Last week, my family and I went backpacking in the Medicine Bow National Forest, just west of Laramie and near my mom and stepdad’s cabin. I’m not sure how I managed to convince them that this was a good idea. For most of them, it was their first time backpacking. Normally, it’s very difficult to drag my older brother, Jay, out of the range where he can use an iPad, and his poor fiancé, Emily, had to put up with a bunch of Tambolis with nowhere to hide. My mother and Andy love the outdoors, but usually are more concerned with working their fast-twitch muscles so they can kick ass at the Senior Olympics than doing endurancey things. And Miles, after traveling for months as a ski bum in Tahoe and then beach bum in South America, just moved back to the South to begin his new life building a restaurant where he will cook local, organic foods from urban farms. We all congregated at the cabin on the CO/WY border, along with four of our collective six dogs (the little dogs were left in Memphis). Our trip was almost derailed immediately when AirTran lost Miles’s luggage, leaving him with only a small handbag containing a loaf of his yummy fresh bread and some figs. Not quite enough for three days in the wilderness. Luckily, he caught up on some sleep in the car so that when his bag was delivered to the middle of nowhere, WY at 1AM, he was able to stay up to get it.
We started the next morning with some delicious waffles (and about 3 pounds of bacon) and made it to the trailhead by noon, which was fine because it’s only about a 3.5 mi hike in to the lake we were aiming for, Heart Lake, which is on the back side of Medicine Bow Peak.
The trail started out as a wide path where ATV’s were allowed and prevalent, but they were generally polite and careful about our four off-leash dogs. After a couple of miles, we reached Dipper Lake, where we took a break. I read my book, some people took naps, and the dogs got to go for a swim. After this, the trail became a faint single-track that was well marked with cairns. We only saw one other person beyond this point, and I have no idea why, since the wilderness back there was beautiful.
We reached Heart Lake and set up camp. People seemed to have enjoyed their first day of backpacking, although like any good family, they teased me incessantly about my wilderness guidelines- like, don’t throw your extra food/soap/trash in the lake/river, bury your poo, store your food in bear barrels, etc. The bear barrels were a definite point of amusement for them. Andy wondered why we needed them, since he was of course bringing his gun.
Heart Lake was beautiful- one of those alpine lakes just at the edge of tree line, where the peak slopes away right into the lake. Miles and Andy even had time to do some fishing that evening.
Then we made some falafel for dinner. Miles and I were in charge of food for the trip, and I have to say, we could have done better. We tried to choose things everyone (specifically, Andy and myself) would like. Since Andy only eats meat and I’m vegetarian, that is challenging. So I tried to get the least vegetable-y things I could- falafel, beans and rice, peanut butter, etc. Total fail. Andy survived off the food he had packed in himself: several pounds of bacon, canned tuna, fish he caught in the lake, and Ripped Force (which is basically a combination of all the weird GNC supplements you can get plus a ton of caffeine). Also, we calculated how much food to bring by multiplying the number of calories I would eat by 6, since that’s how many of us there were. We had at least three times as much food as we needed. Seriously, these people need to learn to eat more.
We all crawled into our tents that night- I was sharing my two-person tent with Boris and Chester; Emily, Jay, and Miles were in my 4-person tent; and my mom and Andy tried to squeeze into a two-man tent with Bowzer and Harley. This was especially difficult because Bowzer is afraid of Harley, and also had been swimming in the lake all evening and was soaking wet and shivering. Shortly after that, Bowzer moved in to the bigger tent and slept inside Miles’s down jacket. They all laughed at me for bringing an extra ground pad for my dogs, but who’s laughing now? Well, not really me, because I woke up the next morning at 5AM to the sound of Boris puking, so I didn’t exactly escape the dog drama. Luckily, the puke landed only on the garbage bag my sleeping bag had been stored in. Unluckily, in my sleepy haze, when I threw the bag out of the tent, I threw it right onto my shoes, which then became full of dog vomit. Good thing I brought Chacos as a backup.
This photo shows my mother putting on her makeup that morning. I’m not kidding. Are we actually related? Sometimes I’m not sure.
Miles and I decided to hike to the top of Medicine Bow Peak that day, which looked awesome on the topo map and turned out to be even awesomer in real life. I wasn’t sure if there would be a trail, and it seemed like there would be at first because there was a sign pointing in that direction and a few cairns, but we lost it pretty quickly and headed pretty much straight up the talus field towards the peak. Chester is a rockstar on this kind of terrain, and Boris kept up for a while, but needed much more encouragement. There was a section I had to carry him across, once again reminding me that I should never have a dog who weighs much more than 50 lbs. Luckily, with most of Boris’s winter coat gone, he probably only weighs 35 lbs. Maybe because of the bulimia.
Miles and Boris at the top.
The sweeping views from the top were fantastic. I felt bad for the rest of my family, missing out on what was probably the best part of the whole trip! But they probably would have mutinied if I had tried to force them up that talus field. At the top, there were even a few other people, who had hiked up from the other side and didn’t seem to realize there was anything on the backside of the peak. Good job to Andy for discovering this beautiful area that no one seems to know about.
Obligatory attempted self-portrait at the top. I need to grow longer arms. On the way down, we decided to try to stick to the trail, which it turned out did exist and just went way around, bypassing the talus and scree completely. It was actually quite a nice hike.
We got back to the lake in time for Miles to do some more fishing, and for the rest of us to hang out, read, and relax. Andy had been fishing with Bowzer all day. They have this game that they play, where Andy catches a fish, shows it to Bowzer, and then tosses it back. Bowzer (who is a hunting dog, and is used to being able to bring back dinner) lunges after it into the water, trying desperately to catch it in that obsessive way that Labs have of doing their job. That day, he actually caught one! I bet that was the best day of his life.
Dark clouds quickly gathered over the lake, as they tend to do in the afternoons in the rockies. I warned everyone that we could start cooking dinner, but the minute the stoves were on, the rain would probably start. We all went into our tents in anticipation of a huge storm, and waited. After about 45 minutes of nothing, we decided to come out and make dinner anyway. As soon as the stoves were hot, the hail started.
We cooked dinner through the hailstorm, laughing at the ridiculous situation because we knew we could retreat to the tents at any time. We ate our bean and rice and fresh-caught fish.
Miles enjoyed some fresh caught fish. Would you buy food from this guy?
We settled back into our tents, the storm still raging outside. By then it had turned into a full-on thunderstorm. As the droplets pinged off my rain fly, I felt sorry for Jay, Emily, and Miles, stuck in my large tent, aka the collapsey tent. Every time the wind came through, the tent probably crushed them. They were good sports about it, though. Will these people ever go backpacking again? I’m not sure, but we all seemed to be in good spirits the whole time, so I’m optimistic.