The 2017 eclipse event was coming up and my air traffic manager had guaranteed that I’d have the time off. What a blessing! Whooo hooooo! I invited so many different people to join me on an eclipse hike, but everyone declined except for my mother, who lived about 3.5 hours away. Still a good hiking partner! We decided to hike Dinwoody Basin to Downs Mountain via the Glacier Trail and off-trail, snow permitting. The previous year had left a lot of extra snow, but we decided to be flexible. The Torrey Creek Trailhead would put us within 1000 feet of totality, which is what we wanted! I also had my brand new Big Agnes Copper Spur UL HV 2 tent, which saved me a lot of weight. 🙂
⤷Searching and Discovering Tragic History from Locals
In this introduction, I would be remiss to not mention valiant men who lost their lives.
Near-mid August, 1943.
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator American heavy bomber departed its air base in Pocatello, Idaho, to conduct a training mission, with a planned return to Pocatello. Its crew would never see the state again.
Maneuvering over and through the mountains, they made their way the mountains near Dubois, Wyoming, but what happened after that is unknown. The tree-scars seems to indicate level flight into the rising terrain, as if they flew up a valley they didn’t know they were in, but what happened is lost to time. One thing is for certain: the aircraft was far off course, as investigators from the Army Air Corps noted in their report.
“Someone called in to report a forest fire on the other side of Trail Lake,” Pat Boland remarked on August 14th, 1943, as the Second Great War raged on abroad. Firefighters were dispatched by Forest Ranger C.S. Thornock to fight thre reported blaze, and arrived to find the bodies of the crew “badly mangled and burned,” as the bomber violently exploded upon impact.
- Lt. Alan F. Kirschner
- Lt. Lyle P. Schoeder
- Lt. David H. Macgowan
- Lt. Royce Davis
- Sgt. William G. Parkey
- Sgt. Herbert W. Roberts
- Sgt. Chester W. Stock
- Sgt. Joseph B Baiocchi
What actually happened to these people? What caused the tragedy? We may never know for sure, but by talking to people who have long family history, I’ve learned a good deal. Below I’ve detailed correspondence with various individuals, who stipulated that I could use their names. Rather than interpret their words for you, I’ll post directly what they said.
My mother and aunt (twins) were about 15 at the time and were the last to see this plane fly up that ‘valley’. They lived at Trail Lake Ranch – now whatever it is at the head of the valley there. They saw a plume of smoke shortly after. No one was home but them at the ranch so they reported it to their father, Milton White, when he returned from Dubois. Milt went in with the party to see what had happened…[There was] no bad weather. At the time it was thought they might have been just looking around. They flew up into a canyon where it was not possible to turn around; believe it is a dead end. You can hike in now—good, long hike.
And you know the rest of the story.—Susan Sutherland
My Dad told the same story about [Susan Sutherland’s] Mom and aunt seeing it fly over.—Joe Shippen
Old, local reporting notes,
According to accounts…the four-engine bomber crashed into a mountain peak located on the upper South Fork of Torrey Creek between Hidden Lake and Lewis Lake. According to the story, “The bodies of the men were badly mangled and burned when the bomber exploded as it hit, starting a forest fire in that location.”
The fact that the bomber had crashed wasn’t known until firefighters, under the direction of Forest Ranger C.S. Thornock, arrived at the scene to extinguish the blaze. An official investigation party from the Pocatello air base arrived in Dubois shortly, including staff officers, doctors, and 50 enlisted men with trucks and ambulances. Horses were secured from the Trail Lake and CM Ranches to pack into the site. The group from Pocatello later came and stayed at the ranch to investigate the accident. According to the officials from the air base, the plane was way off course.
Forty-six years later, in the fall of 1989, Jane and Scott Maller of Sundance were bighorn sheep hunting in the area when Maller found a dog tag which had belonged to one of the crew of the crashed bomber. The crash site has been named “Bomber Basin” by forest rangers in recent years; however, the area is known by the old timers as Henton Valley.
These men were ready to sacrifice their lives far from family, and lost them tragically close to their home base. To the mountains their memories are consigned. May they rest in peace.
⤑Day 1, 16 Aug: Torrey Creek TH to Camp 10,190
We met up at Lander and bought me a new hat and a buff since I’d lost my old flop-top one. The USFS people let us drop my mom’s Optima off at their parking lot, though I’d not recommend trying this…my mother was bold and decided to ask, and I think they felt bad for us, since we have a naturally “poor” look.
The drive from Lander to Torrey Creek trailhead doesn’t give you much in the way of cell service, and we missed the Torrey road the first time. Oops. Without GPS download maps, I had to just remember what the land looked like from Google Earth. 6 minutes later we were on the right road!
The road in is very good which isn’t always true for roads in the Winds. We arrived at the trailhead and it was just so dang hot. Due to the length of the drive (5.5 hours for me) and the stop we had to make for my hat consideration. Neither of us had done this trail, so we were happy to see how it went. If you go down by the corrals at the trailhead, outfitters have their own ingress trail that takes you very high immediately, and while we considered doing this, we didn’t feel like crossing the river or following this unofficial path, and typically horses beat paths to crap, so we didn’t do it.
We got underway at 2PM. The trail started off in desert scrub and climbed a switchback or two into arid trees, and then we arrived at the Torrey Creek crossing. This little geologic cut via hydrology is awesome, and the raging torrent caused cool spray to reach up toward us! We got some pictures and then left. From there, the trail climbs gradually through very dry areas (though some recent rains had left a few puddles) with granite scraping up into the air from the ground below. There wasn’t much in the way of water, so be aware when you leave your vehicle. Soon enough we entered into a forest high over the banks of East Torrey Creek, and then came out with beautiful views of Bomber Basin, or more accurately, the area right beneath it.
Soon after, we came to an intersection on our left. Was it the trail? (Note: Having done this trail a couple of times at the point that I’m transcribing these notes, I have to add that I still don’t know where that trail goes, but it does go…somewhere, and appears to be in good repair based on Google Earth imagery.)
We’d read that we’d have to do 33 switchbacks, and soon after crossing a small creek, they absolutely began. However, were there 33? No, I’d say more like 27 or something close to that. They climbed from about 8600 feet in elevation to just shy of 10,000, ascending through forests and then rockpiles, and then forests, and finally spitting us out on a bald hillside. Mom wasn’t feeling well for unknown reasons, so I started considering a place to stop. We came quickly to a creek crossing which looked nice, but it was one of those places that’s too nice, so you know that everyone’s been there, and will try to be there—I like to avoid that! We filled up out bottles and kept going, and soon saw a big field opposite the creek that abutted a bunch of forest. It appeared to not be populated, so we made our way across the creek and moseyed along, looking for a place to park it.
At 7PM we found a nice, flat, almost-groomed spot at 10,190’…with wood piled up…outfitters! It suited us and mom wasn’t feeling the bests, so we got the tent set up and started working on a fire as the shadows lengthened. As it turned out, there was another creek off in the woods about 50 feet away, with very deep pools amidst fields of boulders—I certainly didn’t expect to find anything there, but it made getting water very easy. Mom and I were both quite pleased with the location. I was so happy that I ate a lemon poppyseed poundcake that I’d packed in with me.
The sunset was beautiful, with bright light across grass fields running into the darkness of clouds high above. I told my mom about a podcast where I absolutely disagree with the personal beliefs of the presenters, but which I find amusing regardless. It’s called “Oh No! Ross and Carrie,” and I like to listen to it when I’m hiking.
- Last picture: my new sleeping bag, the REI Magma 10. Best thing ever!
Day 1 estimates: 6.2 miles, +2800/-170′, elevation min/avg/max 7594, 8768, 10190′
⤑Day 2: Camp 10,190 to Goat Flat Camp 12,310
We were up before 8 and mom was still feeling kinda rotten. We’d both brought some extra clothes that we were both willing to cache for the return given how she felt (allowing me to take on more weight). I found a wayward spruce tree and bundled the clothes and items into Ziploc bags, then concealed them carefully.
With that done, we set off, returning via an angled approach to the trail which we then kept on for a mile. There was a creek to the west the entire time, and at 10,800, we decided to head for Downs Mountain first. Our plan was to hit Downs, go along the spine of the winds, and then drop down into Glacier Creek, returning via the Glacier Trail. Or at least that’s what our new plan was. We split off and crossed the creek, taking on plenty of water, since it might be a totally barren flat with nothing to drink. As we were heading up, my mom shouted,
GAH! WHAT? A BROKEN ANKLE? DID WE FORGET THE KEYS? WAS SOMETHING LEFT MILES BEHIND?
“Ross and Carrie,” my mom chuckled. Grrr.
Distances seem weird around Goat Flat. We walked for 1 1/4 miles before finally reaching an overlook of Bomber Lake. It seemed like it should have been so much faster—how could that be more distance than the distance from our camp to where we diverged? The overlook itself was spectacular, and we got plenty of photos. Shame about the time of day! From there the topo indicated that it was best to stay close to the cliffs, as going further south would take us much higher than we needed to go, and also actually be less direct if we were tacking to Downs. SOLD!
- If you look closely at the pictures above, one of them has distant hikers.
- Second-to-last photo: The Washakie Needles in the distance, along with Dome Mountain.
On the way along the cliffs, we saw a bunch of Bighorn Sheep. Inbred animals. Cute, though. While it seemed like we should be going flat, the vastness of Goat Flat is deceiving. It’s not flat at all, and you’ll wander in between boulders, up and down, but on the whole, up, up, and up. The good news is that there are little water pools in abundance, so you don’t need to pack tons of hydration. Of course, that’s bad, too, since there is much time spent walking about pools of water, and marshy areas, which you can see in the gallery above.
At 11,800 and 10 miles in, we passed an opening to a large, long scree chute, the first real break in the cliffs that we’d seen. I call this Mile-and-a-Half-Hell Chute. This late in the season, there were still snowfields, and we climbed one, still heading toward Downs. Mom felt pretty tepid indeed, and I don’t know if it was the altitude, or not being in shape, or just how demoralizing the miles and miles and miles of uphill boulder fields are, but I felt not so great about the trek at that point! Plenty of airplanes zoomed overhead.
- The first four airplanes above are headed to Jackson, where I used to control. The rest are an Air France A380, an Air Force B-1 Bomber, a Fedex MD-11, and a United 787.
Eventually we saw a very large, long snowfield in the distance. On its left flank was a…well, kind of a half-hut of stones built up high, in which there was a tent. Makes sense, because this place is a boulderscape that punishes the unwary with gale-force winds. We kept going; there was a little pond at the base of Downs according to the map, and perhaps we could put up shop there for the evening? Going was pretty slow for us given mom’s condition.
We crested the snowfield and saw that the patches of grass in the boulders gave way to almost all boulders. Blech. Oh well! Press on. We kept to the southern side of the spine of the flat now. This ended up being unwise. At a certain point, travel is much easier and less filled with giant boulders if you switch back to the northern section of the spine, but we didn’t know this.
Finally, we were heading down to No Man’s Pass. It was an incredible pass, but completely inhospitable. The southern side seemed impossible to traverse at all, as it was covered with a cornice. It also smelled…foul. Like a musky fart. Not good. No clue why. Downs Lake, well in the distance below to the Southeast, looked to be about the prettiest lake that we’d ever seen, and we both agreed that going through a similar slog to camp at a lake like that might be worth it. On the north side of No Man’s Pass is a boulder field which was not hospitable, but more easily traversed than the snow on the south. At the bottom was an unnamed lake; the outlet leads to Turquoise Lake. I know of one person who attempted moving between the two, and she was not successful due to the technical climbing that she ended up needing to not die during the movement between them. Instead, she cut over the hump West of Spider Peak, as if her goal was Mile-Long Lake, and she said that this was far easier to do. (This will become relevant in the future.)
- So many places to camp at Downs Lake.
- Trolltongue with Downs in the background.
- Bottom left: in front of the unnamed lake on the north side of No Man’s Pass.
- Bottom right: Down’s Lake, which I would like to visit one day.
We pressed on for a hundred feet, but it appeared that the boulders got worse closer to Downs, and it was starting to get towards evening. I wanted to climb Downs, but we wouldn’t have enough time in the night, and mom thought that we wouldn’t be able to climb it at all. A large, steep snowfield seemed to dominate it to her, and it looked too steep. After some deliberation, we decided to head back about 15 minutes to an area south of the big snowfield we’d climbed. We’d seen good, grassy areas, and we knew that it had plenty of water. That could be our place for the evening.
Heading back, we could see that the north side had fewer boulders and more grass, so we followed that. I found a pair of sunglasses, so I guess it’s not No Man’s Pass after all, huh? The terrain naturally leads one to cross back to the south side of things, though you wouldn’t know it on the ingress, as I mentioned, so pay attention for that. We made it back to a mostly flat spot and moved only a couple of rocks that were “tufted” in the soil. In the soil in places like this, removing rocks leaves holes that perfectly maintain the shape of the object they formerly held, which can create annoying depressions that you then have to fill in or otherwise workaround. The soil was filled with granite bits, so I was happy that I had the footprint for my tent.
It was a very cold evening, though gorgeous, and getting colder, and no fire could be made given that we were basically surrounded by rocks as far as the eye could see—we used some of those rocks to form a windbreak, at least, so they weren’t totally without value. The wind really whipped at us, too, so neither of us was in much of a cleaning mood…but after dinner, mom got in the tent and I got nekkid outside and almost froze to death getting dirt off of me. Freshened up, I got in the tent. Later, once it was fully dark, I got out and took photos of the Milky Way, though I thought that I might die getting the shots.
- Top right: Mount Warren and Bonney Pass.
Day 2 estimates: 8 miles, +2851/-637′, elevation min/avg/max 10,190, 11,637, 12,452′
⤑Day 3: Downs Mountain Summit (A Lost Day)
Our progress hadn’t been nearly what I’d hoped for as mom had been feeling so bad, so my hopes of a Dinwoody circuit were already pretty much shot. We got up in the morning and packed up our tents and discussed what we should do. I said that we should at least get close to Downs Mountain and check it out. She agreed, so we made our way back, sticking to the north side of the ridge, and about to the little lake, picking a high spot to check things out better. There was too much snow for us to safely make it to Gannett in a timely fashion, so that was out. Mom said that there was no way that we could do Downs, either, so I reluctantly turned around and we started heading back toward the trailhead. No Man’s Pass wasn’t something that I was confident of, but I reminded her of the Mile-and-a-Half-Hell chute that we’d seen. We could make our way down that to Bomber Lake. I’d wanted to visit the bomber crash site, so we could do that?
- Top: mountains peeking from above Goat Flat.
- Bottom: the geologist’s tent…you’ll read about him. The got-dang wind! That’s why he has a mini-fortress.
After passing about 3/4 of a mile beyond the large snowfield where we’d seen the tent, I told her that I really thought we should try Downs. It’s the northernmost 13er in the Continental Divide of the Rockies! All downhill from there. It was late and we got into a bit of a tiff over the decision, but eventually we agreed. It seemed such a shame to waste the day just hiking downhill when we had extra time to kill before the eclipse.
We decided that we’d drop most of the items from my pack, and my mother’s entire pack, where we’d just packed it all up from. What a waste of time. We went ahead and set up the tent again, too, since it seemed unlikely that we’d be able to do much more given that we’d basically wasted a day. Our nerves were certainly frayed!
As we started to head back toward Downs, a man with a little boy came walking the opposite direction. They stopped and chatted and revealed that they’d come from Downs Mountain, and gave us tips of how we’d best climb it. The boy was nice, and the man was his father. From Michigan, the man didn’t seem to care for his child very much, but the kid was still of good cheer.
“Yeah, his mom dumped him on me for the summer. Ruined my plans. So I guess we’re stuck doing this.”
The kid seemed oblivious to this and was full of energy and rather enthusiastic about talking to us. His father showed us a diamond that he’d brought with him for the hike. He was going to leave it as a “gift for the mountain,” but chose not to, as he wasn’t that enthused about Downs Mountain. It was a special diamond that he’d collected in India (he was some sort of geologist), but I guess no precious jewels for Downs. We parted ways.
As we walked past No Man’s Pass (again!), a woman pulled herself bodily up from a crack in the cornice. What??? We both marveled at it. She was alone, and we said hello. She’d just come from Down’s Lake, but wasn’t very friendly at all.
“Where are you hiking to?”
“Out and about.”
“That’s an incredible climb!”
Well OK then. We took our leave of her as she definitely didn’t want to talk with us and continued on! Finally we came across the little pond and my mom and I took separate ways around it. It was certainly not a good place to camp. The best approach to us seemed to be from the south heading northwest, and we tacked that way, following the long slabs of unbroken granite when we could, though also having to cross snow and boulder fields. The man and the child had also done it this way, although I think that you could just pick your way up the rocks along the northern edge…but then, of course, you’re just rockpicking for thousands of feet.
Although Downs seems like it’s only a 300-ft climb, it is in fact over 1000′ feet from the pond beneath, and my poor mom just felt wretched, so we stopped a number of times to let her rest. Poor lady! We also watched the unfriendly lady follow us up. She was trying to go toward Gannett, it seemed, and made her fairly far up before finding that there was too much snow where she wanted to each the divide. She laboriously made her way back down, looking all around for an edge of exposed rock that she could traverse. As I’d noted the day before, there was still a lot of snow, and you’d not want to cross the steep fields.
It took us from 2:10 to 3:45 to reach the first summit of Downs (it has three little peaks, but the real peak is the northernmost one), as we had to stop for numerous rest breaks from mom. My favorite views in the Wind River Range certainly weren’t the ones we got here or even on Fremont Peak, but rather what one gets from Wind River Peak. The vista includes a rugged overlook into the Slide Lake area, the distant Tetons (which are better seen from Big Balls of Cowtown Trail, for a much better hike), and Gannett to the south. It was very pretty, though not anything that I plan to do again, at least not for the vista, given that the lead-up is so ugly.
- My tent blends right in, huh?
From the south prominence, we saw the unamiable lady make her way toward Yukon Peak, until she vanished, a tiny dot among boulders. Bye, girlface! We found the survey marker and at 6PM headed back toward camp. The sun had set and it was chilly, which made the steep, eastern snowfield very grippy, so we were able to save time and effort by walking down most of it. Thank God!
- First picture above: Lake beneath No Man’s Pass, Turquoise Lake, and Bomber Lake as seen descending Downs Mountain.
- Can you spot my tent?
My tent looks just like a boulder, so finding it was almost a challenge. The night was cold, but we’d done Downs, so I think that we were both at least happy that we’d salvaged something nice from this trip.
Day 3 estimates: 9.99 miles, +2899/-2863′, elevation min/avg/max 12,004, 12,392, 13,355′
⤑Day 4: Bomber, Turquoise, and Mile-Long Lake
The morning was very cold, just like the prior one. Our watering ponds were entirely frozen over, even at 1030, but we broke through and filled up, then broke camp and headed out. We also shared some of Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company jerky. When I lived in Jackson Hole, I got the local discount, but not so much this year. Shucks! I love their elk and bison jerky. They are the only jerky that’s as good as Woody’s Smokehouse beef jerky, though I typically eat Woody’s as it’s easier and cheaper for me to acquire. (I can buy it in bulk and freeze it.) And how good is Woody’s? How good is it? Good enough that I buy it in bulk for hiking season. Good enough that, at a bar at 2AM in Trinidad and Tobago, I listened to three business people chatting with each other, and their topic of conversation turned to one of them having to attend a meeting in Houston, and another recalling and telling the man to find somewhere that sells Woody’s Smokehouse jerky. Good enough that my dad used to make trips to their production store to get it!
We marched down to Mile-and-a-Half-Hell Chute and saw a couple of people ascending out of it. A quick chat revealed that they were not happy about the 1,700-ft ascent through rocks. Good news, folks, the rocks aren’t over yet! Ha. We started down. Some areas were very steep with loose scree, and my moominmama chose to butt scoot some of those. (Though it was nothing compared to Hailey Pass near the Hooker in an afternoon thaw!) The total mileage is about 1.5, and it takes forever. Just forever. I really have nothing great to say about this pass, other than how much distance it saves. Of course, since we were committing to abandoning Dinwoody, that meant that our cached clothes would have to hold over until next year when we’d hike the Glacier Trail. Would they? You’ll have to read that review and find out.
It took us 110 minutes to get all the way down, and thankfully there was a little stream during a portion of our journey, so we could get water. At 1:20, almost to the bottom, we passed a group of young…hikers? going up. They stopped and chatted with us. As it turned out, they were from Georgia and wanted to hike Downs Mountain. I advised against this, as they weren’t prepared—shorts, shoes, no coats or warm weather gear, and carrying only a milk jug for water. I told them that they were almost 5 miles from the peak and 3,800 feet to climb, with only about 7 hours until temps on the flat would be back near freezing, and with the wind…oh my. They were not deterred and continued on up.
Mom and I tacked east on the way down, looking for a good place to camp by Bomber Lake. The Georgians belied the fact that we’d be soon overrun with DADGUM TOURISTS MAY THEY ROT IN—oh wait, I want people to respectfully enjoy the outdoors! That’s why I type this nonsense…well, and for my own memories, and because I love the toxic impulse of nostalgia.
Around the eastern edge of the lake we found some TarpTents and also some cheaper outfits…with bear bags strapped to the tents. We ended up camping near the outlet, which wasn’t my favorite spot, but which was more tenable than the southern or northern edges of the lake, at least from what we could tell. After brushing lots of dirt and pine needles out of the way, we erected the tent. It was only about 2:50, so I suggested that we go visit Turquoise Lake. Mom was more cheerful (I really think that Goat Flat was not such a happy place for her, as she hates wind) and agreed. We used the southern edge of the lake, walking through dense forest, and found an old cabin! Man I’d love to know the history there. The inlet area of Bomber Lake was quite pretty and reminded me of Montana, as it had thick undergrowth.
Beneath Spider Peak, we came across a wide-gravelly area of creek, and then the creek disappeared into a rock pile. At the top of the rock pile we found the creek again (more like a small stream), and it almost immediately joined Turquoise Lake! What a beautiful lake, too, and it had so many idyllic, grassy lawns on which to camp. Maybe I should go back. We got some pictures with the lake, and I convinced mom that we should explore more, so we crossed the creek and headed in the direction of Ross Lake Don’t bother trying to follow the contour that will tempt you, as it leads into boulder fields.
- Above: Approaching and arriving at Turquoise Lake.
We crested the ridge looking over Lake 10,390 (please just call it Lucas Lake, thanks!) at 10,751 feet. Most people on this route will probably end up there, as it’s the easiest way to go. Below us was a pine forest, and in the distance, Mile-Long Lake. It was almost 5 and mom was convinced that we couldn’t make it there and back in time. Keep in mind, she was convinced that we couldn’t make it up Downs, and convinced that I couldn’t make it up Fremont, and convinced…well, you get the idea. I told her that we could make it to Mile-Long Lake in 45 minutes! She stubbornly said that it would take at least 90 minutes since there were no trails.
- Lake 10,390
So how long DID it take us?
Well, we left at 5PM from the ridge, and we stopped at Lake 10,390 which slowed us down. It was filled with glacial flour and thus devoid of fish. Yet we arrived at Mile-Long Lake at…wait for it…5:33! So it took us just over half an hour, AKA NOT THAT LONG, MOM! It sure was a beautiful lake, too. No one was there, but I’d recommend camping on the side closer to Ross Lake, as it had grassy lawns. We also saw that we could access Ram Flat from it…no thanks, Goat Flat was enough.
- Mile Long Lake
We headed back and stopped again near Lake 10,390, where we found some Texans in their 20s fishing. They asked for directions, but the young men were very arrogant and trying to impress their female compatriots.
“How do we get to the next lake?”
(I start explaining, get cut off.)
“Yeah, yeah, I can figure it out, man.”
(Maybe a boulder will off this guy?) “Ok. And hey, just so you know, this lake is devoid of fish. It’s choked out entirely with pulverized rocks. That’s why you’re not catching anything. Enjoy!” (You ignorant, misguided…)
- Mile Long Lake, Lake 10,390, Spider Peak, Lake 10,390 creek, Ross Lake, Bomber Lake, tent at Bomber Lake, Bomber Lake sunset.
We headed on back toward camp, taking a slightly different path this time to maximize the amount of distance that we’d spend in meadows. Back on the ridge, we kept north, descending to the shores, where we saw a camp. Crossing the outlet of Bomber was easy, and the sunset was gorgeous. We made dinner and called it a day! Oh, and I rewarded myself with a cinnamon poptart. Yum!
Day 4 estimates: 7.75 miles, +1447/-3645′, elevation min/avg/max 10,136, 10,786, 12,337′
⤑Day 5: Bomber Wreckage, Trailhead Camp
- Shores of Bomber Lake, Wyoming in the morning.
We didn’t have a long hike out, so we started at 10:30, heading back to the outlet, and then following the use trail on the northern side of the river. During the whole exit, we kept seeing more and more people heading up. We asked a few about the weather forecast, and they said it was supposed to be great for the eclipse. I thought that they were brave to go into the mountains on the day prior. The day of, I wanted to be at my Jeep so that we could reposition if clouds started building.
- Area just around Bomber Lake outlet.
The trail is OK for the first mile and a quarter heading down the hill, overlooking pretty waterfalls that we stopped at on the way. Once it gets to the “flats” where a fire once happened, though, things get just tedious as can be. The use trail vanishes, since people are mostly just wandering everywhere to try and get across the creeks, and we ended up making our own way to the south side of the creek, picking through heavy, burned deadfall. On the south side, things were very swampy, and try as we could to avoid it, our feet got wet. We saw a number of demoralized people asking about the distance to Bomber Lake. Poor folks. This horrible, marshy area interfaces with boulder fields, so it’s just not pleasant unless you’re a moose.
- Falls below Bomber Lake.
- Old burned area. Far left of frame is where we crossed. Trail between here and Bomber wreck area is rough. MAKE SURE THAT YOU CROSS.
We endured that for a mile and a third and then got into higher granite that was easier to walk, surrounded by trees. At 3:30, we came across another old cabin, and then we messed up, missing the Bomber area. We’d gone up a hill and started a steep descent quite a ways, and I told my mom that I thought we were about to be at the switchback trail. Shoot. We headed back uphill, hoping that I was right and that the retracing wasn’t in vain. At the top of the hill, we headed to the river; it’s wide and serene in this area. Sure enough, we could see scarring that indicated a crash. Crossing the creek was a pain, but we both made it. The crash site extended farther than I thought it would, and was in good condition. Like I found during my trip to another downed bomber in Wyoming, this site also had a plaque. You can download the GPS data that I linked to in the opening to see the exact location that we crossed, and where the plane is.
- Top: a map I made of the impact scarring.
It was now almost 6PM, so we crossed the creek again and climbed and descended the hill…again. There were people camping all over in the thick forest, including a pleasant old man. Back in the arid ingress area just past the bridge, we met a couple of…well, hey, I’m not a looker, but I definitely didn’t look as frail and obese, respectively, as the two VERY friendly people we met. I got the feeling that they weren’t hikers, and they confirmed it. The skinny, anime looking guy was from a ski town in Colorado, and was happy to see the eclipse soon. He explained that he didn’t have a job, because his family was so wealthy that he didn’t have to work. This is the second skinny kid I’ve met who’s said that! They were sure nice, though, but I felt bad that they weren’t in shape. Just past them, we passed two old ladies day-hiking with the world’s most beautiful woman ever. I averted my gaze just so that she wouldn’t have to endure another ug looking at her. I feel bad for such perfect people. It’s got to suck having ugs like you without being able to help it.
We made it back to the Jeep at 8:20, and the parking lot was INSANE. Wow. Mom showered up, and so did I! We camped in the back of the Jeep, which is big enough to fit two.
Day 5 estimates: 10.6 miles, +1396/-3917′, elevation min/avg/max 7597, 8448, 10,136
⤑21 August, Post-Hike Eclipse
The day of the eclipse started with some odd clouds that cleared up. Airplanes kept buzzing overhead, hoping to catch totality. We hiked back above the trailhead to watch it, surrounded by others and two noisy woodpeckers, who would not shut up—until the eclipse happened. It was one of the best experiences of my life. We saw the shadow coming in, and then the mountains were blanketed. I don’t have much to say about it, but I’ll share something that I wrote soon after:
It is remarkable that the Moon can so well eclipse our star, Sol. In the rest of our solar system, only one other satellite—Prometheus—matches so well with the sun as to cause a total eclipse, yet it lasts for only one second in duration.
And while this ratio of sizes is rare enough, it is more spectacular when one considers the improbability of life itself. Life existing in this universe at all is so improbable as to be impossible. Life with consciousness—with the ability to recognize a center of being and say, “I”—is nigh impossible for science to even tackle.
And combine that, then, with the fact that this incredibly rare even occurs at a place in the universe where there is not only life, but life which can appreciate what is happening. Life which not just responds to the stimuli, but is awed by it; inspired by it.
After hiking 40-something miles, I was already elated. I had seen and summited northernmost thirteener of the Continental Divide in all of North America, observed the highest bodies of water in both Wyoming and the Central Rockies at 12620 feet in elevation, been off trails for 72 hours, and happened upon a bomber from WWII that had crashed by a waterfall, never making it to the war.
And then to top it off, God blessed me with the eclipse. I watched as the sun started to be blotted out high over the mountains, and felt the air grow cold. My shadow became fuzzy and started flickering about unsteadily, and then the light was gone. As the moon blotted out the sun, the stars shone forth over the mountains, and the sun’s corona refused to go quietly! It blasted out around the entirety of the moon, bursting into space faster than we can fathom. People across the canyon and near me began crying out in joy, and some cried in tears.
It was in that moment that the power of the sun really struck me; in being able to see its vast reach as arms of light shot forth, shattering the darkness.
My awe of God’s power was renewed, as well as my gratitude. The arm of the sun sticking out into the darkness is so like our Creator’s will reaching out to save us. I was reminded too of the stars, which themselves stood up in the time of darkness as helpers against the dark, like the angels, who are ministering spirits to help those who will be with Him forever. (Heb 1:14)
And in a note related to my military service, I have to say that I was amazed by the sheer number of people. I went from seeing only 3 people in 3 days to seeing thousands and thousands, to coming to traffic at a standstill, 13-miles long, in the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming. My friends Marion Rednil (of France), James Gideon and his gawjus daughter Valeria (of Texas), Phillip O (of Denver-ish), and more traveled to join in this event.
Since 9-11, I have not seen Americans more united in something, except this time it was in joy and not horror. This ephemeral experience left me speechless, and I can still hardly believe that it happened and I was blessed with a job that let me experience it!
ADDENDUM: Thanks so much to the various law enforcement officers. So many of them missed totality in order to help expedite the rest of us back to our homes. I am truly filled with gratitude that there other folks, who do have high-risk jobs, didn’t call in sick, but rather passed up a once-in-a-lifetime event to help keep me safe.
The drive back to Cheyenne took just about forever, and I didn’t get home until almost midnight. I was stopped 12 miles short of Muddy Gap, WY, in a 12-mile traffic jam. Laramie ran entirely out of fuel, and I about did, too. It was terrible! And yet absolutely worth it.
➤Two Different Ratings
I typically assign a lone star rating to a hike. With this hike, nothing went as planned, and the eclipse really changed how I felt about it. With that in mind, I’m going to do something weird and assign two, separate star ratings. I believe that this will be more accurate and fair, and also that many people not might want to lump the two different “sections” of this hike together…nor should they!
Trailhead to Downs Mountains
I did NOT like this at all. It has some nice views, but there is simply no way that this section of hike is competitive with others in Wyoming. It is much more worth your time to hike to another peak, such as Dragonhead, or any of the others that I’ve mentioned in the narrative. Downs is a long slog from what feels like sea level. It’s an alien hellscape. Just don’t do it. However, if you MUST, when you leave, take No Man’s Pass down to the unnamed lake, and then over the rock pile to Lake 10,390, and then over to Mile-Long Lake. Much nicer than taking Mile-and-a-Half-Hell Chute.
- My scientific rating system. I didn’t like this hike very much, and hated much of it.
- Beauty. There are a couple of very captivating points, but mostly it’s not great for this range.
- Camping spots. Not ones that you’ll like much.
- Crowds. Not on the flat. No one wants to be there.
- Difficulty. This hike seems benign, but it wants to kill you.
- Fishing. There is none.
- History. Nope.
Mile-Long Lake to Trailhead
This section is quite scenic, though it makes you work for it. It’s probably best done as some sort of loop trail, or a point-to-point incorporating Ross Lake. Be aware that grizzlies inhabit the area—a predatory one was listed in the area when we were there. However, it’s worth it to see the downed bomber.
- My scientific rating system. I likeed this hike and found it to be rewarding, if not one that I’d do again.
- Beauty. It has a number of very beautiful areas; rock flour lakes abound.
- Camping spots. Plenty. This typically is not hiked much at all; there is no official trail.
- Crowds. No.
- Difficulty. The difficulty is only due to the fact that it is largely off of official trails, and some of the use trails are difficult to find.
- Fishing. I did not fish. The lakes seem large to be hostile to fish life.
- History. YES!
If you have any questions, comments, or anything else, feel free to post below. I’m here to serve you, so let me know if this wasn’t helpful, or if there’s anything I can do to make this better.