Wind Rivers 1997
Dickinson Park to Cirque of the Towers
Long drag up the North Fork
Monday, August 18 We knew we would like have a big day ahead of us, so no one seemed to be in the mood to catch some more zzzzz's. We were all up at first light, and took our usual 2 hours to break camp. That meant we were on the trail by 8:10 am. We headed east, in the exact opposite direction we had wanted to go. Our first little obstacle was the Smith Lake Creek crossing on the High Meadow trail. The water was pretty deep (over 2 feet) but there were nice large boulders, strategically placed by Mother Nature in a spot, that, with long legs and a good sense of balance, hopping across from boulder to boulder becomes a real option. Now Ray has exceptional balance: I have watched him do things that for me would have meant sheer folly and multiple broken bones. Susie has great balance, but let's face it: at barely 5'1", her legs simply can not span many big steps. BJ is blessed with a fear of falling (sometimes not a bad problem to have) and Barbara, having recovered from a double guillotine break of her left arm on a backpacking trip last year with several of us in Dolly Sods Wilderness, that required lots of ugly contraptions attached to pins sticking through her skin, was understandably skittish. What with day packs and long legs would be a quick hop, skip, and a jump probably required 15 minutes of handing heavy backpacks across the spans between rocks, and carefully stepping, with pushes and pulls from our buddies. Your mileage may vary.
After the crossing, it was a few miles of undulating with the terrain through forest, south along the High Meadow Trail. The hiking was pretty easy, but I knew we were just getting warmed up. There is a wonderful overlook spot of the North Fork Valley from the trail, and we all stopped and helped Kodak's profit margin. From this point, it was a simple 800 foot descent to the floor of the valley, just a tad below 9000 feet. It was 11:30, and getting close to lunch. From lunch, it would be 7 miles and two fords of the North Fork to Lizard Head Meadows. We were averaging less than 1.5 miles per hour over very easy terrain. Having just past my 50th birthday, I was secretly wondering if there had been a catastrophic loss in umph once one passes this bar. I felt like such should be no excuse, but something had to be responsible for this ass-draggin' I was experiencing.
The valley of the North Fork is pretty open, so as you skirt the edge of it on the northwest side, there are plenty of good views of distant peaks. Very serene. Sanford Park is pretty open and flat, and there plenty of spots at which to camp as you move upstream. At this point, the river meanders big time through this classically glacial-scoured valley. Elevation gain was not much, just enough to remind you that the air is thinner at 9000 feet than at sea level. About a mile and a half upstream of the junction with the High Meadow trail we arrived at our first ford. I, and the ladies used camp shoes to shield our feet. But ex-Marine Ray always does it the tough way: he pulled off his boots and socks, and stripped off his jeans, and proceeded to do the rocky ford in his bare feet and undershorts, using a tree branch to steady himself. Pretty amazing. The valley narrows and the trail gradually begins to gain elevation, as it makes its way toward Lizard Head Meadows. It was another 1.5 miles or so to the next ford. This crossing was nowhere near as rocky, and I was glad that Ray did not have to punish his feet too much. The gentle climbing continued, and I could tell I was starting to run out of go juice. It was hard to go a hundred meters without having to stop for a micro-rest. Susie seemed to be in fine shape, but Barbara and BJ were starting to drag. Ray ....., well, Ray just toughs it out, no matter how bad it is. About 4 pm, we passed a nice spot in the woods off to the left, still short a kilometer or so from Lizard Head Meadows. Since we were not sure of the camping potential at the Meadows, and with such a large fraction of our party dragging, it seemed like a nice place to stop and call it a day. I was frustrated that to make our goal required more discomfort than I was willing to endure, but sometimes, you got to admit that you have had as much fun as you can stand. It took us about a half hour to come to grips with the feeling.
Actually, the spot we had picked was pretty nice: not too heavily used, back enough in the woods to provide a bit of seclusion, a nice fire ring, and lots of nice water. We cleaned up after getting our gear out and tents up, and it was not long before we all started cooking dinner. We had managed to get through our soup and main course, a concoction I call Mexican Surprise, which is ground beef in enchilada sauce poured over chili and cheese Fritos, with Jalapeno cheese sauce as a topping. Susie exclaimed that it sure was getting dark quickly. I looked up, and she was right. We all dove into our tents just as a shower, complete with sleet and hail, hit. We cooled our heels for maybe 30 minutes in our tents, and as it lightened up and quit precipitating, we finished dessert and had a nice fire. The sunset was spectacular, as the sun finally poked underneath the cloud deck, and bathed the surrounding peaks in an orange glow. We were hopeful that this would be the last of the rain for a while.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2001