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 Peak 10,860? 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!
For Day 2 of Lupe’s Cloud Peak adventures, click here: Cloud Peak, Bighorn Mountains, WY (7-20-16) Part 2 – Base Camp to the Summit.