Moving the Dogs to England

With all my backpacking trips behind me it was time to focus on the last things I needed to get done to make my move to England; this pretty much focused on everything to do with the dogs and the animal entry requirements to the UK. England is one of the strictest countries to move animals to, and rightly so since they are one of the only rabies-free countries in the world.

The official sites are helpful but I found few accounts of personal experiences with moving a dog (or more than one) from the US to the UK…so I thought I’d write out how things worked out for me. Please bear in mind that any information contained herein is only from my personal experience and should not be construed as legal advice or importation recommendations/regulations; refer ONLY to the two websites listed below for exact and current legal requirements.

Gov.uk “Taking Your Pet Abroad”

USDA.gov “Taking Your Pet from US to Another Country”


Rabies Vaccinations

While this is standard in the US there are a few more hoops to jump through when going to the UK: This includes any rabies vaccination prior to being micro-chipped and the vaccination recorded with the microchip number being classed as invalid by the UK. However, getting Cody and Kye micro-chipped and then vaccinated was a standard and painless process and no different from any other vet appointment for their regular vaccinations, albeit a year early. I was able to use my normal vet for this as there are no special USDA requirements for giving the rabies vaccination. You will need to ask for all the extra information regarding the specific rabies vaccine the vet uses as this is required to be included on the health certificate. I had booked this appointment for September 4th so that I had a good buffer for the 21 day minimum wait time before flying to the UK in October.

Health Certificate for the UK/EU

Due to being in a different town for my last month in the US I brought Kye and Cody’s entire vet records with me. Health certificates for international travel can only be issued by a USDA Accredited Veterinarian. Not all vet clinics will have this so you have to call around and ask. I only had to make a couple of phone calls to find a clinic close enough that had an accredited veterinarian on staff. Health certificates have to be issued no more than 10 days prior to arrival in the UK or they will be invalid.

I booked my health certificate appointment well in advance for the sake of caution; I tried to make sure all my T’s were crossed and my I’s were dotted immaculately…I didn’t want a single issue at the other end. When I called and asked the animal hospital said they had issued them before. However, when I got to the clinic no one really knew what they were doing and I was glad I had done my research as no one, including me, was sure which health certificate was needed.

After several phone calls to the USDA APHIS office in Idaho we finally found the right form and got it filled out correctly but the clinic’s computers weren’t behaving. For some reason none of the information would fit in the boxes, including from drop down menus built in to the form on USDA website. With the vet having checked out the dogs she approved them to travel and signed the health certificate. Thankfully the one page she had to endorse was not one of the pages that was having issues. I ended up returning home in order to redo the form which I then printed out at the library.

With the forms now looking better and fully complete I headed for the UPS store to overnight the health certificate and rabies vaccination certificates to Idaho. (Each region or state has a specific APHIS endorsement office so it isn’t Idaho for everyone). A return label is also required to be preppaid and sent with the health certificate and the website specifically states that your address has be both sender and receiver on the return label or it may be rejected. It was received in Idaho on time the following day and was back with me in under 48 hours of the moment I sent it out. I had two copies of the health certificate, just in case one got lost…never can be too careful. I also asked for a copy to be made after the APHIS endorsement. I was carrying a lot of paperwork.

Tapeworm Treatment

For travel to the UK Cody and Kye were required to have treatment for Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm that include praziquantel or an equivalent. This had to be done 5 days or less before ARRIVAL in the UK and must be done by the vet and recorded on the health certificate. The tapeworm treatment is the only part of the UK entry requirements that can be done after the health certificate has been endorsed by APHIS.

I booked the dogs in for the tapeworm treatment on Monday as our flight was scheduled to depart on Wednesday. It was a pretty painless appointment except that the vet wasn’t really sure how to fill out the health certificate properly. We got it done though and I filed away both the health certificate, the rabies vaccination certificates and a copy of the de-wormer packaging that was used; the vet’s writing wasn’t the most legible.

And that was the last of the required legal and medical preparation that was needed to move the dogs to the UK


Beyond the legal stuff that is required to enter the UK there are so many other things to plan for and around.

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I already owned a medium (400 series) Grreat Choice dog crate from Petsmart; it was what I bought Cody to use as a kennel in Arizona so both Kye and Cody were used to having free access to it, and I knew Cody liked having the hidey space. However, with there being specific travel requirements for dog crates in regards to size I made the decision to size up for Cody. There was a possibility that the medium-size would have been fine but I wasn’t willing to take a risk on it not being appropriate. In Bend I bought a large crate (500 series) that actually seemed too big for him. Once I was back in Washington I made sure that both dogs got used to sleeping in their crates; Cody took to his immediately (no surprise there) but Kye took a couple of days to be comfortable in using that as her bed consistently.

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Taking time to let dogs get used to their travel crates is imperative. International travel is stressful enough on both you and your critters, and them knowing and feeling that their crate is their safe space goes a long way in reducing an animal’s stress level.

I bought beds specific to the crate size, added the non-slip memory foam bath mats they had used in the RV and added an extra blanket. They slept every night in the crates any time we were in a residential setting where I could set them up; no matter where we were they knew them as home and always went in and settled down. This was a good routine to get into, and the last month of our time in the US they were used exclusively as we no longer traveled.

Despite my own self-reassurance I kept questioning whether Kye’s crate was going to be classed as too small when I arrived at the cargo depot. It would have been a disaster to have them deny to ship her because of a crate that was deemed too small. She was at the maximum measurements for a crate of that size but could stand, sit and lay down naturally (ie not forced to curl up) which is what the specifications required…but I was still concerned. I measured and re-measured and emailed and sent pictures to as many people as I could at both ends of the shipping line…I got mixed responses but nothing concrete about whether it was suitable.

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With a quote for only $200 more for two crates of the size Cody was using I decided to just do it…the worry wasn’t worth the stress and a slightly larger crate would likely make Kye’s travel more comfortable. So out I went again to buy a new crate for Kye and ended up donating the smaller crate to the local border collie rescue group.

Travel requirements also specify that bowls for food and water must be provided and attached in such a way that they can be reached from the outside of the crate. Most pet stores and Walmart sell suitable bowls that can be clamped to the wire door. This was when I was glad to have bought the larger crate for Cody as the bowls cannot take up much floor space so that a dog may lie down, stretched out (if they choose).

While the dogs were both micro-chipped and would be traveling in secure crates I like to doubly-cover my bases and bought a couple of key tags. On them I wrote their names and my mom’s UK cell number and added them to their collars alongside the tags that already had my US phone number on them. You can never be too careful when it comes to your pets.

Food was another issue I was facing; there are few dog food companies that sell their food in both the US and UK. Sure, IAMS and Science Diet are both available but I refuse to feed that junk to my dogs. The only brand of suitable quality I could find available in both countries was Taste of the Wild…my normal brand wasn’t available in the UK…but my mom couldn’t easily get a hold of it. I did some research and talked to some friends and family in the UK who owned pets and got their recommendations. This is where it is helpful to have my mom helping me out as I could have her look for what I needed and pick up what was necessary.

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Planning for a Solo Backpacking Trip

I am a member of several trail and backpacking groups on Facebook and I was answering a question from an older female about how safe it was to hike solo in our local mountains. Someone in my local area who knows how much I blog about my trips recommended my blog as a good resource for the trails in the Bighorn Mountains (my back yard). However, despite my many trip reports there is very little on my blog that covers what I do to plan a solo hike, which is what I tend to do 90% of the time. This guide does NOT include planning for gear.

So I began thinking about what I take into consideration as a solo hiker in regards to my safety and trail planning. I wouldn’t say this is a comprehensive list but I think it’s a good place to get started:

Buy a map of the area and study it: Study the terrain, mileage, water sources and know your limitations. While I am ABLE to hike upwards of 15 miles a day I find it tough to do in mountainous terrain and I certainly don’t enjoy it; 15 miles on the flat is a different beast. I plan my daily miles in the mountains to be in the 10-12 mile region…if I do more, that’s great but I don’t plan on it. Water is heavy but knowing your water sources and carrying a good filter means you can carry less water. Lots of climbs and descents are going to slow you down; don’t over underestimate how much a 2500ft climb can take out of you and how much it will impact your mileage.

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Plan your route: Start by knowing how many days you have and then multiply that by how many miles YOU can hike in a day safely. Once you know this you can work out a route that fits your hiking level and the time you have…it is better to be done a little early than be pushed for time and make a mistake, and I always find it nice to be done early and then have time for some relaxation and a beer. When you have a rough idea of the route and which trails you might want to take go check out CalTopo.com. CalTopo is a great tool for mapping out your specific trail if you don’t have a good map of the area; it is fairly intuitive and you can print out your own maps, and files can be exported to GPS. I use CalTopo when a good Trails Illustrated map isn’t available for the area I plan on hiking or when I don’t want to spend the money for a map on a lone trip to a single area.

A second layer of planning a route is to talk to locals; learn from others’ experiences what trail conditions will be like, how easy it is to navigate, whether there are any tough areas of particular concern. Almost every national forest, wilderness area or state or national park has a locals-run Facebook group dedicated to the trails in the area. The local Ranger District Office is often a pretty decent resource for this too.

Safety Net: I do not have anyone at home to expect me back at a certain time so I work around that safety aspect in several ways. I carry a DeLorme InReach device so that I have SOS connective capabilities in the event of an emergency. However, there is always the possibility that in a fall I may lose consciousness or the device gets broken. I have a back up for this and leave my planned route (including the direction I plan on hiking) plus the CalTopo map file with three or more friends who I check in with twice daily. If I miss two or more check-ins they call out the cavalry. I make this easy by providing them with the Ranger District of the National Forest or BLM area I will be hiking on WITH their phone number AND the contact information for the Sheriff’s Office of the counties I will be hiking through. I chose to go with two missed check-ins and to check-in twice daily as that gives me a maximum of 24 hours before someone will be aware that something is wrong, but also because I may inadvertently miss one check-in or temporarily may not be able to get a signal out due to tree coverage etc. For those that DO have someone at home; always leave them a copy of your route and a time to expect you back…Aron Ralston learned the hard way of the consequences of not doing this.

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Know Your Gear: While I don’t intend to cover gear choices here an important aspect of staying safe, especially when solo, is carrying decent gear and knowing how to use it and what its limits are. No matter the length or duration of my hike (whether day hike or week-long trip) I ALWAYS carry a water filter, food, shelter and a way to keep warm as well as my InReach. These things are non-negotiable. Appropriate clothing and footwear for the season and terrain should never be overlooked or assumed; no matter what anyone says a bikini and flip flops are never suitable for any excursion into the back country even if it is “just a mile”. But more than knowing your gear, having some knowledge in your head weighs nothing and can save your life, so if you can learn from others before you go, do so.

 

Gear I Use And Why

After covering the big items I use in separate reviews I won’t list them here, but there countless other things I use on every trip that I wouldn’t be without. I have my gear dialed in pretty well after several years and my gear choices don’t change from trip to trip, except for my choice of quilt depending on the trip’s predicted temperatures (10* EE Convert OR 30* EE Revelation).

So this is a list of the rest of the gear I use, why I chose it, why I like it and any pros or cons I have found.

CLOTHING

Columbia Omni-Shield Down Puffy Jacket: I mostly chose this puffy as I found it on sale and it fit well. The silver dots (the omni-shield) compliments the down and helps to reflect the heat back towards the body. It is light-weight and moderately warm but does leak feathers. The sleeves have a synthetic lycra cuff vs elastic in the ends of the sleeves themselves and I really like that aspect. Overall this jacket has only been good into the 50s, for a skinny girl like me, with a t-shirt and my fleece base-layer.

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LL Bean Ultralight 850 Down Jacket with hood in Mulberry: With my Columbia jacket only being good down into the 50s I was in the market for something warmer but still light that could take me into the 30s or at a pinch, high 20s for early alpine mornings and cold evenings. With a little research I decided on the LL Bean Ultralight as being the best puffy for my needs. I had looked at the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer but it was more comparable to my Columbia jacket in weight and warmth. After a couple of trips with this jacket it held up to the reviews and has been extremely warm and comfortable. The fit is perfect and I love the mulberry color. Don’t be afraid to look outside the standard down-gear providers to find a product that works for you. I have found no negatives with this puffy except that being warmer it is heavier.

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Salomon Speedcross 3 or 4 Trail Runners: After one day hike in LE duty boots I was convinced to move to trail runners. My first choice had been the Salomon XD trail runners but they slipped in the heel and I ended up with tendinitis in my left Achilles tendon. I replaced the XDs with the Speedcross 3s, and then this year with a pair of the 4s. What I like about these trail runners is the superior grip of the lugs on the soles, although they don’t walk very well on pavement.  I really like the speed lacing and find that the kevlar laces stay secure and don’t slip. Others may not like the brighter colors of the Speedcross but my hiking clothes tend to be bright and vivid for safety reasons but they do come in more muted colors for those who prefer. The updated model 4 has better designed lugs and uses a slightly tougher, stiffer rubber for the outsole. They are a narrow shoe which works great for me as I have narrow feet but won’t be comfortable for those with wider feet. They run small; I usually wear a 6 1/2 -7 but wear a 7 1/2 in these.

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Dirty Girl Gaiters: For those not familiar with Dirty Girl Gaiters they are a light-weight lycra gaiter used to keep debris out of trail runners. They are not water proof. I chose DG gaiters after reading many, many recommendations and sung praises from people who use them. They come in dozens of patterns to choose from to suit any taste and several sizes to fit the smallest to largest feet. I have found them easy to keep clean and they have been great to keep the debris out of my shoes…when I have gone without them I have definitely noticed a difference and have had to stop repeatedly to empty out rocks and sticks and leaves. No cons; I am still on the first pair I bought 3 years ago.

Darn Tough Socks: Made in Vermont, USA and come in a variety of shoe sizes, not just “Fits Size 4-12”. Because of the more exact sizing they don’t bunch and fit perfectly which means less or no blisters. They are extremely comfortable and durable and come with Darn Tough’s Lifetime Warranty.

Ibex Women’s Bikini Brief: Made of wool so wick moisture and wool has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that limit the stink. Comfortable and fit like my regular everyday Hanes cotton underwear. I have no issues with riding up while hiking. The two issues with these are the cost and the sizing; they are very pricey so I reserve them only for backpacking, and they are sized extremely small. I wear a small (5) in Hanes but in these I have to wear a Large which makes no sense.

Other Hiking Clothes: Cheap Walmart fleece base layers for top and bottom. Cheap Danksin capri leggings from Walmart…I have fallen and put holes in the knees a few times so don’t like to spend too much money on them. Cheap Danskin sports bra from Walmart. Cheap Danskin fleece sweat shirt from Walmart. Walmart gloves and beanie. Buff-brand neck wrap.

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OTHER GEAR

Black Diamond Ergo Cork Hiking Poles: I started out hiking with Cascade Mountain Tech hiking poles which were a good, inexpensive pair of poles that I went with because of this review done by Andrew Skurka. However I decided to upgrade to the BD Ergo Cork poles in 2018 and have found them to be a good pole. They are aluminum vs carbon fiber which means that carrying them is a little chillier on the hands when not using them for actual hiking. I like the ergonomic design of the hand grips at a slight angle and they feel comfortable in my very small hands. The angle didn’t seem to be a problem for putting up my Duplex. The wrist straps were also soft and comfortable but I did find that they slipped more than they should and became loose so I was often re-tightening them.

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Two things I don’t like about these poles: 1) The paint: Being aluminum they are painted/powder coated which will chip and scratch easily and being that they are black it shows very quickly. Also, if the poles are not dried properly you will lose the the length markings as if they are being dissolved by the water. I learned this the hard way and was informed by another hiker about the reason to keep the poles dry. 2) The adjustment mechanism: It is a screw and not a nut you can tighten with your hand fingers like on the Cascade Mountain Tech poles which means that if you need to tighten them up you need to carry something to do it with. Thankfully my cat hole trowel and my Ti spoon can both do the job just fine. The adjustment is also tricky as too tight and you won’t be able to close the flick lock (especially with cold fingers), and even a little too loose and the poles will collapse (it happened to me). I did not have this problem with the Cascade Mountain Tech poles.

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Snow Peak Ti 900ml Pot: Fits a 220ml canister and half of a quick dry Sea to Summit small towel. I did not like the frying pan lid and now use the lid from my heavier Solo Stove. Fits inside homemade reflectix pot cozy. I wish the handles were a little longer as they get very hot when heating anything.

Snow Peak Giga and mini Bic lighter: Along with my Ti spoon the Snow Peak Giga is the only piece of original gear I have and I use it often. It is simple, packs small and unlike most other backpacking stoves it has four arms to hold the pot vs three which makes it more stable when heating. A mini Bic lighter fits perfectly in the plastic case with it so I don’t lose it and is pretty much infallible for a lighter.

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Ti Long-handled Spoon: One of the few pieces of original backpacking gear I was given that first got me interested in this hobby. I still love it and find the long-handled, medium head invaluable to any trip. One of the best pieces of gear I have been given.

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter and Evernew 2L Soft Bottle: The Sawyer Squeeze is fast, reliable and convenient. I purchased the couplers so it can be attached directly to a Smart Water bottle to make it even easier. It can’t be allowed to freeze so if low temperatures are expected it should be kept in your sleeping bag with you (in a Ziploc of course). The bags it comes with don’t last and are pretty useless (I blew one by back-flushing) which is why I bought the Evernew bag which last better but certainly aren’t perfect. The first Evernew I had developed a leak at the neck due to user error (not holding the neck while tightening the filter or the cap) and the second developed a small hole in the bottom of the bottle due to material fatigue. I still think they are worth the money and are far better than other choices. The cap is not leak-proof so I replaced it with a Smart Water bottle cap.

QiWiz Big Dig Shovel: Small, light, does a great job of digging cat holes. Doesn’t bend or break under pressure. Cuts through roots very well. The handle is a little sharp on the hands if much pressure is needed to dig a hole. You can find them here: QiWiz

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MSR Groundhog Mini tent stakes: Light, solid and grip well. I prefer these over the longer stakes as you are less likely to run into buried rocks with a shorter stake. Even when I have hit rocks and put all my weight on the stake it has not bent or broken. They have remained in the ground and kept guylines tight even in high winds and unexpected crazy wind gusts during thunderstorms. In boggier or softer ground (such as the Scottish Highlands) I would choose to carry and use the longer full-length MSR Groundhog stakes but the Minis do great for most alpine and rocky conditions.

Thermarest Compressible Pillow: Doesn’t compress anywhere as small as a down pillow but has much more support. Doesn’t squeeze or crinkle like an air pillow. Generally comfortable if a little too supportive at times but wouldn’t trade for the world when it comes down to being comfortable to sleep and getting a good night of rest.

Other Gear: Trash compactor bag for pack liner, mini GorillaPod tripod, Sony DSC HX80 camera, minimal FA kit (band aids, ibuprofen, Imodium, alcohol wipes, tent repair kit, extra Bic lighter, chapstick and knowledge), TP and 1/2oz liquid soap or sanitizer, lightweight folding knife.


Separate review of the DeLorme InReach coming soon. (Older model)

Backpacking the Wind River Range, August 2018 – Part 3

Day 5

About 10:30 last night I felt Kye growl against my leg and then I heard her. She was alert and there was something beyond the area we had tied the food bags that she didn’t like. Then she barked…there was definitely something out there as she never barks otherwise. I hollered at Jerry but neither of us heard anything. He got up to check out the area but still nothing. Kye finally relaxed and we went back to our sleeping bags. It was still a little unnerving as I completely trust my dogs’ instincts…they’ve never let me down yet.

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We awoke to a chilly morning but with blue and cloudless skies, finally. There was a thin layer of ice on the water in the dogs’ bowl and Colby had ice on his tent. I had a small amount of condensation but nothing my camp towel couldn’t handle. My quilt was the wettest it had been on this trip so far but it quickly dried in the morning sun.

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We left Summit Lake and climbed through the trees until we were once again above treeline. We wouldn’t be facing any more large passes and we climbed in and out of small alpine valleys and saw dozens of alpine lakes all surrounded by the majesty of various Wind River peaks. Each day was just getting better and better as far as the scenery went and I was quickly running out of words to describe just how amazing it was…things were starting to get a little repetitive on the vocabulary front in trying to describe how amazing everything looked.

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Finally we climbed out of our last mini valley and looked out towards Elbow Lake, and in the distance the backside of some of the jagged spires of Titcomb Basin…there are truly few words to describe the view. Photos couldn’t do it justice although we took an awful lot in an attempt to capture the beauty and serenity of the landscape. Sadly smoke from Montana fires inhibited the views slightly but at least we could see them.

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For a couple of miles the trail wound between black-rock tarns of clear water before finally rounding the corner and circumnavigating Elbow Lake. We stopped for lunch just above the creek crossing and then hiked up and over a small pass to look down on Upper Jean Lake. The views remained staggering and we were now much closer to the serrated teeth of the peaks of Titcomb Basin and they truly were jaw-dropping. We said goodbye to that valley and dropped down to the valley of Lower Jean Lake. The views were still gorgeous and we could see glaciers on the peaks to the south but the peaks didn’t quite match up to those we had just passed. Jerry kept swearing he was done taking pictures, and said so at least a dozen times…right up until the next view came into sight.

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With Lower Jean Lake at our backs we crossed the bridge at Fremont Crossing where the guys got all gushy about meeting Andy Bentz as we got water. Rarely does one run into a hiking legend on the trail (who also owns the company Pa’lante packs) but we did and we chatted for a while about backpacks and various trails as everyone loved on Kye and Cody and took pictures of them. As we crossed the bridge the guys lamented about not having taken a picture with Andy and I made a comment relating the situation to Justin Beiber and teenage girls.

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With our celebrity meeting out of the way we hiked on. Black clouds were appearing and rain was looking imminent. I pre-empted the coming storm and put on my poncho as the guys pulled on rain jackets. Of course the rain didn’t end up being as bad as it looked but one does get a little gun-shy after an experience like we had on day 3 and we hid under a tree for 10 minutes while the worst of it passed and the sun came out.

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Very quickly we were removing rain gear and sweatshirts in the hot sun as we hiked on. The now-glistening rocks made for a very pretty view. More rain clouds were coming in as we reached the turn-off for Island Lake and Titcomb Basin and I quickly put my poncho back on before the rain started to fall again.

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With the first drops of rain we looked for a suitable campsite for the night but they were few and far between as level, dry ground within the area’s camping requirements was minimal. I waited out the rain beneath some pine trees where we thought we might camp with the dogs and the packs while Colby and Jerry checked out other possibilities.

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In the end we stayed put and got tents set up just as the sun was coming out…just long enough, and with a decent-enough breeze to dry everything out. Of course the sun didn’t stay for too long and came and went all evening. It made for a chilly couple of hours before bed but we all curled up under our quilts and Jerry and I talked as he ate his cold re-hydrated meal (not appealing when you want something hot at the end of the day).

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Finally it got dark enough to head to bed and the wind died down making it a cold, clear, crisp night.

Day 6

I slept pretty rough last night. I woke while it was still dark with a raging headache and something that felt similar to the flu. I fumbled around with my first aid kit cussing that the superglue had leaked and melted everything plastic. Thankfully the ibuprofen was still good and I downed a few and finally fell back to sleep.

I slept until 8:30am, and while it was needed it was was to our detriment as we got nailed with ticket from the NF rangers for camping too close to the trail. I was awakened by rangers’ voices chatting with Colby and Jerry. Big Oops. I waited until they left before I let the dogs out and extricated myself from the tent…I still wasn’t feeling great.

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We finally left camp just before 10am to hike into Titcomb Basin. The trail went by Island Lake and it was definitely the busiest place we had yet seen. I was having serious pain in the gluteus muscle in my right hindquarter and only hiked to the beginning of the basin, half a mile beyond the trail junction with Indian Pass. It was close enough for me to appreciate it and really feel small in the grand scheme of the range.

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The jagged peaks of Titcomb Basin were like teeth grating against the sky and were certainly some of the most impressive I have seen. I enjoyed the views and the sun for an hour while Colby and Jerry headed deeper into the basin.

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Around noon I loaded back up, talked a passing group into relaying my destination information to the guys and headed west. It was slow going as every step upward with my right leg was painful and I figured the guys would catch me sooner rather than later. I stopped often, taking very pleasant naps in the sun at Island Lake (where I also had lunch) and Little Seneca Lake.

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I talked to more groups about passing on my destination information, and probably told the first ten groups I passed…I didn’t want to miss connecting with the guys before we camped.

I usually don’t choose to be alone in grizzly bear country, even with minimal bear presence (hence this being a group trip), but the trail to Titcomb Basin is one of the busiest in the Wind River Range and thus I felt safe enough to hike alone.

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With a few more stops on a trail that followed the edge of Seneca Lake, and couple of short and steep climbs I finally reached Hobbs Lake around 5pm…it took me that long to hike such a short distance with the pain in my leg. I found a great campsite with room enough for three tents far enough off the trail and away from the lake to be legal. It was a gorgeous spot looking over Hobbs Lake, although sadly it was also extremely busy and there were a few loud groups but at least we had a site…many groups came by looking for a camping spot and struggled to find one.

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Colby showed up thirty minutes later just as I was starting to put up my tent. We both cooked and waited for Jerry to arrive, which he did around 7pm…later than expected, but understandable as he had spent considerable time exploring the end of the basin and the route to Knapsack Kol.

The night drew in quickly and it hit me that this would likely be the last camping night I would spend in the US before returning to the UK. The week felt like it had flown by but Monday night felt like it had been an age ago. I was ready for the trip to be over as I was ready for a hot meal (of real food), a shower and a beer but I was also sad that this was the end and I was only too aware than just 6 miles lay between me and my truck.

Day 7

For the second day in a row we awoke to zero condensation inside our tents or on our quilts. It was a still morning but the breeze was picking up quickly and it was cold…it smelled like snow. With as busy as Hobbs Lake was it was difficult to find some privacy, let alone find some soft ground in which to dig a cat hole…so I was out of bed briefly at 6:45am to take care of business in the best place I could find without an audience.

For the second morning of the trip I left my base layers on but I also left camp earlier than the others, at 8:15am, to get a head start. I knew that Colby and Jerry would catch up pretty quickly and I hiked fairly slow. The first hour was ups (which really slow me down) and downs and within an hour they had both caught up.

The scenery was minimal, compared to what we had been hiking through recently, and we passed a few lakes, crossed a few meadows but mostly the last six miles were flat, easy and surrounded by trees (it would have been a much easier first day if we had hiked in a counter-clockwise direction). We passed a lot of groups going in, most with packs many times larger than ours (especially Colby’s and Jerry’s), who all looked and smelled very fresh…we all knew we smelled appalling at that point.

Finally, just after 11am we arrived back at the trucks and had a celebratory soda, beer, Red Bull…or all together…before we headed into Pinedale.

Once more we ended up at the Gannet Peak Lodge (where we had stayed last year), a clean and moderately-priced motel (for the area) where more beers were consumed, much-needed showers were taken for long periods of time and pizza was ordered. We spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying mindless entertainment (watching Deadpool) before heading out for dinner to the Wind River Brew Pub again (another repeat of last year).

Monday morning Jerry and I said goodbye to Colby as he headed home to eastern Wyoming. Jerry spent most of the morning getting ready for his next hike…a 10 day excursion back into the Wind River Range to do Andrew Skurka’s Wind River High Route with another member of White Blaze (whose trip report and pictures can be found here). I helped with shuttling but headed back to the Bighorns on Tuesday morning after a final night of camping with Jerry and Pat.

***

After-thoughts

The 2018 trip was so different from the 2017 in many ways and not just because of the route. The dynamic of the people can make or break a trip and this year was just as good as last year albeit in a different way. The scenery was definitely more spectacular and the trail was certainly tougher. We picked the toughest uphill climb to do on our first day (to the detriment of one of our party) and got rained on (and thus very cold) to the point that it was getting dangerous for myself and made that particular day far less enjoyable than it could have been.

For the first time on a backpacking trip I consistently drank the water without filtering. I do not necessarily condone or recommend this for other hikers but it was a choice I made after my experience in the Wind River Range last year. The sources I didn’t filter were only fast-flowing high alpine streams and creeks that had a very, very low risk factor. I did filter when the only water source was from lower-elevation lakes or slow-moving rivers (so for the first 48 hours, the Green River and Hobbs Lake). I would do the same thing again but having a filter or chemical treatment back-up is vital.

As with other multi-hiker trips backpacker talk centered around things like Dyneema count, quilt comparisons, pros and cons of cook vs no-cook, cat holes and poop, trail habits, trail names…and how a backpacking date would tell you all you ever need to know about someone. There is no hiding anything on a backpacking trip…if you have a wedgie you fix it, everyone makes prolific use of the “farmer blow” and everyone knows when you have to poop.

This particular backpacking trip was very bittersweet for me. It was my last trip in the US before my move back to the UK but it was also amazing and I’m glad that this particular trip WAS my last one as it leaves me with some amazing memories. As mentioned last year the bond I created with Doug and Jerry continued this year; Jerry was there right along with me and we both missed not having Doug with us and lamented his absence. Colby was a lot of fun to have along and definitely added a positive and fun vibe to the group. Who knows where the next trip will take us, but we are already contemplating the TGO Challenge in Scotland.

Backpacking the Wind River Range, August 2018 – Part 2

Day 3

We got out of camp a little earlier than planned and were covering the last couple of miles to the top of Porcupine Pass (the second one of the same name in the less than a month for me) by 8:45am.

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The first few switchbacks were tough but the trail soon opened up into a gorgeous alpine valley surrounded by towering peaks of granite on all sides and a fabulous view of the 2000ft descent we had made yesterday, and the 2000ft climb we were now doing.

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At the end of the valley we stopped for a quick snack break before the final switchbacks to the top. The weather was partly cloudy and perfect for climbing in open terrain and we stopped to soak in the next valley of absolutely stunning beauty.

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Pictures were taken in abundance before we started down the nice and not-too-steep switchbacks on the north side of the pass. I kept stopping to take pictures, not just of the views ahead but of the pass and Jerry and Colby behind.

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We filled up with water at the first creek crossing, grabbed a snack and I pulled my poncho out and stuffed it at the top of my pack…black clouds to the west looked pretty ominous. We followed the trail into the trees and within five minutes we were feeling the first raindrops and then hail. We all donned rain gear quickly and continued down the trail. The hail petered out and soon it was a light off again-on again shower. But eventually it got worse and the rain became more persistent and was less like a passing rain shower and more like a blanket of wetness. We hiked on and thunder grumbled around us.

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With a large pine tree providing a dry respite just off the trail we took a break. I was doing okay but wasn’t sure how I would do if the rain continued. We waited for 20-30 minutes in the shelter of the tree before I started getting cold and was beginning to shiver slightly. Despite the rain I knew I had to get moving to stay warm.

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Despite my poncho keeping most of me dry my hands were getting wet and they were going numb with the cold. And wet plants drenched my feet. I was starting to worry about me staying warm and what we would do as a group if the rain continued…I knew if it didn’t break soon I would be facing some serious issues. Jerry kept a check on me to make sure I was doing okay (he admitted later he was worried about me too).

Finally after another 20 minutes of steady rain (not torrential downpour thankfully) we started to see a break in the weather. Sadly there was a creek crossing that had only one log for the crossing (and it was a no go as it was wet and slippery) so with already soaked and frigid feet I just barreled through the water, cussing the whole way. And on the other side of the creek, just as we reach a beautiful open meadow and the trail junction to Green River Lakes (30 miles from our starting point), the sun came out and immediately began to warm and dry us. I was beyond thankful.

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We crossed another creek, thankfully by log bridge this time, and covered the final switchbacks to Green River Lakes and crossed yet another creek. I took my shoes off for this one as my shoes were finally starting to dry and I wanted to keep them that way. Of course there was a log at the crossing that I had completely missed but it gave me a chance to get my now-stinky feet and socks clean. As we crossed the meadow at the southern end of Green River Lake we got our first glimpse of Squaretop Mountain.

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We finally turned north on the Highline Trail aka CDT (Continental Divide Trail) and circumnavigated the lake, all the while getting some quite impressive views of the aquamarine-colored lake and Squaretop Mountain. The trail was mostly level and we made good time, conversing with another hiker briefly and asking about camping spots ahead. He mentioned one but also that another group of six guys had seen a bear sow and cub in the area ahead of us…thankfully it was a black bear and not a grizzly.

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We hiked on a short way and found an amazing campsite 100 yards off the trail and just below Squaretop Mountain…and probably one of my favorite campsites of any trip in the Winds so far (including last year’s trip). We were watching the weather closely and wanted to get camp set up before any more rain came in.

 

 

 

 

 

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We got settled and ate, and most stuff had dried out from the night before when the rain, lightening and thunder hit about 6:30pm. We scurried for our tents. Thankfully we had been watching the clouds encroach on the valley and all gear had already been safely stowed in protective DCF cocoons.

Rain and thunder continued for almost two hours before finally abating at about 8:15pm. We were glad to see the end of it and made a move to hang our food bags before we completely lost the light.

Day 4

We awoke to mist and fog shrouding everything, including our tents. It would break briefly and then come back in and it certainly provided for a couple of pretty pictures of Squaretop Mountain. But it was not a morning that was conducive to wanting to crawl out of warm sleeping bags and even the dogs were shivering a little.

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Everything was damp. Even my camp towel couldn’t get my tent dry this morning although it got it close and the dogs soon warmed up as I let them out of the tent and they enjoyed 20 minutes of running and playing together.

We eventually got on the trail and I was still wearing my fleece base layers and gloves to stay warm. The sun was starting to break through a little and after a mile or so I packed away my gloves and base layer top.

 

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The trail continued for another four miles on a pretty level trail beside the meandering Green River. We crossed a couple of fairly wide and deep creeks that required some serious balance and careful stepping to stay dry on rocks or logs. Jerry, who doesn’t hike with hiking poles, had the toughest time and started crawling across the logs on the first crossing. On the second crossing I had the guys hold the dogs back so they didn’t try to follow me immediately as it was a precarious crossing. Kye, as always, tried to rush across the log and slipped a couple of times but the double log bridge meant she didn’t fall in.

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Eventually the trail split and we crossed the now-raging Green River via a foot bridge and climbed above it. The sun was beginning to come out more consistently and make the day warmer, finally…we were all glad for the warmth. Another mile and a half put us at the base of the switchbacks and before the climb I packed away my base layer pants; it was still chilly but I didn’t want to sweat in my sleeping clothes.

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The switchbacks were a pretty easy climb and we stopped for views of distant waterfalls and peaks as we hiked up, eventually crossing Trail Creek were we ran into the six guys on a guided family trip who had seen a black bear sow with her cub not far from where we had camped the night before. We chatted for a while and climbed the final switchbacks to Trail Creek Park.

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Soon the trees deserted us and we we surrounded by grey boulders, green meadows and fields of talus all interspersed with reds, golds and blues of wild flowers. It was a beautiful sight and just kept getting better as we hiked up through the valley, each step providing a better view.

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Eventually, after much stopping to take dozens of pictures, we reached the plateau that is Green River Pass. It was not an up-and-over pass like I was expecting but was an open-ended expanse of rocks, emerald carpet and alpine lakes glistening in the now-warm sun. It was stunning.

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We reached the end of the plateau and looked over Summit Lake towards a grove of trees that looked like a good place to camp. We were high and exposed and wanted a little protection if a storm came through. But the skies remained clear and the sun, despite the wind and chilly air, was very welcome.

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We had camp set up quickly so everything could dry and then sat for a while and enjoyed the view as the sun set and the moon rose. Soon it was too cold to remain outside of the tent and we all departed for bed.

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Backpacking the Wind River Range, August 2018 – Part 1

Our first up-close views of the peaks we would be hiking through, and the too-friendly local wildlife:

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Day 1

We started pretty slow this morning as we all stayed up too late and enjoyed a few beers but we did manage to make it out of Elk Hart Park by 9:30.

From left to right: Jerry, me, Colby and Dave

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For 3 miles the trail wound down through the pines with some great views to the north. I lead for a while as we climbed down into the valley. In planning this route I knew we had a decent climb ahead but apparently I had missed the steep descent beforehand and by the time we reached the lake and then the creek after a few miles my legs were like jelly and were visibly shaking with the exertion. On the way down we passed a couple from Rochester NY coming up which was crazy as Jerry lives about hour from there.

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We grabbed a bite to eat Upper Long Lake and took some pictures before crossing a nice bridge over Pine Creek. The sign mentioned the trail was technically abandoned, was not suitable for pack stock and was not maintained. A lot of blow down trees confirmed this.

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The initial climb wasn’t too bad but once over a low saddle it got super steep and made for some tough going. However in the steepest section the trail was generally clear and easy find. It was here that Dave started feeling the affects of the altitude and of not having hiked as much as the rest of us. We paused to wait for him to catch up several times but it was obvious he wasn’t enjoying himself at all. Words of encouragement were spoken as we stared out at the views from the Crows Nest.

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From the Crows Nest onwards the trail leveled out considerably and we were all appreciative of the mostly-level trail for a while. We stopped to get water at a lake below the trail and then it started to rain. It wasn’t serious rain and just a summer shower that last for half an hour but it was enough for us to don rain gear for a while.

And then we ran into a big old moose with wonky antlers that trotted across the trail. He stared at us, we watched him and I was glad Jerry had finally seen one in the Winds. Our last trip here and proven to be utterly wildlife-less with the exception of a deer and a couple of marmots.

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We moved on and had another short climb up and over a saddle. Thankfully this one was nowhere near as steep as the torture we had endured earlier when I had been wondering who the asshole was who’d mapped this route…yup, me.

From the top of the saddle the trees opened up into grassy rock-strewn meadows with yet more stunning views of northern peaks. The trail remained on a moderate decline but was, in most places, level and we finally reached Trapper Lake sooner than I had anticipated we would. This wasn’t a bad thing at all. We took another break and Dave was holding up well…he was definitely hurting though.

From Trapper Lake we had a little over a mile to our intended campsite for the night at Section Corner Lake, a short climb followed by a rocky descent dropped us out on the edge of the lake and we started scouting for a campsite. The first we came across was nice but wouldn’t see the sun early but the other place that looked decent was very rocky and would have been hard on the tents.

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We got camp up quickly although Dave struggled to find two good trees for his hammock. And when you’ve had a tough day the last thing you want to deal with is struggling to set up camp and deal with more frustration. We all ate dinner and hung or tied our food bags away from camp as dusk settled in. We then talked for a while, Jerry, Colby and I trying to be encouraging to Dave to focus away from the pain and be positive about the trail for the next couple of days.

With darkness all around us and the clock saying 9pm we all headed for our respective tents for what hinted at being a cold night.

Day 2

I slept like a rock and I couldn’t believe I didn’t wake up until 7:45am. I never sleep that late when I’m backpacking, and especially not on the first night. I hollered at Jerry who sounded like he was just waking up.

Dave dropped off my bear bag and said he was heading out shortly so he could get a head start and not slow us down. We showed him where the trail was across the creek and he headed out.

We took our time packing up camp to give Dave a decent head start and left camp at 10am…the latest I have ever gotten out of camp. We backtracked to the lake slightly and followed the trail around the water’s edge before turning north again up the valley.

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With only a granola bar in my belly I struggled with the uphills more than I had the day before and was soon left behind…something I found myself agreeing with Dave about was that it was kinda demoralizing to be at the back and not with the group. I could certainly understand why yesterday was so hard for him on that level.

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I caught up to Colby and Jerry at Round Lake and grabbed a snack before we headed down. We were keeping our eye out for Dave ahead of us but didn’t figure we would catch him quite that quickly as he had an hour or more on us.

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With a few calories in the system we circumnavigated Round Lake and met up with the connection of the original trail we were supposed to take. The sign was on the ground and the only obvious trail was the one we would have come down. We checked the GPS and got on the right trail for 1/2 a mile before making a brief error and having to back track slightly. It was also the time we were beginning to wonder where Dave was and worry was starting to niggle at us, but he still had a decent head start and my pace certainly isn’t speedy.

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The climb from Round Lake was brief before the trail plateaued and then peered down at Palmer Lake. At the far end we could see two guys and one was wearing similar clothes to Dave. Sadly the person turned out to be a young man fishing with his friend, and not Dave. We were now getting more worried as the guys hadn’t seen a solo guy backpacking by himself on the trail.

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We made slow progress to the top of the hill and then enjoyed they awe-inspiring views of Palmer Creek Canyon.

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We descended amid stunning wildflowers along a steep and rocky pass to a low, rock-bound creek that showed obvious signs of being a raging torrent at other times of the year. It was this creek we followed for a while until losing the trail in the marshy areas where there were few signs and only hoof prints to go by.

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With the aid of the GPS again we managed to keep on track until we found the trail again (after a ridiculously steep climb up a tall embankment) and continued our way down the valley with magnificent walls of towering granite that made us feel extremely insignificant ahead of and beside us. It was also through here that we came across our second and third moose of the trip as we disturbed a momma moose and her calf. She eyed us with uncertainty while the calf did what his instinct told him to do and ran (or trotted) away up the hill.

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We passed a couple of guys camping prior to the trail intersection and stopped to ask if they had seen Dave, and gave them his description. They hadn’t seen him and some serious concern was starting to set in. With no way to know where he was; if he was on a different trail, if he was backtracking, or even if he was truly lost we were starting to question if and when we would need to hit the SOS buttons on our GPS units.

We tried not to think about it too much as we crossed another creek and started our climb towards Porcupine Pass, which, while moderately steep wasn’t too bad. Two miles below the summit of the pass we crossed another creek and eventually, after much hmming and hawing, we decided to make camp there and blitz the pass in the morning.

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With tents set-up and dinner cooking our thoughts were very much on Dave and what had happened to him. Colby and I both theorized that he had taken a wrong turn at the badly-marked trail junction north of Round Lake and had followed the trail back around to Trapper Lake as the rest of the trails had been obvious and well-marked…and that was the place we could easily have made an error without a good map.

We continued talking as the sun sank behind the mountains and finally, just as Colby was about to turn his InReach off we got a message from someone at The Great Outdoor shop to say that Dave was fine and would be hiking back out the same way we had hiked in, and going back to Elk Hart Park. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and knew we would all sleep better for knowing that. We felt bad but there was little we could have done at the time.

With dark clouds drawing in and a few raindrops starting to hit us we all withdrew to our tents for the night and listened to the thunder grumble away to the south.

Gear Review: Klymit Static V Insulated LITE Sleeping Pad

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Specs: Weight – 19.6oz, Size – 72″L x 23W x 2.5″ thick

This was the first pad I bought for backpacking and I have been in love with it ever since. I first went with this pad due to the price to weight ratio as I couldn’t afford the super-light Neo Air XLite or XTherm pads at the time. As a side and stomach sleeper I knew I needed an inflatable pad that wasn’t insanely heavy but still insulated for the cool alpine nights common to my favorite backpacking locals.

Initially the V-shaped baffles took some getting used to and I wasn’t sure I quite liked them but after a few nights of pretty decent sleep I started to really like them. Part of the baffle design on this pad means that I can feel where I am on the pad before I fall off the edge, even in a semi-conscious half-sleep state.

Unfortunately during my Solitude Loop Trail trip the pad started leaking air and I had to re-fill it overnight, but generally only once. I sent it in for repair upon my brief break off trail (when my water filter froze overnight) and replaced it with an Exped Downmat with vertical baffles. I didn’t like it at all after using the Klymit pad and realized how much I’d come to like the V-baffles and size of the pad. Klymit was extremely quick at fixing the leak (user error) and sending it back to me at no charge.

And there comes the other thing I like. The 23″ wide Static V is wider than most pads of 20″ which helps your time asleep feel a lot less constrained to staying in one spot all night…you can actually move around and not fall off the edge.

The construction and durability of the fabric used has been great. I have my dogs in the tent with me a night and during an occasional thunderstorm they have jumped on me and the pad, or at other times walked over the pad or pushed against it with claws at night. I have seen no ill repercussions of these dog-related incidents and no punctures or leaks.

The one leak I had, and it was partially due to user error and also the one thing I don’t like about this pad, was at the valve location. I had not been careful about holding the base of the valve when closing and tightening the valve cap and had created a minor leak due to too much torque on the valve base. I am now more careful. However, the valve still protrudes at a right angle and sticks up from the pad which makes a vulnerable point when you roll it and stick it in a pack…I would much prefer to see a flat valve incorporated on this pad similar to the one on the Exped Downmat.

I made one modification to this pad and that was to add strips of silicone to the underside of the pad to help reduce slippage. It works to a point but the pad tends to move around more when I move around than actually slipping on the DCF tent floor.

This is definitely another piece of equipment I highly recommend and wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one in the future or buy and give as a gift. You really can’t go wrong with this pad for the price, quality and Klymit’s Limited Lifetime Warranty.

 

Backpacking a Bighorn Lake Loop: Lily Lake, Lake Solitude and Misty Moon Lake, August 2018

Day 1

After a night camped at 9500ft in my truck I awoke to a very chilly morning and waited for the sun to peek over the peaks before I stirred from beneath my comforter and blankets. I turned the dogs loose and then we headed for the trail head at West Tensleep Lake.

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I filled out the wilderness permit and shoved it in the box and made use of the bathrooms before heading back to my truck to get a little more organized. I didn’t start the day well as I set my pack down on my big toe…this might not sound bad but my pack has an aluminum frame with a rounded corner…and that is what I set down on my toe. It was that nauseating kind of pain and I cussed up a storm…thankfully no one but my dogs could hear me.

With everything loaded we headed up the trail towards Helen Lake. For the first couple of miles the trail was fairly level and mostly dirt pack and we made good time. We had left the trailhead at 9am and the sun was already getting warm. Since we were not in any rush we paused often to eat a snack, get some water or take a picture…or five.

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The first couple of miles were a mixture of open meadows, creeks and pine groves. Soon the granite peaks began to grow around us and the trail, while still moderate, got a little rockier and a little steeper…but with the climb came the views. I stopped and talked with a couple from Illinois for a few minutes before heading on up the trail. We chatted about my experiences the Wind River Range from last year as they were heading there at the end of the week and I would be heading there in 10 days.

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By the time we got to Helen Lake we were ready for a nap and lunch. I was experimenting with some lunch choices and although I rarely carry canned food I had decided to try out Bumble Bee’s Chicken and Cracker snack box…it was actually not bad. I ended up with too much chipotle chicken and not enough crackers and ended up putting the chicken on my cheese too.

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The views from the south end of the lake were stunning and the breeze kept the flies and mosquitoes away (I had not brought any bug spray) and we spent 45 minutes in the sun napping and eating before finally making a move to cover the next 2.2 miles to the familiar-to-us Misty Moon Lake.

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The trail continued to climb and although it was now a little rockier it was never to the point of roughness like it was on the Uinta Highline Trail. First we passed Marion Lake and took in the views of Cloud Peak beyond before finally climbing up the saddle to look down at Misty Moon Lake.

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Misty Moon Lake (and the Fortress Lakes above it) are one of my favorite parts of the Bighorn Mountains and we took another break as I filled up with water so I could take in the majesty of the place. I was glad I would be coming back through on my way out. I let the dogs play in the lake while a very angry Marmot squeaked very noisily at us for half an hour.

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It was soon 2pm and we had a shortish climb ahead before finally going down again. The pass had no name but climbed up from Misty Moon Lake into the Middle Paint Rock Creek drainage. We could see for miles. It was now getting pretty hot beneath the glare of the sun and we took a couple of breaks on the way down when we could find the shade of a tree. Plenty of creeks, both seasonal and year-round, crossed our path and the dogs were able to cool off and drink without plundering my supply of filtered water.

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About half way down the valley I started to notice tire tracks. I thought I was seeing things but sure enough I saw more and then two parallel lines of flattened grass. I was PISSED. I was still in the wilderness where any kind of wheeled or motorized equipment is prohibited. This wasn’t just a non-motorized trail (although even the part of trail 120 outside of the wilderness was a non-motorized trail) this is a foot and stock trail only…and the more I saw the tracks the more mad I got…and they hadn’t even tried to stay on the dirt trail, they were all over the grass.

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I bypassed another hiker going up, just outside of the wilderness who had also noticed the tracks and then we moved on.  He had mentioned Lily Lake, my goal for the day, was only about another mile…and flat terrain for the most part. I saw some really destructive tracks just below the ATV trail where an ATV had torn through a delicate marsh area. People  make me so mad sometimes. Ugh

There were several groups camped next to Lily Lake, which could also be accessed by an ATV trail, and I stopped to talk to a family group of backpackers who had also seen the ATV tracks in the wilderness. Sadly they didn’t know who it was. They wanted to say hi to the dogs who obviously didn’t object and then we moved on. We passed another camping group just before the turn-off whose tires looked an awful lot like the ones I had seen in the wilderness. (I shall be reporting it to the authorities even if they can’t do anything about it).

I had decided to hike a little further so as to make tomorrow a more appropriate day and climbed up and away from the lake for a half hour. I started hearing voices and then the bellowing of cattle so I hoped the park I was hoping to camp in wasn’t full of cows.

After crossing first one creek then another I managed to get myself into a marshy spot and got my feet wet and a little muddy. There were no cattle but it was obvious that there had been a herd there recently and I was guessing that they had just been gathered and were in the process of being moved to a different pasture area.

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It took me a while to find a flat dry spot where the sun would also catch me early…helps to get up when it’s warmer…that also didn’t have a ton of cow pies. We eventually found a spot near the trees and I got my tent set up as the dogs ate and played.

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I had to walk a short way to get water but thankfully I didn’t have to go all the way back to the first creek although I did find a drier passage.

My campsite was now in shade so I grabbed the dogs’ bed (my sit pad) and went to cook and eat dinner in the sun where we tried to chill out for a while and enjoy the warmth. Unfortunately the biting flies were too much of a problem and we soon retired to the tent to hideout.

As I was in the middle of writing the coyotes started howling…one a little too close for comfort and made me jump. I yelled at it to move on and I heard no more. Coyotes don’t generally worry me but they have been known to attack dogs on occasion…they prefer to avoid people though, especially in the back country.

With dusk falling it was time to go to bed and enjoy the most recent and hopefully the last quilt replacement.

Day 2

I was expecting the sun to rise earlier than it did, and apparently I misjudged the direction I was facing so didn’t quite get the first rays of the early morning like I wanted. It soon rose above the tree tops though and I let the dogs out. It is always reassuring to hear the rough-housing and playing in the early morning as it tells me they are feeling good.

I slowly peeled myself out of my wonderful new sleeping quilt…I was toasty and warm all night and it was FINALLY a bag/quilt that fit me and was comfortable. With the sun now hitting the tent it began to warm up quickly and soon it was almost too hot as I packed things away slowly. I was in no hurry as this trip wasn’t supposed to be about miles.

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I finally crawled out of the tent and a flicker of movement caught my eye. Just down the valley was a herd of cow elk with their calves, many of who were frolicking and playing…it was very cute to watch. I heard one chirp to its mother before galloping off towards her. Slowly they moved up the valley as I watched and ate breakfast. The rustle of my tent and food bag alerted them to my presence but they didn’t seem too concerned as they climbed up the valley and disappeared into the trees and up the trail I had come down the day before.

With the elk now gone I finished packing up as the day got warmer…I was already in a t-shirt and it was before 8am. We hit the trail by 8:30am and immediately had a hard time finding the trail markers although that didn’t last long as we climbed a treed hump and entered Long Park. We traversed the grassy meadow that was now turning brown with August’s heat and the lack of rain and turned north on the next trail we met.

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The flies which had left us alone during the cooler early hours now started to harass once again and they steadily got worse and worse as the next few miles passed. They were swarming Kye and Cody who had dozens of flies covering their hind ends, and more haranguing their heads. It was worse when we stopped so the only breaks we took were short and not particularly restful.

We were due to meet with the Solitude Loop Trail which I had done two years ago. I would take it for a short way west before heading to Upper and Lower Paint Rock Lakes. However with the dogs looking miserable and being tortured so completely (they bothered me, and bit me, but no where near as much as the dogs) I made the decision to cut the hike a little short and instead of turning west at the trail junction I turned east towards Lake Solitude.

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After a quick break to stuff some candy in my mouth and a short steep climb above the creek the flies seemed to lessen slightly, especially when I killed at least a dozen of them buried into Cody’s fur. I had made the right decision. We covered the mile to the lake quickly and then followed the second mile around the lake to our campsite.

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While I could have rested for a while and potentially made the next 2.3 miles up to Misty Moon Lake to camp, where there had been no flies the day before, the sun was feeling pretty brutal and I knew the climb was pretty open and steep. I was also aware that the Misty Moon Lake area also has a wag-bag requirement and I have no desire to be packing out the poop.

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So even though it was barely noon I set up camp and had lunch. The flies were still irritating but just about tolerable…until they bit you. The dogs, still, had it worse.

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With lunch done we went to filter water and play in the lake. The dogs cooled off a little before we found some shade and spent most of the rest of the afternoon napping or taking pictures. The friendly neighborhood pikas were very accommodating in having their pictures taken although I’m not sure if it’s just because this one was young and curious.

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I ate a small dinner of instant mashed potatoes and melted cheese, which was quite good although way too much for me to eat and I sat deliberating my cold-meal options for the upcoming trip in the Wind River Range…I get a little tired of cooking and I’m rarely hungry enough to eat much.

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I had though about fishing once it cooled down but the wind just didn’t cooperate and was just a little too much from the wrong direction for my little 4-wt fly rod on a large lake. The fishing had looked amazing and the water was clear, cool and very deep. When the wind had finally settled it just felt too late to pull out my rod so I just sat and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains and threw a stick for the dogs for a while.

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With the sun gone it cooled down fast and we retreated to the tent with squirrels yelling at us from the nearby pine trees.

Day 3

I slept pretty good and my quilt was definitely a little too warm for the overnight temperatures. I waited until the sun was touching the lake before I let the dogs out and crawled out of my sleeping bag. It certainly wasn’t cold and I took my time packing up. No one in any of the other camps was stirring and I was on the trail before I saw anyone else get out of their tents…I have never been able to sleep like that on the trail.

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Just as I remembered the climb was a steep one up to the waterfall and then beyond. Most of the trail was was actually in shade except for a half mile stretch that followed a cliff towards the head of the valley where it crossed the creek. We took a quick break but the flies that had been absent for the first hour were now haunting us again. I am glad we didn’t push to get to Misty Moon Lake the day before as the flies were still bad up high.

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The views once you reach treeline on this section of trail are truly breathtaking and over all of it loomed the Bighorn’s highest peak, Cloud Peak at 13,171ft. There were many tents at the base of the Middle Rock Creek Falls which is where most people camp who want to make summit attempt.

With the flies being a constant nuisance we pushed on and finally crested the divide between the Middle Rock Creek drainage and the West Tensleep drainage, and arrived back to where we had been not two days before. The views continued to amaze me even though I had only just been there.

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Once we dropped down below Misty Moon Lake the flies seemed to virtually disappear. I am not sure on the reasoning why there would be such a difference in such a short distance. I was thankful they were gone and not bugging the dogs as it was hot and we needed to take a break so we chilled in the shade of a large pine tree for 20 minutes before moving on.

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It was 11am and it was already hot at 11,000ft so I could only imagine what it was like back in town. We took our time hiking back and stopped often for water. It is times like that I don’t envy the dogs’ mostly-black coats but I always make sure they don’t overheat or overdo it. Plenty of creeks crossed our path so the dogs got plenty of cold water to drink and I only had to filter and refill at Lake Helen.

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At the head of Lake Helen, barely a mile below Misty Moon Lake, a decent-sized bull moose wandered out of the trees 100 yards below us. He stared at us for a moment before wandering off into the trees…in the direction of the trail. That was not good; if there’s one animal other than a grizzly bear I don’t want to tangle with it’s a moose. Cautiously I continued along the trail making lots of noise and called out to the moose. I didn’t want to spook him and I kept my eyes peeled.

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The bane of the trail at this point was the dense pine brush that kept visibility to a minimum to either side and suddenly, to my left, behind a tree and not 20ft from the trail the moose spooked. Initially I didn’t know which way he was going and I was definitely jumpy that he’d come at me. Thankfully he headed into the trees, but still in the direction I was going. I continued on slowly, still making noise and still unsure where the moose had gone. I finally reached the end of the pine grove and saw the bull just off the trail, a little further than before and at a slightly safer distance from me.

My legs were shaking and my adrenaline was definitely pumping so as soon as I was a far enough from the trees I sat down for a few minutes to still my jelly legs. The dogs, who had been very interested in the moose, behaved impeccably during the entire ordeal.

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With my legs feeling more steady underneath me we continued on. I warned the next couple of backpacking or hiking groups I encountered about the moose and its proximity to the trail so they could be prepared and aware and no one would get hurt.

We passed multiple groups hiking up the trail including a couple on horses with a pack horse, and two gentlemen leading pack horses in a separate group. A few loose dogs were frustrating as always when not kept under control but none were aggressive and the most friendly of which Cody just wanted to hump.

Finally, at 2:30pm we got back to the trailhead and was surprised but pleased to see that a national forest ranger was sitting in the parking lot. I had hoped there might be one around but didn’t really expect it. I reported the ATV tracks in the wilderness and which party camped at Lilly Lake I suspected it had been due to the matching tire tread. The ranger appreciated the report and mentioned they had another ranger in that area whom she radioed to call in the report. All in all the timing worked out well.


While I was a little bummed to cut the trip short and missed out on some things I wouldn’t have had the moose experience if I hadn’t, nor would I likely have been in a place to report the illegal wilderness ATV use in such a timely manner and place. Sometimes things happen for a reason and the trip, while plagued by, well, a plague of flies, was still a good trip. Sadly it will also be my last backpacking trip in the Bighorn Mountains and that makes it a little bittersweet.

Gear Review: Osprey Aura 50L

Specs: Osprey Aura 50L, size medium, weight 4lbs 3oz with brain

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The night before my Collegiate Peaks Loop attempt the vertical stays in my Arc Haul bent and my only other backpacks were 400 miles away in Idaho. I had one choice; to drive the 120 miles to Colorado Springs and the REI to purchase a new backpack so I could get on the trail.

As I have my gear dialed in to my 62L (49L main compartment) Arc Haul I knew I didn’t need anything larger so the Aura 50L seemed to be a good starting place. As soon as I put the pack on it fit like a glove and kind of felt like I was being hugged from behind. It was a novel concept and feeling.

Of course I don’t ever just try one but I dismissed many out of hand due to belt designs. Gregory, REI’s own brand and others all have belt attachment set-ups that “bulge” in the same way that the ULA Circuit does, and I found it uncomfortable and miserable to wear. That really left me with a choice of Osprey packs with their mesh and Anti-Gravity or Airspeed suspensions.

In the end and after walking around the store for 10 minutes with 20lbs on my back I went with the first pack I tried: the Osprey Aura 50L in size medium.

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At a little over 4lbs the Aura is heavy for a 50L pack but without the brain (something I have zero need for) it comes in at around 3.5lbs. While still not light that puts it not much heavier than my Arc Haul (with all the add-ons and mods) and with the AG suspension you can barely feel the pack on which makes up for the extra weight.

My only issue with Osprey’s sizing is the discrepancy between height and belt size. I am very slender, petite woman (5’5″ and 112#) but I have a 19″ torso and as such I needed the pack in a medium size. However, the belt on this size can barely be made short enough for a skinny person, but at least it IS adjustable. I had to bury the movable wings behind the pockets on the belt as far as they would go and I still almost run out of webbing to tighten on the buckle.

With my odd sizing issue aside this pack fit my gear great and in almost the same manner as my Arc Haul. The compartment design is different and has a sleeping bag compartment with  zipper access. I do not use this but the compartment divider is movable so it can be turned into a single-compartment pack. The bottom of the pack slopes up from the frame which means it does NOT stand up on its own…a feature I find very frustrating on any pack and I don’t like to lean my pack against rough surfaces in case they get torn or snagged. However this is a minor annoyance and since I carry my dogs’ sleeping pad on the lower back straps the pad keeps it from falling over unless I am packing it.

The first day I had it out I constantly wondered at how little I could actually feel this pack on my back or hips despite the 27lbs I was carrying for 5 days of hiking. Again I was reminded of being gently hugged from behind. I often forgot the pack was there. My legs of course felt the weight especially when climbing up from the trail head, but the pack felt like it was part of me.

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Osprey, in the past, has made some dumb design moves…including hip belt pockets that are impossibly small, compression straps that cover pockets and water bottle pockets that could barely hold a pencil when the pack was full. This pack seems to have addressed most, if not all, the design issues that previously plagued Osprey backpacks. The hip belt pockets are spacious and could hold my good aka not-small point-and-shoot camera in its case, plus chapstick and a small bottle of contact lens solution. On the other side I could fit a king-size packet of M&Ms, my pocket knife, four cheese sticks and at least one other snack of the day.

The water bottle pockets are no longer covered by compression straps, although they do cross the very bottom of the pocket. The pocket is large and bulges, unlike the flat pockets of before, and the elastic at the top is almost too tight but fits and holds a Smart Water bottle in it perfectly. The side pockets have two holes…one on top and another pointing towards the hiker while wearing it so bottles are easily reachable while wearing the pack. The 1L Smartwater bottles I favor were too tall to take advantage of the side openings though as my elbows would hit them but I liked the thought that went into that design.

I found the stretch pocket on the front of the pack a little too tight for my liking and it doesn’t fit very much stuff in it when compared to the Arc Haul’s more spacious but similar-sized (LxW) front pocket where I can carry my tent if necessary. It is a good place to carry tall slender things and that is where I carried my shovel, bug spray, tent stakes, Anker battery and long-handled spoon.

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I made two modifications to the pack. First I trimmed down the ridiculously-long belt webbing…when pulled tight to secure the hip belt the ends hung down well below my knees. Secondly I added the two mesh pockets from my Arc Haul to the same location on the Aura…it works if you get inventive. (I did not use these on the Wind River Range trip). I love these top mesh pockets for my water filtering stuff, extra snacks, maps, my GPS SOS device, phone, mini-tripod and FA kit. Eventually I removed some of the straps I found myself not needing and removed the divider between the sleeping bag compartment and the main bag.

I carried this pack again (my Arc Haul had developed another issue despite the broken stays being replaced extremely quickly by ZPacks) on my Uinta Highline Trail trip with 30lbs of gear, food and water and the suspension continued to keep the pack very comfortable at that weight. It also accompanied me in the Wind River Range as the stays ZPacks had sent me were the newer-length for their 2018 packs, not the 2016 model which were longer. It served me well again in the Winds for a 7 days trip and remained comfortable and suitable for the long food carry although it felt like it dwarfed the packs the guys carried (an MLD Burn and a Superior Wilderness Designs 35L).

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Overall I would recommend this pack despite the slightly heavier weight when compared to other 50L offerings and I almost prefer it to my Arc Haul for comfort.

 

Backpacking the Uinta Highline Trail, July 2018: Part 3

Day 5 – Kidney Lakes to Whiterocks Lake

It wasn’t the bright sunny morning I was hoping for but the light wispy clouds weren’t particularly ominous but I packed up quickly and was on the trail by 7:50am, just in case they turned into something more serious.

The trail mostly wound down through pine forests before splitting several times. I had located the oddly-named Fox-Queant Pass that hadn’t made sense to me yesterday (it is the pass south of the one I was aiming for).

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Eventually the trail led us to Fox Lake which was below North Pole Pass. I had hoped to be at the base of the pass by noon to beat the afternoon thunderstorms but I managed to make it by 10:30am which was awesome. I grabbed a bite to eat and watched the gradually-building cumulus clouds in the west…the kind that eventually turn into thunderstorms. With that in mind I started the climb up North Pole Pass.

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I think this pass was my absolute least favorite pass to climb, initially because it was in the trees and had no view and then because it was steep and nasty and rocky, and I didn’t know where the top was…not to mention I was keeping a sharp eye on the possible rainstorm behind me.  I generally don’t mind the steepness of climbing the passes because you can see the top and have a goal, but not this one…it just kept going on and on and on. It’s only saving grace was the very pretty waterfall/canyon that we had to cross a few times.

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It was gorgeous at the top…endless alpine tundra and rocks and beautiful views in all directions but I was more worried about the storm building behind me and couldn’t fully appreciate how stunning it was. I was in a hurry to get off the high plateau and get to lower, safer ground. North Pole Pass was unlike others in that they were generally a saddle between two higher peaks and there was a very short distance between the up side and the down side whereas North Pole was a wide and  expansive tableland. This was not a place you would want to be if a storm came through.

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After a mile of hiking across the tundra and passing the wilderness boundary sign the trail finally started to descend just as raindrops were starting to spatter but there was no thunder…yet. Thankfully the trail was easy to follow and the cairns were obvious and we slowly descended into the valley. The impending storm had not yet materialized and the storm looked to be going around us to the north. I didn’t stop until we hit treeline and there we took a much-needed break. After a quick look at the map and being thankful that the rest of the day we would be below treeline I set my sights on Chepeta Lake, three miles from our location. The hiking was fairly easy and the trail was decent and we made pretty good time.

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Chepeta Lake was also a trail head and parking area and I chatted with one guy about the weather forecast (an obsession for me in a place like this) and about where I was aiming to camp that night. The map showed a great location before two final passes and just below treeline at Whiterocks Lake….he said it was 4-4 1/2 miles. That didn’t sound encouraging and I wasn’t sure I could manage another two hours of hiking although it was barely 4pm and I certainly wasn’t ready to stop for the day as there is little to occupy my time once camp is set and 5 hours of downtime would be way too much.

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The trail on the map looked pretty consistent and level, staying at around 10,500 ft for the entire distance so I decided to see how far I could get, even if it wasn’t quite to the lake. As the map promised the trail was level and easy to hike (the best section of the trail I think) and we made it to the lake in an just over an hour and a half. At the lake the sign said 3.5 miles so we made good time. Storms had been going around us pretty constantly and the growl of thunder to the north and south was pretty consistent but the skies above us remained clear and blue with a few clouds. I was thankful.

It was also the first time I got the chance to walk by and photograph a large herd of elk in a long meadow.

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I decided to make for the creek at the far end of the lake and we found several decent, flat campsite locations in the trees not far from the creek. A deer almost wandered into camp before bounding off as dusk set in. I finished the normal camp routine and chores for the night, including filtering water with my now-leaking dirty water bladder and went to bed which is when I usually write my journal entries.

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For some reason my phone kept booting me out of my app for an “Unlicensed App” but of course I was in airplane mode and had no service so couldn’t fix it. Writing usually fills up the last half hour before I sleep so without that to do I stared at the roof of my tent as the sky darkened and twiddled my thumbs for a while as I listened to the passing of deer and elk in the night.

Day 6 – Whiterocks Lake to Hacking Lake Trailhead

It took me a while to get to sleep last night as I was stressed about today’s weather. I set my alarm for 5am so that I could be hiking by 6 when the light was just about bright enough to see the cairns. I didn’t have too many miles to hike to the truck, about 8 from camp to trail head, but all but the first mile were above treeline with absolutely no cover. I was hoping for a good weather window.

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I was awakened at 2:30am by the low grumblings of a thunderstorm which slowly got closer and which was directly overhead 20 minutes later. I pretended to continue to sleep so the dogs would think I wasn’t worried…I think it worked as they didn’t overreact too much when the thunder was loud and almost overhead. Unfortunately I was also now very much awake and barely snoozed until my alarm went off.

It was a very cold way to pack up camp but we were hiking before 6am, and I managed to spook a cow elk who must have been sleeping in the brush not 30 feet from the tent when I went to put my back pack on. How I had not disturbed her before that point I don’t know.  We managed to spook several deer and at least two more herds of elk as we climbed to some unnamed pass to Dead Man Lake.

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I lied when I said yesterday was my least favorite pass…today was worse.

This no-name pass had no trail, rough footing and sooo many rocks…plus it was a lot longer and further of a climb than it looked from the treeline. It wasn’t much fun, but the sky was blue, the sun was slowly turning everything gold and the views were amazing…it certainly could have been a lot worse.

We trail then led in two directions…one in a steep descent to Deadman Lake and the other over another pass to the north. Now why the Highline Trail goes down to the lake only to have to climb back up again is a mystery to me but it would have been perfectly feasible to stay on the higher trail and cut across.

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I, however, followed the trail that was on the map and hiked down to the lake, through a herd of cows who eyed us suspiciously, especially the dogs. We paused for a break at the sign post before starting our climb to Gabbro Pass…the final pass of the trail before the Hacking Lake TH. We gave wider berths to the small pockets of cows and calves despite the fact that they were all pretty much standing between the first half mile of cairns. It was the only section of trail today that was easy to find and follow, even if it wasn’t as easy to hike.

And this was where I started to get pissed off…after negotiating around the cattle. Not only were the cairns tough to find but there were also random cairns that didn’t actually have a point…I wasted at least half an hour wandering from the only cairn I could see to the next cairn I could see a mile away but 90° in the wrong direction only to have to recross the meadow and rocks back to the only other cairn I could now see. There seemed to be a lot of random cairns strewn about and it got confusing. It was only due to my GPS app that I was able to fully determine which was the actual right way to go. (Coming up from Hacking Lake TH this trail would be easier to navigate as the lake would be an obvious and visible point to head to). This half hour delay would prove to be worse than imagined.

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Now on the right track we crossed Gabbro Pass and took the north trail around Wilder Lake. It was a prettier option (vs the southern trail) with views looking down the valley and over the lake, and less climbing was involved at the other end since it didn’t go down to the lake level. It was a little rough and overgrown in parts so seemed like it was less used. Eventually the trail turned upward again and we were climbing towards Leidy Peak and again we had to gently ask some cows to move along on their merry way.

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Although the sky had remained clear and blue all morning, and still was above me, just over the ridge to the north there were black clouds building in a line of succession that looked like it ran for miles. I thought about trying to wait for it to blow by but they were, at that moment, only dark clouds and I made the final ascent to the top of the ridge which was actually more of a plateau like North Pole Pass. The clouds weren’t looking better, nor were they looking worse and at that point I had no choice to go on.

Once again I went to the wrong cairn and had to backtrack after visible cairns disappeared and I again made use of my GPS app. Once I located the right cairns on the plateau they were easy to follow and I finally reached the intersection of the north and south trails aroud Leidy Peak. The Highline Trail goes to the north so that is the trail I took…and yet more misleading cairns, up, down, back etc. I was relying heavily on my GPS as I didn’t know which cairns to trust anymore.

And this is where that lost half hour from earlier was really missed…and less than half a mile from the truck. Initially a short, no lightning grumble-storm came through but I kept hiking as it was pretty minor but following that came a major thunderstorm. It was as if the black clouds hit the head of the valley and magically transformed into some growling, drooling monster within minutes. This one was serious.

Lightning was visible and the thunder was loud…it was overhead and I wasn’t going to take unnecessary risks. We had just reached the very scrubby, low evergreen trees that were the beginnings of treeline and I dumped myself and the dogs by one of the larger groups of trees that would be useful. I grabbed my poncho just as the rain started to pour…then the marble-sized hail came, all during which the thunder banged and crackled overhead and lightning sizzled around us. I witnessed a lightning strike not far from where we sat and the gunshot-like sound had Kye pretty scared, running back and forth and not knowing where to go until I got her calmed down and under a shrub.

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Eventually the backside of the storm came over and I risked getting up and moving on in the direction of the trail head. I no longer had cairns to navigate by and was relying solely on my phone to get us to the right place. Another storm was already growling on the heels of the last one and I was almost jogging in order to get to the truck before it hit. At least we were now near taller trees, although the lightning hit we had seen earlier didn’t give me quite the confidence in their safety.

In my hurry to get to the trail head I manged to roll my ankle, although not badly this time, stumble, trip and do a complete 180° tumble finally landing on my backpack with some of the contents spilled out on the grass, and complete with a nice bruise on my arm…not what I needed with the encroaching weather. I quickly gathered my fallen belongings and secured them in my pack before walking, slower, to the trail head. I came across two backpackers and a trail sign at the same time and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of my truck. It was definitely a day of frustration and emotion and probably my least favorite day on the trail. But it was over and I was headed back to Wyoming and what passes for civilization out here in the untamed west.

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Trail After-thoughts

While the trail and the Uinta mountains are gorgeous I don’t know that I would choose to do the trail again. I say this for two reasons: 1) The constant threat of thunderstorms, and the reality of multiple thunderstorms a day made for a very stressful hike. I was constantly watching over my shoulder to watch the weather and calculating where I needed to camp and hoping I wouldn’t get caught in a storm. I was actually extremely lucky in that the only storm I truly got caught hiking in was in the last half hour of the last day; most people I talked to got caught in multiple storms on multiple days during their hike. I don’t count the two night storms that came through as I was safely ensconced in my tent and generally below or at treeline. And 2) The tread of the trail was a lot rockier and on a lot more of the trail than I care for which made hiking it pretty tough. There are always exceptions and if I was to hike it again I think I would go the opposite direction and aim for early to mid September when thunderstorms are less likely.

Water was crazy abundant, even at the end of July and on a dry year, and the longest dry stretch started maybe two miles east of Anderson Pass for several miles to Kidney Lakes. This obviously isn’t a problem unless its a hot day and you didn’t filter enough at the previous location. Even though the map lists all permanent and seasonal creeks (of which 99% were flowing) there are dozens of springs and other seasonal creeks that aren’t marked. I was surprised at how much water was available at the top of some of the passes or above treeline…it seemed like every 10 ft I was stepping over a water flow. Some of it was easy to get to and others were tougher or would be hard to filter from but were fine for the dogs.

The highlights of the trail for me were the basin between Dead Horse Pass and Red Knob Pass where the turquoise blue of Dead Horse Lake surrounded by towering granite cliffs took my breath away, and Anderson Pass and Kings Peak.