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Wind Rivers 1997
Dickinson Park to Cirque of the Towers

Out ... but still glad to be here

Friday, August 22 This turned out to be our last day under pack, even though we had not planned it that way: more changes in the itinerary. We were underway by 9 am, and headed back down to the North Fork trail. Admittedly, I was getting a little tired of hiking in the woods. If I wanted woods, I would take my vacations in the Smokies. Trips that I plan tend to focus on the destination for each day, mainly because one spends more time in camp than anywhere else. I love to be in the sub-alpine zone, and try to avoid as much woods hiking as possible. In contrast, Ray, who had planned this trip, likes to think about what he will see while he is hiking, even if it is just on spur hikes, or layover days. The particular aspects of where he camps, as long as it has good water, are of less interest, since he can cover so much terrain. Just a difference in focus. And frankly, I was just so happy to be here that it did not matter all that much to me. There are probably less "woodsy" ways to get to the Cirque of the Towers from an eastern approach. Based on our previous hikes in the area, I would probably vote for doing an open-ended loop, starting at Dickinson Park, leaving a car near the Worthen Meadow Reservoir and hiking out through the Deep Creek Lakes and Stough Creek Lakes Basin, if time permits. The latter Susie claims is one of the best, if not THE best, high lakes basin she has seen. For someone with her experience, that is saying something.

Anyway, we dropped down to the North Fork Trail, did our ford of the North Fork, and headed down the North Fork Trail with ease (since it was nearly flat, and tilted slightly downhill). Two miles of hiking gets you to the northern end of Sanford Park, and the first big ford of the North Fork. By this time, there have been plenty of inlet creeks feeding it, and the North Fork no longer feels like a creek itself. That said, as long as the water is not too high, the crossing is straightforward. On me, it was less than knee deep, and the water was flowing quite gently. Susie had to pay attention to make sure that her pack did not get dipped too deeply in the water. Another mile and a quarter brought us to the next (and last for us) ford of the river. This one was a bit deeper, but the flow was not too bad. You just had to be careful. We had just crossed, when we encountered a horse party heading up river. I am always amazed at how much gear a lot of folks feel like they need out here. I have never been able to figure out why, if you want to let a horse carry your stuff, why you don't just pack a backpack and lash it to the animal. I guess that some horse packers just have a hard time adjusting to the concept of lightweight gear. Why use a an MSR Whisperlight when a two burner Coleman campstove will do? To me, it is about enjoying the wilderness while minimizing impact.

After the second big ford, the day started to get quite warm. I recall that as we lost elevation heading down valley, the vegetation seemed to get less mountain-like. But no matter. Before long, it was time to head back uphill. Our goal for the day was to get to a small pond near the 8991 foot Benchmark on the North Fork Trail coming down from Dickinson Park. As we climbed the bench, we could all feel the impact of the sun beating down on the south facing slope. We were all getting pretty wilted. After about 450 feet of climbing, we came to the spot where the meadow and the pond were supposed to be, according to the map. I thrashed through the high vegetation, and it became increasingly clear that while the map showed flat areas and not marsh, there was little space to erect a tent. I think that such a finding suited BJ quite fine: she was into her horse-heading-for-the-barn mode. We all made a collective decision to hike all the way out and try to find a spot at the Forest Service campground about a mile from the Dickinson Park Trailhead. So we just sucked it up and kept on climbing. I was really OK with the decision. I like to stay at nice campsites, and if the spot had been nice, I would have pushed to stay. But to camp in a marsh just to say we spent seven nights out, rather than six nights out, seemed pretty counter productive. We caught our breath at a spectacular overlook of the North Fork Valley, just before the trail goes into the woods. You could not see the huge Shoshone Lake, because it was behind a rise, but the views to the peaks were magnificent. As we made our hard left turn on the trail after cresting near 9550 feet, we could feel thunderstorms brewing. The lightning rolled on through, but I never felt particularly threatened, mainly because I was in the trees (again), surrounded by these nice wood lightning rods.

Despite the fact that both of us were ready for a rest break, we kept on pushing to keep moving in the thunderstorm, and by the time we got out into the open, crossing the big meadow that is the signature of Dickinson Park, the storm had moved off to the northeast. We were back to the cars at 4:20, a little over seven hours from our start time. We were amazed to see so few cars at the trailhead. Maybe it was just that it was Friday afternoon, and the weekend backpackers were not here yet. We had no trouble finding a campsite in the official campground, but the no-see-ums were everywhere. I bathed at a creek about 100 yds behind our camp with Susie, but the little bugs drove us out. It was interesting to note how thick they were here, whereas on the first part of the trip, they were not much of a problem. Dinner was pretty quick, given the annoyance level of the little critters. So I decided to go back inside the car to record today's notes. Tomorrow would bring a nice breakfast in Lander, and somewhere along the line, I would have to stop, make a couple of phone calls, and find out if I was flying home, or flying to Miami on Sunday. But that was ok. For now, it was just great to be here.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 2001