Monthly Archives: July 2014

A sampler: Day 5 of my Bridger Wilderness journal…

Last week I threatened you with multiple pages from my journal about the trek to the Bridger Wilderness.

Like so many of my miscalculations during that trip, I grossly underestimated the number of pages. The 17 single space pages were mailed to Ellen and Reid this morning. I’ll post the entire diatribe and photos late this week once they’ve had a chance to receive it.

But until then, here’s one page as a sampler of what’s ahead for those of you who have patience.


Day 5, Tuesday, July 15

There’s a lot to think about as you roll around in a sleeping bag trying to avoid rocks and sticks beneath your tent as you hyper-listen for any noises that could be construed as a marauding grizzly.

I thought a lot about the stream and the trail, and I know Tom did, too. It is his style to methodically explore all options whether it’s the weight of materials – or escape routes.

It was very wet and clammy in the morning. Everything would need time to dry and after the bags and tents were hung out in the sunniest spots, we ran through what we might do from here. Tom wanted to get to the path as soon as possible. There is a sense of security on the path. The map, however, showed conflicting whereabouts of a trail we’d not really set foot on in more than two days. After another breakfast of instant oatmeal and coffee, and back in my still wet boots and socks, I led Tom to our potential salvation from this portion of the wilderness. We could see the first two of four portions of the stream. The individual fords looked doable although the precise location of the trail was a bit dodgy. He agreed, and now we were in business. We packed our gear and within minutes had crossed each waterway.

Tom wades through one of the countless fords we encountered in the high country.

Tom wades through one of the countless fords we encountered in the high country en route to the Cirque of the Towers.

To our utter amazement and relief, no sooner had we stepped on the north shore of the fourth fingerling than the path appeared before us. It was not 150 yards from the spot where we had forlornly bunked for two anxious nights. Not perhaps where we expected it, but it was still the path. It was the first cheery news we’d had in a couple of days. From where we stood we could turn left toward Hailey Pass or turn right and continue onward in a big 25 mile arc to the Cirque.

There was one problem with turning right. We heard through the hiker grapevine that one key pass, Texas Pass, was also thought to be unnavigable due to heavy snow. Without any verification, and in view of our tumultuous experience at Hailey, we chose to turn left. Hailey was a known quantity and we were relatively confident we could scale the slope that had taken hours for us to descend.

We were also well ahead of schedule. My computations were that to find the path might take hours, and we were already on it and headed upward and west. The river just to our left was still a raging torrent but it was quieter – less water flow – in the early morning hours before the afternoon sun accelerated the snow melt. I wondered if this might be our chance to safely ford the beast as we neared the bog. Indeed, by 9:45 a.m. we reached the point where the path intersected the 40 yard wide stream. The water was down sufficiently that we could wade through a slower current nearly up to our waists and use our poles for stability. The body of water we most feared was bypassed in a matter of a few minutes. Hailey Pass lay straight ahead three-quarters of a mile.

Now our attention turned to scaling the pass. We knew the east side, with its scree and snow and boulders, could be handled. We’d done it before. At the foot of the slope – we had about a 1,200 foot climb ahead of us – we talked through how to get from our Point A to the saddle’s Point B. There would be no avoiding the snow. Tom suggested we tape both hiking poles together should the more stabile points need to be jabbed into the snow to stop a fall. He also thought we should use parachute cord to tie the poles to our belts to avoid the loss of the poles sliding down the steep slope in the event of a mishap. It was another good idea.

To minimize tromping on the snow and avoid the boulder fields, we plotted a new path that would steer us wider and up the east valley wall. We could see strips of green – solid footing – that would keep us largely off the boulders. We started the climb about 10 a.m.

Going up proved easier than the trip down. You can press your weight forward into the slope as opposed to leaning backward as you descend. This made a huge difference. We pretty much followed the tracing of the snow much of the way up and walked on green spaces where we could. There was very little boulder hopping. Once on the snow I kicked steps for Tom to follow. The final quarter mile featured a 100 yard strip of snow on the steepest part of the slope. The trail was visible at the top end of the snow and zig zagged all the way to the saddle. We made the final yards in good order and continued to the top of the ridge marking the pass where we high fived each other and knelt in a moment of thanks for our deliverance. Our planning, experience and guile had paid off. We were no nearer the Cirque but at this point we felt relief. By 11:30, the ascent was finished, several hours ahead of my forecast.

Rejuvenated, we continued past Twin Lakes and over the familiar snow fields and fast streams. Our initial goal was to get to Dads Lake, but we instead descended about three miles to an all but deserted Mae’s Lake

We made camp in one incredible spot after another. Mae's Lake was no exception.

We made camp in one incredible spot after another. A rocky plateau on the north end of Mae’s Lake (10,343 ft.) was no exception. Glorious.

and about 4 o’clock came upon an incredible camping site atop a plateau overlooking the lake to the south. We’d get plenty of sun, there was ample wood for a fire, the ground was dry and the trout were on the rise.

My Mountain Hardwear tent went up quickly, my pack was emptied of gear, I pumped water for Tom’s Platypus and my SmartWater bottle, a fire ring was built and wood collected for the evening fire with the full intent to catch something to cook over it. This evening would end much better than those before it.

While Tom went on with his preparations, I asked him: “Could you eat one fish or two?” “Two” he responded. I rechecked my clinch knots, and in a few minutes of moving along the shore to cast to the circles, I had my first fish, a nice 8 inch brookie. It didn’t reach my recently revised (upward) size standards so back it went. But the next fish was a keeper in the 10 inch range. I yelled to Tom to get the fire started. Trout two, three and four of similar size were collected in short order. I stripped a willow of all but one twig as a temporary stringer and slid the now gutted trout through the gills onto the branch and headed the 200 yards up to our fine encampment. I unfolded the non-stick foil (barely wide enough to contain these beauties) and dusted the brooks with seasoning as Tom reduced the fire to coals. There’s nothing like mountain trout at the end of a long, but thankfully successful, day. We returned to the lake once more to pump water and for Tom to get an impromptu lesson in casting a fly. In moments he was floating the line like an old pro. He’s a studious guy and it was impressive to see him handle the rod. Later, and like you guys did as kids camping in Minnesota, we kept tossing sticks into the fire to keep it aflame into the evening as we sat on our bear canisters and recounted our adventure – to this point – into the darkness.


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Get ready for the Big One…

Obviously, there was no letter last week while a friend and I toiled in the Bridger Wilderness.

Next week the kids – and later on, you – will see something I’ve never attempted before in nearly 14 years of weekly letters: a shift from a single page to a multi-page journal/letter that will recount the day-by-day trip into Wyoming’s back country. It might be much longer than you care to read – so you can be excused if you want to take a pass on page after page after page. That, or perhaps it will be best read as a sleep aid before you call it a night.


July 7, 2014

Ellen/Reid: Man, what a week that was. Holy smokes, Reid in Israel and Tim retrieving a car and rescuing a friend in Colorado. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that (depending on how you define exciting). That’s what makes the world go ‘round, I guess. Thanks for the texts this morning, Reid, about your safe return home. Can’t wait to hear more about it and see all the pictures. Liz did a pretty good job of posting updates on Facebook. The paper this morning had more disheartening news on the near-constant turmoil over in that part of the world, and to be honest about it, all that had crossed my mind the whole time you were there. They’d have to be on a constant state of alert. What’s nuts is that much of the discord hinges largely on differences in religion. I don’t think the Lord intended that to be so. Ellen, tell Tim I’m going to write to Scott about him breaking up one of their finer rods to use as a temporary splint for his friend. I’ll bet he didn’t hesitate to do that. It was good to talk to him yesterday. He seems so matter-of-fact about it. I’d be manic. Or maybe maniacal. The photos of Emma are just precious, Ellen. And her vocabulary just continues to grow day by day. She is such a sweet little person.

Had a great three day weekend, if you like walking and golf. I got up early each day for my constitutional and hit the course later in the day. The weather was very good once Hurricane Arthur blew through here; lower humidity and incredible blue skies. I carried my sticks yesterday on a moderately hilly course in the afternoon heat as kind of a final tune up for this weekend’s backpacking in the Bridger. Rode the bike a couple of times in the cooler evening hours, and that felt good, too. Not ready to give that up just quite yet.

By Tom's estimate, we logged just short of 60 miles in Wyoming. This photo was from day 4, and the 30 minute break was much needed after a nerve-wracking ascent over snow and boulders up the back side of Hailey Pass at the very north side of the Bridger Wilderness.

By Tom’s estimate, we logged just short of 60 miles in Wyoming. This photo was from day 4, and the 30 minute break was much needed after a nerve-wracking ascent over snow and boulders up the back side of Hailey Pass at the very north side of the Bridger Wilderness.

The packing starts today for Wyoming. Got just about everything I’ll need in terms of clothing and food. There is a little more emphasis on weight than in years past. Tom has sort of pounded that into me and it makes a lot of sense. Plus, I’m down about 25 lbs. from the year before last so that’s another positive factor, too. If I can carry a pack in the 30 lb. range that will be very good. The new Osprey pack is much lighter and efficient than the old, old, old Gregory. Rather than use plates, we’ll boil water and mix it with the food stowed in heavy freezer weight plastic bags. Only one utensil, a spork. This is the first time ever – since 1973 to be exact – that I’ve not toted an MSR stove and a couple of heavy bottles of white gas. Instead, I’ll use an airtight stove that uses denatured alcohol, and I’m only taking 10 oz. of that. Ellen, you saw Tom cook with his stove the last time. Only one change of clothes although I might relent and take a second shirt. Reid, I’ll buy all my flies in Pinedale at that little shop next to the brewery restaurant. We stay the first night at the Baymont in Pinedale, and the final night, Ellen, at the luxurious Four Winds in Jackson. I bought a couple of ultralight trekking poles from a place called Gossamer Gear which caters to backpackers obsessed with lightweight materials. I’m not a complete convert, yet, but am slowly moving in that direction. We’re not taking bear spray this year. We really don’t see the need for it. Maybe I can poke a charging grizzly with my new poles. Reid, you ought to plan on this next year. I’ll insist on it.

I’m charging ahead, too, with fishing. On the way to the course on Saturday, I stopped at a Gander Mountain store and stocked up on Gulp baits, popping corks (you tie your bait about 18” from the cork and pull it loudly atop the water), plus a plethora of other fishing gizmos. I will not rest until I catch a redfish and a trout. The ‘experts’ keep saying how easy it is, but then how come your old man is so utterly lame on this? I’ll die trying, believe me. Hey, that wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

Love, Dad

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Fish 1, Dave 0…

If your diet of fish depended in large part on my abilities as an angler, you’d be better served by making a bee line to the frozen fish section for Mrs. Paul’s. My first foray into salt water was a bust. But I’m rarin’ to try again. I can’t wait.


June 30, 2014

Ellen/Reid: Reid, you’d better not be too scant on the details of the trip to Israel. You went for a wedding but that’s about the extent of the knowledge on this end. You’ll read this days after you return but I can’t wait for pictures and details of your latest adventure.What a traveler.

Cute photo of you and Emma with Nonnie, Ellen. That was very sweet. The Art Festival looked fun, too. Hopefully the weather was cooperative, which it hasn’t been all the time. I’ve still got a couple of artist catalogs laying around here from when I last attended. The plan was to buy a few objects for the house but never got around to it. Instead, my decor is almost entirely golf.

But after this weekend there may be a few fishing items strewn about. The kayak trip to Oak Island was just a fabulous time. It really was. There were a series of tactical blunders that led to no fish – as in zero – being boated, but that was almost beside the point. It was honestly a shake down cruise to get my feet wet in a kayak for the very first time. I put in at the public kayak ramp on 31st Street S.E. which made the getting in and out a whole lot easier. It was along a finger of the Intercoastal waterway which was probably 20 – 30 yards wide at the max. The Intercoastal itself was about five miles away according to one of the staff at the dock. She said most fisher-people put in closer to if not on the Intercoastal, and in hindsight (always the best teacher) I might have been better served and hooked more fish had I put in where she suggested. But I was bound and determined to do it my way and it worked out okay.

As NASA might say, we had ideal launch conditions for the Miss Emma at Oak Island. The kayak worked perfectly; the operator, not so much.

As NASA might say, we had ideal launch conditions for the Miss Emma at Oak Island. The kayak worked perfectly; the operator, not so much.

Unfortunately, no fish were harmed during the foray. There were lots of strikes but I must’ve been asleep at the switch when it came to hooking them. I did manage to hook a 14 – 15” flounder which must’ve been starving. But it wiggled off at the side of the kayak just as I was yelling “I caught a fish!” No matter. At least something was caught. It’s just a learning process. Of course, I was about one-third of the way on my drift with the tide when I struck up a conversation with a guy fishing just below his house. I asked what was biting (“a lot” he said) and what bait he was using, and once he saw my offering he opined that it was too large (almost all my bait was of the same size). So he told me to sit tight/tread water while he raced to his house and returned with a bag of Gulp baits and some lead head jigs. The jigs and the white plastic lures were much smaller shad imitations than I had, and after thanking him profusely, I re-started my drift and almost instantly started to get some serious bites. The problem was the fish bit off the tail portion of each of the baits he’d given me, and in no time I was reduced to using what I brought. Nibbles tailed off considerably after that so next time I’ll come armed with the right lures in size and quantity. That guy, Eric, taught me a lot.

That wasn’t the only thing I learned. Notably, I found out it’s easy to go with the tide but there’s straight hell to pay to paddle back against it. The first three hours were fun just moseying along and by the time I thought to head back, a little over three miles, the tide was against me in full force. I mean, I grossly underestimated it. It was exhausting to paddle against it. I counted progress in yards and the return trip was utter drudgery. But it was overcast and rainy, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching what lived on the banks. Once I dragged my carcass to the take out spot, it took me 90 minutes to stow everything and wrestle the Ocean Kayak Trident 13 atop the car. But I can tell you this: I can’t wait to put the boat in the water again, and very soon. It was everything I thought it would be and then some. I hesitate to say ‘Fish, watch out’ but I’ll bring a bag to keep one or two.

Love, Dad

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