At one point on our eight day off trail backpacking trip into the Wind River Range, we set up our tent on a bluff overlooking a turquoise colored lake. No matter how often I’ve encountered them, they seem so surreal every time still. Across from us was the terminus of Connie Glacier spilling down into the lake. The funny thing was, we joked that probably the closest person from our five star camp this evening was at least 5 hour, 5 miles, or at least another valley away from us. We were roughly 1 to 2 days of tough and technical travel across talus & scree from the nearest trail, making those prospects not surprising at all. This was our experience in the northern portions of the Wind River Range, it beat us up and I still look forward to returning.
This is part 1 of 2 of our trip out to Wyoming and Colorado. In this part, we cover our eight day off-trail backpacking trip in the Northern Wind River Range. Get ready folks, this is a long read or very much “magazine” style.
After isolating for six month since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I was a bit stir crazy. There was only so much of the neighborhood and local trails I could walk around. Not to mention I had picked up a nice COVID `19 pounds from majority of my exercise avenues being cancelled, I had to get out. When I initially book our flights, I didn’t care where we were going. I had plenty of airline credits to use up on Southwest and any cancelled flights at the time can be converted to points, effectively extending their expiration date to never (Frequent Miler). This was also at the point where we had a much better understanding of how COVID was transmitted, so we knew better of how to minimize the risks (aka masks on).
The two main plans I had were for the week before Labor Day where we would either head to California to visit Yosemite for Meg’s first time or into Denver and drive somewhere into the mountain there. I figured this was a good time since it was at the end of the summer with decent weather and less people on the trails since most students are starting to head back to some form of school. Then the decision was pretty much made for us as it seemed the Wind River Range was the only area that wasn’t on fire out west (wikipedia).
There are many backpacking options in the Wind River Range, both on trail and off trail. I had first heard of it from Continental Divide Trail (CDT) thru-hikers citing it as their favorite sections of their hike (Halfway Anywhere 2017 CDT survey). The best known hike there is the busy Cirque of the Towers 3 day loop (Clever Hiker, American Southwest, backpackers-review, alltrails) or Titcomb Basin (in & out option: Clever Hiker, backpackers-review, American Southwest, alltrails) with option to make it a loop by going over Knapsack Col Route (A Joyful Procession, My Own Frontier Youtube Channel – two different loops). For a longer thru-hiking option, the Wind River High Route first pioneered by Alan Dixon and Don Wilson (Adventure Alan, Backcountry Banter, alltrails) and then refined by Andrew Skurka (andrewskurka.com). It seems like an amazing walk. There is also the actual CDT that traverse the range as well. However, we didn’t think it was best practice at the time of COVID for a point to point thru hike since it would depend on hitchhiking or shuttles.
All of these options didn’t end up mattering because I think my mind was already made up on what I wanted to do in the Winds even before I started to do my research, that is to visit Bear Basin. This was another inspiration from Joey and his Youtube channel My Own Frontier. I am always a sucker for big ice and I was shocked that they would be anywhere like these in the lower 48.
- name: Ross Lake, Bear Basin, Grasshopper Glacier, & Dinwoody Creek off trail loop
- type: off trail, loop
- distance: 61.4 miles (98.8 km)
- elevation change: 12,507 ft (3,812 m)
- time: 8 days (39:08 hours moving)
- location: Glacier Trailhead, Fitzpatrick Wilderness, Shoshone National Forest, Wind River Range, near Dubois, Wyoming, USA
The purple route on the map above and in subsequent sections reflects our actual track. After our hike, Bob who pioneered this loop was kind enough to send me his track for comparison and a learning process for me. His track is marked in light yellow. You can open the picture to examine in higher detail here.
Our hike starts in the Shoshone National Forest and crosses in to Bridge-Teton National Forest. Both does not need permits for wilderness backpacking in the backcountry. (Forest Services USDA: Shoshone National Forest, Bridger-Teton National Forest)
flights & transportation
Our flight wasn’t the most direct as we flew to Denver, Colorado instead flying to the small airport in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The reason was that Southwest only flew to Denver (though they are planning to fly into Bozeman, Montana in 2021; Bozeman Daily Chronicle) and I had a vouchers I had to use by the end of the year. Secondly, we planned to work from a hotel the following week while isolating after our hike. This would allowing us to see our friends the following weekend in the Denver area.
Our flight was from Washington Reagan Airport (DCA) to Milwaukee (MKE) to Denver (DEN) on the way there and then DEN back to Baltimore Washington International airport (BWI). The total cost of our flight was USD$157.96 for my ticket and an additional USD$11.20 for Meg’s since we have the Southwest Companion Pass (Frequent Miler guide). We didn’t pay out of pocket since I had a voucher from a delayed flight in 2019 that covered the entire cost. Lastly Southwest had the middle seat open at the time to help limit COVID spread, so we appreciated their efforts.
Once in Denver, we rented a car for 17 days from Hertz. A benefit of Hertz is that even though we rented the cheapest sedan available, we were able to choose any cars they had in our category if you are sign up for their rewards program. This meant, we ended up with a Jeep Compass, an SUV with AWD, which was much better in case we were heading toward a trailhead on a not so well kept road or if we wanted to spend a night sleeping in the back to save costs. We ended up putting 1162.8 miles on it.
route planning & off trail navigation
The route we planned to hike was pioneered by Bob (see his Backcountry Post Forum) and he hiked it in 2016 with a few others. Among them was Joey, who captured the trip on a video via his Youtube channel, My Own Frontier. This video was how I became aware of the hike initially.
Unfortunately for us, my last minute planning meant I didn’t allow enough time to get Bob’s actual gps track for the hike. I would be relying on what I could find online. My main sources were his Backcountry Post Forum and another trip report from Jan (Backcountry Post Forum). For maps, I was using Open Street Map (GMapTool) via the Garmin Basecamp or online on Caltopo for topographical maps and Google Earth for satellite images.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the bible of the Wind River Range is Nancy Pallister, “Beyond Trails in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, Off-Trail Routes for the Advanced Backpacker. 2nd Edition.” (Amazon affiliate link). Thanks to Steve and David out of Austin, who were the only people we met in Bear Basin and have been spending a month in the Winds every year for the last few years, for pointing me to the Pallister book. It is a must purchase if you are looking at the Winds beyond the popular hikes. After purchasing the book post hike, I found that while our specific route wasn’t in the book, the majority of the route are covered as part of different hikes in the book.
For my final preparations, I scoured the internet and Alltrail’s community content in effort to piece together some sort of gps track that can try to follow or at least get familiar with the topo before we headed out. I found that the route can be broken down into a few sections.
To begin the hike, we would start from the Glacier Trailhead to reach the Ross Lakes on a trail. Then our off trail portion would begin as we skirted around Lower and Upper Ross Lakes to reach Mile Long Lake. I found this was part of the Bomber Basin & Ross Lake loop (alltrails). Bob & Joey have a separate YouTube video of this loop. It took us 2.5 days to cover this distance through a snowstorm and a subsequent nero day (more details in our trip report section).
Next portion is the ascent to the continental divide via “Ram” Pass (as described in the Pallister book). From there, the route traverses along the divide before dropping into Daphne Lake. This was the section I had the least information about at the time (as I didn’t know of the Pallister book) and didn’t find any gps tracks online for this section, so I would be reliant on my own navigation. The Pallister book has route information to ascend to “Ram” Pass from Mile Long Lake, but drops down directly west off the divide to Dads Lake. We took a day to cover this section of the hike.
The next section of the route calls for use to traverse through Bear Basin from Bear Lake to Connie Glacier just below the continental divide. For this section, I found a great track by Ryan Karabaic (alltrails – day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7) doing the Bear Basin loop out of the Green River trailhead. The Pallister book details this section. We took a day to cover this section of the hike, though I’d spend more time here the next time around.
The last off trail section is back on the continental divide and crossing grasshopper glacier before dropping down into toward Dinwoody Creek and the terminus of the Glacier Trail. The majority of this section is the same route specified by the Andrew Skurka version of the high route (andrewskurka.com, caltopo). You can also find the description of this portion in the Pallister book. At the time, I referenced his outline by Skurka on alltrails (not an exact route) except we dropped down the Gannett Creek drainage. The major challenge of this section is crossing glaciers and snow fields, so some knowledge of these skills are needed. This section took us majority of 2 days, but can be done in 1 day.
Finally, the last section back on a trail, the Glacier Trail, and it would return us all the way to the Glacier Trailhead and our starting point. The trail was much faster traveling and we did it in slightly over a day.
An alternative exit we planned for was exiting the west side of the divide through the Green River trailhead via Lost Eagle Peak and Slide Creek trail as recommended by Steve and David and following Ryan Karabaic alltrails track (day 6, & 7). This was part of the planning for our friends Keith and Taylor to join us for the couple day or so of our hike. However due to time constraints with shuttling and coordination, we abandoned this alternative to just met them somewhere along the Glacier Trail.
The final check pre-trip for our hike was the weather. Since we were heading on the continental divide with no cover, it was important that we had Zeus’ blessings. Luckily for us, the forecast called for a stormy day on our second day of the hike and was clear for the rest of the time. The second day would be during our time continuing around the Ross Lakes, which involved us bushwhacking through the forest in a valley so we were confident it would be fine despite the storm. I budgeted a flexible day on our hike anyways in case we were delayed.
The Great Outdoor Shop located in Pinedale, WY provides an excellent trailhead conditions report in blog form for the Wind River Range.
Our alternative plans should weather have prevented us for this hike involved a couple of smaller hikes such as the popular Cirque of the Towers 3 day loop (Clever Hiker, American Southwest, backpackers-review, alltrails) or Titcomb Basin (in & out option: Clever Hiker, backpackers-review, American Southwest, alltrails) with option to make it a loop by going over Knapsack Col Route (A Joyful Procession, My Own Frontier Youtube Channel – two different loops).
off trail navigation and skills
At this point of my hiking career, my off trail experience is limited to two other hikes. The first being heading to the Rainbow Mountains from the Ausangate Circuit and the second was the Huemul Circuit, which I did twice. For beginners, I would recommend doing some research (Section Hiker, Andrew Skurka) or taking a class on off trail navigation.
I would rate myself still as a novice and as such, I relied a bit too much on my gps (phone) and the tracks that I had downloaded onto it. This made sections where I didn’t have a track more challenging and prevent me from just looking at the terrain around me to figure out the best path forward. Overall, it was a good learning experience nonetheless. What made navigation the most difficult for me were during the times when there weren’t exactly clear landmarks for me to rely upon.
Two sections comes to mind for difficult navigation were during the bushwhacking section around Upper Ross Lake to Mile Long Lake when we were in the woods and when we were trying to figure out the right place to drop down into Bear Basin off the continental divide. The former because all we could see were dense forest and the latter was because we were in a defilade or depression on a mostly flat area preventing us from seeing any specific landmarks to work with. So looking back, I would try to stay on the banks of Upper Ross Lake much more to avoid the forest and take more of an effort to get to an higher vantage point while traversing the continental divide even though it was more effort and we would face the brutal wind because the correct navigation would save us more effort later.
Perhaps another change to help the ladder point is to have a more detailed map. The map I had was 1:48k in scale from Earthwalk Press (Amazon affiliate link). It was adequate enough, but perhaps a 1:24k have more features for me use to navigate.
From a physical perspective, there were plenty of talus, scree, and snow travel along the route. At points, our minor climbing skills were useful navigate some of the talus fields. For scree, having a hiking pole or using our axe as a 3rd point of contact were useful. Part of it was looking for the larger rocks to step on since they were typically more stable. Our crossing of the grasshopper glacier was actually pretty easy and it was arguable that we didn’t need any traction at all. We could clearly see the crevasses during the late hiking season. While descending into Gannett Creek drainage, we opted to finding a way down the scree slope rather than the snow field. It took a bit of time and was probably rougher than just glissading down the snow. This was probably the most challenging section of our hike that doesn’t involve bushwhacking through the forest.
Overall the off trail hiking was very challenging and we averaged less than a mile an hour at times. The key thing for us was not being in a hurry so we made good decisions and it was ok to turn around and find a better way.
Our backpacking loadout was our typical gear with the addition of snow travel gear and preparation for tougher terrain. On our planned route, we had the task of crossing a glacier and bushwhacking off trail. Below is a list of our gear:
For snow travel, we brought our ice axes as probably an overkill. Additionally, I had planned on buying microspikes when we landed in Denver since our crampons were probably overkill as well and TSA sometimes doesn’t like it when we flew with them. Unfortunately, the outdoor stores in Colorado were much less stocked then we expected and we were too early for many stores to have received their winter gear. So we ended up just buying a pair of cheap crampons for me and nanospikes for Meg, she typically needs less traction. Plenty of hikers do our route without any additional traction, but better safe than sorry.
We would have liked to have our knee high gaiters, but I forgot them while packing. They would have been useful during the bushwhacking through the forest during the first few days of our hike around Upper Ross Lake. That was the section most likely to put holes in our pants and backpacks, so the gaiters would have been nice there.
Being in grizzly country, our food storage was our Bear Vault 500 (Amazon affiliate link) and a hang bag (Ratsack – Amazon affiliate link). We needed both since we were carrying an 8 day hull for 2. Additionally, we had bear spray. The winds aren’t know for many grizzly bears and the only signs of them we saw on our hike was some scat and marks on the trees around Lower Ross Lake. However, it’s better safe than sorry.
A second packing goof I made was that I accidentally brought the wrong poles from our Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 tent, I instead grabbed my Fly Creek UL2 ones instead. Surprisingly it fit good enough, but with a very low profile. Luckily we weren’t punished on this trip as the wind wasn’t a problem where ever we camped. We were very lucky with the weather save one day. When pitched, our tent appeared to be a super low to the ground from the outside so I guess that’s typically good against the wind.
For recharging our electronics, we had two 20k mAh batteries and it was plenty for our duration even with a decent amount of recharge. Our electronics included our phones, which were used heavily for navigation and gps tracking, and our Garmin inReach. We ended up draining one battery completely and probably a third to half of the second. I thought I would had to recharge my camera, but the larger batteries for the a7riii was way more efficient than the smaller a6000 ones.
I used my Garmin inReach satellite communication device (Amazon affiliate link) to communicate while on the trail with our friends, Keith and Taylor, who were meeting us on our way out on the Glacier Trail. That destination wasn’t actually determined until later and it was a learning experience in communicating with an inReach. Specifically, I had to learn to pin the satellite manually for any timely messages. Otherwise it was a nightmare to commutate as our texts would be completely mistimed. This barrier of communication was part of the reason we decided on going with our original plan and simply have them meet us on our way out.
We didn’t have any issues with mosquitos this late in the season, we didn’t even take out the spray or the net.
Our plan was for 8 days of food for two with a couple of extra for just in case. The breakdown for me was 2 cooked each per day with snacks while hiking. For Meg, she preferred 1-2 cooked meals a day, snack bars for breakfast, sandwiches (from bagels this time around). Since we were in grizzly country, we had our bear cannister (BV500 – Amazon affiliate link) for majority of our food and a food bag (Ratsack – Amazon affiliate link) for our snacks and bagels. We had repackaged majority of our food in ziplocks to fit the most we could into our bear canister, however we kept a couple Mountain Houses in their original pouches to use as rehydration vessels.
For the fresh foods and a couple of dehydrated meals, we bought them from a Walmart on the way up from Denver to the Winds. Majority of the dehydrated meals were a mishmash of what I had lying around the house from my previous trips (I found a couple were bad from bugs getting into them during storage while on our hike, so I was good we had a couple extra) or when I found deals on Amazon (note the old and larger Mountain House packaging). The bagel were day old bulk sales from Moe’s Broadway Bagel in Denver (tripadvisor).
getting in & Dubois, Wyoming
Our trip started with a metro ride to Washington-Reagan Airport (DCA) and a flight to Denver (DEN) with a connection in Milwaukee (MKE) on Southwest Airlines. It was uneventful, but I think I was more excited to jump on a flight again after six month stuck at home. For safely, we brought a couple N95 masks and Southwest was very good with safety by keeping the middle seat open at the time.
We planned one night in Denver to finish planning our hike and pick up any equipment we still needed before heading out to Wyoming. We picked up our rental car, picked up some pricey but good carryout BBQ from Work & Class (trip advisor), and head to the Element Downtown (tripadvisor), which we used a category 4 Marriott certificate from the old Chase Marriott Card effectively making it USD$85 night stay.
The next morning, we stopped by Moe’s Broadway Bagels (tripadvisor) for a fulfilling brunch and found they had day old bagels for sale (and free in the afternoon). This would do for bagel sandwiches later and the rest would do for lunch during our hike, apparently that’s our thing for backpacking food now.
On our way into Wyoming, we ended up stopping at a couple REIs and a JAX to round out our gear as we had a hard time finding everything we were looking for at one place, or really at all. We had to stop by some local shops in Wyoming as a last attempt. Perhaps this was because of the popularity of hiking in Colorado, supply shortages from COVID, and not the right season for some of the gear we were looking for. Lastly, we made a stop at Walmart directly on our drive to round out our food.
Our drive started by heading north on I-25 out of Denver to Fort Collins before turning onto US-287 until Laramie. There were some interesting rock formations along US-287. Once in Laramie we were back on the freeway heading west on I-80. In Rawlins, we left the freeway, stopped at the Walmart, and continued north on US-287 into a dry and open stretch of country. Our destination for the night was in Riverton on the Wind River Reservation and we turned off onto WY-135 to reach it.
There we had a night in the Holiday Inn (tripadvisor), which I booked for 17.5k IHG points a night. I didn’t get too much sleep that night and I stayed up late wrapping up some work that popped up and then spending too much time last minute stressing over the topo map. The lack of sleep would hurt on our first day of hiking.
The next morning we set off for the trailhead after picking up a light breakfast and more importantly coffee at Brown Sugar Coffee Roastery (tripadvisor). Well, we didn’t head to the trailhead right away as we decided to stop in Dubois to try to pick up the last couple gear items we still haven’t found and to ask the local outfitter about the conditions in the mountains.
The drive into Dubois was just over an hour, but what was shocking was the terrain. We first started seeing colorful striped rainbow mountains like we were in Peru
and then red rocks like we were in Southern Utah. This is apparently the beginning of the Absaroka Range (windriver.org) and a place I’ll have to explore in the future. Now I know why my friend Lara holds the town of Dubois so close to her heart.
We reached Dubois in mid morning. It is pretty much just one street and exactly how you pictures a western mountain town. The outfitter wasn’t open until noon so we had some time to kill. We walked around the town before deciding for lunch.
For that we stopped by the Cowboy Cafe, number 1 rated in town on tripadvisor. It was a rating well deserved.
After stopping by Wind River Gear (facebook), we were finally on our way out to the trailhead.
day 1: Glacier Trailhead to Lower Ross Lake
- distance: 6.7 miles (10.7 km)
- elevation change: 2,641 ft (805 m) ascent & 781 ft (238 m) descent
- time: 4:49 hours (3:55 hours moving)
It was just after 2pm when we reached were finally ready to start our hike at the Glacier Trailhead. I was ok with the late start because we were going to be limited by incoming weather on day 2 of our trip so it made no sense to try to push for the continental divide before then. At the trailhead, we left our trip plans and information in the log book. There are a few car camping sites near the car park with bear boxes. We left our extra food in the bear boxes with a note rather than in our car for bear safety before we hit the trail.
The trail start to gain elevation right away by switchbacking up and slowly gaining elevation. The first half mile is at 10.2% grade until we came to our first junction. We continued to head uphill on the Whiskey Mountain Trail. For the next 3 miles, the trail continues to gain elevation at an average of 13.6% grade as we entered the Fitzpatrick Wilderness.
I don’t know if it was the hot afternoon sun beaming down on us in the open, the terrible shape I was in being stuck at home, or the lack of sleep from the previous night, but I struggled mightily on the uphill. I would recommend loading up on water if you want to start in the afternoon. I was glad to find a trickling water source a couple miles up the switchbacks. Part of the demoralizing trail was looking back to see the parking area we came up, which wasn’t far because of all the switchbacks.
At the top of our uphill, we came to our next junction. We took the left option on the Ross Lake Trail.
For the next couple of miles, we curved along the side of the mountain with views of the Torrey Creek drainage below us.
The trail took us through the forest and then a open flat with views of Whiskey Mountain. There were some nice open areas at the end of the flat where we thought about camping at. However, the creek here on the map was dry.
The trail dropped down toward the Torrey Creek drainage after the flat steeply at a -25.3% grade over a quarter mile.
Through the open, we got our first glimpse of Ross Lake.
The trail flattens out for the next half mile through the forest and we found a few campsites near the ends. We didn’t find any immediate water source so we continued the last third mile down to Ross Lake, at a -11.0% grade.
The official trail ends at the lake, but an use trail continues around the lake to our left. That would have to wait for the next day as we decided to try to find a camp. We searched along the banks to the right and found a few flat patches further up the banks among the forest.
day 2: Lower Ross Lake to Upper Ross Lake
It was overcast and gloomy as we woke the next day. Our fingers were crossed for the weather to hold as we had a late start just before 10am. We had opted for an extra hour of sleep since neither of us slept very well, perhaps still getting use to the altitude from sea levels.
- distance: 5.2 miles (8.3 km)
- elevation change: 1,260 ft (384 m) ascent & 1,204 ft (367 m) descent
- time: 8:14 hours (5:06 hours moving)
We returned to the end of the Ross Lake Trail and then continued on around the eastern side of Ross Lake to start out day.
We stayed relatively close to the shore of Ross Lake following an use trail of sorts. It would disappear here and there, but was relatively clear to follow. We didn’t have too much elevation gain, just slight ups and downs as we worked around boulders fields or to go around a bluff.
The major bluff came around a half mile pass the end of the Ross Lake trail, we had to find our way further inland and uphills. Immediately as we did so, we can to a few openings and camping spots. We were able to pick up an use trail of sorts and follow it around the backside of the bluff. It was also here that we saw some bear scat and claw marks of a couple trees, so we proceeded to call out “No Bear” as we continued on.
Once we were in view of West Torrey Creek, we followed an use trail to curve back toward Ross Lake and it’s outlet.
At the outlet, we found some logs laid down making the crossing pretty easy. However, the wind really started to pick up here and took my hat right off my head as I was making the crossing.
On the other side of the creek, we found a few more nice camping spots before we headed uphill over the next bluff. The use trail disappeared for a while here, so we just tried to find the most efficient way.
The way down from the bluff was a bit more hairier than our way up, but we were able to find the use trail again.
We were able to follow the use trail pretty easily for the next mile as we made our way around Ross Lake, though still having to refind it once in a while after boulder fields. It was the weather that started to provide more difficulty as the wind picked up and the snow started to come down.
As we near the end of the lake, we came to a open area with some prime camping spots. This was roughly 2.2 miles on our day.
The outlook here was excellent with nameless pointy peaks and cascading waterfalls across Ross Lake.
After having lunch at the campsite, we continued on toward Upper Ross Lake. However, the use trail from here becomes unreliable and we lost some time following the wrong one around a peninsula that lead us in a circle. The correct one heads away from the lake heading further up. On our second try, we saw what could be an arrow on a tree point to the correct use trail.
However, the use trails disappear altogether as we scrambled around a rocky bluff to continue on. This bluff is noted by Bob and Joey in their Bomber Basin & Ross Lake YouTube video as a bit unclear as the best way forward and there were definitely moments of indecision for us.
After the bluff, we came to the West Torrey Creek connecting Upper Ross Lake and Ross Lake. There were some nice flat areas for camping here and during a nice day, the cascades here would provide a relaxing place to hang out. Being windy and snowing, we were of the mind set to push on. After our trip and consulting with Bob, it seemed like the best place to cross was further upstream near the outlet of Upper Ross Lake. However, we looked around area we came to and crossed at the shallowest portion.
On the other side of the creek, we saw no sign of any use trail whatsoever. We were in the bush for real now. We followed on track that had us gaining elevation climbing up on a boulder field. I would say this may have been easier than crashing through the forest, but finding our way down back to Upper Ross Lake ended up being through the forest anyways. Conversing with Bob afterwards, his advice is pretty much the opposite of what we did, that is to stay as close to the lake as possible.
The nice aesthetic here was the fluffy snow coming down with all the pine trees around made it feel like christmas… at the end of August.
It was slow going and pretty miserable, but we made it back toward the lake.
There were pieces of use trail we found from here once we were closer to the lake, but it was much more disjointed and I’m pretty sure we were just thrashing through the forest for the most part.
To get up and over the next bluff, we came to the first of two noted climbs. This first one involved use going up the crevasse in the rock. It wasn’t too bad if you take off your pack, but our novice climbing skills was definitely useful. The most difficult thing about this first one was the water running right down where we were climbing, making our footing more precarious.
We continued on the bluff and crossed a stream while the snow stopped.
Then came the second of the climbing moves, this time around a downed log that made it more difficult than it should have been.
After scrambling down one more boulder field,
we found a pretty good use trail that took us to the end of the h*** that was Upper Ross Lake. We even had some blue skies to end the day.
There was a camping spot here nestled within the trees. It wasn’t the best of camp spots or that flat, but we were happy to just call it a day since we were wet and tired. This was probably the hardest five miles we’d hiked a long time and it didn’t help with my extra COVID weight gain. Our gear had also a couple of new holes to show for all our efforts as well. We were also at a low point of our hike, but we knew the weather would be better for the rest of the time. We would have gladly taken advantage of the fire ring here, but we were also glad to follow the fire ban that was in place. The reason we were in the Winds was because it was the only place that seemingly wasn’t on fire. After dinner and chores, we were out pretty quickly.
day 3: Upper Ross Lake to Mile Long Lake
After the long slog through the forest and snow storm the previous day, we were still feeling it the morning of day 3. I was pretty slow moving and we broke camp just after 9:34am. I didn’t have a specific end point in mind, but we talked about taking an easy day just to recover and push the difficult uphill to the continental divide by a day. We would play it by ear was the final decision.
- distance: 2.7 miles (4.3 km)
- elevation change: 571 ft (174 m) ascent & 102 ft (31 m) descent
- time: 3:06 hours (2:01 hours moving)
It was a bluebird day as we left camp. Upper Ross Lake was a mirror this morning, a huge contrast to our previous day.
For the first half mile or so we made our way toward the forest at the end of the lake. However, the meadow we had to cross it was a marshy bog. We were able to find the use trail here to avoid the worst of it. That ended once we reached the forest. For the first quarter of a mile, we crashed through the forest going uphill in what felt like an aimless random pattern. The nightmare of the previous day started to flash back into our minds. However, as we wondered near the creek, we found a pretty well worn use trail. Even though the elevation gain was steeper, topping out around 20.4% grade, we felt like we were cruising.
At the end of the use trail, we came to the West Torrey Creek. Perhaps this was a crossing area for the Bomber Basin route.
After a short break, we continuing in the woods without crossing the creek. We picked up an use trail here or there, but were mostly bushwhacking through the forest while aiming for the outlet of Mile Long Lake. There was a little bit more elevation gain that we thought as we had to get on top of the bluff over the outlet. Just before the outlet, we came to an open area that was a nice camping area. A few steps through the tree we came to the outlet of Mile Long Lake, by far the prettiest of the three lakes we’ve visited so far.
We had lunch here and were very tempted to set up camp.
However, we decided to go a little further to the other side of Mile Long Lake to make our next day a little easier. We made our way around the northern edge of Mile Long Lake following an use trail here and there. It was hard not to stop and gawk at the turquoise lake.
Halfway around the lake, we had to hike further up the bluff than we would have thought before dropping down to the end of the lake and a perfect camping spot nestled in among the trees. From our camp, we had easy access to the inlet of Mile Long Lake.
We decided to stop here and take the rest of the afternoon off. We needed a relaxing day to recover from the first portion of our hike and all the bushwhacking that came with it. The rest of our off-trail experience would be different from here.
I spent the afternoon taking a dunk in the ice cold water (no one wants to see that picture) and then a nap. Meg napped also and read.
day 4: Mile Long Lake to Bear Lake
The task we had in front of us on day 4 may be the crux of our route. Specifically, we would need to get onto the continental divide, traverse it, and then drop into the correct drainage to reach Bear Basin. With a nero (near zero) day 3, we were up early and on the trail just before 8am.
- distance: 7.0 miles (11.3 km)
- elevation change: 2,198 ft (670 m) ascent & 1,565 ft (477 m) descent
- time: 10:16 hours (7:05 hours moving)
We began our day by crossing the marshy area that drains into Mile Long Lake and eventually starting to follow the stream up toward “Ram” pass (as labeled by Pallister, 2017).
Pretty soon we were out of the brush and onto open talus fields. Looking back, we had a clear view of our progress on the day and another beautiful view of Mile Long Lake. We were about a mile into our day gaining elevation at an average of 11.8% grade.
We didn’t have too much information on this section other than just follow the drainage up and turning right to reach the continental divide. Essentially it was all the instruction we really needed, but post trip browsing of the Pallister book prescribes an alternative (see p. 328).
The main drainage wasn’t bad to begin as there were still plenty of larger talus for us to step on.
That is until we reached the large waterfall with huge boulders on both side that made the route a bit hairy and involved us using a bit of climbing moves.
Once we were past that, the rest of the way up to “Rams” pass wasn’t too bad. We next headed up to the right on the grassy incline to avoid the moraine wall directly in front of us. Over a third of a mile, we averaged 26.4% grade.
At the top of the bluff, we had our first view of the Continental Glacier feeding into Mile Long Lake.
We continued along the right side of the drainage over talus fields,
turning the corner, and meeting up with the bottom of the drainage before the last push toward the pass. This last portion was roughly a half mile in distance. That last push on the scree took a bit of concentration as it was very loose and the elevation gain was at a steep 45.7% grade at the top. I tried to stay close to the rocky bluff under the snow to the left, but I don’t think the footing was any more stable.
We celebrated making it up to “Rams” pass with lunch while looking back at our accomplishments.
After lunch the next challenge awaited us, that is to navigate south along the continental divide before dropping into the correct drainage to reach Daphne Lake or Bear Lake. We would end up staying on the continental divide for roughly 3 miles. The first portion was very flat as we contoured around the nearest peak, however the wind blasted us harshly. It was almost easier to walk backwards so we were protected by our hard-shells.
After about a mile, the wind had sapped Meg of her energy and she started getting a little dizzy and a bad headache. So we found a defilade with some slight cover from the wind to help her recovered, a few ibuprofen pills helped as well. She typically doesn’t suffer from altitude at this elevation, which was roughly around 11.5k feet.
Looking out toward the west from where we hunkered, we could see all the way out to the granite peaks the make up Grand Tetons National Park.
During the break we were also able to plan our route ahead, which would involve skirting around portions of the Continental Glacier. Specially, we aimed for the gap in between the glaciers.
After passing the glacier, the next mile consisted of talus fields, a lot of talus fields, and plenty of up and downs. Along the way were also small glaciers or what seemed like eternally frozen lakes.
I also enjoyed the cool rocks in this section, especially the quartz (I think). Shiny is the appropriate description here.
Over every ridge we reached, was a whole new world of unfamiliar but fascinating geography. For my novice route finding skills, it was also in the form of “what the F?!?!?” The uneven landscape really made it difficult to navigate since often we were in a ditch of sorts and had no landmarks to go off of since overall everything was relatively flat.
Much of the navigation involved determining a direction with the compass and following it. We ended up relatively accurate for all my fumbling with the gps and map, but a slight mistake took us off course from our intended target of Daphne Lake. Looking at the photos I took, I can say this was where I made that mistake. We were still headed in the right direction at this point, however, we curved to the right to avoid the large snow field directly in front of us. This lead us down toward the drainage just to our right when the direction we wanted to go was just left of the bluff behind the snowfield. It was a matter of a few degree difference.
I knew we were off pretty quickly as we came to the beginning of the major downhill at the beginning of the drainage. However, we decided to continue with our path for a few reasons. The main one was that heading down this drainage will would take us to junction with a gps route I had on my phone by Ryan Karabaic (alltrails – day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7) doing the Bear Basin loop out of the Green River trailhead. After the struggles of navigating by ourselves, I was ready to follow someone else’s footsteps. Secondly, we were out of water and there was a creek and several ponds down in the drainage. Lastly, to return to our intended route, we would have to backtrack. We were up against a cliff wall directly to our right or the direction we would have to take to return to our intended route.
It was slow going the next 0.6 miles as we scrambled down the talus field with plenty of large boulders averaging -17.6% grade.
At the bottom of the downhill we were able to refill our water and take a break next to the alpine pond.
Afterwards, we continued down the drainage for the next 0.7 miles by first going around the right side of the first pond,
but decided to cross the outlet and gain the next ridge to see how difficult it would be to climb back up to reach Daphne Lake. I don’t think I was really making very good decisions at this point because of course it was not going to be easy. So I swallowed my pride and we ended up continuing down the drainage, now on the left of the next lake. Looking back, it would have been easier to stay entirely on the right side of of the drainage.
At roughly 6 miles on the day, which felt like much more, we reached the end of the small lake and junctioned with the established Bear Basin GPS track I had on my phone. I definitely felt a bit of relief and was glad to give my brain a break at this point. It was also getting late in the day, so we would be looking for a spot to camp as well.
We followed the gps route up the next ridge and around a couple of ponds for the next 0.4 miles. There we ok camping possibilities but it was a bit too rocky.
Next we came to the bluff overlooking a relatively large lake. The route we were following looped around to the right before going along the shores of the lake. We decided it was easier to just head straight down, which ended up being about 0.1 miles at a max of -37.1% grade.
As we descended, we saw that there was a tent around the inlet of the lake. It was the first person we had seen since the first day on the trail. We didn’t want to bother them by camping close to them so we decided to push on over the next pass to Bear Lake. We were back on the gps route I had at this point and we descended from the pass. We came to a nice flat grassy knoll overlooking Bear Lake that made for a perfect campsite, but there was another two tents there already.
It was 6pm at this point and I was exhausted, so these guys were going to get some neighbors for the night. Luckily for us, Steve and David were very friendly and welcomed us to share camp with them. The camping area was relatively large and conveniently located next to the stream draining Daphne Lake. The view from here was not bad either, especially with the pink glow of dusky.
David and Steve have been coming to the Winds yearly and spending about month in these mountains. So you could say they were experts and they took me to school with the knowledge of all the different routes in the area. This education included the bible of off routing in the Winds, the Pallister (2017) book, which I’ve been vehemently trying to push on you through this trip report.
At hiker midnight, I turned in and had the best sleep of the trip thus far.
day 5: Bear Lake to Connie Glacier
Now that we’ve reached Bear Basin, the next part of our hike would be to traverse through it. We didn’t have a particularly endpoint in mind, but I’m always for the idea to camp next to a glacier. The next one would be Connie Glacier. The one after that would be Sourdough Glacier, so that would be the extended goal. This would turn out as my favorite day of our hike and it begun with a perfectly still Bear Lake.
- distance: 5.5 miles (8.9 km)
- elevation change: 1,369 ft (329 m) ascent & 788 ft (151 m) descent
- time: 6:20 hours (4:31 hours moving)
We were on our way around 8:30 am. Our route, still following the Bear Basin loop gps, dropped a little in elevation, but stayed relatively high above Bear Lake for the first half mile.
Then we turned left and headed uphill following a stream and onto a bench, which covered the next 0.6 miles.
There were large slabs of granite surrounding us as we continued further up the bench and passing a few ponds. The slab rocks here reminded me of the Sierra Nevadas. There were also some nice spots here for a camp.
Our next pass was up one of those slabs at the end of the bench and it was pretty easy going crossing the flat rock faces. It was a third of a mile with an average gain of 13.8% grade and the steepest elevation gain at 33.0% at the top.
On the other side of the pass was Rocking Horse Lake with it’s different shades of blue.
We dropped down toward the lake for the next 0.6 miles, but also heading for the far side of the lake since we would have to go around it. The stream draining into the like was flowing over flat granite rocks, which definitely reminded me of the Sierra Nevada mountains or what I know of the Desolation Wilderness. At the beginning of the stream was a waterfall, most likely coming from Continental Glacier.
This was one of the highlights of the day and we decided to stop here for break.
After filling up our water, we continued south toward the next lake over relatively flat terrain for a third of a mile. This was Hourglass Lake.
We turned west and followed the edge of the lake for the next half a mile. There were plenty of nice camping opportunities here.
After passing the Hourglass Lake, we came to a smaller unnamed lake. Going around this lake would take more effort and some scrambling. We took the longer and maybe easier way around the right side of the lake.
At the end of the lake, we turned south to head over the ridge to the next drainage over. From the top, we could see down toward Bear Lake, which we were now on the other side of. This section was roughly another half mile after passing Hourglass Lake.
Next we dropping into the next drainage down to the stream over the next third of a mile before crossing it and starting to follow it upwards.
The uphill was about a half of mile on a talus field with an 12.0% average grade, with the steepest near the top at 19.7%. It wasn’t too bad and the rushing water next to us made it an relaxing experience.
At the top of the cascades was Kevin Lake. We would spend the next 0.85 miles walking along the shores of Kevin Lake taking the right way around. The left way may look shorter, but it gets cliffed out. On our way around the right, We had to skirt around a couple of snow fields, but it was pretty easy going for the most part around the lake.
It was uphill time once again after we circled around Kevin Lake. For the next quarter of a mile, we would gain elevation at 15.6% grade with the steepest portion near the top at 31.2%. We were following a stream once again, but this was a little different. The rocks at the beginning were all pretty flat making it seem like a cobblestone road. Meanwhile the stream was running in between all the gaps in the rocks. I imagine this becomes a temporary glacier or sorts during the winter time. It was one of my favorite and unexpected experiences here in the Winds.
At the top of this uphill, we came to a teal colored lake with Connie Glacier spilling off the mountain in the background.
I knew we were home for the night.
We found a spot a little further up on the bluff behind boulder to shelter us from the wind. It was still early as we reach camp just after 3pm, so I went for a dip in the freezing cold water and washed our cloth.
We spend the rest of the evening relaxing and staring and giving Connie Glacier all the attention it deserved.
day 6: Connie Glacier to Sourdough Glacier
I didn’t have a long day planned for our 6th day of the hike. Specifically, camping under Sourdough Glacier was one of the goals I had for this trip. So that meant our destination for the day was only a valley away. Typical to our routine, we were on our way shortly after 8am.
- distance: 3.5 miles (5.6 km)
- elevation change: 1,135 ft (346 m) ascent & 1,050 ft (320 m) descent
- time: 4:22 hours (2:50 hours moving)
Our first task for the day was to return to the continental divide at Connie Saddle and the direction to go was to continue uphill on the grassy slopes to our west. The initial 0.6 miles was relatively mild at 7.5% grade.
The next half mile to the continental divide was a little bit steeper at 18.5%. As we ascended, Connie Glacier revealed more of herself to us.
The grassy slope of the ascend also provided us with a nice sound of music moment of the trip, always a nice sign it was a good trip. Sorry to disappoint, but I was doing the twirling in this occasion.
At the top of our ascent at Connie Saddle, we had a great view down the drainage we had hiked up the previous day.
We turned south once we were on the continental divide and started to head south. Directly ahead of us was Yukon Peak to the right. In the distance, we could start to make out some of the more prominent peaks of the Wind River Range including Gannett Peak, Mount Woodrow Wilson, and the Dinwoody Peaks. There was a small icefield we crossed here.
We continued south for half a mile at a slight incline of 7.0% grade and started to curve around the base of Yukon Peak. Then a lone mountain goat crossed our path, really the only wildlife we encountered during our trip.
Since we had the time, we decided to take the detour to head up Yukon Peak. We dropped our packs and make our way across the quarter mile of talus field toward the top at 11.9% grade. There were several peaks here, so we picked the one that seemed the tallest. Our view was back down the Connie Glacier drainage.
After a lunch break, we returned to our packs and continue south. The next mile was downhill at roughly -14.1% grade across more talus fields and a couple of snow crossings.
Soon enough, Sourdough Glacier made its appearance in all its grandeur.
Once we reached the flat at the bottom of our descent, we decided it was time to camp even though it was only 1pm. Our view was of Sourdough Glacier to our left and Baker Lake to our right.
We found the well established site here by a large boulder that provided protection against the wind.
During our afternoon we spent some time relaxing, communicating with our friends Keith and Taylor on a meetup location for our last couple of days, and of course enjoying our lakeside views.
During the afternoon, a couple that was heading the opposite way as us walked by our camp. It was nice to get some information regarding the crossing of Grasshopper Glacier we would face the next day. They ended up heading to the shores of Baker Lake for their camp. Speaking of the next day, it would be a long one so we turned in as hiker midnight came.
day 7: Sourdough Glacier to Dinwoody Creek
With a long day ahead of us, we woke before the sun rose and was off at still pretty much the same time at 7:30am. Our goal for the day was to get back to a trail, the Glacier Trail. It would involve crossing the Grasshopper Glacier and a lot of downhill.
- distance: 10.8 miles (17.3 km)
- elevation change: 1,234 ft (376 m) ascent & 3,182 ft (970 m) descent
- time: 10:52 hours (7:39 hours moving)
Our day started as we backtrack 0.3 miles to the base our main uphill climb for the day. We would be leaving the Bear Basin loop gps route I had at this point, making us relay on my novice route finding skills once again. The section ahead of us is part of the Skurka Wind River High Route for the most part and I have a few points on my GPS to aim for, though no actual route. Being part of the high route, we’d see a couple more people on our hike today.
After getting water from half frozen pond, it was uphill time for the next 0.8 miles. The elevation gain averaged 17.9% grade, but was steeper at the beginning going up to 27.9% grade.
At the top of the climb, the terrain was pretty easy going but we made it difficult for ourselves as I wanted to get a look at Grasshopper Glacier from above meaning we went over more talus than was necessary.
We were able to find a nice view point eventually.
In all, it was about three quarters of a mile from the end of our uphills to reach the edge of Grasshopper Glacier. The terrain was pretty easy during this section with flat grassy or sandy ground, especially if you don’t hike on extra talus section like we did.
At the edge of the glacier, we put on our traction devices. The snow was a little soft from the sun overhead already so I appearched the extra traction. Meg had no issues, which is typical with her and snow travel. Grasshopper Glacier was more like a large snowfield than a glacier as we started across it.
It would take us 1.2 miles to cross the glacier. After a few steps (0.2 miles) of a slight uphill, we turned downhill initially at a -8.5% grade over 0.3 miles. The backdrop of the sharp peaks behind the expansive white snow was a pretty cool sight.
We then turned left and headed steeper downhill for the next half mile at 16.2% grade.
Here we saw some crevasses to our left, but their locations were pretty clear to us and easy to avoid.
For the last 0.3 miles on the glacier, it was flat again as we aimed or the dirt signifying the end of our glacier walk. The glacier was more ice here than snow and it was indeed melting as melting water formed little streams among the ice. At the end of the glacier, it was pretty easy to step off onto the dirt.
We exited the glacier not far from the teal glacial lake here at the end of the glacier, which provided for a pretty cool view. The peak we see here is Pedestal Peak with Flagstone Peak to its left.
We continued south, passing a couple of glacial ponds uphill toward the next pass. It was be a mile with 5.7% grade. During this section, we met a NOBO hikers on the Wind River Range High Route, which is a reason we’ve seen more people on this section than when we were in Bear Basin.
After reaching the pass, we took a break for lunch under Bastion Peak with Rampart Peak to its left and Desolation Peak to its right.
What came next was another lesson in navigation. On the other side of the pass, we were faced with a large sloping snowfield to our left. In reality, we probably could have just galissaded down that snow slope. Instead we opted to try to find a safer way down the drainage on the scree instead as the couple we met the day before said there was a way. This lead us the right near Dinwoody Glaciers. At one point, I was pretty sure we were on the glacier itself as the scree started to sink in when I had my weigh on it, this was probably a factor in making me want to descend on the snow slopes less. Pretty soon, we were cliffed out to our left and the only way in front of us down was another snow slope. This was one of those moments where you have to take a deep breath and evaluate our strategy. I decided on the safer option to double back and scouted for another option. During this portion, we covered 0.8 miles but it took us 1.5 hours.
Eventually, I did find a sliver of scree under a cliffed out section on our right and the snow field on our left. We made our way down the 0.14 mile of scree with a -45.3% grade decline.
In the next 0.3 miles, we made our way around a gorgeous glacial pond though the going was very slow here as the talus field here involved us navigating around car sized boulders. At the end of this flat, we came to a few flat areas that were suitable for camping with large boulders to shelter against the wind. They would not be for us though as our mind set was now on getting out.
To do that, we would continue to descend down the Gannett Creek drainage for the next 2 miles at an average of -13.3% grade. However most of our down hill were on talus fields at roughly -30% grade. The first pitch was after the campsite was we made our way down toward Gannett Creek.
We ended up river right of Gannett Creek at the bottom of our scramble meaning we’d have to cross it once we reached the flat below.
On the other side, it was easy walking for a few steps until we were in a talus field once again. There sign of a route here so we continued into the talus field as the creek dropped away from us. The route eventually brought us to a view of Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming, and Gannett Glacier on the opposite side of the drainage.
This was also our next major down climb as we descended off the talus field to the meadows below. Again, it seemed like there was route markings here left by previous hikers informing us of where to descend.
As we made our way across the next meadow flat, we had a nice view of the waterfall formed by the runoff from Gannett Glacier.
Looking back of how far we dropped, it was no wonder I felt so tired. Spending the entire day under the hot sun probably added to it.
The next downhill was along the cascading Gannett Creek, which was another pretty awesome scene added to the list.
After a stretch of wet meadow and brush, we finally reached the treeline and a pretty clear use trail. I was exhausted and I think a bit dehydrated here. I chugged a full bottle of water and layed down for ten minutes in the shade before we continued on.
I don’t think it was the official Glacier Trail yet since it did go in and out at times, but it was by far a trail in comparison to anything we’d seen since Ross Lake back on day 2. While it was mostly in the forest, we did a get peak at Gannett Creek cascading down the canyon here and there.
I’m not sure at which point we were on the official Glacier trail, but looking back at my track, it said it was just over a half mile from the treeline that we junctioned with it. We were probably somewhere in the trees, but it was near the confluence of Dinwoody Creek and Gannett Creek. Eventually, we did start seeing marked i on the tree representing the trail.
It was after 5 pm by that time and there were plenty of camping areas along the trail, though we didn’t see anyone in any of them. In fact, we only saw a group of 3 on the trail the entire time and that was after we set up camp. This was a little surprising as it was now Labor Day Weekend (Saturday). We decided to go as far as we could since our friends Keith and Taylor were hiking in from the Glacier Trailhead today. We figured there was a chance we could run into them on the trail if we ran into them. Yes, the Glacier Trail is over 20 miles long but these guys ran the Cirque of the Towers loop in a day. We ended up covering 3.4 more miles on the Glacier Trail before calling it a day just before 7pm, what a difference a trail makes in our pacing.
Like many points of our hike, the views along Dinwoody Creek on the Glacier Trail was another on on the list. The open meadows reminded me of Lyell Canyon at the beginning of my John Muir Trail hike but with milky teal river rather than the clear green one. As we continued further on, we could see Gannett looming large at the end of the valley.
Our camp ended up at the last point where Gannett was visible as we set up at an established camp that seemed to be used for horse camping. We knew this because of the amount of horse crap we cleared from the site. At last the view was well worth it. We turned in pretty early as it was a long day.
day 8: Dinwoody Creek to Glacier Trailhead
Our final day of the hike was here and we were ready for real meal and hot showers. We were down to the bottom of our bear can with mash potatoes left, mmm breakfast of champions. I had a few bars, but I think I’ve grown to like them less and less with more backpacking. All we had left was the rest of Glacier Trail, which ended up to be 20 miles. It seemed a lot considering our pace for the trip, but we were on a trail now.
The weather was clear, but it was a bit more smoggy than what we had experienced. Another reason we had to get out today was the forecasted blizzard incoming the next day, Labor Day Monday. We were off around 7:30am after a last look at Gannett.
- distance: 19.9 miles (32.0 km)
- elevation change: 2,803 ft (648 m) ascent & 4,601 ft (1,149 m) descent
- time: est. 10:59 hours (8:27 hours moving)
The trail started by turning left with the valley taking our view of Gannett away. There was a bridge off to our right that seemingly lead to a ranch of sorts.
We spend the first 2.2 miles on the day curving around this flat open meadows. The colors were popping in the soft morning light. That ranch is very well located.
As the valley narrowed and we came back to to Dinwoody Creek, the trail became very sandy and a bit tough going.
For the next three quarters of a mile, we dropped through a recent burn but also had a few cool views of Dinwoody Creek narrowing into a slot canyon.
Afterwards, we were on another flat for the next 2.3 miles.
Just before we reached Downs Fork, about 4 miles from our starting point, we had to navigate a few stream crossing in a marshy area. The large bridge over Downs Fork was nice through. There was a trail junction with the Downs Fork trail here, though I’m not sure how well maintained that is. You’ll have to check the Pallister (2017) book for more details.
At the 5.3 mile mark, it was time for our first major uphill of the day. Over the next 1.8 miles, we would gain elevation at a 11.2% grade on switchbacks. This was where we saw a couple more groups of hikers heading in for their long adventures. At the top of the switchbacks, we could see Honeymoon Lake below us. However, the trail never gets close to it.
The top of the climb was a little anticlimactic as we were still in the trees. What is this, Virginia?
About a third of a mile from the top, we came to Star Lake.
We stopped here to get some water and while doing so, a couple familiar faces came bounding up the trail. Our friends Keith and Taylor had camped last night at one of the lakes ahead of us and were now doing their daily trailrun. They planned to run a little bit more, so we continued on with plans to wait for them at their camp.
From the outlet of Star Lake, the trail descended down for 0.7 miles at an average of -8.0% grade crossing the Double Lake Creek a couple of times before coming to Double lake. From the shores of Double Lake, we could see a few people in the middle island and what looked like a camp. After the trip while messaging with Bob from the Backcountry Post Forum, it was probable that it was him, Joey, et al. It’s kinda funny we were so close to those that inspired our whole trip in all this vastness.
After rounding the lake for a half mile, we decided to stop for a break and wait for our friends to return from their run. Part of it was that we didn’t want to pass their camp and miss them altogether. We didn’t mind since the view of Double Lake wasn’t bad either.
Once they caught up with us again, we followed the trail uphill for two third of a mile at a 5.1% grade to their campsite near a small lake, next to Upper Phillips Lake. While we waited for them to pack up camp, they pumped us full of candy to energize for the hike out. I also took the chance to dunk my shirt for the last uphill of our hike, which was definitely needed on this hot day.
The final uphill came in two pushes, the first was a few switchbacks through a burn area covering 0.6 miles with a 9.3% grade.
This brought us to the open Burro Flat for the next 0.6 miles. We could really see the smog, most likely from all the fires the burned the west this year.
Lastly, we had a two third mile final uphill at 8.4% grade to the pass. I really enjoyed the different color of the brush here which was yellow, green, and red. The pass is also the point where the hikers of the Skurka Wind River High Route would leave the trail to the west and head up to Goat Flat, No Mans Pass, and then up to Downs Mountain and the continental divide.
All that was left in front of us was dropping 3221 ft over the next 8 miles to our cars. The grade was actually relatively even at -7.2% grade, but there were plenty of switchbacks. The time past pretty fast for us as we chatted away with our friends. Immediately from the pass, we continued in the open meadows passing a junction for the Old Glacier Trail branching off to our right. Then about 2.3 miles into our descent, we reached the tree line and spend the next 2.6 miles switchbacking downhill among the trees. Keith said coming up this was a killer the previous day, though he was happy to be going the other way now.
About 16.4 miles on our day and 4.7 miles from the beginning of our descent, we came to the junction for the Bomber Basin Trail heading off to our left. This was also the closest we would get to the East Torrey Creek coming down from Bomber Basin. I should have filled up on water here as I was near the end of my rope from distance and the heat. Being so close to the end, I decide not to stop and push on. This made my last 3.5 miles a slow affair as most of the final bit of trail was in the open.
Our last view of the trip was about a mile out from the car and it was a view of the cascading Torrey Creek down a slot. The bridge over the canyon provided for some nice views. I was a bit too tired to care much for it at this point.
After the bridge, we passed a junction to our left for Lake Louise and then another junction for the Whiskey Mountain trail that we took a week ago to start our entire hike. All I had in mind was to stumble down the final switchbacks to our car.
It was about 6:30 pm when we finally reached the Glacier Trailhead and our car. We signed out the log book and picked up our leftover food from the bear locker before heading to Dubois for dinner. We ended up at Noon Rock Pizza (tripadvisor) since it was the only place we could get a seat and I must have downed 5 cups of Dr. Pepper. The pizza was decent as well, though anything would be at this point. We had first checked with the Cowboy Cafe (tripadvisor) since we enjoyed our pre-hike lunch there, but the wait was indefinite by the time we reached Dubois.
After dinner we drove back out to Riverton and we stayed at the same Holiday Inn for 17,500 points per night. Since I hadn’t spent many points since COVID, I was glad to use a few more to get Keith and Taylor their own room. After all, their company and candy powered us through the last half of the trail out. After a warm shower, we were out quickly.
The next day, we visited the town of Landers. It is a well known outdoors town and the home of NOLS, a well known outdoor training company that I didn’t know about until we were here. We had breakfast at Lander Bake Shop (tripadvisor) and hung out with our friends while walking around the town that morning.
We parted ways afterwards. Meg and I started our drive to the Denver area with a night in Ft. Collins. That night, we had takeout from The Colorado Room (tripadvisors). Their sliders were my favorite food of our entire trip.
The next morning, we woke up to a blanket of snow. That early season blizzard we were expecting was indeed a large one. In the Winds, it knocked down a few trees blocking the road to several trailhead trapping hikers for a day or so (Cap City News, Great Outdoor Shop). For us, we would stay an extra week in Denver working remote from a hotel. It gave us a chance to see our friends in Denver the following weekend.
We even went on another hike, more of this to come in the next part of the trip report… a much shorter one than this.
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1-5. For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
views/experience: 5. On theme with my favorite hikes in the world, there was plenty of big ice on trips. As I’ve said before, part of the reason I love seeing them is because of the contrast they give to the mountains.
Along with glaciers always come the colorful teal and blue lakes.
Additionally there rarely is a dull moment on this hike, every section was something new and something to see. When I think back to the hike, and really when I was trying to decide the lead picture of this report, there isn’t a one spot that defined the hike. It was a full experience through and through. Yes, going off trail makes our hiking speed slow, but so does stopping every few steps to marvel at what’s around us.
We saw waterfalls running down the mountain side into wide open lakes and
lakes that seem to have their own gradient of color.
We crossed the barren and windswept continental divide
and scrambled on talus fields following many cascading streams.
Even when we were hiking on a trail, we were accompanied by open meadows and milky glacial rivers.
The last aspect that many hikers would appreciate about the Northern Winds is the solitude that you can find, especially when you go off route. We saw a total of 7 people, some in the distance, during the day we were off trail. Even while on trail, it was only a handful. Maybe this will change in the future like the Cirque of the Towers, but I think the difficulty and technical barrier of going off route here will keep those numbers low for the near future.
difficulty: 4. There are several aspects that made the hike difficult, but total distance and total elevation gain weren’t really among them. It was how you make your way across that distance and elevation. Even outside the technical skills needed to traverse talus and scree fields, it’s much more of a work out. While bushwhacking in the forest, it’s a lot of work to dodge branches, downfalls, and uneven footing. While you are above treeline, the sun and wind are going to roast you and push you around. And that’s on a good weathered day because if there is a storm, you are most likely turning around. We weren’t in the best hiking shape when we did this hike, but we felt more beat up than any of our previous hikes. We were ready for this site to become travel2hotel by the end. I am giving this a 4 difficult rating rather than 5, but understand we got very lucky with the weather on our hike and this can easily be a 5.
technical: 4. This was by far the most technical hike we’ve done and is only a 4 because we blundered our way through it ourselves. The only thing comparable was our way too early in the season segmented Walker’s Haute Route.
Being off route for the majority of the hike, you will need navigation skills using paper map and gps. This goes for high alpine zones and bushwhacking through dense forest. Additionally, studying the terrain ahead of time is a must.
From a physical standpoint, climbing and at least scrambling skills are necessary. Knowing how to best traverse talus fields and deal with loose scree is a given on the hike. There is also glacier crossings and snow fields along the way. However, they aren’t terribly difficult during our hike in the late summer season, snow travel experience is recommended.
Personally, I think this hike was at the edge of how much I was capable of as a fairly experienced hiker with minimal mountaineering skills and novice route finding skills. It was indeed a learning experience and there were moments where I thought I was over my head.