Friday, August 21, 2009

Bighorn National Forest: Cloud Peak

What a day! What a long, tiresome, dehydrated, sunburned, mosquito-bitten, blister-ridden day. It all started with a 5 am wake-up. I packed up camp and drove from the campground to the West Tensleep Trailhead. It is from here that the death march began. The hike started off innocently enough. The hiking was pretty easy apart from a ford of Tensleep Creek. The views from Lakes Helen and Marion and Mistymoon Lakes were amazing. I made it the 8 miles to Mistymoon Lake in 3 hours. Things were looking pretty good. However, the tough part of the hike was just about to begin.
Young Bull Moose

From Mistymoon Lake I followed the established trail down to Paint Rock Creek. From Paint Rock Creek I followed a well-used user trail up the drainage and into some beautiful, but rugged country. The hiking started to get a bit steeper and tougher and then the trail petered out. From here on out I would be forced to use my own route-finding skills. To make things even more challenging the hiking turned into rock-hopping and the air got thinner. Soon there was snow, and quite a bit of it.

I had to be really careful where I placed my feet. If I made a false move I would be post-holing up to my crotch. I found the most efficient way to move was to keep hopping from boulder to boulder unless there was a well worn path in the snow.

As I headed higher up the mountain the going got tougher, the altitude more obvious, and the sun brighter. I wished I had some sunglasses to shade my eyes from the constant sun glare. In addition, I had a pounding headache, not from altitude, but from dehydration. When I finally reached the summit at around one o’clock I was pretty much spent. I was not alone up there though. I met a party of two just below and passed a party of three, one of whom was packing heat (I’m not really sure why he felt the need to carry a pistol with him.) on the final stretch. I was able to relax a little bit on the summit and had one of the three I had passed earlier take my photo on the summit boulder.

I didn’t spend too much time up on top though. I still had a long way to go to get back to the car; ten miles to be exact. I also wasn’t too thrilled with the thought of the decent. Things went better than I had envisioned on the snow and boulders and I was back on the established trail in less than 2 hours. I was getting really tired though and still had 8 miles to hike at this point. Luckily the rest of the hike was mostly downhill. I didn’t stop to take many photos on the way back. I was just too tired and didn’t want to waste too much time. I needed to get back to the car before dark.

Well I made it to the car at 6:45, well before dark. I was very, very tired though. I still had a long drive ahead of me too. I stopped in Buffalo for dinner, before heading east to good ol’ South Dakota. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relieved to be home. I pulled into my parking lot at 11:45, took a shower and hit the sack.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I sooo want to do Cloud Peak! Congrats! and good to read of someone else doing the things I dream of.