I talked Dieter Bareihs into going with me on another long hike. I’m not sure how I got my mind set on Fremont Peak, the third highest in Wyoming. I did read a book about John Fremont around that time. He and Kit Carson were exploring that country around that time and Fremont climbed the peak in 1842. Regardless of how we settled on that destination, it was the longest, most impressive backpacking trip I’ve ever done.
We arrived in Pinedale, Wyoming on the 4th of July. Everyplace we stopped (for gas, groceries, fishing licenses) the person behind the counter would ask, “You going to the fireworks show?” with a sidelong look. We’d say, “Sure.” “It’s pretty good,” they said. Pinedale’s specialty: understatement.
That night, as we were in the hotel room making final adjustments to our packs before going to bed, the show kicked off, pretty much vertically straight up from the front door of our hotel room. It was the biggest fireworks display I’ve ever seen. We thought it was the finale and headed back inside and they cranked it up again. This went on about six times. Everybody was right. It was pretty good. Happy Birthday, America.
Earlier that day, we asked the guy at the fishing shop what kind of flies we should bring: nymphs or dry flies? He said, “You should buy an ice auger. Everything up there is still frozen over.” Right. Yeah. Of course. I mean, we knew that. (We didn’t know that.) We got licenses anyway and got some bead-head nymphs and hoped for the best.
The next day, the we drove up to Elkhart Park and were greeted by a tame squirrel. We walked past a spot called Photographer’s Point and up to camp for the first night near Seneca Lake.
The next day we continued up above treeline to Indian Basin. We passed Island Lake and headed up to the basin. We got a glimpse of the impressive Titcomb Needles lording over Titcomb Basin. We set up camp under the shoulder of the peak and got ready for the summit day. It was intimidating under the south face of the mountain.
Around this time, I started noticing that my head hurt. The top of my head. I couldn’t figure it out. Finally, I asked Deets to look at the top of my nugget and he said, “Your scalp is sunburned.” I was diligent about sunscreen on my face, but I wasn’t wearing a hat. Not so smart. So, even though it was too late, I wore a hat most of the rest of the trip and tried to hide in the shade of boulders when stopped, even though it was pretty cold in the shade. A few weeks later, I looked like I had the world’s worst case of dandruff as my entire scalp flaked away.
The next day, we left our tent so we could save some weight and went for the summit. It was really impressive going up the shoulder ridge of Fremont Peak as we were directly across Titcomb Basin from the needles. We had amazing views of the route of our two previous days of walking. At one point, we were having some anxiety about how exposed we were. I asked what would happen if we fell right that minute. When you looked down, you’d just fall at your feet and go nowhere. We calmed ourselves and kept climbing. That ridge felt like you were walking up the corner edge of a pyramid. You just felt like you were out in the open and unsafe, even though it was fine and non-technical walking.
We got to the summit and could finally see to the northeast. The top was like a knife that ran from northwest to southeast. It dropped off down to a snowfield to the east. As we were taking in the sights, we saw a team of climbers roped up approaching the summit from Jackson Peak. We talked to them as they approached. They were with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). I seem to remember a summit register and thinking we were one of the first people to summit that summer. I guess we beat those guys by just a few minutes. It was impressive to watch them go across that glacier.
We looked around and tried to milk it for all it was worth. Off in the distance, you could see the faint glimmer of the Tetons out past Gannett Peak, the highest peak in Wyoming. I always feel the same way at the summit. You want to SEE. Somehow wring more out of the experience at that moment. Finally, we decided that was enough and headed down. We scooped up our tent and descended down to Island Lake that we passed the day before and camped.
The next day, we took a different route back to our starting point. We headed over something called Lester Pass to the Cook Lakes area. It was a nice last view of the peaks and we got some good fishing for trout on our last night. By this time, my ankle was starting to kill me. I have some fancy-pants boots called Limmers that I got when I was 14. (I still have them.) But I never walked this many days in a row in them. The upper part of the boot was pressing on the tendon around my ankle. I’d be fine and then there’d be a twang that felt like a lightning strike in my leg. As long as nothing touched my ankle it was fine. But that wasn’t going to work while walking in my boots. I broke into the first aid kit I had and Vitamin M (Motrin) helped for short periods. This second-to-last day and the last day to the truck, I was whimpering like a whipped puppy. Sorry you had to see that, Deets.
Anyway, we made it back to my truck. I wanted to preserve that summit image in my mind, so I bought a photo at a store in Pinedale. It was a 360 degree panorama taken at the summit. Still hangs on the wall in my house. Then we ran up to Jackson Hole. I bought a mountain biking T-shirt that I still have. When I had my last F-16 flight at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, I thought it was the last time I’d ever fly a Viper. I was leaving the service to go fly angry people around in aluminum tubes in the civilian world. I’d fly the F-16 again after 9/11, but at the time, I thought it was the end. I flew that thing right up to the Wind Rivers and right past Fremont Peak from north to south up Titcomb Basin. This hike, meant a lot to me, I guess.
Less than two weeks later, Shelley and I got married on the back porch so Uncle Sam wouldn’t assign her to a base away from me. The following year, we had a big wedding celebration, and Deets was the Best Man. Because he is that.