Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

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Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by robertseeburger » Sat Sep 07, 2019 2:21 pm

I just completed my fourth annual trip to the Wind River Range. The first couple of times I was just learning the ropes of a new range.
Now I know some of the range reasonably well, although I confess I have only done trips in the middle..nothing south or north.

This year's trip was a loop trip, starting at St. Lawrence trailhead on the Indian Reservation ( east) side of the range, hitting some lakes just east of the range, crossing the divide at Kagevah and Photo Passes, and returning over Windy Gap. 11 days. We had great weather, which is a little unusual I suppose for the rain. The only real issue we had was it was extremely windy for a couple of days toward the end of the trip. More later.
I went with my friend Mike from Colorado, same as the last three times. We had good results cutthroat fishing two years ago, and poor results trying for goldens last year, so we decided not to have two bad years in row by returning to some lakes we visited in 2017.

We went over Entigo Pass..a pretty easy straightforward climb from the trailhead and got good views.
Our goal was to make it to Lake Heebeecheeche, where we had stayed in our trip 2 years earlier. Nice area. We didnt quite make it the first day, but made it with a short hike the next day.
We visited a variety of lakes. We decided to have a couple of layover days at the start so as to work off some of the food weight prior to tacking the passes and some more difficult cross country. Here is just one of the lakes we visited.
Some wildflowers along the lakes..
As with our trip two years ago, we had horrible problems with black flies. (aka buffalo flies?). They are smarter than mosquitoes I think and their bites are much worse. We found that they could not bite thru socks, but they crawled up the open space between the socks and pants and did their damage there. We tucked our pants into our socks. DEET worked, but the crafty devils found their openings...
After a couple of days of leisure we decided to go over the divide. Here is a shot of Sonnicant Lake, where we camped one night.
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And a shot of Kagevah Lake and Mount Kagevah.
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We made it over Kagevah Pass ( pretty easy). The views were fine.
Here is one looking north toward Photo Pass which we would go over the same day.
Photo Pass was very easy from the south. We met a party of four here who were doing the Wind River High Route. While we saw several groups in the Heebeecheeche/Sonnicant area, these folks were the last people we would see for the next 5 days.
The view from Photo Pass was outstanding. And in thinking of where to go the next year, the Bonneville area is definitely in play.
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While Photo Pass was easy from the south, the north side was difficult. There was lots of loose rock and each of us fell once.
We were glad to get to the bottom of descent. A view looking up toward the pass.
We saw tons of elk sign in this area, but no elk. We headed over to the Headwater Lakes. We made it to a beautiful lake. This is lake 10563.
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OK, at this point, I made a major navigation error. I pride myself on "just give me a topo map and I can figure out anything". After leaving lake 10563,
we went down the canyon and around and up to the north. I knew we had to get to a lake above. I misjudged how much we descended and I saw a lake on the left. We went by it and up the canyon. I know this is going to sound really dumb, but we went by lake 10563 again. I am sure some of you will read this and say, "how could you be so dumb?" Well, whatever. We went up the gully in the right of the above picture, thinking we were on track and only when we got to the plateau above did we realize that we were off track. This is the worst navigation error I have ever made in 50 years of cross country travel and I was totally embarrassed. It turned out to be very easy to correct, and it may be a new route and goes..class 2! We only lost like an hour due to the error.

Back on track, we went over Europe Col. A view from Europe Col toward Milky Lakes, our next destination.
DSC01499 (1).jpg
End of part 1. Will be parts 2 and 3 coming.
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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by robertseeburger » Sat Sep 07, 2019 2:59 pm

Part 2 of the trip.

We made it down to Milky Lakes. There are many lakes here and we camped at the second one down at a nice campsite.
Last year, in a wild place off the trail, we found a cache of an artist, which was weird.

This year, while hiking between the lakes, we found the below picture. The cans were full of coffee and the fuel cans were full of fuel.
There really isn't any trail to get here, although there is one on the map. But this was interesting to find this. I suppose they were packed in by horse over Europe Pass.
We descended from Milky Lakes to the Middle Fork of Bull Lake Creek.
When doing research on this route, one of the things that I was most concerned about was the crossing of this fork, which we would have to do twice.
All the research I had done indicated that the Winds had a big snow year this year. However, we found that it was much less water on the east side than when we were there in 2017, and indeed the crossings of the creek were quite easy. Here is one.
A calm morning , pretty lake.

A waterfall on the middle fork. No fish migrating upstream here.
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As I indicated earlier, the wind picked up. Here is a shot of Marked Tree Lake. There were gusts that almost knocked us over. This lasted two days.
It was windier than I have ever experienced in the Sierras.
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Our next challenge was to navigate "the burn". For those that dont know, there was a large fire in 2012 that burned a large portion of the area around Alpine and Deadman Lakes. I did a lot of research on this as I did not like the thought of miles of downed logs. I even called and discussed with a game warden from the reservation. I read Wandering Daisy's report from 2016, I believe. What I found and felt was we could navigate the burn with a cross country route that just skirted the edge of it. While we had some issues with the burn, by and large we did find that we could walk just to the south of it. Here are some shots of the burn though.
We eventually made our way to the "Secret Lakes". We really loved these lakes . There was some but very little evidence that people had been there.
Here is one of the secret lakes.
It got so windy there that I had a unique experience. We could see the wind actually whip up spray from the lake in gusts. From the side, in the shelter of our campsite, this was interesting to observe. I went out to fish for a while and fought the wind. Casting was very difficult. At one point I was standing in the face of one of these gusts. I could see it coming at me..both in terms of white caps on the water, but more specifically I could see the spray coming at me. I actually turned my head into the wind, and braced myself, and it still almost knocked me over, and I was wet. I have no idea what the MPH was, but it was more than I bargained for. I retreated to my campsite.

We were getting toward the end of our trip and both Mike and I had done a good job of not packing too much food. We each had like a day of contingency with bars and ramen. At this point, we were really worried that we could not get over Windy Gap due to wind. We sent an InReach message to Mike's son and asked about the weather and he responded that the wind would die down. It did the next day and we were fine, but we were a little worried.

The next day, we had to tackle a new challenge. "The gully". We knew the trail had been affected on the west side of Windy Gap (Wandering Daisy post and others) and knew that the gully was an option. We headed south from Secret Lakes thru a pass and got a view of the gully on the other side.
The gully was very steep--uncomfortably so.. but also turned out to be a very good use trail. It also was just on the fringe of the burn.
It almost looked like a maintained trail in places.

Here is view from the gully, looking south across South Fork of Bull Lake Creek. There were some nice trout visible in the meadow when we crossed but did not fish.

DSC01551 (1).jpg
At 10,500 feet, we reached a plateau and exited the gully, heading north to intersect the Windy Gap trail. This was quite easy. And the rest of the trail to Windy Gap was unaffected by the burn. Overall, the gully proved to be a good way to get from the creek below to Windy Gap.

One view, looking across the burn to the crest. You can really see the devastation of the burn from this shot. Overall we were successful avoiding walking through the burn.
End of part 2. Part 3 to follow.
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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by robertseeburger » Sat Sep 07, 2019 3:23 pm

Part 3 of the trip.

A view from Windy Gap. Very extensive
And a view the next day while ascending the final pass before reaching St Lawrence trailhead.
The basin in the picture is Paradise Basin. Wide expanse. We camped at Hatchett Lake and hiked out about 12-13 miles I think to get out to
the trailhead. We saw the first people we had seen for days at Hatchett Lake.
And lastly while driving out, we saw some antelope. Actually, I have been in this area 4 times ( 2 trips, 2 ins and outs). You ALWAYS see lots of antelope on the drive in.
Other wildlife sightings..
We saw a pine Martin (I think) at one of the Milky Lakes.
We saw a huge ( maybe 50) herd of elk just above Hatchett Lake.
We saw no bears on the trip, but I have never seen more bear scat than I saw in the Hatchett Lake/Steamboat Lake ares.

And some fishing. It was both good and bad.
As with last year, I give the golden trout fishing a grade of F. (caught a couple small ones and one 12-14 incher).
As with two years ago, I give the cutthroat fishing a grade of A.
After 4 years of trying, sometimes hard, sometimes just enjoying scenery, I have yet to catch a nice golden in the winds. But the cutthroat fishing... ah!!

The biggest of the trip. A 22 inch cut.
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Another cut that measured 20 inches.
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That is me..with a nice one..
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Another 19 incher..
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Mike with a nice cut
This one was a special fish for me. It was a 17 incher, but it was one that I targeted and spent some time trying to catch. That always adds a little bit to the excitement. And it was in a lake that was 3 days away from a trailhead. Yet when I caught him.. a first for me, it had a fly from a prior fisherman in his mouth. He was released for a second time. Small world.
Mike, playing a fish in a beautiful spot. Gotta get back to this spot someday.
I posted the next picture in the fishing section separately. But this was also a first for me.. A 16 inch fish which I ate had a mouse in his guts.
I have never seen this. I had heard of this with large browns or pikes. But he had to have some indigestion.
DSC01530 (2).jpg
And last cooking.... we actually we below treeline and below 10,000 feet for a while. So instead of poaching, or frying.. it is great to just lay them in the fire. They were good!!
That is it.. a good trip. Some great scenery, generally good weather except for a couple of days of intense wind, and some good fishing. ( Some not so good also). So, already thinking of next year. I am sure we will head either north (Dry Creek?) or south..probably south. I think at the top of my list is Bonneville lakes, Grave Lake/ Baptiste, something like that...and maybe even go to the Cirque of the Towers although I know there will be lots of people there, but beautiful scenery. Kind of like saying you want to go to Thousand Island Lake in the Sierras, I think. Already thinking of next year.....
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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by TahoeJeff » Sat Sep 07, 2019 4:06 pm

Any backcountry fish close to the 2' mark is a trophy. The beauty of yours makes it doubly so.
Once Congress establishes that one person can live at the expense of another, it pays for everyone to try to do so.

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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by Dwwd » Mon Sep 09, 2019 9:08 pm

A nice TR and great scenery. Spotting the wild elk was a treat. Who made first contact? You or the elk? Just curious.

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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by windknot » Mon Sep 09, 2019 10:13 pm

Great report and photos! Yet more reason to plan a trip to the Winds some day. Thanks for sharing.

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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by gary c. » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:51 am

What a great trip and report. Those are some really nice trout.
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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by Viper » Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:37 am

Your wonderful trip report brings back lots of fond memories. I did my geology graduate research in the Winds back in the '90s, studying garnets in metamorphic rocks among other things. I spent two summers on the Reservation side, mapping and collecting samples (with permission), with many nights in Paradise Basin in particular. My advisor, Eric, joined me for a few nights the second summer. He was an amazing fly fisherman and pulled so many cutts out of one unnamed lake that we joked about naming the lake after him. Later that night, I consulted a geologic map from the '60s to plan some cross-country routes for the next day. Unlike the USGS quad, the geologic map had a name for the lake: Eric Lake. I felt that the universe was telling us something.

I've been back a couple of times but never as long as I want, especially given the many, many routes, peaks, and lakes I have fantasized about visiting over the years. In grad school, I had acquired every 7.5 minute quad for the Winds, folded and taped them together, and tacked them up on a big wall in my apartment (much to my wife's chagrin). That gave a special perspective to the place, and I spent countless days studying every nuance of the topography and dreaming of getting back. This range definitely leaves a mark....

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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by fish4gold » Sat Sep 14, 2019 12:59 am

Thanks for sharing! My experience is the same in the winds. Cuts yes, gold, uh, skunk.

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Re: Trip Report Wind river range 8-18-19 to 8-28-19

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 14, 2019 9:50 am

There used to be some very large elk herds that hang out around the Paradise Basin area, especially on the plateau between Wilson Creek Lakes and Hatchet Lake. After the migration of grizzlies from Yellowstone, I have still seen a lot of elk, but smaller herds- more like 50-100 vs several hundred. One of the reasons grizzlies are good is that they cull the elk herds. Also more wolves now. Steamboat Lake is a known area for bears raiding food from backpackers.

The South Fork of Bull Lake Creek is a great stream to fish. Not huge fish but fun. I actually caught a fish right in the middle of a waterfall above Deadman Lake.

From Windy Gap, you can also drop down into Wilson Creek Lakes and return to St. Lawrence Basin. It is a much more scenic route with good fishing too.

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