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Spiderwoman’s Tips || Section 2: Cirques, Basins, and Valleys

In this multi-post series, Spiderwoman offers her tips for hiking the Wind River High Route and her comments about the Wind River Guide. View all of her posts.

Some of her pictures have been embedded in these posts. To see the remainder of them, go to: Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, and Section 4.


Looking across Lonesome Lake towards the south side of the Cirque of Towers (Skurka caption)

“Climb to a high alpine pass, descend to a low point, and repeat.” That’s it. That is Skurka’s WRHR. This is what your body and mind will be doing nearly all day, every day.

So want to do this. And consider that you’ll maybe take a little life off your knees. I certainly did because I made the huge mistake of carrying such a burdensome pack.

Cirque of Towers

After crossing Lonesome Lake’s “outlet”, the use trail on the lake’s north shore is obvious. Head west on the use trail until you’re near the opposite end of the lake in a grassy boggy area. In the grass, the use trail faded out till it was gone. At that point, I cut north upslope toward the trees and easily found the use trail once there. You’re right under Pingora Peak and within earshot of “on belay” shouts. It’s a steep use trail into the alpine.

“New York Pass”, both ascending and descending, was another toughie for me because of (yes, you guessed it) the heavy pack. Its terrain is steep and loose (but normal, not West Gully-esque). The middle chute descent was surprisingly steep and loose. This was about the time I kinda got the feeling that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, aka the High Sierra. Pre-trip, the only thing my mind had conjured when I thought of a high route was the fun stable Sierra terrain. Let’s just say I’ve amended that brainfeed.

The south side of New York Pass. The final pitch up the scree slope is steeper than it looks in this photo. That is one possible way up. If it’s too corniced, there is a good route along the ledge on climber’s right that ends at the pass. (Skurka caption)

Reaching the top of New York Pass and being able to ID the “middle chute” was exceedingly relieving (a picture shows me jumping for joy). We had come up from Lonesome Lake in quite a thick blanket of clouds. Views of New York Pass as we approached were doled out in brief flashes as the gray haze boiled and swirled.

We had one simple wish: to be able to have enough visibility to ID the middle chute descent. We did!…and just in the nick of time. That taste of obstructed visibility early on in the trip made me both worried and appreciative for the rest of the walk.

While descending the middle chute I got in a situation where I knew once I moved my feet the few layers of rocks I was balanced on would tumble out from under me and I would fall. The Brawn was next to me but there was nothing he could do.

Luckily, there was a large, solidly embedded rock above my head so I reached up and got a few fingers on it. I slowly shifted my weight to lift my foot. That’s all it took. With that slight provocation, the rocks under me tumbled down, which caused the ones above them to tumble down, and I was lying on my side in the hole that was left with my arm stretched overhead holding onto that solid rock.

The coolest thing happened next. My mind got to see what it had been so afraid of, and saw that if you’re ready for it, it’s not bad. Put another way, the entire hillside didn’t want to slide and keep sliding. The rocks settled back into non-motion quickly. I fell. It was controlled. I didn’t zing down the slope. Very very good experience to assuage future feelings-o-sketch.

The north side of New York Pass. Take the “middle chute” that is immediately below the pass. It is the most stable, evidenced by the greenery. (Skurka caption)

East Fork River

While standing at Skull Lake “PR-18”, we took a bearing on the map to “PR-19” (we navigate with map & compass, no gps). But instead of strictly following the bearing, we ended up taking lots of twists and turns through the forest. We so completely lost the integrity of the bearing that when we got to a tiny bluff overlooking running water, we didn’t know which stream we were looking at.

I wasn’t having much success ID’ing the various high points scattered in front of us in order to triangulate to find our location. The Brawn took the lead here, plowed ahead in the direction that made the most sense, and we made our way just fine up the valley.

This is all to say that in theory, the alternate to Pyramid Lake looks on the map like it would be a lot more navigation-friendly: leave the foot of the Pyramid Lake heading SW using peak 11,172 as your handrail to the north, and hug the 10,400 contour until you’re in the valley below Mt Geikie.

“The final pitch between the bowl at 11,240 feet and Raid Peak Pass” is about as good as pass-work gets on the WRHR. Mellow angle, completely stable large chunks of talus. Skipped along singing a song. There was a trace of “snow”pack tucked up high above us.

The lower East Fork is a cruise, with a huge wall to the left/west. (Skurka caption)

Bonneville Basin and Middle Fork

Nicely described by Skurka in his guide.

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