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Who Needs Patagonia?
Wind Rivers: Big Sandy to East Fork Valley


We left Pyramid Lake, heading up on a pathless route to the west. The day was one of those kinds that if you rotate your polarizing filter (or polarized sunglasses) just right, the sky turns a deep navy blue. After the second pond, we picked up a well defined path, and pushed toward the saddle for which we had been aiming. As we crested the saddle and looked over into the head of the east fork, it was hard not to be knocked over by the sheer spectacular view. "Wow, Susie had exclaimed. "Who needs Patagonia??!!" Indeed…….

To say that it had been a less that perfect summer in Southwest Montana was one of those classic understatements. July had been hot. Historically hot. On 28 of the 31 days, the official temperature had reached 90 or above. And on 15 of those 28, the temperature had reached 100 degrees - or above. For perspective, normal highs in Bozeman are something like low - mid 80's. Day hiking with our friends Carolyn and Scotty in early July north of Taylor Fork, we were able to determine that the bugs loved the heat in the backcountry more than we did. How surprising. The heat and dry conditions had invigorated the fire season in the northern intermountain West. Driving up to Glacier in early August (or day hiking there for several days), it was a genuine challenge to avoid smoke or serious haze from the fires burning in Idaho and western Montana. In fact, short backpacks with our friends Joe and Rachael in mid-late August were still impacted by haze from fires.

Early September brought a change in the weather, but the first week was filled with necessary personal travel to Michigan and some expert witness activities. Susie and I had discussed a Wind Rivers backpack this summer, but summer was quickly turning into fall, and we knew the snow would be flying in the high country before long. So Susie, scanning the weather reports, gave me one day to pack after being deposed in a lawsuit, with the plan being to strike while the iron was hot, and start a five day backpack out of the Big Sandy entrance on Monday morning, September 10th. I was ready. Soooo ready.

As I have been fond of saying, one of the many great things about living in Bozeman is that a one day's drive - or much less - puts one into some of the finest backpacking in North America. And the no-hassle approach of throwing you gear into the car and driving to the trailhead, in contrast to flying half way across the US with huge gear bags, and still driving for 5 - 8 hours to the trailhead - like we used to have to do when living in Knoxville - is now one of the great joys in life.

One of the rough things about heading south into Wyoming to go backpacking is that one's route may involve driving thru our Nation's first National Park. What a bummer, huh?? Being compulsive about our exercise, we opted to take a break in mid-day, and walk at a very non-touristy pace, to Morning Glory pool from Old Faithful, taking a side trip to add critical mileage, and, as my late father would have said: "To blow the stink off." It was a cloudy, breezy afternoon, and it was pretty obvious that Fall was in the air.

We pulled into Pinedale, WY in late afternoon, to an interesting situation. We had made a reservation at the Wagon Wheel Motel for the night, it being one of few places in town where one can get a decent, albeit small, room for something that is in the range of $100 a night. The oil and natural gas boom (with oil straining to $100 a barrel as I started to write this in November of 2007, and crossing $145 a barrel by mid-summer, 2007, it is not surprising that anyplace with existing crude within 15,000 feet of the surface being profitable for which to drill) has changed the face of sleepy Pinedale, and raised motel prices to something nearing city prices. At any rate, when we pulled into the parking lot, there were no other vehicles, but there was a note on the door, indicating our room key was under the door mat. The motel office was clearly closed. We decided that maybe the motel finds that after the end of tourist season, it is only cost effective to accept reservations, with no walk-ups. Anyway, several eating establishments were closed, either for Sunday or the season, but we found an adequate Mexican "family style" restaurant on the south side of the main drag thru town. I am sure that every worker had a green card. I am just sure......

Next day

To view supplemental photos of this trip, go to our TwoHikers SmugMug gallery.

© Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. McDonald, 2007, 2008, 2016