The day we set out to hike to the Cirque of the Towers was Shannon’s birthday!
As ever, Shannon had studied the map and knew the general direction we were headed. We knew that we were headed over the pass that was directly in front of us, visible from our tent. Here’s a video of how that looked from the campsite (side note – if you’re viewing this in email the videos likely won’t play. It has recently been brought to my attention that the videos only play if you view them on the headseasttailswest.com website)
We set out confidently in pursuit of “The Cirque”, and completely missed the trailhead. We hiked about a half mile past it before we realized it and turned around. Needless to say, although it was clearly marked with a small wooden sign, we had been using a different trail while we’d been camping at Big Sandy Lake which threw us off. The initial incline to the Cirque of the towers was a steep climb, with switchbacks one after the other, for about a third of a mile. Although we knew to expect this, it was a challenging start to be sure. The elevation at Big Sandy Lake was 9710 feet. The top of the switchbacks saw us at 10,091 feet. While that is only about a 381 foot gain , which doesn’t sound like much when you write it down, please trust me when I tell you that it was challenging.
Once to the top of the ridge, the trail eased out into a straight path inside of what looked to me a lot like where fraulein Maria turned her pirouette in the alps at the beginning of The Sound of Music.
As we kept climbing, the views kept getting more beautiful and dramatic.
The climb in between North Lake an Arrowhead Lake was an incline of 666 feet (El Diablo!!!!), over 3/4 of a mile. Although we had had that nice warm up at the beginning of the trail with only about half that elevation, we still had one heck of a climb. It was more of a trudge uphill with thoughts of “please let this be over soon”. But again, the reward was the views, and they were spectacular!
We’d had some discussion before we left, about which side to take around Arrowhead Lake. You can either continue on the Big Sandy Lake Trail, or make a left turn and go over the climber’s trail. We opted to stay on the Big Sandy Lake trail and not go left to the climbers trail, for no good reason except we weren’t going to be doing the rock climbing that “climbers trail” refers to.
There was another steep climb up and around Arrowhead Lake, and when we got up and over the top of it we heard a cheerful “happy birthday!” We came face to face with Tim Hardy from my previous post. He had already been to the Cirque on his own, and Sue had opted to stay behind with a good book. It was fun to stop and chat with our new friend from back home in Alabama.
The final climb before we reached the Cirque of the Towers, was from the creek at the top of Arrowhead Lake, and up and over Jackass Pass. It is only 1/4 of a mile, and has an elevation of 214 feet, but there is almost no oxygen up there which made it feel harder. Also the wind was blowing hard, and we were sort of working against it
- Side note – you see above where it says Popo Agie? It’s an interesting pronunciation…… puh-po-juh. Here’s more about it if you’re interested
“The Popo Agie was designated by Congress in 1984 and now stretches over 101,870 acres of very rugged topography in the Wind River Range. Popo Agie (pronounced puh-POE-zha, meaning “beginning of the waters”) Wilderness has high jagged peaks separating beautiful streams in deep, narrow valleys. Perennial snowfields dot the Continental Divide running through this area.” from fs.usds.gov
As we reached the top of Jackass Pass, we were directly in front of the expanse of the Cirque of the Towers
The Cirque of the Towers– is “a stunning semi-circle of fifteen, 12,000-foot craggy peaks that form a portion of the Continental Divide in the Wind River Mountain Range. The Cirque is a world-renowned mecca for backpackers and rock climbers. The Cirque offers spectacular scenery for hikers and classic technical rock climbing routes, as well as fishing, camping, and day-hiking opportunities.” from visitpinedale.org
We chose to hike back on the Climbers trail for one reason and one reason only; it didn’t involve any steep climbs. It was a bit of a scramble over some big boulders, but that made it fun. Having a break from the inclines was a welcomed change, and we got to see a different bit of scenery than on the way there. SO if I may weigh in on the debate about “which side to take” I’d say that I was glad we took the Big Sandy Trail route on the way there, because the views were well worth it. I was also glad that we took the climbers trail route back for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned.
For some reason I expected the hike back to be an easy, downhill-only trek. I hadn’t really considered how many downhill sections we’d gone over on the way there, that we now had to hike back up. Again, it was well worth it to get to see the scenery we were in the middle of, and we took our time and enjoyed our surroundings. It’s just an important point to make if you’re planning to go and like me, expect to have an easy hike back. It’s about 10% easier on the way back than on the way there. But we never expect easy!!
After some discussion, we opted to go ahead and hike out the following day. We were a little bit sore, and knew we’d most likely benefit from a bit of downtime, and some hamburgers at Big Sandy Lodge.
Let me pause here just a minute and review the fact, that for the past 3 months that we’d been planning this hike, we’d known and been excited about the hamburgers at Big Sandy Lodge that we’d be enjoying post-hike.
Big Sandy Lodge, is very small and remote, and we have heard that they’ve got excellent gourmet burgers. They’re only open Tuesday- Saturday, Memorial Day to Labor Day. We were coming out on Wednesday, August 31st, a FULL FIVE DAYS before Labor Day, and well within the timeline of Tuesday – Saturday. We had been talking about how great these burgers were going to be for months, knowing that after completing any hiking trip , all anybody wants is a giant hamburger. After our third full day of oatmeal, granola, and dehydrated rice meals (woe is us!) we’d been sitting around describing what would be “the perfect burger”( mine is a cheddar cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard catsup. Shannon’s is a burger with a thin slice of fried spam, thousand island dressing, and a fried green tomato). We were absolutely starving for them on the day we hiked out. He goaded me into talking about it in a go-pro video that I can’t get downloaded…….He’d asked me, “what kind of burgers do you think they’ll have?” I started coming up with themes:
A Sacajawea burger that was a fish sandwich, a Washakie burger that was a buffalo patty with corn and pine nuts, a Cirque burger that was two patty’s, 2 slices of cheese, bacon, and a fried egg on top, a Hawaiian burger that was teriyaki grilled chicken, grilled onion, and pineapple, and we also re-reviewed the “build your own” burgers as discussed the night before. Here is the actual menu linked to the lodge.
As we pulled up, I immediately commented that it looked closed. Shannon said, “have a little faith”. There was a large banner that designated parking for the burgers. A truck with two hikers pulled in just behind us as we started walking to the front door. As we got closer, we saw that there was a piece of paper on the front door with a hand written note. We walked up on the front stoop and starting read it; “Sorry for the inconvenience! We are closed today to clean the cabins. We will re-open tomorrow! Signed, Krissy.”
Shannon knew how disappointed I’d be about this, and enjoyed teasing me for the next hour as we drove away. He continued to goad me into lamenting my disappointment and fury at Krissy for not following the schedule! (Yes, it was a little bit funny…). He continued to tease me and laugh at my insistence that we stop at the very first place that served food….. even it it was McDonalds. All told, Shannon is far less interested in food than I am in general. He would have been perfectly fine to wait until we found a restaurant a few hours down the road. I was just downright hangry, and doing my very best to hold it together. As we were in the middle of nowhere, I knew the likelihood of actual burgers was very low. After about 20 minutes, we came to the town of Farson, Wyoming.
The Farson Mercantile had a long, long line of other hikers who were seeking alternative options to the Lodge burger. I opted for a foot long turkey, bacon, ranch sub sandwich and Shannon had a “southern bbq” sub. It was cute, but didn’t hit any marks. I did find a few candy bars that I’d never heard of before for us to try in the car
I’m sorry to say that we were not fans of any of the above candy bars, although it’s always fun to try something new. I’m just far too gone in love with a Reece’s cup and nothing compares.
In spite of the burger debacle, the hike to the Cirque of the Towers was absolutely fantastic and worth every ounce of effort it took to make the climb. The Wind River Range is absolutely stunning, and I’m so happy to have gotten to spend some time there!
Next, we headed back into Colorado! That post will be along shortly!