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Wind River Reservation Loop, 2016
Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:23 pm
TR: South Fork Bull Lake Creek: Loop from St. Lawrence
Aug 1-7, 2016.
The old trip report no longer shows photos (thank Photobucket for that!) so here is a revised one since a question came up recently about the route.
The route is best done at low water and post-black fly hatch, generally after the first week in August. Any driving, walking, hiking, backpacking on the Wind River Indian Reservation requires a fee permit, which is also your fishing license. Map and GPS location of trails on the Reservation are not always accurate. Best to follow the most used tread, keeping track of where you are.
Day 1: St. Lawrence Basin TH to Wilson Creek Lakes.
9.1 miles, 6.2 hours, 2,870 ft. gain
I left Lander just before 6AM, reaching St. Lawrence TH at 7:30. I parked at the end of the 2wd road and walked to the end of the 4wd road, where there is also a few small spaces for parking at the “Roadless Area” boundary. The trail is marked with a sign nailed to a tree. After a short climb the trail drops to cross St. Lawrence Creek, which can be hopped across on rocks after peak flows. I quickly climbed to “The Meadows”, filling water bottles from a small creek, and climbing to Entigo Pass. After dropping out of the wind, I took a break.
I dropped to Entigo Creek, waded across, and continued to the junction with the Heebeecheeche Trail, which is hardly noticeable, since you get on the Wilson Creek Meadow Trail without knowing it. The trail has been slightly re-routed so follow the most used path, not exactly what is shown on the map (or GPS). The creeks were exceptionally low only requiring one wading, instead of the normal three.
Shortly before reaching Enos Lake, I left the trail and aimed for Lake 10,331, the logical camp for the next day. If you want to fish and linger in Wilson Creek Lakes, there are better campsites near the outlet of Enos Lake or at Tigee Lake. I would have loved to stay here and fish, but the agenda on this trip was to find a route over Windy Ridge and quickly get into the South Fork of Bull Lake Creek. I found a nice timbered campsite on the north shores, where a little nearby stream provided good water.
Arriving at 3PM I had time for a little fishing. Having observed fish rising in a pond passed earlier, I returned, and in 15 minutes caught three fish about 12 inches. I cleaned the fish and put them in a gallon zip-lock and headed back to camp. While fishing, two tents popped up on the opposite shoreline of my site, but I never saw the occupants. After cooking dinner and taking a few photos I washed up and jumped into the tent. Getting rid of fish smells is critical as this was grizzly country. Thankfully I saw no bear sign, only that of elk.
Re: Wind River Reservation Loop, 2016
Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:28 pm
Day 2: Wilson Creek Lakes to the South Fork of Bull Lake Creek
7.6 miles, 8.2 hours, 2100 ft. gain
The 2012 Alpine Lake Fire destroyed the trail from Windy Gap to the South Fork and my goal was to see if it was passable. The first crux was getting up to Windy Ridge, a huge 11,000 to 12,000 foot grassy flat extending several miles wrapping around the cirque containing Wilson Creek Lakes, and forming the divide between the North Fork of the Little Wind River and the South Fork of Bull Lake Creek. The second crux was getting down to the South Fork of Bull Lake Creek through the burned area.
I set out at 7AM finding a distinct elk trail heading north on the edge of the willow-choked drainage. Soon the trail veered left into a smaller and steeper drainage. At about 10,700 feet elevation the elk could not agree and took different routes to the top! I picked a route that turned south and steeply ascended a ramp with several levels separated by small cliffs. As I started uphill, I was serenaded by howls, probably coyotes, but could be wolves. Where the ramps split, I took the upper ramp; not great idea as I soon saw that the elk took the lowest grassy ramp. I should have known they knew where to go! In spite of some talus hopping it was a quick trip to the top just southeast of Pt. 11,258. I contoured west into a broad flat occupied by a huge herd of elk, perhaps 50-75. The smell of elk permeated the air. They spooked when they saw me and moved east.
I took a break at a small creek, then, headed west following grassy ramps to the next ridge ending in Pt. 11,533. I then dropped slightly into another bowl of lush green grass, somewhat boggy, skirting the north edge. The next ridge was at the base of a series of rock outcrops, where I took another rest. The wind up here was steady and wore me down, even though weather was great. I would hate to be up here on a truly windy day! I contoured south of and slightly below Pt. 11,930.
From the saddle east of Pt. 11,930, one could bail off the plateau to Hatchett Lake if weather were poor. I continued another two miles on the plateau, and dropped to Windy Gap, where I hid behind a rock out of the fierce wind. I was drained by the ever present headwind. The wind subsided as I dropped the thousand feet on a faint, sparsely-marked trail to a bench at 10,500 feet. Previously timbered, now burned, the bench contained a small creek and two small lakes, if camping was needed. The scene was eerie; lush green grass and totally burned trees with their black trunks and bleached white branches. Surprisingly, not many trunks had fallen so deadfall was minimal. Rock cairns guided my way; but where blazes had previously marked the route, I lost the trail as it disappeared in a mix of ash and blackened sand.
I lost the trail and made one small angle error and ended up on the edge of a cliff with steep slabs below. I headed down zig-zagging on significantly steep rock. This is NOT a recommended route with its exposed class 3 sections. But it did get me down quickly and cut out nearly half a mile of walking through deadfall. I later learned that the better route was to traverse to the far south edge of the bench and drop down a gully. Having missed the trail shown on the map, I still do not know its condition. There was a trace of the old trail but too much deadfall, so I stayed on high grass near the South Fork. In wetter summers this route would be swampy; even in this dry year it was nasty. I finally picked up the trail above the creek. It ascended slightly, over a timbered hill and then dropped through a timbered band ending between long meadows at 9,400, one to the north and one to the south. It started to rain.
I quickly set up my tent in timber. Other tents, with the occupants gone, were around the bend, but by the time I figured that out, I was not going to move. When the rain stopped I took a bath, washed clothes. I went back to camp and set up my fishing rod returning to the creek, which was at historically low levels. I quickly caught three nice fish in the 10-12 inch range. The trick was to cast once in each pool; the biggest fish usually hits first.
As I cooked the fish the other group returned. It was a family of eight, grandparents, parents, kids, and three big dogs! How in the world did they get here! I talked with them briefly; they came down the “gully route”, a locally known detour of the burned area. After dinner I checked this out and yes, it is the preferred route. On Google Earth® this obviously debris flow looked very unstable. Upon inspection it was fully vegetated.
Re: Wind River Reservation Loop, 2016
Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:32 pm
Day 3: SF of Bull Lake Creek at 9,450 to “Headwater Lakes”
5.8 miles, 6.2 hours, 1,140 ft. gain
This was to be an easy day leaving sufficient time to fully explore the “Headwater Lakes”, a group of lakes located on a bench east of Milky Ridge. “Easy” would depend on the condition of the South Fork Trail which I had not walked since the 1970’s! With the unusually low water, crossing is one problem I would not have to worry about.
I awoke to light rain. By the time breakfast was finished it was clearing. I simply walked up the edge of the long meadow and found the distinct trail at the south (upstream) end. I reached the first crossing less than an hour after leaving camp. A cairn on the other side of the creek marked the crossing. I was curious if one could simply stay on the east side which would be required in higher water years. Indeed, you can, but you have to fight a bit of deadfall and the trail goes missing in spots. It likely would be easier to wade across to the main trail, if possible.
At 9:40 I came to a cairn that marked a second crossing, mistaking it for the trail junction about half a mile upstream. I waded across. Thinking I was on the trail that turns an acute angle heading northwest to the “Headwater Lakes”, I started walking the good trail that direction, only to realize it was the main trail I had not taken from the lower crossing. I turned around. Instead of re-crossing, decided to just head uphill to intersect the proper trail to the “Headwater Lakes”. Not quite so easy, as my short-cut was steep and difficult to navigate. The “real trail”, not maintained in decades, comes and goes, so finding it is not a done deal! While floundering in the forest, I ran across a low log structure. Well, I was not the first person here! It looked recent, not historical.
Finally on the trail, I quickly reached the “pass” where there was a small lake. The sky was blue with puffy little clouds, although very windy. I was so happy to get good photos since the last time I was here it was overcast and photos were dismal. I followed a faint trail to “Headwaters Lake #4” and traversed the boggy north shore. An obscure cairn hid in timber marked the trail through a small saddle to the north. I followed this trail which then dropped to “Headwaters Lake #2”. I passed several plush campsites in timber on slopes along the north shores. Although tempting, it was too early to stop to camp. Hopping rocks across the outlet I spotted small fish.
I wandered up to the next higher lake, through an old burned area, to Headwaters Lake 10,387, and circled this lake. Although there were sufficient campsites, the shallow water was murky and full of algae. At the inlet to the next small lake downstream, “Headwaters Lake #3”, I spotted a big fish! This would be it. I worked my way to the outlet and found a marginal campsite at 1PM.
The fish were going nowhere. I needed to check out conditions downstream of Lake #2. I descended the west bank, threw a few flies into “Headwaters Lake #1”, which only had small fish, and returned on the east bank, never seeing the “trail” shown on the map. I fished the north shore of “Headwaters Lake #2”, the stiff on shore wind only throwing the fly back at me. I gave up and returned to my little lake which was amazingly protected from the wind. I fished while the wind roared overhead like a freight-train!
One big fish broke my line and ran off with my fly. The second, I nearly landed but he got away and spit out my fly. Third time was the charm. Got this one and held him tightly, strung him in a nearby pool, as I took a bath and washed clothes. As much as I like catching big fish, I really did not have appropriate cook gear. I had to cut this fellow in half. By 7PM early shadows quickly dropped the temperature so I retreated to the tent to listen to music. All in all, a very good day!
Re: Wind River Reservation Loop, 2016
Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:40 pm
Day 4: “Headwater Lakes” to Lake Kagavah
8.3 miles, 8 hours, 2,660 ft. gain
I debated staying another day in the South Fork to check out “Secret Lakes” which I had fished in 2007. I decided it was more important to get over the Divide while weather was good. To return to the North Fork of the Little Wind River, I would travel south over Photo Pass. From there I chose to go over Kagavah Pass which drops to Kagavah Lake, where I had never camped before.
The morning dawned cold, with frost on the grass adjacent to the lake. I dropped back to “Headwaters Lake #2”, crossed the outlet, and this time, walked directly up the drainage to Lake 10,563. It took an hour. This delightful route would be very soggy early season, which is probably why the trail avoids this lovely drainage. I spotted more fish as I crossed the inlet of Lake #2 and continued upstream to the two inlets of “Headwaters Lake #4”. After crossing a bit of talus, a grassy valley leads to the outlet of Lake 10,563. I hopped across the huge boulders, noticing how low the water was. I took some photos, backtracked downstream a short distance and traversed to the trail I had used on Day 3.
I reversing the route I took going up the trail, to the point where I had intersected it from my ill-advised “short-cut”. Soon the trail went missing. After flailing around about 15 minutes, trying to find the trail, I gave up and simply headed downhill, bushwhacking. I came out at a spot where getting to the South Fork would be difficult. So I continued uphill in a small drainage west of the South Fork. Just below a small lake I cut east to intersect the South Fork.
As I walked upstream I found a spot I could hop across on rocks, just below the long upper pond. I was surprised to see a nice fish this far up the South Fork. The grassy banks were dry with a huge dirt path of elk tracks. I walked along these upper ponds until boggy conditions forced me to return to the trail, which is marked by large but sparsely spaced rock cairns.
After a rest and snack, I started up Photo Pass, 2,000 feet of miserable loose, exceedingly steep talus. The trail becomes easier as you ascend. Without a break, I steadily put one foot in front of the other, stabbing my trekking poles in the steep slope to keep from sliding back, and was on the top in an hour. When snow covered an ice axe is needed.
Descending the north side, trails are essentially gone but travel is easy. I circled around the south shores of Bewmark Lake, sat on a flat rock and ate lunch, soaking my feet in the icy water. Kagavah Pass returns to the Reservation. The trail is damaged by rock fall and no longer suitable for horses, but is fine to backpack. The east side starts out vague but after a short drop, cairns mark the trail. Within 45 minutes, reached Kagavah Lake and found an established campsite in scrub timber.
Late in the afternoon I dropped to the unnamed lake to the north. Fish were jumping but all out of range of my feeble cast. An onshore wind and brush along the shoreline complicated matters. I returned to Kagavah Lake where I also was skunked. This was the first meal with no fish; however I did “catch” some great evening photographs!
Re: Wind River Reservation Loop, 2016
Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:46 pm
Day 5: Lake Kagavah to the “Glacier Creek Lakes”
8.0 miles, 6.3 hours, 1,310 ft. gain
I spent half an hour photographing the amazing sunrise.
I dropped down the well-marked trail to the creek flowing from Lake 10,209. A cairn marks an upstream crossing requiring a big leap on rocks. The trail continues downstream where you must wade. Soon I intersected a big trail that drops to Sonnicant Lake. I was able to jump across the outlet at a pinch point, only due to the low water. Two years earlier, in higher water, the rock I landed on was covered so I had to wade downstream.
Once across I walked through a HUGE established campsite area north of the outlet. Surprisingly, nobody was there. This is one of the most popular “basecamps” on the Reservation. It is also notorious for blackflies, the hatch now subdued. I did not stop but continued towards Lake Heebeecheeche. Finding this trail was a bit tricky. Like most trails on the Reservation, it is not maintained and I really had to pay attention. Descending to the outlet of Lake Heebeecheeche I again lost the trail. I spotted several small fish but the black flies were too annoying to stop.
I had never walked the south side of the lake and found a good fisherman’s trail. Along this trail I saw several nice established campgrounds as well as bigger fish as I neared the inlet. I waded across the inlet and found another game trail to the upper lakes. It ended up something a deer would prefer to a human! I was forced to drop steeply and cross the creek from Lake 10,643 and continue the ascent on the south side. Lake 10,643 coincidently is the same elevation as Spider Lake, which I had fished on previous trips.
I ascended a grassy hill and dropped to the shores of the main lake and started fishing at noon. Just as I reached into the fly container, a gust of wind blew the flies into the air! I scrambled to retrieve what I could. Attaching my last “mosquito” I immediately caught a large fish. Just as I had him near shore he broke my line and ran off with this fly. So I next attached a black-fly looking thing. Again, just as I had my hand on the fish he wiggled loose, broke my line and ran off with the fly. By now my leader was down to a thick 4-foot stub (guess who forgot to bring extra leader). I attached a “trash fly”, some “yellow thingy” with half the hairs missing. I did not want to lose another good fly. Caught another fish but this time he simply spit it out.
I gave up, packed up and continued north to the next large lake, where a bit of interesting rock scrambling is needed to reach the lake. I crossed the outlet. Four years ago I saw many fish at the outlet; this time there were none. It took an inordinate amount of time to find a campsite, eventually setting up in a tight spot nestled in scrub timber. I returned to the lake to fill water bottles and take a bath. As I sunk into the icy cold water a curious fish swam by. I quickly dressed and spent an hour fishing the outlet area with no luck. The very inappropriate yellow “trash” fly was still on my line.
It was 4PM. I became obsessed and did not even go back to camp to bring a jacket! Off I went. I decided to walk to the inlet, farther than it appeared. One side of the lake was all talus, the other longer and cliffy with long hidden inlets. I chose the talus, thinking I would quickly catch a fish and return. The talus became larger and trickier forcing me farther from the shoreline. Soon there were spider webs. Soon every path I could take had a web with a big hairy spider! I hate spiders! Talus went from suitcase size to washing machine size to nearly car size. After an hour, talus ended at a small bay near the inlet.
One cast and the big fish struck! My rod bent, I threw it down, and brought in the fish hand over hand. Luckily, he swam into a little rock jail. I shot my hand down and grabbed his gills cutting my finger; not sure if it was my blood or the fish’s. It is amazing how strong a fish can be! Although the fish looked like a golden, later when showing the photo to a fishery biologist, it was identified as a Yellowstone Cutthroat. I felt guilty about eating this old fish, but the biologist assured me it was fine for this fishery.
I took a photo and then wondered how I was going to get this fish to camp. I decided to clean the fish and cut it into pieces. Technically this is not legal as you are supposed to transport the fish with head and tail. Oh well. I filled the gallon zip-lock with water and off I went taking nearly an hour to get back to camp continuing on the cliffy side of the lake, just as big black clouds produced a few drops of rain. Just as I thought I could not go another inch, I encountered a unseen arm where I had to again climb a cliff and go around. I was exhausted by the time I returned to camp. I steamed the fish chunks for 15 minutes and at the whole thing!
Still in grizzly country, I returned to the lake to wash up, set my glasses on the rocks and stepped on them. How stupid. Now I had no glasses and could not read a map. No matter, I forgot the map I would need the next day anyway. Good thing I know this country well! On top of this, I also lost one handle to my cooking pot. Good day fishing; bad day destroying gear.
Re: Wind River Reservation Loop, 2016
Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:51 pm
Day 6: Glacier Creek Lakes to “The Meadows”
10.0 miles, 7.4 hours, 1,800 ft. gain
After an early start and breakfast I spent half an hour photographing the sunrise. I descended on the same route I took the previous day. Although I would have preferred to check out another route, I could not afford to get stuck and waste time as food was running low. Game trails continued past a lower unnamed lake full of smaller fish. I hopped across the outlet of Lake 10,456 on rocks and enjoyed the reflections in the glassy water. Fish were rising. I had fished this lake in 2007 and caught fish smaller pan-sized fish. I actually had more fun catching the small fish in the outlet stream.
Several game trails run high above the north shores of Lake Heebeecheeche, gradually descending to the outlet, where I was swarmed by blackflies. Although scenic, and with many established campsites, this is not a good place to camp. I waded across and quickly got out of there!
Although I was now on the “Heebeecheeche Trail”, the portion that actually goes to Lake Heebeecheeche from the trail junction to Sonnicant Lake has been abandoned due to deadfall. The maintained trail now starts at Sonnicant Lake. It is still one of the better trails on the Reservation even though the tribal outfitter who had previously cleared the trail has retired. As of 2016 nobody had taken over his business.
At first I had difficulty finding the abandoned trail. It became distinct as it neared woodsy Lake 10,235 soon to be covered with deadfall and highly eroded. I crossed between this lake and a smaller unnamed upper lake and ascended about 100 feet to a saddle. The descending trail was in horrible condition and I lost it several times until reaching a meadow with ponds. Had I not been here before, I would not likely have known I was on a trail. I walked the edge of the meadow to the main trail, where there is a large but easy-to-miss cairn marking the trail junction. Two years ago the continuing trail was maintained; it now had about a dozen trees blocking it, albit with good detours.
On Google Earth® a large liner trend line, full of narrow lakes, runs from these lakes southwest to the north end of Sonnicant Lake. I have always been intrigued about this potential route. I stashed my pack at Lake 10,155 and hiked northwest to a slot with two small ponds. Plenty of tracks showed that the deer used this route, but it may be too brushy for backpackers. I called the small ponds in this slot, “Slot Lakes”.
The main trail continues to traverse a timber hillside between 10,000 and 10,200 to a saddle south of Wilson Creek. After passing Wolf Creek, I heard crashing and pulled out the bear spray, just in case. Luckily, only elk were causing the ruckus. A steep drop ends at Lake 9,925 on Wilson Creek.
After short climb the “Heebeecheeche Trail” intersects the Wilson Creek Lakes Trail, at a fallen log. At Entigo Creek I ran into people, the first I had seen since the family several days ago. I chugged up Entigo Pass and dropped down to “The Meadows”. Although there was plenty of daylight to walk out, my left knee had a serious discussion with me (the last three miles is all downhill). I found an established campsite, unfortunately quite trashy. I was treated to a sublime pink sunset while I threw extra almonds to a happy little chipmunk.
Day 7: “The Meadows” to St. Lawrence TH
3.0 miles, 1.5 hours
It was a quick hike back to my car. Several tribal families were camping in the Basin. (Note that not acknowledging your presence is culturally normal, so do not take it personally.) The drive down the St. Lawrence Road was about as challenging as the hike! There is a section of very rough and rutty one lane road with a big cliff to fall off. This was another good trip, perfect weather, goals accomplished, and good fishing too.
Re: Wind River Reservation Loop, 2016
Posted: Fri Mar 29, 2019 2:32 pm
Thanks for re posting... I went back and looked at the older version and was toggling back and forth from photo bucket and this is a lot easier!
I kind of really like this area..this is very helpful. The only wrinkle is we are thinking this and extending the loop. to include Milky Lakes, going cross country from the lakes below Photo Pass to connect to Milky and then down and around to Middle fork of Bull Lake Creek. Got a few more days than you did on your trip here. (11). Still inspecting the burn area to see that it is viable. From your post looks like the burn affected Windy Gap down to the creek below, but not a disaster.