The Beaver’s Revenge… Backpacking the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.

This is number 5 in my series of posts introducing new readers to the wide variety of topics they will find on my posts. Here, I relate a solo backpacking trip I took into the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. It is one of the few posts I have done without photos, but it was a fun/funny trip that I think is worth featuring. There are a number of backpacking adventures scattered throughout my blog, including my trip down the PCT that has been providing material for the past several months.

Having educated myself on the misbehavior mountain men (last blog), I returned to Pinedale and prepared for my own expedition. A week of backpacking alone is good for the soul.

I intended to drive up into the Wind River Mountains, go past Fremont Lake and then backpack south through the Bridger Wilderness. A series of small mountain lakes were calling to me.

Where I ended up is open to debate.

To start with, I was traveling with a United States Forest Service map instead of my usual detailed topographic maps. Contour lines on topographic maps provide a preview of the route ahead and help identify prominent landmarks. You can then use the landmarks to make compass sightings and determine your location.

Forest service maps are more oriented toward road travel. Still, my map would have been adequate except for the snow.

Whatever trail I was following quickly disappeared. Normally, I would have searched around and found it. Tree blazes, rock cairns, and patches of clear ground all help.

This time I didn’t care.

I was a Make Believe Mountain Man exploring unchartered territory in search of beaver. My route would be the one of least resistance. I did use my compass to maintain a general direction. There is a significant difference between being sort of lost and hopelessly lost.

Several hours later I discovered a lovely small lake free of ice and snow. I set up camp and went for a quick dip to rinse off the day’s grime. I can guarantee it was quick because the lake’s water had been snow a few hours earlier.

Warm sun and my Thermarest air mattress enticed me into taking advantage of my splendid isolation for a tad of nude sunbathing. I had drifted into a nap when the young couple walked into camp.

The woman’s surprised “Oh!” woke me up.

“Hi, how are you doing,” I said to their disappearing backs as they quickly made their way around to the opposite shore to set up camp out of sight. So much for splendid isolation…

I decided to go exploring. My camp was nestled up against the south side of a peninsula and my first action was to hike across it. Much to my delight, a beaver hut was located on the small inlet. Even more intriguing, Mother Nature had provided a tempting bridge of rocks out to the well-built stick house.

Never having stood on top of a beaver’s home, I decided why not.

The inhabitant was not pleased. The beaver shot out of his underwater door and surfaced about ten feet out, whipping around to glare at the strange intruder roosting on top of his house. Appearing disgruntled, he paddled off around the peninsula toward my camp.

“Aha,” I fantasized, “he is going to go stand on top of my tent to show me what it is like to have someone perch on your house.” I quietly made my way over the peninsula to check out my theory.

The beaver was indeed near my tent but he was busily munching away on tender young willow shoots. A mid-afternoon snack, it seems, was more important than revenge. I strolled back to camp, retrieved a book and settled in so I could read and keep a watchful eye on my gnawing neighbor.

Thirty minutes later he had made his way 20 yards down the edge of the lake and embarked on a strange project.

I watched him dive under the water and resurface with his front paws full of mud he had scooped up from the bottom of the lake. He made his way on to shore and carefully sculpted the mud into a mound.

That’s when things got really weird. He peed on his pile.

As I watched him dive into the water for more mud, it suddenly dawned on me he was creating a scent pile, a personal want ad of the woods: “Strong young beaver with prominent buck teeth and great smelling pee seeks beaverette for long-term relationship.” (This is like the bear rubbing it’s back against a tree I described in my Mt. Lassen post a couple of weeks ago.)

Either that or his mound served as a no trespassing sign for the competition.

“This,” I thought, “I have to see up close.” Using the young willows for cover, I got down on my hands and knees and carefully worked my way toward the beaver over the cold, soggy ground. Kit Carson would have been proud of me. I was proud of me.

Naturally, right at this time, the young couple chose to reappear.

They couldn’t see the beaver. All they could see was the guy who had been nude an hour earlier down on his hands and knees crawling through the willows in the general direction of their camp. I waved and pointed at the beaver but they had already disappeared.

Fifteen minutes later they had packed up their gear and were hightailing it home. It was the fasted job of breaking camp I’ve ever witnessed.  It would have been interesting to hear the story they told their friends about the wild, and possibly deranged, man in the mountains.

I suspect they spent their next vacation on the crowded beaches of Hawaii. I admit to feeling a tinge of guilt. One of my goals in life is to encourage folks to enjoy the wilderness, not frighten them off.

None of this stopped the beaver and I from enjoying our solitude. I continued my wandering, lost ways for another week.

Next Blog: Out of the wilderness and back to Burning Man. A city of 45,000 is built and dismantled in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada… in one week.



A Rabid Wolf Wandered through Camp: The Wind River Mountains of Wyoming

The Wind River Mountains of Wyoming are a premier destination site for backpackers. A number of years ago I took six months off to backpack various locations in the western United States and added the area to my itinerary.

Mountain men were there first.

Place names such as Sublette County, Fremont Lake and the Bridger Wilderness recall these larger than life characters who were kept busy between the 1820s and 60s pursuing beavers, exploring the west, keeping their scalps, serving as guides, working as frontier entrepreneurs, and, in the case of John C. Fremont, running for President.

Many were also great storytellers and participated enthusiastically in the creation of their own legends.

One of the most popular locations for weaving tall tales was the Annual Fur Rendezvous that brought the various trappers together with suppliers out of St. Louis.

Six of the Rendezvous were held near the small town of Daniel, which is located on the Upper Green River 11 miles from Pineville. I stopped by and tried to imagine what the river valley would be like filled with over 1000 trappers, Indians, suppliers, missionaries, and wayward journalists.

The Mountain Men pursued their dangerous and often lonely profession during the winter when the fur pelts were at their best. The two to three-week Rendezvous in the summer was an opportunity to sell their furs, catch up with friends, gossip and resupply for another winter. It was also an excuse to party.

‘Whiskey,’ pure alcohol watered down and then flavored with tobacco, was passed around in a cooking kettle. Horse racing and shooting contests soon deteriorated to drunken debauchery. Old journals report the results.

One new guy was baptized by having a kettle of the alcohol poured over his head and lit on fire. A rabid wolf wandered through the camp and bit people at will. Several trappers were witnessed playing poker on a dead man’s body

A contract between William Ashley, the creator of the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, and the trading firm of Jedediah Smith, David Jackson and William Sublette listed some 50 different items to be delivered to the Mountain Men.

Many of these items such as gunpowder, lead, beaver traps, and butcher knives related to their work. There were also cooking kettles, flour, sugar, allspice, dried fruit, coffee, grey cloth, and washing soap for every day living. Some items such as beads, ribbons, rings, bracelets and calico were probably trade goods for the Indians

As one might expect, ‘fourth proof rum’ (80 % pure), regular tobacco and the more high quality Smith River Tobacco were included for long, lonely nights. Slaves were producing the Smith River Tobacco in Virginia at the time.

Reviewing what the Mountain Men carried with them into the mountains led me to look at my own backpacking list. It appears life is more complicated today. My list contains over 60 items and I rarely travel for more than seven to ten days without checking back into civilization!

But then again, the Mountain Men apparently didn’t worry about such niceties as toilet paper and toothpaste, not to mention maps and reading material. They also shot much of what they ate.

Wednesday’s Blog: “There’s a Beaver Standing on My Tent.” I have my own mountain man experience.