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photo: Evan Stafford
This week 4 of us ventured into Bull Lake Creek in the Wind River Drainage in Wyoming. The river has been descented 4 times prior to our trip by hiking 20 miles into the South Branch of BLC and paddling that stretch for a few miles into the main channel. We tried a new way by hiking into the North Branch with hopes of a shorter hike and good rapids.
We were all aware before hand our plan was a risky expedition. Mainly because in order to have enough water on the NB it would be a high level on the main BLC. Our crew, Ian Garcia, mastermind of the idea, Kyle McCutchen and Evan Stafford, both part of the 2 descent of BLC last year and authors of the book, “Whitewater of the Southern Rockies” , and myself, decided we would go anyway and figure it out.
kyle and evan-BLChike Kyle and Evan
Day 1 consisted of hiking 8 or 9 hours, 6 or 7 miles, over a 12 thousand foot pass, where it decided to blast us with wind and hail at the top.
hailHows the weather?
We finished the day dropping down the steep backside of the pass into mosquito hell.
camp1Self-portrait the morning of day 2.
We completed the hike into the NB around noon the next day, after two lake paddles and a painful hike down a super steep tributary.
lake paddle
hike-blc Do you see the trail?
northbranch North Branch
The NB was low, which hopefully meant BLC wouldnt be too high. We put in below some big falls, that didn’t seem runnable with the flow. We ran two cool drops and met up with the main channel after 2 miles. Where we came into the main was a few miles downstream of the South Branch confluence, missing a few good drops and a portage. The level was high, highest it has ever been run according to Kyle and Evan. We estimated somewhere around 650-700cfs.
That night we made it to the infamous “Haagen Daazen” rapid. We decided to camp above, with the idea of “ice cream for breakfast”! Three of us fired it up the next morning from the top-highest descents.
Ian-haagenIan in Haagen Daazen photo: Kyle McCutchen
Ian went first and made it look too easy. I went second and Excuse#1: I had a rough night sleep, in the rain. With Excuse #2: The fully loaded boat, and I ended up getting spun around and flipping at the top and rolling up in time to run the bottom 40′ slide backwards.
riding switchBackwards!
Quickly hand-rolling at the bottom after losing my paddle and immediately wishing for a do-over. I ran back up to grab the video camera for Kyle, who now is like, “F%@# that!” But, A few words of encouragement and he got the fire back inside and saddled up and stuck it. We were pretty fired up after that, then we entered Fork Tongue Gorge a mile or so downstream. High water gnarly drops sent us shouldering along the banks.

Kyle McCutchen below Haagen Daazen

Kyle McCutchen below Haagen Daazen
gnar-ftg Some Fork Tongue Gorge Gnar!

A few rapids and then we got to “THE JIM BRIDGER PORTAGE” One of the worst portages ever.
hellShouldering your heavy boat along the river up and over BFR’s (bigF-ingRocks) for over 2 hours. Once your done, you get back in and paddle some manky class 4-5 to Bull Lake.
bull lake
Ian-aboveblf Ian above Bull Lake Falls. photo: ES
A short paddle across the lake brings you to more sketchy class 5 and a must make eddy above the next hellish portage, “Bull Lake Falls”, a huge unrunnable cascade.
bull lake falls Notice the Rocky mountain mank in the top part of picture.
What a day we’re having by now, beat down all around, we put in below the falls and proceeded to bomb “The Rocky Mountain Mank” section, which is exactly that, but with good flow it was fun read and run class 5. We camped after a couple miles.
That night it rained pretty heavily, with thunderstorms and wind. Showing us how wild the canyon is in all aspects. We continued downstream the next day, now day 4, day 3 on the river.
Starting off with continuous class 3-4 boogie then a portage and 2 waterfalls, which we portaged due to “uh yup thats pretty big…im walking”.
out of the canyonOut of the Canyon photo:KM
Then the river begins to mellow out eventually becoming a meandering waterway before showing its last bit of flair at the actual “Bull Lake Falls” on the map, a 10′ waterfall and some slides dumping into Bull Lake Resovoir.
keep going Paddle to where you cant see and keep going.
THEN a 3 hour 9 MILE lake paddle back to the car arriving around 3:30pm, thank god for the slight tailwind! So, Bull Lake Creek is an amazing place. If you’re looking for a brutally rugged wilderness adventure go here. If you want to run a lot of the big drops, go at a lower flow. It is a place that has potential to go big at a cost. If you can deal with all the hiking, portaging, bugs, bears and mank, you might like it.
Check out Ian Garcia’s blog report