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Destination: Wind River Range in Wyoming

By Murray Selleck - September 2nd, 2003

It was September and our packs were loaded with 100 pounds of food, rock-climbing gear and ice-climbing gear. Our plan was to go deep into the Wind River Range ( of western Wyoming and spend at least 15 days hiking, climbing, and enjoying one of the most spectacular mountain areas in the Lower 48.

Just the casual mention of the Wind River name sends me daydreaming back to that trip. It was everything we could have hoped for and nothing like we had imagined.

From the Elkhart Trailhead outside of Pinedale, Wyoming, we lumbered up the Pole Creek Trail past Senaca Lake, Little Senaca Lake, Island Lake, and into the Titcomb Basin. From there we shuttled our heavy load up a ramping pass over the Continental Divide and onto the Fremont Glaciers. Once there, we were in an alpine heaven. All around us were towering granite peaks, glaciers, and enough climbing routes to keep us happy for weeks!

We made a base camp next to a tiny alpine lake where there was a mix of rock and snow. The Wind River Range took us by the heart with her beauty, and with the sound of waterfalls and wind over rock.

We enjoyed several days of perfect climbing but then the weather changed dramatically. We were tent-bound for two days waiting for an early fall snowstorm to break. The snow continued into a third day as we watched a foot of snow turn into two feet of snow. We made our break thinking that if we didn't try to get back into the Titcomb Basin on the western side of the Divide we would never make it out.

We managed to cross back over the Divide and off Sacagawea Glacier, breaking trail through waist-deep snow to do it. We stumbled our way out of the Winds over the next two days and once we were back at the trailhead, you could not find two happier climbers.

Would I change anything about that trip? Not a thing. The Winds showed us her beauty and also her power - both of which are as strong as the other. I daydream of going back one day...

About the Winds

  • The Wind River Range is filled with towering granite spires and mountains.
  • It covers more than 225 million acres.
  • Over 900,000 acres is designated wilderness, and made up of The Bridger, the Popo Agie, the Fitzpatrick Wilderness Areas, and the Wind River Indian Reservation which controls the Wind River Roadless Area.
  • There are over 2,000 lakes, tarns, and ponds.
  • Seven out of 10 of the largest glaciers in the U.S. are located in the Winds.
  • The peaks are big. Forty-eight peaks exceed 12,500 feet. The highest is Gannett Peak at 13,804 (WyomingÕs tallest).

There are a number of routes into the Wind River Range. Major access points can be found outside the towns of Lander (on the southeastern side of the range), Pinedale (western access), Dubois (to the north), and Fort Washakie (also on the east).

If you are thinking about entering from the east, contact the Shoshone and Arapahoe Tribes Fish and Game Department (P.O. Box 217, Fort Washakie, Wyoming 82514; 307-332-7207). On my trip into the Winds we originally wanted to go in on that side, but the trail we had planned to use was closed to all but those who lived on the reservation. If you cross over into Tribal lands from the west you should have a tribal fishing permit, which allows you access. Contact the above agency for current information and regulations.

What to Expect
Generally, the west side of the Wind River Range offers easy access into the mountains with moderate gains in elevation. The east side, however, typically offers deep canyons and big elevation gains in relatively short distances. Most trails are well marked and easy to follow, but, as with all wilderness experiences, you should hike with a map and compass. The bugs are infamous in the Winds.

From June through August you should plan for the worst and hope for the best. Mosquitoes and biting flies are no reason to stay away. Be prepared for everything in the Winds. Snow can fly any month of the year, and you should plan on it once September arrives.

There are a number of excellent guidebooks available for the Wind Rivers.

One of the best is Walking the Winds by Rebecca Woods. Hiking Wyoming's Wind River Range by Ron Adkinson and Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains by Joe Kelsey are extremely helpful when planning your trip.

When trying to decide where to go, I find a large-scale map that presents an overview of an area helps. I can get a better feel of the lay of the land, find access points and trailheads easier, and get a better sense of scale. The Northern Wind River Range Hiking Map and Guide and the Southern Wind River Range Hiking Map and Guide are just such maps.

The Wind River Range is becoming more and more popular. Plenty of people visit this area because of its immense beauty. One of the most beautiful features of this terrain, however, is how easily people can be swallowed up by this huge country. The parking lot at a trailhead may be full, but with the right plan you may not see anyone for days. Would I go to the Wind Rivers again knowing there might be crowds, bigger bugs, and a good chance of a blizzard? Say the words, just say the words...ÒWind Rivers.Ó


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