Review: Hiking the Washakie, South Fork, and Baptiste Loop

Review: Hiking the Washakie, South Fork, and Baptiste Loop

Reading Time: 58 minutes

Status: HIGHLY VERY MUCH EXCEPTIONALLY NOT PROFREAD!!! However, this hike is a good medium-long hike with exceptional scenery and camping spots. Yes, “profread” was a joke.

➤Quick Facts

Information at a Glance

  • Time of Year: 20-25 August (was supposed to be 6 days)
  • Notable Features: Big Sandy Trailhead, Big Sandy River, Meeks Lake, Fish Creek Park, Mirror Lake, Dads Lake, Donald Creek, Dads Creek, Marms Lake, Dads Creek, Washakie Park, Washakie Creek, Lake 10689, Washakie Pass, Pass Lake, Macon Lake, Washakie Lake, Loch Leven, Payson Peak, South Fork Lakes, Camels Hump, Lake 10581, Valentine Lake, Ranger Park, Spearpoint Lake, Grave Lake, Lake 10525, Musembeah Peak, Musembeah Lakes, Lake 10486, Lake 10745, Lake 11111, Roberts Pass (unnamed), Lake 10833, Roberts Lake, Lake 11042, Trail Lake, Pilot Knob, Baptiste Creek, Baptiste Lake, Hailey Pass, Twin Lakes, Mount Hooker, Pyramid Peak, Mays Lake, Skull Lake
  • Total Miles: 61.9 (or more)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-12,098
  • Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 9094, 10365, 12,235
  • General Route: Big
    Big Sandy Trailhead ► Continental Divide Trail 7096 ► Hailey Pass Trail 7111 ► Off Trail to Lake 10689 ► Washakie Pass Trail 7155 ► Washakie Trail 718 ► Off Trail to South Fork Lakes ► Trail 729 ► Trail 716 ► Off Trail to Spearpoint Lake ► Trail 716 ► Off Trail to Musembeah ► Off Trail to Roberts Lake ► Off Trail to Grave Lake ► Trail 716 ► Trail 719 ► Trail 716 ► Trail 7111 ► Trail 7096 ► Big Sandy Trailhead
  • GPS Track Download Download the file after getting a free Gaia account (I love them!)
  • Housekeeping: Mileage and elevation gain/loss are best approximates using the recorded GPS track data. I go with whichever is measuring tool is greater.

Interactive Map


Relive ‘Lakes of the Winds’

Hank and Peggy Hill, my engineer friends from Tejas, desired to go on some form of hike with me and my brood mother. Hank and Peggy are often given to the vice of wretched jealousy when they see pictures of me out enjoying God’s creation, and their fabulous wealth is apparently not a panacea. Because I feel bad for both the downtrodden, I suggested that we hike from Big Sandy, over Washakie, to South Fork Lake, and then to Grave Lake—that would allow up to do day hikes to a number of places, such as Spearpoint Lake (I had developed an interest after seeing this), Musembeah Lakes, Trail and Roberts Lake, etc. Hank, Peggy, and my dearest mother had all done the Big Sandy-Washakie-Lizard Head Loop before, but Washakie would be new for me.

My plan was for an ingress to the base of Washakie Pass, a day over to South Fork Lakes, then perhaps Grave Lake as a base to explore the other lakes in the area, eventually vacating on day 6 or so. All of us had a week off, so it would work pretty well if we didn’t break legs or necks or whatever else. The biggest thing that usually breaks on trips such as these is the stamina of Hank and Peggy, who often find that they bite off more than they can chew—well, of the hike. They pack a lot of food an in that respect are able to bite off less than they can chew, though my suspicion is that their insanely heavy packs do them no favors in terms of endurance.

⤑Day 1: Big Sandy to Lake 10,689

I left Jackson Hole and the conditions were downright dismal, with ceiling OCV070-TOPUNKN, constant rain, and a temperature on the valley floor of 56F. I was on the road at 0814 but boy did it look like we were in for some unsettled weather during the week of our hike, with high loads of atmospheric moisture forecast to be present pretty much the duration of the trip. With the diurnal heating and orographic uplift, I expected some nice thunderstorms to occur beginning around 2-4PM each day.

Passing Rim Station en route to Pinedale, I ascended about the overcast later to discover to discover a much higher overcast layer (around 13,000) above, but it wasn’t producing active rain. In Pinedale, I went by a gas station and got a small box o’ butter wine and some crackers is so that our merry band of vagabonds could have the Lord’s supper at the trailhead, as it was a Sunday. As an aside, I find it quite strange that what was once a dinner is now often a thimble-sized, pre-packaged, double capsule with a tiny crumb and a drip of grape juice. I wonder how much Chrisitianity misses out by not having the communal bonding over an actual meal—Jesus seemed big on bringing people together around food, but not it’s a silent moment where you close your eyes or stare at your shoes/the back of the head in front of you.

I also stopped by the Great Outdoor Store and grabbed a pair of Altra Olympus 5s, which they had in stock. Love that store! There wasn’t a single pair in Jackson, but with my obliterated big toe on my left foot, I really wanted to try out the more foot-shaped toebox of the Olympus shoes. As noted in my review (disliked by some, and not without reason, as I have the writing talent of an AI designed by clowns and managed by monkeys), the feel of the shoe is fantastic, but the quality leaves a lot to be desired. These shoes didn’t last the season.

My mom and Hank/Peggy were a bit slow, but I arrived at the packed trailhead at 11:11; the sky conditions here featured scattered clouds. Parking was a blast, but we managed to get Hank and Peggy tightly in beside my Jeep. After saddling up, we had a meditation, prayer, and the Lord’s supper (lunch?) and then at 12:17 hit the road—trail I guess. As we walked through the parking lot, a man looked at us, looked at the stacked woman (by which I mean that no one would envy the extra weight she was forced to carry) he was with, patted his sidearm and said, “This isn’t for the bears, babe. It’s for the tourists!”

I had been curious about the Highline Trail, which I hadn’t done before, but we decided to stick to the route we all know and love, following the CDT 7096 up past Dads and Marms Lakes. As we got to the cutoff to head up to Fish Creek Park, I realized that I had accidentally worn my Costa Sampan glasses rather than Costa Ferg XLs. The Sampans are very nice, but they have a sepia tint and are much heavier and tighter fitting than the Ferg XLs, plus they play less well with my Shokz bone-conduction headphones.

Hank and Peggy aren’t the fastest, but we crested the hill onto the flats (I’ve hiked this section so much that I don’t describe it in detail anymore, aside from changes or notable features), we passed a large group of about 12 individuals or varying ages. We also discovered that the normal trail to Fish Creek and Mirror Lake was maybe trying to be removed, but it was hard to ascertain. Since I’ve been in Wyoming, many good trails have been vanished by our government. Of course, as they subscribe to the tenets of the Malthusian Death Cult which sees human flourishing as a moral evil, they only reason that the Winds are still open to the public is because there is not yet a large enough accretion of the population which crouches down to lick the hand of its master. After 2020, however, I believe that we are getting very darn close.

We didn’t stop for water until Donald Creek. My mom found an abandoned cooking cup which she gladly claimed for herself; these are rather expensive, but under the Predator Class which prints money and sees the people not as citizens, but as a tax farm to fund its global empire, what isn’t expensive these days? After leading Donald Lake we found that the USFS had accidentally made significant improvements to the trail, no doubt due to a sane voice which had somehow not been quashed. It is important to remove such public servants as soon as possible, as they set a bad precedent for the power dynamic.

Around 4PM we got to Marms Lake and saw a few people camped there, but we pressed on, taking the right turn to Hailey Pass Trail 7111 and climbing through the ravine until we were again on the flats, after which a short break and snacks were had. The views from the flats were rather nice, and less than 30 minutes after leaving Marms Lake, we were crossing Washakie Creek. A lone hiker was there seemingly wrestling his shoe, and I honestly couldn’t tell if he was winning.

I told my group that my plan was to reach Lake 10689 and hope that we had it to ourselves, so not longer after gaining the high ground north of Washakie Creek, we cut across the woods and headed straight for the lake. As we climbed smooth, exposed granite and traversed among the trees, we passed over tiny creeks, deeply cut but less than a foot wide, and brimming with trout. It’s amazing what the creatures can survive, but I am no fan of the tiny-home lifestyle. Orienteering to 10689 was a breeze, and we mostly just followed an established drainage, reaching the lake just before 1830. Numerous places were available for our camping pleasure, but we stuck to the west and on the south side of the exiting creek. A flat spot half-encircled by trees afforded some wind protection as the firs were to the west, preventing the prevailing winds from whipping us too much. Nearby granite outcropping also added some to the sheltering effect, though the open hillside down to the creek provided the soothing sound of the brook.

Below: From Washakie Crossing to the lake.

The sky condition changed from broken to overcast as the evening wore on; mom and I both collected water, and I set my tent about 50 feet from the rest of the group. I hate having my tent too close, as it really disturbs me that I might snore and wake others up—my soft palate can be problematic if I sleep on my back with a pillow that lets my head fall too far back. Unlike me, the other campers prefer to nestle close together, like tent caterpillars, except their tents cost hundreds of dollars and aren’t spun from their butts. (Though this is an assumption on my part, and you know what they say about assumptions.) Being a generous sort, I allowed my dear mom to sample a bit of my freeze dried ice cream sandwiches. She found them ok, or so she said, but she preferred the double chocolate cookies that I also let her taste.

My dinner was a new, favorite combo of mine, which though insanely heavy for a backpacking meal, was—and is—quite delectable. What is this meal, you certainly didn’t ask yourself? Well it’s PackIt Gourmet’s Trailside Bean and Cheese Burrito mixed with Next Mile Meal’s Beef Tacos, all wrapped in a BYOB! They’re quite heavy (around 8oz all in), but I like to bring them along and eat them first. By the time I was done, eating my PackIt Gourmet Boston Cream Parfait was almost an impossibility.

Below: Camping, dinner, and night! My Creepers socks were the bomb and helped me feet.

After dinner, everyone else went to bed, but I had myself a quick camp bath. The wind picked up and it was rather a cold experience, but I was certainly refreshed. My Creepers socks had done an amazing job of keeping feet from experiencing any pain. I had purchased them after growing tired of taping my feet, and given that my toenail had come off, I had able had trepidation about using a merino wool toe sock. Despite that, these socks had been amazing for the 11 or so miles I’d put on them. I had no hot spots, no pain, and no need for tape. What a blessing! Why hadn’t I tried this solution before?

I had also purchased a brand-new NeoAir XLite by Therm-a-Rest, and as I snuggled into bed, I found that it was incredibly warm, and perhaps a bit too warm for the conditions as I sweated a bit. I had offered to let my mother use it, and she had declined, so maybe she was wiser than I gave her credit for. Unlike my Sea-to-Summit Sea Ether Light XT, the XLite didn’t have the fancy pillow-lock system, so I resorted to tying my pillow down so that it wouldn’t slip away. Many people have complained that while the XLite has some of the best warmth-to-weight, it is too crinkly sounding and not as comfortable as others. I wasn’t bothered by the sound and found it to be about as comfortable as a pad can get, so no complaints from me.

⤑Day 2: The Journey to South Fork Lakes

I got up at 0900 and soon enough watched the DAL 757 flight from JAC go overhead on its merry way to ATL. I snacked around but didn’t have a breakfast, though the others did. A group of hikers passed along the far shore headed downhill and to the north of us. We headed out at 1015 and skirted to the south and east, looking for the easiest way toward Washakie Pass, itself topping out right about 1000 vertical feet above—always nice to start the morning with a climb of the Empire State Building. The climb wasn’t difficult, but it was strenuous with the pack still so heavy, and without wind, we all felt the heat. Looking back, we saw a group of younger hikers; two were men and the other was a woman. One man and the woman went and skinny dipped in the lake (mostly sitting naked in the cold thing), while the other kept a polite distance to himself around a bend, giving them their privacy. It wasn’t hot-hot (you know, it was hiking-hot, but not swimming-hot) out yet, so they were all pretty brave to be getting in the water. The man who had no female companion seemed to wear his undies into the water.

Below: Leaving our lake!

Just before 11 we intercepted the trail and began the hike up. Numerous groups of hikers were heading out as we climbed, and although the wind was howling on our side, a few of them warned us to watch ourselves on the descent, as they said it was far worse on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. We made it to the top at 11:38, and there mom decided to do work before we left (I need to find a way to disconnect here.).

We headed down at noon and found the wind on the eastern side had abated. Having done many passes in the area numerous times, I was happy to find that the going was distinct without being scrabbly. We descended by a creek for part of the way, then crossed over to the south to look down on the southern lakes—though in reality I was scoping out how feasible a trip over the top from Barren Lake area was, as I had considered it before, so that one might be able to go up from Shadow Lake, see all that, pop over the top, muddle one’s way down to Pass Lake, then connect with the trail at Washakie Lake. The view from just above the 11,000 contour was great, and the potential route I had mentioned was definitely not impossibly difficult. Even my own mother, loathe to engage in questionable off-trail routes, looked and agreed.

We made our way back to Washakie Trail and followed it past large boulders down to the Macon Lake outlet. Though wide, it was channeled between many large, flat boulders, and thus not challenging. It was also a perfect time to get water. I shared some Sun Chips with our crew and looked at my map. It seemed to me that we should hit Washakie and Loch Leven Lakes on route to South Fork. I noted to my mom that I was loving my Creepers merino socks. She said that hers pinched a bit during the descent, but that she also liked them. I hadn’t quite sized hers as appropriately, but her feet also don’t suffer the maladies that mine do. I told her that I was interested in the lakes at the other side of Bernard Peak; if one could get over the pass (maybe, looks ultra steep), one could get to the lakes in the canyon above Grave Lake. Hmmm.

As we left the watering hole, the trail left the lake and meandered along a little ridge, then, took a sharp right turn and plunged toward Washakie Lake. A blast of heat brought some stench to my nose, but I didn’t think too much of it. Gradually the smell came back, then worsened, and as we hooked sharply back to the left in the final descent toward the lake, we came across the huge, bloated corpse of a horse, which had died and been left to sit feet from the trail. Nasty! We quickly scurried past it.

Washakie Lake was pristine. Near the inlet a sign was posted telling people that camping there was prohibited. Although I respect the distance-from-water rules and always try to camp discreetly so that others will not have their view of nature marred by my presence, a finger of land extending out into the lake would be sorely tempting to camp on. The lake was truly gorgeous, but we didn’t have infinite time to spare, so we pressed on for another 1/2 mile, then headed north through the woods to Loch Leven. Despite the great, Scottish name, much like Sonnicant Lake to the north, Loch Leven was prettier said than witnessed. It appeared that one could indeed, however, climb to the north and cut off miles en-route to Spearpoint Lake, though from the Loch Leven side, we really didn’t know what you’d encounter once you reached the top and needed to head back down. I also wondered if one could pop over from Spearpoint to Lake 10515, then down to Grave Lake. Always hard to tell if these things would be easy, difficult, or even impossible.

I amused myself listening to the history (shady history) of the free convertible ride through Dallas, if you know what I mean, and the others took a break to pee and eat some food at Loch Leven. When we left, I vectored us toward the outlet of the South Fork Lakes, envisioning a fun, off-trail hike rather than a laborious slog less directly via the trails. We crossed through the forest, over the trail, and across a meadow, then back into the forest, eventually coming out to the steep ravine cut by the creek below Little Washakie Lake—for the completionist, hitting up Little Washakie and traversing between it and Loch Leven would only add perhaps a 1/2 mile or so to the trip. From there we could see that our options were to stay north and then cross to the east of South Fork Creek, or cross Little Washakie Creek and climb around the base of Payson Peak. Previous people had done both (ask me how I know), but to me going the Payson route seemed better, as it had more boulders, but wasn’t as densely choked with riparian brush.

Decision made, we descended the steep hillside and looked for a place to cross the roaring creek, which was deep and ridiculously swift, but also very beautiful. I ended up heading upstream a bit to find some boulders that weren’t slippery; a hop-hop-hop to mid-stream followed by a jump across to a large, stable granite boulder put me safely on the other side at about the 10200 line. Making our way up the hillside involved some mild boulder hopping; I vectored us toward the trees to get us out of the boulders and to avoid some unrequisite gain and loss of elevation.

The trees proved to be somewhat slow going (lots of ducking, still plenty of climbing over and around boulders, etc.), but the views of the valley were quite nice. A few sections here were quite fun for me, with one area appearing to be what I called a boulder village—I’m not sure that Hank and Peggy liked it as much as I did. It took us about 20 minutes to make it from the creek out of Little Washakie to the creek/stream below the South Fork Lakes. Boy was the scenery stunning. As my old friend Beatriz would have remarked, “Thank you, Lord!”

Getting across this stunning scenery was another thing entirely. Holy dadgum cow was the brush thick; finding a good spot to cross was pretty annoying, and it was with trepidation that we carefully made our way to the other side, lest we snap a leg in the crevices hidden everywhere by the brush. All told, we reached the lower of the South Fork Lakes about 50 minutes post-Little Washakie Creek. The fishing was spectac—I mean the lakes were devoid of fish. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Unfortunately, the wind befitted the name of the range, and my family (I mean they all are, at least spiritually) wanted to move it along, so we did. There was a light use trail along the eastern shoreline that we gladly followed. Unlike some trails, this one was reminiscent of driving in Florida and beelined directly toward the upper lake. A few ponds between the lakes were were pretty to look at but certainly seemed to be mosquito factories.

About 1000′ from the lake I suggested that we cut to the south and then let me look for a spot for us to camp. My feeling was that we might find ourselves rather packed in with other customers if we headed further east, primarily because trail 729 cruised into the area from that direction. (The next day I would find that I was correct about people arriving there and camping as soon as they popped out of the woods, but for this night, we’d end up having the place to ourselves.)

Mom accompanied me and we left the aged Hank and Peggy Hill sitting on some rocks as we made our way through the disastrously bouldery knolls, topped with scrubby pines, south and westward, looking for nice, hidden spots for our tents. Things looked less than promising; the high ground proved no advantage in spying out seclusion for us. A little cove-like area ended up being beautiful but right on the water (verboten) and very tight for 3 tents. I had my mother wait where she was and climbed to the southeast. There was nothing but sloped boulder fields choked with bushes. Mom liked the cove, so I hustled back up and other the hill and brought Hank and Peggy back with me.

Somewhat dissatisfied, I left the merry band of 3 and went searching for somewhere better. 300 feet to the east of the cove as the crow flaps I found a small, sloping field, nestled at the base of the scrub pines, with more scrub pines eastward providing a slight wind break, and a granite knoll straight to the south. A small opening in the pines to the south let the wind in, but it wasn’t all that uncomfortable. Intermittent flat spots provided placements for tents, but there not a huge spot to be found, so we couldn’t all camp right together—but of course, such is my preference.

I informed the crew about this, and having not yet unpacked, they wished to assess the area as well. As they got their gear back on their backs, I climbed a spit of land to the west, but alas, despite making my way up 50 feet of boulders and cliffs, all I found was more boulders and cliffs—of course, I didn’t really look all that hard, as being on the rocky finger would put one too close to the water; the thing only appeared some 200-300 feet wide at maximum.

My family appreciated the new spots to camp (some kvetching by my mother at being too far away, likely somewhat caused by the thought of bears—I reference of course the Jim Creek Lake episode where she suggested abutting tents—though perhaps also some genuine desire to hear others snore. As we unpacked and set up, the cumulus buildup was appreciable and threatening. We watched a marvelous waterfall cascading down Lizard Head Plateau get whipped into a fine spray by the increasing winds, appearing to atomize before teaching the ground below. Flecks of spit from the sky intermittently accosted us, but the scenery was so staggeringly beautiful that we could think of nothing except how blessed we were to look upon the beauty of God’s creation. (Of course, getting water from the waves was quite the chore.)

As the gloaming made its approach, the clouds broke and the sun like the stark, granite walls around us, providing a beautiful sandwich of colors: blue water, iron grey cliffs, yellow, sunbathed granite, and a topping of beautiful, cerulean blue sky to top it off. (I left out the verdant grass and bushes because it didn’t fit with the sandwich theme.)

I had brought a lot of food in order to sample some new meals. Although one can test them at home, the experience is never the same, much as even a delicious ribeye won’t land the same if you sample it when completely full. Having repented of my first disappointment with it, I ate Next Mile Meals Italian Style Beef Marinara (you will love it if you clear your head of the thought that it will be at all akin to Peak Refuel’s non-Italian style version), and for a follow-up, as the NMM is somewhat of a meager helping had by itself, I also tried out PackIt Gourmet’s Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings. Let me say that I love PackIt’s meals, but their formulation of chicken and dumplings is a real disappointment. Even Backpacker’s Pantry crushes them on this meal, and at what…2/3rds of the price? Actually, this is an important topic, so let me break it down quickly. My favorite meals are made by:

  1. Pinnacle Foods There is no better meal than their Herb Roasted Chicken and White Cheddar Biscuit Dumplings. That particular meal is so dadgum tasty that I sometimes salivate when I see it in my summer gear closet. I often find myself saying, “No Lucas, you can’t give in. Don’t eat that meal. Save it for hiking. You’re not made out of money. You can’t afford to be eating these things just because you have a taste. Having self control in this moment is what separates you from the animals. As well as the fact that they don’t know how to use retort or omnidegradable pouches.”
  2. Peak Refuel and PackIt Gourmet. PackIt Gourmet loses on weight-to-nutrition and trash produced (they sometimes include things such as packets of mayonnaise), but they win on having unique meals that can turn hiking into an almost glamorous culinary experience. As you may have guessed, many of their meals are best if you BYOBurrito, as seen with my first meal on this hike. Peak Refuel has heavenly food as well, and they pack in the calories and nutrition, but their meals are mostly your standard hiking fare—the one that stands out the most as being different-ish is the Homestyle Chicken and Rice, which simply tastes marvelous. I remember exactly where I was sitting in the Gros Ventre when I first bit into that, and man…yum.
  3. Everything else except Bushka’s Kitchen, which is too wholesome for me. (I respect their efforts, and the granola types may order this list buttside-up.)

Anyway, Dottie’s was a bit too wholesome for me, but if I had wanted a chicken and noodles meal with veggies, it would have been to expectations. As a meal of dumplings, it was a letdown. Anyway, I chowed down on that, part of a cookie, some chips, gummies, and chocolate donuts as well. By training my body to have an adamantium skeleton, I have developed the ability to pack such heavy, kill-you-soon food deep into the wilderness, in much the same way that a small chihuahua cannot.

The others made a small fire for warmth, and I did the same. We did not use some of the old (or not-so-old, either) fire rings, nor did we create new ones. Being old, I remember when fire rings were in fashion, and of course now they are anathema, much as humans are becoming to the Malthusians.

Clouds moved in with the darkness, as did a humid chill. Intermittent, light rain persisted throughout the night, providing a soothing sound to accompany the distant lapping of waves against the rocks. The only problem with the halcyon experience was the wild whipping of wind which kept bending my tent over and popping me in the sides and face. Despite the undesired zephyr zipping o’er the land, I mostly slept well.

⤑Day 3: To Spearpoint and Grave Lake and Misery

The title for this day sounds bad, yet I will always recall it fondly, primarily because I survived (upset the 10s of people who read this site, no doubt, and rightly so). The day began cold and dreary, damp grasses and bushes all around, and the battleship sky descending and scraping its hull along the granite. Blech!

I got up at 8 and put on my WillowAce socks, which I have come to appreciate compared to Darn Tough, which I used to wear. The WillowAce socks don’t provide nearly the same dreamy ride as Darn Tough, nor are they likely of anything close to comparable quality, but they are stout and have a well-defined toe box, which I have found helps me avoid having my toes compress together. So while it is perhaps not as ethical to buy them, for me they do a good job of preventing extreme pain and deformity, and as you might imagine, that matters a good deal.

Due to the miserable cold, we didn’t get going until 1145. Also due to the cold, I ate some food prior to leaving, though not the full-blown breakfasts my ravenous compatriots ate. (Typically I avoid eating in the morning as it contributes to my pooch, but more importantly, causes me to be hungry more throughout the day.)

The overcast sky became broken as we left and made our way toward the base of Lizard Head Plateau, where a small lake is set apart and connected to the largest lake by a creek, but otherwise separated by a little, tree-lined ridge. We all wanted to do some fishing (sadly, there are no fish in these lakes—none at all, can you believe it—I even saw something that looked like a large fish swimming in one of the little streams that enter the lake!), and I wanted to get close to that waterfall. Traipsing around the perimeter to the north and east wasn’t difficult, but a couple of streams threatened to get my feet wet, which I had no desire to see happen. Again, there were as many fish as there will be chefs who use cilantro in heaven, so it was a sad experience that yet oddly ate into my time.