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TR Wind River Traverse

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TR Wind River Traverse

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 08, 2012 10:35 am

This trip report is in installments. I am having trouble with Photobucket locking up after a few photo transfers, so, as tedious as this is, I am going to do each day of the 39-day trip as a separate post. Perhaps if Photobucket problems are solved, each post can be longer.

I spent most of the summer in Wyoming in the Wind River Mountains. This year’s up-side-down summer weather ended up with “Sierra” weather in the Wind Rivers and “Rocky Mountain” weather in the Sierra! But little did I know this when I started. It only froze one night out of forty; rain threatened, sprinkled but a real storm with lightning, hail and downpours on materialized twice. I over-packed, expecting the “real Rockies” weather to return any day. The “drought” in the Rockies may have provided me with fine backpack weather, but it also caused many forest fires filling the air with smoke making photography very challenging. Two thing remained constant in the Wind Rivers; the lack of people once away from popular day-use trails and the abundance of game- elk, deer, moose, mountain sheep, rabbits, birds, rodents = hundreds, people=tens .

I spent a ridiculous amount of time this winter planning the route, developed too many options and left Sacramento yet undecided on the exact route! Because of my guidebook, I never seem to simply do a trip for recreation; my pack was not only loaded with too much cold weather gear, it contained several “agendas”. I wanted to try out a through-hike along the crest of the Wind River Mountains, similar to Roper’s High Route for the Sierra, gather on-ground information for a few areas that I have failed to get to in the past and obtain better photographs for the northeast part of the mountain range. I did not 100% succeed on any of these. I was pleasantly surprised that my old body could still do this kind of trip. In fact, my body did better than some of my equipment.

One could straight-line through hike in about 180 miles if one could afford two commercial packer resupplies. Add all my nooks and crannies and it expands to 220 miles. Replacing packer resupplies with two walk-out resupplies and I ended up doing 266 miles (66% off trail) in 36 days plus two full and two half days in town to resupply. I averaged 7.4 miles a day. Elevation gains were moderate, averaging 1,800 feet per day. I chose to travel south-to-north, mainly to give streams in the north, which are harder to cross, time to go down. My start was from one of the trailheads very close to Lander, Wyo. and the end was at a trailhead very close to Dubois, Wyo. The three sections were:

SECTION 1: SOUTH, 13 days, 85.3 miles (plus 1.5 town days)
SECTION 2: MID SECTION, 13 days, 101.3 miles (plus 1.5 town days)
SECTION 3: NORTH, 11 days, 79.1 miles

The trip was challenging and a bit anxiety generating since I was specifically testing some passes and routes of questionable feasibility. In addition, I was trying to find routes that did not require special equipment and experience, such as crampons or mountaineering skills, so only carried my trekking poles and a 30-foot cord for lowering and lifting my pack. I would have enjoyed the trip more if I had not so many “must do” items on my agenda that made it feel a lot like work! The 13-day ration periods bumped my pack’s starting weight over my comfort limit, making the first few days of each section grueling. And lastly, the notion of going solo in grizzly bear country was anxiety provoking. I took my Bearikade canister the entire trip even though it was not officially “required” and bear spray on the last two sections. I enjoyed the last section the most after I pretty much abandoned the “pure” through-route idea. Although I thoroughly enjoyed being in the mountains for nearly 40 days, I realized I do not have a pure “through-hiker” mentality.


7/10 Day 1 Worthen TH to Stough Creek Lakes. 11.1 miles including 3.8 day hike/+2840 ft./8.7 hrs.

I planned on starting at Fiddlers Lake but forecasts for unsettled weather along with lifting my pack squelched the idea of starting up Silas Canyon with the rigorous over-the-top required on the second day. I failed to meet my through-hike goal and I had not even started! But practicality won over purity and as we left Lander, Wyo., I decided my friend would drop me off at the Worthen Meadows trailhead to take advantage of its shorter all-trail route to Stough Creek Lakes. We said our good-byes at 7:45AM. It was thankfully cool and other than having a bit of difficulty finding the best place to cross Roaring Fork Creek, it was an easy start. I took my first rest at 9AM just as the trail started climbing up to the unnamed pass between Roaring Fork and Stough Creek drainages. When I picked up my pack I swore little “gremlins” placed rocks inside! I was even feeling the altitude. On top by 10:30 I took another rest, ate a snack, enjoyed the view towards Wind River Peak and met a family returning from my destination.

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View from Pass to Sough Creek Lakes

I dropped to the trail junction where mosquitoes added to the misery. My back was killing me. My poor pack was loaded beyond its recommended weight and suffering would be the norm for a few days. Having not planned on using the Worthen trailhead I was not yet on the maps I carried and to my horror the sign said 3 miles to Stough Creek Lake when I was thinking more of a mile. Climbing uphill to add to the misery as big clouds built overhead. At the second lake in the basin I rested while watching several fishermen across the lake and I realized I would not make it to my intended destination. I found an established campsite in trees at the third unnamed lake just as rain started to dribble out of the big black clouds. It was 1:30. Six hours of walking and I was dead on my feet. How out of shape I was! I took a quick nap in the tent while it lightly rained.

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View from my Campsite

When I no longer heard raindrops on the tent, I crawled out and gathered camera, rain jacket and water bottle and set out for a 2-hour hike to the upper lakes, where I had intended on camping. Although weather threatened, no more rain fell but the gray skies made the beautiful area look a bit dismal in photographs. The upper lakes had more scenic but exposed campsites and along the creek was a large bug-filled wetland, so my lower campsite probably was better given the weather. Every bone in my body said “go home” but I managed to haul my weary self to Lake 10,902 and take a few pictures. Back at camp I cooked an early dinner but it was too early to go to bed so I also checked out the next day’s route to Toadstool Lake. Back at camp a buck deer was right next to my campsite and making all sorts of disapproving noises. I ran him off and crawled into my sleeping bag as thunder rumbled in the distance. It definitely was a “two-Advil” night. In fact by midnight, I needed more pain killers.

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View from one of the upper Stough Creek Lakes



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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 08, 2012 10:45 am

7/11 Day 2 Stough Creek Lakes to Coon Lake. 8.2 miles/+1580 ft./ 8.5 hrs.

Dawn broke at 4:45 AM. I awoke and stepped out into swarms of pesky mosquitoes that never slept during the warm night. I packed up and left camp by 6:30. The pack did not seem any lighter. I was glad to have checked out the route the previous afternoon and quickly made it to Toadstool Lakes. At the next small lakes downstream I got confused since there was one lake where the map said two and I unnecessarily crossed a swamp only to cross back. Well, I could see the pass I wanted to go over, so I just headed uphill. A not-so-bright idea to traverse around the end of the ridge, instead of biting the bullet and going up another few hundred feet over the pass, cost me dearly as I got stuck in steep side-hill talus. One seems to make bad decisions when one’s pack weighs too much.

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Toadstool Lakes

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Basco Creek headwaters

finally made it to the Basco Creek drainage by 9:30 where a herd of well over 50 elk were grazing the lush grass at the head of the drainage. They saw me but did not move. I stopped to fill my water bottle thinking that someday I would like to camp up here. I found an old horse trail that dropped but left it when it seemed to aim lower than I wanted to go. After the steep off-trail drop to Sweetwater Gap I picked up another old horse trail that lead over a small pass and down to Poison Lake, which I reached at noon. Although the outlet flow was low I did not have enough guts to jump between the widely spaced rocks so I took of shoes and waded across. I actually like to wade in the cool water as it feels so good on tired feet.

Poison Lake was my “must get to” destination but it was still early so I continued up the trail even though it looked like rain. Within half an hour I reached another major river crossing so again took off shoes. By now I was tired and that pack hurt like crazy. I thought I was following the trail to Tayo Lake, but no, I was mistakenly on the trail to Coon Lake. As I neared Coon Lake I realized my mistake but was too tired to go back. So, Coon Lake it would be! Near the lake I met six young fellows in a YMCA group traveling the opposite direction. I was discouraged since I really wanted to camp at Tayo Lake because I had never been there. I found a nice campsite at Coon Lake and like the previous day, got the tent up just as light rain began to fall, so I took a nap.

When rain stopped, I walked down to the lake for water where I spotted nice fat fish. I put my fishing rod together. It took ten tries to get the fly tied on the line; it took 10 casts to catch a 12-inch Golden trout. Campfire restrictions were in effect, so I had to cook it on my stove; after being cut into three pieces the fish fit in my little frying pan. Mosquitoes were thick, but swarmed more than they bit. Clouds cleared by 5:30 and I enjoyed the late afternoon sun. In the last rays of sunshine, I quickly jumped in the chilly lake for a much needed bath, took a few photos and went to bed ridiculously early, listening to music for an hour. It was still light at 9PM. I did not intend to camp here but it turned out to be a perfect campsite with a fantastic view; I could not wait for sunrise photography.

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Fish from Coon Lake

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Sunrise at Coon Lake
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 08, 2012 10:52 am

7/12 Day 3 Coon Lake to Temple Lake. 8.1 miles, including 2.8 day hike/+2150 ft./8.5 hrs.

The night was cooler with condensation on the tent when I awoke at 5AM. After breakfast I got some nice sunrise photos the packed up for a day hike to Tayo Lake. Instead of going back down the trail I went cross-country, different routes to and from. About 200 feet below the lake, I detoured around a huge wet willow-filled meadow. Tayo Lake turned out to be nice but not exceptional and the campsites were marginal to horrid. My previous day’s “mistake” was actually a blessing. Although Tayo Lake was worth the day-hike, camping and fishing at Coon Lake were definitely superior. Returning I took a more straight-line and higher route that was not as good as my initial route. Back at camp, I packed up and left at 9:30.

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Tayo Lake

From Coon Lake I headed east and crossed the Continental Divide via a not-so-well-known off-trail route to the Little Sandy drainage. Getting around the northeast side of Coon Lake was very soggy. I had been over this route several times in the past, but still missed it in a few places. This time instead of dropping down to the Little Sandy River and crossing to the old unmaintained trail, I stayed high on the northeast bench with its towering cliffs above and several shallow melt-lakes that are not shown on the map. At noon I reached the head of the drainage and a decision point. My original intent was to go over a difficult pass to the east and directly drop into Black Joe Lake. My pack was still too heavy and conditions on the north side of the pass too uncertain (I had no crampons) to take the risk, so instead I headed for the unmaintained trail that goes over a pass northeast of Temple Peak.

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Rocky Towers on the Continental Divide, Little Sandy Bench

Getting up the pass was a real struggle as my energy drained out of me. I finally reached Temple Lake at 3:00 in perfect photographic lighting conditions. Silly me, instead of taking advantage of this, I obsessed with finding the “perfect” campsite and wasted nearly an hour and added to my agony. Why in the world do I do such things! I saw a few people in the distance while I was hopelessly looking for my campsite. Before setting up the tent, I left my pack at the small pond above and I went back to Temple Lake to gather water, bathe, and tried to find a campsite at the outlet, to no avail. Fish were jumping below the outlet but I had not thought to bring down my fishing gear. I slogged back up to my pack and by 5PM finally settled on a site away from the lake on the saddle between Temple Lake and Deep Lake. I took a few photos in the fading light. Again the too-heavy pack addled my brain and I was frustrated at my poor use of the last few hours. Dinner, as usual, perked me up but rain poured down before I finished so I ate the last of dinner inside the tent. I had an extra square of dark chocolate to cheer me up. By 8PM it was still overcast and I listened to music for half an hour. It was another warm night and by midnight, overcast skies gave way to moonlight.

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Temple Peak Pass

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Temple Peak

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Sunrise – both photos above
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby TehipiteTom » Sun Sep 09, 2012 12:16 pm

Fantastic photos from an epic trip. Looking forward to the rest of your report & pics.
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 09, 2012 1:14 pm

7/13 Day 4 Temple Lake to Black Joe Lake. 7.3 Miles, including 3.8 day hike/+1160 ft./6.5 hrs.

I awoke to birds singing at 5AM, cooked a leisurely breakfast and wandered around taking photos. Finally my pack was not hurting my back and all my food now fit inside the bear canister. By 7:30 I headed down the trail to Deep Lake, where I again took photos. The trail from Deep Lake to Clear Lake is basically gone and the route is marked by cairns. I soon found a better defined trail that diverges from the trail shown on the map. I was thankful that most of the route so far was in the shade; it was hot, unusual for the Wind Rivers. Fish were jumping in both Deep and Clear Lakes. At Clear Lake I left the trail to head directly to the outlet of Black Joe Lake, where I crossed the outlet on a dilapidated dam.

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Deep Lake

At 9AM I started up over the rocky buttress at the outlet of Black Joe Lake. After an initial gnarly steep ascent of a vegetated gully I intersected a use-trail and followed it nearly to the inlet. Black Joe is a long lake! I reached the inlet at 11:30 and spent an inordinate amount of time again finding the perfect campsite at the next lake up, Lake 10278. In the afternoon I hiked to the upper valley to look at the pass that I did not come over. At first I followed a use-trail that likely is primarily used by climbers who access the impressive rock climbs on the east side of Haystack Mountain. Trails that continued seemed to be game trails or use-trails but no cairns had been placed. I took a bath in the upper lakes at 10,600 feet and wandered up on the moraine. I am glad I did not come over the pass directly from the Little Sandy drainage; it looked very ugly! Just for a change, I returned adjacent to the stream, a much harder route. At 4:30 it began to sprinkle lightly and I cooked dinner hunkered under scrub timber. By 6PM more intense rain drove me into my tent. The tent sagged because I forgot to tighten it before I got in. Later in a break in weather I went out and tightened all tent lines. In spite of the rain it was still unusually warm. Mosquitoes were abundant today, but luckily the light wind kept them down. Although tired I could not sleep in the dusk which lasted well past 9:30. I enjoyed the easy and scenic day. I slept terrible, worried about the next day’s route. If I could not get up over the plateau to Deep Creek Lakes a large part of my planned trip would have to be deleted. I had already failed to start as planned and detoured the last crux; I was tired of “failures”.

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Black Joe Lake

7/14 Day 5 Black Joe Lake to Deep Creek Lake #1. 3.9 miles/+1470 ft./4hrs.

Loudly chirping birds awoke me at 4:45. Clouds and moonlight lingered in the dawn sky. In last night’s run into the tent in the rain, instead of carefully fitting everything inside the bear canister, I stuffed a little bit remaining in a bag and hung it from a tree. Now in the near dark of dawn, I had to climb the tree to unstick the bag. I learned that with little in the bag, one must put in a rock so the bag will slide down! When I got down, I was covered in sticky pitch. I left at 6:30, hopped rocks across the creek and started up a steep gully heading due north from the inlet to Black Joe Lake. About half way up, it was about as steep as I would want to climb with a pack on my back and I breathed a sigh of relief when the slope mellowed a bit. After a 1,200 foot elevation gain I reached the top at 8AM as threatening clouds built up in the overcast sky.
Black Joe Lake and upper Lakes from Pass to Deep Creek Lakes.

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View back towards Black Joe Lake from top of gully

From here I could head directly to Long Lake or take a longer route to Deep Creek Lake #1. The route to Long Lake looked cliffy, and I really wanted to camp at Deep Creek Lakes, so I chose the longer latter route which would add a day to my trip. After going up due north in the gully from Black Joe Lake, I now turned southeast. I ascended the dry broad plateau and dropped over the top into the drainage heading towards Deep Creek Lakes. A lively stream ran down the gully to the south, being fed by lingering snowfields. Walking was fast and easy, thank goodness because storm clouds were chasing me and the fierce wind was bitterly cold! The final cliffy descent to Deep Creek Lake #1 was very tricky but luckily I found an improbable use-trail. I waded across the outlet by 10:30AM, put my pack down and had to obsessively check out each and every potential camp spot. It began to sprinkle and Wind River Peak became shrouded in fog and I was forced to decide on the spot. The site I chose was not the prettiest, but flat and well protected. I could however walk a few feet to a flat rock with a fine view. Mosquitoes were minimal and by noon it started raining and I retreated to the tent for a nap. Soon the rain stopped so I hiked up to Point 11,146 which had an expansive view. I discovered that I would not be able to access Long Lake cirque via the pass west of Deep Creek Lake #2 because a snow cornice blocked the route; I would have to traverse over from the Ice Lakes Trail or Pinto Park Trail. Back in camp the wind picked up to a gale. I tried to fish the lake but my little fly just ended up back in my face, so I dropped the fly in the tiny outlet stream letting the current carry it downstream. My fishing was interrupted by a half hour hard rain and I again retreated to my tent. It cleared and I walked back to the outlet to bathe, wash clothes and fish, this time landing a skinny 10-inch trout with nice pink meat. In the pot the fish went! I cooked an early dinner in fear of more rain but clouds just threatened the remainder of the evening. My campsite was comfortable, view stupendous, the wind kept mosquitoes down yet the tent was protected, my belly was full of fish- what more could one ask for? Thank goodness for wind protection since the storm resumed and battered the location with wind and rain all night.

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Deep Creek Lake #1 from campsite

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Storms at Deep Creek Lake #1

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Deep Creek Lk#2
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 10, 2012 3:01 pm

7/15 Day 6 Deep Creek Lake #1 to Long Lake. 6.2 miles, including 2.0 day hike/+1,340 ft./6.5hrs.

It was overcast so I slept in, leaving by 7:20. I ended up on cliffs twice before I found the route down the outlet creek to the lower lake, Deep Creek Lake #2, where I dropped my pack to check out several nice campsites at the inlet. It was pretty much bushwhacking to the outlet, where I crossed. Huge fish grazed my legs as I waded across; I do not think I have ever been side-swiped by fish before! I finally intersected the Ice Lakes trail and followed it to the northwest inlet to Lower Bear Lake. I could see campers in the distance but they did not notice me. Here I left the trail following a faint use-trail. This turned out to be horrible, and later concluded that it was simply a game trail that some hunter embellished with cairns. To add to the difficulty, the “trail” was also covered in bear droppings so I started “talking” to the bears. Later I found out that a better use-trail to Long Lakes comes up from Pinto Park Trail. Oh well, it is always good to practice bushwhacking up hideously steep game trails. After much misery I finally crossed the outlet of the lowest in the Long Lake cirque, Lake 10,015, the only lake with fish; I did not see any fish nor did I fish this lake. I then picked my way up the northwest slope and cliffs using the abundant game trails covered with elk and deer droppings, to a nice campsite near the north end of Long Lake. A huge grouse startled me. The terrain was open forests dotted with ponds with a larger pond up top that also had many nice campsites. I set up near the east end of Long Lake.

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Lower Long Lake

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View from campsite at Long Lake

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Gloomy overcast skies at the Middle Long Lake

After setting up I hiked south to the unnamed lake that sits in the middle of the cirque. The “pass” I had intended to go over looked pretty nasty, full of steep talus in the upper 200 feet. I continued to the side cirque due west. Clouds were building and a few raindrops fell. Overcast conditions prevailed; photos were disappointing. I returned to my camp, as usual, finding many campsites better than the one I occupied. I took a bath and washed clothes. My left knee was sore from hiking too fast as I was chased by storms the last few days; I would have to slow down a bit. The few mosquitoes that were here were viscous biters. By 7:30 winds picked up easing the bug situation and I walked out in some open areas to photograph the sunset. I was glad to be here, in this place I had never been to; this mysterious place that one only gets fleeting glances at from the trail along the North Fork of the Popo Agie, far below.
A post-hiking routine was developing: hunt for campsite, set up tent, gather water and set it out to solar heat, wash clothes, bathe, fish, cook and eat dinner, reward myself with one square of dark chocolate and two candies, brush and floss (my dentist would be thrilled), evening photography, go into the tent and arrange stuff, write trip notes, review the next day’s itinerary and listen to music. Barring mosquitoes or rain squalls, I made an effort to minimize “tent time”. The Wind Rivers are far enough north to have incredibly long mid-summer daylight hours that exceed my energy levels and limitations of my old joints. In more normal years when severe afternoon convection storms are typical, my strategy is to “make hay when the sun shines” to avoid walking in the rain. This summer there was an abundance of hay I could have made had I been 20 years younger and able to put in 12-hour days! Although most of the days I could have slept in another hour or so, I kept expecting “normal” weather to return at any time. One great advantage, however, of my getting up at dawn was the wonderful sunrise lighting on the east-facing cirques. If only my photographic abilities equaled the spectacular scenes presented to me!

7/16 Day 7 Long Lake to bench above High Meadow Lake. 6.4 miles/+2,290 ft./8hrs.

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Long Lake Sunrise

A good start, but so many bad decisions and regrets today; nothing disastrous but very annoying. I awoke at 5AM to a beautiful sunrise with only a few clouds in the sky after another very warm night. Just before I stepped out of the tent the roar of rock fall startled me and made me thankful my campsite was in a safe spot, even though the thought of rock fall did not enter my mind when I chose the location. I made a mental note to myself – think of rock fall when I looked for future campsites! During breakfast I ran down to the lakeshore to try to capture the sunrise scene and returned to cold coffee. It was not the first, nor last time, breakfast played second fiddle to photography.

I left at 6:30 and soon found a well-used trail that descended to the North Fork. Alas, the trail turned west, apparently heading to the Cirque of the Towers, whereas I needed to turn northeast to cross the North Fork near the confluence of the creek flowing down from Sheep Lake. I reluctantly left the trail and soon was in knee-deep in swamps, penned in by thick forests and unable to see anything but tree tops all the while walking in a near complete circle for an hour, going nowhere. Frustrated, I headed for the river, crossed and got on the trail. Now do I go upstream or downstream? A bit of scouting solved that question. I suspected that the better route to ascend this steep slope north of the river would be well east of the creek that tumbled down from Sheep Lake. Fearing getting lost again in the thick forest I went straight up the drainage – steep as sin and rocky rough to boot, but I did not get lost! On the other hand, I had failed to do what I intended- to find the best route up this hillside to Sheep Lake.

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Sheep Lake

At Little Sheep Lake I was discouraged and not inclined to continue to Sheep Lake. While I was sitting on a rock eating lunch, I finally talked myself into it; after all, seeing this lake was one of the reasons I was up her at all! I made quick work of the half mile to the upper lake, snapped some photos, and returned. I had done this route nearly 20 years ago and when the ground was mostly covered with snow. Now I carefully tried to find game trails that continued past small Lake 10,551 that was located on a saddle and then down steeply north towards Cliff Lake. I was surprised at the little lake sitting on the saddle, with its terrific view of the impressive rock walls south of the North Fork of the Popo Agie. The unexpected beauty of this spot cheered me up.

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Lake on Saddle

I found an essential use-trail that descended to Cliff Lake. Without this trail, in the very rough terrain, the descent would have been miserable. I had remembered Cliff Lake as much more spectacular, but then recalled that the previous visit was in early June when snow enhanced the mountain ambiance. It was noon and next stop would be High Meadow Lake, where I planned to camp. I waded across Cliff Lake outlet and hiked up the large trail that continued along the west shoreline of High Meadow Lake to the inlet. There were a few nice campsites along the way, but I just did not want to stop. So I found a hideously steep game trail adjacent to the inlet stream. Halfway up, I realized the error of my decision. My energy left me as I struggled steeply upward the remainder of the way. Finally at the lip of the bench above, I found a nice campsite in dry sand with a breeze, but instead of sensibly stopping here, I thought I saw a “better spot” in the trees past a large meadow to the west end.

Dragging into my destination I found it was marginal at best and located right next to a swamp full of mosquitoes! Too tired to retreat, I set up the tent after clearing the only flat spot of copious amounts of nearly fresh elk poo. My site was fragrant- not unpleasant but definitely a bit like a barnyard. Clouds had built and now it looked like rain. I hesitated, but then I took a shockingly cold quick “shower” under a little waterfall being fed by snowmelt and retreated to the tent to hang out while watching mosquitoes cling to the tent netting. The rain quit at 5PM so I got out into the swarms of mosquitoes and cooked dinner, eating while constantly walking in circles. I wore my rain jacket to keep mosquitoes off and was hot and miserable. Are we having fun yet? I headed to bed early and soothed my nerves with music – Handel’s Messiah. I sure wished I were in the Cirque of the Towers instead of this uninspiring campsite. (You may wonder why I skipped Cirque of the Towers, perhaps the prime spectacular location of the Wind Rivers. I had been to the Cirque more times than I can count and this trip needed photos and route information for an obscure loop route from Dickinson Park that I describe in my guidebook. Thus this day’s travel was a matter of my “agenda”, not the route I would have preferred had I simply been through-hiking. The “work” vs. “pleasure” conflict of my route left me very ambivalent about the day.)
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:08 pm

7/17 Day 8 Bench above High Meadow Lake to South Fork Lakes. 5.0 miles/+1,525 ft./5.75 hrs.

I awoke at 5AM; sneaking out for breakfast before the little devils awoke. By the time I packed up and left at 6:40, buzzing began. I immediately found a game trail just above my campsite; obviously all those elk that left the poo had to get here by some route! I followed the upper drainage pretty much due west before turning northwest to cross a low point on Lizard Head Plateau. Even this low point is high- 12,050 feet and I was feeling the altitude. I dropped to the Lizard Head Trail and had a nice chat with three women, the last people I would see until picked up at Washakie Park five days later. It was quite a coincidence that I met people since I was only on the trail less than 5 minutes, before leaving it to drop into South Fork Lakes.

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Lizard Head Plateau

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Upper South Fork Lake

There are two very steep gullies from which you can drop into South Fork Lakes. There is no question that the Divide side of Lizard Head Plateau is the more scenic. Cliff Lake and High Meadow Lake are nice, but South Fork Lakes are downright spectacular. I had descended the north gully. This time I checked out the closer south gully, which was more direct but definitely more technical and difficult. Once I reached South Fork Lake 10,500 I checked out several established campsites. I was more in the mood for a pristine spot so continued around the lake to the west arm finding a marginal site on the separating peninsula well above the lake. The puffy clouds made for nice photos. There was plenty of time for a day-hike but the descent played havoc with my knee so I spent the afternoon washing my hair and clothes, fishing (no luck) and just being lazy. Clouds turned black by mid-afternoon and spit a few rain drops. The little storm quickly blew over. It was a pleasant day - amazingly there were no mosquitoes, flowers were fantastic and butterflies abundant. Fishing was frustrating- I could see tons of big fish but they were not interested in eating, be it my artificial fly or naturally occurring bugs. Back at the tent, I sorted through my food since I was getting confused about what day it was.

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Lower South Fork Lake

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Sunrise at South Fork Lakes

7/18 Day 9 South Fork Lakes to Spearpoint Lake. 8.4 miles, including 4.2 day hike/+1,525 ft./8.4 hrs.

I was up at dawn eager to get going for sunrise reflection photos at the lower South Fork Lake 10462. I left at 6:30AM and slowly walked the use-trail past the lower lake, stopping often for photos. I spotted a cairn on a rock that indicated the start of the high route to Little Washakie Lake. I found a safe wading spot upstream and crossed. I had followed this route going the opposite direction years ago and was surprised that this time the cairns were harder to spot. I missed a few cairns, had to jump between some huge boulders, and had to drop down after I going too high and ending on a cliff.

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Little Washakie Lake

More boulder hopping along Little Washakie Lake and I came to a nice clump of trees and left my gear, put essentials in the pack, and headed up to check out Illinois Pass. I needed more detailed route information and photos for my guidebook. This side trip took three and a half hours and was beautiful. Wildflowers were wonderful and several ponds and a large lake at top would offer pristine remote camping. This side of Illinois Pass is much easier than the south side, but there are still some route-finding challenges. Unfortunately, my water bottle slipped from my pack into the willows, never to be found.

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Heading up to Illinois Pass from Washakie Lake

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Barren Lake on south side of Illinois Pass

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Washakie Lake (pass to Spearpoint Lake right center)

Back at my stash by noon, I repacked and then put a quart of water in the old leaky 2-liter Platypus. Carrying this was very awkward as I had to put it in the back pocket. My aching back! I waded across the creek and then headed towards Loch Leven Lake, finding numerous game-trails that lead to the 600-foot pass to Spearpoint Lake. I was really beat by now and slowed to a snail’s pace. The route down became very distinct - thank you all creatures large and small! I was tired and weary, but just had to “follow my nose” through the fragrant droppings of animals recently traveling the route. At Spearpoint Lake I chose the middle of the only three potential campsites, the upper being lumpy and the outlet being full of bugs. In spite of catching bushes, tangling my feet in my line, getting the reel totally messed up, in an hour I caught two fat fish. I was so afraid that one fish would slip out of my that I squeezed it too hard and out shot eggs all over me! I particularly wanted to catch and photograph fish in this lake because the husband of my friend in Lander, Wyo. who puts me up on my Wind River ramblings, personally planted these fish years ago when he was a Game and Fish biologist. Every time I go to a remote lake he always wants to know if “his fish” are still OK. His fish were OK, fat and tasty! It took longer to clean the fish than catch them. After dinner I wash off the fish eggs and my fishy smelling face; Grizzly bears have been seen nearby so I tried to keep a very clean camp. The weather was hot; billowy white clouds grace the deep blue sky. Most of the time, a nice breeze kept mosquitoes down. Spearpoint Lake is entirely above timber; I was happy to be in the open alpine environment. In spite of a long, productive and great day, I did not sleep well at night (probably the chi tea).

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Fishing at Spearpoint Lake

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Spearpoint Lake
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby madeintahoe » Wed Sep 12, 2012 12:24 pm

Thank you WD! I have been enjoying reading your days on this trip so far! Looking forward to the next day! Beautiful pictures...that is an amazing area...it has been on my to go places to Backpack to for many years!
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby chrisdiercks » Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:14 pm

Excellent! You really are zig zagging all over the Wind River Range. Can't wait to see where you heading in the next installments.
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:41 pm

7/19 Day 10 Spearpoint Lake to Roberts Lake. 8.5 miles/+2,050 ft./9.2 hrs.

I had hoped for a glassy lake at sunrise, but the wind rippled the water obscuring the reflections. I packed up and headed to the outlet where at the last minute decided to head over the small pass to Lake 10490 before dropping into Grave Lake. (From Spearpoint Lake there is a use-trail that drops to the Bears Ears Trail, which is the easier way to get to Grave Lake.) I was hesitant because the north shoreline of Spearpoint Lake looked difficult; luckily distinct game trails lead the way around the lake and over the small pass, avoiding cliffs on the north side. I lost the game trail along the east shoreline of Lake 10490 and resorted to squeeze through tunnels in a thick pygmy forest. I saw no fish in this lake but it was scenic.

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Sunrise on Spearpoint Lake

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Lake 10490

From the outlet game trails were spotty and it appeared that few animals dropped down the steep rocky gully I descended to Grave Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Wind Rivers. The game likely took the more timbered slope; they do not like boulder hopping but do not mind slithering through bushes, whereas, I prefer the opposite! There are huge mackinaw lake trout in Grave Lake and I was so tempted to stop. My “agenda” was to get to Roberts Lake, where there also was good fishing. On a through-hike it is always “too many lakes; not enough time”- got to make miles! My through-hike mentality was already cracking; I began to wish I were NOT through-hiking.

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Grave Lake

I quickly walked the well-maintained trail, across the Grave Creek outlet bridge (one of the few constructed bridges in the Wind Rivers) and turned onto one of the numerous use-trails that all converge into one distinct use-trail up Grave Creek. Shortly I stepped onto the Wind River Indian Reservation, confirmed by boundary signs on both sides of the Grave Creek. The use-trail was covered with fresh deer and elk tracks. Skies were blue, a light breeze blew and it was not too hot – a perfect day! Grave Creek forks and although the route via the west set of upper lakes is more scenic, I chose the easier and shorter route along the set of east fork upper lakes. Other than avoiding the willows, travel was fast and easy. At the last lake I had to decide to camp or continue over the pass to Roberts Lake. It was early enough in the day so on I continued, following fresh mountain sheep tracks, reaching the pass at 1PM. Wildflowers were in full bloom at the higher altitudes. So far everything was going perfectly.

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Headwaters of the East Fork Lakes of Grave Creek

Dropping to Roberts Lake was another story. The map’s contour lines belie the tediousness of the terrain. I honestly do not see how animals even go down this pass. Perhaps I was just tired, but I seemed to be bogged down in endless, tedious, agonizingly slow large talus blocks. I was thankful to reach the grassy bench but it too was so studded in talus that walking was difficult. As I dropped to Lake 11,035 I spotted a herd of 16 elk- all cows and calves. They were leery of me and moved away in a single line. By now both knees as well as an ankle were sore. By 3PM I had only reached the outlet of the unnamed lake at 11,000, well above and west of Roberts Lake outlet. The terrain was rough – not a step was easy. I had done this pass 40 years earlier and did not remember it as so tough. Once down to the shoreline traversing to the outlet was no easy task. There was even a swamp to cross! I reached the outlet, exhausted and waded to the other side. It was 4PM and the hunt for a campsite started. Everything was sloped or exceedingly lumpy! I re-crossed and resigned myself to camping on a grass spot right next to the shoreline – not very environmentally sound but I was too tired to worry about that.

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Talus on route to Roberts Lake

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Roberts Lake camp

The more pressing problem was the swarms of bugs- not mosquitoes but tiny black flies that aimed for eyes, ears, nose and crawled up sleeves. Between exhaustion and bugs I could not even get excited about fishing. To make things worse, my tent zipper was failing so I needed to reduce the in-and-out to the tent. The old Platypus gave up the ghost, cracking in a million places and leaked like a sieve. Now I only had one small cooking pot to hold water since I also lost my drinking water bottle at Washakie Lake. Thankfully, clean drinking water was not an issue. The dismal overcast was the last straw. I quickly cooked dinner and went into the tent and soothed nerves with music while I watched fish jumping clear out of the water to catch all those bugs that so annoyed me. Hopefully the lighting in the morning would be better. I had been here twice before and failed to get good photos.

7/20 Day 11 Roberts Lake to Shoshone Lake. 5.2 miles/+520 ft./4.7 hrs.

The plan was for a short day camping at one of the “Twenty Lakes” and day-hiking to several lower lakes to fish, leaving a one-day exit to Washakie Park. I awoke at dawn and I made a good effort to get morning photos in spite of the large bank of clouds to the east that kept the sun hidden as well as smoke in the air. I gave up just before 9AM and headed down to Trail Lake. As soon as I reached Trail Lake the sun came out; I debated if I should walk back up to Roberts Lake to get better photos. In retrospect, I wished I had.

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Roberts Lake

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Mt. Roberts from Trail Lake

The Twenty Lakes Trail shown on the map is not maintained and soon the faint trail was lost in a maze of game trails. The terrain is “lumpy” with little cliffs and thick timber – not as easy as it looks on the map! I aimed too high and made it more work than it should have been getting to the outlet of Lake 10,467, where I had planned to be my base camp. After spending nearly an hour looking for a campsite with a view I decided to skip Twenty Lakes and continue to Shoshone Lake. Luckily I stumbled upon a constructed horse trail that climbed up a rocky moraine with huge cairns that lead the way to the pass to the Shoshone Creek drainage. I carefully descended staying on the trail until it looked like it was dropping too far below Shoshone Lake. I reluctantly left the trail and traversed rock slabs before the last 200 feet of drop, bushwhacking through thick timber. I hopped rocks along the shoreline and found large established campsites near the outlet at 1:45. This was luxury camping – log benches, nice huge flat tent sites and little constructed seats. Unfortunately it was a ways from water and I only had my little cook pot to haul water. Unseen by me until the next day when I left, a huge 5 gallon collapsible water jug was hidden under a rock. Had I discovered this earlier I could have saved numerous trips back and forth from lake to campsite! I went fishing and caught 3 nice fish for dinner. I cleaned the fish where I caught them so I would not bring fish smells into my campsite. I went to bed early at 7:30 and it rained all night.

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Shoshone Lake fish

7/21 Day 12 Shoshone Lake to Washakie Park. 6.5 miles/+540 ft./5.0 hrs.

The bridge at Washakie Park had washed out earlier in the year so to be safe I arranged to meet my ride at the bridge, which is 2 miles down the road from the trailhead. As it turned out, the bridge was fixed so I walked longer than needed. There is no cell coverage at Washakie Park so I had no way of letting those who were picking me up know of this. At any rate, I was expecting a short day so slept in and did not leave until nearly 9AM. I slept well but the tent was soaked by rain. I was in no hurry so I just let the sun dry the tent. When I opened the tent door, it broke totally. Everything was falling apart and I began to feel I was in “survival mode”! My shoes had holes. No water containers. My wool sweater was full of holes. I also packed too many dinners and not enough breakfasts so it was cheesy couscous for breakfast. Having done this “trail” years ago I had no problem with it, so was expecting an easy day. First you cross a “swamp” that this dry year was no problem. Unfortunately since my last visit, a fire near the trailhead has destroyed much of the lower trail so it is no longer used. It was only minutes and I lost the trail. I bumbled along and at finally got out of the timber and into more open terrain. This is rough country and finding a trail makes a huge difference. Once over the proper “pass” I thought the drop to Washakie Park would be easy. First hint of trouble was when the “trail junction” shown on the map was absent. Shortly after, the trail became laced with deadfall from the fire. I reached the official trailhead at 12:30.

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Rock outcrops at pass en route to Washakie Park

Water was going to be a problem. There was a small trickle of a stream near the trailhead. Cattle were grazing in Washakie Park and after 2 miles of flowing through a meadow full of cattle the little creek was yellow like piss. Surprisingly, fish were swimming around! The curious cows followed me. Unlike the cows, several groups of antelope spooked and ran away. I would have to find a safe place to camp or have cows join me. They had horns! I camped on a saddle between two large rock outcrops and went back for water. I boiled all my water. It was a pretty boring afternoon and evening. And there were red ants that crawled into the tent since the zipper was broken. It was beastly hot and thankfully the little saddle had shade trees. I now wished I had arranged my pick-up for this afternoon instead of noon the next day.

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View back across Washakie Park from camp above bridge

7/22: Days 13 Pick-Up, Resupply and Rest Day.

I was up at 7AM and packed up by 8AM. I walked 0.6 miles up the road to the top of a hill to get away from the cows. Well, there were cows everywhere- even up on the ridges above Washakie Park. I sat down by the road and waited. A beat up old truck with flatbed trailer passed; neither the driver nor passenger looked my way, which is a typical reaction of the Native Americans to backpackers. My friend’s husband arrived at 9:30 after getting lost on the way up. Washakie Park is not a trailhead that I would recommend using unless you have some local connections. Not only is it difficult to navigate the unsigned roads, information on road conditions is difficult to obtain and a 4wd and a fishing license/crossing permit are required.

Back in town the first thing I did was take a hot shower! I spent the rest of the day washing clothes, packing my next trip’s food and enjoying a beer with the company of good friends. The most difficult chore was to decide on the route for the next section. Earlier in the year I had arranged to “piggy back” my meager supplies onto the trip of another client, so when the other group backed out, my resupply plans fell through. Since I no longer had to get as far north as the Dinwoody for a resupply, I could now flip to the west side and start at Big Sandy and exit Elkhart Park which allowed me to check out a few west-side routes I had always wanted to explore. I would then connect with the first section I had completed on fourth day instead of walking back in from Washakie Park; I hate to repeat miles. The down side was that to continue a pure through-hike, I would have to go back to Elkhart Park and go over a very difficult pass, cross a glacier, and come out on the east side near Dubois, Wyo. which would require nearly 400 miles of combined driving for my poor friends. My dedication to a pure through-hike was going out the window.
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby Timberline » Wed Sep 12, 2012 8:15 pm

Wow, WD. what an epic trip! Your pix and narrative make it one to remember by anyone who has visited the Wind Rivers. Such exceptional country, and your story does full justice to the hardships and rewards it contains, and both can be massive. Thanks for taking us along! =D>
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!
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Re: TR Wind River Traverse

Postby vandman » Fri Sep 14, 2012 9:54 am

Fantastic!
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