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2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 9:22 am
by Wandering Daisy
2020 WR(4) Bear Basin (cut short) and Big Sandy Loop
8/13 – 8/21

Back in Lander after my third trip, I felt great! My feet were back to normal and I was looking forward to getting to higher altitudes, off -trail and into the more difficult northern part of the Wind River Range. In addition I would have companions on these last two trips. Being one day late off of the 3rd trip, I only had one day in town.

My next trip had two options; staying in Bear Basin for more fishing, or quickly through Bear Basin and exiting via Baker Lake and Slide Creek. I was pretty set on the latter until I talked to a friend who was a fishing guide, and he highly recommended staying in Bear Basin to fish. He had just been there last year and told me that, although a bit hard to catch, there were Golden in Native Lake and supposedly big Rainbows in Bear Lake, in addition to fish in Crescent Lakes and perhaps Daphne Lake. On the other hand I REALLY wanted to exit the Slide Creek route because it was just so wild. It too had fish in Lower Golden Lake and Slide Lake.

Either way we would go in the old Roaring Fork Trail, which was in poor condition a few years ago, but according to internet reports, cleared of most deadfall in the last few years. This trail is actually the easiest route into Bear Basin; I had only taken the harder routes- Clear Creek and Mill Creek/Osborn Mountain, both more scenic routes although significantly difficult off-trail routes. I really needed to check out this trail.

Steve, my friend from Bozeman preferred the more leisurely choice; staying in Bear Basin, and coming out Osborn Mountain. Given that this would be his first trip of the season, I conceded that his choice was a better idea. We could do a day-hike to Baker Lake or a very remote hidden valley on the east side north of Bears Tooth. Bear Basin has lots of little nooks and crannies to explore too!
Well, things did not go as planned. The rest of the story is below.

PART 1: Bear Basin, not quite!
GRL-Roaring Fork.JPG
Day 0. Drive to Green River Lakes TH and Campground

After one night in Lander, I drove to Green River Lakes the next day arriving early afternoon. I picked up some frozen food in Pinedale and tried to get into the library to add Steve as a contact to my In-Reach and get some weather information on the internet. I had to sign in for COVID tracking purposes but was not allowed to access my In-Reach account. Next I went to the FS office and they were closed to the public. A staff person was in the parking lot to answer questions; no recent bear activity at Green River Lakes. I continued up the road, and was pleasantly surprised that the Green River Lakes Road was in better condition than I had ever seen it; must have been recently graded. However, all the dispersed campsites along the Green River were taken and arriving at 1 PM, I snagged the last campsite at the Green River Lakes Campground. Steve arrived at 5:30 and we caught up on news while eating supper. I was not sure when he would arrive; in retrospect I should have gone fishing!
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Day 1: GRL TH to Alexander Park. 8 miles, 1630 feet gain, 6 hours.

The TH parking lot was full so we parked in the horse trailer parking lot. We walked down the hill, crossed the bridge at the outlet of Green River Lakes and took a left to follow the Continental Divide Trail five miles to the Roaring Fork Bridge. There was little shade and it was hot, as we gradually gained elevation then steeply up to a saddle with spring fed muddy lakes. The trail was boggy in places as we descended through a sadly burned forest. We took a long rest stop and filled up with water and found the CDT-Roaring Fork trail junction. The CDT emblem was tacked to a tree going west.

The Roaring Fork Trail was blocked off with tree branches. Deadfall had been cut with chain saws; perhaps a few years ago. The trail pretty much followed what is shown on the map, gaining 1,600 feet the three miles to the lower end of Alexander Park. The forest was in poor condition, dry and a lot of dead trees evidently due to bark beetle kill, but the meadows (called “parks” were lush). It was very hot! Roaring Fork canyon has 1,000 foot dark rock cliffs north and south and holds the heat.

At Alexander Park the trail crossed the Roaring Fork as shown but stays on the south side about a quarter mile, longer than shown. Made sense since the “park” was easy travel whereas the other side was full of deadfall and rocks. Alexander Park was lush! After wading across we walked through tall grass, head-high willows, and white pebble braided dry channels. There are a few established horse camps but we chose a nice grassy bank near the creek on the east end. There were no mosquitoes and no black flies. For the first time this summer I could sit out and enjoy myself. I saw no fish in the creek and looked pretty lacking in food for fish.

After setting up I bathed, gathered water, and walked around. It is a place where you would expect to see a moose. There were tons of deer tracks. Lake 10355 sits up in a bowl 900 feet above, on the north slope of Osborn Mountain, with a nice waterfall descending rock cliffs. It looked like it would be very hard to reach. We sat in the shade and visited instead. The wind picked up so we moved into the timber to cook dinner and went to our respective tents by 7PM.
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Day 2: Alexander Park to Upper Crescent Lake. 4 miles, 1,800 feet gain, 5.5 hours plus and hour fishing.

We awoke to frost in the meadow! The sun quickly warmed things up as I spent about half an hour photographing. Once packed up and on the trail, within 10 minutes we had to wade across Roaring Fork. The continuing trail became less distinct as it meandered through several swamps. Often there were confusing splits. After a mile we waded across the Roaring Fork, which was rocky and swift- a significant crossing. An established campsite was on the other side in a small clearing. I hunted for the continuing trail, and found it (or I thought I found it). The real trail was hidden and I failed to find that! My “trail” continued up the Roaring Fork another half mile. The trail shown on the map, now unusable, went to Native Lake. The “new” trail has been re-routed, so neither it nor my “trail” is on the map (or on the GPS). I knew the re-routed trail came down from the outlet of Crescent Lake, but did not know where it took off from Roaring Fork Canyon. Considering the use on my wrong trail, I had not been the only one making this mistake.
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About another mile upstream the trail ended, but a game trail turned sharply south to a saddle quarter mile southeast of Pt. 10230. I looked over the edge and was aghast to see that we were on the wrong ridge! The trail was in plain sight but an impossible steep rubble gully 400 feet deep was between us and the trail. We decided to take a direct route, a scramble up 200 feet of talus and 3rd class rock to reach a ramp that then contoured to Upper Crescent Lake. Mileage wise our route was quite efficient; terrain wise, not so.

We camped on a knoll on the northwest side above the lake, next to some huge rocks that would provide wind shelter for cooking. After camp chores and a bath, I went fishing. I had caught a big fish here two years earlier; this time I caught three very fat, 12-inch cutthroat trout. Steve took a nap; he was not feeling great. After dinner I walked down to Crescent Lake and took some pictures. I was pretty lazy myself.
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 9:28 am
by Wandering Daisy
more photos from Day 2
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1501-2_Crescent lake_edited-2.jpg

Day 3: Upper Crescent Lake to GRL trailhead. 11.3 miles, 430 feet gain, 7 hours.

I awoke to frost. Steve hardly slept all night and awoke sick with a headache, cold-like symptoms and nausea. Being an ER doctor, he well knew COVID19 symptoms. The headache was of a kind he had never had before. He decided to walk out, drive back to Bozeman and get tested at his hospital. He said I could continue. He had his In-Reach in case of problems.
This presented a problem for me. Logically, we figured less than 50/50 he actually had COVID and that likely he could be fine walking out by himself. If he had not had the In-Reach, there would be no question that I would walk out with him. And he could message me the results of the test in two days. Tempted as I was to stay, I simply could not let him walk out alone, so we both packed up. Additionally, if he did test positive, Bear Basin was the last place I wanted to be if I got sick too.
1508_Crescent Lake_edited-1.jpg
Going out we found the “real trail” and it was a huge, traveled by horses. When we reached the small clearing at the crossing of Roaring Fork, this sneaky trail was hidden in bushes and on the opposite side of the clearing where I found my “trail”. I was tempted to build a cairn, but am opposed to such. It was a long slog back. This time we stayed on the north side of the creek through Alexander Park; now I see why it crosses! We met several people on our way out.

We said good-by at the parking lot and I drove down the road until I found a dispersed campsite on the Green River, right at the confluence of Roaring Fork. I was beat, otherwise I would have fished. I took a bath in the river, being annoyed by little bugs, ate from my car-camping food, had a beer and retreated to the tent. As I was eating several fellows walked by up on the road- they looked like CDT hikers. I put in ear plugs since the road was quite busy.
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I decided that I would salvage the last part of my trip going in Big Sandy. This was a very well used trail and if I got sick there would be plenty of help. I would stay on trails until I heard from Steve. If his test was negative I would then go off-trail. I already had a schedule and map packet for a loop to Temple and Black Joe Lakes.

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:01 am
by rlown
Nice pics and nice trout!

So, I'm guessing the test was negative?

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:13 am
by Wandering Daisy
PART 2: Big Sandy Loop

Big Sandy Loop.JPG

Day 4: Big Sandy TH to Deep Lake. 8 miles, 1,450 gain, 5.5 hours, plus 5 hour drive.

I drove to Pinedale where I stopped in the FS parking lot to call my husband. Then I forgot where I had hidden my cell phone! I ended up taking nearly everything out of my car while hunting. I had already gone through my map box, but did it again and noticed one map packet was heavy; inside was my cell phone. This is the second time this year I hid my cell phone and then forgot where I had. At least I remember where I hid my cash. There was a waste of an hour.

I nibbled as I continued to drive. The paved road ended but was a treated dirt road, which was quite good. Then I turned to go into Big Sandy. I ran into road construction. The 24 miles to Big Sandy became worse and worse. Must say this road nearly is as bad as the St. Lawrence Road. As I reached the trailhead, there were cars parked along the road on both sides, and everywhere! It was a zoo. I think there were well over 100 cars. As I usually do, I first check if there is a parking spot in the regular parking lot; lucky me- there was! I ate a quick lunch and put on my pack, which I had not even unpacked. Later I realized I forgot to take out one day’s food since I had been using my car camping food.

The trail was packed and I quit counting. Most were day hikers, stopping at Big Sandy Lake, or continuing to Cirque of the Towers. Once I got on the trail to Temple Lake, I ran into only two groups. Clouds built as I passed by Clear Lake and continued on granite slabs to Deep Lake. There are so many alternate routes now that the trail is long forgotten. Basically, no trail is needed.
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I reached the outlet of Deep Lake just as it started to spit rain. I found a good campsite across the now dry outlet, with a few trees for protection. The ground was a bit lumpy. As I was setting up the tent a young couple who were day-hiking came by and started to fish. I noticed that the fellow caught a fish! So I quickly gathered water and started fishing. It was quite late, but I did catch one 9-inch fish to add to supper. It stormed off and on until dark and the setting sun and storm lighting made for some great photos.
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:18 am
by Wandering Daisy
Day 5: Deep Lake to Miller Lake. 1.5 miles, 270 feet gain, 1 hour, plus 3 miles and 3 hours fishing.

It was a short jaunt to Temple Lake. The wind was picking up and sites on the shore were either too close to be legal or very exposed. I dropped to the next set of lakes, Miller Lakes, and found a nice flat grassy site out of the wind at the upper smaller lake. I set up and tried fishing the nearby ponds and lakes. I had initially thought I was at Rapid Lake, but after setting up I finally looked at the map and Rapid Lake was another mile downstream. Oh, well, this will do. Later in the trip I would visit Rapid Lake and it was not that great of a lake so my “mistake” was actually good.
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The fish were very small and I purposely pulled back my fly when I saw them. I ate an early lunch and then walked to the southeast end of Temple Lake fishing along the way. There were packs on a rock at the very end; they must have been day-hiking. I caught one fish at the far end, then two more mid- shore in a small bay. Weather became threatening, so I went back to camp, cleaned the fish, and put them in my cookpot under water in the lake. I then took a bath and relaxed a bit. About 4PM I went up to Temple Lake again and caught two more. The fish were delicious!
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After dinner and some rain, the lighting looked good for photos, so I went back up. At a pond below the outlet of Temple Lake I met a woman and we had a nice chat while her husband fished. They too were from Bozeman but did not know Steve. As darkness fell, I returned to camp. It was a relaxed but fun day.
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:26 am
by Wandering Daisy
Day 6: Miller Lake to Black Joe Lake #1 (Little Black Joe), 5 miles, 920 gain, 4 hours, plus 3 miles and 4 hours of day-hiking and fishing.

Steve messaged me that his test was negative. He apparently picked up some bug from bad food on his drive to Green River Lakes. I now could safely continue on my route to the more remote inlet of Black Joe Lake. I returned to Clear Lake and took a use-trail over the ridge to the north to reach the outlet of Black Joe Lake. There now is a defunct dam at the outlet that I climbed across before ascending short class 3 cliff and over the 250-foot buttress at the outlet. The use-trail becomes more distinct every year as this is part of Skurka’s “high route”. I reached the inlet early afternoon and set up on the shores of the lake above Black Joe, often called “Little Black Joe”. I fished around it with no luck; I am not sure there are any fish in it.
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Back in camp I spotted a slope that would likely lead to a break in the cliffs above which is a hidden valley below Haystack Mountain. I ascended the slope, traversed north along the base of the cliff and found an easy slab that broke out onto a grassy slot that continued south to the East Temple Lake. I went far enough for a view and then returned before a brief storm. Afternoon lighting was not good, so I would go up there again the next morning for photographs. I fished Black Joe again, with no luck. The wind was fierce and the lake had white caps. I finally gave up, cooked dinner and went into the tent to listen to music.
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Day 7: Black Joe Lake #1 to Clear Lake outlet. 2.7 miles, 330 gain, 1.8 hours plus 4.2 miles/5 hours day-hikes and fishing

I again day-hiked to East Temple Lakes; the morning light was perfect. I enjoy finding hidden features like this little valley. I walked down the valley on the way back, before up and down the slab that was the key to the route.
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Back in camp, I packed up and headed back along the north shores of Black Joe Lake. The water was calmer so I stopped to fish and caught a nice cutthroat trout. I cleaned it, put it in a plastic bag wrapped in a wet wipe and set it in the bear can so it would not leak. I met a day-hiker at the outlet of Black Joe Lake. I then decided to go back via Clear Lake and camp at the outlet rather than drop down to Big Sandy Creek.
1608_Black Joe Fish_edited-1.jpg

I now could day-hike off-trail to Rapid Lake and fish there. At this point smoke started to seep in. I thought it could be from a local fire, but later found out it was from the California fires. Not sure why but Rapid Lake seemed creepy, dead trees, over-used horse camps, bear signs, and Scheister Peak broken and somewhat ugly rock with abundant dark talus down to the lake. I fished for a short time with no luck and then returned to Clear Lake.

I fished the south shore of Clear Lake with little luck. There were people already fishing from the rocks that jutted out from the north shore. When they left, I went over there and fished and caught two nice brookies to supplement my cutthroat caught in Black Joe Lake. Hauling the fish back to camp and ran into a young couple who had set up quite near to me. Again, I think they did not see my tent- it is hard to see! They stayed put and were very considerate and quiet. I cooked my fish and finished dinner just in time for a brief shower. With little else to do I went into the tent and listened to music.
1609_Clear Lake fish_edited-1.jpg

Day 8: Clear Lake to Big Sandy TH. 6.7 miles, downhill, 4.3 hours

Once I reached the trail junction to Cirque of the Towers, the trail filled with people. Many were also camped along the shores of Big Sandy Lake. Lower down, most were coming in. When I reached the parking lot, several cars were waiting for me to leave my prized spot.

Driving out I could barely get down the road for all the cars parked on either side. Going was rough and slow until I reached the “Lander Cutoff”, a dirt road that has been sealed to keep down dust where I could make better time. When I reached the cell towers at the Atlantic City (historic site) turn-off I called my husband and reached the friend from Sacramento who was meeting me for the next trip. She left early due to the smoke and was in Salt Lake City having lunch. It would be another quick turn-around in town!

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:36 pm
by wildhiker
Thanks for another great trip report. Some dramatic peaks around Deep Lake!

I know your frustration in not finding your "hidden" cell phone! This aging process comes with a lot of short-term memory loss. Before we left on a long trip to Europe a couple years ago, I decided that I should "hide" my computer external backup disk in case we were burglarized. If they took my computer, I would at least have the backup. Well, when I got back, I couldn't find the backup disk! I thought I had hidden it in a filing cabinet, but didn't find it. Never found it. Bought another backup disk. Then, about one year later, while looking through some random files, there it was!


Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:55 am
by Wandering Daisy
A footnote.

Just after Labor Day a severe storm in the Wind Rivers did a lot of damage. The Big Sandy Trail, along with Scab Creek Trail, trail from Elkhart Park and Green River Lakes trail now have over 200 downed trees and there were several rescues conducted. It is hard to say what other trails have been impacted. There are so many standing dead trees in the +/- 9000-foot elevation band that I fear many more trails were severely damaged.

My friend Steve, went back to the mountains after he recovered from his illness and got caught in the storm. He said it was the worst weather he ever had in the Wind Rivers and was very frightening, as trees crashed down, lighting struck very close-by and then a blizzard with nearly a foot of new snow. He also was caught in an early season storm this year. He has not had very good luck so far this year!

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2020 10:33 am
by oddtiger
Thanks for another trip report! We backpacked with our little kids out of Big Sandy 08/12-08/15, and that parking lot was really a zoo! After reading a few of your TRs, we have got some ideas for next year's trip to the Winds.

Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Bear Basin cut short and Big Sandy loop

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:06 pm
by windknot
Thanks for the report! It's fun to see new (to me) areas and fish -- I like the color variation among the cutts from different lakes.