The mud squishes underneath our boots. Snow capped granite mountains rise above the trees in the distance. Streams and creeks rush past, cold enough to turn your toes and shins red after just a few moments of wading across them. Wildflowers in a painter's box of color, yellow, white, purple, red, and blue, litter the ground around us. This is the Wind River Range (also called The Winds), a rugged stretch of continental divide that includes cirques, lakes, nineteen 13,000'+ peaks, and a lifetime's worth of mosquitoes.
In early July Daniel and I flew into Salt Lake City airport, picked up our rental car, and headed northeast to Wyoming. Our destination: Big Sandy Trailhead and a 4-day backpacking loop around the Cirque of the Towers. Having called the Pinedale Ranger District offices prior to our trip we were acutely aware of (and very nervous about) the possibility that our little rental Kia wouldn't make it over the last 10 miles of undeveloped road leading to the trailhead. The ranger had warned me that we might "bottom out" the car on the massive potholes in the road. With fingers crossed we drove on. It turned out to not be nearly as bad as we'd feared, and soon we arrived at the parking area.
From our first steps on the trail it was obvious that we were going to be treated to some incredible scenery. Green grass and wildflowers stretched out around us while snowy mountain tops peeked out over the tree tops. The trail was soggy from the snow melting down from higher elevations, but we squished along happily. At times streams and creeks intersected our path and we had to stop to take our boots off and wade across.
Several miles in we passed a group of rangers headed the other direction and inquired about our intended route. The idea was to do a clockwise loop, past Dad's Lake, over Texas Pass, around the Cirque of the Towers, and connect back at Big Sandy. We were aware that snow conditions at the pass might create some difficulties for us, and when I signed the trail register I noted someone's entry that "Texas Pass was do-able but sketch". The rangers advised that the pass was "probably fine, you just have to be careful". Not so sketch? Great! Off we went, merrily on our way, until we ran into another group of rangers. Repeat questions, get a different answer. "Nope", they said, "don't think anyone has made it over the pass, don't think you should even try. It's pretty sketch. Head out to Pyramid Lake instead," they advised. "It's beautiful, and no one ever goes there". Great! Off we went, merrily on our way, deciding not to decide anything, yet.
Our first night was spent at Dad's Lake. It's difficult to describe how beautiful it was. I've included both of the photos below because I want to point something out. Notice how Daniel is dressed. Then notice how I am dressed. This was my strategy to survive the onslaught of mosquitoes that had been with us all day: Wear EVERYTHING I HAVE. Sweating is preferable to itching.
I mentioned in the beginning that the Wind's had a lifetime's worth of mosquitoes, and that's not an exaggeration. They bit me through my clothes, buzzed in my ears, and followed us down the trail like a black cloud of doom.
This is what happens to objects that stand still. I've circled the mosquitoes on my pack. Some of those red circles are actually 2 mosquitoes.
Here I am looking skeptical about the whole situation. Can you see all those little bright dots? Mosquitoes.
On the second day we set out around Dad's Lake and headed north on the trail, walking deeper into the mountains and slowly gaining elevation. We hiked up what can best be described as a gully and soon came out at Marms Lake. It was the perfect spot for a packs-off break (my favorite kind!).
Scroll through the photos above to see some of the beauty of Marms Lake.
We decided to take the advice of the more cautious rangers and head out towards Pyramid Lake. But between us and the lake was a river. A very wide, fast, cold river. It's a bit frightening to feel the rush of water trying to knock you over. About 10 steps into the crossing I felt my feet go numb from the cold. When I emerged on other side my feet and legs were a vivid red from the freezing water. It's funny how something that feels a bit scary becomes a fun and thrilling experience as soon as it's safely over.
We dried off our feet and headed up the other side of the trail. Soon there was nothing but snow at our feet and we had to be careful to find our way. Often times the snow was deceptively thin and you might suddenly sink in up to your knees. And if you do fall through it's quite a hilarious feat to try to get yourself back up with a 40lb pack on your back.
Here I am trying to get back on top of the snow after falling through, again. But it's all fun when you're having an adventure!
In some places you can glide across the snow, in other places you have to carefully pick your way around soft, deep spots and icy slopes. Eventually we made it to Pyramid Lake, and as the rangers had said, we seemed to be the only people around for miles. The snow was thick on the trail to the lake, and seemed to only get deeper the more elevation we gained.
You can see in this photo how deep the snow is. These trail signs are typically elbow high.
There was still ice on Pyramid Lake. We enjoyed the view for a while but soon decided to head back the way we'd come in search of a campsite.
We found a lovely campsite tucked away from the trail in the woods with an incredible view looking up towards Shadow Lake and the moon rising up over the mountain tops. It was the perfect spot to end our second day in The Winds.
That's the story of the first half of our adventure in the Winds. I've decided to break it up into 2 posts, so stay tuned for The Winds, Part II, coming soon!