Six nights of backpacking in The Wind River Range of Wyoming. Beautiful. Wonderful. Magical.
I seen another world. Sometimes I think it was just my imagination. — Pvt Witt, THIN RED LINE
My life from 1997 until the present time has always been defined by what long journey I will take next. Socking away money and time until my goals are achieved and I can take off and hike for weeks or months at a time. Working jobs in IT between hikes to save more money. And repeating.
Over time, the job has become a career. I have met someone, my life is shared and our goals do not just reflect my interests alone.
The long journeys I took on foot almost seem like a different life.
Walking along The Great Divide. Seeing the Range of Light. Walking on the ancient hills and deep woods of the East. And more.
Memories and experiences that have shaped my life but almost seem as if it was not me who has lived them.
Upgrading a server, activating accounts and troubleshooting networking issues seem far removed from that past life.
I am working on a plan that balances a career with several weeks out at a time…but for now I dream and relish of those past times while enjoying my current life. Weekends spent backcountry skiing, climbing or backpacking. Sometime solo, sometimes with friends and sometimes with someone. Every time is enjoyable and enriches my life.
Where if I am not out for months at a time, I am still blessed to make the outdoor pilgrimages that are an important and frequent part of my life.
And it is a life where every year I take a week long journey into the backcountry solo.
Last year it was the San Juans.
The Wind River Range, aka “The Winds”, would be my destination.
Sharp glaciated peaks, large alpine lakes and long approaches deep into the mountains for a true wilderness experience.
The Winds are my favorite mountains in the American Rockies.
And a place I always long to return….
The trip this year started with leaving work on Friday afternoon and making the drive to Pinedale, WY and the Elkhart Park Trailhead. After a few hours of driving, did a truck bivvy and was prepared for an early start in the morning.
Morning came. The pack came on and off into The Winds I went.
Started off on the wooded, partially non-maintained and little used Pine Creek Trail
The area was not of the dramatic vistas just to the north and east, but rather rolling terrain with deep woods and quiet lakes. A relaxing way to begin my small journey.
My first morning in camp had me greeted by one of the local residents of the area:
The next stage of the trip involved hiking off-trail from the Summit Lake area to Lozier Lakes.
Though perhaps only 10 miles total between the sections, this stretch of hiking had up and downs all day through rugged terrain.
Terrain full of many large alpine lakes with no names, amazing views and having it all to myself.
The day ended back on trail and the equally quiet Lozier Lakes.
The journey continued on quiet, unused trail. The wildflowers were profuse and gave the landscape spots of color mixed in with the bright greens, glaring whites and various shades of gray found in the surrounding mountains and trees.
Headed over to Pocurpine Pass and down to the Green River Lakes.
More people were seen along with the famous view of the lakes and Square Top Mountain.
The climbing was steady from this point. I also gradually passed more backpackers.
Near the top of the climb, I turned off onto the Vista Trail and made camp just below Peak Lake.
The alpenglow was phenomenal.
Early following day, left the non-maintained trail at Peak Lake and headed up stream to Knapsack Col.
I was now hiking along one of the furthest sources of the Green (and ultimately the Colorado) River.
At the top of Knapsack Col, the sun started peaking out.
I arrived there and did not want to leave.
THIS was the mountains in its raw and untamed form. Glaciers around me, lakes below and sharp jagged peaks beckoning to be climbed at some future point.
Sitting at the top and looking down was the place where I wanted to be.
Call it Zen. Or Tao. Or just ‘being’.
But nothing was better in the world right now than sipping on some Emergen-C, eating Turkey sticks with cheese and enjoying what was around me.
Eventually I made way down into Titcomb Basin.
My solitude was over. Groups of people were seen at their campsites, getting ready to climb Gannet or scramble Fremont the following day.
At the turn off for Indian Pass, I was tempted to spend another day in the backcountry. A group of about a dozen backpackers heading up in the same direction changed my mind. On a future trip, I’ll make base camp, scramble up Fremont with someone and exhilarate in being in one gorgeous spot and knowing it intimately.
But it was not that kind of trip this time.
Instead, I wanted to continue to be in my own thoughts.
My last night was overlooking Island Lake and was not in a spot that seemed to be used much.
The view towards evening was a fitting end to my last night in The Winds.
The following morning, I moved out early.
The alpine terrain gave way to taller and thicker pines. The pines gave way to more aspen. And the aspen started having sage mixed in.
My time in The Winds was almost over.
One last view was taken in and enjoyed.
Arrived back at the car and fished a (relatively) cold Coke from the cooler, sat down and already started to process the trip.
There is a reason why I love The Winds.
And a reason why I always want to return.
This trip was one of the reasons why.
- The Route – I made a loop starting and ending at the Elkhart Park Trailhead just outside of Pinedale. Unlike many TH’s in The Winds, this trailhead is off a paved road and easy to reach. Next to the Big Sandy TH for the Cirque of the Towers, it is probably the most popular TH. Seems like most of the the traffic is to the Titcomb Lakes/ Island Lake area however.
- Mileage – I don’t know…don’t care much either. 😉 Just wanted to walk, wander and explore. Only had a vague loop in mind and I made it up on the fly. It felt like 70-ish. This trip was done in lollygag mode on purpose and with two days off-trail hiking thrown in for fun.
- Maps – The Earthwalk Press Maps for the Wind River Range were very good for general navigation and planning. For more detailed off-route hiking, 7.5 quads are always good. This link lets you print out free USGS maps for a specific area (e.g. Knapsack Col) Finally, I did not use this book but others have suggested it for more ideas that are off trail: Beyond Trails in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming: Off-Trail Routes for the Advanced Backpacker Comes with a CD for printing out maps, too. I just may have to pick up a copy….
- Noshin’ in Town – The Wind River Brewing Company in Pinedale features a delicious amber than can be enjoyed quite nicely on the new outside deck. The sweet potato fries with blue cheese crumbles, bacon and the house dipping sauce were tasty and reminded me of a distant cousin of poutine.