Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Mosquito Cruise 9/14/2008

This is our second and final trip to the Gulf Coast Barrier Islands before the BP oil spill.  I just haven't had the heart to go again and witness the devastation first hand.  Our first trip to the islands in our trusty little McKenzie River Drift boat was punctuated by high winds and waves.  This trip was calm, balmy, and remembered most by the enormous numbers of mosquitos.   Our launch site would be the same as our first trip, Biloxi Hard Rock Casino parking lot equipped with a public boat launch.  We arrived late in the day so decided we were going to camp on Deer Island only a mile from the casino instead of try and make it to Horn Island.

Here is the route of the "Mosquito Cruise".  Deer Island to Horn Island to East Ship Island and back.

Getting ready to launch at the Hard Rock Casino parking lot in Biloxi, MS.

We are headed to Deer Island for our first night.  It is visible from the Hard Rock Casino.
We had a bright moon as I cook fish at our first camp on Deer Island.

The mosquitos were always waiting for someone to exit their tent.

It is hot, balmy and calm as we leave Deer Island headed for Horn Island 9 miles away.  

We pass a shrimper with passengers in tow.

We make camp on the western end of Horn Island.

We learned to camp on the ends of the islands so we could use the wind to keep the mosquitos from consuming us.  

Although the wind created problems at camp during tent setup and blowing sand in our food, it kept the bug numbers down and that was worth the trouble.  
We make camp on the western end of Horn Island after leaving Deer Island.  
We have a wonderful evening walking around the marshes on the western side of Horn Island.  

We explore Horn Island in the late afternoon hours.

The sun setting over Horn Island.

We walk to the gulf side of Horn to do some late afternoon fishing.

The gulf side of Horn Island.

Beautiful sunset on the Gulf.

Our third day out on the western end of Horn Island.  

Squalls moved through and produced some nice sized waves and great fishing.

The tide and wind start kicking up some nice sized waves.
Our third day out on the western end of Horn Island, we decided to fish the area before we loaded up the boat and motor to the east end of Horn for our next camp.  The water is usually too rough to get through the pass and onto the gulf side of Horn, but today was not so bad so we got over there and had a great day fishing.   Squalls were moving through and as we were bobbing in the waves in our small wooden boat we noticed a boat, the only boat we had seen in a while, heading straight for us at high speed.  It was the US Coast Guard. He motored up to us and asked if we had life jackets.  We grabbed them off the floor of the boat and said, "Yes Sir we do".  He just looked at us and shook his head and said, "Good Luck!"  I don't think he was talking about our fishing.  Soon after he left I lost my balance and fell in.  Hurricanes Ike and Gustav had just passed through days before and I came out smelling like diesel fuel.

We had a great day of fishing off of Horn Island.

After a 15 minute battle, I finally land a big Jack Crevalle.

Darryl hooks into another fish.

We boat and release a nice King Mackerel. 

We see many dolphin on this trip.

Here we are on a sandbar on the gulf side of Horn Island headed for the Eastern end.

I catch a Blue fish in the surf.

Darryl and I stop to watch a large shark almost get stuck on the sandbar as it heads off into deeper water.

Here is our camp on the eastern end of Horn Island.
After landing on the east end of Horn Island, Darryl and I noticed a lot of bird action in the gulf.  We grabbed our fishing gear and headed out in the boat.  The birds were showing us where the fish were as they dove for baitfish on the surface.  As I through my lure toward the fish, I managed to tangle a bird up in my line.  I reeled the bird up to the boat and as I was untangling the bird a fish took my lure.  So, I had a bird and fish on my line.  I finally released the bird and started reeling in the fish.  There was a huge explosion where at the end of my line and I told Darryl I had a large shark on.  It had grabbed my fish as I was reeling him in.  Then my line went slack and I reeled in half a fish.  In one cast, I had a bird, a fish, and a shark on my line and ended up with a fish head.  After fishing for 30 minutes, that same Coast Guard boat came flying up to us again.  We were about 12 miles from where he saw us the day before.  He motored up to us and said, "So you guys are still out here.  You doing OK? " And then he couldn't contain himself.  He said,"You know, that sure is a small boat with a small engine in a big ocean. But I guess you know that."  And off he went shaking his head all the way.  
The tide rolls out and our boat is stranded on the beach.

Cooking dinner on the east end of Horn Island.
A buoy loses its mooring during the two hurricanes that have recently hit the area, Gustav and Ike.

The wind tries to carry Darryl's tent away.

The tide rolls out and the sun goes down on Horn Island.

Enjoying the sunset at our camp on the eastern end of Horn Island.
Darryl doing dishes on Horn Island.
The next day we load up and head for East Ship Island.  We have another beautiful day in the sun.

Darryl getting comfy after is morning beers.
Stingrays cruising under the boat.
Land Ho! East Ship Island is barely visible on the horizon.

Darryl wakes up after his little nap after slugging 5 Belhavens.

Approaching East Ship Island.

We land on East Ship Island.
We land on East Ship Island and make our last camp for the trip.

A small shark kept me on my toes as I fished the point.

We finally catch an edible fish but we are just too tired to cook it and back to the sea it goes.

I baby sea turtle survives two hurricanes only to be caught and eaten by Pat.  Just kidding.

How does such a fragile creature survive two hurricanes.

Our last camp on East Ship Island.  
East Ship Island is a lonely and desolate place.

We get up at 4:30 AM the next morning and head back to Biloxi.  It is dark as we motor our way home and after an hour of motoring, a large container ship is coming up on us from astern.  They actually shine a beacon on us.  I wonder if they could actually see us on radar.  Anyway, we got out of their way and made a safe trip back to the car.

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.