September 16, 2019.
I didn't wait in Rawlins long before Monte @Blackdawg and his dad Steve @woodnick showed up at the gas station across the street. Their trucks fueled up, we said our warm hellos and set about our first task of the trip - buying firewood.
It's here - before I even really get into the story - that I have a confession to make. I do this only because it may be my last opportunity - this trip changing the way we approached camp fires all together.
I don't like buying bundles of firewood.
To me, it just seems like burning money.
It feels that way because - yep - that's literally what's happening.
And, for any really good camp fire, you need at least two or three bundles of wood, which means you're out a good $15 per night of camping. Or - and this is how we often ended up - you try to go sparingly on the wood, making two bundles stretch over three nights - and then everyone is freezing from 8:00pm to midnight when it's finally time to go to bed.
Regardless, we hadn't yet gotten to the point in the trip where we were past the need for bundles of wood - so five more bundles were purchased, to supplement the wood I'd brought from my workshop, and the bundle that Monte already had in his truck. And then, we headed south towards dirt!
We soon found ourselves on that dirt as we thundered down Sage Creek Road - which was really more of a gravel highway - until we blew by a sign next to a cattle grate where we caught only one word: closed. Turns out that there was apparently active logging on this road, and so it was closed to public use during working hours. Luckily for us, it was 4:57pm, and the road was "open" from 5:00pm to 6:00am, so we waited three minutes and set off once again. It was soon apparent that the closure was warranted.
We continued for less than an hour before arriving at the spot that Monte had thought we might camp - a little lake (reservoir) off of the main road. Unfortunately, the last half mile or so was gated, and while there was clearly a well-traveled bypass, it was labeled "Private Property ... Foot Traffic Only." Still keen to see where we could have camped, we set out on foot and discovered some old cabins and a spot that would have been sweet to camp at.
A bit bummed, but knowing we'd have plenty more awesome spots on our journey, we headed back to what had become a makeshift camp area at the gate where we'd left the trucks and set up for the evening.
We'd all had long drives over the course of the day, and a few sprinkles of rain helped us to keep dinner and the camp fire relatively short - all of us retiring to our tents by around 10:00pm. All of us except the dogs that is - Bix and Satch - they were keen to stay up all night, protecting camp and investigating the surrounding area; oblivious to the fatigue that would cause in the morning.
- - - - -
September 17, 2019.
It was a pleasant night, the cloud cover that brought a few sprinkles the previous evening keeping the temperatures a bit more temperate than the clear sky nights we'd encounter from this point forward, but they'd cleared by the morning - a beautiful blue sky spread above camp.
With Steve in camp, Monte was tasked with preparing breakfast - eggs and bacon - and I took the opportunity to head back up to the reservoir to check it out in the morning light. It was a nice walk, nature waking up around me, and while the lake was still in the shadow of the mountain to it's southeast, there were plenty of other things vying for my attention.
A small stream flowing out of the reservoir, fingerling fish darting here and there. Bright green algae in the water, waving in the current. And huckleberries - tons of huckleberries. I picked a few to bring back to camp, having learned on our trip to Canada that Monte had never seen these wild delicacies before.
As I arrived back in camp, breakfast was ready and - having assumed I'd eat cereal that morning - I was thrilled that an extra serving of bacon and eggs had been prepared for yours truly! We ate up and chatted for a while - we were in no rush this morning, since we'd planned to meet Mike @Digiratus around noon, not too far away.
It was 10:00am or so when we finally started getting our things together and as I lifted the ladder to fold my Mt. Shasta @Cascadia Tent onto the bed rack, I was shocked at what I saw between my mattress and the anti-condensation mat. It was a bat!
That bat had been in my tent - likely all night! I hoped that it'd been crushed quickly when I got into the tent, and that it hadn't suffered as I'd slept soundly through the night. It was a tiny bat - probably only a few inches long - and nearly weightless.
Regardless, there was definitely a bit of excitement around camp as the discovery was made, and it delayed our departure by a few minutes as the situation was remedied. But before long, we were on the road - finally airing down, something we'd skipped the previous evening since the road to this point had been reasonably smooth.
With that, and a little after 11:00am, we entered Medicine Bow - Routt National Forest and started our climb up Bridger Peak. This was a summit that Steve had planned to activate using Morse code on his HF Ham radio rig, and I for one was curious what exactly that would entail.
The climb to the top wasn't a long one - it probably only took us 45 minutes or so to get there from camp, and that included stopping for photos. But what it lacked in time, it made up for in views. We'd climbed to over 11,007 ft here along the Continental Divide, and as one of the highest peaks around, we had an amazing view of our surroundings.
We also had amazing views of the storms all around us. Not just any storms either - we could see even from a distance that these were lightning storms. All of us wondering how long we'd want to be up here in the highest place around, Steve set about activating the mountain - or at least attempting to.
Within minutes, the storm cells we'd seen in the distance were upon us - pushed quickly by the 40-50mph westerly winds. And it wasn't rain that these cells carried, it was hail! We belined it for our trucks - the peak still not activated - to wait it out as the ground became white around us.
Unfortunately, it was still hailing 15 minutes later, and with the lightning strikes getting closer, we decided it prudent to retreat to lower elevations. Plus, we'd been in contact with Mike, and knew that he was waiting for us a little way down the hill. So, with much more on our agenda for the day we got ourselves turned around and made our way through what had been a summer environment just a day before, but now looked like the first day of winter.
The Continental Divide Trail highlighted by hail as it crisscrossed the road here on Bridger Peak.
Soon, as we raced down, the hail stopped and we ran into Mike who was waiting in a staging area for us to show up. Another round of handshakes and hugs - it was good to all be back together - and we lined up the trucks to capture the moment. It's not often that the red trucks and green trucks are in equal number - most of the time the more appealing color is in the majority.
Greetings shared, we discussed our next steps. Still in Wyoming, we'd work our way south towards Colorado - essentially getting ourselves to the border for camp this evening. In the meantime, Steve had a second peak he wanted to activate, so we decided that could be our next major destination.
As we drove along, the vegetation was green and the air was wet and crisp - only the level of the reservoirs cluing us into the fact that it was the end of summer at these high elevations. And with the recent rain/hail keeping the dust down, we all had a pleasant drive from one vantage point to the next.
Oh, and I'm far from admitting that a red truck is better than green, but boy - the Redhead sure did look stunning in the light
We made our way over hills and through clear cuts with little fanfare. We all got a good laugh when we came across a clear cut being grazed by cattle - as though destroying the forest itself wasn't insult enough.
But then, we'd also find ourselves in tall tree tunnels - the Lodgepole Pines towering along either side of the road, our cameras clicking to capture the moment forever.
Here and there, we'd pop out of the trees to a view of the lands around us. Often in these areas we'd see groups of hunters camped, archery season in full swing in this southern-most area of Wyoming.
With frequent stops, and another longer stop for lunch, it took us several hours before we finally set off on our final approach to Blackhall Mountain. In the end, it was another long climb - the summit, at 10,974 ft - just missing the mark we'd achieved earlier in the day.
However, unlike Bridger Peak where the weather was dismal and the previously-installed lookout was reduced to a rubble foundation, the lookout at Blackhall Mountain was still in reasonably good repair. In fact, it was clear that while it may no longer be used as a lookout, it is defnitely still used as a communication center - solar panels and plenty of antenna attached to it's southern face.
Immediately, Steve deployed his kit once again and began to activate the peak (essentially, contact as many people as he could from it). This time he was much more successful, and over the next 30 minutes or so he was able to exchange callsign and other pertinent information with half a dozen folks or so - some of them hundreds or even thousands of miles away. It was pretty cool to watch!
As Steve played around with his gear, the rest of us - naturally - explored the summit. Though a few feet shorter than the last, the views here were outstanding, and the rocky outcroppings, striped granite, and distant clouds made for some dramatic fore- and backgrounds - something we tried to make as good a use of as possible.
Eventually, we all tore ourselves away from our hobbies - it was 6:00pm already and getting late, the lot of us still with no idea where we were going to find camp. A few final shots at the top, and we started down - the trees here an indicator that it might be a bit breezy to set up camp on the summit.
Down off the top, we soon found ourselves in what @mrs.turbodb has termed "the landscape of a failed lookout." All around us, a fire had charred the forest - in this case, within the last 12 months. The ground was bare, as were the trees, and while it made for good views, it did not make for good camping.
Eventually we found ourselves on the edge of the burn - live trees now interspersed with the dead - and Mike reported back over the radio that he'd found a prospective camp site. This was great because the rest of us had come up blank with the roads we'd explored, and if we didn't find camp soon, we'd not only be setting up with our headlamps, we'd be arriving in the dark.
Just as he did, I spotted this young bull moose spying on us off the side of the road. His nonchalance as I got out of the truck to snap his photo may indicate that he may not be on the winning side of natural selection in the next year.
Two more minutes up the road, I pulled into camp just as everyone else was getting settled. Luckily for me, the whole site was reasonably flat and I soon had the tent deployed and had changed into long pants and several sweatshirts - the clear night sky giving a dramatic show along the horizon - and already resulting in temps lower than we'd experienced the previous evening.
This being Mike's first night in camp, within minutes we were all on him - like stink on a skunk - for some of his famous salsa. He did us one better and whipped up a batch of is guacamole for us to devour in a few minutes, our voracious appetites for the avocado dip never satisfied by the quantity presented.
Then, we all set about preparing our dinners and hanging out around the camp fire. I'm not sure what time we called it an evening, but I can assure you that fun was had all around, even if the camp fire was of the small variety, and even as the temperatures dropped lower and lower. It was Steve's last evening with us, and we wanted to make the most of it - so we did.
But eventually the time came for us all to call it a night - so we headed our separate directions, knowing not what the next day would bring, but being glad for the warm covers to snuggle down into. It was going to be a cold, cold night.