Trip Report: Wind River High Route || Just wow!

The Wind River High Route is measured at 97 miles, with 65 miles of off-trail travel and over 30,000 vertical feet of climbing. Like other high routes, the general idea is to maintain the highest line of travel through a given area without involving technical climbing.

For an overview of the route, make sure to check out Andrew’s full description. I bought his guide and studied it religiously for several months in preparation for this trip, which was crucial.

About Me

I’m 46 years old, and an avid backpacker; I’ve done over 8,000 miles of backpacking in the last decade. I work full time but go out almost every weekend (44 trips last year out of 52 weeks!). For the last 6 years, I’ve averaged about 1000 miles of backpacking per year. The majority of my experience is on-trail but over the last few years, I’ve been doing solo off-trail trips in the Southern Appalachians. These types of trips often involve following old, overgrown, and faded routes (known as “manways” locally) or using creeks as handrails and hiking in the creek while climbing falls and cascades, or bush-whacking through heinous rhododendron (my least favorite).

I live in East Tennessee and so the southern Appalachians are my go-to, but I usually go out to the western US about once a year to backpack in some new area or mountain range. Importantly, I’m not a rock climber or mountaineer.

As far as navigational skills, I’ve done years of terrain association with topo maps, I’m proficient with dead reckoning, and I’ve done quite a bit of route-finding in my home terrain. I know compass basics, but have not used these skills extensively. I did quite a bit of practicing for this trip though.


I partnered with an experienced backpacker that I had never met: trail name “Notbad” (Jerry). He had pulled a 70-mile loop in the Winds with another group led by hiker Dune Elliott, took one day off, then met me in Lander for our trip. Super tough guy! Many thanks to Dune for providing a shuttle for us between trailheads.

At the last minute a cold front blew in from Canada and the local towns were abuzz with news that we could be hit with 4-8 inches of snow above 9,000 feet (99% of our route was above that). This forecast caused us to load up with extra insulation that we had not originally planned to carry. Oh well, better to be prepared. Spoiler: the weather was perfect, and never even got below freezing. I did not use my extra base layers and only used my puffy a few times.

Data Notes:

I tracked this trip with a Suunto Ambit Peak 3 GPS watch and came up with some variance from Skurka’s data. I can only account for some of the variances through two alternate sections but I’ll just list what I have while knowing it may not be 100% accurate. I show that we finished with 115.28 miles, 33,817′ of ascension, and 32,008′ of descent.

Day 1: Middle Fork Trailhead to Deep Creek lakes

15.42 miles / 4,032′ ascent / 627′ descent

That’s me on the left. Yeah, “Notbad” (Jerry) is 6’4 and I’m 5’7.
We found the nice protected camps in the Krumholtz about over 10,000′ in elevation per our guide. Jerry has the Z-Packs Duplex and I’m using a Tarptent Stratospire.
Sunset over Deep Creek lake and the cirque silhouette.

Day 2: Deep Creek to Wind River Peak

6.71 miles / 4,787′ Ascent / 4,245′ Descent

More specifically: Deep Creek camp to Tayo lake near the Coon Lake junction after the summit, West Gulley descent, summit again, and then descent off the south side of Wind River Peak.

Here, we’re starting up the east side of Chimney Rock after leaving the trail behind for the first time. I took great joy in shooting our first compass bearing to follow as we ambled up the broad mountain slope!
This is me on the summit of Wind River Peak at over 13,000 feet! What an incredible view and feeling to hit the first one!
This is where things turned a bit in our execution…

I only made a couple of navigation errors but this was a significant one. In my rush of adrenaline I had trouble associating the terrain properly and led us down the West Gully too low too soon and right to this icy cliff with ball bearing rocks underneath. It was a scary moment and a total spazz out on my part. The guide even lists that you won’t miss this traverse because cliffs will force you over, but we did.

Knowing this was one of the routes hardest features we decided that maybe we should use the Coon Lake alternate instead. I did stop to map check and realized that we should have traversed to the west more before heading down but didn’t realize how far down we had dropped (maybe 1,500 feet). It was exhausting to climb all the way back up to the summit to tackle the impossibly long traverse down the south side of Wind River Peak. By the time we got near the junction of Tayo Lake and Coon Lake trails, we were whipped and found an off-trail camp on a little knoll near a waterfall.

Day 3: Tayo/Coon junction to Cirque of the Towers via Temple Pass

14.68 miles / 4,350′ Ascent / 4,495′ Descent

The route finding from Coon lake down to Little Sandy Creek was a blast. My second real navigational error happened here too since I could not find the trail up to Temple Pass. I saw some natural ramps on the right and even said out loud “If I were a trail, I would go up that way” but didn’t trust my gut enough to investigate closely. Instead, we wound up shooting straight up the mountain on unstable talus, but luckily stepped right on the trail near the top. We could see the trail from up there and my gut was right. Live and learn.

This is me mugging on Temple Pass (which was awesome!).
Jackass Pass above the Cirque of the Towers. We had a nice night camped below Lonesome Lake (legally more than .25 miles away).

Day 4: Cirque of the Towers to near Raid Peak Pass

12.26 miles / 2,936′ Ascent / 2,448′ Descent

We had decided to go over Texas Pass instead of the primary routes New York pass, not to avoid the feature but because Texas Pass had sentimental value to Jerry. A friend of his had camped at Texas Pass and shown him the photo some years before and that’s what had captured his imagination and drew his attention to the Wind Rivers in the first place.

Pingora Peak as seen from the grassy area just below Texas Pass.
Dudes mugging at the actual pass.
One of my favorite sections was the off-trail traverse of the East Fork river up towards Mount Bonneville and Raid Peak. It has such a great vibe to it. This picture is looking downstream towards the back of the cirque. Fantastic!
Good tent spots were at a premium up there. We found this cool sandy pit about a mile or so below Raid Peak Pass. Rain would have puddled us out, but we thought it worth the risk.

Day 5: Below Raid Peak to South Fork Bull Lake Creek on the Reservation

Appx. 11 miles / 1,916′ Ascent / 2,028′ Descent

I had issues with hitting the pause button on my watch this day so the data is skewed a bit. I only tracked six miles, but I’m sure it was closer to 11. I am also sure there was more elevation gain than what is listed.

This pic of Jerry may be my favorite from the trip. He did this 10 day trip with a 38 liter pack!
Sentry Peak pass: I really liked the quick hitting combo of Raid Peak Pass, Bonneville Pass and Sentry Peak pass; super cool!
We chose to spike-up and walk the snow field down from Sentry Peak.
Here is Jerry getting his form just right for the descent.
And me with our route behind me as seen from Photo Pass.
Finally, our camp on the Reservation (by permit!) which was thick with elk and trout.

We heard the elk bugling and one almost walked right into camp but I accidentally scared it away while returning from the creek. The trout were so thick in one part of the creek you could have scooped them up with a net. I was too exhausted to fish sadly.

Day 6: South Fork Bull Lake Creek to Golden Lakes

11.2 miles / 3323′ Ascent / 3,422′ Descent

This day was something. One of the harder navigational exercises was finding a tarn through a dense forest; I relied on the GPS app more than I wanted, but I’m glad I brought it. We also got to climb Europe Peak which was really neat!

Here is Jerry about to scramble over the knife edge to Europe Peak, our mid-route summit.
A dual summit pose for posterity.
I love this pic of Jerry but his wife may not.
Approaching Golden lakes from the Divide.
My camp at Golden Lakes. I cast my line four or fives times here but was just too whipped to fish still. This route was brutal!

Day 7: Golden Lakes to North Fork Camps

10.08 Miles / 3,963′ Ascent / 3,287 Descent

This was a big, brutal day. Alpine Lakes was tough and beautiful.

Douglas Peak Pass looks undoable (our route is the shadowed wall on the right) but it’s actually a really great route; the distance throws you off. It was a simple walk-up. The other side was much more difficult though.
Me, posing at the top of Douglas Peak pass.
Look at the thickness of that ice…wild!
Infinity pool!
At the top of Alpine Lakes pass we met the only other “Skurka Route Guy” on the whole trip.

Day 8: North Fork to Gannett Creek

The next morning I waited for the sun to hit my tent. What a spot!
An early view of our next pass: Blaurock! The monster. The dip on the right.
Just wow.
And wow some more.
Groups of big horn sheep kept us well entertained on the long grind up Blaurock Pass.
On top of Blaurock with Gannett Peaks broad snowy top visible over my shoulder.
Jerry on the Gannett Glacier after our exhausting ascent of West Sentinel.
Our desperation camp at Gannet Creek.

Day 9: Gannett Creek to Downs Mountain northern base

9.39 miles / 3,684′ Ascent / 2,533′ Descent

Getting close to the Grasshopper Glacier
Mmmm, glacial melt water!
Infinity and beyond!
Or just beyond…..
Happy me!
We kept joking about how Alan Dixon seems to be reclining in many of his photos.
This was Jerry’s Alan impersonation!
Our final Summit Pose: Downs Mountain!
View from Downs.

Day 10: Downs Base to Glacier Trailhead, DONE!

13.88 Miles / 646′ Ascent / 5,203′ Descent

The long walk out across Goat Flats, looking back from whence we came.
We hit more mellow tundra as we rejoined a trail for the first time in many miles.

If you read all this, God Bless You! Good luck with your planning!

Like others have written, you just cannot overstate the difficulty of this route. Words fall short of the beauty, the remoteness, and also the pure, total, exhaustion. I’ve done a lot of backpacking in a lot of places in my lifetime but this was the hardest and the most incredible route I’ve ever done.

I feel like thanks are in order:

Thanks to Andrew Skurka for publishing this route and guide.

Thanks to my tough-as-they come partner Jerry for suffering it with me!

And thanks to my wife for holding down the home-front while I disappeared for two weeks!

Happy Trails!

Posted in on November 13, 2020


  1. Hunter Hall on November 13, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    Great pics!

  2. Michael Cooper on November 14, 2020 at 9:00 pm

    Spent 3 wks on the northern end of your walk in the mid 80s. Words and pics can’t capture the grandeur but still you pulled me back to it and I thank you for that! There’s no place like the Winds! Michael Cooper

  3. Adam Salinger on November 16, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    Spent three weeks backpacking in the Brooks Range north of the arctic circle this summer. The WWHR has been on my bucket list for quite some time. Looks like 2021 might be just the time to pull the trigger.
    Bit confused about Middle Fork Trailhead….looks like you started on the west side of the range and finished on the east? Am I reading that incorrectly? Been looking at Bruce Bridge to Trail Lakes and I’m assuming that your ending “Glacier Trailhead” is Trail Lakes?

  4. Bob Nunnink on November 16, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    Great trip report. Would love to see your gear list for this trip

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