Starting near East Tensleep Lake, this 10-mile hike is an exercise in orienteering to three unnamed lakes that many people do not visit. It can be done as an overnight hike or as a 2-nighter.
➤ Quick Facts
I had been reading Eric’s Hikes and considering which other hikes that I’d like to take this year. Having already done 7 Brothers Lakes, Middle Cloud Peak Lake, Powell Lakes, and Lost Twin Lakes, I was thinking about hitting up Chill Lakes and Firehole Lakes near Bighorn Peak. Eric’s comments about the area dissuaded me, however, as he referred to it as a hellscape of rocks with nothing to do.
For some stupid reason, I decided that seeing East Tensleep Lake would be cool, and then hiking to some unnamed lakes and possibly Lake Maybelle and Lake McClain.
⤑Day 1: Forest Road 340 to Lake 10233
September is always a risky time to hike in Wyoming, but the weather was supposed to be great. I drove up and was on US 16 5 hours after leaving my house. In another 45 minutes, I had driven right past FR 430…ooops. I had to backtrack to it, as I ended up at Lakeview. What a start. I had so many bugs on the windshield that the video is basically unwatchable. Sorry for that.
Let me say right now: Forest Road 430 is semi-navigable with 4×4 and high clearance. Let me also say that your average speed will be so slow that you literally might be better off walking. I was quite convinced that I might get trapped up there due to this dang road. It took me an hour and 30 minutes to go less than 3 miles, and I wasn’t sure that I’d make it. If you’re thinking that you can make it all the way to East Tensleep Lake, just forget that nonsense. If you’re on an ATV, then maybe…otherwise, absolutely no way.
I parked my Jeep in a little pullout that seemed designed for people who realized that they were going to have to give up, and then I was all saddled up and underway in less than 15 minutes. The road in from where I parked wasn’t bad, with only a 365 feet of aggregate climb. In about 12 minutes I’d covered almost 3/4 of a mile, found a lost flashlight, and was at a split in the road, with a trail leading off toward East Tensleep Lake. There were a few raspberries near the lake still, oddly enough, so I stopped and consumed them. The lake doesn’t have a visible outlet, instead featuring a rock dam, and in fact at this time of year it was a pond + a lake, because low water had caused a split in the north and south sections of the thing.
- East Tensleep Pond and outlet.
I was surprised by the quality of the light. It wasn’t even 4 and it felt like evening was coming. This time of year is harder for me to hike in, as I typically roast under the sun and freeze under the trees. Standing on the rock dam, I made my first choice: go up the north-running ridge rather than walk up the drainage toward the unnamed lakes. Why? Because the drainage was massive boulders as far as the eye could see, whereas the ridge at least seemed to have some grass. I climbed up 1/2 a mile through forests, aiming for the 10,250 contour, rather than following the lip overlooking the drainage. For the most part, I was just going north via the path of least resistance. This placed me on the opposite side of the ridge and spilled me out into a large, grassy hill, which was an odd feeling. I startled an elk along the way, though he also startled me.
- Before the boulder hell.
At 10,150 feet I took a quick break to suck down some water, then went east to the ridge overlooking the drainage, as I was aware that going too high might be problematic. While this whole trip was ill-advised, my decision to drop down the ridge and follow a grassy path was probably one of the stupider choices that I made during it. The grass was tilted and I was soon in a hellscape of boulders. Whereas some boulder fields are nice, this one was not. Many of the rocks were shifty, and I had to make my way up and down to make any progress. 2.4 miles into my journey I came to cliffs and was relieved. Cliffs were much better than what I’d been doing! I never saw a single cairn or sign of any human presence, and 2.75 miles into my hike I was overlooking Lake 10,233. At the point I was 200 feet above it, but it was grassier and I made my way down to the lake fairly easily. The lake itself was pretty, and there were numerous grassy places to camp which were quite level.
Everything was dead still, and it was clear that this place held no fish. The shadows were getting quite long, given the time of year, so at 6:20 I started setting up my tent. It was also getting very dang chilly, so I put on my down jacket. Dinner cooked while I took some pictures, and by 830 I was snuggled in my REI Magma 10, with my thermals on, too. It was REALLY cold! I watched a TV show and then hit the hay. The night was almost eerily quiet, with no wind, and I didn’t even hear any birds or elk.
Day 1 Totals: 3 miles, +1285/-464′, 9404 min, 10004 avg, 10415 max elevation.
⤑Day 2: Point 11361 and Lake 10577
I woke up at 0600 and my tent was coated in frost and ice. It was really, really freaking frigid out, and I was glad that I had my balaclava and wool socks! After peeing I decided that I’d wait for things to warm up, so I took a nap until about 0900. It was still cold, so I read and ate food in my tent. I wasn’t on the “trail” until noon! And you know what, that was the smart decision.
The hiking was much easier than the day before, and I made my way along the lake quite happily, soon arriving at Lake 10,250. I thought that it didn’t have an inlet, but it turned out that the inlet was just hidden by a rock ledge. I grabbed a couple of pictures. Oddly, these lakes didn’t seem to have any amphipods. I also didn’t see any waterfowl.
- Lunch area!
The drainage in this area is very easy to walk up, with no tricks to it; you can choose to stay on the grass or to walk granite slabs. I did both and arrived at the uppermost lake at 230. This lake is rather pretty, with a verdant color and areas where it’s very deep. Like the others, it had no fish. I made my way down to it and sat on a large rock in its outlet. I decided to have lunch here while listening to Judge John Hodgman. Getting water from the outlet was incredibly easy thanks to an uninterrupted stream. At 340 I departed to crest the hill over to Lake 10,577. It was an easy walk up to the saddle some 600 feet above me. I dropped my pack and fought my way to Point 11,361, where I had good views of Meadowlark Lake, the ski hill, and everything else! I called my girlfriend at the time, who didn’t answer. We were never a really good fit and I think that both of us were relieved when we ended up going our separate ways. I will say that she is an excellent and stunningly gorgeous woman with the world’s best butt, and I wish that we’d have had more in common than we did.
- The first lake above is where I had lunch. The others are East Tensleep and Meadowlark.
Anyway, I tried twice and gave up. Back at my pack, I surveyed the way down. Straight down the chute was nothing but boulders that looked tricky, but if I went NE it seemed that I could maybe keep to slabby granite, which would be preferable. After navigating a tricky snowfield, I was in a rockpile. Part of it fell away beneath me, and a Tarzan jump saved me from…well, I don’t want to think about it. Yikes! The slabs weren’t far away and soon I was making my way up and down ledges with little creeks, and then abruptly I was stopped by a little cliff overlooking the lake!
- Doesn’t look like yikes but it was super yikes!
This lake was much prettier than the others, but quite desolate. There were no trees whatsoever. I took off my pack and used my Canon 80D to get some photos, then looked for a way down the cliff. I found one with no trouble and had to decide where I wanted to camp: the spit of land (island) to the north, the elevated rock platform to the south, or a granite hump with grassy patches to the west. I chose the west section. The rock platform would be windier, and the island/spit would be colder, darker, and farther to walk.
- What a sexy dude.
I picked the least lumpy section of grass. The water smelled fishy, but it certainly had no fish, and no bugs, either. As I set up, I realized that I’d lost a camera lens. Oh yikes! Where? Oh, back where I took the picture, I bet. Consarnit. That was almost a quarter of a mile away. I mentally kicked myself and made my way back up the cliff. Sure enough, there was my lens. Secured, I returned to my camp. Dinner and cleaning myself off were pretty cold, but getting in my thermals felt great. The evening itself was stunning, and the weather was excellent for the time of year.
Day 2 Totals: 2.8 miles, +1280/-1151′, 10222 min, 10681 avg, 11361 max elevation.
⤑Day 3: Exit via Lake Creek and East Tensleep Lake
The day dawned warmer than the previous, and at 0900 I was out of my tent. I was the only person around so I decided to strut my naked butt around and get warm in the beautiful sun! I also cleaned myself and checked out my feet, which had been beaten to crap during the summer. There was no fishing and little to do, so by 1015 I was heading toward my Jeep. I decided not to go over to Maybelle and McClain based on how uninspiring the hike had already been, and also on the fact that my bear spray had become lost. (Which can happen when you are Tarzan.)
For the most part, I followed the drainage out. There was one small lake below Lake 10577 and it had a couple of ducks. The creek had no fish, though it was scenic and made for easy walking. At 10,300 feet I entered into the forests and chose the paths of least resistance. There were many fine camping spots, but no reasons to camp anywhere. At 10,130′ I had to backtrack a bit as I ended up in some cliffy areas there were pushing me higher. I ended up climbing down a small cliff and finding a spot to cross the stream. I tried fishing but had no success, nor did I see any fish. From there the only challenge was the occasional marsh, which I made my way around with no real challenges. At some point, I decided to leave the creek and head straight toward East Tensleep Lake. I got there at 1230, so it had only taken me a couple of hours, which isn’t hideous for not being on a trail at all.
- The hike out.
There was no path for most of the way (in fact, until almost the little connector between the pond and ETL), but there were no challenges. Once I got to the pond, I tried fishing, as I saw some fish, and actually had some minor successes, though nothing to write home about. As I left along the pond, I passed a middle-aged man and woman, and I think that I startled them. My clothes are always semi-camo, but we stopped and chatted. They were very nice. Rain appeared to be coming, so I took my leave of them and was in my Jeep at 1:42 for the horror-show of a drive out. Of note, at least to me, was the JJHO had mentioned that he’d had spiritual experiences, so he didn’t consider himself an atheist. That was unexpected.
- Storms to the north.
The drive out was tedious and long.
Day 3 Totals: 4 miles, +374/-1556′, 9386 min, 9963 avg, 10582 max elevation.
➤Conclusion and Rating
This hike was a letdown. It was nice for me to get out and exercise, but there wasn’t good fishing, the scenery was lackluster, the pretty lake smelled, and getting there was a pain in the butt. There were also boulder fields that actually seemed to be filled with rocks that want to kill all humans. That’s not cool.
Summary? My friend David King once told me, “Lucas, sometimes when there isn’t a trail, there’s a good reason for that.”
- My scientific rating system. I didn’t care for this hike and would not do it again.
- Beauty. There were two pretty sunsets, but otherwise the area was not pretty.
- Camping spots. You can camp wherever. No one will be around.
- Crowds. No one goes to any of these locations.
- Difficulty. Relatively easy, but the boulders are a challenge.
- Fishing. Meager.
- History. None.
I’d love to help you do more with that time of yours, and I’m here to serve you! Let me know if this wasn’t useful, or if I can improve in any way.