A Trip to the Wind River Range, WY

Double Lake, Wind Rivers
Double Lake, Wind River Range

My friend Kai and I originally intended to climb Gannett Peak (13, 809′) in Wyoming’s Wind River Range over a five day period. It didn’t quite turn out like we had anticipated. But if you are flexible, most trips have redeeming qualities even if they don’t turn out like you had hoped. One of the trailheads for Gannett Peak is just outside Dubois, WY, which is about 45 miles east of the Tetons in the northwest part of the Wind River Range. We drove up Sunday evening and stayed at the Super 8 Motel in Dubois. Monday morning we loaded up our packs, which to my surprise, were much heavier than I thought they would be. I was thinking maybe 35-40 lbs, but they were more like 55-60 lbs. We had planned on climbing the more technical North Face route up the Gannett Galcier. This route involves snow and ice climbing with some low 5th class rock climbing. As such, we had heavier boots and crampons, glacier travel/crevasse rescue gear, a full length rope, and a light rack of snow pickets, some ice screws, some rock nuts, and some Tricams. Additionally, we each had two ice tools as well. Add in regular backpacking gear, and this amounted to very heavy packs. For quite a few years now I have been going ultralight with my backpacking trips, my pack seldom weighing more than about 22 lbs, even for multi-day trips. So a 50+ lb load was not feeling very good. Because I did not want to hike in my mountaineering boots, I elected to wear light approach shoes and pack the boots in my pack. This of course just added to the weight of my pack. Kai had a pair of lightweight mountaineering boots that were comfortable enough to hike in.

The approach to Gannett from this side is around 25 miles one way. It is no wonder that Gannett Peak is considered one of the most difficult of the state high points and has one of the lowest success rates. The Glacier Trail begins at the Trail Lake Trailhead a few miles outside Dubois. It starts out in high desert terrain, hot and dry, and slowly climbs up through forests and tops out on a long alpine tundra meadow.

Mountain meadow before the switchbacks up the steep slope on the left.
Mountain meadow before the switchbacks up the steep slope on the left.
Kai, with a very supportive, comfortable, and lightweight pack.
Kai, with a very supportive, comfortable, and lightweight pack.
Making my way across the meadow.
Making my way across the meadow. (photo by Kai Larson)

At one point there were steep switchbacks that went on for miles before finally topping out on the alpine tundra. It was a tough slog and I was feeling it. Once onto the alpine tundra we continued to climb several more miles to the top of a saddle before descending down the other side back into a forested area dotted with lakes and streams.

Scooping up fresh water from a spring about halfway up the switchbacks.
Scooping up fresh water from a spring about halfway up the switchbacks.

By the time we topped out it was about 1:00 pm and began to rain. It continued to rain off and on for the next five or six hours. We donned rain gear and continued down the alpine tundra and into a burned out forest.

Looking up the alpine plateau toward the saddle we would cross several miles in the distance.
Looking up the alpine plateau toward the saddle we would cross several miles in the distance.
Putting on rain gear up on the alpine plateau.
Putting on rain gear up on the alpine plateau.
Kai, hiking down the other side of the plateau
Kai, hiking down the other side of the plateau
Me heading down toward the burned out forest on the other side of the plateau.
Me heading down toward the burned out forest on the other side of the plateau. (photo by Kai Larson)

Erie blackened dead trees stood all around. After about 14 miles we reached Double Lake, tired and ready to call it a day.

Double Lake with an unnamed peak in the background.
Double Lake with an unnamed peak in the background.

We found a nice camp spot and set up camp.

Tending to the small, lightweight wood burning stove.
Tending to the small, lightweight wood burning stove.

It was at this point that I realized I had a problem. An old health issue had reappeared and I was doubtful I could continue all the way to Gannett, climb it, and hike all the way back. My plantar fasciitis was also acting up and my arches were quite painful. We had ascended about 3000′ then descended probably another 2000′. We ate a freeze-dried meal for dinner, then slept well. In the morning I broke the news to Kai that I didn’t think I had it in me to do Gannett. I knew he would be disappointed but he was very understanding. He works out like a fiend and is in much better shape than I, so he wasn’t hurting like I was. However, this is a very stiff hike, even for the superfit. We decided to alter our plans.

Honeymoon Lake.
Honeymoon Lake. (photo by Kai Larson)

We decided to hike down the trail, with light packs, and do some exploring for the day. Kai also had a lightweight Tenkara fishing rod, just in case. We ended up hiking all the way down to Downs Creek, where the bridge was partially washed away from the immense spring runoff this year. The water had a milky color to it as these creeks flow from the glaciers higher up. There was quite a lot of downhill hiking to get there, but the scenery was spectacular. The creeks we encountered, at least the ones labeled on our map were more like rivers.

The raging Dinwoody Creek.
The raging Dinwoody Creek.
Consulting the map. Long sleeves were helpful to keep the mosquitos partially at bay.
Consulting the map. Long sleeves were helpful to keep the mosquitos partially at bay.
Alpine meadow.
Alpine meadow.
Wind River scenery.
Wind River scenery.
Downs Creek with milky glacial runoff.
Downs Creek with milky glacial runoff.
The damaged bridge over Downs Creek.
The damaged bridge over Downs Creek.

The hike back to camp was mostly uphill and was rigorous. We covered about 12 miles round trip. Once back at camp we decided to begin the hike out so there wouldn’t be as many miles on the last day.  It was not pleasant shouldering those heavy packs again. We hiked back up to the base of the burned forest to a very pleasant stream coming out of a lake just above and decided to camp there for the night.

Our camp along a nice stream.
Our camp along a nice stream.
The Backcountry Boiler is a chimney style wood burning  stove. It is good if all you are doing is boiling water.
The Backcountry Boiler is a chimney style wood burning stove. It is good if all you are doing is boiling water.
Watching water get hot.
Watching water get hot.
Surviving hordes of mosquitos.
Surviving hordes of mosquitos.

We were not too thrilled about hiking back up to the saddle on the alpine tundra in the heat of the afternoon with no shade. It turned out to be a very nice campsite (except for the evil hordes of mosquitos). We spent the rest of the day fishing the very active creek and lake, where Kai caught quite a few beautiful brook trout. I also fished a bit and caught a couple small trout.

Master fly fisherman.
Master fly fisherman fishing the creek next to camp. The first two casts netted two fish.

 

Kai fishing the small lake above our camp.
Kai fishing the small lake above our camp.

 

Fishing the creek next to camp. The first two casts netted two fish.
Fishing the inlet to the small lake above our camp.

 

Fishing.
Fishing.

I spent most of the time wandering around taking photos, mostly of wildflowers.

Indian Paintbrush.
Indian Paintbrush.

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And some pretty rocks.
And some pretty rocks.

 

Symmetry in nature.
Symmetry in nature.

The next day we hiked the 12 or so miles back out. It was tough as my feet and legs were pretty sore. I also made the mistake of taking my Cilogear climbing pack (45 liter) which is not designed to carry 50+ lbs of gear, and it was weighing heavily on my shoulders (and my hips). The hike out went pretty smooth, though we were both pretty sore and tired by the time we got back to the car.

Early morning hiking through the eerie burned forest.
Early morning hiking through the eerie burned forest.
A foggy and misty morning.
A foggy and misty morning.
Transition from forest to alpine tundra.
Transition from forest to alpine tundra. (photo by Kai Larson)
Hiking out of the burned forest.
Hiking out of the burned forest.
Raging Bomber Creek near the trailhead.
Raging Bomber Creek near the trailhead.

We had covered about 35-40 miles in three days with significant elevation gain and loss. I certainly have a great deal respect for people that climb Gannett and really understand why the success rate of summiting is so low. Once getting to the peak, there is no easy walkup route either. Even the easiest route requires climbing and active glacier with a bergshrund and potential crevasses to deal with.

Though it was disappointing to not make it to Gannett, we saw some beautiful country and it’s always good to be out in the mountains. We would have stayed longer but the mosquitos were terrible. Whenever we stopped hiking, and in camp, there would be literal clouds of mosquitos all over us. Long sleeves, head nets, and bug juice helped, but it was still not pleasant. I had bought a head net for this trip and I was really glad I had it as they kept the mosquitos off my face and neck while in camp. The Wind River Range is wild, rugged, and beautiful and I look forward to when I can go back for another trip. For now I’m humbly licking my wounds.

 

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One thought on “A Trip to the Wind River Range, WY

  1. Sounds like a nice but painful trip, sorry to hear about the not-summiting part, but as you note being in the mountains is the first objective. Great photos! We had to Lander and the Cirque via Dickerson Park up the PoPo Agie

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