Medicine Bow Peak. It's the coup-de-gras of hikes in the Medicine Bow National Forest. And for good reason. At just over 12,000 ft in elevation, the 360 views at the top are just reward for the rigor of the climb up. The vistas on every side show a variety of landscapes and you can see for miles and miles and miles. If you hike the loop, you see very different scenery on the way up from the way down, and it's all captivating.
Though all of the reviews I read of the hike said to go clockwise in order to have a more gradual ascent, saving the steep grades for the descent, I opted for the reverse. I'd much rather climb steep inclines than descend them, and my knees thank me for it! The decision to go against the herd was a great decision for the company I had the good fortune of keeping on the challenging 0.8 mile switchback, boulder climbing press to the peak. I'd only seen one person up to that point. When I reached the sign that indicated the way to the peak or the way down to another lake that is a common starting point for a relatively quick (but steep) hike up to the top and down, the wind was insane. It is Wyoming. The wind is always insane. But it made me contemplate the wisdom of heading up a steep climb on the side of a mountain where I did not know the trail conditions and all I could see was rocks and boulders going up. I like adventure, but...safety first (you're welcome, Mom!). At that moment, I noticed a group of five heading up from the lake towards me. Maybe I was in luck...
Once they reached me, I asked if they were going to the top, and after some discussion, they decided they were going to go for it. And they welcomed me to tag along. This, it turned out, was to be one of my favorite parts of the hike, keeping the company of this delightful, international family. So many overlapping interests and histories. We were not lacking for conversation on the way up. It turned out that not only did I feel safer (at least if I blew off the mountain, there'd be someone there to get help), but I also had camaraderie and new friends. It made the climb up seem much less grueling.
We had to part ways for the trip down, however, as they had a very important and exciting appointment to keep at the university in Laramie and would not be making the loop. While at the top, there had been two other couples, they were making the loop in the opposite direction. I had the trail to myself once I left the peak, seeing only one other individual in passing on his way up, until I had Lake Marie in my view again near the bottom. From good company and good conversation to quiet solitude, I had it all on this trip to the top and back. I could not have asked for a better day for the end cap to my time in Medicine Bow National Forest.