Cloud Peak Wilderness Trip Report by Francisco Miller

Cloud Peak Wilderness Trip Report by Francisco Miller

Swift X loaded down with climbing and snow gear.

For a bit of background, I currently find myself traveling across the country with my girlfriend Elise in my 1990 Ford campervan, with the plan to hike, backpack, and climb across the Northwest.  Our first stop was a little bit of climbing in South Dakota, with our main objective to spend most of the end of July and beginning of August in Wyoming.  First stop in Wyoming was Ten Sleep Canyon, home to hundreds of rock climbing routes, and after a bit of research, we were presently surprised to find there was also quite a bit of alpine climbing and high mountains in the nearby Big Horn National Forest.  Elise being the mountaineer of the pair, she came up with a plan for us to incorporate a little backpacking, rock climbing, and hopefully a little mountain summiting too.  After seeing the weather for Ten Sleep approaching 100*s Fahrenheit for several days, the stage was set for our adventure into the alpine.

Francisco and Elise and Cloud Peak Wilderness Boundary

Our loose plans were formed around a trip report of combining several 13,000 foot peaks (Black Tooth Mountain, Cloud Peak), as well as our desire to add the technical summit of Mount Woolsey, with the possibility of linking in Bomber Peak if there was time (and energy).  Information was limited so the plans were very loose since snow levels and actually scalable terrain would be the final deciding factor on the route.  We started off on day 1 from the West Ten Sleep Lake Campground already at 9,000 ft elevation, to climb steadily along the Misty Moon Lake Trail, passing the beautifully wooded lower lakes of the Cloud Peak Wilderness on the shared approach to Cloud Peak.  Instead of heading east-northeast to Cloud peak after about 7 miles, we went off track for another 7 miles to access the highest lake in the Middle Cloud Peak Lake Basin.  7 substantial miles of route finding, boulder hopping, and nightmare inducing spider hells.  By this point the weight of all the snow, climbing, and backpacking gear was starting to weigh on me as well as the wear and tear on my feet from so much rock navigating under a nearly 45 lb load. Luckily, my SMD Swift-X carried all the gear comfortably and after 9 hours we made it to the 10th and final lake in the basin to set up camp at around 11,000 ft.

Overlooking the first of many alpine lakes in the wilderness 

Finally at camp, and at the base of our prospective mountains, we were disappointed to see a large amount of steep snow lingering in the descent gully between Black Tooth Mountain and Woolsey, scrapping our chances of linking the two, or even climbing Black Tooth at all. Luckily the gully up to Woolsey was clear, and we kept up hopes that the weather would hold for an attempt on its summit in the morning.  We were also able to put eyes on the gully system leading up the northwest ridge of Cloud Peak and found it far too steep and loose to attempt, which meant an inevitable return through bouldery spidery hell.

Navigating along the Misty Moon Trail 

In the morning, we woke to see some haze way down in the desert valley thousands of feet below and knowing the heat of the day would lift that humidity we were not entirely hopeful we would have time to summit Woolsey.  After checking the weather on our InReach, we were confirmed with a chance of thunderstorms around noon. It being early, we decided to start picking our way up the mountain and checking the weather and watching the clouds as we went. First up some boulders to a small snow field, then into the gully system to the top of the ridge and start of the climb to the top we went.  Once on the ridge a few hours and 1100 feet later, we saw some unfriendly clouds forming, heavy winds and another weather check once again confirming bad weather.  We decided we had gone as far as we were comfortable and turned back to camp.

Camp 1 at lake 10 at the base of Mount Woolsey 

Once back down at the lake, we packed up our Haven and miscellaneous gear and tracked our way back to the Painted Rock Creek trail and the base of Cloud Peak. Early the next morning, we woke to a beautiful sunrise and started making our way up the mountain. The terrain was massively impressive, seemingly endless fields of boulders strewn across the southwest ridge of the mountain. 3 miles and 1900 feet up we went wandering this labyrinth to the summit featuring incredible 360* views of all the Big Horn Mountains.  Too cold at that elevation and it being only 8:30 in the morning, we hurried back down to camp to pack up and hike back out to our van and make our way back to town for showers and food.  All in all, an incredible adventure! Unfortunately the conditions didn’t allow us to meet all of our objectives, but the time in Cloud Peak Wilderness left us impressed with its grandeur and beauty.

Navigating Class 4 terrain on the morning of day 2 up the gulley for Mount Woolsey

Navigating down around the upper basin towards the base of Cloud Peak

Faint path on the way out the basin

Camp 2 sunrise at the start of the Cloud Peak hike

Cloud Peak Summit!


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