July 28-29, 2009 Snowy Range Trip
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Left Harney Peak around 2 thinking I could get a campsite at Glendo Reservoir by 6pm. Right on the border of South Dakota and Wyoming I see a sign that says "Elk mountain fire lookout" and I could see the tower on the mountain, so I thought, what the heck? Little did I know this was going to be a little more of a ride than I bargained for. Nothing but a steep steep road a first and I barely think my car will make it up this thing. Then once it leveled out a bit on the ridge there were huge rocks everywhere! I thought for sure I'd pop a tire. I was really glad when I passed someone else on this road, knowing that I wouldn't get stranded up here lol. It was the longest road ever, 10 miles from the highway by the road and maybe 2 miles straight distance. Went up to the top and talked to the lady for a while, pretty cool view up there. I guess I just missed a fire by a few hours, duh! The entire mountain had been burned about 7 years ago, so there were no living trees on the mountain.
That was the view on top of the tower, she had a little office in there with a bunch of cool stuff, might be a boring job but at least she had internet. Heres a shot of the tower from the south ridge looking north.
Then here is the road I was talking about, a little less than a one lane road with huge rocks everywhere. Kind of sad to see this area devastated by a forest fire. Although it is a unique looking mountain for that reason.
Took about 20 minutes to get up this road and about 15 to get down. I finally get back on the highway after that almost 2 hour detour. Get to Newcastle and get some gas, quick check a map to see where I want to go (I didn't have a map of South Dakota or Wyoming the whole time. I thought about getting a delorme for both, but that would have cost $40. This is where the fun starts, or stops I should say.
I get on 85 south at Newcastle and if you look on the map its about the most desolate road ever. So I figure I might was well get out of no where as soon as possible, so I get up to about 90 and cruise for a while, After passing a few cars I think, ehh, maybe not such a good idea, so I slow down to about 80mph. Slowing down a bit when I get closer to on coming cars just to be safe. Just as I get too comfortable and space off I see a car coming and I don't realize what car it is until it's too late. A State Trooper in a Dodge Charger in WY!! how do they afford a charger! lol. I slow down thinking awwwhhh crap. Get to the speed limit which is 65 and just keep going, he turns around. Dang it. Creeps up to me and for a while I think he might let me go because I slowed down and he was waiting forever to turn his lights on. I didn't get so lucky. Turns his lights on and I pullover. Could have been worse I suppose, but on a extremely desolate road? come on! Should have just given me a warning or something thats just dumb. Later I found out that I was at LEAST 30 miles from the nearest town, probably more like 35. I was going 79 in a 65 he said. He did lower it a little because I was wearing my seat belt and I slowed down. Wasn't a lot of money, but certainly made me mad. Then of course I'm on this desolate road still 40 miles to the next town, so I get an hour to just sit there and drive thinking about it the whole time. Let's just say spirits weren't high for this drive.
I get to Glendo and I hear its $6 to get into the park, then $12 to camp. I say screw this and keep going. I figure I'd rather sleep in my car again than wake up to rain in a tent anyway. So I get back on the interstate and head south toward Cheyenne, I figure I'll sleep in a parking lot there and then camp the last night of the trip in the medicine bow forest. I soon come to an exit that says it leads to Laramie which is a lot closer to the Snowy Range than Cheyenne, it would take an hour off the drive in the morning. I opt to go to Laramie then. Via hwy 34. This was a pretty cool highway, or maybe I was just so use to seeing nothing while driving that just a little something seemed really cool. It was pretty mountainous though and there was even a thunder shower to the south that was kind of fun to watch even though it didn't produce much lightning after sunset. I got out to take a few pictures because I only passed about 8 people in 70 or so miles on this road.
This shot turned out a lot better than I hoped. Handheld 1/8 of a second, so that explains a little blurriness to it. Pretty cool highway nonetheless, better than taking the interstate I'm sure. I get to Laramie after dark and find a nice parking lot to sleep in and put up some blankets to keep the light out. Only this time it sucked big time. It was cold and loud all night. Rained from midnight or so until 2 or 3am with some lightning and thunder to wake me up a few times. My feet were freezing too. I think the low in Laramie that morning was in the lower 40's or something. that is at low elevation too! I officially get "up" at 4 or 4:30 can't remember now. I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to leave/warm up because I missed the best Alpenglow. But anyway. I get going and stop for gas quick, thinking Centennial,WY would be all old fashion pumps that I don't want to mess with lol. I'm just racing the sun for an hour trying to get there for the best light, end up loosing by just a little bit.
Once I get into Medicine bow National forest I see something that REALlY surprises me. I see by the corner of my eye some "game" crossing the road. (there was a sign that read "game Xing next 20 miles" or whatever) It crosses right in front of me and at first I think it's just a deer but when I get closer I see its way bigger and It's a Moose! Never thought I'd see a moose here. I slam on the breaks and slap the telephoto on praying that it doesn't run off into the woods. God answered my prayer :)
Not a great shot, but hey I saw a moose! Wish it had been a bull, that would have made my day. I then hurry off still racing time. I get to the parking lot and still have some good light.
Just not epic light, as I was searching for. Shot a little from this spot but the light only lasted maybe 2 or 3 minutes. I decide to go park and start my hike. It's 6:20am and the temperature is 39 degrees! yikes it was cold up there, at least compared to what I'm used to in Omaha in July.
I start hiking and I am just in Awe of Gods creation for a while, until I realized I was in bear country, by myself at six in the morning on a moderately used trail. I was probably scared for northing but it was pretty nerve racking for a while. I stop a few times to take some images, I kind of wish I had taken more from this side of the lakes, it's very pretty on that side.
Clouds were covering medicine bow peak, which I thought would be cool to be up there in it, but I learned differently. It was roughly a mile and a half to the trailhead to summit medicine bow, or start going up the mountain. There were too many great views from the east though!
That shot might be my favorite of the whole trip, The range just turned out perfect. Not only that but it looks the coolest of all the other locations in my opinion, even from the summit, although had it been clear on the summit I'm sure that view would have ruled. I then get to the "going up" part of the climb.
This looked cooler in person I bet. This fog or cloud, not sure what you call it on a mountain, was trying to thin out it looked like. Here we go! Snow in July! wait, why is it red? Believe it or not this is desert dust from Arizona! Jack Brauer explains more about the dust invasion.
I think this was after I tried to summit the first time. I went up and go to a point where the trail goes into a snowfield and I couldn't see the end of the snowfield due to the fog! so I figured I'd just explore the areas closer to the lakes instead.
I go back down and it looks like it's going to burn off so I'm like okay now I've got to make a decision. I decide to just go back to the parking lot. But I pass a guy on the way down and he asks if I'm going up or down. I told him my story and asked if he thought the fog would burn off and he didn't think it would for a while. He went up, so I followed thinking, well at least I won't die alone, just kidding, but I figured he could lead the way and I'd find the trail.
I found out I'm out of shape, took me a while longer than it took him, but I guess he does this all the time.
I stop again very near the top at a snow crossing, its up on the ridge, but I don't know because I can't see it. I figure this is the end of my hike and take a fake summit picture lol.
By the way this is what the trail looked like for the most part...
Eventually, just before I decide to head down that guy comes back and says "looks like your going make it!" Said it was a little scary at that snow crossing, (where I thought I might die from slipping and falling 1000's of feet to my death.) I said, no kidding lol. He told me how to get to the summit from here and I went ahead and tried, sure enough! this is the geological survey marker at the summit.
A few minutes after being on the summit Another guy came up, but he approached from the south, a different way than I had. Talked to him for a bit, cool guy from Laramie. He was a Nikonian too :) hard to find them these days! He told me the trail he came up was filled with great views and was probably shorter than the 4 miles back I'd already gone. I think he was wrong about the distance, but it was a nice hike back. But first the summit images. Northing but a big boulderfield at the top. It was pretty cool, but rather scary. Like you could break a leg with any step type of scary.
It was cloudy went I reached the summit, but it cleared and gave some great views of clouds below!
The Hike back was grueling I was exhausted. Had a few more great views that the end and met a few more hikers. This was much more enjoyable than Harney peak, probably because I started the there at 11am and this one I started at 6:20am and ended at 11:30am lol.
Got to jump in another shot! This was sweet, nothing but a 1000 foot drop below me here.
Tried not to get any cliche shots on this trip but I guess I did get one right at the end of the hike. I've seen this location shot on a few post cards and on the web a lot, but oh well.
I could barely walk back to my car after the 9 to 10 mile 5 hour hike. I planned on shooting the waterfall afterward, but I was too tired to go to the car and get the tripod, so I just handheld again, not bad, but could have been better with the tripod.
Got back and ate the last of my lunch meat in the cooler and set off for home! I wasn't game for camping when the low is 35 and I'm dead tired, instead I'll drive home 8 hours which was almost a worse idea. I got back to Laramie and took a nap in a parking lot, I knew I could never make it home without resting after that long hike.
The Trip ended up great, not exactly how I hoped, but not bad at all for only $256! I'll definitely be doing this sort of thing more often. In fact I probably will be going to the wind river range in September now with a few friends, should be a good time again.