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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two Trips for the Price of None Part One: Anatomy of a Beatdown

My Brother, Mike, and I just returned from an epic trip to the Wind River Range in WY that became two trips unexpectedly. Photos are posted at my photos site and a description follows below:
Wind River Range

We flew out of Raleigh, NC at the crack of dawn on Saturday, June 13th, 2009 and in a flurry secured a rental car in Salt Lake City, rented ice axes and got stove fuel at REI, hit a grocery store in Evanston, WY and made it to Elkhart Park Trailhead in the Northern Wind River Range outside of Pinedale, WY by about 4pm. We were only the third people to sign the trailhead register and it was clear from the previous entries that snow was going to be a major obstacle. I had known since booking the trip in January that Mid-June was an early attempt on the Winds, but research on historical snow data indicated that if this year panned out like 2007 we'd be high and dry while if this year looked like 2008, we'd be buried in snow.
The first night we pitched camp at the Trails End Campground (not yet open) at Elkhart Park Trailhead and immediately got our first taste of weather as our tent was glazed with 1/2 inch of sleet by morning. Refreshed by hard sleep we set off down towards Long Lake (1800' drop) in good spirits on a chilly, misty morning. Down in the gorge (elevation 7700') conditions were balmy, but then after an 1800' climb up the other side to the Crow's Nest and Glimpse Lake, we were right back in the snow.

Note: The trail out of the northwest side of the gorge carries numerous warnings that the trail has been abandoned and is not maintained by the forest service, however we found it to be VERY well maintained by the local fauna. After lunch at the Crow's Nest overlook we post-holed on past Prospector Lake for a total of 11 miles and 4000' vertical change before setting up camp in a clearing where we were visited by both deer and a lone wolf and where we cooked and slept though snow, rain and snain.
Day two was not quite so productive. We set off over a small ridge to Little Trapper (pictured above) and Trapper Lakes. The postholing was brutal with 2 feet of snow standard coverage and drifts as deep as 5 feet plus. Walking would include 2 or 3 steps on top of the crust followed by an inevitable punch-through post-hole to crotch deep. Next pull self out of hole and repeat. Not fun. We ended up making a whopping 2 miles to Trapper Lake where, in an attempt to cross the outlet via a log jam, I fell completely into the freezing water as snain and sleet pelted us from above. It was clearly time to throw in the towel as I needed to dry out and warm up and any further foray into the itinerary would require climbing beyond the 10,000' mark and leaving the relative protection of the trees. We backtracked to a snow-free oasis beneath a behemoth tree at Little Trapper Lake and set up camp with a plan on backtracking in the morning. Mike got a fire going after the snain stopped and we were able to get semi-dried out. I tried fishing the break in the ice at the outlet of Little Trapper Lake, but it was a no go.
Day three we blasted back through our old tracks (which a small black bear had been using since we'd made them) and back down to relative warmth in the gorge leading to Fremont Lake. We made good time and covered much ground and by early afternoon we were lounging in 70 degree temps by the shores of Fremont lake. The camp at the North end of Fremont Lake was interesting. It was clearly quite the hot spot back in the day, but had been abandoned by maintainers some time ago. There were old campsites now overgrown with picnic tables and grills now in disrepair.
Day four we blasted back up out of the gorge to the trailhead in a relentless downpour which left us cold and water-logged. We arrived back at the car around 11am ready to re-group, re-evaluate, and reconsider the remaining 6 days of our trip. The first order of business was getting dry and fed.

Despite getting nowhere on our proposed itinerary it was still a great trip which stoked our interest in a return trip - MUCH later in the season. We saw cool mountains, lakes, wildlife (deer, swimming deer, moose , snowshoe hare, snakes, and a wolf).
We also learned that summit fever can apply not only to a summit, but to long-term plans. I had known and been warned long in advance the possibility of being snowed out of this itinerary so early, but had pressed on anyway. Doing so is fine as long as you're prepared for the worst and willing to accept the consequences if things don't work out. In our case we were geared up, psychologically prepared, and had a SPOT beacon in case of big-time problems, but I think we were still bummed at having to back-track and not getting to see the true alpine heart of the Winds.

Stay tuned for Part Two to find out how we spent days 5-10 following our retreat.

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