2020 Wind Rivers; NE Wind River Loop from Torrey TH

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2020 Wind Rivers; NE Wind River Loop from Torrey TH

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 17, 2020 8:41 am

2020 WR 5: Northeast Wind Rivers Loop from Torrey Creek TH
8/23 – 8/30


The sun was a red ball the morning of my day in Lander as smoke drifted in from the California fires. My friend Nancy (yup, same name as me!) showed up at noon, took a brief shower, and then we picked up lunch at a deli and ate in the Lander City Park. The free camping was still open, so she stayed there since she had not quarantined (the people I stayed with were in their 80’s and vulnerable to COVID). I did my usual packing, visiting, and eating real food.

This trip was also scaled back. Initially my husband was going to meet me at the end for a cross-Divide route from Green River Lakes on the west side; due to the fires, he stayed home. It now made sense to simply do a loop out of Torrey Creek Trailhead, which was my “Plan B” and I had maps and the schedule already figured out. We eliminated two day-hikes to fit all into eight days. Nancy had already done the CDT and Skurka’s High Route, so this loop would take her through the lakes she had viewed from the top of Goat Flat, the exit for the High Route. Being a fanatical thru-hiker (Triple Crown and world-wide thru routes), nook-and-cranny exploring would be something new for her. Fishing was not great along this route, but I still took gear. As a UL hiker her starting pack weighed 25 pounds; mine 30. I took my bear can as backup and she used an Ursack. We both carried bear spray and both had the Tarptent Notch tent, hers the older version and mine the newest.

The route ended up a leisurely 53 miles in 8 days with 11 miles of day-hikes. Turned out we got out just in the nick of time; day after it snowed! All considered, we had a great trip!
Torrey Loop.jpg


Day 1: Torrey Creek TH to Bomber Creek at Glacier Trail junction. 3.1 miles, 1140 gain, 2.5 hours plus fishing

It is 11 miles and 4,000 feet elevation gain to reach Golden Lake in one day. Two days would give us time to day-hike above Golden Lake and test out the fishing in Bomber Creek. I was pretty tired from the quick turn-around from my previous trips, and she had just driven nearly 1,000 miles, so both of us welcomed a short first day.

We found an established campground by noon. I fished for several hours and caught five trout, all about 8 inches. It was fun to do some stream fishing after all summer of lake fishing. Nancy read her book. We had a leisurely dinner sharing the fish and visiting. Unfortunately the smoke obscured the sky, but there was not much of a view here anyway.



Day 2: Bomber Creek to Golden Lake. 7.5 miles, 2870 feet gain, 6 hours plus a 2-mile, 600 feet gain day hike.

We got an early start to avoid the heat on the exposed switch-backs up to Glacier Trail Pass. Instead of the off-trail route to Golden Lake, we stayed on the trail and dropped to Phillips Lake, where, after crossing the outlet we found the use-trail going towards Upper Phillips Lake. To get to Golden Lake one can ascent the outlet stream from Golden Lake or the stream that drains Neck Lake; I had done the former so wanted to check out the latter. We had to scramble up some rock and then ascend in the streambed until we came to a willow choked meadow. Shortly we were at Golden Lake where there were exactly (and only) two campsites that would accommodate our tents. We set up, bathed, and I fished a bit.

WR_4284_GoldenL_edited-2.jpg
1618_Golden Lake camp_edited-1.jpg
It was mid-afternoon so we hiked up to the next unnamed lake, continuing up the inlet to a viewpoint above Lake 10943. The view was impressive, yet almost “doomsday” with the weird colors from the smoke. Travel was fairly easy except for crossing a thick streak of willows. Back at camp I tried fishing again with no luck. In 2012 I had observed tons of baby fish in the lake; it had just been stocked. I had also been lucky to see several mountain sheep; this time none were in sight. The air was still smoky so photos were less than stellar. Thus, a few photos below are from previous trips

1613_Neck Lake dh_edited-1.jpg
1614_view towards Florence_edited-1.jpg
Day 3: Golden Lake to Honeymoon Lake. 4.7 miles, 1010 feet gain, 5 hours including the 2-mile, 610 feet gain day-hike to Florence Lake

We walked down to the willow filled meadow and then tried a higher route to Upper Phillips Lake to avoid the difficulties of the previous day. One small wrong turn in thick trees and we ended up dropping to Double Lake instead. Well, I always wanted to check this out. A use trail went along the northwest shore, but soon came to a cliff that we could not get around, so had to climb up over a buttress. It was a struggle to reach the trail at Double Lake Creek. This definitely was not a good route.
31-33_DoubleLk2_small.jpg
Back on the huge Glacier Trail (the main trail to Gannett Peak), we quickly reached Star Lake, dropped packs at an established campsite and day-hiked to Florence Lake. I had been on this route in the late 1990’s but had no good photos. Thankfully the smoke had lifted and when we arrived at the lake. It was not an easy route! Once, I had backpacked directly from Florence Lake to Golden Lake but now looking at the route, I wondered how I did it!
1629-31_Florence Lake_edited-1.jpg
1633_Cropped_Florence_edited-3.jpg
Back at Star Lake I fished for about half an hour with no luck. It was still early so we packed up and continued down the trail, deciding to camp at Honeymoon Lake, which is just a few hundred yards off the trail. First we could not find a single flat piece of ground for camping but after much hunting finally found an established campsite on a hill near the outlet. Later I walked the shores to the peninsula on the west side where there were several more campsites. It spit rain while I fished the west shore and caught a nice fat cutthroat. Then the wind picked up and the lake turned rough and I had no more luck. We cooked dinner sharing the fish and were glad our campsite was in timber as the wind picked up. We could hear horses on the trail, but trees obscured the trail. Few people ever camp here, instead continue down the trail to the Downs Fork.
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; NE Wind River Loop from Torrey TH

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 17, 2020 8:51 am

Day 4: Honeymoon Lake to Downs Lake. 9 miles, 2280 feet gain, 8 hours, including 2 mile day-hike to view the Downs Glacier.


After breakfast and a few morning photos, we packed up and continued on the trail to the glacier-fed Downs Fork, which was running high. We met an all-woman pack train that was going out, and guessed they were carrying out gear for the Forest Service. At the trailhead there was a notice for blasting that would be done in conjunction with relocating the bridge and we had heard several blasts while camped at Honeymoon Lake. There was some frost in the meadows and several wet spots in the trail. It must have rained more here than that at Honeymoon Lake. We took a break at the current (old) bridge, no longer safe according to the sign. The Glacier Trail crosses, but our trail continued up the Downs Fork through a beautiful canyon with huge rock walls on both sides and small waterfalls along the creek.
1639-42_Honeymoon Lake.jpg


At Blueberry Creek, the trail disappeared. We went higher in the rocks to cross, which in retrospect was a mistake. Two years ago I found the horse trail from Blueberry Lake; going the other way now, I totally missed it. Soon it was apparent that traversing to the trail would be more difficult than simply climbing steeply upward. After much huffing and puffing, we reached the top and then had to descend about 100 feet intersecting the trail near the outlet of Blueberry Lake. We spotted people on the other side as we hopped rocks across. We took a rest and talked to four jolly guys. They had camped there and said the fishing was really good. We talked for nearly half an hour; they wanted a photo with me since they had used my guidebook. They asked if they should exit Bomber Creek or via Ross Lakes; I recommended Ross Lakes, the same route we were doing. When I told them that one of the biggest fish ever caught in the Wind Rivers was from Ross Lake, they were sold!
1649_Bears Tooth_edited-1.jpg


Now I was torn. Staying to fish meant we would have to skip Downs Lake, which is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Wind Rivers. The deciding factor was that the entire outlet area of Blueberry Lake is one of the most disgusting places in the Wind Rivers. It had been totally trashed by horses, with piles of manure several feet high.

The fellows left in hopes of getting over Goat Flat the same day. That was very ambitions, given that they were anything but “light” backpackers. Their packs were huge with fishing gear of all sorts, solar chargers, whisky, wading shoes, and who knows what. They had been out a long time and had been resupplied at Downs Fork Bridge. Their style was “heavy and comfortable”, death march to a campsite and then base there for a few days to fish.

I tried fishing a bit, but mid-day was not very productive. I packed my rod and left, catching up with the guys within quarter hour. A good use-trail that is hard to find in places leads to a small meadow after about 700 feet gain. The trail then splits into several; we got onto the ridge southwest of the main drainage and climbed another 300 feet to the top of a ridge east of Downs Lake. We went ahead and veered off to Downs Lake and never saw the guys again, however deduced they were ahead of us by their footprints and a “gift” they left at Ross Lake (more on that later).
1650_Downs Lake_edited-2.jpg
As you top the ridge east of Downs Lake the impressive lake pops into view. We dropped to the inlet walking through lush grass full of fresh mountain sheep droppings and foot prints. The smell of sheep permeated the air but as much as we looked we never saw any. After checking out several camp spots along the shore we settled on one where I had camped previously. We opted for a view over full timber coverage. Below are camp, we enjoyed the sunny rock slabs and a sandy beach before setting up tents.

1662_Downs camp_edited-1.jpg


A storm was brewing but there still was time for a day-hike. We walked up the braided inlet stream to an elevation where we could peer into the valley with the Downs Glacier perched on the Continental Divide. A quick retreat brought us to camp just in time for rain. Off-and-on brief rain plagued us through dinner and soon we retreated to our respective tents. It cleared at night and stars shone. It was quite a surprise when a stiff wind blew rain right onto our faces. The storm went as quick as it came. I worried quite a bit about weather, because I had to abandon my plans two years ago and bail out via the Glacier Trail. I hope I would not have to do the same now.
1658-59_Downs Inlet stream_edited-1.jpg


Day 5: Downs Lake to ponds below Spider Peak. 7.5 miles, 2430 feet gain, 8 hours.

Clouds lingered when we awoke but nothing looked terrible. I took a few photos even though the smoke to the east partially obscured the rising sun. Returning to the ridge, a huge rainbow formed.

1663-65_Downs Lake_edited-1.jpg


The route to the top of Goat Flat follows a pretty little stream fed by a snowfield on Goat Flat. The broad valley was lush and the trick to route-finding was to squeeze between choking vegetation and talus. The valley ends in a steep headwall, above which is a small grassy flat where one could camp, called “The Oasis”. I had forgotten how steep the headwall was! We took a long break then continued up to the snowfield.

1679_Bomber Gully_edited-1.jpg


Goat Flat is a 1-2 mile wide ancient surface, thrust up and then eroded by glaciers. I have been lost up here as well as literally blown down by wind. There are few landmarks. We took our time and carefully read the map and checked with a GPS to reach the head of “Bomber Gully”, a steep talus filled gully that descends to Bomber Lake. We got a bit low so had to ascend a bit to reach the east side that avoids a steep snowfield. There appeared to be two routes down- a direct route that looked very steep or traverse and descend westward before dropping. Both had use-trails and they intersected about 200 feet down, then on an off-and on use-trail descending 1000 feet of talus and scree. Then you can veer northeast into forest and drop 250 feet to the shores of Bomber Lake. It took us an hour to descend; we should have taken longer and rested! I veered too far right into the forest and we got hung up in cliffs. Nearly down, I walked around a rock and there was a moose! I quickly turned around, got out my bear spray and waited. Then walked back but the moose was, thankfully, gone.

1682_Spider Pk_Cropped_edited-2.jpg


I have never liked camping at Bomber Lake because it is crawling with moose so after a rest, we continued on a use-trail up towards Turquoise Lake. The trail was in poor shape with deadfall and we nearly lost it. In 2012 it was easy to find. It spit rain for a while. We camped at the ponds below Spider Peak where there would be more shelter and better morning sun. We were quite tired when we arrived at the ponds. Nevertheless we looked around to see all possible campsites and picked the first one we had seen. It was nestled in trees and although we could not see the pond, Spider Peak was right above us, close enough to touch it seemed. After setting up, we lounged on rocks sticking our feet in the relatively warm water of the shallow pond, bathed, and washed clothes. After dinner I scouted a route towards Turquoise Lake that we could take the next morning. It was a nice walk to four other smaller “Spider Peak ponds”.
1692_Spider Pk camp_Alt_edited-1.jpg
1685_View from Spider Pk Ponds_edited-1.jpg
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; NE Wind River Loop from Torrey TH

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 17, 2020 8:59 am

Day 6: Spider Peak ponds to Upper Ross Lake inlet plus day-hikes. 5.6 miles, 730 gain,6 hours.



Sunrise at Spider Peak ponds was wonderful!


1697-1700_Spider Peak AM_edited-1.jpg
1701_Spider Peak Pond_edited-1.jpg
1707-08_Spider PeakAM_edited-1.jpg


Turquoise Lake and the hidden valley behind Spider Peak are both very narrow northeast facing U-shaped valleys that photograph best early morning. We decided to go to Turquoise Lake first, and then put up with less than perfect lighting for the Spider Lake valley. We quickly ate breakfast and did a 1.4-mile clockwise loop to Turquoise Lake. We actually got there a bit early so waited about half an hour for the ideal light. We returned by the other Spider Peak ponds that I had checked out the night before.
1713-16_Turquoise Lake_edited-1.jpg
1719_Turqupoise Lake_alt_edited-1.jpg
1723_Turquoise Lake_edited-1.jpg



After a quick snack and some water, we then did a 1.6-mile in-and-out to the hidden valley behind Spider Peak. The valley is guarded by an icy snowfield and then some very difficult talus. But once to the end of a beautiful little lake, the walking is on lush grass. We did not continue south into the hanging valley above. This was such a pristine place! I had discovered in in the late 1980’s while doing a loop hike from Bomber Lake.

1724_Spider Peak Valley_edited-1.jpg
1725-27_Spider Peak Valley_edited-1.jpg
After returning to camp we packed and headed to Mile Long Lake. I missed the best route but we finally corrected when we reached the outlet of Lake 10359. Dropping to West Torrey Creek, we found a cairn that marked a crossing that avoided the lower willows but still required wading one braid of the stream. We carried packs up to Mile Long Lake and thought about camping there and day-hiking upstream. The beautiful forest I had camped in before was now full of dead trees, victims of the bark beetle.
1735_MIleLong Lake_edited-1.jpg
We dropped to the inlet to Upper Ross Lake where I was not sure if there would be much room for two tents at the tight established campsite, but it worked out fine. Moose also frequent this area but we saw none, thank goodness. We had another leisurely late afternoon. Had the continuing route been easier, we would have moved on, but there is no good place to camp until one reaches the outlet, and the intervening route is quite difficult and slow. It rained off and on as we cooked dinner.
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; NE Wind River Loop from Torrey TH

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 17, 2020 9:08 am

Day 7: Upper Ross Lake to Ross Lake outlet plus day-hike. 5.3 miles, 835 feet gain, 6 hours.

1738-40_Upper Ross_edited-3.jpg
My goal was to fish Ross Lake! First we had to get there. There is a well- marked use-trail along the west shores of Upper Ross Lake that has also been plagued in recent years by falling trees, requiring many short detours. The trail is cut into a steep hillside and stays about 50-100 feet above lake level. The trail ends where you steeply ascend on grass about 300 feet right at the base of a huge cliff, avoiding the talus to the right. Had I known that a stiff wind would pick up by the time I reached the fishing at the lower lake, we would have done the side-trip to beautiful Crystal Lake. Wanting plenty of time to fish, we instead traversed the talus cone and then picked our way to the outlet, a very slow process. After crossing on a huge log-jam we rested, then continue along the shore and up a small hill, dropping to a large established campsite next to a prominent peninsula that was a perfect place to fish. I put my fishing gear together and out on the peninsula the wind howled, whitecaps splashed and fishing was near impossible.

1752_Outlet Upper Ross_edited-1.jpg
1755-56_Lower Ross Lake inlet_edited-1.jpg

1758_Ross Lake inlet falls_edited-1.jpg


On the shore next to the campsite, there was a big fish head, mouth open with a rock in it, eyes staring at me! I knew right away that is was likely a “gift” left for me by the four fellows! At least they caught fish. We then left and walked a fisherman’s trail above the east shores to a small saddle, just short of the outlet, where there was a nice established campsite wind protected by the rock buttress to the south and some wind warped trees. The wind just got stronger and all my fishing efforts failed. We set up our tents as it blew and spit rain. I had hoped to fish Hidden Lake, but the weather was too unstable to go that far, so we just walked east to get a view of the two unnamed lakes before Hidden Lake. A backpacker came by and told us that there was a big storm on its way. By now it was 4PM, too late to pack up and go any farther.
1766_Ross outlet camp_edited-1.jpg
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The outlet is crossed on logs that sit about 5-6 feet above a raging stream that then tumbles down a canyon and waterfall. It is a “fall-you-die” crossing. 60mph winds were predicted; gusts now were strong enough to almost knock me over. I worried all night about the crossing, the only crux between us and getting out.

1762-63_Ross Outlet_edited-2.jpg

Day 8: Ross Lake to Torrey Creek TH. 6.8 miles, 1050 gain (3100 loss), 5 hours

The wind howled all night so I put in ear plugs to get some sleep. By morning the wind was getting worse. We quickly packed up and walked the short distance to the log crossing, waiting for a break in the wind. I had attached my foam pot cozies to my knees and crawled across; it was not as bad as I had worried about all night. We both breathed a sigh of relief and continued around the back side of a buttress blocking travel along the shores, soon coming to another established campsite. We could take a fisherman’s trail along the shore or another trail through the trees away from the shores. We took the fisherman’s trail simply because it was impossible to get lost since the deadfall accumulated in the last few years made following the non-maintained trails tricky. Our “trail” still ascended from the shoreline due to a knot of deadfall so I am not sure it made much difference. We were happy to intersect the maintained Ross Lake Trail.

Even though a well maintained trail, the Ross Lake Trail has several very large “steps” up huge rocks that were treacherous for horses. To emphasis the risk, a bleached horse skull sits below the sign at top that says “not recommended for stock”. Soon we heard gunshots; there was a hunting camp set up across the large meadow. Once out of the timber the wind pushed us along and nearly knocked us down. Thank goodness it was not a headwind.

Two friendly women with three dogs caught up with us; they had gone down to Ross Lake, gave up on fishing, and camped back up on top. They were locals, armed with bear spray as well as huge hand guns. Guns in the wilderness are something you must get used to in Wyoming. One little dog was so small I worried that he might get blown into the air! The meadows of tall grasses swayed in the wind like one would expect in the mid-west. Only our trekking poles kept us from falling. Fortunately, patches of trees provided some shelter for rest breaks. The last descending switchbacks were protected from the wind, as we were now blasted with hot air, overheated in our bundled up clothing. We met day-hikers in shorts! The parking lot could be seen long before we reached it.

Once at the trailhead, a couple came over; the fellow knew Nancy from their 2012 CDT hike. I find it interesting that in a parking lot of only about 20 cars, a person one met eight years ago comes out of the wilderness at exactly the same time! Nancy drove up to Yellowstone to visit with a friend; I drove to Lander. It froze in Lander that night. Next day it snowed in the mountains. It was only a one-day storm, so when my husband called he told me to stay a few more days. Since my fishing at Ross Lake was such a bust, I did another short trip to get my money’s worth from that stupid $120 out-of-state Wyoming fishing license!
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; NE Wind River Loop from Torrey TH

Post by windknot » Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:09 pm

Wow, Downs Lake really is striking. I think for me it's because of the stark contrast between the huge granite slopes on the left side with the more gentle forest on the right side.

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; NE Wind River Loop from Torrey TH

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Sep 18, 2020 7:32 am

Here are two more photos of Downs Lake area. Too bad there are no fish. The lake has too much glacial silt in it for fish to survive. The silt is filtered out so the two downstream lakes, Twin Lakes and Blueberry Lake do have fish.
1666-68_Downs Lake_edited-2.jpg
1651_Downs Lake_edited-1.jpg
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; NE Wind River Loop from Torrey TH

Post by Harlen » Sun Oct 04, 2020 5:12 pm

Wow Nancy, What a great trip through a wonderful world of lakes! Double Lake, Downs, and Spider Lakes,.. These, and the rest of your trip look like a journey through a blue sky paradise! By your photos, Lower Ross Lake also looks beautiful.

I'm glad you're fallible too, though you wisely imply below that being lost is mostly a state of mind:
We walked down to the willow filled meadow and then tried a higher route to Upper Phillips Lake to avoid the difficulties of the previous day. One small wrong turn in thick trees and we ended up dropping to Double Lake instead. Well, I always wanted to check this out.
That's exactly the sort of thing I say, or I just claim to be exploring.
Thanks for all of these great trip reports WD. They came in such a burst that it's been a bit hard for me to keep track of them all; hence, the belated comments, and appreciation. Cheers, Ian.

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