It’s not officially on any map – and you might need at least a measure of certain brass appendages to take on some of its tougher sections – but Wyoming’s “Big Balls” hiking trail is worth the extra effort, fans say.
Avid hiker Pete Obermueller of Cheyenne told Cowboy State Daily that he’d never heard of the trail until recently. But during a trek in the Gros Ventre Mountains, he didn’t have to be asked twice to give it a try.
“My friend said, ‘We should go check out the Big Balls trail.’ And with a name like that, why wouldn’t you?”
What’s In A Name?
The trail is in the Gros Ventre wilderness, north and west of Pinedale, Obermueller said. One of its highlights – a seemingly impassible cliff wall – is roughly 11 miles in from the trailhead.
The trail in total loops around some of the prime alpine habitats in the Gros Ventre mountains, a journey of several days, according to some hiking bloggers who have made the trek.
“Big Balls is what people call it. I’m not sure why, it’s not colloquial, but it’s not official either,” he said. “It’s not an officially designated trail.”
At least according to some hiking fan sites and blog posts, the full unofficial name of the route is “Big Balls in Cowtown.”
That might trace back to a song, “Big Ball’s in Cowtown” recorded in the 1940s by Western swing music legend Bob Wills.
There’s some debate over the song’s title. That being, whether Wills was simply paying wholesome homage to a Western swing formal dance, or “ball” in the unspecified titular Cowtown. Or, whether he was slyly trying to slip in a double entendre.
Most music aficionados go with the former, wholesome option. And among hikers, there’s no clear reason given as to way the apostrophe in “Ball’s” – as it appears in the song’s title -- was dropped from the trail’s name.
Regardless of Wills’ intent – and for reasons that have apparently since been lost to time -- “Big Balls in Cowtown” is the name that’s stuck for the semi-secret route that takes ambitious hikers though some of the most pristine back country vistas Wyoming has to offer.
A Way Through ‘The Great Wall’
The trail passes through some stunning places, Obermuller said, including alpine lakes and the highest summits in the Gros Ventre range.
If there is any spot along the route that requires a brass set – so to speak – it’s a scree field leading up to a feature that some hiking bloggers refer to as “the great wall.”
For about ¾ of a mile approaching the wall, one must keep steady footing across the scree, or rock field, Obermuller said.
“It appears to be like pumice, if you were to fall on it, it would gash you open,” he said. “It chewed up the bottom of my substantial hiking boots getting across it.”
Trekkers then come to the Great Wall – which at first seems solid and impassible, Obermuller said.
“But if you look closely, there’s a notch in the wall that passes all the way through,” he said. “If you’re brave enough you can climb up and through – or down and through if you’re coming from the other direction. It’s a really neat adventure.”
While passage through the notch, a rugged gap in the cliff, is challenging and demands mindfulness, it doesn’t require ropes or other special equipment, he said.
“I’ve done harder. It’s not a technical climb. It’s just unique. At first, you’re staring at this cliff with no way through, and then you realize there’s this notch where you can go hand-over-hand and get to the top of it.”
Hardcore Fan Base For ‘Big Balls’
The “Big Balls in Cowtown” trail is one of Wyoming’s better-kept secrets, but has still gained a hardcore fan base among more serious hikers.
One hikers’ page on reddit had several people singing its praises.
“The colours, the composition... it looks real, but it also looks like a painting. Beautiful!” a hiker going by “circular stars” commented about a photo taken along the trail.
“Yes indeed! We took this from Big Balls of Cowtown. I hope to go back and spend more time there,” posted a reddit user going by “HikingInTheLight.”
Further proof that for those willing to venture off the beaten path, Wyoming offers magnificent rewards for their efforts.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.