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Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

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Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:03 pm

Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek Hell 8/19-8/25 2014

Since a route write-up in a climbing magazine, the Tourist Creek route is now used by those who climb the west face of Gannett Peak. The route historically has been the “standard”, albeit difficult, access to Scott Lake and the Mammoth Glacier. In addition, more than 20 starkly beautiful lakes are nestled up against the Continental Divide at the head of Tourist Creek. We had been here in 2007 and were eager to visit this remote, beautiful area again.

Day 1- 8/19. Green River Campground to Three Forks Park.

We left the Green River Lakes Campground, this time taking the “Lakeshore” trail along the west side of the lower Green River Lake. It is a bit longer but much more pleasant than the High Line Trail, intersecting the High Line Trail above the Clear Creek Bridge. Then it was repeat miles past up to Pixley Creek. From the Beaver Park Bridge we wanted to see if the old trail on the east side was still an option to reach Tourist Creek. Starting out distinct, due to bark beetle kill it gradually became lost in deadfall after leaving a horse camp in a small meadow. The last half mile was bushwhacking deluxe. We finally found the trail again and broke out into Three Forks Park just after crossing several branches of Tourist Creek. We deemed the old trail no longer a viable way to reach this point. On our return we would have to find a better route. We set up at a large established horse camp just as rain began to fall, cooking in the rain. We were happy to retire to the tent after 10 miles of walking. It rained all night.

Day 2- 8/20. Three Forks Park to Lake 10,950 (0.7 miles NW of Mt Solitude).

We awoke to overcast skies. Our campsite was surrounded by swamps and finding a route to dry ground to the east was tricky, even if very short. Once up on the dry ground we spotted a large cairn, indicating the start of the route up Tourist Creek. For the first 600 feet it was well marked through brush and deadfall, then broke out onto a steep dirt/rock debris fan. We decided to climb directly to the cliffs, another 900 feet above, based on some reports that traversing the top of the huge talus field was preferable. After a rest in a flower-filled steep grassy spot right below the cliffs, our attempt at a high traverse failed and we had to drop 200 feet anyway. Thus began travel through tedious talus. We skirted the top edge of a patch of timber 10,700 feet elevation, over some large talus blocks. In the next 300 feet gain the talus became larger and more difficult to navigate. Finally we broke out onto rock slabs on the south side of the creek with a steep cliff to the north just before a short drop to Lake 10,090. We stopped at this pretty little lake surrounded by grass. There are more small ponds/lakes than shown on the map. Travel became easier as we found good game trails and the grade of the stream was nearly flat. At 10,250 feet we crossed the creek and followed a distinct use-trail that ascended a side stream to the southeast. We ended up a bit south and too high so backtracked and dropped to our little Lake 10,950.

We chose this campsite because it was centrally located and planned to spend two days day-hiking to all the surrounding lakes. The weather was deteriorating. I took a quick hike up to Lake 11,145 during a break the weather while my friend hunted for pika. In unlikely spots I would find lush small microclimates full of moss and wildflowers. Lake 11,145 was stark and surrounded by cliffs but had a nice grassy campsite at the outlet. I returned to our grassy spot on the north side of our little lake. This site was the only flat spot we found that was sheltered from wind. Rain began to fall. I was disappointed because I really wanted to hike up to Smirnoff Pass to take sunset photos of Scott Lake. Instead we spent two hours inside the tent. Dinner was cooked during one of the later breaks in the rain. It rained all night again.

Day 3- 8/21. Nowhere to Go.

This was one of those days that nobody wants to endure. It rained all day and we simply stayed in the tent most of the time. In retrospect, we should have endured the rain and at least gone up to Lake 11,085. It seemed hopeless at the time because we would only get wet for marginal photos in the gray rainy weather. Although we had a lot to talk about while sitting in the tent, after a half-hour discourse on how to change a clutch in truck, I realized our topics of mutual interest had come to an end. Mother Nature did give us a great sunset as the sun shone through a small slot in the clouds, making our little lake and surroundings glow yellow-orange. Well, we still had the next day and hoped for better weather. After all it was August!

Day 4-8/22. Lake 10,950 to 9,500 feet on Tourist Creek.

We awoke to continuing rain, the clouds gradually lowering all morning. We could see snow on the higher peaks. We still had 2-3 days food remaining, so I wanted to wait another day, simply because I hate walking in the rain. My experience is that staying put is often the best strategy in poor weather during August. September would be another matter. My friend, on the other hand, thought we should bail out before it got worse. We had quite an argument over this, weighing all the pros and cons. By noon we agreed to break the descent into two days. So we packed up and head down the creek, to beat the ever-lowering snow level. We bundled up in wool layers and rain gear and began descending, backtracking our inbound route, avoiding slipping on the steep wet grass. Crossing the creek this time was more difficult. Our feet were so wet anyway that we simply sloshed across. In an hour and half we reached Lake 10,090 where we could have camped. On our way in we met a fellow on the trail who had just come down Tourist Creek and he told us about a good campsite lower down that was in thick timber- a good place to camp if it rained. The next 400 feet of descent, however, was on the large difficult talus. We had plenty of daylight, so continued, taking it slowly. At one point when the rain became intense, we huddled under a large boulder. About a half hour of that and we were chilled from staying still so continued so we could warm up. It was a slow process, carefully testing every foot step on the difficult large talus. After a couple of hours we reached the top of the timber and dropped over easier terrain to the campsite. We were soaked and cold. Thankfully the sun broke through for about half an hour so we could partially dry off and cook dinner. Rain began again in earnest so dinner had to be eaten inside the tent. Although wet, we were warm. The tent did a good job keeping us dry, although the floor seeped a bit.

Day 5- 8/23. 9,500 on Tourist Creek to Clear Creek.

We awoke to continuing rain but it was warm so no worries of it turning into snow. Today it was more of a steady drizzle. Our inbound route would have us climb up 200 feet. However our high route was not an option as all the rain made the dirt/rock slope unstable. Instead we traversed low, following off-and-on cairns. The talus got larger involving some actual climbing. Finally we broke out of the talus onto the willow and aspen spotted lower slopes with yet 800 feet to descend. Brush and deadfall became thicker as we descended, sometimes following cairns, often bushwhacking. We finally spotted the well-marked route for the last 400 feet of descent. We headed south looking for a crossing of the Green River so we could reach the High Line Trail. We spotted a camp across the river and talked to its occupants. Crossing here was too swift. We continued south to where the milky Wells Creek, draining directly off the Mammoth Glacier, enters the clear Green River. My long-legged friend crossed first and following sand bars was able to keep the depth reasonable, however the current was swift. Then I crossed.

All the rain had turned the trail into mud, so going was not easy. Several groups were camped along the 8-mile trail, miserably hanging around their tents in the drizzle. By the time we hit Clear Creek we were beat and although only 2.5 miles from the car, we camped. The clouds lifted a bit and we could see Squaretop Mountain covered with snow. The rain stopped and we could dry out. It was cold, and we hiked all day in two layers of wool, balaclavas and raincoats and rain pants, never getting over-heated. With extra food, we had a cook-fest, enjoying a huge dinner. About the only thing we had accomplished was to prove that one could safely if slowly bail out down Tourist Creek in horrible conditions. We also had found the two logical routes- the lower cairned route and the higher route.

Day 6- 8/24. Clear Creek to Green River Lakes Trailhead.

It was a quick hour and half walk to the car. We noticed that the car with Arizona plates was gone. This meant the two fellows we met on Pixley Creek got out safely. The plan was to go to Pinedale, clean up and get ready for the next week’s trip to Titcomb Basin. As we drove the Green River Lakes Road we were surprised that it was actually less muddy than when we came in.

At Pinedale, we checked the weather; Titcomb Basin had a foot of snow and everyone was bailing out! The next few days were to be no better, so we drove back to Lander to wait. Two days later I packed up although the forecast for the long-term was not good. At least I would drive back to Pinedale. My friend had work to do so this would be a solo for me. Driving over South Pass it rained cats and dogs. At Farson, I admitted defeat, turned south, and headed home to save the next trip for some warm Sierra weather! Thus ended one of the worst-weather summers I ever spent in the Wind Rivers. Much I had planned had not been accomplished. But as they say, even a bad day in the mountains is better than a good day at home doing laundry and cleaning house (or working).

Photos to follow.



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Re: Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:13 pm

Days 1-2

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Lower vegetated slopes of Tourist Creek - thankfully with a marked use-trail (photo by Juan Laden)

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Nearing the top of the debris slope (photo by Juan Laden)

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Meadow full of flowers at top of debris cone

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Traversing above a patch of timber

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Lake at 10090

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Looking back to talus slope we had crossed

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Ugly talus (photo by Juan Laden)

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Upstream of Lake 10090

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Lake we camped at, as seen on day-hike to upper lake

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Upper Lake

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Small patch of flowers

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A welcome relief - more pretty flowers
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Re: Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:19 pm

Days 3-5

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Sunset after all day in the tent

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Camp

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Sunset gets more intense

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Camp half way down Tourist Creek

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Dinner ambiance among wet stinky wool socks drying (photo by Juan Laden)

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Crossing the Green River

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Snow on Squaretop Mountain

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Last night's pig-out
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Re: Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

Postby balzaccom » Tue Sep 30, 2014 8:39 am

Lovely stuff, Daisy. Thanks for these reports.

You have us thinking about a long car trip, followed by some hiking in the WInd Rivers!
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Oct 07, 2014 7:59 am

The Wind Rivers are the most "Sierra-like" range I have been in. The weather is generally not as bad as I had this summer. The monsoons were unusually strong and constant this summer. I hear the Sierra got some of that too. Winter snows are more typical of what happens in the Pacific NW. This year the Wind Rivers had up to 160% snowpack, whereas the Sierra was at about 20%. In some years it is the opposite; Wind Rivers low snow and Sierra high snowpack. Summer temperatures at altitude are similar. The big difference is the shoulder seasons- there really is not much of a shoulder season in the Wyoming. We used to say there is summer and winter in Wyoming, and then a week of Spring and a week of Fall.

The drive is not all that bad. From here in Sacramento, it is a one day drive (10 hrs) to SLC, then 4-6 hours to trailheads. I-80 is boring, but really fast 70-80 mph all the way. No permits are required and there are no regulations as to how far you must hike away from the trailhead. You can just drive up the trailhead and get down the trail a few miles the same day you arrive. For me it is an 8-hour drive to Lone Pine and then the permit hassles, so I do not get on the trail much sooner.

Thanks for your comments. Not many people seem to have been interested in my trip reports.
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Re: Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

Postby ofuros » Tue Oct 07, 2014 1:44 pm

The flowers in bloom certainly make their presence felt against a grey backdrop,
liked the variety of pics too, big wide landscapes, people shots, camp life.....thanks for
sharing your trip, Wandering Daisy.
Out 'n about....looking for trout.
https://ofuros.exposure.co/
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Re: Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Oct 07, 2014 6:59 pm

I go solo and off-trail so often that most of my trip reports have no people shots, because I rarely even meet people! And I am not into taking "selfies". I have been in the upper watershed of Tourist Creek before, and I wish I could have photographed some of the 25 lakes. It really is a more spectacular area than my photos this trip show.
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Re: Wind Rivers VII: Tourist Creek

Postby Eiprahs » Thu Oct 09, 2014 11:21 pm

I always look forward to your trip reports--you always map out the most interesting routes, whether the Winds or the Sierras.

I must travel to the Winds vicariously and your reports are the best. Thanks for sharing your past summer's adventures.
Dave
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