Day 8 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Wind River Range, Wyoming & Select Peaks in Montana
Before the sun was up, Lupe wanted out of her “tiny house”. SPHP unzipped the door and let her go. The Carolina Dog must have slept well. She hadn’t been so perky last evening after her long trek to Porcupine Pass from Lower Green River Lake. SPHP dozed a bit longer. When SPHP finally emerged, Loop was busy watching 3 deer and a marmot.
Sweet! Having a great time watching wildlife, aye Looper?
Oh, yes! It turns out this Porcupine Pass is a terrific spot. Don’t make any sudden movements, and please be quiet so the deer don’t run away!
Sorry, but we’ve got to get going, Loop. Today’s the big day. Squaretop Mountain or bust! Before we head for New Benchmark, want to take a stroll up Porcupine Pass Peak for a better look at what we’re facing?
Sure! Let me know when you’re ready. I’m going to keep watching these deer till then.
Porcupine Pass Peak (10,890 ft.) is a barren hill on the SW side of Porcupine Pass. Lupe gained less than 200 feet of elevation on her way to the top. The stroll was an easy one, free of obstacles except for a steep snowbank just below the rim of the summit area. Fortunately, the snowbank wasn’t large. SPHP found a way around most of it. The snow presented no problem at all to the American Dingo, who powered her way right on up, chomping snow for moisture as she went.
The top of Porcupine Pass Peak proved to be a large, gently rounded area, carpeted with green alpine plants. Not a tree or bush anywhere. Medium-sized rocks laid thinly scattered across the field. In every direction, Lupe gazed upon magnificent mountains and huge valleys.
Beauty was everywhere, but the view to the E from Porcupine Pass Peak was disconcerting. Beyond Porcupine Pass, Lupe had her first good look at New Benchmark (11,850 ft.). The mountain was bigger, higher, and considerably more rugged than SPHP expected.
New Benchmark was the first of two major obstacles Lupe would face on her intended route to Squaretop Mountain (11,695 ft.). Once safely past it, she would reach more favorable terrain on the way to Peaks 11,820 and 11,590. The second obstacle she would come to was a steep drop down to a narrow saddle leading to Peak 11,415. If Loop could cross that saddle, the remaining 1.5 miles N to the summit of Squaretop should be relatively easy.
Easy? Too funny! Staring only at maps, SPHP had been optimistic Lupe wouldn’t face anything more serious than a long ridge walk to get to Squaretop Mountain from Porcupine Pass today. Now that the Carolina Dog was actually here, staring at the reality of New Benchmark, it was clear nothing about this was going to be easy.
Come on, Loopster! We’ve got a gargantuan day ahead of us. We’d best get on with it!
Down at Porcupine Pass, SPHP disassembled Lupe’s tiny house. It was now perfectly clear she wasn’t likely to get all the way to Squaretop Mountain and back again in a single day. Everything had to come with.
Lupe and SPHP left Porcupine Pass. The Carolina Dog lost a bit of elevation heading ESE over to the base of a long, steep, scree and talus slope. This slope was the first big climb on the way up New Benchmark.
Lupe started climbing NE up the rough slope. Looper had no trouble maneuvering around, but SPHP was slow as always. Steady progress was being made, but it took a long time. While SPHP struggled up, Lupe enjoyed scanning the rocky terrain from increasingly lofty perches. Now and then, she encouraged SPHP to keep climbing.
After a long way up, the terrain finally became less steep. The rocks were bigger here, which was sometimes a help and sometimes a hindrance. Lupe appeared to be coming to some kind of a top.
Loop reached a top alright, but it wasn’t the top of New Benchmark. She was only halfway there on a false summit. The false summit was a large area of rough ground full of big rocks and boulders. Overall it was fairly level. It wasn’t hard to move around here, which was encouraging. SPHP was finally able to pick up the pace.
The highest parts of the false summit were toward the SSE, but Lupe went only partway there. A broad, relatively shallow saddle came into view leading NE to New Benchmark.
Much to her delight, the American Dingo got to romp across a big, gently sloping snowfield on her way down to the saddle. At the saddle, she saw two beautiful pale blue tarns surrounded by ice and snow in a cirque below her to the NW.
Once across the saddle, Lupe angled E. The second big climb was about to begin. Loop would have to gain just as much elevation as on the first leg up, but the terrain wasn’t quite as steep here. It wasn’t nearly as rocky, either, which helped SPHP tremendously. Lupe followed lanes of vegetation staying above, and safely away from, huge SW-facing cliffs.
Suddenly, things were going well! SPHP was able to climb much faster here. Heart, lung and leg power were the only limitations. SPHP could plod steadily upward instead of scrambling slowly among rocks. Lupe was going to make it to the top of New Benchmark! The question now was, what would she find on the other side? Could she continue on to Squaretop Mountain?
Lupe and SPHP approached the summit full of hope. Before long, the Carolina Dog was there, perched atop New Benchmark’s highest rocks! New Benchmark (11,850 ft.) was a glorious peak in its own right. The views of the Wind River Range were fantastic!
New Benchmark’s summit area was fairly large and flat. The highest rocks were along the NW edge. Lupe and SPHP searched around for a registry or a survey benchmark, but found neither.
While the views were grand in all directions, some of the most spectacular peaks were off to the E and SE along the continental divide. Lupe could see Gannett Peak (13,804 ft.), the highest mountain in Wyoming.
Reaching the summit of New Benchmark was a peakbagging victory for Lupe. Her ultimate objective, however, was still Squaretop Mountain (11,695 ft.). She could see it from New Benchmark, about 3.5 miles to the NE as the crow flies. In fact, she was looking down on it.
The news wasn’t good, though. To get to Squaretop Mountain, Lupe needed to be able to get from New Benchmark over to easier terrain near Peak 11,820 to the E. Cliffs eliminated any possibility of going directly E or SE, but the topo map showed Lupe ought to be able to go down New Benchmark’s NNE slope and reach a saddle leading E. This route shouldn’t be any steeper than the route Lupe had taken up New Benchmark.
Lupe started down New Benchmark’s NNE slope, only to discover a huge, long snowbank wrapped around the N and NE side of the mountain. The snow curved steeply away out of sight. How far down the snow went, and how steep it became was impossible to tell. Unequipped, SPHP wasn’t willing to walk out on the snow far enough to tell. A slip might easily become a rocket slide hundreds of feet onto deadly rocks below.
The sky had been partly cloudy all morning. For the last several hours, it had been especially cloudy to the NE. It hadn’t look threatening, though, and Lupe had spent a full hour up on New Benchmark’s superb summit. Now, as Loop stood on rocks above the steep snowbank gazing E, dark clouds and rain were sweeping over the continental divide not too many miles beyond Squaretop Mountain.
Not looking too good, is it, SPHP?
No, not really, Loop. So frustrating! This route has been more challenging than I expected, but it should have worked. If this snowbank wasn’t here, I still believe we would have been able to scramble down this slope easily enough and continue E.
Would we have made it to Squaretop then?
Not sure, but we certainly could have gotten a lot closer. Once beyond New Benchmark, it looks like a cinch to get at least as far as Peak 11,590. Beyond that, who knows? Can’t tell from here. Maybe there isn’t a safe route across the saddle to Peak 11,415? That would have been the last real obstacle, though.
So now what? Are we beaten?
Looks like it, Loopster. We’re staring at defeat here as far as Squaretop Mountain is concerned. Weather’s looking kind of iffy, anyway. Even if we could continue on, it might not be the smartest thing to spend the rest of the day sauntering around on exposed mountaintops.
Well, don’t take it too hard, SPHP. We made it to New Benchmark, didn’t we? That was a peakbagging victory. New Benchmark is a splendid mountain, wouldn’t you say?
Oh, yes, indeed! New Benchmark is awesome! It’s a grand consolation prize as your peakbagging goes. Still, as far as our original intentions went, this day has been a small victory, and a major defeat. Had my heart set on Squaretop Mountain for you. Thought we would be there today. Really did.
Oh, whaa, whaa! Get over it, SPHP. Look at where we are, high in the glorious Wind River Range! Let’s have fun! We going back to Porcupine Pass now?
Yeah, I suppose we better. No sense arguing with reality in the mountains, especially mountains as big as the Winds. Onward, sweet puppy!
Now you’re talking! Maybe the deers and marmot will still be there? I hope so!
By the time Loop made it around to the W side of New Benchmark to start the first big descent, a storm could be seen approaching. The surprising thing was that it was coming from the W where the sky had been relatively clear, instead of from the E. The storm was quite some distance away, so it appeared the Carolina Dog still had time to carry on for a while.
Halfway down to the saddle leading to the false summit, suddenly the whole sky turned gray. Clouds were forming directly overhead. Light rain fell. More was certainly on the way. Continuing down the mountain, SPHP started looking for a place where Lupe could take shelter. Some tall rocks with a slight overhang was all that was on offer. Lupe reached this refuge moments before the downpour began in earnest.
It rained hard for half an hour, with pea-sized hail thrown into the mix toward the end just for fun. Lupe was fairly well protected by the little overhang. The Carolina Dog emerged from the experience only a bit damp. SPHP, however, was thoroughly drenched. Only SPHP’s head and shoulders had been spared.
Ha, ha! Look at you, SPHP! For once, you’re the drowned rat. Usually I’m the soggy doggie!
Heh, that was a bit more refreshing than it needed to be, alright. Come on, Looper, let’s move it! The storm isn’t over yet. Let’s get down to the saddle during this break.
Good idea. I remember some really big rocks down there. We can find a better place to hide!
Stray raindrops continued falling all the way down to the saddle. Lupe was right about the big rocks. The saddle featured a collection of huge boulders all jumbled together. Loop and SPHP found a much larger overhang, almost like a cave. Not a moment too soon, either. No sooner was the American Dingo safe inside than the next downpour began.
This time it didn’t rain quite as hard. A cold wind blew instead. Another shot of pea-sized hail fell. The cave wasn’t very big. It would have been considerably more comfortable, if the ceiling had been higher and dripped less. SPHP sat scrunched over on a small rock, watching water trickle down the wet ceiling, while Loop stared out of the cave. Hopefully it would all be over soon. This wouldn’t be such a great way to spend the night.
After 20 minutes, the rain tapered off. A small patch of blue sky appeared. Lupe watched the patch grow for 10 minutes before it seemed safe to venture out. Scattered raindrops carried on the breeze continued falling as Lupe and SPHP headed SW toward the false summit. By the time Lupe was there, the rain was over.
As Lupe began the final big descent, the sky began to clear. The lucky American Dingo would enjoy sunshine the rest of the way back to Porcupine Pass. As usual, it took SPHP a long time going down the steep, rocky slopes. It didn’t matter, though. The air was fresh and clean, the sky blue, the mountains gorgeous.
Victory and defeat! This was living the life of Lupe. She had it better than Riley ever did!
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