This is my favorite hike in North America, though it is not quite the most beautiful. The range of scenery makes it worth every mile; when I do it again, I’m going to make some changes to the route.
In this post:
- ➻ Quick Facts
- ⤑Day 1: Worthen Meadows/Roaring Fork Trailhead to Leg Lake
- ⤑Day 2: Leg Lake to Stough Creek Basin, Lake 10550
- ⤑Day 3: Day Hike to Upper Stough Creek Basin
- ⤑Day 4: Stough Creek Lakes to Mountain Sheep Lake
- ⤑Day 5: Mountain Sheep Lake to Lake 11088
- ⤑Day 6: Lake 11088 to Wind River Peak Camp 11800
- ⤑Day 7: Wind River Peak Camp to Worthen Meadows TH
- ➤Conclusion and Rating
➻ Quick Facts
My Texan friends, Hank and Peggy Hill, wanted to hike with me after having seen some pictures from the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Although they were interested in the Cloud Peak Wilderness, Hank had to work nights, and the long drive to the Bighorn Mountains didn’t excite him. Since it would be their first hike of the season, I told them that we should try Stough Creek Basin instead, which is outside of Lander, and a short hike in. It seems that it can be done R/T in about 13-14 miles.
In planning this, we knew that I would spend about twice as long out in the mountains as my party, which actually saves me time in the end (less time driving to and from the range if it’s done as one big trip, less time spent on the approaches, etc.), so I wanted to be somewhere that I could do some extra hiking. After looking at maps and Google Earth, I made a tentative plan to go over the cirque’s mountains to Atlantic Peak, and then to hike all the legs along the way. I’d previously been to Upper Silas Lake (boring) and wanted to check out Saddlebag Lakes (the name reminded me of an ex-girlfriend), then hike Atlantic, Calvert, Thumb, Island, and Boulder Lake back out to Worthen. It would be mostly off-trail and probably not pretty, but I heard that there was decent fishing, and it would let me complete a large section that I wanted to knock out.
Both Hank and Peggy were amenable to the idea of Stough Creek, though they’d need to leave later in the day than me or my mom, who also was coming along for the trip. After looking at some other pictures and talking to folks online, we decided to bushwhack to Leg Lake first (more below), and then to go to Stough Creek Lakes from there. Looking at Google Earth and my Topo Maps, I decided that I might not go to Saddlebag Lakes, but instead make my way to Wind River Peak, which I’d read was an easy rock-climb up. We’d spend the 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st together; on the way back, I’d leave them at the Stough Creek connector trail and head on, either to Saddlebag Lakes and the others, as described, or to Coon and Tayo Lakes, then up Wind River Peak. My initial plans were all mapped in two GPS files; I shared them to Hank so that we could meet up at Leg Lake, since we’d be ingressing at different times, and to my family, so that they could have some awareness of where I might be. After we’d part ways, I wanted them to have a general overview of the two routes I would probably choose from, so that I could save some data on my SATCOM—I always have lots of extra data around, in case of something truly bad.
I didn’t end up going to Saddlebag Lakes, so I’ll just share my potential Wind River Peak plan, which I also shared with them.
My proposed route is above in red. It has the benefit of seeing Jug and Ice Lakes, along with Deep Creek Lakes, but has a bit of backtracking, and also has to go back up into the mountains. I ended up not taking that route, and instead took the one below. When I do this again (Lord permitting), I’ll take the backtracking route I originally proposed, as the Sheep Bridge exit was just interminable, boring, and ugly.
Prior to the trip I read a few reports of the trail to Tayo Lake. In my mind Tayo was quite a ways from Coon (it’s not), and the whole walk to Coon from Worthen was quite a haul. Reports that I read made it seem as if this were true, with two of them noting difficulties with creek crossings, among other travails of the trail. In my experience, no difficulties as such would arise.
I also had looked at a few maps, which showed some significant differences in trails listed in the area, so I wasn’t sure how the trip would pan out for me once I departed from my fellowship on day four. A very nice man online had recommended that we “bushwhack in via elk trails to Leg Lake,” and then take the saddle over to Stough Creek Basin, as it would save time. This man, from what I’ve been told by my party, who used both methods, was very wrong, if well meaning.
As a last bit of introduction, a very notable tragedy occurred at Leg Lake.
⤑Day 1: Worthen Meadows/Roaring Fork Trailhead to Leg Lake
The drive to Worthen Meadows was boring, but the road to the campground and trailhead is great; my phone said that the weather would be iffy. We stopped and bought a very cheap ($2.49) trowel since my nice trowel had been stolen by cretins. Boo. On the way up, I saw that the University of Missouri has an outpost here; having once had a girlfriend from the state, it was of some interest.
Arriving at the trailhead area, the reservoir is ugly, but a ton of people were recreating, so it seemed popular with the locals. You can look at my GPS map to see where the trail begins; we were a little unsure of where to find it at first, though we got it correct on the first try.
Up front, ALL of my camera pictures from the first day somehow vanished. They aren’t on my SD card, on internal memory, or on any hard drives. Every other photo from the hike is there. I don’t know what happened to the photos, but you won’t get to see many, as I did most of the picture taking. I do have a few from my mom’s phone and from Peggy’s, but don’t expect too much for this section.
As we entered the trail, some horses came up behind us, and we stepped aside to let them pass, commenting that they were going faster than us. The lead horseman commented that they’d pass us sooner or later, and the rear horsewoman made some comment about “bunch of horse-hating backpackers.” I thought that it was kind of a hostile remark, but maybe I’m wrong.
The trail made its way through arid, pine forests, covered with dusty rocks for a half mile, and we then had the option of going left or right. Right goes to Stough Creek Trail, and crosses a stream. We kept left along the tree-laden edge of Roaring Fork Lake, which seemed a bit ugly in my book. Again, no pictures, so at least you’ll have a surprise waiting on you! The lake is only about 800 feet long, and the trees provided shelter from the noon-day sun.
We left Roaring Fork Lake but only a half mile later we stopped to fish, as the pretty, little stream was just too enticing. The area we stopped in had deep pools, with clear water running over rocky bottoms. There was also an area of “boulder jam” that yielded fish and beautiful pictures. As you know, the pictures are lost to us. Blegh. For whatever reason, a short video of the area survived. I really don’t know why.
Both my mother and I ate some Woody’s Smokehouse Beef Jerky, which I’ve mentioned plenty of times, since I love it, and then we packed up and headed out. Almost immediately we were greeted by a beautiful, green area of river, where the stream meanders and the brook trout jump. Continuing past the flats, we re-entered the forests for a very brief period, listening to the Futility Closet podcast on Wojtek (voy-tech), the bear who went to war. From their description,
During World War II a Polish transport company picked up an unusual mascot: a Syrian brown bear that grew to 500 pounds and traveled with his human friends through the Middle East and Europe. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll meet Wojtek, the “happy warrior,” and follow his adventures during and after the war. We’ll also catch up with a Russian recluse and puzzle over a murderous daughter.
I’ve never had anyone dislike the Futility Closet; all of my friends and family have consistently enjoyed the episodes, and especially the lateral thinking puzzles.
Although I didn’t manage to recover any pictures from this period, Hank and Peggy did. My mother also had two pictures, though they were basically the same.
There were plenty of nice places to camp in this section of trail, but a few hundred feet later, that all changed. In fact, the trail itself vanished, and we were confronted with thick forests, through which the stream steeply cascaded. We tried to pick our way along beside the stream; some logs were down as crossing aids at one point, but going to the “right” of the creek was a mistake. As we crossed the stream, one of my feet got wet. I happened to look down and see people well below us, also beside the stream, and not at all where we’d been. They were getting water and appeared to be only day hikers; they didn’t see us.
As I said, crossing the creek was a dumb idea, and soon we were crossing it back the other way, staying to the left from then on out. What a hassle. As we made our way up, the creek vanished. While the trail itself follows a low-lying cut up into the hills, the stream breaks off to the right through a narrow, rough section of woods—it doesn’t SEEM like it should come from there.
The process wasn’t the fastest; during our climb toward the next lake, we learned about a half-crazy Smithsonian entomologist who was a definite philanderer (in the most bizarre way) and who also dug tunnels under Washington DC. By “dug tunnels,” I mean that he would get done with work and set about to digging insane labyrinths underneath the city “for fun.”
I guess the moral of the story is that people were more productive before facebook. He also managed to have two families, whereas I have only 0. I should have loved bugs and multiple women.
The forest became drier and uglier was we advanced, though a trail reappeared, and we occupied our minds listening to the history of the Greenwich Time Lady. What did Ruth Belville do for 50 years? Well she kept time, because keeping time used to be a very difficult task. Effectively, she offered a subscription service, carrying the correct time to different places in London, so that you could set your clocks. Other methods of figuring out the time included cannon blasts, though those were less accurate given the speed at which sounds travels. Anyway, I was pretty fascinated.
Finally, we arrived at lake 9975! It wasn’t beautiful, but it had plenty of fish, so we walked along the northeast shore and fished for a time. The brook trout were ravenous, but then again, they always are. I showed my mom how tenaka fishing works, but she was scared of breaking the pole. She has her own pole, but rarely brings it. What idiot would manage to break a tenkara pole, anyway? Am I right? (Portents of evil.)
By this point, we were navigating mostly based on the topo, and were already well over half-way to Leg Lake, though it was dragging on. We went back to the little use trail that we’d left, and took the southwest side of the lake over to the inlet creek; we crossed at different areas, since mom isn’t as bold with her leaps as I happen to be.
Unfortunately, as we wandered upstream through the forests, we were listening to Futility Closet’s 124th episode, which was on this guy:
My father, given his history, has always been a big fan of the dude above—do you know who he is? Mom and I got in a deep discussion on the topic, and wandered along a small lake around 10,015 feet. We realized at the far end of the lake that we should have taken a left and crossed the outlet, and then kept following the stream. We’d been so deep in discussion that we’d missed the turn. I looked at my topo and didn’t think that it would be too much harder to just follow the contour around, in order to avoid backtracking, so we set about to do that.
I implore you not to make that mistake.Below you can see the way I’d plotted, versus the way we ended up going. Our route in yellow took us through rocks, blowdown, and up higher than we needed to go.
Eventually, we reached a high point and could see the creeks below us in both “divisions” of the lumpy drainage. Hank and Peggy, who went the way I’d told them (as I’d sent them the red GPS route beforehand), had that section much easier than we did. Below is a picture from Peggy.
The march down to the creek was straightforward with only one hiccup—crossing the creek. The creek itself was small, but the area around it was marshy with lots of riparian growth. We managed to scramble over some rocks and make it across, and then went uphill about a minute using a little use trail which was very faint. The area flattened out; we got some water from the wide area or slow-moving creek, and then angled up to the hill to the southwest, hoping to cut a direct line to the lake while avoiding the marshy areas. around the creek. On the way up, my mother was enraged while listening to a debate on atheism vs theism. The atheist in the debate denied the definition of atheism (as found in the dictionary), which made the debate pretty pointless. The other debater pressed on with his points well enough.
The outlet from Leg Lake leads to a very rocky little chute, at the top were some large fish in small pools, but they wouldn’t hit any of my fishing gear, so we only wasted about 10 minutes trying. We followed the creek up a little way further and started to get cliffed out. It’s better to just climb the granite slabs as soon as you have the opportunity. The area around the lake on the northern edge is not easily accessible; it’s steep and densely wooded; the area near the outlet is about a 20-foot cliff to the lake.
It seemed like a great place to fish, so we spent about an hour trying, but to no avail. The trout showed only minimal curiosity and appeared to be spawning. Wrong time of year, I reckon! My mother kept fretting, saying that this hike was “no way to do friends,” and that Hank and Peggy had surely given up and headed back to their vehicle. We couldn’t text them since they wouldn’t have service, but we did wait for a while to see if they’d arrive.
While I spent an hour fishing, I also looked for places to camp. The southern edge of the lake had some grassy spots too close to the water for comfort, and the farthest edge looked the best, but getting there looked hellish. My mother loathes being in the wind, so she rejected my suggestion that we check it out. By this time, she’d pretty much given up on Hank and Peggy arriving and hoped that they’d use the trail in the next day when we’d go to Stough Creek Basin. I gave up trying to fish and we went up to the “flatter” area of the granite lip to the lake to look for places to camp. (Note: Wade Nield on instagram talked to me, and without me telling him about my fishing woes at Leg Lake, mentioned the exact same thing!)
It was getting a little late, and we couldn’t see the actual “shoreline” of the lake, though there’s not much to speak of. For the most part, it’s either boulder fields or steep forest that plunges straight to the water; consequently, you won’t find many spots for tents, especially if they’re big tents. I was still convinced that Hank and Peggy would arrive, so I wanted to find a place that had enough space for both of our tents. They use the 3P version of the Copper Spur, whereas I use the 2P. Combined, they take up plenty of space.
Thankfully, we finally spied a flat spot. It was too close to the water, but maybe there’d be more in the way of flat areas beyond our view. Getting to the flat area was tedious and we had to backtrack a few times, but eventually we made it and started to set up our tent. As we were working on that, we heard,
It was PEGGY! Yelling for Lucas! (That’s me!) And where Peggy is, Hank is never far behind, except for when he is very far behind indeed.
We yelled for them and tried to see where they were, but it was a bit before we could tell where they were. I headed up to them to show them the easiest way to reach our campsite. Since they had made it, mom and I moved our tent uphill to a small terrace that was the perfect size for the 2P; this allowed their 3P tent to be down below with the fire that we were getting ready.
Peggy told me that Hank had cursed my name quite a few times on the way up, and that they’d both become convinced that I was trying to kill them, so I worked diligently to point out the flaws in their backpacks, which were filled with about 140lbs each of various trailmixes—what goobers. (Later on, I would contritely ask if I could please have some of their burdensome trailmix for my own bag.)
Poor Hank was dying. He would have stopped. Can’t blame him since he had just gotten off graveyards. I was having none of it, though at the end I was seriously losing steam. I did start to worry that we would not make it, but I blocked it out of my mind for the most part. We can all laugh about it now…while we learn to trust you again. 🤣—Peggy
We got a fire going, fished, had dinner, and chatted. I’d bought a few new types of rehydratable meals, though I didn’t like most of them that much—the Italian style beef pepper steak was OK, the fajita bowl was gross (the chicken would never plump up like it’s supposed to), but the chicken n’ dumplin’s were the cat’s dadgum pajamas.
Anyway, the camps were closer to the water than I’d like, but we had run out of daylight; heck, we were putting up bearbags by flashlight.
If you look at our egress track for the next day using Google Earth, you’ll notice that we stumbled upon some standing pools of water uphill. There we found some flat places for tents, but the hike to and from the lake is a pain.
Day 1 Totals: 5.01 miles, +1952/-243. Elevation min/avg/max 8844, 9719, 10,570′.
⤑Day 2: Leg Lake to Stough Creek Basin, Lake 10550
No one felt like getting up early in the morning, and Hank and Peggy are the type who consume food to fuel their powerful brains (Hank is a nuclear engineer, whereas Peggy is a mechanical engineer), so we weren’t on the road super early. Some of my photos from this day are also missing, so you’ll have to use the GPS download in Google Earth to really follow along.
Climbing up from the lake, we reached some ponds and could head left or right, as the middle section of the ridge had large boulders. We chose to head left, until we were up the ridge a bit more, and once again we could go left or right. I persuaded everyone that heading right, toward the cliffs overlooking the lake beneath Leg Lake, was the correct choice, as it avoided elevation gain. Boy was I wrong! Soon we were almost cliffed out, and having to crash through trees that were clinging to ledges. Make the sacrifice and just climb a bit higher, but avoid the northern ledge. (Though we did have good views of the little lake beneath; I wonder if it has trout!)
Soon we found an opening to go “up cliff,” which we pursued. I reached a pond and then had to wait for the rest of my party; they finally arrived and I pointed to a low-lying area in the granite knoll we were on, so we headed uphill and blasted through it. At the top, as on the Google Earth imagery, we encountered snow. The snow had some footprints on it, but they didn’t look too fresh. We also found a lost item.
From this high point at 10,720 feet, we made our way down to a pond, and below it, another pond. The second pond gave us the option of going north or south around it. We chose south, since we’d have to cross the outlet creeks anyway, since there’s a bigger pond just to the SW. At that bigger pond, we stopped to get pictures and to drink. The outlet creek was pretty. While the party was resting, I scoped out the next little section of hike, where we’d be climbing the saddle to Stough Creek Basin.
From the pond, it seemed best to us to climb the granite slopes up toward the saddle, rather than taking the ravine up. The ravine had a small creek and lots of brush, so it offered no real advantages. We walked along the granite ramps following the path of least resistance upward. Peggy and Hank were pretty exhausted, as they were not in shape, so we stopped a couple of times. I got a few pictures looking back; I’ve overlaid our two routes up to leg lake in one of them.
The next “challenge” was what to do with the snowfield. To the north and east there were tons of boulders, and I felt like I could climb the field just as easily, sticking to the randkluft. I tackled it and advised the others to take the boulders up; they quickly disappeared from view as I ascended.
I waited quite some time at the very top of the field, but no one came around the bend. After about 10 minutes, all three of them appeared on the snow, trying to follow my tracks up. Sheesh! They might get themselves killed. I’d found a stick, so I threw that down to my mother, as she, like I, does not use magic sticks during hikes. Hank and Peggy both do, so they were better off than her, despite being weak or tired. If you look closely, you can see them in the first picture below. I checked the weather while I was waiting, as there was 4G service intermittently. On hikes, I like to note areas where emergency cell service might exist, and I also like to use cell service when possible, as checking the weather or messages on my SATCOM isn’t cheap.
As we reached the saddle, Lizard Head Peak came into view—that mountain is just a stunner, and you can see if when hiking in the Winds from so many places. It’s massive, angled body dominates the landscape. Also visible was Wind River Peak. I commented to my party that, while I had thought about taking the boulder field down to a glacial lake after ascending it, I was now considering simply following the long, “gradual” slope all the way to Deep Creek Lakes. Of course, if you’re going “up” that gradual ramp, it’s more of a hellish slog than anything else, at least according to Beatriz’ friend “Jerry,” who we met while crossing the glorious Big Balls of Cowtown Trail.
The topo was inviting, as was the view from the angle we had. Still, the peak looked to be very far away from our current position. (It wasn’t, really, but I’d be doing all that hiking by myself.) We also saw a number of yellow shelters near Lake 10,668.
The overall view from the saddle. Wind River Peak is just left of frame. Lizard Head juts up, angling right, near the dark clouds toward the center of frame. As you can see, the walking is easy.
The view into Upper Stough Creek Lakes was blocked, and created the perception that there were perhaps a couple of “canyons” to the south. There aren’t, but it was a cool area. We all made our way down the hillside. It’s not exactly gradual, but for the most part was very easy walking. As we approached Lake 10,550, we decided to camp there rather than continuing on to other lakes, mostly because we were certain that there was no one else at this lake, while we knew that at least one other lake had people. Why risk having to look around, and why be any closer to the ingress trail than need be? Right? Given that there are at least 23 lakes and ponds along the length of the basin, I think that Hank and Peggy were happy with my decision to park us after only about 1.5 miles of walking, especially since I “nearly killed [them]” the day prior.
Regarding the lakes, I believe that the “middle area” ones around Lake 10,550 are the nicest. These lakes have plenty of trees, nice grass, and good fishing. The upper lakes are very exposed and have howling winds, while the lower lakes are trapped in the trees and don’t have good views of anything. Stough Creek seems to be considered “minor Wind River” since it’s south of Sweetwater Gap, but I thought that it was very gorgeous in its own way, and it reminded me of Lost Twin Lakes in the Bighorn Mountains, though much more expansive.
The top of the saddle was around 11,100 feet (about the save elevation that I would camp a few days later), so it’s not all that far down to 10,550, though I always loathe losing elevation. The first place we saw to camp was up on the hill and had amazing views. We threw down our packs, but were a bit like a dog circling its bed, in that we weren’t super convinced that it was the best place to be. Or rather, everyone but me was convinced, because we literally took things out of our packs, set up our chargers, etc., before the folks I was with really began to bray.
We made out way to site “2” and checked it out. The area was pretty level and quite close to the water. Then we spied a place up the hill (site 3) that seemed worth checking out, so I headed on up. There I found what was to me quite the perfect spot: right by the waterfall, great views of the lake, and with an awesome rock wall! I called for my party, and shortly the arrived. We set up camp slowly and spent the rest of the day fishing and eating. Hank and Peggy made a fire, too.
As you can see in the gallery above, the clouds moved back in as sunset swallowed up the land. I bathed in the trees straight ahead in the second-to-last photo, so that I could walk around nude, and unfortunately it then began to rain. Mom had been worried about our tent’s location, as it was in a little depression, but I told her that it would be fine. There was a scramble to secure all of our items that they not get wet, which we did. We were able to continue cleaning up, which I just did outside. The rain didn’t stop the skeeters, and one day I worry that the winged panoply of perilous prickles might make off with my pickle.
That night, it rained lightly, and we watched lighting crisscrossing the Winds to the north. I slept very well.
Day 2 Totals: 1.84 miles, +786/-758. Elevation min/avg/max 10,536, 10,712, 11,095′.
⤑Day 3: Day Hike to Upper Stough Creek Basin
Our third day was very easy. I don’t eat breakfast or snack in the morning, as doing so makes me hungry for the rest of the day; I’ve already noted that above, but today it meant that I got to sleep in while the others went about their morning meals.
We made our way uphill from camp and cut through a little low-point between knolls, as I pointed out in a photo above, and then wrapped south, heading toward upper Stough Creek Lakes. The people that we saw yesterday were fishing in some little ponds along the way. As we made our own way uphill (mostly flat), we happened across some crystals. Or rather, Peggy did. There was a pseudoscorpion on the crystals.
In the 5th picture above, you can see the other folks that we shared the basin with just fishing away!
Left: Crystals. Right: Pseudoscorpion.
An hour after leaving camp, we were at the “lower upper lakes.” We fished in the pools of the outlet, as well as the lake proper. The fish hit numerous types of bait; Hank caught one by the tail. It was pretty there, with nice geology, and not too much wind! We then headed on up to the last, big lake in the basin, though there are two more beyond it in the boulder-strewn hellscape. Those two are mostly glacial melt-ponds, though, and were not worth the effort for us, as the wind came up fiercely. Hank also claims that he’s right clumsy, so keeping him out of dangerous rockfields is important. You can see our route up to the next lake in the last photo below. It’s not much of a climb—about 250 feet or so.
It was only a very short jaunt up the hill to the lake. On the way up, we looked back and saw what appeared to be a log jam. After zooming in, we found out that it was just a cool rock. Hank and Peggy went off to the southern side, while I stayed on the eastern edge. You can see them in the picture below. I tried fishing, but caught nothing. If you wanted to camp by this lake, there were flat, grassy places, but I don’t think that it’s the best, even with the incredible gendarmes to the south, and the gorgeous color of the water. Why? Because of the insane wind! For that reason alone, we didn’t spend too much time here.
Looking at our Gaia topos, we decided to visit Lake 10,915, which was above the llama campers I’ve mentioned. We headed back the same way we came, but then wrapped around the base of the cliffs, paying heed for the sound of any falling rocks. Everything seemed thermally stable. While there were some places to hike up Roaring Fork on the way to Lake 10,915, the best place is actually right by it, once you get there, as it’s a gradual ramp.
I tried to keep our path as level as possible, as I didn’t want to go back down to the little lakes only to have to climb back up again. The only impediment was a small snowfield, thought it was stable enough. Keep in mind that Hank is dreadfully clumsy.
We arrived at Lake 10,915 about 3.5 hours after first leaving camp, which was pretty good time. The lake is very beautiful, but insanely windy. While I didn’t see amphipods, I also saw and caught no fish, so we left after 36 minutes. We considered hopping the ridge to Lake 10,967, but it seemed that folks were hungry, so we headed back toward camp. On the way down the hillside, we saw that there were some blue shelters with llamas.
Hank, Peggy, and my mom expressed their belief that we should get llamas for our achin’ backs. My back wasn’t aching, so I didn’t feel the same way, but later on during this trip, I’d agree with them. We avoided the llama packer encampment and went down to the stream, finally finding a place to cross. Hank and Peggy didn’t like our crossing, and so went upstream to find their own.
Rather than go straight back the way we’d ingressed, we followed the creek down to Lake 10,600, fishing along the way. There are some pretty little waterfalls, and it’s just an idyllic setting. I stopped an fished at Lake 10,600, and my mom decided to sit there and wait. Hank and Peggy went on toward camp, which involved going off-trail through little trees.
I got skunked, so we vamoosed and also went over the little hill separating the lakes. It was an arid area with stumpy little trees for the most part. As we crested the hill, we saw Hank and Peggy fishing Lake 10,550; Hank and I debated the types of fish in the lake once we got back together, though for the time being, mom and I went on our way back to camp and started making dinner, though mom lounged a bit on the soft grasses. I had the beef pepper steak, which was just OK; Hank let me sample some of his amazing selections of trail mixes, and I let him and Peggy have some jerky from Tejas. It was much better than the chicken fajita bowl, which was a crime against humanity. The sunset was absolutely amazing from our tent.
Thankfully, my sleep was good again.
Day 3 Totals: 3.87 miles, +/-856′. Elevation min/avg/max 10,536, 10,791, 11,063′.
⤑Day 4: Stough Creek Lakes to Mountain Sheep Lake
Of all of my days hiking, ever, this one ended up being the most memorable, and perhaps even the best. We arose in the morning and took our time packing, observing the llama gang climbing the nearby saddle en route to Leg Lake. Why in the world were the people wearing full packs if they had llamas?
I asked Mr. Hank for some of his trailmix under the guise of “easing his painfully heavy and burdensome load,” and he obliged, so took a bunch of it. I also took my mother’s small, portable charger. With these days of hiking now ending, my real mileage and climbing would start. Since I planned to GPS map the whole thing, it would be helpful to have her additional charger for my Samsung Note 8.
At 11:11, we struck out to retrace our camp ingress path from the previous day, going downhill and following the boulderfield along the lake edge, aiming to re-intercept the main Stough Creek Trail. The skies were few to scattered with high clouds, and it was very, very pleasant. As we entered the territory of the boulder field, I led the way.
The boulders are very large, and the footing solid. I hopped ahead a few boulders, and paused to let the others catch up. As I watched, my mother jumped onto a sloped boulder that I hadn’t used…and I watched in horror as she tripped and fell.
It wasn’t a “good” fall. She plummeted off the high rock headfirst into a large hole between boulders, impacting another boulder about 5 feet down with her pelvis, which swung her head first down into a further pit. Her body ended up jammed head down in a crevice, and there was nothing that anyone could do. My mind had terrible thoughts rush through: it was obviously a bad fall, and enough to easily fracture a neck or break other bones—had the intermediate impact helped or made things worse? We both had Guardian Flight subscriptions, so how quickly could I send a text to my SOS SATCOM management and get a helicopter dispatched? Where could it land? All those thoughts rushed through my head as I quickly jumped over rock and grappled down to her, with Hank and Peggy not far behind.
As I covered the 15 feet between us, I could hear her voice—good, she could speak. I told her to hold on and that I’d be there in a second, and I managed to quickly grab and lift her out of the pit. She was bleeding a lot from a number of places. I started a quick physical assessment and threw off my backpack, asking Hank and Peggy to please find all of my medical gear—this was very frustrating, as we couldn’t find some key items, but it turns out that they were in my top pouch, and we just overlooked them in the rush of adrenaline.
Mom seemed more dismayed thank anything else, and kept saying, “Shoot, shoot, shoot, I don’t know how that happened. Wendle is going to kill me.” Her knee was twisted pretty bad, and she had cuts and skin tears in a number of places, along with obvious contusions. We moved her to a safer spot and I cleaned her up as best I could, having removed her pack. She determined that she could walk, but carrying her pack was impossible for her, given how bad off her one leg was.
I told her that it was no problem, and strapped it backward on me. Thankfully, her pack is shorter, and was not so weighty by this time, so in the end, I was carrying under 50 lbs. Her pack provided a nice counterbalance to mine, too. Only seeing over the top of it was an issue.
We made our way north, breaking away from the shore and tromping across the middle land separating the two, large lakes. We did indeed find a nice spot for camping on the north end (check my GPS data and you’ll see the location. 😉 ) and re-emerged near the outlet of Lake 10,600 on a trail, which we presumed was the main path for SCL. On the opposite side of the outlet, we saw a mother, and father, a young man, and a very attractive young lady. The young man and young lady both looked intensely bored; the lady was just sitting in some weeds picking at them. They all just kind of stared at us.
The crossing appeared to be located here, but none of us felt like wading the shallow waters to the dull, gazing onlookers, so we stayed on the east side and walked down the use path there, moving into the trees when the area alongside the creek became too overgrown. In a few minutes, we were between Lake 10,550 and Pond 10,540, which you’ll have seen in some of my pictures already; it’s the little water body just beyond Lake 10,550. At the base of the rapids there was a place to cross but it was swifter and involved taking off shoes. Mom and I decided not to cross there, though Peggy and Hank went for it. We told them that we’d meet up again down trail. As we parted ways for the time being, the sky condition was becoming broken and threatening.
- 1. Looking back up at our camping location. (You can’t see the lake.)
- 2. Hank and Peggy walk away, having completed the crossing.
Mom and I moved on down to the pond’s inlet, which we rock walked across. From there we climbed some sloped granite and entered the trees, following my GPS toward another, possible crossing. The walking was easy, with no undergrowth. We emerged from the trees and skirted a marsh, heading toward a crossing between Pond 10,515 and Lake 10,510, which should, according to the map pictures I had and my older topo on my phone, but us back on the main trail. Although we tried our hardest not to have to take off shoes, eventually we had to. Mom offered to try and get her pack across, but I told her that I’d make it just fine.
Once on the other side, we put our shoes back on, and then Hank and Peggy arrived. Apparently there are a number of little trails on the other side, some of which just go to campsites, but we were now definitely on Stough Creek Lakes Trail 702. A word on the trails: 702 goes down until it connects with Stough Creek Lakes Trail 704; going left on the egress takes you on trail 704, which I call the Stough Creek Lakes Connector, as it has no actual name on the maps. Some signs on the trail list it as Stough Creek Basin Trail. The trail goes downhill for .3 miles, then splits off on Stough Creek Lakes Trail 703, which takes you to Worthen Meadows via Twin Lakes and Sheep Bridge Trail. If you stick on the trail 704, you’ll make you way down to Middle Fork Popo Agie/Tayo Lake Trail 700. On the other hand, if you go right at the creek, you’ll stay on trail 702, climb a pass, and end up at Worthen Meadows via the most direct route. I mention this because my various maps displayed the trails differently, with some not showing certain trails. My conclusion is this: in this area, at least, expect more trails, not less.
By the time we met back up, the sky was entirely covered with dark clouds as far as we could see, and a couple of times I wondered if I felt sprinkles as we walked. The temperature was pleasant, but I wondered if I’d need to break out my little rain poncho. From the crossing, we ambled 1.2 miles covering +65/-385 feet to the Stough Creek Bridge, which is in good shape. The trail down was easy, with mostly dirt and not too much loose gravel or shifty stones.
We arrived at the bridge at 1:28 and say down to get some water. A party of about 8-10 people came up the hill on the Connector Trail 704 en route to Stough Creek Basin, and one of them was the most staggeringly gorgeous young woman that has probably ever existed. Nice to know that attractive people like hiking, too, and it isn’t all just ugly people like me, hiding their grotesque forms in shame from humanity. Anyway, we said hello and chatted a bit, and they continued on their way.
- 1. Approaching the intersection of 702/704.
- 2. Looking downstream at…get this…Roaring Fork Mountain. Everything is Roaring Fork Mountain. So weird.
- 3. Looking upstream. The creek comes from Stough Creek Lakes and also some meadows above, and is very beautiful.
- 4. Intersection of trails 702 and 704. Someone lost their hat.
After snacking for a bit, mom said that she could carry her pack. I told her that I would simply stash it somewhere safe and grab it on my own egress, when my own pack was lighter, and take whatever food she might have left with me (not much), but that idea made her antsy. Former nuclear naval officer Hank, also known as the Mouth from the South for his booming voice (which has no quieter setting), nobly stepped in and saddled himself with the burden—a great man! I felt bad about that happening, but hey, let people be good. They left me at 1:59PM, headed back to their homes via the pass. I watched them disappear into the forest, heading uphill, and then I was alone. It was very quiet, with just the sound of the rapids nearby. Part of me was intensely sad. I wonder if I’ll always end up alone? For 31 years, I’ve failed to find a close friend to share my passions with. I shook the feeling off for a bit. By nature, I’m not a very likable person, and I know that I often lead people to irritation due to my personality, but I’ve been trying to change that. Anyway, I hate when my soul is disturbed by sadness. Keeping myself busy helps, so I turned left and headed downhill on trail 704.
- 1. Hank carrying two packs.
- 2 & 3. I listened to them disappear uphill, before heading off by myself to spend a few days alone.
- Above: pictures from the portion of Stough Creek Trail that the rest of my party saw after leaving me.
I was in a bit of a funk as I descended on the connector trail, which was fairly steep, so I put on a podcast. I’d downloaded a bunch, but for now, I chose to listen to an episode of Judge John Hodgman. As I walked down, I moved aside for a small party heading uphill, but wasn’t in the mood for talking. I made it to the next crossing of Stough Creek in only 6 minutes.
- 1. The steep descent towards trail 703.
- 2. The riparian zone adjacent to Stough Creek.
- 3. A note to Nick, attached to a tree. A dangerous game, given the weather.
- 4. Crossing Stough Creek under distressing skies.
I sat down on a rock to the east to remove my shoes, and saw a note to some guy named Nick. I wondered if he’d ever get it. Was Nick heading in, or was Nick heading out? Later in the day, I would meet a young man (or rather, pass him) on trail 700, but I had no clue where he was going. Later in the year, my mother and I took another hike and found a note to some guy telling him that they took his vehicle after waiting for “too long.” Ha!
Anyway, I put my sandals on and crossed the river. It wasn’t bad at this time of year. On the other side, I found the branch trail for 703, which simply read “Middle Fork Trail 4.” I have no clue why anyone in their right mind would use this method to access Middle Fork Trail. I have no clue why you’d want to even hit Middle Fork Trail at Three Forks Park, and you encounter another trail, anyway, if you follow 703, which takes you to Middle Fork, so the choice to measure it to there seemed weird. The trail itself was pretty faint, so I think it is not much used. By 2:20, I was walking uphill again.
The crossing occurs at 10,042 feet, and trail 703 follows Stough Creek downhill; it makes its way to the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie sandwiched between the sloping lead-up to Roaring Fork Mountain and a low-lying ridgleline. Trail 704, which I kept left to stay on, climbs just under 100 feet up to 10,147′, summiting the NW entrapping ridge before making its way fairly steeply down to the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie. Although you’ve left Stough Creek behind, the area is hydrologically active, so you’ll cross a few bridges on the way down.
Prior to cresting the ridge, you’ll come across a couple of meadows and get a last view of Roaring Fork Mountain. I took a picture, and continued on my way. Thankfully, my clothes had plenty of permetherine, and no mosquitoes bugged me. Get it?
The air was incredible still as I came over the top of the ridge, and there were no sounds—no forest creatures, no gentle woooosh of wind through pine. Just silence. The air was a bit warmer now, with the sun’s heat trapped beneath the clouds, and more humidity than I was used to. I sweated a little, even heading downhill. I came to my first bridge at 2:40; there was not much waterflow. Around 9900′ I came to a creek crossing without much creek; if I were to follow that uphill, Lake 10,035 lies 1000 feet off the trail. Sometimes I bag such lakes just to be a completionist, but not today.
I tried listening to Reason’s podcast How Psychedelics Changed the Life of One of America’s Leading Novelists, but it was as dull as his LSD trip must have been interesting, so I scrubbed that. Passing the first meadow, I saw Wind River Peak in view, now looking much closer. She’s a big ol’ gal!
I covered the 1.4 miles between Stough Creek and the intersection of trails 700 and 704 in just under 40 minutes, having climbed 100 feet and descended 650. It was a pleasant walk, but not exactly gorgeous. Oh No! Ross and Carrie’s investigation of Eckankar had been keeping me entertained for the past month or so, and I listened to a discussion on just how unusual the history of Sri Harold Klemp is. I can’t embed it, so you can just read their description and click the link if you’re interested.
Ross and Carrie visit Professor David Lane, who wrote what is still the most thorough exposé on Eckankar and its origins… back when he was an undergrad student! They discuss his personal interest in Eckankar, the secrets he says he uncovered, and the official Eckankar response to his claims. Plus, hear what Lane is up to now, and how his Eck-zamination all those years ago have informed his work today.
As I neared the intersection of the trails, Bills Park came into view beyond the trees. It was gorgeously green! I’d taken plenty of pictures of my Beartooth Publishing Wind River Range map (they make the best maps, period), and it said that I was about 3.7 miles from the Mountain Sheep Lake area. I could also tack on some extra mileage and make it up to Coon Lake, which was an additional 1.1 miles beyond. I was somewhat worried, as one blog I read (no link, as I don’t remember who it was) talked of hiking to Coon Lake and having a very difficult time getting across the creek due to rapids and waterfalls. My map didn’t make it look like that would be a problem, but it’s hard to say what you’re in for when you’ve never been to a remote location before.
I was also debating how far I could make it, as the clouds were very threatening. I didn’t need to get soaked. A last consideration was the choice of camping location. Mountain Sheep Lake was off-trail, so that would eat into my time if I were going to go on up to Coon. I wanted each lake I was visiting to get more than just a brief glance! The satellite imagery made Coon look like it might only have little scragglebrush to camp by, and I thought that I’d prefer to be down in the trees if a real rager came up. Being on mountain passes during storms tends to blow, which I’ve detailed in other posts. Immediately after leaving the intersection, I came across an old, log fence. Why was is there? Some sort of boundary, but for what?
I walked along the path for half a mile and then found a nice boulder to sit on for a spot of lunch. I tore into my jerky and also my DELICIOUS Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (crunchy), which I love. They heat your mouth up a bit, but nothing too bad, and that crunch is to die for when you’re having mostly rehyrdrated meals. When I continued on, I was very tempted to go fishing in the Popo Agie, but I finally decided that it wasn’t worth the time to catch what would almost certainly just be brook trout. I wish that some of the rivers had less brookies. They’re fun and easy to catch by the boatload, but they’re also small and not as exciting as large, true trout. Soon I was climbing a large, granite buttress, having made my way uphill and over a few bridges. As I crested it, I saw a younger man heading the opposite direction. I stepped aside and said hello. He was by himself…Nick?
- Last: The area just prior to climbing the granite buttress at 3:38PM. Still cloudy. Tempting to go fishing…
- Below: Listening for the sound of the mysterious creature; shortly after I met the opposing-direction man.
After I passed the young guy, I heard some sort of hideous and creepy sound…I thought. It was gone as soon as I stopped to pay attention. One thousand feet later, I was to the Sweetwater Gap Trail intersection; keeping left there technically results in one staying on trail 700, as going right to Tayo, the trail becomes 706, which itself goes to Ice Lakes. Anyway, .4 miles past this intersection it’s 707 up to Tayo. Rumor has it that there’s a cutoff to Tayo on the Sweetwater Gap trail if you’re coming from the south, but I never saw the ingress point, so I don’t know. As I approached Tayo Park, I realized what the sound was…a very vocal mule!
The crossing was very easy, with pretty views of the ramps of Mount Nystrom. In the future, I hope to explore the alpine lakes hanging on the sides of it, as well as the lake above Mountain Sheep Lake.
While I’ve been calling this area Tayo Park, my map says Tayo Park is uptrail about 20 minutes, but they’re close enough together for me that I refer to them both by that name. I said hello to the mule and his two horse companions upon crossing, as they were by the trail, hitched to a line. There were no outfitters with them. Odd! As I left the area, I came upon a trail divergence…it seemed to be some sort of use trail. Was it a shortcut? There was nothing worth seeing nearby. Why was it there?
I dawdled a bit and then took it, hoping it wasn’t some deceptive garbage meant to get me lost. It wasn’t, and seemed to really just be more direct path, as it reconnected with the main trail quite quickly. Right after reconnecting, I was at the intersection of trail 707 and Ice Lakes Trail, which had an appended sign saying, “No Stock Advised.” In the moment, I was glad not to be climbing it, though I expected that I’d descend it soon enough.
As I continued my walkabout, I listened to the Futility Closet, learning separately about mathematicians Srinivasa Ramanujan and Paul Erdős. The latter was so prolific that the so called “Erdős number” describes the “collaborative distance” between mathematician Paul Erdős and another person, as measured by authorship of mathematical papers. How incredible is that? I also have long held that the hosts of FC don’t know how to say Patreon, as they seemingly say it a different way every time; while listening to Episode 147, “Call of Mount Kenya,” they confirmed that fact 25 minutes into the show. That buoyed my spirits and I took a note of my phone. I still had a few, bad memories of my mom’s fall—what if it had been worse? Man, I was blessed that it wasn’t! On the whole, though, I was feeling pretty good about life!
The trail remains away from the river for almost the entire duration of the walk up to Poison Lake, but it’s easy enough and there are a few creeks splashing down out of lakes and ponds to the north, in case you need to get something to drink. I did need a drink at one point, and as I was getting it, I correctly solved a Futility Closet lateral thinking puzzle about an air traffic controller who was murdered in real life following a mistake he made on the job. The walk seemed to be taking a while, but in reality it wasn’t that bad. I was learning so many new facts that it seemed longer than it was.
About 1/2 a mile below Poison Lake, some outfitters passed me heading downhill. There were only two of them, both on horses, and they asked me if I’d seen a mule and two horses down by the crossing.
“Good, they’re still there. Did the mule talk to you?”
“I’d say that he wouldn’t stop talking to me.”
They both found their loud mule to be amusing, and wished me a good day as we continued on our respective paths. The trail began to open up, and then I was by the river again, and very close to Poison Lake. It was very easy walking, still, though every minute seemed to take forever. I think that I was mainly distressed over the uncertainty of the weather, which was making things seem to take longer.
- 1. I almost fished, again.
- 2-4. Approaching the Poison Lake opening with Mount Nystrom.
- 5. Looking back. The ridgetop popping into view is in fact the ridge I descended earlier right after crossing Stough Creek for the final time.
Poison Lake appears shallow, with many sandy edges, at least at this time of year. However, that’s not to say that it isn’t gorgeous—it’s amazing. I’ve never seen a lake in the Winds or the Big Horns with so many fantastic camping locations. Many of the areas were well-developed by outfitters, sheltered under huge trees, with trees positioned for sitting on. Some of the campsites were too close to the trail, per the regs, but it often seems that outfitters have some waiver for that. I was SORELY tempted to stay, but it was only 5, so I still had hours of daylight left. I left the trail and meandered along the banks to take some pictures. I swear, I’d love to “live” by each lake in the mountains for at least three days each.
If you closely examine the pictures above, you might spot virga. I spotted it, too. For that reason, I pressed onward, heading toward Mountain Sheep Lake. The trail leaves the meandering shallow river, and heads back into the woods, and so did I, while listening to the Reason Roundtable talk with Justin Amash.
Why John Boehner Was a Better Speaker than Paul Ryan: Justin Amash | Boehner openly despised the libertarian Republican from Michigan but actually allowed him and others to debate and vote freely on spending bills.
Since I was already dawdling, I had time to also listen to the Reason Roundtable folks talk about how strange Tucker Carlson is. He’s definitely an odd duck.
As I followed the trail uphill, I saw a few great places to fish and camp down by the river; one tempted me enough that I walked down a little way toward it, before desisting. (On my GPS tracks, you’ll sometimes seem little hoops or horseshoes. You know what they are, now!
Half a mile past Poison Lake, I left the trail to head south toward the river, as I was nearing Mountain Sheep Lake. There was an awesome place near the river that was hidden from view and seemed an unlikely find; I’d not mind staying there at all, as it had a beautiful pool for fishing nearby, was flat, and nestled among tall trees. This close to Mountain Sheep, I wasn’t about to give up, so I went off-trail through the forest and happened upon a park by the river; I followed it until the banks and river got rocky again, hoping to find a spot to cross. I finally did, but I was convinced that I was going to fall in.
- Tip: Don’t cross where I did. The next day, I found out that there’s a crossing at the creek literally less than a football field away. Just follow the trail and loop back.
I made it across, though I was highly worried that I was going to fall in and destroy my mother’s camera, and also maybe myself. I didn’t, though! Man, how cool am I? I followed the meadowed path of least resistance and approached the lake, which was a mere 700 feet away. The woods were beautiful, as were the meadows, and everything was lust and green. I kept quiet on my approach, hoping to avoid disturbing any other campers. Reaching one larger clearing at 6:05PM, I saw that it had been “civilized” and was soft, flat, and level, with places for sitting. That’s my place! I set down my backpack and made my way to the lake edge, looking around. I thought I heard people, but that ended up being my imagination. It was just me. Cool! Trout were hitting the lake ferociously, so I quickly set up camp. I also collected firewood, bark, etc.
As I made my fire, it began to rain quite a bit. I moved everything into my tent and protected myself as best I could from the rain, and got my DELICIOUS Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings going. I can’t say enough good about these; they’re the hi