(This post has almost nothing to do with weaving though I did throw in the one photo I took with a loom in it

If you’re not interested in backcountry stories, skip on by this one!)

Smoke, fire, pandemic, murder hornets, whatever is next in 2020 was starting to get to me. (Pretty sure alien invasion must be next.) Summer was fast slipping away from me and in fact, we had 5 inches of snow in Fort Collins the second week of September when it was still SUMMER! A window of warmer weather was opening up in the state just 45 miles north of here, Wyoming, and I was determined to get out for a backpacking trip one more time.

I have long loved the Wind River Range of west central Wyoming. So a 6 hour drive across the Great Divide Basin (which is so flat!) brought me to this marvelous mountain range that I haven’t seen in over a decade. This drive was outside of my personal pandemic rules, but I peed at the side of the road, only bought gas once, and went through the Wendy’s drive thru in Rock Springs with a mask on. (In fact the only people I saw wearing masks in WY were working that Wendy’s drive-thru line.) I needed a pandemic break and one more hike before it snows for real. Wyoming accommodated because they don’t seem to have any large fires there at the moment.^ It was might mighty dry and my fingers are crossed that they make it until snow falls without a major fire.

Wind River Range, Wyoming. Dream Lake while navigating cross-country via cairn.

There are many lakes and beautiful rocky peaks in this range. It is the southern extension of the Rockies in Yellowstone and the Tetons. I hiked here over a decade ago with my sister, now brother-in-law and his brother. I remember a lot of laughing about one brother’s lack of toilet paper and some swimming. But I definitely needed to revisit this magical spot.

Emily had just said, “what lake is that?” when I took the photo below, and I realized that the lake was Bob’s Lake and that we were not supposed to see it because we were supposed to have turned off this trail 1/2 mile before. That other trail didn’t actually exist as a trail, but some cross-country navigation brought us to the right spot soon enough. An extra mile of hiking rarely hurts anyone.

Emily in the Wind River Range. The haze is from wildfires in California and Oregon.

Bear story!

I am including the image below and story because who doesn’t like some type 2 fun?* The second day we were headed for a lake to which there was no trail on the map but I’d chatted with a hiker the day before who mentioned she had camped in the vicinity of Crescent Lake. It looked like a great possibility and I wanted to find it. It turned out there was a well-used trail to the lake and it was not difficult to locate. I spend a fair amount of time while hiking looking at the trail for tracks. You can find out a lot about trail use from footprints. About 10 yards after we turned away from the river and up this unmarked trail, I saw this. And they continued for a couple hundred yards.

Absolutely, undeniably bear tracks and big ones at that. They were also somewhat new because no horses, people, or other animals had stepped on top of them. I took a deep breath and reasoned that since there were no tiny bear tracks alongside and that these were going away from where we wanted to camp, the best course was to carry on. We found a fabulous campsite and I will say that I was quite vocal at my relief that I had decided to bring the bear canister**. Knowing the Winds have a lot of high-altitude terrain with really crappy bear hang trees and that though I’m great with a bear hang, without the right trees, it is hopeless (and often with the right trees it is hopeless. Bears are SO smart when it comes to getting your food.) We cooked a long way from camp and left all the things you are supposed to in that can. I snapped it shut, patted it for luck, and went to bed.

It was mighty cold, our water froze in the tent, and there was frost on the top of that bear can in the morning, but it was right where I left it. All evening and early the next morning we heard elk bugling. It was the most wonderful thing to listen to. The next morning the trail was liberally covered with elk hoofprints. We hiked out another direction and sure enough, saw more of that same bear’s tracks now mixed with the elk prints.

I was not 100% sure our bear wasn’t a grizzly which is what made me so uneasy. There are only rare sightings of brown bears in the southern part of the Winds, but they have been seen. I researched this further later and now know exactly how to tell the difference. This print was about 7 inches long, but a grizzly bear print is significantly larger and has a flatter top where the toe prints are. This is a black bear print, though likely a fairly large one who would have been very happy to eat my food. Fortunately a black bear is less likely to want to eat me. I actually carried a bear can on all the trips I took this year. I hate the extra weight, but boy does it make me feel better to know that my food is much harder to smell and hopefully impossible to get to by all the little critters as well as bears.*** My ultralight hiking friends likely think this is crazy, but the more people are in the backcountry (and that is LOTS of people this year due to COVID), the more bear-people encounters there are. So I carry the can as much for the bears as for me.

Laughter, lakes, and love

I was so excited that Emily agreed to go with me on this three-night hike. It is always more fun to backpack with someone else and she is the best companion (which is exactly why I married her). Growing up in Mississippi, she had zero experience with backpacking or even hiking when we met. She has become a fantastic hiker, learned all the gear, and she can clearly make me laugh.

Laughing while water for dinner cooks and I turn off the InReach for the day. The blue thing next to my knee is the bear canister.

It did occur to me to pick up a blaze orange hat before this trip. Emily has a headband tied to the top of her pack in the photo below (my hat was strapped to the back of my pack when I wasn’t wearing it). I saw more guns on that trip than I’ve seen in the last decade elsewhere. Hunting season has clearly begun though I did not check which hunting season. The outfitters all had rifles and one had the biggest handgun in a holster on his chest that I have ever seen. I do not think that gun was for hunting. Still, a little blaze orange makes one feel better even if it is horrible for one’s complexion. In general I find hunters courteous to hikers and I was impressed at what good care the outfitters were clearly taking of the backcountry. These wilderness areas in the Winds are used so heavily much of the year and though we camped in two different places that were obviously used by outfitters, I saw no trash, no disgusting animal parts lying around, and surprisingly few piles of horse poop even.

Emily and me. that is vitamin I she is taking (Ibuprophen, the assistance for hikers everywhere)

Sunset at Pine Island Lake


Here is the part about weaving.

Warping the Hokett loom while looking at the map and drying the condensation off the inside of the tent fly. (Highly recommended, Nemo Dragonfly 2!)

That’s it. That is all I did. I warped it while sitting in the sun the first morning out and I never wove a thing the rest of the trip. Ah well.

That’s me in the Wind River Range, WY. ULA Circuit pack… love it!

On the last day which was a Wednesday, we only saw one outfitter team of horses and no one else. Back at the car, those are my feet. And I swear I washed them every day on trail. It was so very dusty and I wear trail runners so the dirt just sifts right on in. I had to rinse my feet off before putting those sandals on at the car .

The hiker’s feet when the weather is very very dry.

The gallery below has more images from the trip if you’re interested. Click to enlarge and hover for the stories. If you’re getting the post via email, you can click over to the blog HERE to see the captions.

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These last two images are for Linda. She gave me this scarf at a tapestry retreat a few years ago and it has reminded me that there is hope and love in the world ever since. I took it on this hike specifically to pay tribute to Linda’s courage in the face of medical obstacles and her ability to continue spreading her joy to other people in the midst of everything. Thank you Linda. (Also, it was the perfect weight to keep me warm at night when the temperature dropped below freezing.)

Flying with Linda’s scarf in the breeze over Crescent Lake, Wind River Range, WY

Hope and love at Crescent Lake, Wind River Range, WY

^A few days after we got home the Mullen fire started just north of Fort Collins in Wyoming. I spoke too soon.

*Type 2 fun is the kind that is NOT fun in the moment but makes a great story later.

**A bear canister is a hard-sided plastic or metal container that is impossible for a bear to get into. Often they are also nearly impossible for people to get into especially when it is very cold in the morning!

***Before you tell me to carry a gun, I will never carry a gun. I will consider bear spray next time I go to the Winds, however. In Colorado I don’t feel it is necessary if I am careful with my food and behave appropriately when I see a bear. There are no grizzlies in Colorado (I’ll concede some incredibly remote possibility for the San Juans for people who will argue this, but in general, no brown bears).