Bow National Forest, east of Wheatland, Wyoming
September 26, 2009
Up before dawn, and out of the driveway in Cheyenne before the sun even thinks of rising. Painful, but we do what we have to. My dogs, Henry and Makenzie, donít complain at all, and in fact seem very pleased to be up and about this time of night. We head north on I-25 through the dark as the sky to the east begins to glow red. A Saturday morning news program keeps me alert until we get to Wheatland. I stop at the gas station for a drink, then continue west, getting snarled a bit in my directions, but ending up on the right road just as the sun peeks through a thin layer of clouds on the horizon. The drive through Palmer Canyon is fabulous, as I drive past naked granite formations with dark pines sprinkled here and there, wherever they can gain a foothold. Soon the road leaves the mountainous terrain and we speed through wide valleys of open rangeland. I stop to let the dogs out for a break, and they run through the field next to the road, sniffing furiously and wagging tails. We pile back into the car, and continue on, westward, then north, towards the forest.
I can see Laramie Peak from Wheatland, and aside from a few deeper canyons, it is in sight the entire drive. It is a colossal mountain, really, though it gets no press as such. It sits in relative isolation, with the nearest ranked summit over 2.5 miles away, and it is over 1000 feet taller than the next highest peak in the entire Laramie Range. North to south, Laramie Peak stretches 7 miles. Itís 75 miles to a taller peak (Browns Peak in the Snowy Range). It has the highest prominence of any peak in southeast Wyoming (3,310í), barely edging out Elk Mt and Medicine Bow Peak, the highest peaks in Carbon and Albany Counties, respectively, and it has the 7th-highest prominence of any peak state-wide. In the southeast quadrant of Wyoming, only 14 peaks are taller than Laramie Peak, and all of them are clustered on the Colorado border. What makes it all visually impressive is that Laramie Peak erupts from the plains of eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska with almost no transition, and can be seen for a hundreds to the east.
Well a mountain with that much going for it also has another thing going for it: isolation. It takes a very long time to drive to the mountain from anywhere. The nearest paved road that I can find to the trailhead is over 30 miles away. It is almost with disbelief that I note it is almost 9:00 when we arrive at the trailhead. Can it be I spent 4 hours driving to this place? Apparently, yes.
I pack up my gear quickly in my bag, feeling pressed for time. A group of UW students on an outing in a UW van, the only other vehicle in the parking lot, start the hike just before me. Itís cool, about 60 degrees, and breezy. The sun is out, and there are no clouds, but a thick haze from forest fires to the west diminishes the brilliance of the sun and obscures the horizon. The wide trail initially heads downhill through a lodgepole pine forest to a bridged stream, and will then climb uphill steadily and relentlessly for the next 4.5 miles to the summit. I clip along the trail, which is easily wide enough for ATVís, and avoid the larger boulders and ruts. Thick pines line the trail. Feeling pretty good, I make good time up the switchbacks, and soon pass the group of UW students taking a break in a warm, sunny clearing off the trail.
As we get higher, I start to get more peeks through the trees to the surrounding peaks and plains, and the views are impressive. Makenzie and Henry bounce along the trail, and I am continually required to whistle for them to reign them back in. The forest changes from pine to spruce to fir as we ascend, and near 11:00, we hit the top.
The summit is large, with multiple points and cones such that Iím not at all sure where the actual summit is. There are many pinnacles of rock that I cannot get on top of. There are also many radio antennas, outbuildings, ramps and cables running every which way. Itís kind of a mess. The wind blows briskly, and I tramp around the summit, utilizing the ramps in some cases to get across crevasses in the granite. The horizon is obscured in all directions by haze, which is disappointing since I expected to see the Snowy Range and perhaps even the Front Range from this high up if the air were clear.
Henry, Makenzie and I lingered
at the summit until the UW group came up, and we all sat at the summit
and talked for a bit, several of their group being quite enamored with
Henry, who is indeed a very personable dog. After a bit I took off and
headed down the summit about 300 yards, then pulled off into the sunshine
and found a nice, flat rock to sit on and eat my sandwich. Thus fortified,
we motored on down the trail, a group of hikers, a group of motorcycles
and a group of ATVs, all on their way up. The afternoon stayed sunny, with
a layer of haze, and by the time we were heading down it was very warm
and pleasant. We reached the car at 2:00, and I fed the dogs their lunch
while I changed shoes, socks and my sweaty shirt. We pulled out around
2:30 and began the long drive home. Fortunately the CSU-BYU game was on
the radio, so I had plenty to keep my interest on the drive home.
The summit (left hump) as seen from halfway down the trail
Wide trail through lodgepole pine forest
Makenzie the uber dog
Early morning light along Palmer Canyon Road
Laramie Peak from the south
Henry at the beginning of the trail
Very typical of the entire trail
Very nice textures on opposing rock faces
I believe that high point is the actual summit, though I couldn't get to it
Unobstructed views from the summit in almost all directions
Haze obscured the skyline looking south
Hazy horizon, but still a nice view
One of the half-dozen radio towers on the summit
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