Ascent of Cloud Peak on 1992-09-10
|Other People:||Solo Ascent|
|Date:||Thursday, September 10, 1992|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Motorized Transport to Trailhead:||Car|
| Elevation:||13167 ft / 4013 m|
Ascent Trip ReportWednesday, September 9:
It was now 4:15 P.M., since driving across Wyoming was an all-day project, and my idea was to hike up the trail towards Cloud Peak a few miles and camp out, so I would be better positioned to go for the summit the next day. So I got my battered and difficult-to-pack Gregory backpack loaded up with all the usual overnight gear--tent, sleeping bag, pad, stove, food, water filter, clothes, and maps--and set off up the Mistymoon Trail towards Lake Helen, Mistymoon Lake, and eventually Cloud Peak.
My two and a half hour hike that afternoon was pretty easy, mostly flat walking through the typical forest/meadow mixture so common at high elevations out west. The trail was very muddy, though, and as I got higher there was more and more snow on the ground. After 4.4 miles I reached Lake Helen, and it was starting to get dark, so I looked around for a tentsite. I couldn't find one near a brook and off the trail, so I settled, after a long search, on a very nice flat, tree-sheltered, mostly snow-free spot on a plateau above Lake Helen. I had to walk down to a frozen lagoon of the lake to filter my water, but the views of the surrounding Bighorn Mountains were great. It had been a very clear day, and I hoped that tomorrow would be, too. After cooking up my dinner I went to sleep in my little A-frame tent.
Thursday, September 10:
Today I climbed Cloud Peak, a major Rocky Mountain summit and the highest point in the massive Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. It was probably the most frustrating and exhausting ordeal of my entire trip, but at least I did make the summit. The weather was perfect, but the main problem was all the damn snow on the ground, deposited during the same snowstorm that had caught me in the Wind Rivers the week before.
When I started out from my tent at Lake Helen at 10,000 feet the trail was still mostly dry and clear of snow, but as I passed Lake Marion and Mistymoon Lake it became almost totally covered in a couple inches of wet snow. After crossing a divide north of Mistymoon Lake I had to drop down into the swampy valley of Paint Rock Creek, and then ascend the rough, rocky terrain of the long, gradually sloping ravine. This was very difficult because the path was very faint and hard to follow, and the boulder fields were partially covered with snow. This meant that if you couldn't find a rock protruding to step on, you had to step on the snow without knowing how deep it was. This made the route like a minefield--sometimes I'd step on the snow between the rocks and sink up to my knee, other times there would be a rock just an inch down.
This got to be so discouraging and treacherous I almost totally threw in the towel, especially when I somehow lost the faint, cairned path and thrashed around in a particularly bad section of big, jumbled rocks and deep snow. However, when I finally forced my way back into the middle of the ravine I saw fresh footprints in the snow, following the hard-to-see cairns. I felt like Robinson Crusoe when he sees Friday's footprints in the sand--I am not alone!--and followed the prints and the cairns up the north branch of the Paint Rock Creek, which led towards a broad ramp-like slope leading to the summit of Cloud Peak. The footprints were great, since they showed me where the worst "mines" were.
After a bit, near a very prominent cairn, I caught up to the source of the footprints, two guys just as tired and unhappy as I was. I chatted with them as we played tag for about ten minutes, but then I pulled away, since one of the guys was going real slow. I broke trail, following indistinct cairns, and surmounted the steep slope that led me to the flatter high area of the ramp. After a bit I didn't see the guys behind me anymore, and I never even saw them again--I assumed that they turned back shortly after I passed them. They were the only other humans I saw all day.
Once up on the high part of the ramp the going was easier--there were large grassy sections, and the flatter terrain and bigger rocks made avoiding deep snow easier. I was definitely going for it now, but the final climb was much harder than it looked due to a long series of false summits in the form of suddenly steep slopes of rock, that, when surmounted, only led to another one. I also had to cross an almost knife-edge ridge to get to the summit massif, and stagger up over more damn rock, snow, steep slopes, and the like. At long last, at 1:30 P.M., after over five hours of slogging, I stumbled up to the cairn atop Cloud Peak, 13,176 feet up in the sky.
I really took a long rest here. The very top was a huge cairn on a big rock rising above the flat, snowy, rocky summit plateau. A few yards away to the east this small plateau had been sheared off by a glacier, and the drop-off of thousands of sheer feet to tiny lakes was awesome. There were many rugged peaks surrounding me, including the jagged Black Tooth to the north. As I sat and ate my snack in the brisk wind on this (ironically) cloudless day, staring out at the distant snowy crest of the Absaroka Mountains 120 miles away, I really felt a sense of accomplishment. I took lots of pictures so that I could prove I, alone, made it up this remote peak.
My descent was not as bad as the ascent was, largely because I could follow the tracks I had made on the way up, plus the up and down tracks of the other party, once I was below where they had turned back. Also, the bright sun of midday had melted the snow a bit, something I noticed particularly the further down I went. It was still a miserable slog, though, since the rough, rocky terrain didn't get any easier, the cairns weren't any easier to find, and it was an awfully long way. I had severely underestimated the distance to Cloud Peak, and I realized that there was no way I was going to make it back to my car this evening, as I had planned--I would be lucky to make it back to my tent, still pitched at Lake Helen.
Somehow, though, I managed to get myself down the rocky slope to Paint Rock Creek, follow the creek down to a grassy flat area, cross the swampy brooks there, climb up the short hill to the trail, and stagger back down past Mistymoon Lake, and get to my tent, still pitched under a tiny grove of trees on a small plateau overlooking Lake Helen. I ate a cold dinner because I hadn't brought enough cookable food for a second night, and at last went to sleep very shortly afterwards. It was almost dark--6:30 P.M.--when I returned anyway, and my long day helped me nod off quickly.
Friday, September 11:
I slept late in my tent, ate my breakfast, packed up all my gear, and made the hike back down to my car from Lake Helen in a couple hours. I was very tired, with my full pack seeming especially heavy and my socks and boots especially wet and muddy, so this easy few miles of relative flatness was still somewhat of a slog. It was another nice day, and I saw a number of other parties on the trail, heading in, in contrast to yesterday, when I saw only one other group all day.
Beat, I finally made it back to the trailhead, after taking a wrong fork of the trail at its bottom that led to the campground at Tensleep Lake--I had to hike up a very short slope to the parking lot. After throwing my pack in my car I made good use of the outhouse nearby, then changed into my "civilian" clothes and drove down the gravel road to U.S. 16, not too bad at all for a western mountain access road.
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