Lupe! Stop that! Be quiet! You’re gonna get us in trouble. People are still asleep! Come on, it’s time to get going anyway! (7:27 AM, 47°F) Reluctantly, Lupe quit barking at the chipmunk, returning to SPHP with a huge smile on her face. SPHP had promised her this was going to be a great day. Lupe was already enthused, and she hadn’t even left the trailhead at West Tensleep Lake yet.
Lupe and SPHP headed N from the trailhead. Lupe quickly came to a “Y” in the trail. SPHP led her to the left down toward the E shore of West Tensleep Lake. The day was starting off clear and cool. There was hardly a ripple on the lake.
Looks like we’re going to have perfect conditions, Loop. We’ll reach base camp in plenty of time. You can dilly-dally barking at squirrels all you want when we get farther from the campground. This evening we might even have time to go take a look at Lake Solitude.
From the look on her face, it all sounded good to Lupe. She trotted N along the Mistymoon Trail (No. 063), sniffing everything and expectantly checking the trees for squirrels. It wasn’t long before she reached the N end of West Tensleep Lake.
A little N of the lake, Lupe suddenly growled, startling SPHP. Right over there, SPHP! A monstrous squirrel – taller than you! Can I go get it? Come and help me! It will be a squirrel feast! Hurry, hurry! Don’t let it get away!
SPHP looked. There was a monstrous squirrel, and it had heard Lupe growl! It had moved a few steps over toward a small tree where it’s head was hidden from view. Apparently the monstrous squirrel thought the rest of it couldn’t be seen either. It was standing stock still, pretending to be invisible. Lupe wasn’t deceived in the least.
Hang on, Loop! That’s no squirrel – it’s a moose! You’ve seen them a few times before, remember? And no, we can’t go chasing after it.
Moose or monstrous squirrel, it was mighty exciting to Lupe. It was very close, and far from any tree big enough for it to climb. Lupe stood quivering, hoping SPHP would let her go after it. SPHP let her watch it quietly for a couple of minutes, but that was all. Come on, Loopster, we have to let it be.
Are you serious!? You know, SPHP, there’s something really screwed up about your instincts. Sometimes I don’t think you know a darn thing about hunting or being in a pack! If we ever starve to death on one of these mountain adventures, it will be your fault.
Shush! I’m carrying your water and Taste of the Wild. You have nothing to complain about. Let’s carry on.
You’re a slow study, SPHP, a really slow study!
By now, the monstrous squirrel was ambling nonchalantly away, convinced that it really was invisible. Lupe consented to continuing N on the trail.
Less than half a mile N of West Tensleep Lake was a ford across West Tensleep Creek. There wasn’t all that much water in the creek, this time of year. Lupe and SPHP had no problem getting across.
On the W side of the creek, the Mistymoon Trail angled NNW across a meadow. Lupe followed the trail through the meadow and into the forest on the other side. She arrived at a sign marking the start of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area.
From here on, the Mistymoon Trail stayed mostly in the forest for several miles. It headed N, roughly paralleling West Tensleep Creek, but well to the W and often considerably above it. Lupe seldom saw the creek, but she frequently heard it. She came to a few tiny trickling streams along the trail, but many more were dried up completely.
Lupe had some luck finding squirrels in the forest, and got to give a good barking to each one. Sadly, these were all quite ordinary squirrels. Lupe never saw another monstrous one or anything approaching it the rest of the day.
Most of the time, Lupe was gaining elevation at an easy to moderate pace. There were even occasional downhill sections. Eventually, though, she came to steeper areas where there were switchbacks.
When Lupe finally arrived at a junction with Trail No. 097 coming in from the SW, SPHP knew it wasn’t much farther to Lake Helen. Within just a few minutes, Cloud Peak(13,167 ft.) came into view for the first time. Cloud Peak was Lupe’s ultimate peakbagging goal on this trek, but she wouldn’t attempt the ascent until tomorrow. Today all she had to do was get to base camp near Paint Rock Creek Falls.
Once Lupe spotted Cloud Peak, it took her hardly any time at all to reach Lake Helen, the largest of three lakes she would come to along the Mistymoon Trail.
It was time for a break. SPHP took off the boots and socks that had gotten wet fording West Tensleep Creek and laid them out to dry in the sun. Lupe wasn’t too hungry yet, though she did nibble at some Taste of the Wild. It was a gorgeous July morning in the Bighorn Mountains. SPHP dangled feet in Lake Helen while sitting on a boulder. Lupe preferred curling up and dozing in the shade of a little spruce tree. Occasionally, she snapped at flies annoying her.
Lupe had been making very good time along the Mistymoon Trail to Lake Helen, so SPHP took quite a long break there. By the time, SPHP was ready to press on, the weather had changed. The sky was clouding up. Fortunately, it didn’t look threatening. Lupe and SPHP hit the Mistymoon Trail again. It wound around up above the W side of Lake Helen before returning to the shore farther N.
The Mistymoon Trail passed through increasingly beautiful territory. Lupe reached two more lakes in rapid succession. Only 0.5 mile N of Lake Helen, she came to Lake Marion. Another 0.5 mile N of Lake Marion brought Lupe to Mistymoon Lake.
It was still early afternoon when Lupe reached the end of the Mistymoon Trail at its junction with the Solitude Trail (No. 038) near the SW shore of Mistymoon Lake. Lupe only needed to go another mile or so N of Mistymoon Lake to reach her base camp near Paint Rock Creek Falls tonight. She had a ton of time to get there.
SPHP paused to consider an idea. Although the intention had been to press straight on to base camp, SPHP still felt full of energy. No doubt Lupe was in even better shape. Why not take the Solitude Trail E instead of N, just as a side excursion? Lupe would get to see the Fortress Lakes and Gunboat Lake. Sure, it was a bit of a climb, but even the more distant Gunboat Lake was less than 1.5 miles away.
Loopster, do you want to go see Fortress Lakes and Gunboat Lake? We have plenty of time to do that, and still come back and continue on to base camp.
Lupe was in favor! It did seem like a good idea. Sometimes SPHP is so clever! So instead of heading N on the Solitude Trail toward base camp, Lupe followed it E near the S shore of Mistymoon Lake on her way to Fortress Lakes and Gunboat Lake.
The climb on the Solitude Trail up to the largest of the Fortress Lakes was fairly steep, but adorned with lots of beautiful lupines. It didn’t take too long to get up to where the trail leveled out and Lupe had a good view of the lake.
Lupe continued E on the Solitude Trail until she was S of the W end of the largest of the Fortress Lakes. Here, SPHP had another brilliant idea. The maps showed another smaller Fortress Lake a short distance up the grassy slope to the S. Why not go take a quick look at it? Lupe really likes going off trail, so this idea met with quick approval, too.
It didn’t take Lupe long to reach the smaller Fortress Lake, which was quite pretty, tucked away in a spot sheltered by small mountains on three sides.
The micro-side excursion to the smaller Fortress Lake was a success! Lupe and SPHP both liked the scenic little lake. After enjoying the view, Lupe and SPHP went NE back down to the Solitude Trail. Lupe continued E above the S shore of the largest Fortress Lake.
Lupe passed the Fortress Lakes, and started getting close to Gunboat Lake. There were some minor rocky hills at the NE end of Gunboat Lake. Lupe and SPHP climbed up on them to get a better view of Gunboat Lake. SPHP thought Gunboat Lake was really gorgeous!
The original plan for Lupe’s side excursion from Mistymoon Lake was fulfilled. Lupe had seen the Fortress Lakes and Gunboat Lake. It was time to turn back. However, Lupe was doing great, and SPHP was becoming ever more enthused about this beautiful territory!
SPHP checked the maps. Another mile or so NE along the Solitude Trail would take Lupe to Florence Pass and Florence Lake. Lupe probably would have gone on to Florence Pass, except for one thing. At the far SW end of Gunboat Lake, SPHP saw a small mountain. It was shown on the topo maps too, with an elevation of 10,860 feet. It looked easy to get over there, easy to climb, and was sort of on the way back toward Mistymoon Lake.
Why not have Lupe climb Peak10,860? Lupe would love the off trail trek! SPHP couldn’t resist. Sorry, Florence Pass, Lupe is off to do a little peakbagging instead!
It all went well. Lupe raced along ahead of SPHP sniffing and exploring. For SPHP, it was a lovely stroll in a gorgeous setting. The climb was fun and relaxing. The views were marvelously rewarding. Soon Lupe was at the top of Peak 10860.
It was great up on Peak 10860! SPHP became so enthralled, anything seemed possible. Looking back toward Florence Pass, it looked like there was a good route from that area up Bomber Mountain(12,840 ft.). Why, after climbing Cloud Peak tomorrow, maybe Lupe should come back here the next day and climb Bomber Mountain, too! The whole notion was exciting.
Well, Loopster, this side excursion has been a grand success, but time is moving on and we better, too. We’d best get started back to Mistymoon Lake, and on over to base camp!
The Carolina Dog was ready to go. SPHP decided to head NW off Peak 10860, in the general direction of Mistymoon Lake. Lupe led the way. Soon both Fortress Lakes were in view below off to the NNE.
SPHP now made a terrible decision. It would have been very simple to just let Lupe lead the way back down to the Fortress Lakes and the Solitude Trail. However, in the saddle between Peak 10860 and a lower peak to the NW, SPHP led Lupe around to the WNW instead.
At the time, it looked like there might be a more direct route to Mistymoon Lake going this way, but what initially appeared to be an easy way around to the NW side of the lower peak wasn’t.
The route Lupe ended up taking wasn’t awful, but it was sure a lot harder than the Fortress Lakes route would have been. It was steep, proved to be every bit as long, and there was no trail. The terrain forced Lupe to lose so much elevation, she was nearly back down to Lake Marion’s level before she could turn NW to start climbing back up toward the Mistymoon Trail and Mistymoon Lake again.
Well, the plucky American Dingo made her way back to Mistymoon Lake, of course, and in much better shape than SPHP. Lupe continued exploring while SPHP trudged N along the Solitude Trail. Beyond the lake, the trail gradually climbed NE toward the pass over to the Paint Rock Creek valley. Cloud Peak loomed above.
All that surplus energy and enthusiasm SPHP had earlier was gone. Boy, I’ve done it again haven’t I, Looper? We could have been at base camp hours ago, and all rested up for Cloud Peak tomorrow. Right now, I feel like even a full night’s sleep isn’t going to revive me. I’m running on empty. Hah, Bomber Mountain the day after Cloud Peak! I’m surprised you didn’t laugh out loud up there on Peak 10860, dear Dingo!
The Carolina Dog was too polite to respond. SPHP made it over the pass. Paint Rock Creek valley was beautiful. There was the waterfall, and beyond it the ledge to the NW above the waterfall where Lupe’s base camp would be.
Lupe and SPHP crossed the valley and made it over to Paint Rock Creek Falls. Lupe had a drink of the clear, cold water. Then it was time to make the short, steep climb up to the grassy ledge above the falls.
Up on top, SPHP was surprised to find that there wasn’t another soul around. This was the closest and best place anywhere for a Cloud Peak base camp. Well that’s pretty awesome Loop, we have this glorious place all to ourselves! At least we are well positioned for tomorrow!
SPHP set up Lupe’s “tiny house”. There was still an hour and a half left before sunset, but even Lupe was ready to retire for the night. Your a smart Dingo, Lupe! Even though it would be fun to watch the sun go down, this time I’m following your lead!
It wasn’t even noon yet, when Lupe concluded her successful visit to all three possible Washakie County, Wyoming high points(9,600 ft.). There was still time in the day for Lupe to tackle her next peakbagging goal, Hazelton Pyramid(10,534 ft.), which was only 6 or 7 miles away to the SE. Lupe and SPHP headed E on Hwy 16 in the G6. After going just a couple of miles, SPHP parked at Powder River Pass.
Some sort of bicycling event was going on along Hwy 16. There were lots of bicyclists at the big pullout, which was serving as a rest and refreshment stop.
Lupe wasn’t here for the bicycle event. A short stroll S of Hwy 16 were some big rock formations from which SPHP wanted to get a preliminary look at Hazelton Pyramid.
The view of Hazelton Pyramid was encouraging. Lupe also got a look at Hesse Mountain, which she had climbed on an intermittently foggy day almost 2 years ago.
Lupe and SPHP returned to the G6. A mile E of Powder River Pass, SPHP turned S off Hwy 16 onto USFS Road No. 29. No. 29 wound around for 4 or 5 miles in a generally SSW direction. At a small turnaround loop where the road first reaches the North Fork of the Powder River, SPHP parked the G6 again (1:02 PM). Hazelton Pyramid was about 2 miles away to the ESE. Lupe would start for Hazelton Pyramid from here.
A bridge near the turnaround loop got SPHP over to the N side of the Powder River where Lupe started off heading NE on 4WD Route 584111. She soon turned E on Route 584116, which quickly leveled out and left open ground to enter the forest. Before long, the road curved S and crossed a small creek. Beyond the creek, Lupe and SPHP continued on the road, but not very far, since it started trending SW.
Lupe left the road to begin climbing ESE through the forest. The forest featured great views of, well, trees. Lupe was happy with that. Trees meant squirrels! The slope gained elevation at a moderate pace, making for a pretty pleasant shady trek. Lupe had fun dashing this way and that winding along a maze of faint animal trails. She did find a few squirrels to growl and bark at, while they taunted and hurled insults at her from the safety of the treetops.
After 0.5 mile or more going through the forest, Lupe reached the top of a relatively flat and broad ridge. There was a large meadow here from which it was possible to see Hazelton Pyramid again, and some of the high ground above tree line leading to it.
There were a couple of reasonable looking routes toward Hazelton Pyramid from here. Lupe could either climb above tree line heading ENE to the base of a rocky ridge which she could follow up to high ground near High Point 10201, or stay lower and farther S while heading E in an area of scattered forest.
SPHP thought the route up near the rocky ridge looked more dramatic and interesting. Lupe was quite certain the scattered forest would offer more squirrel possibilities, but she had no real objections to the rocky route. After all, there might be marmots up there, and marmots are fun, too! Either way was fine with Lupe. In any case, there was still a bit of forest to go through even to get to the rocky route.
Lupe lost a little elevation going through the last section of forest on the way to the rocky route, but quickly regained it on a somewhat steep climb just beyond the forest. Soon (well relatively soon, SPHP kept stopping for air) Lupe was approaching the area below the rocky ridge. Here the climb was not so steep. The views got better and better as Lupe headed for a saddle near the E end of the ridge.
When Lupe reached the saddle (a short distance SW of High Point 10201), she had a great view of Hazelton Pyramid ahead. Lupe could also see the high ground she would follow as it swept around to the summit.
Before continuing on to Hazelton Pyramid, Lupe checked out the views from the minor high point immediately SW of the saddle.
After a short rest break on the minor high point, Lupe and SPHP returned to the saddle. It was time to follow the high ground leading over to the summit of Hazelton Pyramid. Most of the time, Lupe was able to stay at or near the top of the long ridge. A couple of times she was forced to lose some elevation to get around small cliffs.
The last part of Lupe’s climb up Hazelton Pyramid was the steepest and rockiest, but still easily manageable. The true summit turned out to be along a ridge of boulders extending farther to the SE a few hundred feet beyond the apparent summit Lupe had seen while climbing up from the NW. Lupe and SPHP stayed on the NE side of this ridge due to a steep drop off immediately to the SW.
Naturally, Lupe and SPHP took a break up on Hazelton Pyramid for water, a bit to eat, and to spend some time admiring the splendid views. Although it had been a beautiful, mostly sunny day during the entire ascent, a line of gray clouds was now approaching from the SW. Streaks of rain trailed beneath the clouds. SPHP eyed the clouds suspiciously, even though they didn’t look too threatening.
Fortunately, there wasn’t any thunder or lightning. Lupe and SPHP stayed on the mountain. A SW wind picked up and blew rather strongly for a little while as the clouds approached. Lupe had to endure a rainstorm as they passed over Hazelton Pyramid, but it didn’t rain hard or last too long. The day soon grew somewhat sunnier again.
Eventually, of course, it was time to start down off Hazelton Peak to begin the trek back to the G6. For a long way, Lupe and SPHP continued to enjoy the wonderful mountain scenery visible from the high ground above tree line.
Lupe retraced her way up Hazelton Peak all the way back down below tree line. Not too long after reaching the forest, SPHP tried to take a shortcut, heading WNW down off the ridge before reaching the big meadow.
The shortcut became a longcut and a Lupe adventure all its own, but one without photos as SPHP tried to hurry through the darkening forest. At one point Lupe crossed a road which may have been 4WD Route 584113. Lupe explored beautiful little clearings of swampy land near a tiny creek. However, the forest seemed longer, denser, and more difficult to navigate than on Lupe’s original route.
All’s well that ends well, though! Lupe finally emerged from the forest and swamps on open ground above and N of 4WD Route 584116. SPHP recognized Route 584111 a little farther off to the W. Lupe trotted happily along. She was almost back to the North Fork of the Powder River and the G6 (7:37 PM).
Well, Loopster! That was a pretty good day wasn’t it? Up before dawn barking at cows and horses on the way to the Bighorns, visiting all 3 of the Washakie County High Point candidates, and then climbing Hazelton Pyramid, too!
Yes, this was great, and about time, too! What’s on the agenda tomorrow?
Tomorrow you start for Cloud Peak (13,167 ft.), the highest mountain in the entire Bighorn Range! It’s so big and so far it will take us 2 days to get to the top.
Oh, sounds exciting! Will there be squirrels?
I think you’re gonna like it, and yeah, there should be some squirrels. Believe me, your summer of 2016 is going to be fantastic. You haven’t seen anything yet, Looper!
Heh, I certainly hope so SPHP, until today that’s been just about literally true!
Huge sigh! One of many at long intervals. Dejected, Lupe lay bored on the floor. Sometimes she stared out the window. Sometimes just out into space. After a promising start with a trip to the Laramie Mountains in Wyoming in late May, Lupe had returned to the Black Hills on June 1st expecting great things from the summer of 2016. Instead, June immediately turned hot – too hot for her Black Hills expeditions. June shot by, and Lupe didn’t get to go anywhere in the hills.
Early July started out a little better, with two short Summits on the Air outings (Custer Peak & Boulder Hill) with Joe and Dusty. Then it was back to laying on the floor, forlorn and disappointed day after day. The middle of July came and went. Still Dullsville.
Lupe didn’t realize it yet, but great things were in the works. Preparations for her fabulous Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation were nearing completion. Lupe would soon be on her way much farther than she had ever been before to visit beautiful places and climb some spectacular peaks!
One mountain on the list, however, wasn’t that far away. Cloud Peak(13,167 ft.), the tallest mountain in the Bighorn range of north central Wyoming, was easily the highest peak Lupe would attempt to climb this year. For Lupe and SPHP, Cloud Peak meant a 3 day/2 night backpacking trip.
Why not take Lupe to the Bighorns even before the start of her summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation? Getting Cloud Peak out of the way beforehand would free up several days on her summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation she could use to climb much more distant peaks she might never otherwise have a chance to attempt. It was a good idea, and high time for some action anyway.
SPHP checked the weather forecasts. Starting July 18th, 4 consecutive days of 100°F heat with little or no chance of rain were coming to Buffalo, WY. Perfect for adventuring in the high country, where it would be considerably cooler! Much to her surprise and delight, Lupe was on the road headed for the Bighorns before dawn.
Only a few hours later, Lupe was in the Bighorns! Before tackling Cloud Peak, though, SPHP had a couple of other easier peakbagging objectives in mind for Lupe. The first one was really easy – the Washakie County High Point(9,600 ft.). At 9:48 AM (66°F), SPHP parked the G6 just S of Hwy 16 along USFS Road No. 25. This intersection is in Washakie County only a short distance W of the Johnson County line.
The only thing time consuming or unusual about the Washakie County High Point is that there are three candidates for the actual highest point. Two of them are about 0.25 mile S of Hwy 16 on a low forested ridge. The third candidate is about the same distance N of Hwy 16. Lupe and SPHP headed across the field toward the S candidates first. As a guide, SPHP had a copy of a trip report by Edward Earl dated July 30, 2002.
At the edge of the forest was a barbed wire fence. The lower part of the fence was a wire mesh which Lupe could not get through. Lupe and SPHP followed the fence W until Lupe reached a gate with orange posts where she was able to get by. After that, Lupe sniffed around exploring the forest while making the climb to the first of the high points.
Lupe visited the two Washakie County High Point candidates S of Hwy 16. Both were very rocky. They were only a few minutes walk apart, but due to the forest, not really visible from each other. Neither had much in the way of views, although there were partial views to the S and E from the SE high point. The most open views were actually from a lower rock outcropping a bit to the S of the area between the two high points.
Edward Earl’s trip report mentioned a cairn at both high point candidates S of Hwy 16, but Lupe only saw a cairn at the NW high point. After visiting both of the S candidates, Lupe headed NE through the forest until she reached USFS Road No. 25 near a cattle guard providing an opening in the fence line. Lupe is an expert at crossing cattle guards, which present no obstacle to her at all.
Lupe and SPHP proceeded across Hwy 16 a few hundred feet E of the Hwy 16/USFS Road No. 25 intersection. Shortly after re-entering the forest N of the highway, Lupe came to another barbed wire fence. It had 5 wires, and the lowest wire was dangerously close to the ground for Lupe. SPHP lifted Lupe over the fence. Lupe then continued N, once again up a gentle forested slope while looking for her final objective – the third and last Washakie County High Point candidate.
Edward Earl’s trip report mentioned a small summit, with perhaps 20′ of prominence just E of the Johnson County line in Johnson County. Lupe came to a pile of boulders that looked likely to be this small summit.
According to Edward Earl, the 3rd Washakie County High Point candidate was located on a small E/W running ridge 50 to 80 yards to the W of the small summit. Only 100 feet W of the small summit there was supposed to be a 4 foot high boulder with a cairn on it and a log leaning against it. Mr. Earl thought the true high point was 50 to 100 feet farther W of this boulder.
It sounded pretty easy to find. Lupe and SPHP headed W from the small summit looking for the 4 foot high boulder and E/W ridge. However, Lupe had no luck. She went well beyond 100 feet without seeing the 4 foot high boulder. There didn’t seem to be any sign of the E/W ridge either. The forest in this area was all on gently sloping terrain. A 4 foot high boulder or a ridge of any significant size should have been easy to spot. Lupe and SPHP circled around the area several times, but found nothing of interest.
Puzzling. Lupe and SPHP returned to the small summit with all the boulders. Was it possible this wasn’t the summit Edward Earl had mentioned? A short distance to the N, the forest sloped up toward higher ground. Well, Loop, let’s go check it out. I can’t think of anything else reasonable to try.
After going a little farther N, Lupe and SPHP arrived up on a ridge that was definitely higher than the small summit. This ridge seem to go roughly E/W, although it was N of the small summit, not W of it. Maybe Lupe was too far E? Lupe and SPHP headed W along the ridge. Lupe hadn’t gone too far, when there was a break in the ridge. Not far away on the other side of the break was a small hill or continuation of the ridge. Lupe headed for it.
On the W side of the break, Lupe did have to climb up about 20 feet to get up on a little hill from which the ridge continued on in an E/W direction. Perhaps this was the small summit Edward Earl had mentioned? There was another possibility, too. The hill featured a rock several feet high with a cairn on it. A rotting tree to the N of it might have been the log leaning against the 4 foot high boulder?
SPHP wasn’t completely certain where Lupe was in relation to Edward Earl’s directions, but this area did seem to fit the general description. It seemed clear that Lupe should continue exploring farther W along the ridge for at least a few hundred feet in any case. If this was Mr. Earl’s small summit, Lupe should find a four foot high boulder about 100 feet to the W. If not, Lupe should still cross the 3rd high point candidate somewhere along the way. Lupe and SPHP headed W.
Lo, and behold! There it was! Roughly 100 feet away Lupe did find a 4 foot high boulder with a cairn on it! It was sitting off by itself in the forest, like a true landmark. SPHP felt 90% certain this had to be the boulder Edward Earl was referring to.
Since Mr. Earl thought the actual Washakie County High Point candidate was a point along the ridge 50 to 100 feet to the W of this boulder, Lupe and SPHP wandered over in that direction. The ridge sloped gradually down toward the W, so the actual high point candidate was simply located along the ridge wherever the Washakie and Johnson County border crossed it.
There was no fence or other indication where the county line was. Lupe went far enough to make certain she had crossed the third Washakie County High Point candidate somewhere along the way. She then returned to the area about 80 feet W of the boulder. Smile, Lupe! As far as I’m concerned, you’ve done it and can claim another peakbagging success. Congratulations on visiting all three candidates for the Washakie County, Wyoming High Point!
Well, that really hadn’t been hard at all. By 11:48 AM, Lupe was back at the G6. Still plenty of time left in the day for another, more scenic and challenging adventure! Hazelton Pyramid(10,534 ft.) was close at hand to the SE. Lupe’s fun in the Bighorn Mountains was just beginning!
Light out. Looked like for a while already. Ugh! Loopster, you awake? Of course, she was, but even Lupe wasn’t looking too lively yet, still content to snuggle down on her sleeping bag. Lupe gazed sleepily back at SPHP. Is it time?
Uncharacteristically, Lupe had only wanted to go outside her “tiny house” once during the night to prowl around. The scene, the mood, had been magical. A full moon flooded Paint Rock Creek valley with ghostly light. Close by, but out of sight below the grassy ridge on which Lupe’s tiny house was perched, came the soothing sound of Paint Rock Creek gushing over a 15 foot high waterfall. Otherwise, silence prevailed beneath the night sky. Nothing stirred. Lupe and SPHP were utterly alone.
Now it was light out. Yes, it’s time, Loop. I wish it wasn’t – I’m not feeling it. Sheesh, why do I always do this? Bomber Mountain after Cloud Peak, indeed – what a joke! I must be delusional. Now I’ll be lucky to drag myself up Cloud today. I hope you’re more ready for this than I am. SPHP started preparations for the day’s climb. Lupe watched, but didn’t move. She made no comment.
Yesterday, Lupe and SPHP had made it from the trailhead at West Tensleep Lake to the junction of the Misty Moon Trail (No. 63) and the Solitude Trail (No. 38) SW of Misty Moon Lake in good time. The sun had still been high overhead. Lupe and SPHP could have made it to base camp on the ledge near Paint Rock Creek falls with many hours before sunset to relax and recuperate for the climb up Cloud Peak(13,167 ft.) today.
Hah! That would have been too easy. Instead, full of enthusiasm, SPHP had led Lupe E on the Solitude Trail off on a side excursion to see the Fortress Lakes and Gunboat Lake. Lupe even left the trail to climb a minor high point, Peak 10,860. From there, SPHP had seen what looked like a good route up Bomber Mountain(12,840 ft.) from the Florence Pass area. Wouldn’t it be fun for Lupe to climb Bomber Mountain, too, the day after climbing Cloud Peak?
The side excursion was fun and beautiful, but also chewed up lots of time. More importantly, it used up a lot of energy. As a result, Lupe and SPHP had dragged into base camp on the low ridge NW of Paint Rock Creek falls only an hour and a half before sunset. By then, the Bomber Mountain daydream was shattered. SPHP was played out. Even Lupe seemed tired. As soon as Lupe’s tiny house was pitched, Lupe and SPHP had crawled inside and crashed.
OK, Loop, let’s go! Yeah, yesterday’s side excursion may have been a mistake, but so what? You’re gonna make it to the top, sweet puppy! We still have lots of advantages. We are starting from the best and closest possible base camp, the weather is ideal, and we saw yesterday that there’s almost no snow left up there to stop us.
Not gonna set any speed records, unless it’s for the slowest ascent ever, but who cares? No one. It’s just us. We have all day. We can rest as often and long as we want to. There’s a reason for this SPHP tag, you know. Even so, this is still going to be a glorious day. Promise!
Lupe was ready! She grabbed a big stick and chomped it. She snarled and barked. She leaped around encouraging SPHP to please, finally, get on with it. And then she was off, tearing NE along the trail up Paint Rock Creek valley above the falls.
The unmaintained trail was good, at first. It paralleled Paint Rock Creek from a short distance to the NW. Lupe and SPHP went down to the creek, so Lupe could get a drink. Bluebells were growing in profusion along the banks.
Lupe and SPHP returned to the trail. Almost immediately, it veered N, leaving the creek behind. Gradually, the trail became more intermittent and harder to follow. Sometimes there were cairns to show the way. There was no reason to worry. It was just about impossible to get lost. To the N was a giant ridge of solid stone sweeping up to the NE toward Cloud Peak’s summit.
Lupe and SPHP came to several big rock formations that had to be traversed. Between the formations was much more level grassy ground. SPHP grew careless about following the trail, losing it several times. Lupe kept coming across it again. Once, at one of the formations, Lupe came to a rock wall that was too high for her to scramble up. SPHP lifted her up, but that was the only time she needed help.
Sometimes Lupe had to lose a little elevation leaving the rock formations to reach the next grassy section, but the elevation loss was never significant. The last grassy section was the largest of all. Several ponds were scattered around. Directly ahead, beyond the grass, was a headwall. Above it was a higher valley leading toward Cloud Peak.
After crossing the last big grassy area, Lupe was delighted to discover a big patch of snow in a cleft in the headwall. She frolicked, slid, and rolled on it. SPHP was happy for her. Down on the sagebrush prairies surrounding the Bighorns it was supposed to be 100°F, but here was Lupe having a blast in the snow!
Above the headwall, the long upper valley stretched ahead. There was a fair amount of grass in the center of the valley. A tributary of Paint Rock Creek cascaded down from above.
SPHP hadn’t really bothered to look for the route the intermittent trail took up over the headwall, but realized Lupe was probably SE of it. The center of the valley near the creek looked like the easiest way up. Unfortunately, instead of immediately working over to the middle, SPHP chose what looked like the easiest route from where Lupe had arrived on the headwall, which stayed SE of the valley center.
The route was full of boulders, but now and then there were short stretches of grass or dirt. They all led higher up on the SE side of the valley. Gradually, Lupe was getting farther away from the middle of the valley, instead of closer to it. Lupe didn’t seem to mind all the rock-hopping too much, but for SPHP it was time consuming and exhausting. Frequent stops were necessary to let heart and lungs catch up.
Eventually, Lupe was a long way up on the SE side of the upper valley. By now, even short stretches of grass or dirt were non-existent. Ahead was a seemingly endless boulder field. Somewhere up there, SPHP knew Lupe would arrive at the edge of massive cliffs to the SE.
From below, the boulders above repeatedly gave the impression that Lupe was nearing the top of the ridge. As Lupe scrambled ever higher, SPHP urged her to be careful. However, each time Lupe reached the apparent ridgeline, all that was revealed beyond were more boulders and an even higher ridge.
Slowly, Lupe and SPHP pressed onward and upward. There was no other reasonable choice. The floor of the upper valley was now much too far below to consider going back down looking for a better route. Sorry, Lupe, looks like I’ve really screwed this up again. We’re still going to make it, though. This can’t go on forever. On the way back down, we will find a better way.
By now, even Lupe was getting sick of all the rock hopping. Each time SPHP stopped for a breather, she curled up at SPHP’s feet as best as she could. SPHP tried to stop at tiny patches of grass, so she could be somewhat comfortable, but often there wasn’t anything resembling “comfortable” around.
Despite the horrible route SPHP had selected, there were still cairns scattered around here and there. They were utterly meaningless. SPHP did derive a little comfort from them. Well, Loop, looks like we aren’t the only suckers to ever come this way!
Over time, SPHP could see Lupe was making progress. She was gradually gaining on Elk Mountain (11,321 ft.), far off to the SW. After a while, she was even with it. Eventually, Elk Mountain was clearly below Lupe’s elevation.
At last, Lupe reached the edge of the cliffs! Across a chasm to the ESE was an impressive view of Bomber Mountain(12,840 ft.). To the NNE was Lupe’s first relatively close up view of “The Bridge”. It was farther away than SPHP had hoped. The entire intervening distance was still nothing but more boulders. Beyond “The Bridge”, boulder fields rose 1,000 feet above Lupe’s current position.
What SPHP refers to as “The Bridge” is a narrow band of rock connecting much wider portions of the long SW ridge leading up to the summit of Cloud Peak. If “The Bridge” didn’t exist, Cloud Peak would be a technical climb, the summit attainable only by those with genuine mountaineering skills and equipment. Casual day hikers and backpackers like Lupe and SPHP would have no way to ever reach the summit.
Lupe and SPHP had no choice, but to continue on to “The Bridge”. Lupe went N over the boulders along the edge of the chasm to the E. As she got closer to the narrowest part of “The Bridge”, Lupe turned NE to cross it. There were huge drop offs on both sides, with spectacular views, but “The Bridge” is plenty wide enough so that crossing it under favorable conditions isn’t a terrifying experience.
While crossing “The Bridge”, Lupe gained little net elevation, if any. The crossing was still slow, since “The Bridge” is all boulder field, just like the rest of the terrain. There appeared to be a somewhat easier route toward the S side, but naturally, SPHP had led Lupe along the N edge to see the views in that direction. Was it possible to go any slower? It was hard to see how.
Beyond “The Bridge”, Lupe resumed her climb. Only another 600 or 700 feet of elevation gain to the top! Only? SPHP was fading. Lupe wasn’t, though! There were many places where SPHP thought the Carolina Dog might need help over huge boulders. Each time SPHP offered to lend her a hand, though, all on her own she appeared a moment or two later grinning down at SPHP from above. Show off!
This high on the mountain, Lupe started coming to more snow. The snow actually helped. SPHP was able to trudge right on up it, where the snow wasn’t too steep. Although it was warm out and the snow was melting at a good clip, it didn’t give way. Crossing the snow was much faster than trying to negotiate the boulders.
Finally, less than 500 feet below the summit during one of SPHP’s innumerable rest breaks, SPHP saw something that had been expected for hours. Below, and not terribly far away, someone was coming! Two people and a white dog! They were moving fast. Soon they would overtake Lupe and SPHP. Until now, Lupe and SPHP had been totally alone on the mountain.
Before long, Lupe and SPHP met Garrett, Ariel, and their dog Apollo! They were from Casper, WY. After a pleasant few minutes chatting, Lupe and SPHP were left behind. Garrett, Ariel and Apollo blazed ahead, eventually disappearing high above. Lupe and SPHP plugged along slowly. At long last, from the SW, Lupe reached the summit area.
The summit area was quite large – a few hundred feet across or more. The whole area was still all boulder fields, but they sloped much less dramatically. There was a high point to the W, which had been visible at times on the way up. The true summit was a large boulder with a cairn on it off toward the E edge of the mountain. Huge precipices were to the E and S near the true summit, and W of the W high point.
Garrett, Ariel and Apollo were still at the true summit when Lupe and SPHP finally arrived. Lupe was more than a little ill-mannered toward poor unoffending Apollo. Apparently, SPHP had been moving so slowly, Lupe had spent enough time on Cloud Peak on the way up to start thinking of the mountain as her own territory. Lupe repeatedly growled warnings at Apollo. This mountain isn’t big enough for the two of us!
Come on now, Lupe, of course it is – behave!
This was it! Success! Despite the perfect weather, no one else was coming to climb Cloud Peak today. Garrett and Ariel said it was already 3:15 PM. (Good grief, had it really taken SPHP 8.25 hours to struggle up this mountain? A lousy 3,000 feet of elevation gain from base camp? Apparently so. Record crappy ascent time secured! No matter, it was still a successful ascent.) Time for everyone to celebrate with a few photos!
Garrett and Ariel stayed up at the summit talking with SPHP. They were trail runners, and spent quite a bit of time in the mountains when they could. They had only 2 days off work, and had come up to the Bighorns just to tag Cloud Peak. Amazingly, they had hopes of being down off the mountain and back to Pizza Hut in Buffalo, WY before it closed at 10 PM!
It seemed impossible! SPHP would be thrilled with stumbling back into Lupe’s base camp before it was pitch black. SPHP talked with Garrett and Ariel so long, they probably never stood a chance of enjoying that pizza. It was after 4 PM by the time Garrett, Ariel and Apollo took their leave, and disappeared off to the SW.
Alone again, Loop! What a glorious place! We did make it, didn’t we? Lupe panted happily at SPHP. Sure did! You knew we would! You’re with an American Dingo. It was in the bag all along. SPHP sat petting Lupe on the summit boulder for a while. Yeah, but you gotta remember, I’m no American Dingo. Lupe sighed and rolled over, paws in the air. Good! You can scratch my belly, then. SPHP complied, while surveying the world from 13,167 ft.
It must have been approaching 5 PM, by the time Lupe and SPHP started back down. Going down was easier, but still ridiculously slow. SPHP did improve on route selection, which in some places made virtually no difference, but in others helped tremendously.
The big improvements came below “The Bridge”. This time, Lupe stayed much farther to the N, heading W from “The Bridge”. This eventually brought Lupe down to a big, nearly flat area that swept off to the S and then down around to the SW. There were so few boulders here, that Lupe was free to run around exploring as she pleased. It was like a Cloud Peak super highway compared to the way Lupe and SPHP had struggled up earlier!
Better route selection hardly mattered at first. It took a long time just getting down to “The Bridge”. The scenery was spectacular, though!
By the time Lupe reached the Cloud Peak super highway, the sun was already very low, and the light was beginning to fade. It was still a very long way back to Lupe’s base camp. Fortunately, Lupe and SPHP could now make rapid progress for a while.
The big flat area gradually steepened, and eventually led down into the upper end of the valley above the headwall where the tributary of Paint Rock Creek was flowing. There were lots more boulders again here, but Lupe was able to avoid most of them. Successive trails marked by cairns went down long stretches of narrow, boulder-free paths of dirt or grass.
As Lupe got close to the stream, she found a lot more grass, plus big areas of relatively smooth exposed bedrock. Staying on the SE side of the stream, but close to it, was a lot better than Lupe’s tortuous climb among the boulders higher up on the SE side of the valley in the morning.
As fast as Lupe’s progress was, by the time Lupe and SPHP managed to get down the headwall to the biggest grassy area with scattered ponds, the sun was long gone. Twilight was fading fast. Beyond the grass, SPHP had a hard time finding a decent route over the first of the rock formations that had to be traversed. Once on the other side, nothing looked familiar, not that it was possible to see much.
SPHP brought out the flashlight and a headlamp. Ahead to the SW, a wide valley of exposed bedrock sloped down into a deep dark hole. Off to the SE was the outline of a dark ridge, but it wasn’t nearly high enough to be the ridge S of Paint Rock Creek. Confusion set in. SPHP couldn’t see much, but what was in view seemed wrong.
Did the map show the dark ridge to the SE? SPHP didn’t remember it from earlier in the day. A look at the topo map didn’t seem to show it either. Was it possible to miss going right by Lupe’s base camp by simply continuing down the canyon? Both the map and what SPHP could remember seemed to indicate that was impossible, yet the yawning black hole ahead looked totally unfamiliar.
Lupe, let’s go back up a way, maybe we are supposed to be on the other side of this dark ridge to the SE? Lupe was fine with that. For a few minutes, Lupe and SPHP headed back up to the NE. Reason soon set in again. SPHP stopped. Let’s have another look at the topo map.
Little bulges to the SW in the topographic lines probably indicated the presence of the dark SE ridge. SPHP probably hadn’t paid any attention to the ridge in the morning, because it wasn’t really as big as it looked in the dark.
Loop, we are turning around again to go back down into the dark hole. If we persist in trying to reach the other side this SE ridge, we may find ourselves in a real jumble down along Paint Rock Creek way before it reaches the trail. Keep an eye out for the trail, and sniff around for it, too. We need to find it!
Cautiously, SPHP headed back down toward the dark abyss. Lupe sniffed around. She found the trail! It was faint, but here was a little cairn. This had to be it. Across the grassy areas and over the rock formations, Lupe helped SPHP stay on the trail. It had been intermittent and kind of hard to follow in the day. In the dark, it was really tricky.
Whenever the trail disappeared, SPHP watched Lupe, in a minute or two she was usually on it again. Several times SPHP disagreed with Lupe on which way to go. Lupe was soon proven right almost every time.
The rock formations seemed much steeper and rougher in the darkness than during the day. The way back seemed much longer than expected, too. Darkness does that. Time passes much more slowly than one thinks. SPHP went on and on in the darkness, but with growing confidence. The little cairns were helpful. Lupe was helpful. The trail gradually improved.
Finally, Paint Rock Creek could be heard not too far away. The trail still didn’t go toward it for what seemed like a long time. Eventually it did, though, and not long afterward, Lupe arrived back at her tiny house. Ta da! That was quite a day, Lupe! Thanks so much for your help! We are going to remember Cloud Peak for a long time. Hungry?
Lupe was hungry. Famished, actually. She had hardly eaten anything all day. She inhaled her Taste of the Wild. Then she was ready to curl up on her sleeping bag. SPHP pulled part of it over her. Keep the puppy warm! Lupe was asleep in no time. SPHP was too weary to eat. Out like a light.
Suddenly, it was morning again. Bright and beautiful, but not a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a scorcher, even way up here. Now it was SPHP’s turn to eat. Lupe hardly stirred, happy curled up on her sleeping bag. SPHP wrapped it around her a little better again. Hope you weren’t too cold in the night Loop, I never regained consciousness to check on you.
Well, Loopster, Cloud Peak was your toughest peakbagging success yet, but it’s time to go home today. We are low on water, and even if we had gallons of it, I am totally out of energy to climb Bomber Mountain. That was pure fantasy for this trip. Not going to happen. It wasn’t in the original plan, anyway. Would you like to explore the ridge to the W for a little way, though, before we leave?
Lupe was fine with sniffing around to the W. She climbed some low hills. She saw a beautiful unnamed lake. She drank from a tiny stream. SPHP admired Paint Rock Creek valley, and all the wonderful sights in and around it.
Lupe and SPHP returned to base camp. It was time to go. SPHP took down Lupe’s tiny house. Away went Lupe and SPHP, S across Paint Rock Creek valley, up the other side to the Solitude Trail, and over the pass. Lupe went by Misty Moon Lake, reached the Misty Moon Trail, and proceeded S past Lake Marion and Lake Helen.
At 4:14 PM (81°F), Lupe’s 3 day/2 night adventure to Cloud Peak was over. She was back at the trailhead at West Tensleep Lake ready to bark at cows and horses from the comfort of the G6 on her air-conditioned ride home to the Black Hills.
A couple days later, Lupe had an email from her mountaineer friend, Jobe Wymore, congratulating Lupe on her ascent of Cloud Peak. By sheer coincidence, Sam Grant, a mountaineer buddy of Jobe’s had climbed Cloud Peak on 7-21-16, the day after Lupe did! Had Lupe run into Sam by any chance? Sam would have made the entire trip as a day hike in one day!
SPHP saw on Peakbagger.com that Sam had taken the Misty Moon Trail from West Tensleep Lake, too. Lupe and SPHP almost certainly passed by Sam somewhere along the trail on the way back to the G6. Jobe was soon able to confirm that Sam thought he might have actually talked to SPHP for a few minutes! Fun stuff! Too bad Lupe and SPHP hadn’t realized who Sam was. Lupe could have gotten her picture taken with him, and added another genuine mountaineer to her collection of friends.
Just think, Lupe! Sam Grant can do in one day what took me 3 days and 2 nights! Maybe Garrett, Ariel and Apollo did get to Pizza Hut in Buffalo in time, after all? I’m clearly holding you back. Maybe you better consider an upgrade from SPHP? You could get a lot more accomplished!
Aren’t we going on my wonderful, most stupendous ever Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation in less than a week?
Well then, I’m stuck with you, SPHP, at least for the time being.
Good thing, Lupe! I’d sure miss you, if you ever left. Now you are going to help me pack all this stuff, right?
Start without me SPHP, I’m kind of busy resting up for all the adventures I have to star in ahead!
Editor’s Note: Looking for Part 1 of Lupe’s adventure to Cloud Peak? It sort of hasn’t been published yet. Mostly because it hasn’t been written yet. Of course, it will be. Someday. Maybe even soon. Or maybe not until Lupe is back from her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation. Lupe has her priorities, you know?