|Stough Creek Basin, Wyoming
July 4, 2002
Within moments we entered the Popo Agie Wilderness (prounounced Popo’zsha). The path here was wide and we loped along the flat trail side by side, dogs in front. We passed four packers going out and a group of 4 anglers, also going out. In no time we reached Roaring Fork Lake, and were so enamored by the stream that led out of it that we stopped and played for awhile. The stream was about 20 feet wide, 3-4 feet deep and very slow moving. It meandered through a thickly-grassed meadow surrounded by thin, dark pines. We shed our packs and shoes and waded into the cool water. Frank jumped right in, but Makenzie was hesitant. It took quite a lot of coaxing to get her to take the plunge. Once she did, we discovered that she was actually a pretty fair swimmer, for a 3-month old. She glided through the water with the ease of a pro, with only her little brown head above water. When picked up out of the water she would keep her little legs churning as if she were still swimming, just like Frank did at Lake Maconaughy several years back. We entertained ourselves by throwing objects into the stream and watching the dogs charge in after them. Frank was especially anxious for us to toss in more floating sticks as these appeared to offer the most sport. A group of anglers approached and then passed, heading downstream for those elusive trout. Andra lobbied for camping right next to the stream, but the angler traffic and the fact we had only hiked 1 mile from the car out of a possible 6-7 to our final destination goaded my sense of anxious urgency to suggest we continue on a little ways. I find it is always hard for me to stop and wait when there is so much to see up ahead. I would be more pleased, overall, if I could simply find the first pleasant spot and occupy it without whim or fancy of moving on. But this is just not in me. Where I should be relaxed, I get ancy, and feel that to sit still another second will certainly kill me. Therefore, we moved on across the stream as the map suggested and promptly got tangled up in thick woods and heavy mosquitoes. By a stroke of navigation and geography that I still can’t understand, we tried to follow the stream back up on the far bank with the goal of intercepting the trail that surely had to be found somewhere. We hiked over what seemed like level terrain for quite some time, then, fearing I had gone too far, began to hike back towards the creek which we had lost in the thick woods and tributaries. This was the strange part because we ended up walking down a very long steep hill to get to the stream only about a hundred yards from where we crossed. Very strange. I don’t know how we got uphill to begin with. At any rate, once we found the trail we cruised quickly through the warm summer afternoon.
The trail followed a steep contour course up into a hanging valley and very soon we crossed a stream in the trail that had been my initial choice for camp #1. Here I had to search for a good 20 minutes before finding a flat spot of real estate big enough to squeeze most of our tent onto. This being done, we shed our packs and sat by the nearby creek and filtered water and cooled off. Our camp was just under the forest canopy near the edge of a sweeping meadow of tussock grass and rivulets of clear, cold water stretching to the base of a nearby mound of granite.
We cooked dinner several dozen yards from our tentsite and took extra care
to hang the food out of reach of bears. A coworker had warned me that his
hiking-partner’s food had been snagged by a black bear in this very area
last year. It was at dinner then, that we first noted the severity of the
mosquito problem. We both applied gobs of bug repellant (after several
bites, of course) and then felt the need to lather up the dogs after clouds
of the little buggers coated their coats. We also noticed with shock that
some other type of fly had bitten the dogs profusely on their bellies where
the fur is almost non-existent to create bright red blotches. These looked
much more serious than mosquito bites, and we applied extra repellent in
those areas. These bites, in fact, resembled bites Andra and I would also
receive and be scratching at for more than a month. I still do not know
what kind of insect makes those bites. At the time, we assumed that
the mosquito concentration was linked to the proximity of the boggy meadow.
This, ultimately, had little bearing on the situation.
After a leisurely breakfast, we took our time packing up camp. Once we
got started it was quite warm, and we started uphill almost immediately.
The trail was steep and contained about twenty switchbacks up and over
a high pass. The rock slopes we passed and the high craggy peaks were very
cool. We passed water only once, and failed to take advantage of it. The
result was that we were bone dry by the time we reached a stream on the
downside of the pass, and we were very thankful to see it by then. At the
top of the pass we were presented with an amazing view of the Wind River
Range trailing up to the north, sparkling with snow under the mid summer
sky. The moment would have been so much nicer had we not been constantly
swatting at biting flies and mosquitoes. At the pass there was also another
bug present that didn’t necessarily bite, but swarmed and caused itching
merely by skin contact. Anyway, we moved on quickly so as to get away from
the pesky swarms and as long as we were moving, we were fine. But everywhere
we stopped to get water or rest, the bugs were on us in an instant. Where
were all the spiders? With arthropod populations like this you’d think
the forest could be one giant web. The afternoon brought clouds and as
we reached the final leg of the trail, I fretted about rain. The bugs and
heat had conspired against us and we were both approaching a less than
zen-like state on the matters of the day. The final frustration was when
we hiked almost an hour over what should have been only ½ mile of
trail. This was the second geographical mystery of the trip. Somehow, between
the time this map was printed and the time we hiked the printed route,
the mountain had stretched more than a mile!
So we packed up camp without ever having camped there, and in half an hour, were back on the trail heading down. The clouds had steadily built back up during this time and once again, I fretted we would get drenched before we pitched the tent. We found a place that wasvisually much more interesting than our previous spot and apparently had fewer bugs. This latter observation turned out to be incorrect, as we believe it only took time for sufficient brigades of bugs to be alerted to our arrival. Once they had our coordinates, they zeroed in for the kill. The site itself was under lodgepole pines, with an understory of bright green forbs, located near a clearing where the face of an immense granite boulder peaked out for twenty or thirty feet. Andra stayed near the tent while I once again tried fishing in the nearby stream that had backed up into a nice pond. The mosquitoes were worse than ever, but the fact that I actually caught something made me think less of them. I had great luck overall, catching 11 small trout. I cleaned and cooked several, but the bug swarms made even this task difficult and miserable, and I can’t say I really enjoyed them. It was about this time that our bug spray ran out. We were only too happy to get back into the tent and sleep once dusk came.
The next morning
was beautiful and cool and Andra discovered a gorgeous lookout of bare
rock up through the trees from camp. We walked up there and spent awhile
enjoying the view, with only marginal interruption from bugs (less than
100 on you at a time). I went fishing again and caught 5 more trout, and
put them all back safe and sound. I wrestled with the agony of leaving
a place so soon without any exploration, but could not seriously visualize
taking the clouds of mosquitoes another day. Thus, we packed up camp and
headed down, my weeks-in-planning trip ended before it ever really began.
Never before, and I hope never again, will bugs be such an influential
factor in a camping trip. You would have to have been there to believe
it. The amazing thing was that when I had camped nearby at Leg Lake only
two weeks before, I had not encountered a single mosquito. We must’ve just
hit the worst part of a breeding cycle or something.
I was very much looking forward to the trip to this area, but I had never, ever counted on mosquitoes and flies as having the potential to turn beautiful scenery into a hellish existence. At least it was a trip we could improvise on and ultimately abandon when it just turned out to be no fun at all. Also, it taught me the importance of having plenty of bug spray on hand.