Backpacking the Bighorns

Wyoming is one of the most wild, ruggedly beautiful states we have ventured to so far. It is beyond challenging to find areas seemingly untouched by man, so when you do, you take full advantage. Despite being less than 6 days since our survival experience, Eric and I set out on that very same trail. Read on as we relive our 3 day, 18.5 mile backpacking adventure through the steep, rocky terrain of the Bighorn Mountains. All I can say is: Best. Decision. Ever.

Backpacking the Bighorns Day 1

With at least 40 lbs strapped to our backs and an eagerness to witness what we think we saw on our last venture, we set off on our backpacking journey.

The first 2 miles were primarily gravel travel, necessary to access the trailhead. One of the few sections of the trek that was definitely quicker by bike.

It’s funny how much more you see when you slow your pace. For example, we’d been down the same road both by van and bike and never realized there was a rushing stream so close to camp. A constant reminder not to speed through life with a specific destination in mind. Otherwise, you might miss the “good stuff”.

Eric checks out the stream below

Once hitting the trailhead, the first 2 miles were pretty cush. Many photos of this section can be found in the previous blog, but below are a few new additions from our trip to the falls.

Eric passes large boulders on a smooth trail
Eric checks out the interesting rock formations nestled within the trees
A happy Jenni
The first of several creek crossings
A happy Eric
My absolute favorite tree
More lush forest before reaching the golden, hilly pastures
Occasionally the forest opens up providing expansive views of the wilderness beyond.

After roughly 4 miles, we made it to the falls. Although we visited this area less than a week ago, we found it equally as beautiful the second time around. Scenery like this never goes unappreciated no matter how many times we see it. There is too much to take in, often you need to see it more than once!

Eric and I had a nice lunch at the overlook while taking in the silence along with the views—not another soul around. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Eric rummages through his bear bag in search of lunch
Jenni celebrates, trekking poles held high.
Eric looks onward, knowing the treacherous road ahead.

It’s All Downhill From Here

Yep, it’s ALL downhill—-a little over 2,300 feet down in less than 3 miles. Let’s just say, some sections are extremely steep.

Yes, this is a trail. A very steep, rocky, downhill slide.

Don’t be fooled. Downhill may sound easy, but when it’s this steep, it’s almost as much work as up! But, no complaints here! The views were magnificent the entire way AND we knew what was waiting for us at the bottom.

Enough chatter…enjoy the photos.

Steep, Sloped, AND Slick

If the severity of the slope wasn’t bad enough, about part way down from where we planned to call home for the night, we spotted the LARGEST bear scat we’ve ever seen. It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but trust me, it was a significant amount!

A gallon size freezer bag full!

It was difficult to take a good photo, but we also spotted the giant paw prints to match. If that doesn’t put you on high alert, nothing will. Eric took the calm, “it is what it is” approach. I, on the other hand, turn into a skittish fox and see bears that aren’t there, as seen below.

Evil bear-shaped tree trunks messing with me!

Let’s just say I stood there, still as a corpse, triple checking the dense forest. After about 3 minutes, I decided, this was either a stump or I just met the hairiest staring contest champion East of the Rockies (second only to Eric). Thankfully it was not the latter.

Can you believe this is only Day One? There is so much!

Eric was first to spot the valley floor

Eventually, I forced myself to swallow my fears and trudge onward towards paradise. Around 2PM, we entered Wyoming’s very own Garden of Eden and the thought of bears slipped into the back of my mind. You’re about to find out why…

Peaceful, undisturbed, rugged beauty.

The Valley Floor

.

Chirp, chirp, chirp sang the welcoming committee. Actually, we were greeted by the cheers of a lone grasshopper we named, Senor Grass-Hop-Pierre. Grasshoppers, a very encouraging species, are scattered throughout the Bighorn Mountains. They flutter about, clap-clappity-clapping along the way.

Honestly, I’m surprised we even noticed his chatter amongst the grandeur that stood before us. Almost instantly, I dropped my pack and went to work photographing this hidden oasis. It was even more spectacular than I remembered. This was the point, during our misadventure, where we became extremely concerned that we’d be spending a cold night in the forest without any supplies. So, the first time through we only spent about 10-15 minutes here. Most of those minutes consisted of filtering water (even though I I did snag 2 quick photos). Let’s just say, I made up for it this time.

A peek/peak through the trees
Surrounded by beauty!
Healthy, glorious trees standing tall

Surprisingly, I was able to come up for air a few times during this photo frenzy. When I did, I noticed that Eric “The Wise”, was traipsing around in search of flat ground we could call home for the night. Priorities!

Eric in search of the perfect spot

Prior to making camp, we cooled off in the crystal clear waters and relaxed our fatigued muscles while breathing in the heavy scent of nature.

View from our perch
Om.

After some breath work and a lot of laughter, we got back to work.

Pre-Tent
Post-Tent
There were no bad views!

Despite the energy expenditure that occurs with hiking, hunger often doesn’t hit until later. So, we spent the afternoon cooling off and making camp, a welcomed rest-break before dinner. Apparently, my idea of R&R (rest and relaxation) means laying down and taking pictures instead of standing.

HAP-PEEEEE

After 7.28 miles, 279 feet of climbing, and 2,363 feet of descent, you would think I’d be tired! Although my joy never dissipated, I was able to reach a tolerable level of calm and put the camera down. Thankfully, Eric is both a patient man and a sound sleeper!

After lazing the afternoon away, Eric and I had dinner with a view. We went with our go-to grub: Idahoan instant potatoes, Slim Jims, and Snickers for dessert. Perhaps this is why I like hiking and biking so much!?!

Dinner with a view

It was an evening spent in pure bliss. After dinner, we hung our food bags over the bridge to avoid any potential bear encounters and watched the forest go dark. The stars were good, but nothing compared to last time. The skies have been filled with a smokey haze, likely from the forest fires throughout Canada and California.

Inhale. Exhale.

If you are still reading, you’re a trooper! I know there is a lot of journaling and photos to sort through, so if you’ve made it this far, THANKS for hanging in there! I hope you are enjoying the story so far.

Backpacking the Bighorns Day 2

This was the toughest of all three days for me. Eric would disagree, as he is a great climber due to those massive leg muscles of his! For him, the big downhill on day 1 was the hardest. I thoroughly appreciated his upbeat, encouraging attitude during this section. It was challenging with OR without the bikes! We climbed 2,375 feet over 8.22 miles today and I felt every step of it! Regardless of the difficulty, it was worth every second.

Preparing to leave
A narrow, rocky trail
The trees were a lot easier to climb over without bikes!

The scenery was spectacular the entire way up! The perfect excuse to stop, snap a picture, and of course, catch our breath. Heck, my breath is labored as I write this—talk about reliving the moment!

One of my favorite captures of the trip!
A rising sun created stunning, dramatic views as we made our ascent.
Eric shows off his photography skills in this gorgeous capture!

As we marched on, we found ourselves saying, “Did we really hike our bikes all the way up this thing?”, at least a hundred times the further up we went. It was grueling.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Part way up, the vegetation was showing signs of fall. Although it is only late August, I’m sure winter comes early in this part of the world. Needless to say, this was one of our favorite sections of the trail. The colors were popping, the birds were chirping, and our hearts were full.

Yes, our hearts were full and our legs were burning 🙂

During our hike, we saw many interesting things.

A sap oozing tree devouring a sign post
Prickly, alien-like pinecones
A feather from (possibly) a Northern flicker (from the woodpecker family)
Meet the Harley riding cousins of the blooming dandelion (Poof-Balls)
Twisted trees; withered by time, painted with fire.
And of course, lots of bear food.

We encountered many different types of terrain.

From uphill, ankle twisting boulder fields…
…to lush, moss covered forests….
…and golden, wide-open meadows.

Each location a gift from Mother Earth.

Here are a few more of my favorite shots from the day:

That evening, eager for rest, we strolled along the creek in search of the perfect spot.

Picturesque

As luck would have it, we found a nice, flat spot just the right size for our tent not far from a large rock outcropping/cave and easy access to water. Score!

Due to the big climb, we were wiped out (especially me!) Somehow, we managed to make camp before anything else. Mostly, out of concern that if we sat down, we might not be able to get back up! Again, ME more than Eric. I was spent.

After setting up the tent, Eric and I soaked our old, weary bones in the water. Eventually, hunger got the best of us, so we made dinner while sitting in a patch of soft clover.

It was fantastic.

Soon after dinner, I got my second wind and took a few more photos.

The view from our dinner table
Jenni watches the sun drop below the trees as Eric reads his kindle.

As light begins to fade, the forest becomes eerily quiet—but not for long. On the cusp of complete darkness, the wilderness livens with creatures of the night. I laid on my back, staring up at the sky and watched well over two dozen bats of various sizes feast on our most hated enemies—Mosquitoes. It was quite a sight! They would swoosh so close to the tent, I would let out a, “Whoa!, Did you see that?”, to Eric. In reluctant participation to my child-like excitement, he rolled around like a lazy sloth to witness the show. Of course, the bats went silent. We had a little laugh, but eventually they came back with their zig-zag, erratic flight patterns to prove that I wasn’t completely crazy. What a night!

Day 3

After one last glimpse of the forest, we set our sights for home. Although this section was new to us, we knew that we only had one more climb to conquer before reaching the main road. I’m not joking when I say climb. Over 300ft in less than 1/2 mile. It’s basically straight up.

I have to say (and Eric agrees), it was a lot easier without the bikes. We breezed through that section and before we knew it, we were an easy stroll away from the van.

Never a bad view, even while walking the main road!

And, just like that….3 miles and an hour and fifteen minutes later…we were home.

I love having adventures with this guy!

That’s a Wrap!

As you can clearly see, we had a fantastic time. Adventures are always fun when you have ideal weather, remain injury free, and avoid getting devoured by wild animals. I suppose it’s the possibility of everything going wrong is what makes it adventurous in the first place! When you acknowledge the ever present nature of death in all that you do—it is then, you are in the purest form of living.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

-Dr. Maya Angelou

Until next time friends….

5 Responses

  1. Bill & Elsie Davis

    Wow beautiful. Jenni the happiness is all over you. you look beautiful. as always love the beautiful pictures and I love that tree to. So glad you both are enjoying life. Love you from popa d and momma d.

  2. Debbie

    Oh my Jenni! What a glorious place! I especially loved that section that looked like fall was there already. I also LOVED that first tree! So cool! Enjoy the rest of your trip. I can’t wait to read your next blog.

    • Jenni

      Thanks for reading! The tree was super cool, right?!? You would love the Bighorns just as much as we did, I know it!

  3. Tracey Curry

    Hi Jenni!! I lost you on fb so did a google search and here you are! I continue to love your writing, photography and joy!! 💕

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