We all have a favorite place. To some its a cafe in their hometown, or a city they've traveled to. For others its the deserts of Utah or the mountains of Colorado or Tennessee. For me, its the Wind River Range in Wyoming.
I first planned to travel to the Winds in the spring of 2016 but a late winter storm dumped almost 2' of snow across the range and we ended up going to Zion and Great Sand Dunes National Parks instead (still amazing places). It wasn't the trip I had planned for but it was the trip that I got. Later that year we took another stab at the Winds. The plan was to drive over night to Wyoming and spend two days there and acclimate to the elevation before heading to Colorado to bag 14ers in the Rockies. We left on a Saturday and arrived at the Big Sandy trail-head on the south end of the range right at daybreak. It was an amazing site to be hiking among these giants as the sun rose over them. Our goal for this first trip was simple, enjoy our limited time, soak up the sites and get to the Cirque du Towers, a world renown destination for hikers and rock-climbers, home to famous climbs like Wolf's Head, and Pingora as well as Mitchell Peak and War Bonnet.
The next section of the hike took us up through Jackass Pass up almost 2,000' over the course of three miles, a steep ascent. It was tiring and we groaned here and there, but boy was it worth it... Close to Jackass Pass we actually discovered that there was an easier route called "the climbers route" after chatting with an older couple on their way out and decided to give it a go. I'll tell you what, having done the hike both ways, its definitely the preferred route. Once you crossed over the divide you enter the actual cirque and the sight of these rugged mountains and untamed wilderness takes your breath away...
Unfortunately we only had a little over 24 hours in the range, so we explored as much as we could, climbed around, searched for spots for the next time and then packed up and headed back out the following day. That time left me wanting to go back and wanting more. It was an amazing and rewarding trip that I would go back and redo with another group a year later. I continued on to Colorado to summit several 14ers and end a wonderful trip.
A Year Later...
After my trip to Wyoming in the Fall of 2016 I lead friends on trips to the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, several national park in Utah and all over eastern Kentucky. We created close friendships with each other and that made me want to take them somewhere that I really enjoyed and share my past experience with them, so I was going back to the Winds.
For this trip we were going to focus most of our time in the Wind River Range with some time at the end of the trip set aside for climbing Longs Peak in Colorado, a whole other blog in and of itself... Our goal was to explore the north end of the range this time near Elkhart trail-head getting into areas such as Titcomb Basin, Indian Basin and Indian Pass where the Knife Point Glacier resides as well as revisiting the Cirque du Towers in the south. We followed a similar plan, left early Saturday from Cincinnati, drove through the night and hit the trail at sunrise, and just like last time, it was an amazing morning. We hiked into the range constantly watching as the mountains above Titcomb Basin and Indian Pass grew closer and closer to us. As the day continued on some of the group began to suffer from exhaustion and a little bit of altitude sickness so we played it safe and made camp near Seneca Lake. Our goal the following day would be to get up to Indian Pass and the glacier.
The next day when we started out it was a cloudy day and I quickly realized that there was going to be much more snow than I had previously expected... As we neared the cutoff for Indian Pass we heard thunder up in the basin and figured that it wasn't a safe idea to head up so we detoured north about 2 miles into Titcomb Basin and took in the sights from a little safer of a distance. A little after lunch, five of us decided we thought we had enough energy and a clear weather window that we wanted to go for the pass and the glacier so off we went. About half way there one of our group started experiencing severe exhaustion and decided to turn back with another member of our party, the other three of us continued onward. After about another hour and 1,000' of gain we found the top of the pass and the Knife Point Glacier. It was awesome, we laid in the snow and tried to hide from the wind blowing over the divide while we took in the views. Eventually we turned back and headed down towards Island Lake and our camp, seeing an incoming storm on the horizon. About halfway down the pass we had the most terrifying display of thunder and lightning that I have ever experienced. There were strikes within feet of us, hail and thunder that shook your whole body. Luckily we had so much adrenaline from the first strike we ran down out of the storm and made it to camp for a warm meal and good nights sleep. The next day we continued on, hiking back to the cars and on to Big Sandy trail-head and the Cirque.
The remaining two days consisted of a repeat of a wonderful trek back into the Cirque with some friends that had never experienced this amazing place. We met back up with some climber friends that had separated from us back on day one and traded stories having had been apart for five days. We hid from afternoon storms and soaked up the mountain views. It was an amazing time with an awesome group of people in a truly breath taking pace. After we left the Winds we set out to conquer Longs Peak with many of our minds still stuck in the Winds. It just went to show how attached you can become to a place and how much you can enjoy the people you get to travel with.
The places I go are amazing, I'm lucky I get to do these things and the people I get to travel with are just as amazing. For now the Winds will remain at the top of my list as my favorite destination, but who knows, maybe a trip in the not so distant future will dethrone them and become my next day dream...
“A mountain is the best medicine for a troubled mind. Seldom does man ponder his own insignificance. He thinks he is master of all things. He thinks the world is his without bonds. Nothing could be farther from the truth."
The Hopeless Wanderer