September 4-6, 2013
New Fork Lakes
New Fork Trail (#137)
Porcupine Trail (#137)
New Fork Trail or Clark Creek Trail (#137 or #185) map dependent
Doubletop Mountain Trail (#131)
Lowline Trail (#186)
+/- 30.6 miles
Beartooth Publishing North Wind River Range
Earthwalk Press North Wind River Range
USGS 7.5 minute Topographical Maps: New Fork Lake, Kendall Mountain, Squaretop Mountain, Fremont Lake North
New Fork Lakes Trailhead, I must confess, is never that high on my list. It is a beautiful trailhead and it accesses some very spectacular scenery and is way, waayyyy less crowded than it’s neighbor trailheads, but the trails just aren’t that inviting for many people. The trailhead lies beside the lakes of same name, which are nestled in a very beautiful canyon valley. No matter where your itinerary takes you out of this trailhead you must plan for an entire day (at least) of steady uphill climbing to get out of the valley and into the mountains. No matter where you are going, you will be going uphill first. I don’t mean “all day” as an exaggeration. Look at a map and prepare your legs for the hike. All trails go up and up and upppppppppp out of here, and there’s no way around it. Also, I’ve never had dry feet after hiking out of New Fork Lakes. This could be my subconscious timing, or it could be that this is just a damp, muddy place. There certainly is a lot of water around. Negativity aside, as I mentioned, this trailhead offers some pretty amazing and truly unique views of the Winds and you should check it out. Just plan on wet feet and lots of uphill. Okay? Go!
We decided to head out of New Fork Lakes trailhead to explore some lakes for fishing and also to play off-trail a bit. We also hoped to have a quiet trip without a lot of folks nearby. The human count on this hike ended up being 10, but we saw 4 of those 10 about 5 feet from the trailhead, so I don’t really count that as a backcountry person count. So, 6 people in the backcountry and that was split between two groups. Not bad when Big Sandy had over 130 cars at its trailhead this past week.
On the way to the trailhead we ended up slowing to a crawl as we maneuvered through a cattle drive. You know you’re from Wyoming when….
Regardless of this, we got there and we somehow managed to find a parking spot despite the 3 other vehicles parked there. (See? Quiet.) We signed in at the register (do this every time, people!), and read what other recent hikers had to say. It sounded like there were a lot of bear sightings within the past few days so we were glad to have our bear sprays on our hipbelts. Seriously, sign the registers. It gives the Forest Service the opportunity to see how frequently the trails are used, if there is trail damage anywhere, and it can assist in Search and Rescue operations. Also, giving fellow hikers trail information when you register out is quite helpful and certainly appreciated.
This was an unexpected trip, so we had hastily packed up in the morning. We hit the trailhead by 10 and started hiking at a fairly brisk pace to make time. Our first night was to be spent at Kenny Lakes, which is only about 9 miles in, but as I mentioned in the beginning, it was a hard, totally uphill 9 miles. All day uphill, remember?
The sun was shining after a rainstorm and it was HUMID. This is a rarity for Wyoming, but it wasn’t long before we were sweating because of the sun and the moisture in the air. Regardless, the day was a beautiful one and the sky was that perfect bluebird hue that makes the green trees really pop!
Dome Peak is the official name for the sheer mountain that can be seen from the lakes, but to climbers it is known simply as the China Wall. The New Fork Trail picks its way around this peak and the view changes drastically with every step. We stopped at its base to do some fishing in the New Fork River as it gathered in pools and splashed down rockfall from this great face.
The trail winds toward New Fork Park, which is a tree-lined meadow that runs alongside impressive peaks. This is the only place I’ve been in the Wind River Range where the forested meadows butt up against mountain faces. It is beautiful, and a very humbling area. We ran into our first 2 people in New Fork Park who had a run in with a mother Grizzly bear and cub, but there was no confrontation and they did not need their bear spray. We thanked them for the head’s up and continued along our way. We ultimately did not see any bears, nor any signs of bears. I mean, no tracks, no scat, nothing. I don’t know whether I’m happy about that or glad. In any case, after New Fork Park, the trail heads into the trees and connects up with the Porcupine Trail. The Porcupine Trail originates out of Green River Lakes trailhead, for all you through-hikers out there. From the Palmer Canyon trail junction, we had about 2,000 feet to gain to get to Lozier Lakes. And so it began. I mean, it had been uphill the entire way thus far, but now it was really going uphill with lots of switchbacks. Luckily, the higher we went, the better the views, and we also could finally catch a breeze which was greatly appreciated.
As we gained, we entered another canyon after the New Fork or Clark Creek Trail junction. This was a standout because of the steep rocky walls on either side of a drainage that ultimately feeds into the New Fork River. The end result was a waterfall that cascaded at least 100 feet down into New Fork meadows. There were still wildflowers, despite the altitude, because of the water flowing through this narrow rock canyon.
Shortly after picking our way up the canyon we were rewarded with a high alpine meadow that plateaued across to the Lozier Lakes. After a quick consultation with the map we picked our way up a ridgeline toward Kenny Lake, where we were guaranteed solitude, although we hadn’t seen anyone since the couple who warned us of the bears earlier in the day. We made it in time for a spectacular sunset and some great evening fishing.
The next morning dawned cloudy and cool and we packed up quick to get moving for the day. We planned to spend the day off-trail, exploring the Hidden Lakes and Thompson Lakes area, ultimately catching up with the Doubletop Mountain trail near the No Name Lakes and Cutthroat Lakes. We broke away from the trail after passing Greeley Point and began to pick our way up to a high plateau around 11,200 feet. The views of the central Wind River Range were spectacular in this high meadow.
We determined that the uppermost Hidden Lake did not have fish and began to pick our way to the lower Hidden Lake and Thompson Lakes. We had successful brook trout fishing in all three of these lower lakes and spent a couple of hours exploring this vast lake valley and having lunch (well, Josh had lunch and I happily read a good book).
We began to pick our way up the boulder fields lining this lake-filled valley and navigating our way further south. Along the way, we passed a drainage coming out of another bowl containing Grover Peak. We were startled to see little brook trout stacked up in this stream that couldn’t have been 12 inches wide. The fish were small but feisty and we basically caught one with every cast. Of course, this gets tiring after a while so we didn’t fish long and decided to save our hours for the bigger fish in the lakes we were seeking out.
We navigated our way down to the No Name Lakes fairly easily and quickly. We popped out at the drainage between the two lakes and headed toward the southernmost lake first. Since Josh packed in his Tenkara rod he found the No Name Lakes limiting due to their shallow depth near the shoreline. A standard fly rod would have suited him better for these lakes. We fished for a bit before moving on toward Cutthroat Lake and our campsite for the night.
We made camp quickly and wandered toward the outlet of Cutthroat Lake to get in some good fishing before nightfall, and to make up for the abysmal fishing at the No Name Lakes. We caught about a dozen 8-10 inch cutthroat trout before the sky turned gray and started rumbling with thunder. We headed back to camp and snuggled in for the night. After the storm blew over we had spectacular stargazing and heard nothing but the wingbeats of hunting bats flying all around us.
The following morning, Josh hit up the lake before the sun crested the ridgeline and it almost seemed like a shame to interrupt the glass-like surface of the lake. A nearby loon kept us company until the sun rose. We packed up, ate a quick breakfast and began the long trek back toward New Fork Lakes Trailhead.
At Palmer Lake the rain stared falling in earnest and we hiked out in a steady downpour until Rainbow Lake on the Doubletop Mountain Trail. The sky still loomed gray overhead so we opted to continue hiking rather than stop and wet a line. Remember how the entire first day was uphill? Well, the entire last day was downhill. My legs needed some serious love after this trip.
The lower sections of the Doubletop Mountain trail are eerily void of life since a burn several years ago. The stark contrast of the charred trees against the cloudy, foggy air made it seem almost Suessian. It makes you quiet.
We made it out before 1 and headed back toward town for showers and food. Josh always wants hamburgers after hiking so that’s become the tradition…maybe he just really likes hamburgers and so he goes backpacking with me so that I’ll make him a double bacon-blue-cheese-burger without complaint. Well, I’ll take it; a burger is a good trade for a great hiking companion.