Tag Archives: Pinedale WY

You mess with my tomatoes, I mess with you …

There is still some Midwestern gardener in me (sadly minus the good black soil). I covet even a small plot to obsess over. Alas, the best I can do is tend to a couple container pots. It’s not the same as tilling the earth, but it’s an any-port-in-a-storm deal.

Yet I watch over those pots religiously; so do ground squirrels who have taken a liking to my meager produce. But the rodents have a crossed a fine line and must be dealt with – harshly. At stake is my annual tomato crop. There is a silver lining: at least the Garden Nazis aren’t coming after me this year.

June 20, 2016

Ellen/Reid: Okay, for all the supposed naturalist in me, there comes a time when enough is enough. A ground squirrel has been munching on my tomatoes and now is the time for all-out war. He/she ruined three nearly ripened tomatoes in the past two days. As I pulled out of the garage this morning to head to the Y, I told the beast out the car window ‘I’m gonna go Lee Harvey Oswald on your ass’ from the strategic vantage point of the upper kitchen window. My pellet gun is locked-and-loaded. The thing can eat whatever it wants as long as it’s not the fucking tomatoes. Not after all these years of trying to grow the things.

So it’s settled; one or two nights in Chicago, a couple two or three in St. Paul, then down to Des Moines for several days, on to Grand Island for one, then up through the Sand Hills on Hwy. 2 to Sundance, Wyoming then traverse on west to Jackson. What a road trip it should be. I know it’s kind of odd to head out in the car but there is a sense of adventure to it. I’m looking forward to a strong cup of coffee as I hit the road in the early morning. Avoided, too, will be two expensive weeks of rental cars not to mention the nearly $800 airfare.


This is what the Week One lunch looks like for Liz, Reid and me. Not high cuisine, but good enough for the high country. I’d better get used to peanut butter and tostada shells; it’s the same lunch fare I’ll endure the second week in the Bridger Wilderness.

Plus, I get to see the girls and you guys on the way (and I’ll see you and Liz on the way back, Reid). The prospect of two-plus weeks in the high country is beyond exciting. The gear is being assembled on the guest room bed. If I get out toward Pinedale early, I may camp by the Hoback to see what might be foolish enough to take my iffily presented flies. It’s a stretch of big water that flows out of the Gros Ventre range just to the north of the Northern half of the Bridger. Ellen, ask Tim what sort of flies/sinking line I might need because it’s a lot more water than I’m used to fishing.

Since my golf game is in the tank and because it cannot possibly be the fault of the Indian rather than the arrow, I splurged on some new irons for the first time in 10 years. We’ll see what impact it has on my game although the impact on the bank account is already noticeable. My clubs won’t make the trip to Wyoming although there is that temptation.

A can of ceiling paint awaiting use is sitting in the corner of the living room. It’s just a matter of mustering the organization to get going on things. There’s a bit of drywall to patch behind the tub faucet in the new bathroom plus some painting here and there. Hopefully it sees more activity than the Harley; the price has been dropped Continue reading


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Of Wyoming, more classes and news photography …

When this letter to Ellen and Reid was written last week I was just plain exhausted. It shows in writing that is more uninventive than usual.

Push is coming to shove on newspapering. I love it dearly – I am completely, utterly and totally all in on it – but it can’t keep on like this. There are so many other competing interests and things to do. I just need to suck it up to deliver another brand of news.

May 10, 2016

Ellen/Reid: That was such good news about Kristin and Delsin. He strikes me as such a really good guy. Thanks for the suggestion to contact her, Ellen. She got right back to me. Another nice wedding at Plymouth, no doubt. That will be a good bash, that’s for sure.

Reid, we need to talk about Wyoming, stat. It looks right now that with the newspaper still in the picture, there won’t be time for a leisurely drive. I’ll fly out to Jackson, probably on that Thursday, July 21. I’ll get the tickets for you and Liz so make your plans right away. We should probably plan to arrive early in the day and we can drive down together to Pinedale to the Baymont Inn. Not entirely sure where Tom and Vince and Katie will fly in to. Salt Lake City most likely, then they can take the northern route up through Rock Springs. We’d fly out on Saturday, July 30. The Osprey I used last year would fit Liz just fine and I can take the Gregory. Both fly rods would make the trip, too. But let’s talk sooner than later about the plans.

I babysit this Saturday night for little Evelyn. My next door neighbor Mary Beth has some camera programmed into her iPad so I can sit on my couch and monitor the sleeping baby from the comfort of my couch. It’ll be fun. She’s a sweet little girl.

Signed on to teach several more classes at Central Piedmont Community College. Two on news writing and the other on writing letters. They twisted my arm about a blogging class which is okay but I did recommend another guy, Brett Bumeter, who is a real techie to teach a more advance blogging class while I’ll stick to teaching the introductory class. That will work out much better for the students since they would’ve of learned next to nothing from me on the advanced portion of blogs.

The newspaper thing is settling down into more of a routine but I’m still spending two or three times the number of hours that were originally intended. I end up writing about half the 24 pages since my writers are just coming up to speed. Lots of road miles from here to there just to provide basic news coverage and take photos for my writers who can’t get there.


Welcome to the wonderful world of newspaper photography. I spend a lot of time in Mint Hill on ‘spot’ news and shots like this to support the stories of my writers who can’t make it to town.

Tonight’s another long night of page layout. I’ll have to get up about 5 a.m. to proof the issue before it heads to the press. Mercifully, this edition Continue reading

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Damn I love these mountains, the last steps on the last day and time for that beer…

If you think about the planning and sweat equity that went into our 2015 excursion to the Bridger Wilderness, what is truly amazing is how fast it comes – and with even greater speed how it ends in a blink of an eye. There is a sadness of sorts in that something so anticipated is now in the rear view mirror. It is gone, and all that’s left is what you see in photos or care to remember. But that’s why they allow a 2016 version of this adventure – you can relive it all over again. Count me in.

This is the last of seven installments. Maybe that’s good news to you, but for me and my trekking companions – Rebekah, Katy, Vince, Tom and Reid – there’s a wistful hope that what is now final perhaps might have lasted a few more glorious days longer.

Send Dave a note if you’re interested in 2016: david.bradley@yahoo.com.


Our tent city was truly a moonlight kingdom, and as Vince captured we had a full moon on our final night in the back country.

Our tent city was truly a moonlight kingdom, and as Vince captured we had a full moon on our final night in the back country.

Day 7, Thursday, July 30

Our last day starts about 6 a.m., and for me it comes after a good sleep in relative warmth. That’s testament to my Mountain Hardware bag. What is gained as added weight is offset by a comfortable night’s rest. The others shivered throughout the week as they tried to sleep and this was by far our coldest night.

I go about my typical pack first-leave the tent second approach. It helps to get the juices flowing.

A 19 degree morning will do this to a guy's fly reel bag left outside overnight - coat it completely with frost.

A 19 degree morning will do this to a guy’s fly reel bag left outside overnight – coat it completely with frost.

My boots are ice cold. The grass is frozen and crunches as I exit through the zippered doorway. The tent will dry soon enough as the sun rises but that’s still some time, maybe 30 minutes, away.

My guess is the temperature bottomed out in the low to mid 20s.

Wrong again. Tom, also usually up and around earlier in lieu of later sleep, reports a bone-chilling 19 degrees, the lowest in memory and in part thanks to clear skies and no wind. If the breeze was up we’d ask Tom if he had windchill app but the wind has mercifully laid down. We’d be far colder.

Reid’s Nalgene is frozen solid and he smiles as he mentions it in some sort of morbid pride in the fact the temps dipped far lower than any of us might have expected. Condensation has crystalized inside most tents. It’s good we are in a broad open area; our gear will dry quicker in the sun that is just now peeking over the Continental Divide. Unlike other campsites in the canopy of trees, we will benefit from the warmth of the sunlight sooner than later.

I ask Tom about the whereabouts of Dan; he replies that Dan was up in the dark, packed quickly and efficiently and was on his way before dawn. No telling how far he is along on the trail. Good luck to him, I think. He was a valued newcomer to our little brigade, however briefly.

My mind turns to coffee. Like everything else, my bear canister is crusted in frost and I wipe it down with the cuff of my pants. I continue to be amazed that of the 11 oz. of denatured alcohol that has made the trip, at least five to six ounces remain. The lightweight and nearly-windproof stoves are incredible if boiling water is all you need.

A young ranger stops by the camp on his way out of the high country. Nice kid, and what a helluva job that would be.

A young ranger stops by the camp on his way out of the high country. Nice kid, and what a helluva job that would be.

And that’s just about all of us really want in a stove. Boil water. The instant oatmeal most mornings has been okay, if not good, but I’m ready for a real meal. So is Reid and, probably, the rest of our band. Trail food is trail food. You eat it because it comes together fast and fills your stomach. We wrap up our final meals.

Our little tent city sprang up quickly but after a frigid overnight, the sun dried us out quickly.

Our little tent city sprang up in a jiffy but after a frigid overnight, the sun dried us out quickly.

There seems to be a little greater sense of urgency to breaking camp this last morning in the back country. My sense is we’re ready for this to conclude on our terms. We’re lucky; there have been no blisters, no major injuries, no truly getting lost (we quickly corrected whatever missteps we took on wrong paths but our brief errors were nowhere near the magnitude the befell Greg the missing hiker),

Our final breakfast on a final cold morning. I like oatmeal, but damn, enough already.

Our final breakfast on a final cold morning. I like oatmeal, but damn, enough already.

no significant gear issues, more delicious fish than we deserved, and a crew of people who meshed and got along well.

I take a look around our final campground as we near the time to hit the trail. This was a good place for a last night stopover. The fire ring will be left undisturbed for the next hikers to use. The matted spots on the cushy grass where our tents were pegged down stand out in the morning frost. A last appreciative gaze is made toward the lake. Trout, in their voraciousness, create dozens of dimples as they continue to feed at the surface. Like the internal clocks of aging hikers, their seasonal clocks tick, too.

We have roughly six miles ahead of us. Our camp at the north shore of Big Sandy Lake adds only marginal distance to the hike. Tom and I know the Big Sandy Trail. It is as arrow straight as a trail can be, decent mostly rockless terrain and it should make for a quick, easy day. We heft our packs to one knee for the final time, insert one arm through a shoulder strap, give the packs one more upward motion to insert the other arm, and at about 10 a.m. off we go. Rebekah and Reid can smell the finish line. They take off and Katy and I, in the rear and moving as fast as we can, won’t see them nor Tom or Vince again until the parking lot. People, all of us, are really hauling.

Vince continued his photographic mastery even through the final day.

Vince continued his photographic mastery even through the final day.

We deserve a stress free path. We pass many other hikers, a mix of the young, the old and families on their way up to Big Sandy Lake, the Cirque or points beyond. We talk to briefly to some that stop momentarily. Invariably they all ask how long or how far to Big Sandy Lake. They probably don’t like our responses. It’s not an apples to apples comparison. We are on the downhill side and groups headed the other way have some steep, slow stretches ahead of them. They probably all wish the distance was shorter. All of us are anxious to keep going, those going up and us headed down.

Our trailside chats done, Katy and I never do stop to officially rest. Our packs never come off. We are the last cars of a train that races down the tracks.

I ask myself, not aloud, how many more of these adventures are left in me? Probably not very many which made this trek all that much more rewarding. It means every time you look at the mountains, you really look. Sure, there’s no absorbing what you see in totality. You can pause to appreciate the landscape for what it is and how it tolerates your temporary presence in its realm but it is never really yours to have or own. We borrow what we see.

The views slipped away rapidly as we made a fast exit out of the Winds and the Bridger. There seems to be a great sadness in that. Hard work, but why is it gone so soon?

The views slipped away rapidly as we made a fast exit out of the Winds and the Bridger. There seems to be a great sadness in that. Hard work, but why is it gone so soon?

The Big Sandy River, a beautiful wide slow flowing river, is to our left as it accompanies us virtually the entire distance. It features oxbows and long stretches of flat water with almost no discernible rapids. Nothing beyond ripples. We know there are fish along the banks but we aren’t about to stop to find out for certain. The Scott stays in its cloth sleeve.

The Biug Sa

The Biug Sandy is just a tremendous stretch of water. It really is divine.

I keep looking not only at the river but to keep an eye open for the idyllic camp site Tom and I called home for our last night in ’14. It’s where we watched a school of 7 – 8 brookies swim in place in a lazy clockwise eddy as they vied for whatever food might drift by. The larger fish idled closest to the surface and hence closest to the hatch.

We really make good time on our walk as we leave the Bridger in our rearview mirrors. Our quick pace exposes my poor estimations of time and distance. My ‘educated’ guess had us stroll into the parking lot about 3:00 p.m. Was I ever wrong.

Katy and I sense the finish line and motor at a good clip and arrive at the parking area way, way ahead of my faux-schedule. I was only off by the slimmest of margins: 90 minutes. How you err by a full hour and a half is beyond me.

Our lead pack - Rebekah, Reid, Vince and tom - beat Katy and Dave to the finish line by at least 45 minutes.

Our lead pack – Rebekah, Reid, Vince and tom – beat Katy and Dave to the finish line by at least 45 minutes.

Tom, Vince, Rebekah and Reid lounge on a table in the shade and only then does it occur to me that handing the SUV keys to someone else back at Big Sandy Lake could have allowed them to conveniently pre-load the beast. But no, the keys jingle at the bottom of my Osprey pack. Way to plan, ditz.

Dave checks our group out on the forest service visitor log. All are accounted for.

Dave checks our group out on the forest service visitor log. All are accounted for. God damn, I love these mountains. What am I going to do without them?

All that is lost in the wash as we high five and slap backs and congratulate ourselves as we celebrate our feat in which we came through unscathed and thankful. At last we could now talk about prior taboos that were off limits for conversations; showers, honest-to-goodness hamburgers and fries, an air conditioned car and yes, cold beer. In a swap probably engineered on the trail, Rebekah volunteers to ride back to Pinedale in the jolt seat previously occupied by Reid. She finds out the hard way that the dirt and gravel road hasn’t gotten any smoother in the week we’d been up top in the Winds. Although we don’t feel worse for the wear, one look in the mirror shows the cumulative effect of no shower or stream side bath for days on end. My face is caked in grime although no one ever bothers to point this out to me, probably as a hiker-to-hiker courtesy. The dirt was likely not just limited to my face.

Return trips on the same road always seem to feel faster than when you first drive it. I’m not sure why that is. We browse for more antelope on the same stretches of gravel or pavement we just drove past the week before. His hard work done, Tom nods off in the passenger seat. Vince finally can close his eyes, too, without the interruption of the three most dreaded words in backpacking: let’s saddle up.

Nothing wrong with a final beer after a journey well taken: from left to right, Reid Bradley, Tom Bohr, Rebekah Fergusson, Vince Pratt, Katy Hill.

Nothing wrong with a final beer after a journey well taken: from left to right, Reid Bradley, Tom Bohr, Rebekah Fergusson, Vince Pratt, Katy Hill.

We make a pit stop in Boulder for something salty and liquid that isn’t pumped water and then it is on to Pinedale. Our first stop is the ranger station. We are anxious to rid ourselves of the bear canisters. We dissemble the pile of packs, remove the infernal barrels and stash the heavy plastic containers alongside the building. I go in to report the return, and just as I am about to leave the front desk, the ranger on duty asks if we’d been up near Hailey Pass during the heavy winds. Indeed so, I say, and add that the winds were the strongest I’ve ever felt anywhere at any time. I estimate 75 – 80 MPH – but she revises that upward to a stunning 100 MPH. All I can do is stand there and shake my dirty, unshowered head. Pinedale had seen the fierce winds, too, as Mother Nature had swept the entire range clean.

We pile back into the Yukon for the short ride down West Pine Street for our second visit in seven days to our traditional host for pre and post-hike celebrations, the Wind River Brewing Company. We trudge up the stairs to the upper terrace, plop down on real chairs and exhale, all seemingly at once. The waitress stops by for our order but she doesn’t need to ask what we want.

It is time for that beer.

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Seven days in Wyoming …

In late July, a small band of hikers – four from Charlotte and one each from Chicago and Berkeley, CA – set out about 11:00 on a Friday morning to walk in the southern portion of Wind Rivers, and in particular, walk the trails of the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming.

This is the first of seven successive daily installments about that trek and the people who made the trip beyond memorable. This stretch of the Winds are marvelous in their beauty, humbling in scope and enabling as we met, or exceeded, challenge after challenge. This has become something of an annual pilgrimage for me. I wouldn’t trade this trip for anything. 

If you know of hikers who enjoy this sort of narrative, pass the blog link along. It was part adventure, part fly fishing extravaganza and utterly exhilarating in its totality. If you’re interested in the 2016 dates of just such a trip, let me know.

Dave Bradley at david.bradley@yahoo.com


It's views like this that are the draw to this part of the Winds. Hell to get there, but worth every step.

This is why we walk. This is why we venture into the high country. Views like this are the draw to this part of the Winds. Hell to get there, but worth every step.

Day 1, Friday, July 24, 6:15 a.m.

One would suppose you can tolerate four grown men, a couple of them snorers, for at least one restless Thursday night in the same cramped room at the Baymont Inn on the west side of Pinedale, Wyoming, given that the next seven days will be equally uncomfortable at 10,000 feet or higher. The youngest and least tenured of the hikers, Reid, sacrifices his comfort to sleep on the floor. As members of the age 60-plus crowd, Vince, Tom and I aren’t so chivalrous. We don’t hesitate to snag the two available beds. A couple of doors down are Katy and her daughter Rebekah.

There was one final pre-bed check duty for Reid: pack his flies. He was going to need them.

There was one final pre-bed duty for Reid: pack his flies. He was going to need them.

A couple of us are up early, no doubt in our excitement about an adventure that should begin sometime in the next few hours. What passes for a ‘free’ hotel breakfast is cold cereal and self-made waffles, some stale shipped-in danish that have now been out of the package too long. There is the one requirement expected of an overpriced $147 room on the outskirts of town: hot coffee.

Our packing is done the night before or at least most of it is. There is last minute finagling/juggling of necessities but those come with a sizable caveat: leave enough stowage space for Forest Service bear canisters. The barrels are recommended but not required. In theory, grizzlies can’t crush or mouth the hard black plastic protectors. If you stay below timberline you can probably hang food from tall pines and be perfectly safe, but for lots of folks the barrels are a security blanket. We won’t pick the invasive canisters up just yet since the ranger office won’t open until 8 a.m., local time. So packing is largely a moot point until we know how much of a void these space eaters will require in each pack.

It’s hard to believe that in roughly three hours, the variable being our packing skills, we’ll have driven to the Big Sandy trailhead, some 40 miles away as the crow flies, and a year of anticipation, planning and hiker recruitment will be underway.

We retrieve the black canisters promptly as the ranger station doors open, plunk down an $8 donation although none of us are sure where the money goes, and head back to the Baymont. All our food, about 8 lbs. per person, is repositioned in the four pound barrels which somehow fit each pack without further ado.

Also important to the culinary portion of our trip were the favorable readings on the arching green-yellow-red fire meter at the ranger station. The needle points to ‘Moderate’ which means we’ll have campfires to grill trout. At the Great Outdoor Shop we buy non-resident Wyoming fishing licenses at $14 per day. It used to be you got a discount (small, of course) the more days you bought. The state did away with that knowing it can gouge visitors like us and get away with it. It’s state sponsored hostage taking.

Gear fills every spare inch of the Yukon and as a newbie, poor 6 ft. Reid again volunteers to relegate himself to the cramped seventh seat – the same perch he inhabited on the 80 mile drive from Jackson to Pinedale. He’s so far back and insulated by so much stuff if he squawks about his poor luck or bumpy roads, I won’t hear him.

About 9:30 a.m. we turn the SUV south on WY. Rte. 191. Some 10 miles later at Boulder, we turn left onto state road 363 and head past surprisingly green hay fields that are surprisingly green for late July, and isolated ranches. There’s not much in the way of housing. This is the ranch life where you drive your pickup down the lane to get your mail and it’s at least a half day trip for groceries. Local antelope are the star wildlife attractions. We see quite a few of the smallish animals, some within 20 yards of the road. As we climb, the dominant sage and scrub brush landscape becomes dryer and browner. After another dozen miles, the pavement gives way to maintained gravel. It doesn’t slow us down much. Such roads often feature occupant-rattling washboards but Reid doesn’t moan too much about the vibration and bumps.

Before much longer is another sign that points left toward the Big Sandy trailhead. We head east on it. Up and to our left are the high ridges of the Southern half of the Bridger Wilderness. There is very little snow in evidence, a far cry from last year when unmelted snow fields bamboozled Tom and I. Trace amounts of snow mean two things: fewer mosquitoes and fewer and shallower fords across streams. Somewhere in that terrain are the trails we’ll traverse over the course of the next week.

Below us in the valley we can see one final sign that will steer us toward Big Sandy. We’ll be truly off road for 10 miles of rock-and-roll dirt and crushed rock road that slows our pace to 10 – 15 MPH in many spots. Reid absorbs some serious butt compressing jolts along the winding, dusty, narrow potholed road. We yield regularly to horse trailers coming down from the back country, some with stock, some empty.

We steadily gain altitude and the rough final 5-6 miles take another 20 minutes. What’s odd is that beyond the occasional trailer, there is no other vehicular traffic but as we round the bend to the jumping off point parking area (there is no parking lot, you jockey for space along the road), there are easily 70 – 80 cars, trucks and SUVs jammed or wedged into every available parking crevice. The predominant license plates are WY, UT and CO. By dumb luck we land a just-vacated spot. This number of cars is unnerving, but even a few hundred visitors in this large and vast portion of the Bridger will disburse to nothingness soon enough.

Within minutes packs are on and cinched and Katy signs the six of us in on the forest service log book (we are the only apparent visitors from North Carolina) and we hit the trail (9,205 ft. alt.) at 11:50 a.m.

The opening stages of our walk are moderate at worst. We head up Fremont Trail, which breaks slightly to the northwest and away from the more traveled Big Sandy Lake trail. Big Sandy Creek is to our right, and will be for a while.

The trail was moderate to start but even the benign portions of the trail were stunning.

The trail was moderate to start but even the benign portions of the trail were stunning.

Its water level is much lower than in ’14 when near-record snows caused near bank-high torrents in every stream. Today’s goal is modest, too; six miles and 600 feet in elevation gain on our way up to our first overnight: Dad’s Lake. Day One is basically a shakedown cruise.

The route is mostly non-rocked and smooth, with plenty of shade from pines. The plan is to rest 10 minutes for each 60 walked on the trail. After a couple of easy miles a sign merges us left to Dad’s Lake.

It’s altogether wonderful country. Already the views are beginning to form. Vince and Katy stop for photos despite assurances these minor vistas are nothing compared to the grandeur of what’s ahead.

A few hikers pass us on their way out and we step aside as a standard courtesy to those on exiting the back country. One of the kids has his standard issue bear spray clipped to his left hip belt but on his right hip is a holstered pistol of some large calibre. I wonder why people bother. A charging grizzly had better be damn close, and the shooter quite calm and collected, and accurate, for that gun to be effective.

As we saddle up after our first rest break which features a quick review of where we are on the topo maps (we are not yet halfway into the Day One jaunt), we see three orange tee shirt-clad hikers charge up from behind us. I mistake them for scouts but there were no youngsters among the trio. The packs of the two men and one woman are not of the overnight variety. These folks each have two big radios affixed to their belts plus assorted rescue gear. They are on a mission.

They approach us. The tallest of the three, John, asks if we’ve seen a hiker gone missing for two days along this trail. On John’s pants in big, bold letters is SAR – Search And Rescue. These are apparently forest service people. The name of the missing hiker they say, is Greg, and his last known whereabouts had him headed south on the very trails leading to and from our destination, Dad’s Lake. As John retells it, the 6’, 240 lb. Greg was part of a large group but he had become sick.

John, one of the searchers for Greg, was professional but concerned. Greg hadn't been seen in several days.

John, one of the searchers for Greg, was professional but concerned. Greg hadn’t been seen in several days.

Our conjecture was altitude sickness or possibly Giardia intestinalis, an intestinal parasite that makes its way to water via animal fecal matter. But it would take days for that bug to manifest its symptoms of dehydrating diarrhea. At any rate, Greg is gone.

In a severe high country blunder, part of the missing man’s group broke off to continue their journey, leaving him behind with two others who, according to John, didn’t immediately escort Greg down when the poor man decided to make an ill-advised break for Big Sandy Trailhead. They assumed he had beaten them to the parking area when they arrived; however, Greg had not emerged and no one had seen him since. Now the group was split and a search party formed.

The three SAR staff stay roughly on our course and fan out across the wide expanse of the Dad’s Lake watershed, and loudly call out to Greg by name. The thinking was that a sick man, possibly dehydrated and disoriented, would not be able to stray too far from the trail. We meet the threesome often enough that more and more details of the man’s disappearance emerge.

The search team spread out across the valley floor, calling to the l

The search team spread out across the valley floor, calling the missing hiker by name.

We’d also become de facto assistant searchers, and Greg’s disappearance was now part of our on-foot conversations. It underscored that the Bridger is indeed a wild place; beautiful when docile and unforgiving when it turns the other cheek. The missing man and his group found this out the hard way.

Our route to Dad’s is mostly smooth and gradually uphill with a few big rocks and gradients to remind you of where you are. We pump water as necessary. Hydration is a big deal in the dry altitude. Reid and I pull most of the pump duty. The new $50 filters should sift out any Giardia which in itself is worth any cost.

We walk into Dad’s at almost 4 p.m. under beautifully clear, blue skies. Dad’s is a good lake. Tom and I have camped there before (indeed, there is no shortage of top end – and flat – camp sites in the Bridger, quite unlike my experience in Colorado and some other states where you sometimes sweat where you’ll overnight). Our hoped-for spot in the southwest corner of the lake under a tree canopy is already spoken for by a nice family from Germany. We opt to left to head up a path to find our consolation prize, an even larger, even more airy spot about 50 feet above the lake with nice views to the north of Pyramid Peak, our destination for Saturday. Also visible to our right within two miles, and running parallel to our south-to-north route, is the back side of the Cirque of the Towers although there is no direct path to it. It remains just another nice view, for now.

Our tent village is up in short order. My Mountain Hardware one man takes literally moments to erect, and within 10 minutes my sleeping bag, Thermarest ground pad and other gear is laid out or stowed inside.

If you're gonna have a tent, make it a good one. I'll give Mountain Hardware two thumbs up.

If you’re gonna have a tent, make it a good one. I’ll give my Mountain Hardware one person tent two thumbs up.

Tom has loaned three of his spare ultra-light tents to Katy, Rebekah and Vince. The tents, weighing mere ounces, are of state-of-the-art materials and technology. Reid is stuck with my old three person Mountain Hardware tent, but he is deemed young enough to handle the added 6 lb. weight.

Basic duties done, the search for firewood is on. A few armloads from dead pines about 75 yards away and we have enough for a nice fire. A year ago Tom and I caught big, fat brookies at Dad’s and we talked often during the planning stage about the specter of delicious cold water trout seasoned and broiled in foil over a camp fire. Making it easier on us is a ready-made fire ring of medium size granite stones. Indeed, all the signs point to a fish dinner. On the surface of the lake are the telltale circles of rising fish, many in the eatable 8 – 11 inch range. Reid, Tom and I rig our rods, Reid an Orvis given to him as a child, Tom with his reel-less Tenkara and me with a new Scott A4 recommended by Reid’s brother-in-law, Tim, the best fly caster I have ever seen. The Scott is a spectacularly responsive rod. Typically we are catch-and-release fishers, but tonight we angle for supper.

Reid and Tom break off to the shoreline directly down from camp, and I head toward the south end of the lake where a small stream enters, possibly washing food down the mountain and straight to the waiting trout.

It is good to cast again. But after decades of self-taught technique, my casting/retrieval mechanics lack proper elements of style. I recalled Tim’s sage advice to hold the fly line with my right thumb and forefinger as line is stripped in with my left hand. It gives onlookers the false impression that I know what I’m doing.

There are a lot of strikes in the first 10 minutes but no hooked fish, a clear sign of a poor angler. That changes as the first fish clamps down on the Adams. It’s about a 10 incher, just fine for our evening meal.

It wouldn't be an official backpacking trip without the tools of the trade - including a Scott A4 fly rod.

It wouldn’t be an official backpacking trip without the tools of the trade – including a Scott A4 fly rod.

A make-shift stringer is fashioned from the branch of a mountain willow that is stripped of branches except for a final twig at the bottom of the main branch. The tip is run through a gill and the fish is slid to the bottom of the branch. The two foot fish holder is laid in the water along the shore and held in place by a couple of rocks. The trout is now secured. Not too long later, a second fish is landed, then a third. I can only hope Reid and Tom have combined to land a similar number.

And sure enough, Reid has. One of his catches is the fish of the day, a gorgeous 11” brook. He lands a couple more and now we have enough for dinner.

To clean a mountain trout takes a matter of no more than 60 seconds, tops. You slit the fish up from the anus to the top of the underside where it meets the gills. The innards are pulled out (the gullet, which feels like a tough tube of gristle, rarely comes out in its entirety). Your thumbnail is useful to scrape blood collected beneath a membrane along the length of the spine. Then comes a final rinse. That’s all there is to it. Most of these fish are females loaded with eggs. This drives their need to feed voraciously in the shortened season. I wonder if enough time remains in the summer for eggs to mature and hatch and for the fry to survive heading into the harsh winter.

Brook trout aren’t the toughest fish to catch. Some anglers consider them almost a nuisance fish due to their great numbers and their propensity to crowd out other less populous but more favored game fish such as natives and cutthroats.

Brooks may not be the hardest fish to catch, but what they lack in smarts, they make up for in flavor.

Brookies may not be the hardest fish to catch, but what they lack in smarts, they make up for in flavor.

Indeed, the Jackson newspaper reports the state of Wyoming plans to eradicate brookies along a 38 mile stretch of another river to make room for these other species. Some high country lakes I’ve fished seem to have huge populations of what appear to be stunted brookies that compete fish-on-fish for available insect resources. But not at Dad’s. These trout have shoulders. For the once-a-year back country diner, these pink-fleshed trout hold an honored place as tasty – and valued – protein on the fireside menu.

The real genius of dinnertime (and breakfast), however, is Tom’s introduction to us of ultra-light, ultra-efficient stoves fueled by minimal amounts of denatured alcohol (antigravitygear.com). One-half oz. of alcohol is enough to bring a small pot of water to boil for two cups of coffee and piping-hot liquid for our dried meals. The fuel is dumped into an old soda can – mine held Pepsi at one point – stamped into the shape of a fuel burner with holes punched in the side for flames to escape upward. The pot slips atop a near airtight siloed windscreen and the burner does the rest. Vince assembles a very old and very well used, rusted out version of the same concept. It did the job just like the new models.

So rather than lug several 30 oz. bottles of white gas as we’d done for decades to power increasingly complex and finicky Mountain Safety Research (MSR) stoves, 11 oz. of denatured alcohol in a plastic orange juice bottle bought for 98¢ at a convenience store was more than enough for the entire seven days of oatmeal/instant Starbucks breakfasts and horrid day-after-day rice dinners.

We had a gorgeous view of Dads Lake and in some ways our upper perch was better than our hoped-for camp site nearer to the lake.

We had a gorgeous view of Dads Lake and in some ways our upper perch was better than our hoped-for camp site nearer to the lake.

The stoves were the tip of the less weight, less stuff, less overall poundage iceberg. That owed squarely to Tom’s persistent prodding that less is better. We carry no dinner plates; meals are sealed in freezer bags, hot water poured in, stirred and dinner is served. The plastic serves as a mini-trash bag.

The ‘less is better’ mantra applies to every conceivable item from minimalist hiking shoes in lieu of clunky boots to the tents to ground pads. Why use a thick, heavy Nalgene when a much lighter SmartWater bottle will do? A Tyvek ground cloth saves several ounces vs. regular plastic. Take one spare shirt rather than two. Parachute cord weighs much more than the same length of very thin nylon lines favored by serious backpackers. A down jacket weighs less than a fleece one. No need for a full tube of Neosporin when the salve can be squirted into one-half inch sections of drinking straw melted to seal both ends. And the list goes on. With 8 lbs. of food, my Osprey Atmos 50 tops out at about 32 lbs., sharply down from the overly burdensome, shoulder-crushing 45 – 60 lbs. of prior years. I voilate Tom’s cardinal ‘minimal weight’ rule with two stocking caps, six too many tent pegs and a bulky (but safe) PUR water filter system, among other ounce padding no-nos. But it is true: an ounce pared here and an ounce saved there, and pretty soon you’re talking a real savings in poundage.

Our first night's meal await the indignity of final preparations.

Our first night’s meal await the indignity of final preparations.

We wrap up dinner just as the sun sets. Water bottles are filled a final time at the lake. To thwart aromas that might attract bears, we immolate the trout skeletons in the camp fire turned pyre. Temperatures turn chilly quickly after the sun slips down and out and we all hit the sack at the first real darkness. The only light in the tents is the glow from headlamps as hikers stow their gear or get ready for shuteye. Saturday would be our first full day on the trail. We’ll gain 600 feet in the six mile northward trudge up to Mae’s Lake, the gateway to Hailey Pass.


On Tuesday: Enter the helicopter

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Being different…

Bryan's "designer" cast. He has limited sympathy for Bob's texting injury.

A friend of mine posted a message a few days ago on my seldom-visited Facebook page about a recent blog post, and I just got around to taking a look at her message today. It was a nice note, and I really appreciate Jane’s concern and support.

My tardiness could mean one of several things; A) I err by expecting others to instantly read my posts yet can’t take the time to read the messages of others, B) I don’t spend much time roaming the Facebook landscape and C) Facebook doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me.  I hope ‘A’ isn’t entirely true, but I think ‘B’ and ‘C’ hold smidgens of truth.

Make no mistake, I am a gnat bite on the globe-sized entity that is Facebook.  Part of my reluctance relates to time; recently, a local mother made news when she banned her teen daughter from Facebook for a week.  The young girl claimed withdrawal symptoms from her four to six hour a day Facebook habit.

Bob sports his real cast. Empathy, let alone sympathy, have been hard to come by.

It’s hard to spend one hour, let alone the young woman’s four to six hours, on anything every single day.  Sure, I like to know what people are up to but there is an intimacy that is missing online.  At least my obsessing with letters can be measured in minutes, not hours.  Perhaps it’s my way of being different.


Bridger update: Two more inquiries have come in.  The able-bodied Reid looks to be on board, too.  FYI…airfares from Charlotte to Denver appear to be in the $430 range, and $528 round trip to Jackson Hole.  Denver is a sturdy but esthetically pleasing 5-6 hour drive to Pinedale, WY while Jackson Hole is roughly two hours.


October 11, 2010

Ellen/Reid: Well, it seems I’m in danger of becoming one of “them.”  By them, I mean a Southerner.  Because in the last few weeks, I’ve cooked okra twice (it’s pretty good) and also fixed up a mess of fried green tomatoes (also better than you might think), finally got a North Carolina license plate for the Harley, watched some NASCAR (just a few minutes), and while tooling around on the bike stopped by fields for a first hand look at peanuts and cotton.  On one stretch of road saw some tobacco over yonder but we didn’t stop.  I don’t think anyone down in these parts will ever confuse me for a local but the assimilation is happening as we speak.

I’m starting to learn where towns are like Florence, Laurinburg, Chester and Reidsville.  What I do know after this weekend’s bike ride is that there are no, or hardly any, straight roads in the entire region.  It is as if state road planners dyed a pot of spaghetti and poured it out on a large piece of paper.  Where ever the spaghetti hit the paper was the road scheme.  We rode to Danville, VA on Saturday, and according to Mapquest, the trip was roughly 150 miles.  That’s a shade over two hours at Interstate speed.  But the trip took nearly five hours because, without exaggeration, we took no fewer than 15 different roads to get there.  There weren’t enough bread crumbs to help us follow the path.  I couldn’t replicate it now by memory if I had to.  It was just bizarre.  Felicia and I laid the road maps for North Carolina and Iowa side by side.  It was hilarious.  Iowa was almost totally a grid of north-south, east-west straight lines, while North Carolina was a literal jumble of roads.

I’m going to make my plans for Thanksgiving this week.  Ellen, I will likely get up there on Tuesday because I’m late enough in making plans that all the Wednesday seats are filled.  Part of me would like to drive to get the stink blown off but let me see what the airfares are.  I’m excited to see your refurbished digs and the new furnishings.  Reid and I can handle all the cooking and whatnot.  That will be our role as guests.  Glad to hear you have a touch because mine is where a fair amount of my sleeping is done.

Your uncle did all the work to rid much of your grandparent’s house of stuff this past weekend.  He wasn’t too pleased that I wasn’t there to help him out but as a practical reality it just wasn’t a reality for me to be there.  All of your stuff is in the basement of a friend of mine, Pete Z__________, who was nice enough to hold it until you, or your mom, can get to Omaha to retrieve it.  I e-mailed your mother to see if she could help but she won’t be back in the Midwest until past the middle of December, so we’ll lean on Pete to hold your stuff a little bit longer than we might otherwise want.  Ellen, this includes the china, and Reid, this includes whatever it was you picked after the funeral plus some kitchen stuff Ralph and Gayle thought you might need to stock your new little kitchen.

My cousin Tom was the first to step up and say “yes” to a trip to the Bridger Wilderness at the end of July in 2011.  He’s always been an outdoor guy and the drive isn’t too onerous from his home in Eugene, OR.  It’s closer than Charlotte, that’s for sure.  I’ve got room for 8 to 12 folks so if either of you want to go backpacking…Ellen, you could even bring Henry along for the hike.  He’d love it.

Well, I’m gonna sign off for now as there’s a conference call on tap in about an hour that I have to prep for.  As soon as the T-Day plans are known, you two will be the first to know other than me.

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