Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Washaki Wilderness, Absoroka Range, Wyoming 2005

First Let me say, this was one the most scenic and interesting backpacking trip I have ever made. This hike is described in "Hiking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness Areas" by Lee Mercer and Ralph Maughan.  This is a wonderful guide book that has introduced me to this area.

I have to say that these are my favorite wilderness areas I have ever hiked.  There are several reasons. One- I like the excitement of hiking in Grizzly country. Two- I like solitude and Grizzly country usually brings solitude. Three- the scenery in this region is special, really special.  I have hiked several trails in this region and this has to be one of my favorites.  The geology is exciting.  I know, how can that be, but it is.  The Absaroka's are volcanic in origin and the scenery is lunar like.  As Lee Mercer describes it, "You now travel among sublime and bizarre Absaroka volcanics.  Lava spires, petrified wood, and crystal festoon this incredibly scenic area."  The first glimpse of this geology and I have to say my jaw dropped.  Every bend in the trail seemed to provide a new present.  It was like Christmas morning, opening a new gift at every bend.  You just want to keep on walking to see what was next.  I think all of us on the hike felt we were being treated to something very special.


We are walking to the trailhead because JoJo creek crossing was too deep and stopped us from driving.  Its about a six mile hike from JoJo creek to the trailhead in Kirwin.
Our trailhead was at Kirwin, Wyoming, a ghost town that was once a mining community.  Before reaching Kirwin we were stopped by JoJo Creek due to high water.  We now had a 6 mile hike to the trailhead.  As we loaded up our packs for the hike to Kirwin, Pete, and his friend Pete from Cheyenne, who we affectionally renamed RePete, were announcing how light they were going to travel.  Top on their ultra light gear list was a Hennessy Hammock.  I learned all of it's wonderful attributes as we hiked towards Kirwin.  Having slept in a hammock, I was skeptical.
Making camp at the trailhead.  
We made camp just outside of the ghost town of Kirwin and cooked supper and talked of the route we were taking the next several days.  I brought my younger brother, Eric, and a buddy from Little Rock, Darryl, who was a computer programmer for the state of Arkansas.  Darryl was an experienced outdoorsman but this was his first extended back country hike in the western United States.  He was excited.  My brothers Pete and Eric had done several trips with me and RePete was an avid backpacker.
We pass some of the ghost town relics from the mining days of Kirwin.
The next morning we packed up and headed up Wood River valley towards our first pass, Bear Creek Pass at 11,100 feet in altitude.  The scenery starts out with a bang and just keeps getting better throughout the day.  Pete and RePete were taking advantage of their light load by keeping 1/2 mile ahead of the rest of us.  I was usually the one setting the pace and was surprised at how fast they were moving.  As the valley opens up into a beautiful high alpine meadow, Dunrud Peak dominates the western skyline and Bear Creek Pass is high to our left.
The scenery starts with a bang and never fizzles.

Making our way up the Wood River on our way to Bear Creek pass in the background.

Approaching the high alpine meadow with Bear Creek Pass on left and Dunrud Peak in the background.

We spot elk on the steep assent of Bear Creek Pass.



A group of big horn sheep are cautious as they approach us high on Bear Creek pass.
The trail heads southwest up a steep but scenic alpine slope.  Along the way we spot a pair of bull elk running along the ridge.  At the top we are greeted by a motley crew of bighorn mountain sheep.  The scenery on the western side of Bears Creek Pass is just spectacular.

Looking on the western side of the Bear Creek Pass  as we head back down into the headwaters of Bear Creek.

This was Darryl's first extended western backpacking trip.  He is feeling the effects of the altitude.
We make our way to the trail intersection where we will  turn north towards Unnamed Pass.  But that will have to wait in the morning.  We are in a nice camping spot and we are tired.   Coming from an altitude of 400 feet, these first days of backpacking in the Rocky Mountains always hurts a bit.  Darryl is feeling it most of all.
Our first camp
We set up camp the first night out on the trail.  Darryl and I set up our "conventional" tents and Pete and RePete hang their hammocks from the trees.  That night a very cold blast of air came down the mountains.  It was really blowing hard for several hours.  It felt like it came all the way from Alaska because it got cold fast.  The next morning Pete and RePete were still half frozen from their nite hanging in the hammocks.  Pete said he felt like a side of beef in a meat freezer.  I went for a short morning hike and when I got back to camp, I saw Pete and RePete heading back up Bear Creek Pass.  I asked what was going on and Darryl and Eric said they were done and heading back to the car.  I was surprised and after a bit of discussion about their gear selection, we dubbed the duo "Pete, RePete, and Retreat".
Eric and I heading back uphill the second day towards Unnamed Pass.  The trail was non existent and made route finding interesting.
The next morning we head north towards Unnamed Pass.  The trail comes and goes over this beautiful alpine setting.  This was one of the most amazing morning walks I have ever done.  It was stunning.
This gives you a perspective of scale in this great country.

We meet the Absoroka Range and it's unusual lunar landscape. The scenery just keeps getting better and better.
At the top of Unnamed Pass at 11,000 feet altitude, we meet the Absaroka Range and it's bizarre volcanics for the first time.  The landscape is unearthly, looking more like moonscape.  We were giddy walking through this incredible country.
On the backside of Unnamed Pass headed down towards the Caldwell Creek headwaters. 



Nearing our second camp.

Our second camp in one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever walked in.
After enjoying an incredibly scenic day of hiking, we reach our second camp at the headwaters of Caldwell Creek.  This was a spectacular spot with immense  views  and lush grass to make camp.
Waking up to a chilly morning.


Another view of our second camp.  You can see the tents in the center of the photo.



Heading up again and looking back at our second camp.
The morning of our third day, we hike up the headwaters of Caldwell Creek toward the Wiggins Fork Creek and Burwell Pass,  at an elevation of 11,360 feet.  Again, the scenery and weather are grand and spirits soar as we make our way to our third camp at the headwaters of Cow Creek.


There were a lot of bear signs in our third camp at the headwaters of Cow Creek, so we hang our food in the trees in the background.

Eric tries to catch himself a nice birthday lunch.
The forth day we hike downhill toward the mighty Greybull River.  It is Eric's birthday, so we have a plan to catch fresh trout in the Greybull and fry him up some fresh fish for lunch.  The plan materializes and we all enjoy fresh trout for lunch.  After lunch we decided to try and make it out to our car.  It was going to be a very long hike so we got moving.
I am cleaning and cooking fresh trout for Eric's birthday lunch.
The hike up the Greybull is on an Alaskan scale.  The huge expanse of alpine meadows is nothing I have witnessed in any of my previous trips in the Rockys.  It is spell bounding scenery.

We are heading to Greybull Pass which lies just above Eric and I as we head up a beautiful Alaskan scale valley.

Looking back on the Grey Bull River valley we had just hiked from the top of Greybull Pass.
After reaching the top of Geybull Pass at an elevation of 11,500 feet, we hiked back down to the town of Kirwin.  Eric headed out in front of Darryl and I and said he would get the car and bring it up to Kirwin to pick us up.  Darryl and I made our way to Kirwin after an hour or so and headed down the dirt road toward our car.  After a half mile, a hunter rode up in his truck and I approached him with an offer of $20 to take us to our car.  We were tired.  He said, "Let me see the money".  I was surprised but started digging in my pocket.  He laughed and said he was joking and then told us he had just given Eric a ride to the car and that he should be arriving soon.  He then asked if we had a couple of others in our party.  I said yes but told him they got cold the first night and headed out.  He laughed and said he saw them walking down the road four days ago and was going to give them a ride but they were bitching so much that he decided to just let them walk.  Gear choice can make a difference in the ever changing weather of mountain country or maybe Pete and RePete just weren't wanting to rough it that week.  Whatever the case, they missed out on the most beautiful hike I have ever made.

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