I had two days off, so off-trail adventuring was on the menu. I liked this trip enough that I changed plans during it to save some lakes as leftovers for another time. That said, I think if I’d taken any friends with me, they would no longer be my friends. The good news is that I have like 0 friends, so it wasn’t a problem. I wonder why that is?
The Crisis-of-Everything-That-Never-Goes-in-Your-Favor-But-We-Promise-It’s-Incompetence-Not-Extreme-Malfeasance-And-You-Will-Own-Nothing-And-Eat-Bugs-And-Be-Happy had meant that I couldn’t attract employees, even after securing very large pay raises, which had subsequently meant that I had little time off. That’s what happens when you’re responsible for terminal airspace management and also have to control air traffic full time. Two jobs for the price of one!
But it wasn’t the end of the world, because the World Economic Forum hasn’t managed that yet. No, it just meant that I needed to find hikes close to Jackson that were short. That’s not hard, right? Well you forget that I, dear reader, stand condemned not only as irrational and repugnant, but also as something of an aloof entity, like a llama, but without the charm. What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t want to go on an outing where I’d be surrounded by people, even if they happened to be very sexy people, or very rich people, or very kind people, or very sexy, rich, kind people.
As such, my thoughts turned to Union Pass. The previous year I’d enjoyed Simpson Lake, where I’d picked up an interest in Granite Lake, which resides above Simpson. Looking at my maps it seemed doable. A 4WD road actually made its way almost to Granite Lake itself, but missed a number of lakes along the way. More importantly, my Cheep Patriot might have an ATV motor, but it certainly wasn’t built for the forest roads in the area, and the only report I’d read of someone driving FR 2632C mentioned something like, ” I ripped out my radiator after my oilpan became a part of the landscape, and then…”
Because new vehicles were going for $100,000+ and a kidney while you were at it, and used were hovering right around $65,000 and one’s firstborn (a saturated market with the recent Supreme Court decision), I decided to find a good spot to start the hike that was still on a road I was somewhat familiar with. That meant FR 693, and it was my plan to begin a few miles down the road, past a creek crossing and near a seemingly-unused, old ATV trail that went into the 7 Lakes drainage. Much the same as my love life, this was mostly a product of hope, rather than thoughtfulness and suave execution.
⤑Day 1: Drive to Notrailhead
After I finished an incredibly annoying day of working ATC, I exited the control tower and proceeded directly to the Dunoir area (also the name of a VOR/approach fix). I was estimated to arrive around 7:30, which meant I’d likely get there a little later. As it turned out, 7:30 was fairly accurate, and accounted for a small buffalo jam.
After crossing Togwotee Pass, I descended to just prior to Dubois and made my way up to Dunoir. After passing the interpretive site, I took FR 693 until I came to the creek crossing, which my little Jeep wasn’t meant to do.
As a consolation prize, I did some fishing and batted away about 70,000,000,000 mosquitoes. The fishing was fantastic and it was relaxing for me to listen to the little river and enjoy the cool air. Oh, and wild strawberries! I refuse the domesticated type for their revolting taste, but the wild ones are killer.
After catching some brookies, I went back to my Cheep and backed up until I got to a boondocking turnout.
You know that line about my love life? Well guess what! I knew in my heart of hearts that the place I’d hoped to get to would reject my advances, and had selected this boondocking area as a backup, complete with a plan on how to hike from there. The boondocking area was rather nice and featured the sound of the river rushing by, along with a makeshift table and chairs. Fantastic!
My Stoic Double Cloud camp bed was able to fit in the back of my Jeep after I smashed it into the correctly contorted angles, meaning that I didn’t have to unpack and inflate my Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX (what a pain to say and type). I made a nice fire and had dinner consisted mostly of beef jerky which I had made at home, with a dessert of cherry handpie, which Little Debbie had made at a factory where apparently child labor is allowed.
I have to mention just how happy I was to be out in the woods. My family wasn’t there, which made me sad, but there was great solitude and my heart was full of joy, and I found myself appreciating the cool breeze as the sun set with magnificent colors in the clouds overhead.
After doing my bedtime routine (brushing teeth, washing face, wondering why when I was a kid my mom always said during lightning storms, “WHEN THUNDER ROARS, DO OUTSIDE CHORES! NOW GO!”), I climbed into bed and put on a movie with Thor Hemsworth called “Extraction.” Extraction is a 2020 thriller-action-kidnapping-very-darkly-shot movie primarily made to be viewed by creatures with exceptional low-light vision, such as owls or animals with similar eyesight to owls. It features Thor combatting street children, which are a surprisingly annoying match for the hulking man. The movie also makes a huge push for chicken husbandry, though it advocates for keeping them away from bathtubs. I made it about halfway through before falling asleep.
⤑Day 2: The Slog to Granite Lake
Though I had fallen asleep around midnight-30, I woke up at 7. I felt refreshed despite the short sleep (God bless the outdoors). I needed to pack my Osprey, which I hadn’t found time to do the previous day, not because there was no time, but because I am creature of sloth, or so my mother says. This involved a lot of sorting through gear in various bags. I also had breakfast and read a book since I didn’t have many miles to cover. The drive to the “trailhead” was like 200 feet or whatever, but I didn’t want to take up a boondocking site that someone one else might want. After a last check that everything was in order, I set off uphill. My plan was to parallel the river and try to navigate through the lakey areas on the higher ground, as my experience with such places has proved that they’re often quite boggy or filled with willow bushes.
The first 2500 feet or so were not pleasant. I worried that my legs were far too out of shape, mostly because I could actually FEEL my thigh muscles. You shouldn’t, right? I always hate the first 2500 feet, I always worry, and I’m always wrong. After wondering if my thighs might fall off (they didn’t), I got into a nice groove of navigating through deadfall and making my way uphill.
Along the way, I observed ants attending to aphids and some sort of flowers that attracted all known species of bugs. I paralleled the stream for a bit and enjoyed the roaring of it rushing over boulders and tumbling against logs, and also happened across an old cairn which had mostly fallen down. (Or which had never been built up.)
The walking kept getting easier as I made my way uphill, with the grass being even, rather than clumped, and the stones of stumbling few and far between. Deviations around downed trees were minimal, and when required, didn’t take me far afield. Better yet, the shadows were still cool and I was mostly able to stick to them.
Three quarters of a mile in I had to make the choice of going either north or south around a little pond. If I went north (uphill), my plan was to continue going uphill until I got into an area of grasses, which I’d follow. If not, I’d follow the arid-looking forests near the streams. The latter was actually not my preference, as it could add mileage meandering.
Regardless of my desire, the terrain and downed trees channeled me into the riparian zone. In the picture below, you can see where I erred and waited too long to attempt the climb; I should have followed the red line. I accepted this fate and came across a nice park with a stream full of brookies. After admiring it, I pressed on going back uphill and into the woods, attempting to avoid a sea of willow bushes near a small creek.
Below: the park, the willows, and the arid section I chose.
As I wandered through the hot sun, I got to watch a Citation zip overhead inbound to the Dunoir VOR for the RNAV Z approach into Jackson. Shortly after, I made a slight descent to a crescent shaped field and plowed out into the tall grasses, hoping it would be dry rather than marshy. I listened to Tom Chick’s podcast where he and Kelly Wand reviewed the newest Dr. Strange movie. Though I do not believe that the multiverse hypothesis is feasible, if it were, and there were 10^500 universes, in none of those universes would this Dr. Strange movie be good.
But I digress. I made my way along the verdant area and only had to hop two streams! After taking a picture of some flowers I fancied (which is why my friends call me Buzz), I tromped off on an uphill climb along a small creek through thick forest.
I stopped briefly in consideration of getting a drink and paused my GPS for that. I was a bit perturbed by the amount of spider webs blocking the stream, and in my state of discontent, I neglected to turn my GPS back on for a few hundred feet. When I realized my error, I was far enough along that I sighed inwardly and thought, “No Luke, you’re not going back. Not for that. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to remember that when thunder roars, you should do outside chores.”
The forest gave way to more lush greenery, and soon I found myself fascinated by an exceptionally old log fence. Who had made it? Where was it going? What was its function? Was it still there because Chesterton was right about fences? Attached below you can see it even in the satellite imagery. The loops are due to wet, marshy areas I didn’t want to get my tootsies in.
I navigated through the forest and mostly uphill for about 5 minutes before backtracking 25 feet and crossing the beginning of a field to the south. It seemed more direct, and once again I found myself back at the strange fence. I guessed whoever made the fence forever ago favored topography in the same manner as I did. As evidenced in the picture below, the green opening right of frame was a bit wet.
A few minutes after re-entering the woods, I popped out at Lake 9598. The lake itself is nondescript and surrounded by tall grasses. As I made my way east along the lake, I came across an old…gate? What had this area been? That had to have been a great deal of work without modern technology…or even with it. I love this sort of tangible, historical artifact. It gets me to do a lot of thinking and takes me back in time.
Below: Lake 9598, the gate, and the lake again.
At the head of the lake was a very nice stream with plenty of brook trout infesting it.
I climbed a small hill in anticipation of going north around the lake some 150 feet away, but at the top I saw that the north edge was quite marshy, so I deviated to the creek exiting at the bottom and found a suitable place to cross.
Subsequent to the crossing, I sat down for lunch and watering, which I accompanied by viewing more of the movie “Extraction,” a 2020 action-crime-druglord movie featuring Stranger Thing’s Sheriff Jim Hopper as either an incredible villain or the world’s greatest hero, though an ambiguous ending makes it unclear, as the top he spins appears to wobble. (First picture below is before the crossing, second is after, and after I sat down for lunch!)
I relaxed for far too long, but the sky had dried up some of my sought after cloud cover. Finally I got my rear in gear and climbed a large, rocky outcropping to find downed trees that I’d have to traverse, hopefully not falling 6 feet, as that would be followed by tumbling all the way down to the lake. God blessed me and I didn’t take a tumble! But many would say that God cursed them and I didn’t take a tumble.
As I ambled along, I observed a small creek that linked to another lake, which didn’t appear to be in the continuous chain of lakes that led up to Granite Lake. I elected to follow the creek (or stagnant vein of water) mostly out of curiosity. En route, I came across a box on a tree with a circular opening covered in wire mesh. What was this? A trap of some sort? Who made it? Why did they make it? When? I love questions like these. It appeared far newer than old fence, but WHY was it there? (If you know the answer, please comment or send me an email.)
Update from Aaron in the comments below:
The stagnant stream gave way to a somewhat bald hillside which I climbed. Although I was under no requirement to travel down to Lake 9638, I did so just to be something of a completionist.
From there I picked up a game trail and followed it into the forest, aiming for the southern edge of Lake 9650. For some reason, I thought about my wife and daughter and got a bit teary eyed for a bit as I made my way silently through the trees. An old friend of mine, Nipper, had always gotten teary when exercising due to some sort of glandular malfunction that would make him inexplicably sad. Without meaning to cause offense to Nipper, I’m glad that I’m relatively certain I don’t suffer from that malady.
Lake 9650 came into view from the slightly elevated mini-ridge I was on, and I chose not to go down to it, as it appeared shallow and uninviting. In fact, this was perhaps the ugliest view of a lake that I’d seen in the Winds since the regrettable trek to North Lake. It also had the downside of seeming as if it were hot enough to bake away my soul. Foul memories of Hot Spring and Camas Prairie, Montana, burbled to the surface of my consciousness like hot tar, and had to forcibly suppress them. It was a time to be happy. What could I think of to make me happy? Perhaps that French people hate you for butchering their language, but also despise you for trying to learn it?
Below: use trail and Lake 9650.
Near the end of Lake 9650, I made a deep cathole for the obvious reason, and as I was doing so, noticed that I might be able to cross the creek without having to change shoes, a task which I’m known to loathe. There were plenty of downed trees, and the opposite side of the river looked like it had some open areas to traverse. Sadly, once I arrived at the downed trees, I found that the honey wasn’t worth the bees, as the trees were farther fat and hard to climb up on for the purposes of crossing, with an even worse offense of having multiple limbs jutting from the top crotchward.
As it turned out, I should have taken the crotchlimbs, because I ended up climbing another rocky outcrop, though this was rather sheer and led directly to the water. It was compounded by deadfall that was brittle and prone to breaking away. Blast. Yet again I survived and made my way to a creek crossing just below lake/pond 9752. The other side had a nice game trail with some bear sign. Given that a human sign (of the posted type, rather than pooped) had warned of active grizzlies, I was not so very happy at this discovery.
Below: creek crossing, other side, Lake 9752, random pic of the mountain in the distance.
Rounding a bend, the walk went from being lush to being a hell-furnace. I had to leave the streamside and head into the dirty forest (you know the type, filled with little grass but much dust) and toward pond 9774. This involved passing a small, marshy area (that inexplicably perched itself up on the shoulder of a small hill/dirt/rock lump) and then descending into a larger marshy area, where I was confronted with either continuing my existence in it or going more directly uphill and through arid lands. I chose the latter. Wet tootsies and all.
If you follow my tracks after this point, you’ll notice that I seem to cross the creek when I need not have. All my decisions were made like water, following the path of least resistance.
After quite some time (made the worse by time seeming to pass both instantly and yet at a crawling pace, with no great ability to judge my progress), I came to Horseshoe Lake, which my ancient USGS map said at on time had a road down to it. I looked for the road, but it was nowhere to be found. I did find, however, a lone footprint. Judging by the age and that it existed, it didn’t belong to whoever had built the strange fence.
Horseshoe Lake (below) was pretty enough, though not a place you’d really exert any effort to visit, and somewhat shallow unless one were to go far out. I expected to find a good use trail given the footprint, but none materialized. To avoid gaining extra elevation, I followed the banks around until I departed the area.
700 feet later I came across an annoying, boggy place that slowed my pace to about .5 mph as I tried to pick the driest path across it. I made it, but got to play the same game again 1000 feet later. In the midst of this marshy meadow, I found a few blowout holes with a little water left in them, and sadly for them, some minnows. There was no way I was wading through he muck to attempt a minnow rescue. Hopefully they’d make a tasty snack for a bird or something. At the edge of the grassy area I stopped for a drink by a small stream. (Pic on right below.)
I climbed out of the area and walked between 2 ponds; then picked up a game trail that was well worn, so I followed it. This took me along the edge of Lake 9925 (Dollar Lake), which was ridden with minnows along the shores. Truly an incredible amount. Dollar Lake (below) was small, but it was also rather pretty. I considered crossing the stream but stuck to the left.
After crossing a rock pile along the edge of the lake, I began a climb toward Deep Lake, which was some 1500 or so feet away. I decided to listen to the Flop House’s review of the incredible film, “Moonfall,” which is a 2022 film by Roland Emmerich in which the main characters develop and unusual relationship with the moon.
I reached Deep Lake (below) and found it rather pretty, with nice framing of Three Waters Mountain in the background. Unlike Horseshoe, it did appear to have decent depth. I considered spending time at Deep Lake, and possibly camping there, as I reckoned there might be crowds up at Granite. After some deliberation, I decided that my possible routes for tomorrow’s exodus precluded Deep Lake from being a suitable stopover point, so I took a few pictures and pressed on, keeping left as I went and ascending into the forests, filled with many dead trees. Surely I was only 5 minutes from Granite Lake? Yeah right! Try like 1.5 miles, and not fast ones.
I crossed a pretty creek and noticed that it was cooling down enough for the skeeters to come out, which spurred me on to move a little faster. My clothes were coated in permetherin, so it was primarily the swarming that bugged me, rather than being bitten. One flew up under my glasses in its desire to rid me of my excess blood.
I mostly zoned out for the next 1/3 of a mile, being only vaguely aware that somewhere ahead I thought I might compress myself against a cliffy area and the stream. As I broke out of the trees, I encountered the stream, but looking at the map, I was up higher than expected. I turned off the map on my phone before getting a truly good gander, having instead decided to orienteer by intuition, which in this case meant a jog to the right to cross the stream in an area where it appeared many animals had done the same. I aimed for a rockpile ahead, passed by the base of it, and navigated uphill, shooting for Lake 10150. I eventually saw it and boy was it pretty (below).
Here I erred, choosing to stick left rather than go right and cross the stream. As it would turn out, going across the stream at the base of the lake would have taken me more directly to where I wanted to camp, and with less undergrowth.
As I made my way alongside 10150, I heard the sound of the cascade entering it. While not much as far as elevation gain goes, the segment between 10150 and Granite Lake is steep, and the stream is corralled by solid granite. I found it perhaps not impossible to cross, but certainly not worth the risk, so I kept to the more soil-based side and made my way up, looking for a good area to get to the other side.
Before I knew it, I was at Granite Lake (below), which ended up having a suitable crossing spot. As I arrived, I listened for people. Being unobtrusive is important to me, as I don’t desire to spoil the solitude for others. At the north end, where I’d arrived at the lake, a trail began. It became clear that this eastern shore, from north to south, was not a good candidate for a tent, as it was pressed steeply against the hillside. Realizing that, I crossed some logs and rocks, as the western shore looked fine.
Immediately I came upon an old campsite with tons of fuel already assembled, but decided to keep going in order to get a better view, and to be further from where people might first appear. I found a spot in the middle of the trees that was open, but then remembered the bear sign(s).
Far right below: the ATV trail and steep sides.
Knowing someone who had survived a grizz attack while in his tent, and having read about the two recent grizzly encounters that resulted in fatalities, I decided to pitch my tent closer to the water, so that any curious grizzly would have limited options to approach me with ill intent. I assumed that any grizzly would want to approach my tent and rip it apart to find what’s inside. To be frank, pitching close to the water is is something I rarely do, but with no one at the lake, I decided that it was probably the wisest choice. I also decided to get up early and take down the tent, so that I would not spoil the view for any early arrivals.
After I set up the tent, I took a few pictures and crafted a fire (sans fire ring, using natural containment features) by which to wash. Before washing came the eating and fishing, and my meal was my favorite: Peak Refuel’s chicken and rice. YUM. I wolfed it down and put all the remnants in the odor-proof sack, then in the bear bag, and then launched it into the sun to be safe. Typically bears won’t chase food into the sun, as they have a net caloric deficit when they do.
The mosquitoes were everywhere, but unable to bite. I went to send a satcom message to my wife and found 3 messages, as the Beloved Ms. Necessary, my sister, and my mom had all blasted messages to me. I messaged my wife to message everyone to please not message so much. $$$
With dinner warming my belly, I took in the beautiful sunset overtaking the lake. It gently turned the overlooking cliffs into roses and lit up a waterfall like blood. Truly beautiful!
As the last hint of sunset departed, I took the opportunity to bathe in the still air, now unmolested by mosquitoes as the temperature was plummeting. With that accomplished, I hopped in bed, strapped my anti-grizzly device to my wrist, and watched the rest of “Extraction,” a 2020 action-don’t-do-drugs movie starring a caring Iranian woman who is a manager of soldiers of fortune, and whose main character trait is an extreme dislike of chickens and old men with well-trimmed beards.
Below: the sky looking strange, my Stio shirt, my Spot 400 headlamp, and the sky again.
⤑Day 3: Egress
I woke up around 0630 and checked on the status of the camp. No bear(s) had molested me, and everything was in its proper place, though my vanity selfie revealed me looking a little worse for the wear. I attribute this mostly to the ugly pills that I take daily. The scenery, unlike me, was only beautiful, with still waters and fish jumping.
There were still no people at the lake, but I took down the tent and put it beside my bag.
Somewhat unusually for me, I had breakfast, primarily so that I could carry some of the treats in my tummy rather than on my back. I also observed a number of bugs interacting within my vicinity. One bug was channeling its inner Jeffrey Dahmer.
With the sun properly up, I doused any remnants of my fire and swung my pack on, retreating back across the outlet and to the trail I’d previously discovered. While I’d planned on going to Divide Lake originally, I now rethought my plan. This area was perfect to bring my wife and kid to, assuming I splurged on an ATV for the sake of the little one, so I decided to save Divide for a future trip. Instead, I climbed the (very) steep ATV trail 370699 (below).
Eventually I realized that a ridge I wanted to go to the right of would take me to Rim Lake, which would be more appropriate to visit when I checked out Divide Lake in the future. Instead, I followed the ATV trail and came to a small pond.
Below: where I almost went on the wrong side of the ridge.
Kid you not, I had gotten it in my head that I’d have to climb up across a saddle from the ATV trail in order to get to Marion and Dyke Lakes (at about 10,450 and 10,250-ish), but as it turned out, all I had to do was walk down to them. Shucks!
Below: the ATV trail going up Union, 3 pictures looking along Union and at a general route of how I might go back to my Cheep, and the little pond in the saddle.
I took off my pack and carabineered a ziploc bag with basic safety supplies to my chest holster and made my way down toward Marion Lake. The ATV trail had a sign indicating that it was now prohibited once I reached the far end of the pond. I’m not certain why, as it seemed to be mostly be used for going up the bald mountain. I guess it could hurt some wild bugs.
Below: stashed pack, my ultralight daypack which I’ll be selling through REI soon, the closure sign, and Marion Lake from above. I went left to avoid the greenery.
A use trail kept to the south edge of Union Peak, and I followed it down to Marion Lake. It became fainter the closer I got to the lake, with no tracks or signs of human activity, so I don’t think that many ATVers have a desire to explore on foot. Marion Lake itself was rather pretty. Perhaps not what one would come to the Winds to experience, but beautiful for what it was. Numerous springs made it hard to avoid getting my twinkle toes wet, but I managed it, by golly. (By now you’ve probably asked yourself why my toes twinkle. It’s because of the sweat.)”
Below, left to right and down as such: the use trail, the use trail, the use trail, Lake Marion, a flat place to camp above Lake Marion, more Lake Marion, flowers, roots, the lake, and an old campsite.
I then picked my way toward Dyke Lake, up a little hill and past a pond. Upon cresting the hill and observing Dyke below, I decided that it was not worth the visit. It looked more like Perma, Montana than Wyoming. Peat Lake was also visible, but again…not inviting. Being only about 1000 feet from both of them was good enough for me.
Below: the pond, looking toward the Simpson drainage, again toward Simpson, Peat Lake, Marion Lake, and Dyke Lake.
I returned via another use trail that avoided the lakeside and instead sidehilled. On the way I came across an amphipod pond with an exceedingly old, smashed bottle. Cool!
Below: you can figure this out, I expect. 🙂