Wind River Range -- Part Three -- Trip Report

I was talking to my friend Dr. G the other day and he reminded me that I had somehow lost the plot when blogging about our Wind River High Route trip in 2017 and I never finished part three (and the most important part) of my three part series, the trip report! Since I actually had it in my drafts unedited but never edited or published it, I now give you, only three years late later, the grand finale! You can find posts about the trail conditions here and the logistics here. (Note this is kind of typical of COVID days; I am cleaning out my virtual closet as well as my real ones!) 

Disclaimer: This post is very long. If you are short on time, please skip to day 6, which was probably my most scary (but fun?) day. 

The Wind River High Route is approximately 66% off trail, according to the Skurka version, and when I heard about it and saw photos, I had to get a piece of this. However, I knew it would be harder than just walking the same amount of miles on a trail, so I planned accordingly, but I still underestimated how long it would take. When I decided to make the trip, I didn't know how exhausting and rewarding it would actually be.

The Road Trip: Dr. G and I drove from San Francisco to Reno on the first Friday, and stayed with a friend of mine who lives in Reno. It was nice to split it up a bit. However, this was still about five and a half hours in the car with Friday traffic. The next day we got up early and left around 4 am. Luckily the speed limit is 80 on a lot of the freeways and it was mostly smooth sailing. However, we did hit road construction in Idaho, putting us in Jackson, WY around 4 pm. We changed into the clothes we would be living in for the next week, filled up our waters, readied our packs and went for dinner. We then drove to our finish line trail head, which was called Trail Lakes, and parked our car there. We had arranged for a car to pick us up and take us to the starting trail head from there. We were picked up by Christian, who drove us to Bruce Bridges trail head and entertained us the whole way with stories of the area, people he had given rides to and trip reports from other hikers. We slept in a dispersed camping spot at Bruce Bridge that night.

Day One (21.56 miles): The first 13 or so miles were on a real trail. Even though we were not yet off trail, we still managed to miss a turn at the Deep Creek Lake cutoff, which afforded us with a nice view of a meadow and some good looking peaks. However it also caused us to detour about three extra miles and about an hour and a half. We arrived at Deep Creek Lake (10,100 ft) around 2:30 p.m. The Skurka guide and others reports stated that from this point, to get up and over Wind River Peak and back down to a place where you could camp was about 6 hours. We decided to go for it. 

This is where the accidental detour took us

From that lake, we were on a real trail for about half a mile and then we took our first detour off trail. Skurka says to orient your compass to Chimney Rock and head towards the peak that way. We oriented it but ended up having to go around a big hill to get a clear view of it. I'm not sure if that is due to our error or bad directions from Skurka (probably the former), but it seemed to take a lot of extra time. Finally started the climb up to Chimney Rock, which is at about 12,500 ft. The climb was not super technical; it was through a lot of marshy and grassy areas as well as rocky ones, but it was a steep climb. We got about halfway, we thought, and then got completely socked in with fog. It was about 5:30 pm by this time so we decided to pitch our tent on a semi flat spot and conquer the peak the next day. We were on the smallest little rocky ledge in the middle of a bunch of talus (large boulders) but if not for the fog we would have had great views! 

View from the side of the mountain

Day Two (10.6 miles): Right away, we continued back up the steep hill. This time, however, much of it was covered in snow, so we put on our microspikes and yaktrax and climbed the hill. It was very slow going and I remember going from wearing all my layers to only a couple by the time we got to Chimney Rock. Once there, we went around it to the left, as Skurka had said we had to descend a bit before climbing up to the Wind River peak and then descending down a gully. Unfortunately, first we went a bit too far South, so we ended up having to backtrack quite a bit uphill. Also, on the descent, I stepped on a wobbly rock and fell, scraping up my leg fairly badly. So we headed back uphill to what we thought went to the west gully descent. On the way there I looked down and said that this also looked like a descent down a gully. To get to Skurka's gully, we would have to go up another steep climb and then back down the gully. So we decided to take this direct route, which we figured could not be any worse. Famous last words, I guess.

Me (that tiny black dot in the middle) descending the gully

It was very steep and the rocks were all semi unstable. It was very slow going, as each step was a cautious decision of what would come next. We got down to the point where our descent met Skurka's and we picked our way down the hill. Once the rocks ended there was a long steep snowfield to descend, and then more large ralus, and then another snowfield. On the first one, I dropped my yaktrax and John went sliding for about 30 feet, which was a bit nerve-racking. It definitely was not easy or safe, but we made it down in one piece. After that we went around Lake 11185 through yet more talus, then followed a creek through willow (my nemesis! it's so scratchy!) and lots of bushwhacking before ending up at Black Joe's lake. At Black Joes, we followed the shore for a while before finally doing an up and over (through more willow) of some granite cliffs to get to the North side of the lake. From there, we joined up with the big Sandy trail (a real trail, and people!) where we had a fairy easy few miles to big Sandy Lake.

War wound

From there we went up North Creek trail not too far and found a nice camping spot by the water. Of course, now that we were out of the hills and back near the stream, it was mosquito paradise. We quickly put up the tent, filtered water, ate and went to bed.

Day Three (15.5 miles): We started up the North Creek trail again in the morning, and about four miles later we arrived at the Cirque of the Towers.

The Cirque of the Towers

I believe this is one if the most heavily trafficked places in the Wind River Range. It is definitely beautiful. It us a semi-circle of pointy mountains all surrounding a lake. We peaked at Jackass Pass, which is about 12,500 ft. and where we could not help but getting some photos with the sign (jackass!). We then dropped down into the lake area before heading up the Texas pass. At this point, we had two options of getting up and over and we decided to forgo the New York pass in the interests of time, as it now seems like we aren't going to be able to get done as much as we thought we would and it was the more difficult of the two.

After descending Texas pass, we walked along two lakes to get to Shadow Lake, where we turned north. Here we passed through a gorgeous meadow with granite boulders and peaks in the distance. It reminded me a bit of the JMT near Cathedral Peaks. Then it started to hail. It rained and hailed on us for the next few hours. We went up from Shadow Lake through the meadow, then towards Pyramid Lake before going off trail again at Skull Lake. From there we bushwhacked a bit before following a river for a while to another lake. Then it hailed some more. Then we followed another river to another lake. Then it hailed and rained. Due to the rain and the time getting a little later, we finally decided to set up camp around 5 pm at Lake 10,5xx instead of trying to climb Raid pass today. By this time our feet were soaked, but we did get a respite from the rain to eat our dinner before going into the tent for recharging and relaxing. And, I almost forgot to mention...I saw a chipmunk carrying a baby chipmunk today and got dive-bombed by a yellow throated hummingbird while filtering water. Good times!

Day Four (14.2 miles): On this day we realized that we were definitely going to have to find an early exit route, as we were not covering as many miles as we thought we would and we had to be back home by a certain time. We looked at the map and saw that there was an alternative near Europe mountain which would get us back to the car in about 20 miles. We were hopeful that we would be able to get there by the following night!

We started up our first pass of the day, Raid pass, with wet feet. I had not been looking forward to putting on my wet shoes and socks from the day before but it had to be done. The climb to the top required a lot of marsh walking, talus hopping and then crossing a snowfield before getting to the top. Then it was back down the other side, into Bonneville basin, an unnamed lake, and Boulder Creek.

Bonneville Basin (we would walk around that lake to the left)

We climbed down on large granite slabs rather than go down the steeper snowier decline. We then skirted the lake and a lot of bugs (actually we did not skirt the bugs at all!), and climbed up some grass ramps to Sentinel Pass, where we had a great view of Photo Pass.

View of Photo Pass

From there we crossed a huge snowfield (part of it very steep) to the lake below. Once we got a little lower though, you could slip slide and glissade a little to get down, which Dr. G did not want to do, but I did happily. Then it was a bushwhack-a-palooza around the lake, where there were supposedly elk use trails, but they were hard to find! Then we climbed up the side of a waterfall to get to another lake, where we then headed up photo pass. Again, we had to climb up snow to get to the top then there was a trace of a pack mule trail but it was quickly covered in snow, so we hiked down the snow instead. Actually I slid down on a garbage bag on my butt which was so fun! Dr. G was not amused.

Our tent on a rock next to a frozen lake (pre-snowstorm).

From there we had to go around another lake, follow a stream up a hill and then once we got to a lake we headed up more granite slabs to get to our camping spot. Oh, did I mention it hailed and rained on us pretty much all afternoon. That evening we camped on a granite slab next to a partially frozen lake and it was super windy and probably in the 30s! As we lay inside the tent, it began to hail. Then rain, then more hail. Very hard! I fell asleep to the sound. I woke up to a strange sliding sound, which was snow sliding off the tent. It had pooled up in the top and was causing the tent to sag. As it melted, it slid off the tent.

Day Five (13.75 miles): When we woke up, there was fresh snow on the ground. Which made for an interesting time, trying to hop from rock to rock when you can't see the rocks and the ones you can see are slippery. We first went up Europe cool, which was a smaller pass, then we crossed over to Europe peak, but to do so we had to climb up a 20 foot crevice to get to the knife edge at the top of Europe peak. It was hairy. Then it was a gradual descend over lots of snowy slippery rocks to a little lake where we crossed over snow and saw so many animal footprints. I'm not sure what they were but it looked like they had 5 toes and claws, so I would guess some sort of doglike animal. Also saw tons of small creature prints, some with five long toes, some with four feet together (jumpers?) and some little mice, etc. type prints.

Somewhere near Europe Col

After climbing a hill, we followed a stream to a tarn (small glacier lake) and then followed the tarn to it's end where we crossed over to find a fisherman's trail (very faint at times). We followed it to Golden Lake, Lake Louise and upper Golden Lake, with probably about 10 creek crossings to boot. There was one crossing where the water was so fast and was up past our thighs that we had to hold hands and slowly cross together, step by step. Then it was a long climb up to where we could see Douglas peak pass, our next climb. It was grueling on both the climb up and the one down, with lots of loose smaller talus. On the climb down it was loose gravel, loose talus, then huge talus, then more huge talus. We arrived at the lake where we set up camp on a big flat rock around 6 pm.

The Golden Lakes

Day Six (14.5 miles): when I woke up this morning, my shoes were nearly dry! Hallelujah! We got ready and the first thing we tackled was a smallish pass (11,400 ft) which took us up to a frozen lake where there were two guys camped. We went around the lake on talus, then had to climb up a class three crack to get to our next obstacle, Alpine lakes pass. The entire pass appeared to be covered with snow. And it was very steep. We strapped on traction and started up.

Dr. G climbing Alpine Pass

Dr. G chose a diagonal route across the face towards a few rocks on the east side. I chose a straight up approach, with a plan to cross over higher up where it was a narrower snow band. Dr. G chose the better option. By the time I got up to the rocks where I had to cross over snow to get to the summit, I was sweating and nervous. Plus to get up to the top of the rock pile, I had to climb several class three cracks. Then I had to cross over the steepest and highest section of snow with only yaktraks and a prayer. Obviously I made it, as I am writing this, but I had my doubts at the time. I tried not to look down as I jammed my foot into the snow as much as I could, step after step. I made it, to the first rock island, then had to do the same thing again to get to the snowy saddle of the pass. Once safely there, I called out to Dr. G that maybe that had been type two fun.

After that, we had to climb down . I can't remember details of the downhill portion. I think it is safe to say that we went on pretty gradual downhill on snow towards a glacier, which then led to a saddle, then we followed a stream, got lost, forded the stream, bushwhacked through willow and then climbed up and down another hill before fording another wide stream before heading to Blaurock. Blaurock pass was 1,200 ft. of climbing per one mile. We started by going around a huge floodplain, then began a slow crawl up the hill. I think we averaged about an hour and a half per mile. It was tundra, then a lot of talus and snow, but mostly talus, so it was slow going!

Looking back from Blaurock Pass

We got to the top (12,800+) eventually and headed back down the other side, which was a combo of gravel use trail and snow, before petering out into tundra, then another easy rock hop River crossing before joining up with the glacier Trail, which would eventually lead to the car. We went about 2 miles on the trail then set up camp on a nice soft woodsy spot with a tree cover. That night there was a fabulous thunder and lightning storm!

Day Seven (23.4 miles): Since we were now on a trail that we had not planned to go on, and with no mileage markers on the maps, we estimated our distance as the crow flies. We had thought that we would have approximately a 20 mile hike for this, our last day. We started off at our regular time, around 7 am, and we were luckily on a trail the entire time. Otherwise the going would have been a lot slower! My understanding was that the trail would be a gradual downhill, as we were starting above 10,000 feet and we're heading towards the parking lot, which sat at 7,500 feet. However, we did know that we would have one section where we would have to climb back up to above 10,000 ft. before our final descent to the parking lot.

A real trail! (on the home stretch)

The trail was soft and easy. We started off with a gradual decline from about 10,200 to 9,500 feet. So far, so good. This took us to mile 8 or 9. Then we started climbing up and got to about 10,500 before the trail levelled off. I thought this was the end of it. It was not. A few miles later the trail started slowly climbing up again. We got to about 11,000 feet before we finally started to descend. At this point we were at maybe 16 or 17 miles. I had seen switchbacks on the map toward the end portion of our hike and thought the downhill portion would be quick. However these were the longest switchbacks I'd ever seen! They were so gradual and each switchback felt like a quarter mile long! We finally got down to 9,000 feet and then the trail levelled off again which was not what we wanted. The last few miles seemed endless but finally we spotted the parking lot down below. From there it was a steep mile down to the car where we finally changed out of our 7 day old sweaty clothes and headed to town for a hamburger.

The end!

Total miles: 113.71 mi.
Total elevation gain: 30,577 ft.

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Have you ever done a multi day hiking trip? What is your favorite place to hike (day or multi-day)? 


  1. I did read this whole post and am amazed that you did this. You are SO tough! I am SO NOT TOUGH. I am glad you made it through this hike safely because it sounds like there were some seriously touch and go moments! I have never done a multi-day hiking trip and I honestly don't know that I ever will. It'd have to happen when our kids are grown and we will be quite old by then! But I do want to do lots of hiking with our kids when they are older. But they will be shorter day hikes most likely. But I'd love to replicate the trip I did with you in CO - and you could even join us for that. Maybe in like 8 years. Ha!

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