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.
“The finest backcountry experience” – The scenery and raw mountain feel were absolutely amazing, but that was somewhat offset by the toll the terrain took on our joints (unstable talus, loose moraines, steep up, steep down, steep up, steep down). With my admittedly modest experience to draw from, I think a route in the High Sierra is the best blend of walkability and scenery. That’s not*at*all discounting the soaring, untrammeled, achingly gorgeous landscape of the High Wind River Range. It’s just the word “experience” that makes me twitch 🙂
“But plan to return. This is a must-do segment of the Wind River High Route.” Oh yes yes yes yes yes! Don’t miss out on Section 4. It is awesome in every sense of the word. Thank goodness we returned, cause it was the cherry on top, the reward for all our hard work.
So we’ve descended Blaurock Pass and we’re camped at “PR-44 | Walled sites”. It’s socked-in and hailing again. We have a big decision to make. Keep going or exit early out Glacier Trail. The factors under consideration were: we had one more day of food left, The Brawn’s knee, our camera battery was dead, and the unfortunate fact that I had, at the very last minute, said yes to our ride (from Dubois to Lander) when he offered to call my Folks if we weren’t back by a deadline. We would be late if we continued forward on the route, but would just squeak in on time if we exited.
It was barely a discussion. The thought of my Mom getting this random phone call saying we’re overdue, and saddling her with the burden of both worry and doing something about it, was inconceivable. That deadline had been a nagging downer since we saw, early on, we weren’t making 10 miles/day. But on that evening camped below Gannett it was a blessing in disguise because, in our strung out state, our immersion into screwitsville would have seen us walking onto the glaciers the next day…
…And without food and a little rest from the grind of the WRHR (relentless loose steep terrain, very careful navigation), I’m sure Section 4 would have felt like walking through a mural called insanity. As it turned out, it was an absolute, bonafide, inspirational BLAST!!! We were present for every second of it – I’ll have memories from that section to reminisce over when I’m an old lady. An ounce of rest at this point in the trip made a pound of difference – a difference equally shared between physical and mental recovery…
…We exited out Glacier Trail the next morning using our Earthwalk Press map, but it didn’t list trail mileage so we didn’t appreciate how long the hike out was going to be. We didn’t get back to the car at Trail Lakes TH till the next afternoon. The Brawn had an ugly walk out. His knee was so swollen, and he threw his back out sleeping in that walled tent site. He had tried sleeping curled around a rock that we had to pitch our tent over and it cost him dearly on the walk out. When it rains it pours.
Back at it
In Dubois, we went straight for food+calls home+motel+showers+more food. Sunk a tap root into the bed. Then rallied the next morning and were back on the trail heading in. The Brawn is amazing. It’s humbling being close to his indefatigable spirit.
The strategy was we’d walk back in slowly, stopping early for fishing and reading, thereby giving his knee a chance to improve and give us a mental break from the talus and navigating. It was perfect. We ate fish, rested, and everything improved.
While resting at Dinwoody Lakes we camped near a couple who were on an extended fishing trip. We watched them meet their mule packer who delivered their mid-trip resupply. They got a great deal because the packer was on her typical way to the Elk Camp a few miles (?) below Gannett anyway. Now that’s the way to do it.
Next time I would plan to be resupplied by the packers at this point in the trip. I think they only travel up Glacier Trail as far as the Elk Camp, but it’s only maybe a couple few miles walk down a beautiful valley from “PR-44 | Walled sites”. Water’s everywhere. Plenty of sheltered camping available. People to chat up if that’s your thing. Or, you could walk back up to the Gannett area and watch people climb. There was both mountaineering and multi-pitch rock climbing going on. What a cool place for a zero.
Dinwoody Creek, like most glacial creeks, has 2 personalities. When we exited, we crossed in the early morning. It wasn’t much of anything. Couple rock hops, done. Didn’t even really register that we crossed a glacial creek. Well, coming back in on a late afternoon, it stopped us cold in our tracks. We were like, where did this come from? Are we on the right trail? It was so totally different. It was all spread out, submerging shoreline and small islands that had been exposed the morning before, rushing and loud, standing waves. Just powerful. Crossing was totally fine, especially with using previously well-placed scraps of logs (thanks to those who did that).
Corrections: The Map Labels (PR #s) from the Primary Route Datasheet didn’t match up with the correct PR #s/landmarks on the maps. Not a big deal whatsoever. Did not cause any navigation hardship. Just a charming reminder that Skurka’s data offerings are new and will improve with user feedback.
What can compare to standing on a glacier in the morning, watching the alpine world wake up as sunlight folds shadows away for the day? And bending down to scoop up its ancient water to nourish your cells? Or closing your eyes and hearing the rush of water in front of, above, below you? It was one of the loudest, most alive places of the trip.
And I stood there, taking it all in, wishing for silence, stasis, a collective chance to say we f’d up, can we have a do-over? and retreat with tucked tails from the Anthropocene back to the harmony of the Holocene. It’s one thing to read about our planet’s decomposing cooling system, and a poignantly different thing to step over, in rapid succession, one, two, three, four streams flowing through the ice. Why? For what? Are the costs worth the gains?
(Soap box warning, so sorry, can’t help it. Skip to the next section if you don’t want to read an opinionated rant.) None of us knew on that August morning that the majority of Americans a couple months later, um, that the Electoral College, would elect a bigoted, misogynistic, free-radical-of-a-man who takes his daily shit on pro-environment sustainability policies. I would have said daily constitution, but I don’t want to degrade the word.
Do you also have your fingers crossed that the outgoing administration is sabotaging the nuclear weapons codes, tying them up in some bureaucratic knot that won’t unravel until 1201 on 1/20/21?
In other news, micro crampons were lovely to have on the glaciers.
Do mind the boulders tumbling down from above. They heft their might with no forewarning – mindless, erratic, lethal. Fortunately the threat is over in seconds; short-lived. Kinda like a free-radical.
“Network of use trails and a confusing number of cairns” – yep. But totally easy; the few paths we used through the boulders tended toward the gully on West Sentinel’s east side.
Corrections: “Hope for lingering snow on the ascent to PR-45, the unnamed saddle at 12,200-feet”. “Map says PR-47”. Kudos for drawing in these changes on the map. Helpful for orienting and education.
From what we saw of it in the field, the low route here (continuing down Grasshopper Glacier) looks intriguing. Don’t get me wrong, the view west from the top of the Divide was gorgeous – both directly below you and further out to the Tetons. Sourdough Glacier in particular made an impression. But imagining continuing the walk down Grasshopper Glacier, feeling hemmed in by that cliff system bordering its east lip, was enticing.
“At its worst, it’s endless rock-hopping.” Endless. Yes. This is another gnarly rocky stretch. But they’re stable!!! Get ready for a full body workout.
We’d been seeing sheep sign for so many days that it was with heart quickening gladness that we spied our first herd on our evening descent to Iceberg Lake Pass. Their wild presence smacked the landscape to life. Watching the alpha female exert her authority was a real treat. She bounded, gracefully and lightning fast, up a slope of boulders that would have taken us a half-hour to ascend. Her ladies were in no hurry to follow. They just stood there watching us watching them. An hour later we were camped down at Baker Lake along with a group of guided sheep hunters that straggled in after dark. I wonder if the sheep sense the differences in human intent?
Okay, I have a confession to share. Sitting at home writing this, please know, despite what I’m about to say, that I have nothing but love for a man who is inspired by the art that is promoting high routes. But one thing about his route got under my skin: the red dot atop point 13,062 “A talus pile”. As we labored up the endless, gnarly, knee-taxing boulders, I wondered is Skurka messing with us? That was the first time in the entire trip I felt a little mishandled by my guide. I vacillated between feeling like I was losing a little confidence in his judgement, or feeling like a fool if he were to ever find out we were actually dumb enough to fall for the joke.
Note from Skurka: Point 13,062 is not on the recommended route. Follow the written directions around its base.
The energy, both calorie and joint-wise, we put into bagging that talus pile was ludicrous. Everything else (from my ultra-average backpacker vantage) on Skurka’s WRHR is on-point (even the West Gully descent if done with a light touch). So why the talus pile? I would have totally understood if there was a method to the madness, like, it’s an ideal place from which to navigate. But you’ll notice his notation a little further north “Get bearings. Observe Northwest Pk glacier”. Arggg. Plus, poor weather was blowing in fast. To minimize unnecessary wear-and-tear on your joints, and especially if weather’s not on your side, I recommend skirting the base of point 13,062 “A talus pile”.
My theory is he’s just too fit to be phased by much. That’s why, as folks with a variety of skill/fitness/experience/comfort levels make their preparations for the tremendously rewarding opportunity that is Skurka’s WRHR, I think it’s important for a backpacker of my ordinary caliber to weigh in. Just trying to represent 🙂
It’s a good head’s up to know that “the middle is its highest” of the 3 Downs Mountain summit mounds. By this point you’ll likely be tired and will want to cry uncle and take high-point credit on the southern summit mound. We were tempted too, and primarily because of the nasty weather: low visibility, thunder, cold, blowing ice. But with one last push from our guts, we dropped our packs on the saddle and dashed up the middle mound. Sans pack, I felt suddenly transformed into an invincible flying machine. It wasn’t the safest place to be in weather like that, but the drama of the gunmetal sky, pelting ice, and throaty thunder was absolutely exhilarating! Add to that the spice of just having accomplished the goal of thru-hiking between the summits of the Wind River Range’s highest bookend-mountains, and that moment was the answer to the question why do we do this?
It was time to camp by the time we reached “Water + walled camps”. The walled camps weren’t immediately obvious. They’re the only place you’ll find a rock-free spot (in this immediate area) big enough for a 2 person tent. Keep walking northeast along the route toward No Mans Pass and you’ll see them on your right.
The walls are low, not obvious, and you have to walk away from the flowing water and into the flat rocky expanse (on your right) to find them. It rained, hailed, and blew so hard that night that our tent walls were collapsing in and we just laid awake for a good chunk of the night. Bad weather up on that crest can really make you feel insignificant.
“Navigation is not intuitive” – that’s for sure. Even though we had a “plan”, I accidentally found myself alone and looking down on Dinwoody Lakes. The view was disorienting because I really thought I was in the Flat’s natural fall line further west. But it somehow shunted me eastward without my even feeling it. This was around “Occasional springs throughout, but fewer as move east”. The Brawn double backed to find me (but mostly to laugh at my bewilderment I think) – the area is so big we could have passed like ships in the night like on the Hayduke. He was limping again so I was glad to be there at the end to kinda walk him out.
We scratched out a neat little camp spot near mapped Williamson Corral I wanted to let folks know about. We used it both exiting and re-entering on the Glacier Trail. As you’re heading north toward Trail Lakes TH, it’s just north of the junction with Old Glacier Trail.
Follow along on the map: “Tr jct”, then red 801 in the square, then the trail veers a little east to hug the stream which is below you on the left. Keep an eagle eye out for an obvious, but easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, short rocky game trail that angles down to the creek. Step over the small gurgling channel, walk like 5 seconds up a tiny incline into the trees veering just a little left and you’ll see the kicked out spot. It’s next to a conifer, and nestled among old windfall. Private spot, soothing creek sounds – could be a nice alternative to a motel if it’s getting to be that time of day.
Trail Lakes TH area has plenty of places to camp. We camped in a private alcove just west of the parking area on the day we exited and celebrated with watermelons we had waiting in the car.