Team Ramrod reunited this August 16th-22nd to hike yet another exotic Rocky Mountain Range: the Wind Rivers.
It’s all fun and games until you find yourself down climbing Class III terrain made up of loose talus with a 38 lb. pack on your back. I’ve learned that ultralight backpacking is for those with careers that allow them to buy a whole new set of gear, namely men over the age of 25, and a few other folks with the wherewithal to eat nothing but uncooked ramen and Tang powder while hiking 20 + miles per day (I’m looking at you, Orange Crush of the PCT 2015). I’ve also learned that neither of those types of people are me.
We decided the try out Adventure Alan’s Wind River High Route, getting stoked about his descriptions of off-trail travel, far from the maddening crowd, sweeping alpine views, etc, etc. What we learned was that fast, high mile, off-trail, sometimes glacier-ridden thru hiking alpine routes takes ultra-light gear and a different set of priorities and abilities than we had. Another guru of hiking, Andrew Skurka, has some good stuff to say on the topic. According to his theory, I think we simply did the incorrectly.
That being said, I would not trade this trip in for the world.
Day 1 was about 14 miles from Green River Lakes, where we started in the fog, to Three Forks Park, where we camped for a night in the forest. (Adventure Alan has a stellar set of maps on his webpage that would be helpful for following along our route. )A word of advice, put your trekking poles in your vestibule when you’re camping in the forest lest your furry forest friends take it upon themselves to relieve you of the burden of your cork grippers. In other words, the squirrels treated my poles like corn on the cob and now the cork on my poles looks like the surface of the moon.
This day followed the beautiful Green River and was fairly easy walking aside from our heavy packs. After our 14 miles, we were pretty bushed
Day 2 was the day it became clear that hiking off trail comes with a whole new set of challenges. We made it through Vista Pass (appropriately named) and the rugged Cube Rock Pass (through a couple of snow fields) to Peak Lake in about two hours. We were definitely behind Alan’s schedule of events by now, but I wasn’t too worried. I became worried after we made it across the talus on the North side of peak lake (spicey) and into the drainage to the East. Navigating up to Knapsack Col from there should have been obvious, but I, a well-trained trail follower, despite having a very clear GPS pointing me in the correct direction, became panicked and we headed in the decidedly wrong direction. The map is deceiving because despite the topography looking fairly even keeled, it is not.
We started heading up to the pass just south of Knapsack Col, ascending steep snow fields and loose talus for about 45 minutes until someone finally blew the whistle. After a little scouting, it became clear that we were going to have to downclimb and traverse a couple of cliffy bits and steep snowfields in a northward direction in order to get back on track. Again, topographic maps without enough detail can be incredibly deceiving. I almost lost it once the realization that we would have to downclimb the stuff we had just worked so hard to ascend hit me, but I was reminded by my companions that there was nothing we could do but deal with it.
Once we finally reached the appropriate crossing-over point, it was 5:00 in the evening, and we had a whole lot of descending to do. The picture in Alan’s post are from a very low snow year. We did the hike after a particularly high snow year, a so the boundary between glacier and snow was not so clear. Despite the snow making our feet soaking wet, it had the decided benefit of allowing us to glissade down the super steep col slopes instead of picking our way through loose talus. Hopefully these pictures will give you and idea of how steep it is.
We ended this day at the top of Titcomb Basin, amidst an intense sunset. We had come only 8 miles and were now very behind. After a tent meeting that night, we decided we needed to pack in the miles on the CDT the next couple of days instead of trying out the Alpine route because we had a time limit and car to retrieve at the southern end. It was also clear by that point that we did not have the appropriate gear for our goals and the conditions, and it was time to find another way.
Day 3 and 4. We kicked ass out of Titcomb Basin, across the heinous up and down and up and down of the CDT to get about 32 miles south. We stopped Day 3 below Timico Lake and Day 4 on the shore of Raid Lake, looking out the Raid Peak. By this time I had blisters the size of fava beans on top of each pinky toe, we had made many river crossings, told many stories to each other, and were very ready to not be death marching through the woods anymore.
Day 5- We finished our stint on the CDT and turned eastward once more, up the drainage to Shadow Lake, which is a magical place that looks like this:
This is the back of the Cirque of the Towers, the most famous climbing destination in the winds.
We stopped at about three o’clock that afternoon and were able to have some downtime on the lakeshore, watching the trout rise and enjoying the evening breeze coming off the lake. It was the first downtime we had had all week and it was much appreciated.
Day 6- Two Pass Day and Solar Eclipse. Reverting once more to “routes” instead of trails, we headed up to Texas Pass, ready to watch the solar eclipse from the Cirque of the Towers. After a little more snow field traversing and bouldering, we followed a use trail up to the top of Texas Pass, making it up a lot sooner than we had expected.
We made it to the shores of Lonesome Lake below Pingora Peak in time to have and early lunch and wait for the eclipse to arrive. Once the world was thrown into darkness, we could hear the whoops and hollers of the climbers on the towering peaks around us- that is until I drowned them all out with my overwhelmed yelling of the sight of the world loosing all its color.
We accidentally bypassed Jackass Pass, instead following a climbers’ trail across Arrowhead Pass and down a steep trail to Arrowhead Lake where, after another frustrating section of bouldering, we all jumped into the still somewhat frozen waters to cool our heads. This was the type of cold that burned and made every skin cell hyper aware of its aliveness.
We ended the sixth day on the shores of Big Sandy Lake. We were pretty much done at this point.
Day 7 we hiked the chill six miles back to the car that we had stashed there the day before, greeting the many other hikers we saw as we passed.
Team Ramrod may be done with Thru Hiking for a bit. People like Adventure Alan and Andrew Skurka really like walking, but not all our teammates feel the same. We all seemed to leave the Cirques wondering why we had not come there to climb. We did get to see almost the entirety of the Western side of the range, and we certainly did kick some serious ass, hiking sixteen miles with 38-40 pounds on our backs, but this trip made it clear to me that I need to get straight with myself about my outdoor adventure priorities. I’m sure that following our own drum beat with help us continue to hike our own hikes and live our own lives.
Until next year, Team Ramrod signing off!
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