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What Section Hike is best for you?

Peak Lake and Split Mountain, on Loop 7 and Loop 8. Knapsack Col is up the valley to the right.

Peak Lake and Split Mountain, on Loop 7 and Loop 8. Knapsack Col is up the valley to the right.

For a statistical comparison of the eight Section Hikes, refer to this page. Here, I’d like to add more color to the data by offering thoughts about the virtues of each itinerary and its appropriateness for different types of backpackers.

For each Section Hike, the Wind River High Route Guide includes a dedicated Mapset and Datasheet, and a full route description.

Loop 1

  • Nearly the longest Section Hike, but 85 percent of its distance is on-trail, making it ideal for backpackers who prefer on-trail hiking but who want a short off-trail experience.
  • Substantially easier than Loop 6, which is the only other Section Hike that starts on the east side of the Wind River Range.
  • The first and last 12 miles are the same. They are relatively mundane but fast — a strong hiker can move through them in 4-5 hours.
  • Lizard Head Trail and Washakie Pass Trail can be bypassed, but at that point you might as well do Loop 2, which offers more efficient access to Cirque of Towers and Wind River Peak.
  • If you have minimal prior off-trail experience, consider the Texas Pass Alternate and the Coon Lake Bypass. Note that these routes will add distance.

Loop 2

  • The shortest Section Hike, in terms of both miles and time. Loop 4 and Loop 6, which are 5-10 miles longer, are notably harder and slower.
  • Offers two highlights — Cirque of Towers and Wind River Peak — with a warm-up and cool-down, and a break in between.
  • The Texas Pass Alternate and the Coon Lake Bypass will add distance but reduce the loop’s technical difficulty.

Loop 3

  • A long walk-in to, and less long walk-out from, the Primary Route through classic Wind River country — undulating terrain, light forest, and dozens of trout-filled lakes and creeks.
  • This section of the Primary Route is excellent: it’s scenic, not overly difficult (relatively speaking), and has available low routes in the event of uncooperative weather.
  • The Primary Route also features dozens of trout-filled lakes and creeks. If you are a decent fisherman, you could probably start the trip with an empty food bag and return to your car without having lost a pound.
  • The trip can be shortened by accessing or departing the Primary Route in Bonneville Basin, at Middle Fork Lake, or from Europe Pass. But I’d advise against it if possible — no section of the Primary Route through here is worth skipping.
  • For the section between Photo Pass and Europe Canyon Trail, a Wind River Indian Reservation Tribal Fishing Permit must be obtained. Part 1 of the Guidebook has more information.

Loop 4

  • For an ambitious backpacker with limited time, this is the best option. While it’s only five miles shorter than Loop 6, it’s at least a half-day quicker.
  • It’s short but hard, with four off-trail passes (three of which I grade as “burly”) and one 4-mile section of extensive rock-hopping.
  • Angel Pass can be circumvented via the Hay Pass Trail, and Douglas Peak Pass can be bypassed with the Camp Lake Low Route. But there is no easy alternative for Alpine Lakes Pass or Indian Pass.
  • To add 1-2 days to this itinerary, consider Loop 5.

Loop 5

  • A similar experience to Loop 4, but longer and harder.
  • Early in the season Bonney Pass is more of a mountaineering route than a backpacking route. On both sides, you’ll find steep snowfields, which give way to loose talus later in the season. The upper part of Dinwoody Glacier has a few small crevasses, and late in the season it can be very slick.

Loop 6

  • The most efficient way to complete Section 4 of the Primary Route, which I consider to be its crux.
  • Good weather is imperative. The middle section of this itinerary is very exposed, with few opportunities — and no easy ones — to get down.
  • Very unique terrain: you’ll cross two non-technical glaciers, remain above 12,000 feet for about 13 miles, and climb the range’s northernmost 13’er.

Loop 7 and Loop 8

  • The most ambitious Section Hikes, suitable only for strong and experienced backpackers who want a “Best of the Winds” trip but who do not have enough free time for a complete Wind River High Route thru-hike.
  • Refer to comments made about Loop 6, which apply to Loop 7 and Loop 8, too. Also refer to comments about Bonney Pass, which is part of Loop 7.
  • Loop 8 avoids semi-technical Bonney Pass, but it adds two others: Indian and Blaurock, the latter of which is the second biggest climb on the Primary Route.

2 Comments

  1. John Whorff on October 22, 2018 at 7:31 am

    Hello Andrew- heard great things about you from David Gardner. Looking at the high route in the Winds- bought the guide, but incomplete missing routes 4-8 in part 2 and all pictures. Could you email this?

    • Andrew Skurka on October 22, 2018 at 8:52 am

      Dave’s one of my favorites.

      Information about section-hikes is in Part 3 of the guidebook. There are no photos.

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