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Wind River Trip
Posted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 10:02 am
So I've been going back to the Sierra for the last 7 summers (live near Boston these days). Spent a lot of time around the Leconte divide, and last year did the Humphreys/French area. I would love to do one more trip into Blackcap, but been feeling the tug to try something new...the Wind River area. It is always hard to go somewhere where you know nothing. So for those who may have hiked that area, I'd love suggestions (and yes, I'm ordering WD's book). Read everything on here about the Winds, but would love more info. Two things I love...beautiful scenery and good fishing. All input is very welcomed.
Re: Wind River Trip
Posted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 7:41 pm
It depends on how long a trip you can do. Or perhaps more than one shorter trip? How much, if any off-trail travel do you want? Do you have time to use east side trailheads, which are a longer drive when coming from California.
A bit on general logistics. Not many trailheads have paved roads, and some require significant drives on poor roads. Everyone in Wyoming has a truck so there is little incentive to keep good roads. I have, however, driven my passenger cars to most, but they take a beating. 4wd is not needed, but high clearance really helps. Lander and Pinedale are the only nearby towns that have any outdoor recreation services. Some very limited stores in Dubois. There are no trail quotas. You do need to buy a permit if you go on the Wind River Indian Reservation, but nobody asks where you are going. There is volunteer sign-in at some trailheads. Major FS and G&F agency offices in Pinedale and Lander, small FS office in Dubois. BLM office is in Rock Springs. FS maps are useful for road and TH locations and they show the trails that are maintained. A LOT of trails on the USGS maps are NOT maintained and some totally over-grown. There has also been some major fires and bark-beetle damage recently. I think all FS offices have maps in their office that show where these are. Trails on the Reservation are NOT maintained. The only ones working on the Reservation trails are outfitters who use the trails. As of 2016 all the outfitters had quit (mainly due to severe trail damage by the 2012 Alpine Lake Fire).
Fishing: On the Wind River Indian Reservation a crossing permit is required and it doubles as your fishing permit, so fishing is basically free. They over-60 yr old annual permit for about $65. Every day your car is parked at a Reservation TH you have to have a permit, so for trips more than a week the price is about the same for an annual permit as a shorter term permit. If you are under 60 years old, the Reservation permit is similar to the Wyoming out-of-state license, which is about $125, or $14 per day (unfortunately, Wyo G&F has no out-of-state senior discount). These may have changed this year so you need to check them out yourself. Because of the senior discount I have done most of my recent fishing on the Reservation. There is a nice fishing inventory for the Bridger NF on their Pinedale office web-site. For the Shoshone Forest on the east side, they have fishing maps in their office in Lander, but nothing on the internet (at least as 2018). The fishery on the Reservation is managed by the Federal Fish and Wildlife office in Lander. These guys to a lot of field work and very helpful and really know their stuff.
For the combination of great scenery and fishing, I personally like the South Fork of the Little Wind River (Shoshone NF) and the North Fork of the Little Wind River (Wind River Indian Reservation). Although these two areas are on the east side of the Divide, they can also be accessed from the west via Big Sandy TH or Scab Creek TH. There also are shuttle services on both sides, but the service on the west side is used a lot more.
I would recommend a similar trip to what I did in 2018 (wrote a trip report). Big Sandy-Black Joe-Temple Peak area- Cirque of Towers- South Fork Little Wind River, over to the East Fork and back to Big Sandy. If you are up to some relatively difficult off-trail, there are more options to return. I did a 7-day trip moving every day and not a lot of time for fishing. If you want more days to fish, you can focus only on the SFLW, and skip Cirque of Towers, Black Joe and Temple Peak areas by doing an in-and-out over Washakie Pass and Hailey Pass. This can even be done all on trails with day-hikes up to fish some of the off-trail lakes. When I did my trip in 2018 I met very few people (except at Cirque of the Towers). You can however hit crowds. Outfitters from Dickinson Park use the SFLW. I know the outfitter- he is a really good one (but very expensive).
There are other good fishing and scenic areas too. Go through the "virtual tours" on the CD in my guidebook and you will get a feel for it. Generally, the far north part of the range has less fishing because that is where there are the glaciers so there are a lot of barren lakes. The northern Wind Rivers are also have fewer trails and some really challenging off-trail travel. But it is very scenic.
By the way, the snowpack information is right on a bit over "normal". A lot of the snow comes late, even in June, so too early to predict. In general, still very snowy in June, mosquito season is late June to mid-July, black fly season a bit later. By August, usually all the bugs are down as are most streams, except those fed by glaciers, which stay high from melt of the Glaciers. Some significant stream crossings, very few bridges, lots of wading. I always take wading shoes.
The Reservation is a little trickier. You really need to be good at off-trail travel but I really love the area. And you will likely see very few others.
Re: Wind River Trip
Posted: Sat Jan 18, 2020 9:49 am
WD, thanks so much for the info. We would probably have 8-9 days to hike. Since we are flying in from the east coast, either SLC or Jackson would be where we would land. I was actually intrigued with the idea of coming from the east side (St. Lawrence trailhead) and exploring the area up around Lake Kagenah. Looks like a lot to explore around there. But after I've had a chance to do some more reading, we'll hone in on an area. One thing that is kind of shocking is watching the youtube trips people post on this area: the bugs look horrendous in some of these videos. Makes me think a late Aug/early Sept trip might be nice.
Re: Wind River Trip
Posted: Sat Jan 18, 2020 11:31 am
The black fly season is intense but short. They peak at different elevations at different times of the year, generally a bit later than mosquitoes, both being end-of-snowmelt features. Unlike mosquitoes, black flies crawl on you and get under clothing, just like ticks do, so I always wear snug gaiters. Black flies tend to be active daytime and subside at dawn and dusk. So when you have both black flies and mosquitoes, it is really miserable; swarmed by mosquitoes dawn and dusk and attacked by black flies in the intervening hours. Blackflies seem to bite some people more than others and I am lucky that they do not bite me much, but they swarm my face. Head nets are essential! I think what is called the "black fly" is the Buffalo Gnat common to the upper Midwest, not the typical east coast black fly. They started cropping up in the Wind Rivers about 10-15 years ago. We never had them in the 70's or 80's.
In 2016, I went in to the Kagavah-Heebeecheeche area 7/25 and black flies were miserable; went back in to the same area 8/5 and they were mostly gone. Both of these times were post-mosquito. What you are seeing on the videos are people unfortunately hitting the worst of a relatively short period of black flies. It helps also to select campsites in windy areas. For me, the worst is when you have to clean fish! It may be wise to take some latex gloves to use when fishing.
You may check and see if you can fly into Riverton. The Riverton flights link to Denver, not sure about SLC. Frontier Airlines used to be the carrier. Flights to SLC or Denver are by far cheaper than using connecting flights to Riverton or Jackson, although Jackson is a pretty spectacular place to fly into. There is a shuttle service out of Lander, that may do drop-offs to St. Lawrence. Not sure they would be much cheaper than simply renting a car (get a high clearance vehicle). The road to St. Lawrence can get really horrible, particularly after big summer rainstorms. Although a longer approach (2 long days to Kagavah Lake), you can go in from the Scab Creek TH (west side south of Pinedale), which is a short drive on paved road with about a 5 mile drive on a well graded gravel road to the TH that also has a nice BLM campground. In that case, flying into SLC is the best choice. Several outdoor stores in Pinedale sell Reservation permits, as well as the gas station in Farson. If coming in from Jackson you can buy the permit in Dubois.
To get most of your vacation time it is worth it to do some serious calculations on which flights and TH access would be the most efficient. If you are going in St. Lawrence, it would take nearly the entire day to get from a morning flight into SLC to the trailhead.