Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Possible Wind River excursion

I've been kicking around an exploration of the Beartooth mountains for the summer of 2017, but some of my other routes are still in play.  I'm also extremely interested in the Wind Rivers; as the other GYE range that is made of a gigantic eroded pale, Sierra Nevada-like granite batholith, the two have similar features to recommend them.  The Wind Rivers are, if anything, perhaps a bit less likely to put you face to face with a grizzly (not that it's likely in either range, but the spread of grizz's in the Winds is still light, and mostly focused on the north of the range) and a bit more craggy and serrated in general.  I could happily do either of these routes this summer, and enjoy them probably equally.  In spite of my momentum towards the Beartooths as I've investigated them the last few weeks, I'm almost leaning more towards the Winds already at this point.  Here's how this route would look.  The camp sites are provisional, and may end up being moved; the two spurs in particular can be cut off if needed to shorten the drip by about a day.

Most good Wind River hikes start at one of three trailheads; Green River Lakes, Big Sandy or Elkhart.  This one makes it's debut in the middle of those; the Big Sandy trailhead, which looks something like this:  http://brettsimison.photoshelter.com/image/I00004sF5MvXB1yo

Going to the Wind Rivers, if you've never been there before, absolutely cannot miss seeing at least one of the two banner locations to visit: Cirque of the Towers or Titcomb Basin.  The former is to the south, and is the goal of the first day of backpacking on the route I've mapped up here.  My goal would be to arrive at the trailhead by nightfall after driving from out east for two days, and car camping the first night, giving me a great full day to do the first leg of the backpacking trip.  Over the course of just shy of nine miles, the route for this first day gains a gross almost 2,000 feet of elevation—a relatively modest gain, but big enough, especially for your first real day in the high country, that you'll want to be in at least halfway decent shape to do it.  The steepest portions of the trail are entering the mountains proper after Big Sandy Lake, and then going over the pass that takes you into the Cirque.  After this hike, you'll spend the night in the famous Cirque; hopefully without too much in the way of crowds.  We'll see.

The next day, assuming that I'm too anxious to keep moving to spend another day exploring the cirque, has me going over Texas Pass to Pyramid Lake.  Although not as famous for its grandeur as the cirque, pictures of the area are still stunningly beautiful... and it has another advantage; it's not a climber's Mecca like the cirque is.  And after going over the pass, the rest of the day is relatively flat, which is also nice.

After spending the night at Pyramid Lake, I go over Hailey Pass and head towards Baptiste Lake, where you can see the north face of Mt. Hooker.  How can you miss that?  It makes for a short Day 3, but with a big pass to climb, and being that it's the third day, I'd like to take it easy and have a little time to explore the Baptiste Basin a bit.  The next day, I backtrack back to the main trail and go by incredibly scenic Grave Lake before continuing on past Valentine Lake, the last little bit off trail to the South Fork Lakes.  The next day, the penultimate, has me summiting Washakie Pass before closing the loop portion of the lollipop and spending the night at Shadow Lake, just shy of Texas Pass again.  And the final day ends up being one of the longest in terms of miles (12) but much of it is downhill—although I do have to enter the Cirque again, and then cross another pass to get out of it.  If I decide to take it just a bit easier on the home-stretch, I could further explore the cirque, and head east a bit towards Lizard Head Meadows.

I have to be careful not to get too ambitious, however.  I've discovered about myself that in the comfort of my office planning these trips on my PC, that I often get really excited about rambling all over the countryside and seeing all kinds of things... only to discover that when my boots actually hit the ground that I have an effective limit of 4-5 nights before I'm kind of tired of eating trail food and sleeping on the ground.  So my trip is already on the upper limits of what I tend to like doing.  I've kept the days to 10-12 miles of hiking (or less) as much as possible, in an attempt to keep myself from getting too worn out, but I'm also seeing what I can do to get into better shape between now and the time I go, so maybe that won't be as much of an issue as it was in the Uintas (especially the elevation gain.)

I've also added an alternate short-cut loop that takes the Bears Ears Trail to the Lizard Head Trail and comes back to the Cirque of the Towers from the northeast.  The intent is that this would be taken at Valentine Lake rather than heading west southwest across Washakie Pass.  There are, of course, vaorus other methods of combining the legs of the loops into various potential short-cutted options.  No matter what you choose, unless you spend more time than I am likely to be willing to spend, plus some not insignificant back-tracking, you have to miss a part of the Winds that I'd really love to see.

Sigh.  Isn't that always the case?  I've also, just for the heckuvit, added a nearly 3 mile (one way) day hike exploration spur up the Bonneville Basin.  Given the very short day planned for Day 3 (which starts at the same place) this may not necessarily be an unreasonable side trip, depending on what kind of time I'm making in general on this trip.

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