Alternate approach to Washakie Needles

Corrections and additions for Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone.

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Alternate approach to Washakie Needles

Postby TomTuriano » Wed Mar 23, 2005 10:12 pm

I received the following messages from Aaron Rose of Cody, WY:

Greetings, Tom,

My name is Aaron Rose. I live in Cody and work for the Park County Sheriff's Office. Contacting you has been something I have been meaning to do for quite some time, since I first received your book as a birthday present last summer. My daughter purchased it after we saw it in the Sylvan Peaks store in Red Lodge, MT. I cannot say how much I have enjoyed it. I am not a technical mountaineer and am amazed at the exploits of those who are. Recreational backpacking is about as close as I have come.

I will cut to main the reason of my contacting you, which may be quite lengthly, but is somewhat necessary to validate, if you will, my contacting you and you taking the time to read this.

I grew up southeast of Cody between Meeteetse and Thermopolis in a little oil field community of Grass Creek. As a teenager I spent my summers and weekends in the winters on the LU Ranch. So, it was with great interest that I read the section on the Washakie Needles. Although they are somewhat south of my "old stomping grounds", I remember looking at their double summit on almost every trip heading home from Thermopolis. Even now I enjoy viewing them, Dome Mountain, County Peak, and Standard Peak from a high point east of Cody on the Greybull Highway (14-16-20) and remembering my younger days spent in that country.

That brings me to the real reason of my contact.

You have stated in Select Peaks that the old, traditional access to the Needles from Owl Creek is no longer available due to the lack of access across private lands. Such is the case in more and more areas of the west, sad to say. The two alternative routes, from the Wind River East Fork and the South Fork of Wood River, leave a little to be desired for those with limited time. I would like to describe a route that may shorten those up considerably.

Not all private ranches have been closed to the public and not all access to public lands denied. There is a public road that is a National Forest access that may offer a considerably shorter approach to the Needles.

Utilizing a Wyoming State Highway map, follow HWY120 north from Thermopolis as you would if you were heading to Owl Creek. Continue north toward Meeteetse to where Secondary State Highway 171 turns west toward Grass Creek. About 9 miles after leaving HWY120, you come to Grass Creek, which is now mainly a Marathon Oil Company production field. My descripton now may be somewhat confusing and could have possibly changed in the years I've been gone OR there could possibly be road signs and route directions now!

After arriving at and skirting around the Marathon pipe yard, the Marathon Office compound will be on the right, the main road will bear left (west). Approximately 1/2 mile west of the Marathon offices the road will bear north, drop down and cross Grass Creek and then immediatly turn west again after the crossing. About 1/2 mile west one should be able to see the old Grass Creek school compound to the south across the creek. Continuing west about another half mile on the right there may be the remnants of an old sawmill, long out of production. A small active ranch is south across the creek.

Proceeding west on this gravel road about 1 1/2 to 2 miles, take the first main road that comes in from the left (south). This will put you heading up Grass Creek. Going straight at this intersection will send you further west to Enos Creek, a tributary of Gooseberry Creek.

In about a mile the road will go through the yard of a small private ranch. Shortly afterward, continuing in a southerly direction, the road will cross to the east side of Grass Creek. About 3 to 4 miles above the small ranch the road will "Y". Take the right branch, crossing Grass Creek again and continuing west. This is the confluence of Little Grass Creek and Grass Creek and is actually indicated pretty accurately on the Wyoming State Highway map. You may see where we're heading...

Continuing west up Grass Creek, probably 15 to 18 (or maybe 20) miles above the Marathon field office, the road enters National Forest. If you have a current Shoshone National Forest North Half map, on the side of that map which shows the area between the South Fork of the Shoshone River and the Dubois country, on the right side of the map, right at the "T.45N" between the "10" and "11", you can pick up the Grass Creek road where it enters the National Forest and is designated "214.2". From there the road climbs a high ridge to the divide between Grass Creek and Gooseberry Creek. Continue working your way west as far as you can, about a mile past Twin Lakes, which years ago were two swampy little ponds. At the point where the road ends, the Forest Service map indicates a trail beginning. This is what is, or used to be, known as the Wind River Stock Trail, numbered 650 on the map I have.

At this point, you will now be at a considerably higher elevation (I would estimate it at around 8500 to 9000 feet) than that of the Wood River CG and considerably closer to the Needles, too. I cannot comment on the route from the Wind River East Fork, but from reading it, wow!

Once the WRST is gained, it takes a gradual climb up and behind Cottonwood Peak. This is where the LU Ranch used to summer their sheep herds. They would take a several bands into this country, the drainages of the Wood River and one band would actually be taken clear into the Wind River drainage, allowing the ranch to encompass territory from the headquarters in Worland to Wiggins Peak.

The WRST will follow the divide between the South Fork of the Wood River and the Cottonwood/Owl Creek country until is drops into the East Fork of the South Fork of Wood River. I personally have not been back that far, but is high on my list of trips to do before the effects of age overcome my abilities to don a pack and head out.

At this point I'll have to leave you to your own research. It appears that the route from there would be following the divide until you pick up the trail coming over Twin Peaks from between Dead Man and Slaughter Creeks and dropping into Rock Creek, avoiding the private lands of Mr. Robbins and the High Island Ranch. Perhaps a good place to base would be the head of Rock Creek from this route.

I hope this information is worthwhile, if you haven't already learned of it!

Thank you for your time and keep up the good work.


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More on alternate approach

Postby TomTuriano » Wed Mar 23, 2005 10:15 pm

From Aaron Rose:

Before I go out on a limb and say the entire Grass Creek Road is public access, which I would bet a paycheck it is. But not having been in that
immediate area for a few years, I will make a couple of phone calls to
confirm this. One to the manager of the LU Ranch, which is not the property the road goes through, but who I spoke to about the status of some beaver ponds above that ranch and he never mentioned an access problem. The ponds acutally are part of a small 4H/youth compound known at the H-Diamond-W Youth Camp.

The second would be to the Hot Springs County Sheriff. Actually, the person who now owns that small ranch is, or was, a Cody resident and can
claim a common thread with me as being a Grass Creek person in his youth.

Once I have confirmed the access, I wouldn't have an issue with you using
the information. This is probably a little known area and would be a very
isolated experience for those using it and accustomed to crowds.

One of a couple of footnotes I might add, is that the road is not an all
weather/season road. It is dirt and can get pretty nasty under adverse
conditions. Back when we USED to have winter in this end of the state, it
would be mostly inaccessable until spring, and then only when it dried out.

The other thing to consider is drinking water after leaving the vehicle on the Gooseberry/Grass Creek divide, an issue for an "old and slow" mover
like myself. Perhaps not with those who would find this trek a mere jaunt!

I will be in touch once I've confirmed the access question.


Aaron Rose

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Answer to private ranch question

Postby TomTuriano » Wed Mar 23, 2005 10:18 pm


I spoke with the people at the Hot Springs County Sheriff's Office about Grass Creek Road and the area where it goes through the private property owned by John Leroux. The road is public and open. They just advised to stay on the road while crossing that property. His address is listed in the Hamilton Dome exchange of the current Q West phone book as being 4070 Grass Creek Road. If my thinking is correct, and the distance would confirm it, that would put the property 40.70 miles from Thermopolis.

A couple of points I want to bring up with you to consider. At the end of the road where one would pick up the Wind River Stock Trail-to my knowledge there is no designated United States Forest Service Trailhead or parking area, heck, I don't even know what condition the trail is now. The LU got out of the sheep business 20 years ago, so who knows the last time that route was used. I imagine about all it's seen is a few backcountry horse people and hunters. I would sure like to make a day trip down there some time and have a look around. My real desire is to leave from there and have someone meet me (and a party) in Kirwin about a week later.

But, back to the Forest Service. I don't know what their policy (regulation) is about leaving a vehicle parked on our land for an extened period where it's not at an official trailhead or parking area. I'm suspicious of those folks and their enforcement procedures. I won't say more. Also, I have no idea how often a USFS enforcement officer get into that area, if at all. I'm sure there are many more areas that used much more than that location that demand their attention, but you never know.

Happy trails,


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