Archive for August, 2010

Back Again!

I am back from a week long backpacking trip to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming.

It was a wonderful, but challenging trip. We covered about 35 miles over the course of the week while climbing from a starting elevation of 7,800 feet to a base camp at 10.400 feet! We did a day climb to Cloud Peak, which brought us to 13,167 feet, added about 6 more miles to our trek and took us 10 hours to complete.

On the way back to the Twin Cities we lowered the flag at the evening ceremony at Mount Rushmore. We camped at nearby Keystone and headed home on Sunday.

There were a lot of funny moments along the trail, check back on Friday for a more detailed look and laughs at our trip!

P.S. Today is my daughter’s 11th birthday, Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

Another Trip!

I returned Sunday evening from a week of backpacking with my son’s Boy Scout Troop in the Big Horn Mountains near Buffalo, Wyoming.

It was my second “high adventure” trip of the summer. This time, the word, “high” was very appropriate!

Myself, two other adults and seven eager scouts left Minneapolis in two minivans on Sunday, July 25th shortly after 6:00 AM headed for Sundance, Wyoming. That would be where we would camp for the night before continuing onto Buffalo, Wyoming. Outside of Buffalo is where we would begin our week of backpacking in the mountains.

The drive through southwest Minnesota and the first part of South Dakota was, well…


It took us over two hours to get to Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota.

Once on Interstate 90, in order to pass the time, we decided to count the number of Wall Drug signs along the highway.

You know, Wall Drug, the almost required stop if you are traveling through South Dakota in the summer! The place that made buying useless souvenirs an art form! Tha place that offers “free” water to anyone that is willing to pull off the highway for a few minutes!

So we started to count the billboards!

At first it went pretty slow, a sign to see a giant rabbit here, one to get a cheeseburger there, ice for your cooler over there, we’ve got your flags, anything you could imagine…

All at “Wall Drug”!

There would be big signs and little signs!

Sometimes more than one billboard in the same area! We had to be extra careful not to miss those!

As the miles passed, the count steadily increased.

But as we got closer and closer to Wall, South Dakota, the pace of the signs picked up.

It was like the grand finale of a fireworks display!



So we stopped!

We spent about 45 minutes wandering around the massive structure that looked like it had been added onto several times since 1931. We took a group picture of the boys with the giant rabbit, I had my picture taken with a buffalo (the stuffed kind) and yes, I got my free water!

Anything goes at Wall Drug!

Anything goes at Wall Drug!

We also used the restrooms, which we learned later on the trip, is certainly something we would miss!

Little did we know, how much we'd miss these!

Little did we know, how much we'd miss these!

By the way, in case you were wondering, we counted 92 billboards for Wall Drug from Worthington, Minnesota to Wall, South Dakota! Also, it should be noted, that I believe that stretch of highway is the “Billboard Capitol of the World”! It’s not just Wall Drug signs, but signs for every possible tourist “attraction” you could imagine.

You begin to feel very much like Clark Griswold, from the movie, “Vacation”!

“Hey guys, let’s stop and see the house of mud or maybe the second largest ball of twine on earth!”

But we resisted and continued our journey west!

We made it to Sundance, Wyoming around 4:00 PM MDT. Sundance is about an hour and a half from Rapid City, South Dakota and is 15 miles into the great state of Wyoming. We camped at a place called, Mountainview Campground, which was very nice and very clean! It had probably the nicest, cleanest restrooms and showers you’ll see at a campground. (Once again, note the emphasis on restrooms).

We grilled burgers for dinner and the boys got a chance to swim in the pool. It was then time for “lights out” since we still had another couple of hours to drive the next day, which included a stop and hike around “Devils Tower”, which was within minutes of Sundance.

The following morning, we woke-up early, got our gear packed, had a quick breakfast and headed for Devils Tower. It was only about 30 miles out of our way and well worth the detour! We arrived about 10:00 and hiked the 1.5 mile trail around the tower, which certainly sticks out in the area!

My son and I at Devils Tower in Wyoming.

My son and I at Devils Tower in Wyoming.

Following the shortest hike we would have all week, we piled everyone back into the vans and continued on for Buffalo. Since we had made the detour for Devils Tower, we took backroads for awhile on our way to Buffalo.

Nowhere, Wyoming (Pop. 0)

Nowhere, Wyoming (Pop. 0)

Needless to say, the drive was a little dull at times.

We needed some billboards to count!

We arrived in Buffalo around noon.

Buffalo, Wyoming

Buffalo, Wyoming

We had time for a quick lunch and a chance to get some last minute supplies and fishing licenses at a local outfitter.

Then it was time to head out for the 10 mile drive to the TRAILHEAD!

Ahhh, the trailhead, where the hiking boots meet the gravel, mud, dirt or rocks!

Check back on Monday for details of our adventure in the Big Horn Mountains!

Happy Weekend!

Mountain Air!

Hunter Trailhead.

That’s where are journey was to officially begin!

Time for the hiking boots to meet the trail!

One last chance to use what later we would consider a “modern” restroom!

It was about two o’clock when we had our gear ready and our water bottles full. Our scoutmaster had registered our trip and following a couple of group pictures it was time to put all of my expensive hiking gear to use!

My boots, backpack and poles were ready to go!

Better make sure I remember where I put the van keys!

Our first day was going to be one of our easiest, just a three and half mile hike up to our first campsite at a place called, “Soldier’s Park”. Our beginning elevation was approximately 7,800 feet (give or take a few feet) and we would climb about 1,000 feet to get to the site.

Time to hit the trail!

I had followed the packing list very closely. I didn’t want to lug anything on this trip that wasn’t absolutely necessary! My one luxury item was the paperback version of John Grisham’s “The Associate”. I am a big Grisham fan and I knew I would have some downtime in camp in the evenings, time to relax and enjoy one of his books. As far as clothing, I planned to wear my durable scout pants the entire week. The bottom half of the pants “zip” off, so they are easy to convert to shorts and vise versa. They are also made from a quick dry material, so when they get wet, they dry quickly! I also brought along a couple of quick dry t-shirts, a fleece and stocking hat for cool nights and my trusty treking poles!

Before we left Minneapolis, our crew divided up the gear we would be sharing. I would be responsible for hauling a “cook kit”, along with a lunch to be eaten on Wednesday. (After picking up the bag, I couldn’t wait for Wednesday to arrive!)

I also knew there was a pretty good chance that I would have gear added to my backpack as our trek progressed. I was pretty sure that one or more of the scouts would struggle with the weight they were carrying and in order to help out, us strong, fit, slightly greying, middle-aged adults would “volunteer” to carry the extra load!

At the trailhead.

At the trailhead.

Loaded down and ready to hike!

Loaded down and ready to hike!

So off we went!

Goodbye civilization!

Goodbye internet!

Goodbye cell phone coverage!

Hello dusty, rocky, one giant “stairmaster” of a trail!

3.5 miles and 1,000 feet to Soldier’s Park!

It soon became apparent that we would indeed have a couple of people that needed to “lighten” their loads in order to make it. Within a few hundred yards of beginning our trek, there was a fair amount of heavy breathing and difficulty dealing with the grade.

It was sloooooow going! Nowhere near the pace we had kept during our practice hikes in good ‘ol flat Minnesota!

We were in the big leagues now, the Big Horn Mountains!

It took us about three hours to make it to our campsite and there were some tired hikers once we got there! Following our first experience of filtering water and cooking a meal and dealing with thousands of mosquitoes (I’ll never complain about Minnesota’s again), it was time to get a good night’s sleep.

Seven miles of uphill trail awaited us in the morning!

We had rain overnight and we awoke to a cool morning, almost “autumn-like” ( I was grateful for my hat and fleece). Following a quick and mess-free breakfast of oatmeal in a bag, granola bar and hot chocolate in a bag, it was time to hit the trail once again!

Our gear ready for the day!

Our gear ready for the day!

It was also time to strap on my now heavier backpack!

Yes, in addition to my previous listed gear, overnight, I added a fuel container and bottle of cooking oil and spray butter to help out a young scout.

Our second day of hiking proved to be challenging one. In addition to the miles and the increase in elevation, we had our first river crossings. This is where the hiking boots come off and sandels of some sort go on in order to walk across bone chilling water in a timely fashion! We would have three such crossings on this day and of course there was a learning curve which each one! After a few crossings it was learned that in order to a cross a river efficiently one needed a system of removing one’s boots and socks quickly, putting on sandels, crossing the river, having a camp towel handy to dry off the feet and finally putting back on your liners, socks and boots in a timely fashion! I will say, we improved our skills as the week went along!

My son crossing a river!

My son crossing a river!

As our hike continued, we had made our way into the “Wilderness Boundary Area”. There was a sign post to designate the point. It was a chance to remove our packs for a few moments, catch our breath and snap a few pictures.

My son & I at the Wilderness Boundary.

My son & I at the Wilderness Boundary.

Time to hike on!

On a climb like this you are focused!

Focused on the person in front of you and each step that you take. You are trying to maintain a good pace and also make sure you don’t slip and twist an ankle or do something worse!

But you also need to soak in the magnificent beauty of the area!

It was simply some of the most beautiful views I have seen in my life!

I tried to snap as many pictures as I could without falling down while doing so!

We're not in Kansas anymore!

We're not in Kansas anymore!

Another highlight for me on this day was running into my older son along the trail. He was with a group from our church, who by chance was following the same route that we were. While we were stopped for lunch, their group had caught up to us and I had a chance to greet and exchange a few quick stories with my son. This was his fourth time making this trip, twice with scouts and now twice with our church. He was having a great time and I was happy to see him!

A chance meeting with my older son!

A chance meeting with my older son!

Following another river crossing, we made it to our second campsite. It was called, “Medicine Cabin Park” and once again we had some tired hikers! An evening thunderstorm arrived just in time for dinner! A planned dessert was cancelled as everyone scrambled for their tents.

It was only 6:30, but it felt more like 9:00!

A chance for a little “Grisham” and then lights out!

More trail ahead tomorrow!

The Sky’s The Limit!

Heavy overnight rain gave way to a brilliant sunrise!

The rain the previous night had meant an early bedtime, which also meant an early rise…

5:00 AM to be exact!

Following another one of our quick and mess-free breakfasts, it was time to hit the trail once again. This day would also prove to be challenging, not only because of the distance we planned to hike, but also because of the continuing climb in elevation and a couple more river crossings!

Speaking of river crossings…

We had one within a couple hundred yards of our campsite. I quickly learned the only thing worse than throwing on a heavy backpack first thing in the morning was doing so, then crossing an ice cold river with it! (For safety, it should be noted, we didn’t have the bottom strap on when we crossed rivers, in case we fell in.)

We crossed the river, got our boots on and hit the upward trail!

The plan was to hike about seven miles to our Cloud Peak base camp. This would put us in position to make our attempt to climb the highest point in the area the following morning.

Dispite the difficult trail, we were able to keep a pretty decent pace. I will say, many times, early morning often felt like afternoon, after spending a couple of hours hiking. My backpack, with it’s added weight was beginning to hurt my shoulders, when I remembered what the salesman at REI had told me about adjusting the straps to help handle the load.

UNFORTUNATELY, the adjustment would have to wait for the next water stop! Nope, it was too difficult to do while in motion! The good news for me there always seemed to be a person willing to call for a rest break not too far down the trail! Following the load adjustment, I got my second wind and was ready to “hike on”!

The good news about our day…we made it to our base camp shortly after 2:00 PM, plently of time to set-up our camp and get some much needed rest for our next day’s climb to Cloud Peak. Also, along the way into camp, we passed my other son’s campsite, which gave me another opportunity to see him again! He was doing well and having very good luck with his fishing!

We set up our camp, explored the area for awhile, attempted to relax when we realized mosquetoes also live at 10,400 feet!

They were just as bad as the had been on the previous two nights!

So following dinner, it was time to head for the tent!

Our planned wake-up call was 4:45 AM.

“Mother Nature” had one for us at 11:00 PM in the form of heavy rain and A LOT of lightning!

Nothing like the feeling of being exposed in a canyon while lightning is popping all around you! You try to remember all of the precautions you have read about regarding tent camping in the event of lightning. (A tent provides absolutely NO protection by the way!) The good news was, we had a few trees above us and of course some rocks. We weren’t out in the middle of the field, which wasn’t advisable.

The first round of lightning lasted forty five minutes.

A couple of hours later, another round.

Then, at 3:00 AM, a final round, just to make sure we barely got any sleep before our all day adventure up Cloud Peak!

We woke up at 4:45 as planned.

The skys had cleared, which was good since we would be climbing roughly another 2,800 feet.

We left camp at 5:30 to begin our journey, this time, only with a daypack, which was loaded with only the necessities we would need for the day, plus a “First Aid Kit”.

My backpack would get the day off!

But my legs and feet certainly wouldn’t!

Following another challenging river crossing, which was made so, due to our overnight storms, we headed straight up what was basically thousands of boulders, plus some covered in snow!

I’m a runner and feel like I’m in pretty good shape, but I can safely say, this was the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. At times, I wondered, “What the heck were you thinking, you middle-aged idiot?!”

But, I, along with our scoutmaster and five scouts continued our climb to the top!

At 12,000 feet, we took a break for cloud cover to clear from the peak.

It did and we could see, we still had a long way to go!

We kept going, boulder by boulderand at 10:45 AM, slightly over five hours after beginning our climb, we made it to the summit of Cloud Peak!

13,167 feet to be exact!

What a view!!

On top of the world? You bet!

Was it worth it?


It was simply the most beautiful view I have ever seen! All of the area mountain tops were now down BELOW us!

It was perfectly clear and we could see for hundreds of miles!

We spent about forty five minutes on the top.

I even inched my way out to the edge to have a look. It was a thousand foot drop straight down, but what a view!

But the thrill of making it to the top was quickly replaced by thought of “what goes up, must come down!”

We needed to climb down, which I realized would take almost as long as going up and in many ways, would prove to be harder! We still had thousands of boulders to navigate, but this time, gavity was working against us!

One slip of the boot and you could go tumbling down!

The trip down was slightly quicker…

4 hours.

But my feet and knees were pretty sore when we made it back to base camp and I was very tired from sun exposure!

The following day would begin our trip back the way we came in, but what took us three days coming in, would only take us two days going out!

So the day following, arguably, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, it was time to once again throw on my friend, the heavy backpack and hike 14.1 miles! The good news was, most of it was downhill, BUT the first part was anything but downhill!

Remember the canyon we camped in? It was time to climb out of it!

Pass the Ibuprofen!

We began our hike at 7:00 AM, climbed out of the canyon, made it over Florance Pass and finally hit the downhill portion of our day! We made it to Soldier’s Park around 5:00 PM and camped for the night. The final 3.5 miles out would wait until morning. The following morning we hiked one final and once again saw civilization!


The vans were still there and more importantly, I hadn’t lost my keys along the trail!

We headed to nearby Buffalo, where we showered (one has never felt better) and did some laundry.

We said goodbye to the Big Horn Mountains and headed for Keystone, South Dakota. That’s where we would camp for the night, meet the other crew from our troop, who were just beginning their journey and lower the flag at the evening ceremony at Mount Rushmore.

We made the ten hour drive home the following day and arrived back in the Twin Cities around 7:30 PM.

We were greeted by our families, who were as happy to see us as we were to see them!

Looking back…

It was a very physically demanding trip, but it certainly was worth it!

For the second time in a month, I got to enjoy a trip of a lifetime with one of my sons!

Okay, I probably know what you are thinking…

“Hey, Mike, it sounds like a great trip, but where are the PICTURES?!”

No, I didn’t forget!

I took a couple hundred pictures of our trip, some you saw in my last post, but I am currently visiting my family in Iowa and posting this from a different computer than I normally use and for some reason, Word Press will not let me insert the photos in their proper location!

First thing I’ll do upon my return home, will be to post some of my pictures from our climb to the top of Cloud Peak…I promise!

“Things I Learned While Hiking Out West”…

*How much I take modern bathrooms for granted! While hiking, we followed, “Leave No Trace”, which meant we needed to carry what we effectionately called, “The Poop Kit”! There is nothing like beginning your morning, climbing fifty feet over boulders, finding a “private” location, digging a hole and doing your business and then covering it up!

*It was a tie between a hot shower and a chocolate shake at McDonald’s as to which was better once we got back to civilization. My stomach probably thought the shake, but my travel companions probably would vote for the shower!

*I CAN survive a week long “Stairmaster”!

*It was very moving and fitting to see our nation’s veterans in attendance on stage, with our scouts as they lowered the flag at Mount Rushmore.

Happy Weekend!