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Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

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Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 13, 2014 2:32 pm

Wind Rivers III: Ross Lakes, July 17-20, 2014.

My third trip moved from the very civilized, lush greenery of the southern Wind Rivers to the burly northeastern part of the range accessed from the Torrey Creek Trailhead just southwest of Dubois Wyoming. This part of the range is characterized by darker rock, few trails, more elevation gains (this is a low-elevation trailhead) and overall, more difficult travel. The most used trail, the Glacier Trail that goes to Gannett Peak basecamp, heads south. The Whiskey Mountain Trail heads west to intersect the Ross Lake Trail which ends at the north end of Ross Lake. A use-trail continues around the east shoreline of Ross Lake. The record trout was caught near the inlet to Ross Lake. My original plan was to return directly down West Torrey Creek to Lake Louise. The short section from Ross Lake to Hidden Lake convinced me to abandon this idea! I was in this area in 2012 when the smoke from the Alpine Lake Fire precluded good photos and hoped for clearer skies this time as well as better weather than I had been having. Thankfully, this was the case. In fact it was downright hot!

Day 1: July 17. Torrey Creek TH to West Torrey Creek. I left town at 6:00 and was on the trail by 8:30. Thank goodness, because it soon got hotter than hell. The trail immediately goes up, on the sun baked side of Whiskey Mountain, gaining 2,650 feet in 2.6 miles. Sagebrush gives way to meadows and forest (with no water), then through a large area of burned trees from a devastating fire several years ago, then on to a large upper meadow, ending with a steep drop through timber to the north end of Ross Lake. This trail is known for its fantastic wildflowers. It was a bit late for peak bloom, but the flowers were still amazing. Hazy skies from fires in Idaho and Washington ruined the photos on the trip in. Fortunately, this did not last. I reached Ross Lake at 12:30 to find that the trail simply ended at the steep shoreline, with no camping in sight. A fisherman’s trail continued along the shoreline to an established camp about a quarter mile south, where mosquitoes were thick. I decided to continue down to Hidden Lake. I basically bushwhacked east and downward until I ran into West Torrey Creek, following a faint elk trail, through massive deadfall and swamps. The map is wrong regarding the inlet to Hidden Lake; it turns sharply south to enter the lake at the east end. Travel became progressively hideous and Hidden Lake was south of me, blocked by impenetrable swamps with deadfall. I gave up and turned around and returned 0.2 miles upstream to a sagebrush bench above the river where I set up camp at 2:30. It had taken me two hours to go less than one mile! The first thing I did was take a cold bath in the very high water of West Torrey Creek. It felt great! The creek was cooking – no way would I be able to cross. After a rest, I went back downstream to try to find a crossing, and right below my camp was a large rock that bridged roaring white water of the creek below. The route was a fall-you-die route but it would have to suffice for my next day’s hike to Upper Ross Lake. Clouds started building at 3PM. A good breeze kept mosquitoes down. After an early dinner I went in the tent by 7PM tired after the 8-mile, 6 hour trip in.

Day 2: July 18. Day hikes to Upper Ross Lake and Hidden Lake. I was up at 6AM and off at 7AM. After I crossed the creek on the precarious rock I still had to wade across overflow water before I reached the cliffy south side of the creek. There was less deadfall, but it took some work to find a route up the cliffs through a notch north of two large ponds. Although the route looks easy on the map, I got stuck a few times by small cliffs and had to backtrack, until I finally reached the shoreline of Ross Lake south of Pt. 9801. I knew there was a fisherman’s trail, so I poked around until I found a cairn, high on the steep slabs adjacent to the lake. Several cairns lead over the slabs about 100 feet above the lake, then down a short class 3 slot to a well-traveled trail through the forests on the south shoreline, all the while staying about 50 feet above the lake. About half a mile southward, I had to drop and cross a talus fan near the shoreline. The “trail” became a come-and-go affair, finally reaching a large well established campsite just north of a peninsula a quarter mile from the inlet. It took about an hour and quarter to reach this campsite. I took a break before scrambling up steeper rock to reach Upper Ross Lake. Although I was on some game trails, this definitely was no “use-trail”. A large log jam allowed me to cross to the southwest side of Upper Ross Lake. I had hiked the difficult western shoreline of Upper Ross Lake in 2012 and had no desire to repeat that ordeal at this time. It was 10:30 when I headed back. In an hour I was back the established camp south of Pt. 9801. Soon I found the continuing fisherman’s trail to the outlet from Ross Lake. Better campsites were located along this 15-minute route. I had heard of a very difficult log that crossed the outlet high above the roaring creek. Instead I found a nice easy crossing of logs that lay in the lake just before the outlet. Downstream was a jumble of large logs, evidence that flood waters that had destroyed several previous crossings. Going back down to camp, I now found a better trail – almost a “use-trail” but more likely a more frequented game trail. After a rest and bath at camp, I had time for a 2.5-hour day-hike to the outlet from Hidden Lake. I ascended the buttress north of the lake to a viewpoint above the outlet and saw that the only camping at the lake was across the outlet on the east side. Although it was too late to drop to the outlet, I returned dropping to Hidden Lake about half-way down the north shoreline. This was a mistake! Boy was it rough going. Back at camp I took another bath and just lay on a slab with my feet hanging in the water. It had been a successful exploration day with wonderful weather for a change.

Day 3: July 19. Torrey Creek above Hidden Lake (on trails). I was up at 5:30 AM and off at 6:30AM. I scrapped the idea of descending West Torrey Creek and returned to the outlet from Ross Lake on the “better” route I found the previous day. After taking some photos I found a better trail that stays high (about 250 feet above the shoreline) and intersects the Ross Lakes Trail at about 9750 feet elevation. This trail was good enough for horses, which explained all the evidence of horses camping at the outlet of Ross Lake. The “fisherman’s” trail I took along the shoreline on Day 1 would not be feasible for horses. Returning on the Whiskey Mountain Trail was pleasant, mostly going downhill. Still wanting to go to Louise Lake, just short of reaching my car I turned south and took the Louise Lake trail to the outlet where the wind was howling. What a wind tunnel; it was too windy to safely cross the large log-jam at the outlet to reach the better campsites, so I set up on a marginal site and huddled behind a rock out of the wind, fending off aggressive squirrels and watching the raging waters flow down the creek, creating another large downstream log jam.

Day 4: July 20. Hidden Lake to Torrey Creek TH and back to Lander. I awoke early in hopes to photograph Louise Lake at early sunrise. I had been here in 2012 and the photos were horrible, due to smoke. This time, the photos were not a lot better. Lighting at Louise Lake is just difficult for photography by an amateur like me. After an hour and many photos, I went back to camp, cooked breakfast and packed up. It only took an hour to get back to my car. The trailhead was packed with groups headed to the Gannett Peak base camp. Two women were headed up the Whiskey Mountain trail with fishing rods. I was the odd-ball heading out of the mountains at 10AM!

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Whiskey Mountain Trail (below the burn)

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Burned area along Whiskey Mountain Trail

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Upper meadow on Whiskey Mountain Trail

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West Torrey Creek

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West Torrey Creek downstream of camp

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Camp on West Torrey Creek



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Re: Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 13, 2014 2:40 pm

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End of Trail at Ross Lake north end

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West Torrey Creek from Ross Lake

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Ross Lake

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Ross Lake

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Ross Lake

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Upper Ross Lake

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Outlet from Hidden Lake

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West Torrey Creek, at outlet from Ross Lake

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Crossing of outlet from Ross Lake

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Outlet Ross Lake, flowers

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Ross Lake

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Log Jam below Louise Lake

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Louise Lake

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camp at Louise Lake
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Re: Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby rlown » Sat Sep 13, 2014 4:59 pm

It's a beautiful report, WD!

Any fishing at all?
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Re: Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 13, 2014 5:09 pm

There IS good fishing, but I did not buy a Wyoming state license ($130 out of state- no senior discount). I spent more time on the Wind River Indian Reservation, so I bought a reservation permit ($65 with senior discount).
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Re: Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby rlown » Sat Sep 13, 2014 5:12 pm

ouch. that's as bad as non resident fishing in CA!! didn't used to be that way.

Still a nice report. Did it meet your goals, even with the weather issues?
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Re: Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 13, 2014 5:27 pm

My goals are usually to figure out if an off-trail route is reasonable or not. First goal was to find the use-trail around Ross Lake. I had been on that route years ago but missed the trail. This time I found it. Likely because in the intervening 15 years, more use has made the trail more distinct.

I had heard that some people had gone down West Torrey Creek from Ross Lake to Louise Lake. A large fire burned the area years ago. That, in combination with the bark beetle kill, makes for huge swaths of downed timber. I wondered if I should put this route in my guidebook. After simply doing the part from Ross Lake to Hidden Lake, I decided the reward was not worth the effort. So that goal was met, although I did not do the route. A few masochists may be interested in the route, but in general, the Whiskey Mountain trail is a better route.

My friend in Wyoming is a retired G&D biologist. He says the G&F are becoming top heavy with too many "administrative" staff(got to pay for all those folks) and now have the attitude that out-of-state folks are willing to pay anything. They discontinued the weekly rate. Now your only choice is daily (you have to specify exact dates) or the annual. I also have a friend there who is a commercial packer. Most of his clients go for a week. They now have to buy an annual pass. He says it does make a difference because he offers the fishing license as part of the package deal.

The Reservation, on the other hand, had been very reasonable. You have to have a permit, whether you fish or not. It really is a combination "crossing" and fishing permit. So the fishing is basically free. They offer daily, weekly and annual, with a good senior discount, starting at age 60.

OK, I am cheap. I can get plenty of fishing on the reservation.
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Re: Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby richlong8 » Sat Sep 13, 2014 8:05 pm

Wow! That West Torrey Creek makes some of our High Sierra creeks looks like little brooks. Quite an adventure.
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Re: Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby giantbrookie » Sat Sep 13, 2014 8:23 pm

Your Wind River reports are dynamite. They would give anybody the itch to get out there. That is some stunning high country. Ah, so far away, though (and with that non resident fishing license cost). Nonetheless, I think I have to put the Wind Rivers on my wish list for future trips.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Wind Rvers: Ross Lakes

Postby Eiprahs » Sat Sep 13, 2014 9:28 pm

WD, thanks for sharing your adventures. I pulled out my Earthwalk Press maps so I could follow your footsteps.
Dave
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