Adjustments in the back-country

Squaretop…our initial goal

The Wind River mountains are amazing.  The ruggedness of the peaks as you drive up highway 191 toward Pinedale, WY is astounding.  I love to drive up there just to see the peaks from the highway.  They are both inviting and unforgiving.  If you make a mistake in that wilderness, it could be your last, but at the same time what you get to see is awe inspiring.  The pristine lakes, the wide-open mountain meadows, moose, deer, elk, if your lucky a bear.  It’s a beauty that’s pretty hard to put into words.

Earlier this summer we went into the Winds, at the Green River Lakes.  Our initial plan was to hike to the backside of Squaretop Mountain, which is exactly as it’s name implies, it’s a big flat top.  The backside has a boulder field that once you cross it, you can hike up to the peak.  There are technical climbs that you can do to get the top, but we had no intention of going up that way.  Our goal was to make it to the boulder field and see if the dogs could make it, if not, we’d turn back.

A lot of how far we were going to go was dependent on the dogs.  If they were struggling, we would scale back.  From the trailhead to Squaretop is about 12 miles and our dogs are older, so we really didn’t want to kill them to get there.  Next was us, would we be able to make it.  Our packs weren’t too heavy since it was just us and the dogs, but it had been a while since we’d been backpacking.

The initial part of the trail takes you along the lower Green River Lake, which then feeds the Green River, that eventually flows into the Colorado River.  The trail is well maintained, but it’s a hiking trail.  You aren’t hiking on a sidewalk, there’s rocks, springs, cows, obstacles of all kinds.  There were quite a few more people than we expected, and we had to sidestep frequently to let others by.  At one point, we had to move out of the way as a family with younger children and dog went by.  There was an incline on both sides of the trail, and as I watched Sandy step down, I watched her knee bend in a direction that I didn’t think was possible.  The loose soil and rocks just slid right out from under her, and she down on the trail. 

We were probably still several miles from where we would be able to set up camp initially, so it was it was key to determine if Sandy could still hike or not.  She carefully got up with help as I lifted her backpack.  Her knee was tender, but still walkable.  At that point, we decided to shorten the days hike so that we would go about 2 more miles and set up camp in a meadow. Adjustment number 1.

 The wind was picking up, which helped with the heat, so as we crested a ridge and saw a meadow where we’d be able to find some shelter for the tent, that was near a stream, our pace picked up to a spot that we thought we’d be able to set up camp. 

We found a pretty good spot, with a large boulder that would act as a wind break and set up camp.  I woke up just before daybreak and sat and watched the light slowly creep over the mountains, gradually the meadow lit up.  It was an amazing experience and even though I thought it would be a great picture, I never took one, knowing it just wouldn’t do the daybreak justice. 

Sandy got up as I was brewing coffee for the morning.  Her knee was good, but we decided stressing it with a 40lb backpack probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do.  Adjustment number 2.  Change the goal to suit the current conditions.  Squaretop was out completely, next best thing was Slide Lake.  I didn’t even look at the map, just figured we’d follow the trail and make our way.  Sandy figured it was about 3 and half maybe four miles from camp. 

Slide Lake

Making our way to Slide Lake meant climbing switchbacks for about 1000 feet of elevation over the course of the 4 miles.  It was a challenging a hike and many times I was thinking that we should turn around.  I reminded myself that the best views took the most work to get to and this was a destination that we chose, so we pushed on.  We ran into some other hikers who were on their way down, “Oh yeah, maybe a quarter mile left…” about a mile later, one of the calmest lakes greeted us.  Sitting on the rocks looking up at rock formations all around, the hike was worth it.  These views were truly amazing.  The best part was that for a good 45 minutes to an hour, no one else was there.  The only sound was that of the water leaving the lake for the waterfall and any talking we did…which wasn’t much.

Afternoons in the mountains can bring unexpected thunderstorms, so we packed up after about an hour and headed down.  Going down was a bit easier, because we knew where the end of the trail was.  We knew where we were going. It was also slower because the dogs needed more time to rest.  They’d walk and then one would lay down.  His muscles were tired, he was tired.  All of us worked pretty hard that day, and for a while I even carried him to give him a break and keep us moving. 

At the bottom of the trail was a great little stream that came from the lake.  We stopped there for a good 45 minutes and let the dogs lay in the water and rest.  We were close to camp, but it wasn’t worth pushing too hard to get there right away.  There was no rush.  No reason to get back to camp right away. So let’s rest.  Let’s get muscles relaxed some and move on from there.

Everyone was rested…for the most part so we finished the journey back to camp, made dinner, played cards and just rested.  Everyone got back in the water to recover some more and before we knew it, we were all asleep.

The next morning, Sandy woke up first, and she started to shake me to wake me.  “Jon, Jon, get up”  I groggily roused, “Look!”, about two hundred yards from our tent was a cow moose and her calf lumbering through the willows that lined the stream near camp.  It was one of those moments that make backpacking worth it.  The moose just lumbered on by not paying us any attention, as watched them.

Everyone was moving slowly getting out of the tent and as we watched the dogs, we decided we did not want to sit around camp and wait for the bugs to find us, but we knew another strenuous hike was out of the question.  So, do we walk down to the Upper Green River Lake?  Do we go to the Lower Green River Lake and sit on the beach?  Do we leave and take our time?  Adjustment number three.  Let’s cut the trip short a day, even though we’re all pretty sore, the dogs can rest more easily in the car on the way home and recover better at home.  Even though the new Thermarests were comfortable…our bed would be better.  So, we headed out.  We took our time, watched the mileage back to the car and let the dogs rest whenever they needed it.  It wasn’t to be a death march back to the car, but just an easy stroll…with 35 lbs on our back.

After we reached the car and made our way through Pinedale, we looked for the best place to get some food.  We found this great little hamburger stand on the side of the road and the lady running the place saw we had dogs, and asked if they would like a completely unseasoned hamburger patty.  I knew they would, she then through in some “doggie” size ice cream cups too, the dogs devoured both, put their heads down and went to sleep as we hit the highway and headed home.

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