I'd like to thank the Venture Crew 93 scouts for all their hard work and teamwork on this trip. As an adult leader, it was great to see you all pitching in and taking care of business. And Maggie too, for your leadership. You make a great role model for these young people!

Gary, as always, it was great to be out in the wild with you. All your prior planning and phone calls made for a fantastic trip, and your enthusiasm on the trail is contageous.

And finally, to the Stampfle's, including Lori. All your work to organize the gear and meals for weeks in advance, and on the trail, are greatly appreciated. Words can't express my gratitude for what you have done on this trip, and on every other major scout trip that Patrick and I have participated in in the past. Chuck and Lori, you can be very proud of your scouts. Venture Crew 93 is extremely fortunate to have you all!

Sunday, Aug 16 - Return Home

Up at 7 to a sunny, cool morning. We packed up and headed up to the main house for breakfast at 8 with the other guests at the ranch. The B&B is like a cozy little hotel with guest rooms on two levels of a house with a deck overlooking an expansive river valley with the homestead cabin off in the distance, and the Badlands rising up off in the east. The owners of the B&B are cattle ranchers, as were their parents who acquired this land earlier last century when the government opened it up to homesteaders. Phil Kruse chatted with us about the history of his family, the ranch, the guest house, and the old homesteader’s cabin, which was occupied by his grandparents. And, of course, Phil couldn’t resist telling us about the government’s inane policies towards cattle ranching and prairie dog control. Fun to listen to him as he would shake his head and chuckle!

Breakfast was served from a kitchen counter just like at any house – eggs, bison sausage, biscuits and gravy, and fresh fruit. The guests ate at long tables in the “living room” nearby. Afterwards we took our coffee out on the deck to soak up the beautiful morning and expansive views to the south. We were in the car by 9 am to finish our drive, with a brief stop in Worthington MN for a to-go Arby's lunch. We were back in the Johnson’s driveway by 7 pm. Once there, we "decompressed" the vehicles and trailer so that we could each locate our personal gear before going our separate ways.

I have collected several memories on the trip that I’ll mention here so they are not lost to me as time passes.

Gary’s camera in your face
Nora’s bright green bandana
Michael carrying a 50 lb pack – even with llamas!
America not moving on the trail until the other llamas had come into view
Nora rock-hopping at Boot Lake (when she thought nobody was watching)
The awesome dutch oven desserts
Always, always sunscreen mixed with bug spray mixed with sweat. Yuck.
Kevin not shaving the whole trip
Heavy gnats and mosquitoes our second day at Boot Lake camp
Fresh skillet-fried mountain trout
“Hey man, I’ll trade you a good lure for some bug juice.”
“Peace man. A million, no, two million thanks to your crew, man. You guys are the greatest.”
Kayla organizing the trailer contents like a Tetris puzzle
Surviving the Badlands storm!
Susan feeling sick the whole way up to Wind River Peak, and making it as far as everyone else
Digging holes and packing out our TP in silver bags
Michael’s birthday!
Glorious summits and mountain passes
Gary (“Tito”) finding a song for ANY word that was said
Naming Kevin “Diana” (Ross), and then adding “Princess” to the name
Michael: “I think Paint hates me.”
America sneezing on Gary – twice
“Kayla, what’s for dinner?”
Nora and Kayla talking to the llamas on the trail, especially during difficult water crossings
Nora a fast and swift hiker, Chuck slow and steady
Maggie’s Wind River summit in her sandals
Kevin stealing all the cookies at lunch, then Gary having the gall to ask the Chuck Wagon for some cookies
Racing to put the tarp on the trailer and bungee it down before the rain hit
Kayla chasing wildlife for photos
Weiney water lemonade broth
Trying to keep the llamas from pooping in the water
Nora weighing out the panniers each day
Kayla’s campfire songs, Kevin and Michael’s guitars, and 3-4 dork lights leaning in to read the lyrics
Chuck needing his coffee in the morning, and a Coke when we were on the road
Maggie doing make-up on the trail: “You never know which photo will end up on the wall at home.”

Saturday, Aug 15 - Custer State Park and Badlands Rustic B&B

Woke up to a nice morning, but threatening skies. We made a great breakfast of fried potatoes and spam. Gary told us all where spam came from (a factory in Austin, MN, right?), but it sure was tasty. Gary rigged a shower behind our campsite for anyone that wanted to use it. No takers, but several of us did a bucket wash of our hair. Then, while we were tearing down camp the rain set in. We had tempted fate one too many times, and now we were paying the price for lingering a bit too long under threatening skies. We even got a bout of hail along with the rain! We had two bouts of rain that morning, and we tried to put things away in the time between rainfalls. Finally on our way, we headed NE towards Casper, WY.

Before reaching Casper, we stopped at Independence Rock, a large granite hump in the middle of nowhere, 130 ft high. In the mid-1800's, settlers traveling west through Wyoming would stop here, some carving their names on the rock face. The venture crew climbed the sloping hill to the top, where they were met with awesome views of the surrounding area, but also some wind-blown rain! After returning to the vehicles, we finished the last 60 miles to Casper with heavy rain the entire way. It was good we stopped when we did!

Our destination that night was south of the Badlands, and while there may have been a shorter route coming into South Dakota from below the Black Hills, we chose the interstate route through northern Wyoming because of the greater speed limit and better roads, expecting to make better time even though it might be more miles. We lunched in Gilette, WY (Taco Bell! We loved it!), then on to the Black Hills. The scouts were hoping to see a herd of bison, and Gary’s plan was to enter the Badlands from the West in hopes of spotting the herd that might be visible at that end of the park. The scouts suggested we drop deep into the Black Hills to Custer State Park where the Wildlife Loop is almost always dotted with bison herd, so we arrived at Custer State Park around sundown. Early in the loop we did spot 5 bison, but we headed further along on some gravel roads hoping to spot a larger herd. It was getting very dark, but we finally stumbled on a small herd (a male, 3 females, and several younger calves) VERY near the road. We stopped near them, and we could hear the male grunting as he grazed, and listened to the tear, tear, tear of the grass as he grabbed a mouthful of grass every second or two. His grunts became a little more earnest when Chuck got out on the far side of his vehicle for a picture, something the bull did not like – and Chuck did not linger! We sat there for 10 minutes or so with the vehicles off so we could listen with our windows down. It was really impressive the size of the male, and his noises.

We headed out of the park and the long hour drive to our destination for the night – the rustic 1880 one-room homesteader cabin (#3)(complete with kitchen hand pump for water and nearby outhouse) below the cliffs of the Circle View Guest Ranch near Interior, SD. We arrived at 11 pm, and we all claimed a spot on the floor, one of the two beds, or even the screen porch outside. After settling in around the kerosene lantern in the kitchen, we all talked about our impressions of the trip. I told how a couple of times I asked the group if we were missing someone when we were huddled together for a lunch or campfire. It seemed hard to fathom that 8 people could be in such a small space – there must be someone missing! Considering this later, I came to the conclusion that we had become very tight as a group, and that we were so comfortable with each other that being together in such proximity was a very common practice while in the mountains, and that I’d miss that when we would go our separate ways tomorrow. When someone asked for a ghost story, Gary substituted the true story of the Wounded Knee Massacre, which took place just a few miles from where we were staying. Then finally, Gary finished the evening with a story he had been promising the whole trip – the story of that American Icon, Nate the Talking Snake. One of those “had to be there” things! After the groans at the punch line, it was time for bed.

Friday, Aug 14 - Return to Worthen Meadows, on to Green Mountain, WY

It was another beautiful morning, and Gary borrowed me one of his fishing poles (my pole sucked) to try my luck again at fishing. The trout were biting that morning, but again they were very small, and we really didn’t have any plans (or time) to fry up these little trout. It was nice to have some success fishing though! We were up and out of camp by 10 am this day, with 6 miles to go to Worthen Meadows. The scouts were VERY interested in the topography between here and our destination – were there hills? Would it be flat? Both. The first 3 miles paralleled the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River on a somewhat gentle downhill slope (to 8200 ft), crossing the river at Sheep Bridge, but the final 3 miles would have 2 steep ascents up to Worthen Meadow Reservior (9200 feet). So, there would be hills, but we found that we all felt much stronger at these lower altitudes compared to our hikes at 10-12,000 feet.

We reached Sheep Bridge around noon – a beautiful spot for lunch, with cascading water in an alpine forest setting. Gary used this as a final opportunity for photographs with the llamas. They were getting restless since they knew the trailhead was not far away. Paintbrush, the youngest, was normally always humming/grunting, simply a sign of being interested and mildly excited, but at Sheep Bridge even America and Sheep were joining in the llama vocalizing. Sheep was without a saddle this day, a victim of ever worse saddle sores. Poor guy. Poor us too, but we all seemed to be doing OK with the added weight (OK, I didn't ask Chuck).

After lunch at Sheep Bridge, we began the final 3 miles "up" to our destination, arriving at the trailhead at 2:10 pm, with 2 hours to kill before the llama outfitters would arrive. The day was sunny and humid, and swimming was on our minds, but after removing the saddles from the llamas, opening the cars and the trailer, and digging into our backpacks, we all had gear strewn everywhere! Nora and Susan did manage a swim, and after an hour or so we saw the types of clouds that had chased us all across South Dakota and Wyoming 5 days earlier. We corralled our gear into the cars and trailer just before the rain hit, and we sat out a couple of rainstorms before the outfitters arrived at 4:30.

Earlier, the Chuck Wagon left down into Lander (5,500 ft) for supplies. The Gear Daddy Caddy arrived in town about 5 pm after saying farewell to our 3 llama friends, where we all made a quick McDonald’s run, then headed East to our overnight destination in the middle of Wyoming - the Green Mountains and its Cottonwood campground(8000 ft). The area is well-known to hunters - we had deer-hanging apparatus already set up in our campsite! (This inspired Kayla to tell her deer-slaying/dressing out story to the utter amazement of scout and adult alike!!) There we set up camp (we had to chase a herd of deer out of our campsite), Kayla and Nora made a supper of chicken soup and dumplings, and finished with a superb blueberry cobbler with whipped cream. After that, we had a nice campfire, and a great deal of guitar, songs, singing, etc. This night, we didn’t get to bed until around midnight we were having so much fun. The scouts were particularly keen on a handful of songs over the course of this trip: Bottomless Lake, American Pie, City of New Orleans, Country Road, Camp Grenada to name a few. We all knew the tough part of the trip was behind us, and the next two days would require a great deal of driving, so we all made the most of it!

Llama Trek to Worthen Meadows photos - click for more

After completing our 5-day llama trek through the Popo Agie Wilderness, we attempted a "Bad Hair Contest", but we were all pretty good at managing a decent level of personal hygiene, so the results were not as impressive as past trips with younger Boy Scouts. Why, some of the girls looked downright ready to hit the town!

Bad Hair Contest photos - click for more

Thursday, Aug 13 - Llama Trek to Three Forks Park, Popo Agie Wilderness

Up for breakfast, after which Gary arrived with another catch of 9 juicy trout. He considered just catch and release, but couldn’t resist when he kept catching keeper after keeper. How many opportunities do you get to eat fresh mountain lake trout??? So, we repeated the process, only this time I fried the trout, and once again Kayla did the bone separation to produce succulent chunks of trout to share with the crew. After this, we cleaned up, broke camp, packed up the llamas and we were on our way. I make it sound like we did this quickly, but even as efficient as we were in working as a team, it still would take about 3 hours to break camp and pack the llamas. We were on the trail at around 12 noon this day, with 7 miles to go to Three Forks Park. The distance made me nervous, considering how long it had taken us to go 3 miles a couple days before! On top of that, we were faced with a major water crossing after the first hour. We used the stop as an opportunity for a group photo with the llamas as the view to the West was open to snow-covered peaks and watery alpine meadows.

Once we got past the water crossing and left the mountain lakes area (10,500 ft and greater), we left the rugged trails behind as well and we found ourselves hiking in shaded alpine forests, with relatively smooth, descending trails. It was another beautiful day, so the going was good, and we attempted to put some miles behind us before stopping for lunch of summer sausage and rosemary crackers (gotta get me some of them crackers!) in a hilly, shaded area at a small creek crossing. We were all together hiking after lunch (we tend to get separated for reasons of photography, videography, or youth/age!), which ended with an extremely steep, rocky, arduous descent into the Three Forks Park area (around 9,000 feet), thus named because of the junction of 3 major trails in the Popo Agie Wilderness. Right at this intersection was a nice spot that we considered calling home for the evening, but we scouted up and down the trail and found a better spot away from this potentially busy intersection. There were spots on either side of the trail, but we chose to take the spot away from the smooth stream running nearby. The rules state you need to camp 200 ft from water and 200 ft from the trail. While the campsite along the creek was nice, it was really 10 feet from the water, and 10 feet from the trail!! It would only be a short walk for us to visit the stream, and the campsite farther from the trail offered a wide variety of tent locations. We arrived well before sundown, having covered the 7 miles in record time! We set up camp, and some headed to the stream for some fishing. The trout were biting, but they were very small. The stream setting with the trees and mountains was very serene. Another benefit of our camp was the ability to gather firewood and have a campfire, something we couldn’t do in our two days in the Ice Lakes.

Over the course of a trip like this, there are many “you had to be there” moments where things happen, we laugh and joke for hours and days about it, but when you try to explain it to someone else… Well, you know what I mean. Tonight, it was Susan and "The Soap". Having volunteered to do the dishes (just a small bowl with a small squirt of “Camp Suds” – highly concentrated), Susan proceeded to use about 2/3 of a bottle of Camp Suds in her 2 cups of dishwater. She and Michael spent the next 2 hours doing dishes and trying to rinse the soap from all the cups and silverware! We were all very relaxed and very tired, and just sat around the campfire and laughed and joked, including Susan and Michael!

Llama Trek to Three Forks Park photos - click for more

Wednesday, Aug 12 - Wind River Peak

We agreed to a 4 am wake up call, and we stepped off from camp at 5:20 am with the sun nowhere in sight. We didn’t need the llamas this day – so what do you do with llamas when you want to leave them behind? Nothing. Once you tie them off, they eat grass, and you give them water once a day. They “kushed” in the grass and watched while we prepped for the day with nothing but dork lights to guide our way. The night before, Gary scouted the trail and placed small reflecting lights for the first quarter mile so that we could find the trail and maintain it to start. After that, the trail was defined enough to follow. After the first half mile we struggled with a couple false starts up side trails that we hoped would lead us to the start of the wide “ramp” that led up to Wind River Peak. Once the sun came up, we found what we were looking for, and stopped for a quick breakfast of breakfast bars, beef jerky and dried fruit. By this time is was close to 9 am, and we were already behind schedule.

The ramp looked easy enough - a combination of alpine tundra mixed with marshy snow melt and boulders. The group soon spread out all along with 1.5 mile long ramp that led up to a secondary landmark at 12,500 feet. I mistook a bump on the high horizon for the Chimney Rock we were pursuing, and I directed Nora to this location. Being in such good shape, she arrived there long before me and the rest of the group. Once I got to the higher elevation, I could see that the real Chimney Rock and Wind River Peak were off to the right. No matter though, because there was a large snowfield blocking our way (considered too dangerous to climb on) that prevented us from proceeding up more directly. So, once others in the group caught up, we began skirting the large snowfield, which set us back quite a bit. Once we got even with the snowfield, we were faced with a very steep boulder climb that did not allow us any views of the path ahead. At this point it was getting to be around noon, and our backpacks and gear were making the boulder climbing difficult, so we dropped packs and left them behind while we continued to climb. Eventually we came out onto a large plateau at 12,500 ft with a view of Chimney Rock, and a clear view of the path to the peak – and another large snowfield that was going to block our ascent. Bummer. At this point it became clear that we would not be able to summit the peak. The snowfield was going to cause us yet another major detour, the day was getting on, and in addition we started seeing clouds above the peak and off to the north that seemed to indicate inclement weather was approaching. Gary explained that the Wind River Peak was on the Continental Divide, and weather approached from the backside of the peak from where we were. Thus, a storm could blow up on us and we wouldn’t know it until it was too late. Having called off our ascent, those of us that made it that far (we left Chuck and Kayla behind) stopped for pictures with the peak in the background, along with the rest of the major snow-covered peaks in the Wind River range off to the north. It was a beautiful spot, with grand views!

We retraced our steps down to where we left Chuck and Kayla, had our lunch in another wonderful spot overlooking some of the southern Ice Lakes from high above, then we worked our way down the way we came. The bad weather that looked like might blow in never materialized, and we were back in camp by 3 pm with time to ourselves. Some napped, some soaked their feet, some bathed, some swam. I took a shot at some trout fishing with a pole and spinner bait that I had brought along. I did not feel like wandering far from camp, and I had a few bites but no catches. Gary, on the other hand, had gone to another lake not to far from the lake we were camped on. The night before he only caught a couple, but today he came back with 9 keepers, a combination of various kinds of trout: brown, silver, brook, and rainbow. It was later in the day, and we had all refreshed ourselves, filtered as much water as we could contain, and started and finished supper. Gary and Michael cleaned his catch, then Gary sat down and began frying up his trout, after which he would hand over to the bone-removing hands of Kayla who produced chunks of trout for each of us to grab and eat. Yum! It was a great way to end the day, and once again we had a clear night with stars, and a few shooting stars to view. It was clear that everyone was tired, so after supper and eating trout, we all headed to bed. Tomorrow we would begin our 2-day trek back to the Worthen Meadows trailhead via a more northerly route to complete our Popo Agie Wilderness loop.

All in all, the scouts didn’t seem disappointed that we did not make the summit that day. We had done all we could do to prepare, and we gave it our best shot. While we knew there may be snow up close to the peak, we didn’t expect large swaths of snow to cause a major roadblocks on our route. We saw other people walking on the steep snowfields, but they had put special cramp-ons on their feet before walking on the snow. We never considered doing it ourselves, lest we slip and go sliding down the steep snow into a boulder field!

Wind River Peak & Trout Fry photos - click for more

Tuesday, Aug 11 - Llama Trek to Ice Lakes, Popo Agie Wilderness

Rise and shine to a beautiful sunny morning, and our nearby meadow looked even more beautiful than during last evening’s sundown. As we set off at 11:30 am, spirits were high for our short distance north to Ice Lakes. The first few hours were an intense, arduous climb from Tayo Park to about 10,600 ft where we stopped for lunch. Gary decided to scout ahead to Ice Lakes to check campsites, and if nothing looked good, we would continue on to Deep Creek Lakes. However, we hadn’t really gone that far yet, and the day was getting on. After a descent from our lunch spot, we headed up another tough climb to another pass, this time over 11,000 ft, where the Ice Lakes finally came into view. From here, we really felt above the tree line as the landscape was sparse and the winds were strong. As we descended to the Ice Lake region, we finally ran in to Gary, but by this time it was already 6 pm, and Gary hadn’t really found a favorable campsite at Boot Lake that offered a good starting point for our pre-dawn hike to Wind River Peak the next day. Rather than choose more lush digs on the south side of Boot Lake, Gary finally found a great site on a western slope of Boot Lake not far off the trail, and great access right near the lake. What a great late-day find. It would be our home for 2 nights.

We set up camp, had dinner, filtered some water, and enjoyed a very starry night. Also, this evening was the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. As we all discussed our strategy for getting up at 4 am the next day to begin our ascent of the Wind River Peak, we saw some amazing shooting stars streak across the night sky. As much as we (I) wanted to stay up to watch the sky, I need my sleep on these backpacking trips. I do wish I could “hang with the grown ups” at night, but I feel like a teenager when it comes to the sleep I need!

Llama Trek to Ice Lakes photos - click for more

Monday, Aug 10 - Llama Trek to Tayo Park, Popo Agie Wilderness

We awoke to clear skies, and after breakfast we began packing our personal gear, and packing the llama panniers with our shared gear and food for the trip. For the next 5 days we were going to be in the Popo Agie (pronounced “po-PO-zha”, rhymes with ambrosia) Wilderness, part of the larger Shoshone National Forest, and part of the larger Wind River Mountain range. Certain destinations were labeled “parks”, but weren’t any different than any other wilderness area. These areas tended to have good campsites and access to good water. Our destination on this day was Tayo Park, but there were possibilities of stopping along the way if the 9 miles became to great. We were already at 9,200 feet, and we would be doing major elevation gains (up to 10,700 in the first 4 miles!) and losses, so the trek would not be easy.

We packed up and drove to the other end of the lake where we were to meet the llamas at the trailhead. Max was there with our 3 llamas when we arrived, so he verified our pannier weights, supervised our saddling and packing the llamas, said his farewell, and we stepped off by 10:30 am. The day was sunny, and the trail was very wooded and pleasant. However, we did have a pretty intense climb ahead of us. The scouts did very well, and one in particular (Nora) was in outstanding shape from bike-a-thons and running cross country. I was the designated videographer of the trip, and I struggled to hike ahead of her and the others to capture them leading the llamas up the trail. At one point I had to tell Nora (who was leading all 3 llamas tethered together), "If you see me hiking on the trail ahead, you HAVE to stop and rest." Man, I busted my butt to get ahead of that girl. The others weren’t far off the pace the whole trip. Chuck and I brought up the rear a great deal of the time. Chuck is nearing 60, I’m 50, and Gary is 53, so the altitude and elevation gains did a number on us old folk. I would easily get winded, but I was pleased with how quickly I could recover and feel strong again. My jogging continues to pay off.

After 4 miles, we exited the wooded trail into an open pass with a magnificent vista of the Wind River Mountain and other peaks in the distance. It made for a wonderful lunch spot. After lunch, we continued on, descending into more wooded wilderness, then on to Tayo Park. We arrived later in the afternoon, but Gary was asked to look in on a medical emergency. After Gary advised the other hiking group, another person offered Gary a location of a good campsite for our group and llamas. It was an excellent spot, having been frequented by horse campers it seemed. It was on the other side of an open meadow with a meandering creek – very secluded. We would never have found that spot on our own since we would have tended to stay relatively near the trail.

By the time Chuck and I got to the site (OK, yes, we missed all the action), the scouts had removed all the llama packs and saddles and were clearing locations for their tents. We set up camp, and Michael prepared us a campfire. Today was his 17th birthday, so he got first dibs on dinner, and a special desert, and constant reminders it was his birthday. Most every declaration by a scout or adult was prefaced with "In honor of Michael's birthday..." which yielded the expected groan from Michael! Kayla had brought along some songs, and we had a campfire complete with singing sans guitar. Our group was just as masterful acappella! It was a beautiful sunny day, and a nice evening, with no threat of rain.

So, we had made it the entire way to Tayo Park (9,500 ft) - and everyone was doing well! However, Sheep seemed to have issues with open sores where his saddle was strapped. Gary treated him best he could, and we vowed to strap him in tight tomorrow (which is the advice we got from Max), but we also thought we might lighten his load a bit and each of us carry more. We were faced with a shorter day the next day, so it shouldn’t be too hard on us (or so we thought!) We had 2 destinations in mind for the next day: Ice Lakes 3 miles away, or better yet, Deep Creek Lakes, another 1.5 miles farther up the trail, which would give us a better approach to Wind River Peak (our destination in 2 days).

Llama Trek to Tayo Park photos - click for more

Sunday, Aug 9 - Lander, WY, Llama Training, Worthen Meadows

We awoke dry (yes, no rain!), and the sun shining on the horizon. But again, there were the threatening skies telling us not to dawdle too long on breakfast or breaking camp, and we accomplished both just in time as the rain hit (OK, we tore down before the rain, and ate breakfast in a light rain). At one point we decided to kick our packing into high gear, a neighbor camper (a gruff Sturgis biker) came by and asked Michael how long we had been together. He was surprised to see us 8 organize our gear, cars and the crew trailer with extreme efficiency, and how the scouts were even more involved than the adults. When Michael told him “About a year”, the guy replied, “A year? Man, you guys know how to get sh** done!” Truthfully, the Stampfle clan (father, son, daughter on the trip, mother back in the Twin Cities) were masters at meal planning, meal content packing, and trailer packing and organizing. It was a treat to watch them at work, especially when the heat was on (i.e., rain coming). Most times I felt I was just in the way, even though the rest of us are quite organized ourselves. But I do agree with that biker – we were an awesome team, and the scouts get all the credit.

We hit the road in what looked like an all-day rain, and we debated the best/fastest routes to get to Lander, WY for our meeting with the llama outfitter and our llama training later that afternoon. Some routes were shorter, some more scenic, but we decided that taking the interstate to Buffalo then down to Casper, then west to Shoshoni, Riverton, then Lander was better than the mountainous route through the Bighorn Mountains. Besides, what good is scenery if it's raining? Well the rain broke by Buffalo, and we had clear sailing for the rest of the day. We arrived in Lander at 3 pm, and hour before we were to meet the llama outfitter, so we did some supply shopping, had an ice cream treat, then headed to the outskirts of town to Lander Llama Outfitters.

We met Max our trainer, who introduced us to our 3 llamas for the trip: America (oldest, strongest, studliest), Sheep (middle aged, very docile), and Paintbrush (youngest, most excitable). We learned how to approach and lead the llamas, but most importantly we learned how to saddle the llamas. Each llama can hold 70 lbs of gear total: 30 lbs in each side bag (called a pannier), and 10 lbs of lighter stuff on top of the saddle. The saddle had to be extremely tight and secure up front to prevent rubbing and chaffing. After we all got practice, we sat down to do a little map review with Max on our proposed route. Gary was still undecided on how to approach our route. The loop we had planned could be traversed clockwise or counter clockwise. Gary’s plan all along had been to traverse it counter clockwise, but the owner said it would be better to traverse it clockwise and thus avoid a major uphill grind on our 2nd day. Max was non-committal, saying either way could be done, but that the uphill climb in question was a big deal. In the end we decided to follow the owner’s advice. The problem we faced is that our original plan offered what seemed like the most reasonable length of hiking each day (5-7 miles each day). For us to accomplish this new plan, we would be faced with a 9 or 10-mile hike our first day. Could we do it? We decided to try.

We left Llander Llama (5,500 ft) and headed up the mountains to Worthen Meadows Reservoir and campgrounds (9200 ft). We nabbed two sites next to each other, not far from (but not in sight of) the water. We all set up camp, and I went off to the lake to bathe, some went to wash hair, some prepared dinner (guess who? Yep, the Stampfle's!), and some (OK, "Gear Daddy" Johnson) had mounds of gear that had to be distilled down into a more manageable packing assortment for the 5 days and 4 nights backpacking ahead of us. To his credit, Gary brings lots of extra gear in case other hikers need items - everything from walking poles to compression sacks. After dinner of foil dinners (and desert of dutch oven peach cobbler – yum!), we had our first campfire! Michael and I had been playing guitar before and after dinner, and with the scouts being more accustomed to our singing and sense of humor, it was time to sing and dance to two Gary Johnson gems – “Dem Bones”, and “Father Abraham”, both requiring active body movements and gyrations! You can’t spring this stuff on a new group of scouts/adults, but we knew each other pretty well by then, and I think the scouts knew how goofy us adults could be. Yeehaw, we had a great campfire that night!

Llama Training, Lander, WY photos - click for more

Saturday, Aug 8 - Mount Rushmore and Devil's Tower

We awoke to great stories of valor in the face of adversity, but once again the skies threatened. After a quick breakfast, we tore down and loaded up just in time to avoid another steady downpour. We drove on to Wall, SD for some supplies, coffee, etc. while the rain continued. From there we headed to Rapid City, then south to Mt Rushmore. By the time we arrived there around 9:30, the skies were clear blue, and the temperature had cooled quite a bit. Wow, what a change! We did a walking tour underneath the presidents, then back to the car and on to nearby Horsethief Lake for some drying out and a spot of lunch – hot dogs on the sidewalk near the lake. It had no real beach or even a picnic area to speak of, at least from where we parked. We couldn’t stray far because we had stuff laying all over to dry out. As I was about to throw out the weiney water soup that was left, I thought it might be interesting to add some powdered lemonade mix to see what it might taste like. Just like Gatorade, it was salty, but didn’t taste bad at all. We passed the broth around as if it was some sort of initiation ritual that all must participate. Some did, some didn’t. But, not a drop of the weiney water soup was wasted! Yum!

Mount Rushmore and Horse Thief Lake photos - click for more

Gary and Maggie drove the "Gear Daddy Caddy" on to Devil’s Tower to ensure us a campsite and dry out some tents, while the rest of us took the "Chuck Wagon" on a slower, more scenic route up to Lead, SD for a beautiful drive through Spearfish Canyon, with Spearfish Creek pretty much running the length of it. Early on the creek was running as strong as any river, but by the time we reached Spearfish, SD the creek was pretty much dry. Where did all the water go? It was nice, but we could see rain clouds forming again. Rather than take the interstate to get to Devil’s Tower, we headed north to Belle Fourche, SD, west to Hulett, WY (we could see Devil’s Tower by this time), then the 10 miles south to Devil’s Tower National Monument. Wow, I had never seen it before, and I couldn’t believe how surreal it actually looked, just sitting there in the middle of flat eastern Wyoming, surrounded by its own debris field of rock columns that had fallen off its sides over the millennium. Unbelievable, really!

Gary and Maggie had a group site reserved for us, and when we arrived we had to set up our tents ahead of another threatening rain storm. Sure enough, we got set up just in time and waited out the rain in our tents or the vehicles. After 20 minutes of rain (and a 20 degree drop in temperature) we drove to the base parking lot for the 1.5 mile walk around the base of the tower. True to the pattern we had been experiencing, the skies cleared to a crystal clear blue. After our walk we headed back to camp for dinner. We were disappointed to hear that they had both a fire ban and even a charcoal ban going on (what?? With all this rain?), but we had our handy Coleman stove. Still, we hadn’t had a campfire the whole trip. That didn’t stop me and Michael from breaking out our guitars and singing some songs while dinner was prepared, and more singing once dinner was complete. Being our days were very full, we were always eating dinner by lamplight or dorklight (my wife’s pet name for my headlamp). We were a bit nervous that the guitar and singing continued past 10 pm, but it turns out that our nearest neighbors were enjoying the music along with us, so we needn't have worried. Soon after, our voices straining from the constant singing (and our ears aching from the bombardment), we called it a night. It was quite cool that night – I do believe it was one of the coldest nights of the trip.

Devils Tower photos - click for more

Friday, Aug 7 - Badlands National Park

We arose to threatening skies, so we tore down camp and had breakfast before the rain hit. No bison were seen nearby, but we did spot some off in the distance as we neared departure. We drove to Chamberlain, SD, and stopped at the very cool Lewis and Clark wayside rest overlooking the Missouri River. Then on to the next rest area for a lunch stop in the heat and wind. By the time we arrived in the Badlands around 4 pm, it was 96 degrees, with clear skies. We hiked the 1.5 mile Notch Trail with its loose wood ladder, and overlook of the southern reaches of the Badlands and the Visitor’s Center far below. After that, we headed to the visitor’s center and to the next door cafĂ© for an ice cream snack before heading out to the Sage Creek Wilderness for an overnight backpacking trip. However, just as we were geared up to depart we continued to watch very threatening skies get worse, including lightening. So, as disappointing as it was, we made the decision not to head out into the unknown, and instead drove to the other side of the park to the Sage Creek Campground, which wasn’t much more than a patchy grass area.

It was already dark when we arrived, and we plopped down in an unmarked area with other campers around us, and quickly set up our tents with very intense lightening and rain threatening around us. One of the scouts commented that it looked like a WW I horizon with lightening and light rumbling of thunder everywhere. We had dinner by lamplight, then the rain drove us to our tents for the night, which we had tried to secure with extra guide lines as best we could. We were glad we did because we got hit with a major thunderstorm for about an hour and a half. High winds, heavy thunder and lightening, and lots and lots of rain. (No hail though. We heard stories of other locations in SD and WY where it hailed heavily!) With every major lightening crash Gary would let out a wild war whoop of glee!! Each tent told stories of how they had to use their bodies to hold down parts of the tents that the wind was trying to displace. In the middle of it all, Michael got out of his tent and raced from tent to tent to re-secure whatever stakes and lines he found to be pulled out. I was proud of my little North Face Tadpole tent – all my stakes and guidelines held, and my tent remained secure. It was strange being in my tent in the middle of all that wind and rain with nothing to do but lay there. Sleep was out of the question, until it finally died down. Wow, what a memory THAT left us!

Badlands National Park photos - click for more

Thursday, Aug 6 - depart the Twin Cities for Blue Mounds State Park

We left the Twin Cities around 3 pm with two vehicles: Chuck's "Chuck Wagon" loaded with all the scouts and pulling the troop trailer, and Gary's "Gear Daddy Caddy" loaded with lots of gear and the rest of the adults. We arrived at Blue Mounds State Park with rain threatening. We set up tents in the group campsite very near entrance building, then we set up a tarp over a single picnic table because of the rain, and the scouts went to work on our evening snack of fried donuts with sugar and cinnamon! (The pictures below are from the next morning.)

Blue Mound State Park photos - click for more


Wind River Trip, Aug 6-16 2009

Wind River Peak is the tallest peak in the southern Wind River range in SW Wyoming. At 13,192 ft, it is 25 feet higher than Cloud Peak in Wyoming, which the Boy Scouts (my son Patrick included) scaled 3 years ago. Patrick is no longer in scouts, but I was still asked to accompany Venture Crew 93 on a 10-day trip to South Dakota and Wyoming that would combine some car-camping experiences with a 5-day, 4-night backpacking trip in the Popo Agie Wilderness, including a summit of Wind River Peak. So, I was excited to get bragging rights on Patrick. Oh, one more detail - we would rent llamas to help carry our gear. Llamas??

Venture Crew is similar to Boy Scouts, but it allows both boys and girls to participate. I was familiar with most of the participants of 4 scouts and 3 other adults:

Chuck Stampfle, a long-time member of the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and now the Venture Crew. He was there when my son Patrick joined scouts, and has always been a quiet, hard-working presence in the various scout troops for years.

Kayla, his daughter, and president of Venture Crew 93

Michael, Chuck's son, vice president of Venture Crew 93

Nora and Susan, two members of the crew that I did not know well, although I had been dog-sledding with them last winter.

Gary Johnson, whom I describe as my "hiking buddy" to all that don't know him, having planned and organized many of my recent high adventure trips. Gary was the scoutmaster for Patrick for most of his years in Boy Scouts, and helped plan Patrick's major scout outings. Oh, and as an avid photographer, Gary supplied all the photos you see in my blog.

Maggie, Gary's daughter, the adult leader of Venture Crew 93, and a classmate of my daughter Emily from high school.