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Wind Rivers 1997
Dickinson Park to Cirque of the Towers

A short day's stroll

Sunday, August 17   It was a frosty night, and such helped to keep the bugs a bit slower this morning. Frost all over the tent and ice on our pack covers. As the sun came up, it warmed up our winged friends, but most were pretty slow this morning. Susie commented that I must have been exhausted: she had gotten up during the night for a quick commune, and I never flinched, moved, or stirred. I had to trust her: I did not remember a thing. We were packed up, and underway a bit before 9 am: it was a lovely day. Our goal was to track down our friends, whom according to the itinerary, were camped somewhere in the vicinity of Middle Lake. There is a lovely chain of lakes in this valley: Smith, Middle, Cathedral, and Upper Cathedral. It was also the ticket for our way to the next camp: we were planning to follow a cross country high route above Upper Cathedral Lake to the top of a long north/south running ridge, on which were the Lizard Head Trail. From there, we would turn south and get to Lizard Head Meadows. That was the plan, anyway. But first, we had to find Ray, BJ and Barbara. As I pulled out of the campsite, I recalled that on our other backpack this year, we had gotten separated, courtesy of the airlines and/or bad weather, and one sub-group had to do a bit of catchup.

We stopped and talked to some backpackers coming down the trail in the valley, and they reported having been stung by some yellow jackets. Great, just what I needed. I decided I would take a shot of my asthma inhaler: anything to keep the airways open. We left the trail junction at 9:15, and hiked over the rolling terrain, gradually gaining elevation to Smith Lake. As we entered the forest near the lower end of the lake around 10 am, we saw our friends' tent cluster (after you hike with folks a long time, you can recognize their Sierra Designs tents from the same SD tents of others). So, they were not at Middle Lake after all, but had stopped a mile or so short of their goal. (They would later report to us that they had been dragging too - and had decided at 6 pm last night to stop at Smith Lake, rather than go on to the appointed location. When all was said and done, they had been barely an hour ahead of us.) Of course, our friends were nowhere to be found, but we figured correctly that they were off on a day hike, checking out tomorrow's route.

We had our tent set up, and our gear dispersed within 40 minutes: you would never know we had not spent the night at this site. We took off for a day hike and headed up valley. There was a lot of poking around, and photographing, and general enjoyment of the day: cool and windy, but sunny. Susie and I stopped at the lower end of Cathedral Lake, and ate lunch while we stared up the valley, wondering whether the rest of the crew would really find a/the route up around Upper Cathedral lake, and on to the ridge. From this vantage point, it certainly was not obvious. Cathedral Lake lies just a hair below 10,000 feet. The ridge above Upper Cathedral Lake lies just a smidgeon below 11,800. A gander of the topo map suggests that while there may in fact be a route, as the Earthwalk Press map indicates, the reality is that at one point, there is a 600 foot elevation gain in about 200 - 250 meters, or a 1:1 slope. Not trivial with a backpack and lots of rock. I thought to myself: I think I know what Ray and the ladies will report back: not an option for this group. Susie and I hunkered down, enjoying the sweeping view of the cathedral-like spire at the end of the Lake. It felt good just to be here, and away from all the turmoil of the last few weeks. I knew when I got back, I would view the trip as but a brief respite, but right now, it felt pretty good.

After a long, lazy lunch, the two of us headed back down the trail. We decided it was too early to quit hiking and that we had not had enough exercise, so we hung a right, and headed on over to Cook Lake. This is not to be confused with the Cook Lakes over near Titcomb Basin, but rather just to the south of the main drag of the Cathedral Lake Valley. There seemed to be a couple of places to camp near the lake, and for those folks wanting to gain a bit more solitude in "high season," this might be a nice place to spend a couple of days. Susie and I were back in camp about 2:45 pm, and no sooner had I started working on my bath, but the rest of the crew showed up. So we needed to stop and share experiences. Ray reported that it had taken the three of them nearly 3 hours to get to the lower end of Upper Cathedral Lake from Smith Lake. Apparently, as one approaches the former, there are large boulders which make the going slow. It seemed pretty obvious that for us, it might be 6 - 8 hours of tough cross country hiking to make our way to the ridge, and while it would be a long way around, it still might be quicker to take the "easy way" (on-trail) to Lizard Head Meadows. Again, I thought, I am so glad to be out here, I don't care where I hike. After our bath - done hastily to avoid the wind gusts and the black clouds that would obliterate the sun and any residual warmth - I crawled into the tent with Susie. She read, and I took a nap until about 6 pm. We cooked dinner, sharing the respective experiences of the two parties, and built a fire and chatted about our proposed route for tomorrow: back down the trail to where Susie and I had camped last night, over a ridge, down into the valley of the North Fork (of the Popo Agie River), and then up the valley one helluva long way to Lizard Head Meadows. I thought to myself: there is no way we are going to make it all the way in one day: everyone, except Susie and Ray, seem way too beat to do 12 - 14 miles tomorrow. I figured we were two days from the Meadows, but since we were doing a sorta out and back hike, and there was little terrain we HAD to cover, why not just relax and enjoy the ride, er ..... hike. No riding here.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 2001