A Dream Come True: Leigh Lake Trip part 2

“Tits!!” Declared the tall blond woman wearing a revealing halter top, as she ambled toward me part of a cluster of older grey-haired men and women.  My ears perked up! I tilted my head to better hear the conversation as any normal American male might do.  “Took me 59 years to figure out that one. Now I know where ‘Tetons’ comes from.  Tits!! Big breasts! Peaks! from the early French mountain men…..” The lady speaking turned slightly pink in her cheeks as she giggled and snickered and passed me on the walkway at Colter Bay in the Tetons. The breeze whipped the rest of her words away, and I  proceeded on out of earshot. I briefly contemplated why it took the lady so many years to learn that tidbit and why she was having the conversation.  Smiling at this fragment of dialogue, it brought back memories of when I taught Wyoming History and had to explain to my students the American origin of the word “Tetons”.  I had explained it slightly differently to the students but with the same message.

I was back in the Tetons later the same Summer, gawking at those amazing “peaks” but not thinking of the origin of the name.  The Casper Photography Association was on an amazing mountain adventure canoeing and camping at Leigh Lake in the Tetons.  This trip was a dream coming true for me.

The sun had long ago set this Sunday night and falling asleep was proving difficult.  Not only was I still excited about this dream trip, my thin camping pad was not the cushion I thought it would be when I had purchased it and my back was feeling it.  However I was tired and laying there with the tent window flap open with only the mosquito netting closed so those buzzing little critters wouldn’t zip around biting, sucking and bothering me during the night. Mostly that was successful except for those two who managed to find their way in and kept me busy swatting them also making it difficult to fall asleep.

Don’t know if I was actually sleeping, dozing, dreaming or awake in the period ones goes through in the journey to the land of nod, but I could swear the mosquitos were talking.  One mosquito seem to whisper to the other, “Shall we eat him here or take him back into the deep forest and slowly devour him”?  The other replied, “naw, let’s eat him here because if we take him back into the forest, the big boys will just take him away from us.”  Musta been a dream but they were large devils and looked as if they had imbibed in steroids.

Never-the-less, in those steps to falling asleep, I attempted to keep my eyes on them as I peered up through the netted opening and but quickly lost interest and ignored them as I witnessed the pure black night sky pierced by tiny sparkling campfires of starlight. What a vision to distract me from the wildlife in my tent and finally fall asleep viewing.

The next morning I began to wake with only a few rocks and roots poking me in my back (Note to self… figure out how to fix that for the next night). I had managed to make it through the night without too many shoulder and hip cramps or aches but certainly could feel where the rocks and roots and hard ground had dug into my body through the pad.  The two mosquitoes were still there resting on the yellow fabric of the tent probably satiated from sucking my blood during the night.  Likely enough I had large red welts on my mug caused by those little critters. I didn’t contemplate long how I was going to get revenge on those beasts, I reached up and slapped at them. Missed.  Not intimidated, they each buzzed away laughing at me.

I was still snug and warm in my downy sleeping bag as my thoughts began to deliberate rolling out of the bag’s warmth into the brisk mountain air that crept into my small two person tent.  I tested the air by waving my arm around the invigorating coolness stirring the mosquitos into a frenzy.  I decided to stay in the cozy, toasty bag just a little longer and protect myself from my biting ‘friends’.

Out of my sleep induced fogginess and lost fight with the mosquitos, I began to remember one of the reasons I was here and that was to take pictures.  I couldn’t do that wrapped in the warmth of my hard bed, hunkered in the tent. Consequently, I rolled out onto the unyielding tent floor.  Found my pants on the floor. Sitting up I crammed in one leg at a time, then straightened my knees as they snapped and cracked.  I discovered my blue shirt wadded up in the corner, pulled it into my face, and sniffed at it. It didn’t smell too badly.  It had just a hint of bug repellant and camp smoke plus some other unidentifiable odors . I tugged it on and glanced out.

The sky was lighter and a soft pink color was beginning to show. I hastened to unzip the tent door, grabbed my camera and crawled out on my hands and knees. Attempting to stand, my cramped legs wouldn’t let me. Leaning on a nearby tree stump, my almost sixty-five year old knees creaked and my back popped into place as I finally unfolded myself into a standing position while pushing up from the stump. I scanned the eastern sky across the black lake surveying the soft twilight of morning.

Reds, yellows, and purples of the sky reflected in the smooth, calm lake.  I sucked in a lungful of fresh mountain air accented with pine.  Feeling the damp, refreshing fragrance and morning coolness of the the lake drifting towards me, I was seduced and just stared at the scene. The longer I waited and gazed in awe, the more color appeared in the sky and on the water.  Coming to life, excited to photograph the palette of early morning colorful light glancing off the lake, I put my camera’s viewfinder to my eye, composed the scene, set the shutter and aperture combination and fired.

Wanting to be closer to the water as my tent was back a few steps from the lake edge.  I was careful, I maneuvered around two tents,  framed a canoe between trees and shot and fired off several frames. Other club members had also arisen and were creating sunrise photographs.  Al mentioned “it was like a feeding frenzy of sharks”.  I thought he meant the photographers but when queried he almost shouted, “I mean the mosquitos!”  Coming back down from my photo frenzy, I hadn’t even noticed the droning, airborne, little pesky devils since I had been in the tent.  There were swarms of them buzzing about in the air.   The photographers were swatting as they composed with their cameras.  It looked as if they were flapping their arms in hopes of flying.  I’m not sure how they kept from blurring images in their shooting madness.

Pinks Began to reflect in the Lake.

Al Photographing Sunrise over Leigh Lake

As the yellowish  sun came up quickly and our early orangish colors reflecting off the lake dissipated, it was time to start thinking of breakfast.  Food!!!  I was ready. But first we had to go to the bear station and retrieve the provisions.  Reaching up with the long steel pole provided by the Park Service, we latched onto our black food bags and hauled them down, the smell of the plastic bags disturbing the morning fragrances.

Back at camp, Lolena began laying out the breakfast dishes and making preparations.  Once the fare from the bear station was available to her, she cracked eggs and emptied their contents into her silver wok, beat them into a creamy liquid and mixed in fresh bell peppers.  It wasn’t long before the ingredients of yellowish tan contents began to sizzle and bubble sending out a terrific breakfast aroma mixed with fresh mountain smells.

Harry, Wayne, Francis, and Pete had arrived from their campsite lured by hunger and the the smell of scrambled eggs.  Shortly, we all were feasting on this yummy feed.  Lolena’s mystique as a camp cook reverberated amongst the campers.  Pete had brought bagels.  He warmed those on Lolena’s camp stove.  I smeared creamy blueberry spread on the still steaming bread and scarfed it down in between bites of scrambled eggs and sips of coffee.  This was what camp life was supposed to be.

During breakfast I slowed down cramming food in my mouth long enough to ask Al if he could refresh my memory about how Leigh Lake was named.  I considered Al the resident Leigh Lake expert. It was his idea for this canoe/camping expedition as he had taken this trip many times with his family.  I had forgotten the story and was hoping he would prompt my lapsing memory.  He said it was named for an early settler, Dick Leigh.  He commented that the namers probably used ‘Leigh’ as they didn’t want it called “Dick Lake”.  We all chuckled at that.  My apologies to all those who are named ‘Dick’.

Sitting there feeding my mug on Lolena’s and Pete’s great breakfast, my mind began to wander and I was not able to put it back in my head immediately.  Being an ‘old’ History teacher and with Al’s concept of ‘Dick Lake’ rolling around in my wandering mind, I dragged bits and pieces from the shadows in my memory. I finally remembered Leigh and Jenny lakes were named after Richard ‘Beaver Dick’ Leigh and his wife Jenny. In the winter of 1876, the Leigh family sheltered a woman whose family had died of smallpox.  As a result, the entire Leigh family contracted the disease.  Jenny and the five children died; Dick became ill but survived.  That made me think I only had to worry about becoming lunch for a grizzly which I could protect myself from using bear spray.  The Leigh family had no such protection from Smallpox.

During the day we took the canoes out for our own special explorations. Denny and Al decided to paddle to the other side and try and photograph Leigh Lake from that angle.  Pete, Francis and Wayne went off on their own  fishing or photography trips. Lori wanted to paddle around but didn’t want to go alone. No one else was ready as Margi and Lolena had other camp things to do or had agreed to go canoeing with someone else. Not wanting to let the lake experience pass me by, I volunteered to accompany her as long as we stayed near shore.  Neither of us were experienced canoeist.  I was still too nervous to take my camera out while in the canoe so I made sure it was in the dry bag and boarded. More comfortable this time, I didn’t even have visions of potential disaster of swimming with the fish if I tipped the canoe as Denny’s instructions were beginning to pay off. We wisely stayed near shore and even managed to steer the boat fairly well.

Traveling as far up the lake as possible, we crossed a clear, glacial fed stream cascading into the navy blue of Leigh Lake. The rushing stream’s current was obvious as its white frothing water gushed into the lake. Wanting pictures using our 35 mm cameras, we beached the canoe on the gravelly lake edge beyond which was vegetation so thick a person would find it difficult to walk through. Profuse foliage started not far from shore and followed the steep slope of Mt. Moran on up to tree line.  If we wanted to climb the mountain, the tip of our landed canoe would almost be the place to start. I’m not sure how we would have crawled through the brush, pines and spruce just back from the lake, but fortunately climbing mountains was not on our agenda, photography was. My senses were over whelmed with the beauty and splendor around us, and I wanted it on ‘film’.

Taking my black 35 Pentax SLR with it’s zoom lens from the dry bag, I threw its strap around my neck and began surveying  the scene.  I felt the best place to get a picture was right in the middle of the glacial stream.  By this time I’d totally forgotten the fear of getting my feet wet and cold in mountain water.  I was off wading into the clear, shallow stream. Stumbling along the rock strewn  bottom, sandals slipping on the wet stones, feeling water so cold it was difficult to tolerate the pain except for a few minutes, I began searching for a place where I could stand out of the water.  I’ve never put my feet in anything as frigid as that ice cold glacial stream.  It was tumbling down from melting snow and glaciers from higher in the mountains covered in lodgepole pine that grew straight and true. Some had been blown down in the past.   They had become sun bleached and jumbled together in a bizarre conglomeration of angles.  Dancing about in the frigid water, I found a pile of small rocks that had been washed together with just enough space that I could stand on.  That put me high enough to stay out of the glacial water and do my photography.

In the distance to the west was Mt. Woodring, whose  jagged purple gray crevices were laced with snow. I blasted away taking pictures as if I had a stuck trigger finger hoping something would emerge to be a fantastic picture.  A breathtaking  picture never materialized in my final accounting but I sure had fun shooting.  Lori was a lot smarter than me and stayed on dry land and contemplated and composed her shots more carefully and probably came up with something better than I did.

Glacial Stream with Mt. Woodring in the Background

The only thing I’ve found that the photo club members might find as enjoyable as their photography is eating.  Supper couldn’t roll around soon enough for most of us.  For dinner this Sunday evening, Lolena created her special spaghetti with Jimmy Dean Italian sausage. This was another great meal. I think we all ate like sumo wrestlers devouring their last meal. But that wasn’t all. After we were full of food and were involved in great conversation,  Lolena surprised us with homemade blueberry dumplings made on her camp stove.  WOW!!   Out in the wilderness and she makes a fantastic dessert.  I told you she was amazing!   I was hoping everyone would be too full of spaghetti and wouldn’t want the blueberry dumplings. That would mean more for me. No such luck.  My eating ability was becoming legendary among these people but I would not be able to show it off this evening.    Everyone wanted their fair share.  The dumplings were fantastic and Lolena had once again outdone herself.

After stuffing our bellies with all that food, it seemed all we could do was sit and watch the dancing blaze of the campfire.  Conversation was set aside as we stared at those mesmerizing flames that lit up our faces and turned them pinkish.  Another great day of canoeing and photography and eating was passing, and we all seemed content.  What more would a photo club want!  Satisfied,  I staggered off to my tent with it’s hard floor.  Climbing into my sleeping bag I soon realized I hadn’t removed the rocks and roots under the pad and tent floor.  It didn’t matter.  Exhausted and full from to much to eat and content with the photos I had taken, I fell asleep breathing in the fragrant night air spiced with campfire smoke not noticing two mosquitos humming and smiling, obviously not malnourished, ravenously ogling me.

As Monday morning crept out of the darkness, from the haziness of a sound sleep I heard what seemed to be the most pitiful, whimpering, moaning and groaning and what seemed like garbled words I couldn’t quite make out.  Was it a bear growling and demanding my leg or was it the buzzing mosquitos crawling around my ear?  After waking a little more, I heard the same racket again except a little louder and clearer but still in a distressed tone. Sound travels  easily and far in the mountains especially during the quiet morning.   I realized the noise was coming from Lori’s tent not to far from mine, “Does anyone have some pain pills? Anybody?   I ache and I’m sore from the hard ground and I’m miserable”.  I thought, “yeah, you were like me and slept on rocks and packed soil all night, I suspect you are aching a little.”  All of us were sympathetic to her pain and began searching our gear for something to help her.

“Sure, I’ve got something.  Just a few minutes and let me find it,”  I mumbled back towards the area I remembered Lori had set up her tent.

No laying around this morning. I needed to put an end to Lori’s sad pleading.  It was our last morning and I was looking forward to more sunrise pictures.  Dressing in the tent with a low ceiling  meant staying on my knees or sitting to get dressed.  I had practiced this yesterday morning so was getting used to it and had it figured out and quickly put my wrinkled somewhat more smelly clothes back on.

Digging through my bag for Ibuprofen, I finally found that little white plastic jar with the snap on lid right under the toothpaste tube and on top of my camp soap.   Surprisingly enough, nothing had mysteriously broken open during the night to cause a mess.  The Ibuprofen jar remained clean and the child proof lid was there to open. Fumbling with it, I grimaced silently under my breath and wondered how to get that uncompromising circled lid to pop off.  Somehow it magically fell open, spilling the contents onto the tent floor each little pill rolling away from me.  At least I was still on my knees so I could knee walk to each one even if each move along the hard floor caused my leg joints to twinge and tingle. I reached out, used my stiff fingers and collected each little disc.  Next, to quiet Lori with a couple of the little pellets and move on to some morning photography.

Crawling out on this second morning,  I found my favorite tree stump.  Reached out, grabbed it, pulled myself up, and stretched once again. Camera dangling from my neck, pain pills in the palm of my hand, my knees crackling and popping, I took a few steps, plunked out two rose colored pills into Lori’s outstretched hand and mumbled something about now she could stop her whimpering.  She grunted something back and arched her eyebrows at me and dismissed my snide comment with a smile as she tossed the pills into her mouth and took a long swallow of water from the blue bottle in her other hand.

Noticing a few clouds off in the east, I was not disappointed with the sunrise. I knew that some clouds meant more color in the sky as the sun began its journey.   Fighting off mosquitos, I braced myself against a tree to help prevent camera shake.  The smell of pine bark and pitch filled my nose as I composed, set my 35 mm digital SLR and began firing. Once again I shotgunned my photography.  Fortunately ‘film’ is cheap now with memory cards.  I haven’t yet filled my 16 gig card but planned to put that to the test.  Crimson, lavender, and yellowish  shades of color  were blossoming out of the east.  There was another feeding frenzy of photographers whipping their arms to keep the mosquitos at bay and photographing the scene.  I photographed trees and canoes framing the sunrise.  This was an amazing morning of shooting a beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise on Leigh Lake

During all this feeding euphoria of photography, I kept wondering, where’s Lolena? It wasn’t the ‘where’s Wally’ type wondering but where was our president and why wasn’t she out here with us?  She told me this story later which explained her absence:

Worming and squirming wasn’t working.  Laying there and screaming might do the job, but Denny was busy and wouldn’t hear her. She’s is not one to go into hysterics when confronted with adversity. No crazed panic was going to creep out of her lips. She’d figure this riddle out on her own.   Continuing to reach and seize for the sleeping bag zipper wasn’t working as she just couldn’t track it down. It wasn’t on the side of the bag where she knew it had been when she had fallen asleep.  Her thought was, “where was that silly device I’m supposed to grab and pull to open this bag?” It was nowhere to be found.   Did it mysteriously disappear during her tossing and turning last night?  Doubtful, but where was it?  In the meantime, the sky and lake continued its progression from grey to orange and lavender.    Threshing around trying to find the zipper, she finally felt it against her back as she lay facing the top of the tent.  There was no way she could reach it.  Wiggling, slithering, twisting and flailing didn’t work either as the slick bag stuck against the rough mattress just like they were epoxied together.

All that she could do was more floundering.  Her arms weren’t long enough to reach around and grab the zipper.  Maybe if she would have had rubber arms she could have made that stretch, or if her joints could just release enough. But, no, nothing was as convenient as that.  She was stuck, flustered, confounded.  The tent continued to reflect the sunrise colors  she was missing.  Laying there musing on her dilemma, she smiled and giggled at such a silly quandary.  The brief sunrise passed her by, but she enjoyed the sunrise anyway as it reflected inside her tent. Talk about making lemonade when handed a lemon!

Finally, squirming out of the top of the bag she managed to crawl out of her tent.  As I recall when asked where she’d been that she had missed a great sunrise, she nonchalantly gave us her playful smile, giggled and said she’d witnessed its wonders from the inside of her tent and enjoyed it immensely.  I remember I kinda cocked my head to the side, gave her a questioning look, and wondered what that mischievous smile was all about.  She then changed the subject and told us to go get breakfast down from the bear pole as she had important work to do.

It had been a delightful morning of sunrise photography but this club runs on food.  Lolena fixed us a quick and easy fresh apple oatmeal breakfast.  When I once again queried “how do you do it?”   Her eyes twinkled mischievously as if she was hiding some great secret, “it was easy”.  To me it was a gourmet’s delight even if I’m not a gourmet. I just like to eat.  Spoonful at a time I slowly feasted on our last ‘Lolena’ meal as we’d soon be packing up and heading back to civilization.

Wayne and Francis

When we had first arrived, Denny and Lolena had set up the Pee pee Teepee and Al supplied the porta potty as the business end that goes inside the teepee.  He had, more as a joke, mentioned earlier that he hoped to not end up carrying out anything deposited in it.  As it turned out, he carried it out anyway.  Apparently Park Service rules say that we are supposed to carry out everything…. ummm, that means everything…. He and Margi were great sports when it finally came time to break camp.  They packaged up the deposits in such a manner that wouldn’t leak, carried the double enclosed bag back in their canoe, and found the proper place to dump it after we returned to civilization.  My thanks go out to them for going above and beyond the call of duty.  No joke, they packed out everyone’s ‘duty’ without complaint.

Packing up did take less time than I at first thought it would. As I examined the camp, I couldn’t believe we had packed all those tents, sleeping bags, and cooking accoutrements in five canoes plus all ten of our bodies.  Stowing it all back into the canoes made me think that we might need a shoehorn to stuff our gear into each canoe.  A shoehorn was not necessary, as the tents disappeared into bags or were compressed and tied tightly; sleeping bags rolled and ready to go; cooking gear packed ready for storage.  Once again I would let Denny load our canoe but this time I did not lash my heavy bags to it.  I had learned my lesson and didn’t want to go eye ball to eye ball with the fish. But I did notice two large mosquitos hanging around eyeing me ravenously.

Before shoving off, Denny insisted that we all have our picture taken in front of the loaded canoes.  Agreeing it was a great idea, we all piled in or on a canoe.  Denny positioned his camera on his tripod, set the self-timer and gingerly hastened to find his place in the picture. He laughed that he didn’t stumble to badly with the few steps he needed to get into his place for the photo.  We could see the camera blinking white and then flashing the final time as it’s shutter opened and closed making immortal our set of travelers.  Thank you, Denny for a fun photo.

Al, Wayne, Harry, Francis, Lolena, Wayne, Margi, Lori, Sam, Denny Photo by Dennis Shambaugh

It was 10:00 a.m. as we entered the lake with our loaded canoes. I remember the time we shoved off as Lolena said she needed to get a rock out of her sandal.  I knew that feeling as I’d dumped plenty out the past couple of days and was more than willing to wait. Those little pebbles gave new meaning to ‘bur under the saddle’ and there was no need for her to carry one in her sandal for the next few hours.  Didn’t want her kicking her foot while in the canoe.  Lori might not appreciate the rocking motion that would cause.

Since it was still early in the day, the lake was calm. The water was black and sparkling, pleasantly inviting us to enjoy our trip back.  Paddling was easier and Denny and I did a better job of keeping a straighter course.  I think it was just that Denny had figured out how to override my poor paddling with his expert stirring.

As we moved on down the lake, I wished the canoe had a rear view mirror so I could see the snow cragged peaks of Mount Moran a few final times. For me there would be no turning around to see what we were leaving behind as I still had a lasting fear of causing harm by rocking  us and possibly tipping the canoe.  I plan on working on that fear so that during a future trip, I’ll feel confident enough to photograph from the canoe.

A mic would have also been a good addition as we traveled the blue lake so I could hear the gabbing and giggling behind me which had nothing to do with Mount Moran.  The noise came from Lolena and Lori jabbering.  Apparently Lori was like a stand up comic but in a canoe and not standing.  Evidently she was making wise cracks that only Lolena was privy to. I continued to hear the seemingly constant laughing, giggling, and bantering of the two ladies as we paddled along the green, pine and spruce covered shores of this moraine created blue lake.  It did sound as if they were having lots of fun.  Later I found out that Lori was keeping Lolena in stitches with her funny comments and remarks and Lolena was ready to pee her pants.  There is no porta potty in a canoe, and I think Lori just told Lolena to cross her legs and paddle.

The canoe trip was coming to an end, my self confidence and Tilly hat intact. I had not become a headline in the “Casper Star-Tribune” as a grizzly’s dinner.  Nor did I send our gear for a bath after turning the canoe over. My back aches would eventually go away. I hadn’t needed life flighted out. Cold, wet feet now were common and caused no worry.  No major mishaps by anyone and thankfully that included me. We’d all had fun and were coming back safe, happy, and dry.  The rented canoe would sail home tied tightly to the top of my SUV on the trip back to Casper.  Driving that stretch of Wyoming highways from Jackson to Casper and  passing through beautiful sagebrush covered hills, I gave a silent thank-you to those in the past who managed to save, conserve, and preserve the Tetons.   My thoughts also turned to those yet today who manage and protect our Wyoming wild lands and gave them a giant thank-you also.  Because of so many, including members of the Casper Photography Association, my dream of canoeing in the mountains had finally come true.

For more of my photos of the Tetons, please go to http://samsherman.imagekind.com/  and click on “galleries” and then “WyomingSummer”.  There are at least two pages of WyomingSummer. Please look through all pages in this gallery.  Thank you for any purchases and don’t forget you can interchange mats and frames and find one to your liking.

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