Review: Shirley & Valaite Lake, Twin Lakes, & Lake Gadsby (Ugly + Boring)
Twin, Shirley, Valaite, and Gadsby lakes are best done as an overnight hike given their medium-distance and elevation gain, along with off-trail elements. They can, however, be done as dayhikes.
In this post:
- ➻Quick Facts
- ⤑Day 1: Green River Lakes TH to Valaite Lake
- ⤑Day 2: Valaite Lake to Lake Gadsby, Then Off-Trail and Home
- ➤Conclusion and Rating
Information—Click to Show
—Date of Visit: 15-16 Aug 2019
—Notable Features: Green River Lakes, Squaretop Mountain, Porcupine Creek, Porcupine Creek Falls, Twin Lakes, Shirley Lake, Valaite Lake, Lake Gadsby, Big Sheep Mountain
—Total Miles: ~15.1 miles
—Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-5404
Note: Utilizing an elevation gain threshold model with DEM.
—Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 7969, 8966, 10,657
—General Route: Green River Lakes Trailhead ⭢ Lakeside Trail 144 ⭢ Porcupine Trail 137 ⭢ Twin Lakes Trail ⭢Off-trail to Valaite Lake ⭢ Off-trail to Lake Gadsby ⭢ Twin Lakes Trail ⭢ Off-Trail ⭢ Porcupine Trail 137 ⭢ Lakeside Trail 144 ⭢ Green River Lakes Trailhead
—Housekeeping: Feel free to contact me if you’d like full-rez/high-quality images or more information about anything. I’d love to help you out! (To save server space, I reduce the quality of all images by a large amount, and often reduce their sizes, too.)
GaiaGPS Map—Click to Show
I got done with my trip to Loomis Lake, which is now one of my very favorite hikes ever, on the 12th of August; it left me with a broken Osprey. I wanted to see if I could get my backpack fixed prior to going on another long hike, so I decided to use my smaller, 50L Osprey, and take a quick jaunt up to Lake Gadsby out of Green River Lakes.
Earlier in the summer, Yue and Beatriz and I had talked to the wonderful Green River Lakes camp host at the time, Jenna. I’m now friends with Jenna’s great guy, Tom, on Facebook. Jenna gave me a map and told me that Valaite, Gadsby, and the associated lakes were a quick hike with good fishing, and that if I’d explored everything else in the region, these might be worth checking out as a day-hike or easy overnighter.
I ordered a new sternum strap from Osprey for my Atmos AG, but the strap wouldn’t get in quickly. Since it was free, and quicker than shipping the pack to them for repair (also free), I wasn’t unhappy, but I did order a backup sternum strap in the meantime, and it cost less than $10 for a set. In the meantime, I chose to travel to Green River Lakes on the 15th; I’d do an overnighter, take Saturday and Sunday off, then use the Amazon straps on my pack to go up to Middle Fork Lake and Sonnicant.
I was interested in getting someone to hike the Gros Ventre with me over Big Balls of Cowtown “trail,” as one needs a vehicle on each end of the hike, and noted on my way in that it would be a hot minute before I could do that hike, as the Tosi Creek Bridge was OTS! Shucks.
⤑Day 1: Green River Lakes TH to Valaite Lake
I arrived at the trailhead at 1:58 PM and got my pack ready to go. It was quite light this trip; I brought no rain gear, no stove since I didn’t plan on cooking a dinner, and only my small battery pack. I did keep a few snacks to munch on, but there wasn’t any reason to bring a lot of food, and I knew that I wouldn’t get all that hungry.
The trailhead was much busier than the last time I was here, when there were only 4 vehicles. I saw a couple of people who appeared to also be late starters, like me, but they didn’t use the same trail, and I never saw them again. Most of the people on the register at the TH seemed to be going on thru-hikes; only one was listed as going to Twin Lakes. “Tom and Becky” from New Zealand were going all the way to South Pass City.
I made my way down the trail and to the road; following it past the bathroom toward the boat launch. There’s a trail that goes through the trees, but from this approach, I wasn’t sure where it’d go, while I had used the other method of trail access before. Sticking with the sure thing also provided me with a view I love of the lake. Soon enough, I was at the Lakeside Trail (up on the hill, not the one by the water, which dead-ends) and saw another register. It listed Paul Miller as going to Twin Lakes, but that was the day before. On the other register, he’d placed himself as going to Clear Creek on this day. Good for you, Paul!
The trail sign said that Twin Lakes were 7 miles distant. My map listed Shirley Lake as being 6.3 miles, so Twin Lakes would be less than that. Odd. Often these trail signs are a little off-the-mark, and GPS measurements tend to vary wildly based on the amount and accuracy of polling and the method used to determine the distance.
The Lakeside Trail is pretty enough; it stays a little way up the mountainside, as there are cliffs below in some areas that would prevent travel. I’d never done it before, and was happy that it was heavily forested and protected me from the sun, which has never been a fan of my skin. It’s also mostly level, with only a couple of points of undulation—I hate duplication of effort. Parts of the trail were muddy, since there were a number of little streams, but most of them were easily crossed by this time of year.
I met two couples hiking the opposite direction as I wandered along the lakeside, and all of them were older folks merely out for strolls. I noticed the amount of time passing, too, as I typically do when in forested trails. I’m not sure why, but walking through forests always seems to take longer than when I’m above the treeline. My favorite view along the path was of a nice little beach; I cataloged it for a future kayaking trip.
Right before 4PM I reached a trail junction. If you go left here, you’ll hit another trail junction that lets you go back to Green River Lakes trailhead (north trail, also accesses Slide Lake and the hellish Clear Lake), or up to Three Forks Park, Vista and Cube Rock Pass, Lozier Lakes, etc. I’d done all of those in the past, but this time I remained on the trail toward Porcupine Pass while listening to Tom Chick interview two brothers who make horror movies.
The Quarter to Three movie podcast is my favorite movie podcast. (Update: sadly, Christien Murawski passed away, and I do not know if the podcast will come back, as it was a friendship of three people as much as a podcast.)
8 minutes after passing the junction, I came upon a moose in my path, which impeded my progress. I’ve been chased by the dumb things before. This time, I hopped up on a log and stared at it. It started to approach me slowly, so I continued to stare at it, and started to approach it slowly. It stopped. I stopped. It stared. I stared. After a standoff of about 60 seconds, it started walking up trail. Once it was a safe distance, I got my phone out to take a picture. It stopped and looked at me. I looked at it. Then it went off into the woods. I used the break to get some water.
5 minutes after the start of the encounter, I was at the crossing for Porcupine Creek. There was a helpful logjam that was very stable at this time of year, and I used it to cross with no problems. The water was crystal clear, and I saw a few brookies. From the crossing, the trail follows the creek for a bit through the forest, and I stopped to fish for about 10 minutes, but had no luck. I did manage to fall in with one foot. Better than falling off a cliff, at least.
And then the climb begins. Talk about an uphill slog with no redeeming features. After a few switchbacks, you’re just on a deathmarch uphill through ugly forest with a lot of deadfall. I was most perturbed looking at my map, because the trail goes quite far south before an intersection takes you back north and west toward Twin Lakes. What sort of garbage is this? Why doesn’t it follow the creek, even if it requires switchbacks? Boo! (Realistically, it’s because then they’d need to maintain an extra trail.)
I attempted to listen to a podcast by Reason.com on the tyranny of the metrics, but the man they were interviewing produced FAR too much mouth noise and I turned that off. Thankfully, they had a podcast on the illusion of mass killings that I found interesting. Technically, they make a distinction between mass shootings and mass killings. You can listen to it here: James Alan Fox: There Is No Evidence of an ‘Epidemic of Mass Shootings’ | The nation’s leading scholar of mass shootings explains how media coverage of horrific events such as El Paso and Dayton stoke unwarranted fear and anxiety.
I was tempted to cut through the forest to get to Twin Lakes, but man, it was a rough looking haul through deadfall, so I kept to the trail. An hour and ten minutes after crossing Porcupine Creek one way, I was on a plateau with a beautiful meadow, crossing it again. I stopped and snacked on some Woody’s Smokehouse Beef Jerky, which is the best beef jerky in the world. I’ve mentioned this before, but I was in Trinidad and Tobago once and heard some people at a bar talking about it at 0200. That’s how good it is.
I also took out my tenkara rod and caught a few fish. While fishing, a couple of people came down the hill and crossed the creek, then made a right toward Porcupine Pass. They were an attractive young couple, in much the same way that I’m not. They were also a very lost young couple, as I heard them discussing which they they needed to go before heading toward Porcupine Pass.
As it turns out, they were headed toward Green River Lakes, or wanted to be, so about 5 minutes later, they came tromping back down the trail. I have never really been lost in the mountains, but I don’t know what made them decide that Green River Lakes would be uphill…or where they came from that could possibly lead to them being confused at this point in their journey. There is a clue to their confusion, I believe, in a sign up from the creek in the meadow. There the trail splits, going to Twin Lakes, back to the creek, or left/south along the creek as a use trail of some sort, where they came from. The use trail is not on my map, and Google Earth doesn’t reveal much; I think it may just end in the trees at a campsite, possibly for outfitters. There is a very remote possibility that it goes up to Gadsby, but I saw no satellite evidence of that. If you know, please share!
- The use trail area.
Past the creek, the trail wanders through the meadow and gives some quite nice views, in my opinion. I wanted to park it and camp right there, but it was much too early, and I had places to be, so I took a few pictures and continued on; I passed through another stand of trees, into another opening, and then began the switchbacks up to the lakes. There are about 8 total switchbacks as you climb 700 feet up to the first major plateau; at the end of the second one, I checked out the outlet creek and saw a place to camp in a little meadow. What an odd choice of camps!
Finally I came to a little meadow with the creek running through it again, where I saw more brookies. Here I had to decide if I wanted to bushwhack it to Gadsby (a friend from online would later take this option), or use the trail up to Twin Lakes. Bushwhacking would lead to less duplication of effort, and mean that I wouldn’t need to climb the mountain between the lakes, but I also didn’t want to get cliffed out as night was approaching. The route looked possible, but the contour lines indicated that the area beyond my visual horizon would be very steep side-hilling. I chose to stick to the trail and go on up to Valaite Lake.
After crossing the creek (again), I climbed through a somewhat bald hill, and Squaretop rose up behind me—spectacular.
Then it was back into forests, and within a couple of minutes was 200 feet higher, around 9800, at Twin Lakes. The outlet had little flow and was an easy crossing. It was now about 7PM, and starting to get cloudy. By the side of Twin Lakes were some tents within feet of the trail. I hate that. I don’t mind when people are by remote foot-paths that aren’t official trails (where it’s fair game), or when they end up closer to water in areas without much in the way of viable tent space, but when there’s a ton of space and you just park your butt…really?
I moved by quietly and wasn’t noticed, since the folks were busy yakking to themselves. The Twin Lakes themselves are not spectacular in romd, being somewhat shallow; I was reminded more of Colorado than of Wyoming, too, given the red-stone mountains with crumbling rocks. It became clear to me that I could cross “between” the lakes in the middle, although they’re actually connected by the shallowest of shallows, with rocks one can hop across. I saw a dead fish that someone caught but didn’t eat.
- Last: Twin Lake crossing area.
Back into the forest I went, walking another 1800 feet and climbing about 200 to Shirley Lake, which was much prettier, as one side had grassy edges. I was certain that I’d find people camped all around, but I was wrong—I was the only one there! It was 7:30, and I didn’t need to cook dinner, so I had time to find a good spot to camp. Since I wanted to go to Gadsby the next day, I had to figure out where to camp. At Shirley, the views weren’t necessarily the best, so Valaite might be better. Valaite would also only be 1000 feet past Shirley, and it was off-trail, so I’d be less likely to have visitors. Decisions!
I wandered around the western edge of the lake, first, looking for a suitable spot away from the trail, but had no luck there. The only areas I could put a tent were too close to the water to be respectful, so I made my way along through boulders on the far side of the inlet to Shirley; this was a big mistake, so I crossed back over the boulders and left, watching trout hitting the lake behind me. It was a pretty evening, even with grey skies, and the wind was calm. Just beautiful.
Passing through more forest, I came rather abruptly to the edge of Valaite Lake. The water color was fantastic, and there were more spots than ever to camp. On the far side of the lake to the west were a mother moose and her child. After a big, they spotted me and slowly moseyed off. Sadly, I noticed that no fish were jumping, nor did the lake seem to have any, being filled with nasty amphipods which would make getting water hard. For that reason, I recommend against using this lake as a place to camp. The views, however, are far better than those offered by Twin or Shirley.
Setting up my tent space took about 15 minutes total, and then I was filling my water, which was harder thanks to the biological contaminants. Even with that irritation, it didn’t take me long to get enough to last the night and the morning, and then I read while eating some of my snacks, and cleaned myself off. It looked like it might rain, so I made certain that all of my belongings were stowed with me and in the vestibule. This edge of the range can have grizzly activity, so I also made certain that my bear spray was lashed to my wrist, just in case.
Unfortunately, it didn’t rain, but I still slept quite well, if a bit warm, given that there was no wind, and it wasn’t a particularly cool couple of days.
Day 1 Totals: 7.1 miles, +3135′, -1113′. Min/avg/max: 7969/8668/10078
⤑Day 2: Valaite Lake to Lake Gadsby, Then Off-Trail and Home
I woke up at 8 and felt pretty dang good about life, despite the fact that my dumb pad had deflated again. It hadn’t deflated too bad during the night, and only a part of my hip had really hit the ground, so I was able to sleep well enough. Outside, the wind was calm and the skies were clear! What a pretty morning.
I tried to decide what to do for the day: should I leave my tend and scramble up the mountain? Go over the scree pile by the lake to Gadsby? Just watch a couple of angry squirrels all day? Wait, no I’d pack up my tent, move it to Shirley, and then stash most of my stuff under some boulders there, and take my pack over the low-lying ridge to Gadsby after fishing Shirley. So that’s what I did. I stuck to the forest this time on the way back, and it was very easy walking; I was to the lake in no time. I fished for an hour and caught a ton of cutthroat trout.
After stashing my gear and getting some water, I scrambled up the scree, which was quite steep; some of it was a bit loose, but nothing ungodly. Soon I had views of the Stonehammer drainage, Big Sheep Mountain, and the valley of lakes I was coming from. The scramble up took me about 10 minutes in total.
At the top, the ridge levels out to a fair degree, and has a grassy, low-lying area you can walk through with minimal effort; there’s a little creek there, too. I startled an elk and her baby on the way up, and 10 minutes later was looking down on Porcupine Creek, as well as looking for a way down to Gadsby. You can get cliffed out if you go straight south from Shirley, like I did. While I tried to make one little chute work, it wasn’t worth it, so I climbed a bit and headed west. There I found a good, easily-walkable way down to Gadbsy, which was about 275′ below.
On the way down, I listened to a Reason podcast with a Hong Kong protester. Her stories were flat-out wild. Glad that I don’t live there, and I feel bad for them. Tough stuff. There were nice views of Gannett on the way down. I’ve hiked over in that area before, from Downs Mountain to Dinwoody Basin to Shannon Pass, so it made me a bit wistful. I hope to get up in the Golden Lakes someday.
The trees around the lake are pretty ugly, being mostly dead, but there are plentiful camping spots, and it’s not entirely unpleasant. I’d came there if I ever returned, rather than over in the other valley. The lake is far deeper and prettier in color, the mountains more rugged, and the choices for a tent much flatter and more prevalent. Unlike the other lakes, Gadbsy might be worth the trip up.
I spent an hour and a half fly-fishing and then decided to head on back out. Since I was curious if I could gain less elevation on the hike out, I explored along the cliffs toward the saddle. As you can see, eventually I ended up climbing them…and coming out right where I went down. It certainly wasn’t worth the extra effort. There’s a chute of scree that you could ascend by the saddle proper, but then you have to lose elevation. Anyway, there’s just no winning this one. Up and over is the best.
After wandering out on an outcropping and getting some pictures, I descended a granite abutment and took a left, hauling my tush up toward a low-lying point that I’d seen from Valaite Lake. Although steep, it seemed that I could take the scree slope back down to my previous camping area. I’m not sure why I wanted to do this, since it saved me no effort, but I had plenty of time to kill. The walk up was about as mellow as they come.
From the top of the little saddle, I had a great view of Big Sheep Mountain and Valaite Lake. There weren’t any moose this time, so I began my descent with some caution, as much of it was dirt and quite slippery. A few loose rocks hit my ankles on the way down. Around half-way down, I saw a man descending the bottom of Big Sheep mountain. He picked his way behind trees and closer to the boulderfield, so I expect that the area where the moose were is quite marshy. He never looked my way, but I’m sure he must have seen me, even with my rock-camo colored clothing. I also learned that some exercise bike company was in trouble because an executive donated to Donald Trump. Soul Cycle, I guess. It seemed to be to be a way of exercising for the very rich.
There was a great view of the Slide Lake area as I clambered downhill. I reached the bottom 28 minutes after starting and walked back to my cached items the way I’d gotten there in the morning. No one was at Shirley Lake, still. I packed up and headed out; at Twin Lakes, I came across a woman sprawled across the middle of the trail, reading. She was nice but didn’t see me until I was almost upon her, so I made my way around her; she apologized profusely.
I crossed the Twin Lakes outlet at about 3:40, which was good time, as I hadn’t gotten to the Valaite until 3:10, and then had to walk and pack up my gear. A couple of guys passed me heading in on a day hike to fish, carrying heavy poles and cheap packs. I like seeing people utilizing the wilderness, although I wouldn’t choose to walk so far to fish. (Of course, I saw people doing that at Middle Fork, which was far crazier.)
After crossing the creek at the plateau again, I saw that I was behind a guy who was walking quickly, if not quick enough for my liking. Instead of passing him, I cut into the forest by the creek and crashed downhill. Why follow that stupid trail when it’s hot garbage?
From the plateau to the creek crossing at the bottom was only 18 minutes of walking, which was shockingly fast. The creek in this area, away from the trail, was sure pretty, and I found a log to cross on! I fished and got some water and then headed downhill. One area was steep and required going back up the mountain a bit, but I otherwise had no problems, and navigated around the deadfall far more easily than I’d supposed would be possible.
- 1. See the person? 2&3. Creek crossing. 4. Hiking along. 5. Bear poop. 6. Back to trail.
After leaving the creek, I headed through the forest again, and came back out on the trail only 20 minutes later, which was also good time. I even found a game trail, which had bear poop on it. Oh my! The creek crossing where I’d seen the moose ended up only being an hour of off-trail clambering from the top of the plateau, which I considered a great win for me.
On the way out, I found a dusty pair of glasses as I approached the lake, kind of off in the weeds; I was surprised to see them. I grabbed them up, since I don’t like litter. They were cheap, dollar-store sunglasses. While they looked dusty, perhaps they belonged to someone ahead. I overtook a hippie couple and asked them, but they said that they weren’t the owners. Every minute of the hike along the lakeside seemed to just slog by miserably; I wondered if the trail would ever end. About 30 minutes after that, I passed an older couple who were also heading out, but they likewise were not the owners; I checked the trail register and no one listed a missing pair. Were they very old?
This time, I followed the actual trail out instead of the road, which was quicker. At the parking lot, I checked the register there, but again, no one listed a missing pair. Since they were cheapies, I decided that I’d take them back home and toss them or give them to a family member. I’d reached the trailhead at 6PM, about 2:58 minutes after leaving Valaite Lake, which was good considering that I fished and went off-trail through thick forest.
Once I was back home, I offered them to my relatives. One of them googled the “brand” out of curiosity and found out that they weren’t dollar store glasses, but rather somewhat expensive, retailing for $170. While I posted around as I could, asking for takers, I got no hits. I returned later to look and see if anyone left a note about the glasses, but it seems that they were well and truly abandoned.
Day 2 Totals: 8.0 miles, +2269′, -4293′. Min/avg/max: 7969/9215/10657
➤Conclusion and Rating
Conflicted. That’s where I’m at on this hike. I personally didn’t enjoy it; I think that Slide Lake is much prettier with much less effort, and nicer fishing. Had I stayed at Lake Gadsby, I might feel more favorably toward the hike, though. Still, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world; my “friend” Mountainpooper from instagram went there and seemed to love it. Since ultimately I’m the one conveying how I simply feel about this hike, I’m rating it in between “didn’t like” and “liked with significant drawbacks.” I didn’t care for the trail or Twin, Shirley, and Valaite, but Gadbsy was pretty, with good fishing.
- My scientific rating system. I didn’t like this hike very much.
- Beauty. There are a couple of very captivating points, but mostly it’s not great for this range.
- Camping spots. Plenty, though you’ll also see a number of campers.
- Crowds. I saw over a dozen people on this hike.
- Difficulty. It’s a lot of elevation gain for little payoff. Not hard if you’re a backpacker, but quite tedious.
- Fishing. The fishing is fine.
- History. Nope.