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I came to do a thing for a dog

Walking the Winds.  It’s what I dream of constantly.  It’s what brought me to Wyoming in the first place.

I’ve walked the Winds over 8 times and never can get enough.  In the last five years I haven’t been able to get there for one reason or another–health, foot problems, moving, work.  Last time I was there it poured every day for a week.

When my old dog died, I swore I’d take her ashes up to the Wind Rivers. She’d been my constant hiking companion there.  I’ve held onto them for the last two years, lamenting that I might not be able to fulfill that promise to her, dreaming of the day I’d go back.

This year I tested myself first in the Beartooths on a four day backpack.  The old injury in my foot seemed to have healed enough to brave the trek to the Winds.

So last week I packed up and chose a route I’d done partway before, up the Fremont trail from the Big Sandy entrance.  I’d planned to do a 7 day over to Dream Lake with Koda.  The weather looked incremental and unstable on Monday, but after that the report said ‘Sunny’.  I hiked to Dad’s lake, five miles in, on Sunday and made camp.


The hike into Dad's from the Fremont trail


The first mishap occurred that night.  My newest Thermarest, the latest greatest lightest model, had a pin hole in it.  The mattress was dead the next morning, essentially laying me bare on the cold ground.  The temperatures were hovering around freezing or less at night so this wasn’t good.  Since I’d only used the mattress 2 times before, I hadn’t brought a proper patch kit.  I tried duct tape, lots of other tapes, to no avail.  OK, I can live with sleeping direct on the ground.  I’d done it before.

By Monday the weather was certainly very unsettled, so I decided to stay at Dad’s Lake and day hike to Shadow Lake with Soona’s ashes.  The 10 mile round trip into a glacial valley was phenomenal.  Shadow Lake sits on the back side of the Cirque of the Towers, the primo climbing grounds for world class climbers.  The front side is crowded with hikers and climbers, but the back side is not.  I had the whole valley to myself.

The trail winds up to the Continental Divide, a cluster of above timber line granite peaks, then cuts off into a wide sub-alpine valley for 2 miles that dead ends below the Cirque.  Three lakes sit at its base.  As I walked up the valley, it became only more and more stunning.  A wide river flows easily through its floor.  Glacial carved towering mountains surround you on both sides.  The view from Shadow lake of the Cirque is phenomenal.

As I turned up the side trail to the valley, the threatening weather turned intense.  It started to snow, hard.  But the valley kept egging me on and I knew this was the perfect place for Soona.  Finally, the lake appeared through the trees.  The cloud cover was heavy but the snow had stopped for now.  I had a quick lunch, knowing that I better return to camp soon; scattered the dog’s ashes, and sat down for some prayers and chants.  Suddenly the sun appeared through a small parting of the clouds.  The entire sky was black except for right above me where the heat of the sun changed the mood.  It was a brief 10 minutes of sun, as if the heavens had opened to receive my prayers and Soona had acknowledged her final resting place as ‘Good’.  When I started back to camp, the clouds covered the sky again and snow came down.  It snowed the whole 5 miles back to camp.

At Dad’s lake, the weather seemed to turn, the sun came out, broken clouds scattered the sky, a beautiful sunset was beginning.  Koda jumped in the lake and then it began snowing again.  Despite toweling him off (with my backpacking towel!) and a good fire, he went to bed shivering.  That night was the first time I ever opened up an emergency blanket and used it–on a dog!


Dad's Lake. The Continental Divide looms in the background


That evening was going to be very cold.  I knew it.  It’d been snowing all day and clearing some in the evening.  Surely it would be around 20 degrees tonight.  I wanted a good fire.  The only dry wood was what I could find still hanging on the trees.  I picked around for dead branches and carried a load back to my camp.  As I sorted through the dry branches I found a giant, and I mean giant, dragonfly, the biggest I’d ever seen, clinging to one.  He had gotten cold and was still.  I moved the dragonfly to a nearby tree, pondering it for a time.  The mystery of his’ life strategy stuck me…how he survived by becoming still and asleep.   When it was cold, boom, he was in another state, helpless, at the mercy of his unique physiology.

By the next day, when the weather was supposed to clear, a cold north wind had come blazing in.  I hiked up to Washakie creek, but was loathe to do the 3 miles of a 10,500 foot pass to Dream Lake in the threatening weather and strong winds.  Washakie creek combines side by side with East Fork River in a wide and beautiful sub-alpine valley, a place where most of August would be uncampable due to mosquitos.  But the cold had killed off all the bugs and it was an incredible camping spot.  Tons of wood and good fishing.  Although my fishing pole had broken in half the day before, it still worked just fine.  I caught 3 fish in the span of 15 minutes, nice big brookies.

By the next morning, instead of the weather improving as predicted (I swear that being a weatherman is the only job where you can be wrong half the time and STILL keep your job), it was overcast and threatening to snow, with daytime temperatures hovering in the high 30’s.  Besides the bad weather, my Steripen water purifier (also fairly new) broke.  No clean water (except if I boiled it) was a real set-back.  So along with my sleeping pad, broken fishing pole, and bad weather, I decided this trip was just for Soona.  I made the hike out that day, getting nice and dehydrated without any water to drink.

The good news is that the foot I’d been nursing for a year survived nicely, and I met some incredible, inspirational people.  A couple who was celebrating the woman’s 60th birthday by doing the entire Highline trail (over 100 miles) in 14 days.  Another couple in their early seventies who’d been backpacking in the Winds for over 25 years.  And I camped next to a 60 year old man who, because his doctor had told him not to backpack alone any more, was making a last memorable trip to the Winds by staying there for a month.  He was taking pictures and keeping a good journal, “for my grandchildren”.   He had dehydrated his own food, would come in from one trailhead for a 10 day stretch, then hike out to replenish and come in from another trailhead.

“I’ve watched the mountains all August, go from wildflowers to fall snows.”  I bow down to all these inspirational souls who keep backpacking way into their later years.  Next year I’m going for 3 weeks, and do it like the Texan rancher.  But this year I’d come to do a thing for a dog.

last backpack in the Beartooths at 10

Heaven in Canada

Happy even in old age