I could tell where my permethrin sprays on my right pant leg had inadequate overlap: it formed a perfect landing strip for the mosquitos. Soon my pants were covered in a polka dot pattern of the little blood suckers.

I was starting on an approximately 8-day backpack in the Wind River Range of Wyoming for what I termed my Medicare birthday (turning 65). The previous year turned into a 26-miles-in-a-day debacle when the outfitter did not bring my gear in. This year, I couldn’t even get any of 3 outfitters to respond to me. Friends who had packed me and a handful of others in 3 years ago were willing but couldn’t commit to a date. OK, I thought, I’ll just pack it in myself, which would give me more flexibility as to where I could go. The possibilities were dizzying; I wanted to go everywhere! I settled on starting from Big Sandy Opening, going the “back way” to the Cirque of the Towers, then to the Papoose Lake area for a shot of a feature on the north side of Big Sandy Mountain called the Monolith, past Grave Lake for a view of the lake, Pilot Knob and Mount Hooker. The denouement would be Baptiste Lake above Mt Hooker. Last year the Milky Way would have risen over Hooker but not this year. Regardless, it’s in a spectacular cirque. It would be about a 50-mile loop. My pack weighed in at 35# before I added my hot cocoa and Cliff Blocks (those are heavy, by the way, but they were left over from last year). I would also be carrying up to 1 liter of water so I could drink at any time and not have to wait for a water source. I was so delighted with the lightness of my pack, I decided to throw in a 2nd lens, my 90mm in addition to the 45mm I thought would be most useful. I figured that I probably wouldn’t be back to those places so I should bring it. Come time to load the pack into the FJ, I could barely lift it! . 5 days before, I had decided to put my trekking poles in a prominent place. Couldn’t find them. I had to be in a seminar in Denver the next 3 days so I picked up a new pair at the end of the 1st day since REI was 7 minutes from the seminar. If it wasn’t a Friday evening, anyway. I got there, picked them up and 3 days after the seminar I was on the road. I got 1 house away and looked in the passenger side footwell for my boots that pretty much live there. “Pretty much” being the operative phrase. I backed up, got my boots and was actually on my way.

It being a Wednesday afternoon when I arrived at the trailhead, I was able to not only find, but pick a parking spot. My dog and I went for a short walk before getting organized for the next day.

Day 1 Big Sandy TH to Shadow Lake @11 miles and 2100’ elevation gain

Aside from encountering a man in a kilt, the walk was uneventful, especially as I subscribe to the “Rest Early & Rest Often” style of walking with a full pack. Approaching the back side of the Cirque of the Towers gave the first of many spectacular views of the trip. When I found a camp, I first made some hot cocoa to give me the energy to set up the tent. The tent was about 2/3 of the way up when the first graupel fell. I hurriedly attached the tent fly and my dog & I got inside. The graupel changed to hail the size of edamame peas. After 45 minutes or an hour, the hail abated & I ventured out to finish attaching the fly, which, I discovered, in my haste, I had attached inside out. Then I found that I had left my lighter outside. A soggy lighter (one of those gas station cheap-os) does not work. I went through my pack looking for my back-up lighter. Not to be found no matter how many times I looked in the same places. I was really hungry. Fortunately, the dinner I had pulled out for that night would rehydrate in 3 minutes with hot water, so I figured that it would rehydrate just fine with ambient temperature water. It did. For dessert, I swallowed my pride & searched out other campers to see if anyone had an extra spare lighter. No luck. I figured that I’d be hiking out the next day sans pack, spend the night back at the trailhead, then return the next day with 2 lighters. I was saved from that by the lighter drying out after about 3 hours in my hand in my down jacket pocket and I was able to continue as planned.

Day 2 Shadow Lake to Papoose Lake area @ 6 miles

After not much sleep due to leg cramps and stomach cramps (did my SteriPen work? Was cold water rehydration of dinner not a good idea? And, too bad there wasn’t room in my pack for a sleeping bag, but I figured my puffy pants and down jacket could do double duty) I was on the trail again in the morning. Texas Pass was about 2 1/4 miles away and would drop me down into the famed Cirque of the Towers. Texas Pass has a split personality: a steep scree slope on the NW side and full on “Sound of Music “ on the other. On the former, there were many sections that were so steep, I was afraid that I would overbalance as I stepped up. On the latter, it was easy to imagine Julie Andrews twirling around in the wildflower filled meadows in ‘Sound of Music’. It put songs like “Edelweiss” (though there was no edelweiss growing there - just penstemons, paintbrush and candy tuft) and “My Favorite Things “ in my head for the entire trip even though I could only remember a few words here and there. One of my dreams even had a musical number, which I think was a first.

My goal that day was to find a camp that gave me a nice view of a feature on the north face of Big Sandy Mountain called The Monolith. I found such a site, a little short of Papoose Lake and was happy to get my tent erected before the afternoon rain started. That night, I figured out to have my feet against the dog for warmth, switching to a puppy pile in the wee hours. For you climbers: there is a reputedly excellent 15 pitch GR IV 5.12c called ‘Discovery’ on the NNE face. I got a nice sunrise shot of the Monolith the next morning.

Day 3 Lizard Head Trail to Valentine Lake @8 miles @2200’ elevation gain

Finally, out of the trees! 5 1/2 miles of the Lizard Head Trail is above treeline, yielding expansive views the entire way. This is where I encountered the greatest number of people. One group was involved in an extraction (not quite a rescue) of one of their members. First, there was a young man with not just his pack on, but carrying another & hands full of gear practically running towards and past me. Then there was the group, walking unconcernedly, then a young woman running with what looked like a 1st aid kit in her hand coming from behind & then past me and finally, that same young woman with a young man, both walking on either side of an older man who was moving very slowly (though not limping) in the direction of the group. I heard her asking if something was anti-nausea. A little further, there was a young couple who stopped to talk. The young man wanted to chat, but the young woman had her electronic device playing without the courtesy of earbuds, so I was not in the mood to linger around them. On the descent to Valentine Lake, an “older” gentleman also had his device on, listening to what sounded like a lecture at a very high volume. At least he was motoring along but it was still annoying.

We camped at Valentine Lake, which, at the outlet has myriad little rock islands with small trees growing on them, much like Japanese gardens. In my wanderings, I found the official food hanging pole, erected by the Forest Service, complete with a sign banning the hanging of carcasses. Alas, after carrying a full pack for 3 days, there was no way I could throw a line over it. Indeed, it went approximately 90 degrees different from where I intended it to go! There was only one spot that was both clear of trees and a little higher than the ground around it, so after numerous tries, I went in search of a tree with a lower horizontal, bare branch. That evening, a father & sons group asked if they could camp in the next campsite & I agreed. 5 minutes later, one of the sons was violently vomiting. Not exactly idyllic. The father had a chronic cough with which he peppered the night. Fortunately, they moved on in the morning & I had a nice rest day 3 and the first good nights sleep. The next afternoon, I heard what I thought was a wrangler leading about 20 horses in at a canter……….wrong: another person with his electronic device and no ear buds with the volume turned way up. That evening, a very social group of women camped in that same campsite, the volume going up until dinner time, and resumed until their bedtime.

During my day off I had a strict schedule that alternated between resting and napping. A few dips in the very refreshing water punctuated the otherwise rigorous routine. Best of all, I found my backup lighter, so I knew I hadn’t been an idiot when I packed my pack.

Day 5 Valentine Lake to Baptiste Lake @7 miles 1300’ elevation gain

The terrain leading to Baptiste Lake for the last mile is densely inhabited by mosquitoes. Wildflower season equates with peak mosquito season, but I have never before had to resort to a head net. DEET (100% in WY) is always enough. But it’s impossible to eat with one on. The few seconds of vulnerability in order to convey food from one side of the net to the other would undoubtedly add a significant amount of protein to each bite. I chose to walk and eat. I admit, I was camped in a marsh; the highest and driest spot I could find. The mosquitoes were hardly there when I chose it. But by the time I had back tracked 2 miles down the trail to retrieve my jacket I had left on a boulder, they were out in full force. Even with quick entering of the tent, I soon was using the stuff sack with extra socks and underwear to wipe the inside of the tent, leaving red streaks of bug blood on the tent wall and stuff sack. At last, I had them reduced to an acceptable number i.e the ones not interested in indulging their blood lust were spared. When I “cooked” (boiled water & poured it into a bag of freeze dried food, they swarmed. It was too hot in the tent to eat, so I walked around, trying to force some food down. I gave up after a few spoonfuls as my body rebelled against ingesting more of what had been giving me stomach cramps, nausea, chills & even some dizziness. But the cirque……… from Mount Hooker on the left to Musembeah towering above the tent, this was the most magnificent of the places on this trip. Since I was by now really tired and planned on spending the next day there, I didn’t take my camera out.

Day 6 Baptiste Lake to Big Sandy trailhead. 17 miles, but sure felt more like 20

Clouds blocked the sun the next morning at sunrise, so I was able to break camp before hiking up to the area around the lake overlooking the base of Mount Hooker. The clouds were getting more threatening, and, between that and the blood sucking denizens, it seemed prudent  to head out instead of spending another day there as planned. I hated the thought of having to pack out 3 days worth of food, but didn’t see any good alternatives. Had the weather been fine, I would have stayed in and lived on Cliff Blocks. It started raining shortly after reaching the start to Hailey Pass. If Texas Pass was ‘The Sound of Music’, then Hailey Pass is the Wyoming version — just as gorgeous, but rougher and wilder. A few of the people coming from the west were exuberant about the rain, evoking Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart asking Murron (Catherine McCormack) to go for a ride, “It’s good Scottish weather”. By the time I was almost down the other side, the rain became intermittent, finally stopping after another handful of miles. I only needed my headlamp the last hour or so, reaching the trailhead around 9:30pm. I had a luxurious sleep, complete with a sleeping bag draped over me. The next day, after a shower and breakfast, I went to the Green River Lakes area, where I camped for another night. My plan had been to come out, rest, resupply, and go back in from another trailhead, but there was no way I could face more of the food-caused misery. I walked slowly around Green River Lake and on my drive out, I stopped for a hitch hiker. He was a through hiker, doing the Continental Divide Trail, coming out to Pinedale for rest and resupply. He had 1200 more miles to go & hoped to be done by the end of September. I gave him a ride to Pinedale and cleverly foisted off the remains of the evil food on him and we were both happy.