Trip Reports: 8 Days In The Wind Rivers, Wyoming - August 2014

The Wind River Range forms 110 miles of the Continental Divide in central Wyoming. Notable for its plethora of alpine lakes, its soaring granite walls, and some of the largest glaciers in the US Rockies, the Winds are a supremely majestic mountain range and a paradise for backpackers, climbers, and fishermen.

It’s been eight years since my last backpack treks in the Winds, and I’ve been excited to get back ever since. Last week Claudia and I went up there and did an eight-day, ~55 mile backpack trek through the southern portion of the range.

Ambush Peak,Wind River Range,Wyoming, hiking, photo

Hiking towards Ambush Peak as an ominous thunderstorm brews above.

Our loop hike started from the popular Big Sandy trailhead, where we were fortunate to even find a parking place! Our first day proved to be the most taxing of all, as we hauled our exceedingly heavy packs about 13 miles up the west side of the range to a remote valley ringed by soaring jagged peaks. As we scrambled over the last pass, we raced to find a campsite as a dark ominous storm brewed and thunder started rumbling.

Ambush Peak,Mount Bonneville,Raid Peak,Wind River Range,Wyoming, photo

Desolation Sunset

Sunset above the jagged peaks of Desolation Valley, including Ambush Peak (12,173 ft.) and Raid Peak and Mount Bonneville in the background.

The Wind Rivers are notorious for mosquitos, and that evening as mosquitos swarmed around our heads I began to regret the timing of our trip. Fortunately, that was probably the worst night of mosquitos we experienced, and the rest of the days proved to be manageable with a not-too-overwhelming amount of the little vampires.

Mount Hooker,Wind River Range,Wyoming, sunrise, photo

Mount Hooker Sunrise

Brilliant sunrise light illuminates the sheer vertical north face of Mount Hooker (12,504 ft.).

Our next destination was Baptiste Lake, with the strangely fascinating Mount Hooker towering overhead. This oddly shaped peak sports a sheer north wall of nearly 2,000 vertical feet of granite. We spent much time watching several groups of climbers slowly working their way up the challenging face.

Mount Hooker,Wind River Range,Wyoming,wildflowers, paintbrush, photo

Mount Hooker Paintbrush

Mount Hooker looms in the background of a small field of Indian Paintbrush wildflowers - August.

Buffalo Head,Wind River Range,Wyoming, storm, photo

Stormy Buffalo Head

A thunderstorm approaches above Buffalo Head (11,717 ft.).

A long walk past the scenic Grave Lake took us to Ranger Park, where I couldn’t pass up a campsite with a striking view of the Buffalo Head peak at the head of the valley.

Buffalo Head,Wind River Range,Wyoming,tent, photo

Nice view of Buffalo Head from our tent.

By day five we were making good progress and had enough extra time and energy to adjust our plans; we decided to detour over a challenging off-trail route to the remote Cathedral Lake, with its spectacular view of Cathedral Peak. So far on our trip the breezes had been relentless, offering no chance for reflection photos in the lakes. So I felt quite lucky to have calm weather during our night at this photogenic lake.

Cathedral Lake,Wind River Range,Wyoming, Cathedral Peak, photo

Cathedral Sunset Reflection

Cathedral Peak (or technically an arm of Cathedral Peak) reflects in Cathedral Lake at sunset.

Cathedral Lake,Wind River Range,Wyoming, Cathedral Peak, photo

Double Cathedral

Cathedral Peak (or technically an arm of Cathedral Peak) reflects in Cathedral Lake at sunset. Though the sun was setting directly behind the peak, a huge cumulus cloud behind me was so brightly lit by sunset light that the bounce light from the cloud illuminated the peak with an orange glow.

Not wanting to retrace the brutally rugged bushwhack route we took to access Cathedral Lake from above, it was an easy decision to hike the longer but easier trail route out and around the mountains to our next destination — Papoose Lake, a seldom visited lake near the famous Cirque of the Towers.

Papoose Lake,Wind River Range,Wyoming,moonlight, The Monolith, Dogtooth Mountain, photo

Monolith Moonlight

The rising full moon shines on The Monolith and Dogtooth Mountain, reflected in Papoose Lake.

Papoose Lake,Wind River Range,Wyoming, photo

Enjoying the view and a hot cup of coffee in the morning at Papoose Lake.

The best parts of backpacking are the many moments when I can just sit, relax, and soak in the view while my mind wanders and eventually grows quiet. My favorite time of the day for this tends to be in the early mornings, after I’m done shooting sunrise. I’ll often sit there peacefully for an hour or more lost in my thoughts, before finally brewing some coffee as Claudia wakes up and joins me. I couldn’t resist taking the photo above to document our daily morning routine!

Cirque of the Towers,Pingora Peak,Wind River Range,Wyoming,wildflowers, photo

Wildflowers in the Cirque of the Towers

The last moments of sunshine on a wildflower meadow in the Cirque of the Towers, with Pingora Peak rising in the center.

The final destination of our trek was the popular Cirque of the Towers, a spectacular broad basin ringed by an array of jagged granite peaks. This cirque is famous with climbers – perhaps because of its relatively easy access – though the secret of the Winds is that for the previous 7 days we’d been passing countless empty big granite walls that would have all been playgrounds for climbers. These mountains almost make me want to learn to be a badass climber, just so that I can go out and enjoy all these remote untouched walls.

Cirque of the Towers,Pingora Peak,Wind River Range,Wyoming, Lonesome Lake, photo

Lonesome Reflection

Pingora Peak and the Cirque of the Towers reflect in Lonesome Lake on a cloudy gray evening.

With hamburgers and shakes on our minds, on the eighth day we made the long trudge back out to Big Sandy and our truck, deeply satisfied with our wonderful week in the Winds, but eager to return to the luxuries of civilization.