back to camp featured some undulation, which I hate, and moose, which I despise. I also saw about 6 tents, so obviously a lot more people had arrived. This time I went to the west of the Helen because a.) I didn’t want to encounter a moose in the increasing gloaming, and b.) I wanted to see how great the trail was. Suffice it to say that it is much easier to travel off-trail on the east side of the lake.
Three moose which I skirted around at a distance. I’ve been chased by them before.
I arrived and grabbed a chilled Coke which I had brought along. A first for me! It was very cool from being in the lake. My tummy still hurt, but I tried two bites of food…couldn’t do more. Drank a bunch more fluid, too. It was very warm and still, being perhaps even in the 60s, so I stripped down and bathed myself. Felt so good. Thoroughly washed my hair, too. My toe was in bad shape by this point, but I didn’t care. Weather like this so late in the season would make a leper happy.
⤑ Day 3: Exodus and Home
By this time, it was quite dark out, so I watched TLT and read some SCPs, then fell asleep. I woke the next morning to a crisp air at 6, and didn’t really feel like being invigorated that early in the morning, so I fell asleep again until 7:30. I was on the trail out by 9:08. With stops (people coming in wanting to chat, as well as some fishing), I was back at my Jeep by 11:12.
The following week I met up with my mother to hike to Frozen Lakes and Lake Angeline. It was below freezing and very windy, but a very interesting hike meteorologically and had some great fishing. Strangely, that short hike also had far more elevation gain! More on that some other time.
⯈ Conclusion and Rating
This is a very good, fun, historical, and easy hike!
⭐⭐⭐⭐ ☆ (4 stars)
- My scientific rating system.
- Beauty. This hike is pretty, but it has no soaring spires or roaring rivers, though Bomber Mountain has some incredible vistas. It’s mostly fields and forests which give way to rockpiles as far as the eye can see.
- Camping spots. There are numerous camping opportunities if you depart the trail at Lake Helen and hike for 1 mile or so around the eastern edge of the lake. Camping spots become limited the farther you go on the trail, and also less protected by tress.
- Crowds. This is an incredibly high-use trail system. Expect to see many people on the main trail. I went late in the season and encountered tons of people, but saw no one during my off-trail orienteering nor during my climb to the bomber.
- Difficulty. I believe that this is an easy hike. There are only two areas which have much sudden change in elevation, and they can be taken at an easy pace. Even being ill, I was never exhausted or sweating.
- Fishing. Be gentle with ’em and check out the regulations. 😉
- History. The bomber is well worth the visit. RIP.
Let me know if you have and questions, comments, or if I can help in any way!
With love, always,