2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

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2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 10, 2020 12:41 pm

South Fork Little Wind River Loop; 7/23 – 7/30 (61 miles, 8 days)

The headwaters of the South Fork of the Little Wind River are accessible via well maintained trails and extremely stunning. Add to that, incredible fishing and it is hard to beat. I have probably hiked here more than any other area of the Wind Rivers. It can be accessed from the west out of Big Sandy, or from the east out of Dickinson Park via the Bears Ears Trail, a well maintained pack trail.

The second trip out of Dickinson was also a scaled back from the original planned now that I had a tweaked left ankle as a result of limping due to my right little toe. The toe was improving; the ankle not. Even as planned for my ailing feet, I had to drop two off-trail sections due to unsettled weather. So again, there was a lot of back-tracking on trails. This was my only trip of the summer that had significant rain and lightning. The Wind Rivers, like the Sierra, were extremely dry and unusually warm this summer. This, however, did not seem to impact the mosquitoes and black flies! The head-net was an essential.

Day 1: Bears Ears TH to Dutch Oven Lake. 10.7 miles, 3000 feet gain, 8 hours.

I drove to the pack station and picked up my In-Reach and then parked at the trailhead starting by 9AM. My intention was to only go to Sand Creek, about 6 miles. This portion of the trail has annoyingly shallow switchbacks and not a drop of water. It actually went faster than I had anticipated, reaching the boardwalk across the boggy meadow at noon. The weather was good so I decided to “make hay while the sun shone” and continued. Although one could camp along the creek flowing down from Bears Ears Pass, it would be very exposed if a storm brewed. My pack was heavy and I fought a head-wind, but my feet were holding up pretty well. The elevation got to me at the top and slowed to a snail’s pace. (The photos were taken on the way out; I put in a few here so you can see the views from Bears Ears Pass.)

As the day wore on, I took more and more rest breaks. Instead of the off-trail direct drop to Dutch Oven Lake, I stayed on the trail to avoid tweaking my ankle again. The first sheltered camping is near Valentine Lake, which is usually over-crowded, so instead I went the extra quarter mile backtrack and arrived at Dutch Oven Lake at 4pm. A few fishermen were there when I arrived and set up and another group arrived later in the evening. Otherwise it was pretty empty. I was too exhausted to fish and I really needed to eat up some food to lighten the pack. How’s that for rationalizing being too lazy to fish? A quick storm blew through at 6PM. It was a hard day!

Bears Ears Loop.jpg
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1314-15_GraveLk view_B&W_ALT_edited-1.jpg
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 10, 2020 12:49 pm

Day 2: Dutch Oven Lake to Grave Lake. 5.3 miles, 1000 feet gain, 6 hours.

I packed up early and walked back to the Bears Ears Trail. Passing Valentine Lake there were tons of tents set up both sides of the trail. I am glad I did not camp there too. Dropping to the South Fork crossing, I debated taking the trail to Grave Lake or the off-trail route via Spearpoint and Goose Lakes as planned. Bite the bullet and “keep to the plan” I told myself in spite of my doubts.
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The wading this year was in exceptionally low water, only up to my mid-calves. In a normal year this can be a significant crossing. I left the trail and headed to Spearpoint Lake. Although I had done this twice before, I managed to get lost and head up the wrong elk trail for an exceptionally difficult and steep last stretch. I spooked an elk that went crashing through the trees while I was ascending. Then I had to bash through a Krumholtz forest to get down to the lake outlet. I would have done better had I not accidently taken the wrong set of maps so had to go by memory on most of this trip. Thankfully I knew the route quite well; unfortunately my head was filled with false memories.
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Spearpoint Lake has nice Goldbows, but I did not want to stop and cook fish at this time. Instead, I took photos and enjoyed the beautiful lake. I crossed the outlet and picked my way along the north shore and headed over a small pass to drop into Goose Lake. This time I picked a good route and found little clear passages in another Krumholtz forest. I stopped at the outlet to take photos, and left my sunglasses in the grass. By the time I realized this at Grave Lake, I was not going back.
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I again missed the best route dropping to Grave Lake causing me to backtrack a bit. The descent was very steep and I had to place every foot carefully to avoid tweaking my ankle. My off-trail score for the day was 1:2 for hits versus misses. It was not that I was ever “lost” but missed the micro-route finding.

I found a nice campsite at 2PM, set up, bathed, washed clothes and filled water containers to solar heat. There were several groups walking by and a few stopped to camp later on. There is a nice beach at the trail junction to Onion Meadow and some hikers were enjoying a swim here. The wind really picked up forming white-caps on the water (Grave Lake is a very large lake). I tried fishing the lake but it was too windy, so went down to the wind-protected outlet where I hooked but failed to land three fish. This was a bit frustrating because now I really wanted to have fish for dinner! A brief storm passed through as I finished fishing and came back to camp. So far, the “storms” this summer were nothing like the regular July storms- the wind blew, the thunder clapped a few times, it sprinkled briefly, and then the storm was gone. There just was not enough moisture in the air to produce a real storm.
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Day 3: Grave Lake to Trail Lake. 6.7 miles, 1850 feet gain, 7 hours including fishing.

Although my day’s destination was Roberts Lake, I planned to camp half mile down at Trail Lake because my previous experiences at Roberts Lake were plagued with thick black flies, so horrible that I did not even want to get out of the tent! I am not sure why I had not considered this before, because Trail Lake was actually quite beautiful with much better camping.

At Onion Meadow you enter the Wind River Indian Reservation. Someone had knocked down the sign with the stern warning that trespassing without a permit would have dire consequences. I had my permit which includes “free” fishing, so was good to go. The usually lush Onion Meadow had already started to look like fall- dry and flowers gone. The crossing of Raft Creek was nearly dry. Raft Creek flows into the South Fork of the Little Wind River from Teepee Pass. Once over Teepee Pass you are in the North Fork of the Little Wind River drainage.

Having been here several times, I quickly found the start of the trail, which is marked by a large cairn, but difficult to find if you do not know where it is! I was pleasantly surprised to find that the old trail had new cairns that marked the route very well. Evidently Reservation youth groups, similar to the boy scouts had done the work. Simply getting everyone on the same trail is a big help in keeping the trail open. I still missed the trail in a few places where it had grown over. Nevertheless, it was a great improvement from the condition four years ago.
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After 1000 feet of gain the trail reaches the Raft Creek Lakes. From this point to Teepee Pass you really do not need a trail but there are sparse cairns marking the trail, which is also located on some older USGS maps. I stopped to fish for about half an hour since the lakes had been rumored to have fish. There were fish! But being late morning, they were not interested in eating my fly. I put the rod away and continued to Teepee Pass. The entire forest near tree line smelled strongly of elk. Then I heard “barks” and heard rustling in the trees, although did not see any elk. There were probably tens if not hundreds of elk here. Route finding became an exercise in “follow the poop”.
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From Tepee Pass I diverted from the trail to a wonderful viewpoint on a rocky buttress above the southeast shore of Trail Lake. I returned to the trail, which was very distinct as it dropped to Trail Lake. Trail Lake also has a nice sandy beach on the northwest shore, but the black flies were thick so I had no desire to swim. I waded across the outlet and dropped my pack and hunted for a good campsite; there were several. My indecision resulted in setting up in another brief storm that blew and spit rain from 2:30 to 3PM.

From 4-5PM I fished the shores of Trail Lake, with not a bite, then dropped to the outlet and quickly caught four fat 9”Brook Trout. Thankfully a nice breeze kept the black flies down. It was another long day and I was glad that I could squeeze in a nice cool bath when the wind kept the black flies down. After cooking the fish, I walked around eating to avoid black flies. It was a relief to zip myself up in the tent and really relax.
1230_Trail Lake fish_edited-1.jpg
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 10, 2020 12:56 pm

Day 4. Roberts day-hike and move to Raft Creek Lakes. 6 miles, 975 feet gain, 6 hours, plus fishing


In the early morning I hiked to Roberts Lake and then on to Lake 11203 for early morning photography. I found a good route up and then tried a different route back, which was not so good. One never knows if you have found the best route in any area until you try others! It was pleasant to hike without the pack. I did not try to fish Roberts even though I know there are lots of smaller fish in it. Above Roberts Lake the very impressive Mt. Roberts dominates the scenery. On my next trip I would be on the north side of Mt. Roberts only a few miles away.
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1232_Roberts Lake outlet_edited-1.jpg
The original plan was a difficult off-trail route to Baptiste Lake, over the two “Roberts passes” about 8 miles with 1800 feet gain, to be done in two more leisurely days stopping in West Grave Creek to fish. This route requires very good weather. With the uncertain weather, I decided to simply go back to Grave Lake and then take the well maintained trail to Baptiste Lake. I would take two days and stop to fish and camp at the Raft Creek Lakes. This route was 9 miles, 2200 feet gain. Not that different but I would miss West Grave Creek lakes and do a lot of backtracking. However the all trail route would be much easier on my feet. With one weak ankle I was worried about twisting it on all the difficult talus I would have to cross on the higher and more scenic route.

So back at Trail Lake I packed up and waded across the outlet. Two fellows appeared fishing the outlet and we exchanged greetings. They had come in from Washakie Park. I reached Raft Creek Lakes at 1:30 and took half an hour to find a campsite, full of indecision between the two top contenders. I am pretty obsessive about finding a good campsite. A nice breeze kept the bugs down. I felt sluggish, and just enjoyed the afternoon, fishing from 3:30 to 4:30 at the upper lake (I was camped by the lower lake). I caught two 11-inch Brook Trout and had a two course dinner. There was a small sprinkle at 7:30 and I decided it was time to retreat to the tent and listen to music.


Day 5. Raft Creek Lakes to Baptiste Lake. 7 miles, 1630 gain, 6.5 hours, including fishing at Baptiste.

I was up at 6AM and left at 8:30, taking about half an hour for some morning photos. I met a couple where Grave Creek enters Grave Lake and they pointed out a log crossing which would avoid wading. After crossing I ate lunch and rested. My feet were sore so I changed out insoles in my hiking shoes, which helped. I reached Baptiste Lake at 1:30 and crossed the outlet finding a campsite nestled in scrub timber on the Reservation side (need a permit to camp here). I had previously camped on the west arm (on FS land), and my new location offered a new view!
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1246-47_Baptiste Lake_edited-2.jpg
I barely got the tent set up and it hailed and rained in a brief but intense storm. There was a break, and then rain again at 3PM. I caught a big-headed, skinny fish. Baptiste Lake in the past has had healthy large fish, but now is over populated with fish and they are smaller. This is the same fate as Roberts Lake has suffered. I cleaned the fish at the lake and then, with fish in hand, I wandered around unable to find my tent! When I finally found it I put a small cairn on a rock that could be seen from the lake, so this would not happen again. After dinner I walked the shore until stopped by large talus. The wind stopped and the lake was like glass with a great reflection of Mt. Hooker. It spit rain one more time before I retreated to the tent. Stars were bright most of the night.
1253_Baptiste_fish_edited-1.jpg
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 10, 2020 1:04 pm

Baptiste Lake photos
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1258-59_Hooker in evening_edited-1.jpg

Day 6. Baptiste Lake to Washakie Lake. 8.5 miles, 1070 feet gain, 6 hours, including hunting for a campsite.

I awoke to low clouds with mist in the air with the tops of the peak in clouds. When I left at 7:30 AM, it began to rain lightly. The weather deteriorated by the time I reached the Bears Ears junction and I now had to decide if I would continue as planned via Macon Pass or backtrack via the Bears Ears Trail. Again I took the conservative choice and went back to Grave Lake on the trail. It cleared a bit and then as I was headed up the South Fork to the Washakie Pass Trail junction it again began to rain. I was hoping to camp on the big peninsula jutting from the northwest shore. Rain began in earnest so before reaching the peninsula, I back tracked to closer campsites on the north end.

At 2PM, thunder boomed, lightning flashed, rain poured down as I quickly set up the tent, getting soaked in the process. Inside, I realized the drainage was not good as one end of the tent began to flood. Thankfully the rain stopped. I then found a nearby site with better drainage and re-set the tent. It cleared at 4PM and I cooked dinner while drying out clothing in remaining sunshine. It was very windy, but I had a good tree wind break. Whitecaps on Washakie Lake precluded fishing. I heard voices but never saw anyone. The day was wasted as far as anything enjoyable, but I was glad that I was not caught in that storm up on Macon Pass. This was the only “real” storm for my entire summer, so I really cannot complain.

1264-65_Washakie Lake Pond_edited-2.jpg


Day 7. Washakie Lake to South Fork Lakes. 5 miles, 800 feet gain, 4 hours plus half hour fishing.

The night was colder than previous nights and the wind continued to howl. At 6AM there were lingering clouds and the sun was just hitting the top of the peaks. I spent a leisurely morning drying clothes and tent while taking photos. I decided not to day-hike towards Illinois Pass due to a blister on one toe and generally sore feet from being wet the previous day. Again there was a choice of a more direct but difficult off-trail route or backtrack on the trail.
1272_Washakie Lake_edited-1.jpg
I chose the latter and dropped back to the South Fork crossing and then on to a use-trail from Valentine Lake to the upper South Fork Lake. I found a campsite by noon and set up. Then I went fishing and immediately caught the biggest fish of the summer- a fat cutthroat about 15-16 inches. Well, that was dinner, so I quit fishing.
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1282_SF Lake fish3_edited-1.jpg
A group descended from Lizard Head Plateau, taking a very difficult gully as they feared they would be caught in lightning as the clouds became threatening. They fished near my campsite a bit and then moved on. I cleaned my fish, cut it up and put it inside my cook pot, full of water, with a rock on top. I then hiked downstream to the lower lake. The clouds built and I came back just in time for a 3PM storm. I was able to take a bath and wash a shirt before rain fell. Late afternoon cleared and I cooked a nice dinner as well as the fish. I was stuffed! A couple came in late and set up near me, but later moved to another location, evidently seeing my tent (it blends in almost too well).
1289_USFlk-LizHGlacier_cropped_edited-1.jpg
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 10, 2020 1:08 pm

Day 8. South Fork Lakes to Bears Ears TH. 12 miles, 1890 feet gain, 9 hours.

I awoke early and walked down to the lake for some great morning photos before breakfast. The lake was calm so I was able to get some good reflections. I left at 7:30 and backtracked to Valentine Lake, and then trudged up the Bears Ears Trail, reversing my inbound route a week earlier. Half way up the trail I ran into a young couple from Colorado and had a long talk with them. They were headed south to Cirque of the Towers; I was headed north to Dickinson Park.
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I reached Sand Creek (the long boardwalk) at 1PM. I had planned to camp here but stupidly decided to walk out the last 6 miles. Soon my ankles were sore and I was hobbling and twisted my right ankle. Now both ankles were tweaked! Much of the healing I had done on the trip was now out the window. I reached the trailhead at 4:15 and drove to the FS campground and soaked my sore feet in Dickinson Creek. I was too exhausted to drive down that horrible road into town.

After resting, taking a bath and eating dinner, I decided to visit the pack station. This time the folks I knew were there and we had a good chat out on the porch at proper social distance. The outfitter’s daughter (who was Miss Wyoming a few years back) was running the business now and my friend the outfitter was sitting back and enjoying semi-retirement. Most of their wranglers were women. Due to COVID19 he had cut his business in half this season, and probably would not even break even. But I think he will make it in the long run. He is one of the best outfitters in the Wind Rivers.

Next morning I drove to Lander, and limped around town for a few days. Had I simply taken it easy instead of walking out in one day, I would not now be suffering. Now my third trip would also have to be cut back to accommodate my feet. So my summer would continue to be one of reduced expectations. The good thing was that I now completed my 14-day quarantine so I could safely visit my friends.
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by wildhiker » Thu Sep 10, 2020 11:11 pm

Thanks for another great trip report with very fine scenery!
-Phil

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by kpeter » Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:57 pm

Yet another superb WD trip report.

I really enjoyed your photography--for the first time I have a little bit of a sense of the unique character of the Wind River range which you love so much. It does have a unique character--I guess I assumed it would look a lot like my native Idaho, but nothing of the kind, nor does it resemble anywhere I have been in Washington, Oregon, or California. I've been considering a major trip back to the Sawtooths for my teenage stomping grounds, and Wyoming is not so much further away. Perhaps I should plan two trips in sequence so at least once in my life I could sample Wyoming. You've made me start thinking about it....

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by robertseeburger » Sun Sep 13, 2020 10:52 am

great trip report.. I know this is just the start!

I can tell from your writings over the years.. the area in general and Spearpoint Lake in particular are special places.
Gotta get there some day.

I had to cancel my earlier trip to the winds, but it looks like I am going after all next week for a couple of days

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by oleander » Sun Sep 13, 2020 2:04 pm

Thank you! Brings back memories from last year, especially Baptiste and Grave Lakes.

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; South Fork Little Wind River

Post by torpified » Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:15 pm

Thanks so much for these! The Sierra TRs are much reduced by circumstances, and your Wind River reports are helping me manage my withdrawal. As an unrepentant native of the midwestern state in question, I need to ask: how does a pass in Wyoming get named after Illinois???

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