Deadhorse, Ferry

Ferry from Deadhorse


Deadhorse and Ferry are two peaks along the southern side of Indian Creek near Alpine, Wyoming. Ferry is in Turiano’s book and is the more impressive of the two, its chossy ramparts sticking out into the Star Valley. It sounded like an easy outing via the Cottonwood Creek trail, so I decided to make a loop of it and neighboring Deadhorse via the Red Creek trail. The trailhead was empty other than me on a weekday, even during hunting season, and I started around first light to avoid the forecast afternoon showers. The trail I wanted had seen recent horse traffic, following the valley a short distance before climbing steeply up the ridge to its right.

Bowl below Deadhorse

My original intent was to follow a spur trail on a high traverse to the saddle at the head of Cottonwood, tag Ferry, then return along the ridge to pick up as many bonus peaks as I wanted. However I saw no sign of this side trail, either as it branched off from the main one or looking down from the ridge to the open ground it crossed. I should have taken this as an omen, but was content to change plans and loop in the other direction. The trail became fainter as it continued up the ridge, but the occasional horse print reassured me that I was in the right place. It faded completely at one point, and I found some unpleasantly loose, steep dirt regaining the ridge after getting side-tracked on a game trail, but I continued to find easy travel and occasional signs of human passage all the way to the ridge.

Distant Tetons

From the saddle I followed the ridge west, picking my way along game trails to get through the brush, loose slopes, and occasional scrub pines. I found a sad cairn on the summit, and had a fine view of the Snake River Range nearby, and the Tetons illuminated in the distance. Ferry looked far away, but the weather was holding, with only a few nonthreatening clouds in the sky. I returned to the saddle, then made my way over another unnamed peak that was in the way. On its summit, I found a great deal of sheep dung and a few surprising horse-prints. Whoever had made it up here was a good rider on a strange mission.

Ferry from above saddle

The descent to the final saddle before Ferry was steeper and more obnoxious than what had come before, a choice between loose scree and knee-high brush. The sheep and elk seemed to avoid this area, but I found the occasional game trail to ease my passage. Reaching the saddle, I expected to see at least some sign of three trails: the traverse I had hoped to take, the one leading down Cottonwood to the south, and another leading into Indian Creek to the north. However, other than an old metal post and perhaps a faint remnant descending north, I saw absolutely nothing. Ominous…

Um…

… But there was a nice game trail headed toward Ferry, so I put my worries aside and headed up. The ridge from saddle to summit is a good mile, with choss-cliffs in several places on the near side, but I did not expect any trouble. So it surprised me when I reached some darker towers and found my way blocked by a steep, crumbly buttress with sketchy-looking sides. I first tried traversing around left, picking my way along hard-pack with embedded rocks to peer around the corner. Perhaps my choss head was just not in the right place, but I did not see anything I wanted to climb. I was feeling defeated, but decided to check out the other side. An outward-sloping traverse along the seam between black and tan rock got me around the corner to what looked like easier ground, and I headed up. Yay!

Choss ridge from above

Unfortunately things got steeper near the ridge, and I found myself doing the sort of cautious climbing I had hoped to avoid. It was almost certainly not harder than class 3, but the rock looked terribly untrustworthy. I proceeded toward the crest, kicking and hitting things, pulling some off, and brushing off ledges by repeatedly pawing at them with my feet until the gravel was all gone. The ridge itself was narrow but, as I had hoped, slightly more solid. I traversed and balance-beamed my way along, and was soon on less-exposed terrain. I had some more unpleasant loose stuff and hard-pack to deal with, but there was no more significant trouble between there and the summit.

Saddle from Ferry

I was absolutely not going to return the way I had come, so I dropped down the ridge between Cottonwood and Sheep Creeks, planning to pick up the Cottonwood trail lower down where it traversed high above the creek. I had seen absolutely no sign of it from above, which was unsettling, but figured it would become better-defined closer to the trailhead. Leaving the ridge, I descended faint game trails to where the trail appeared on the map then, finding nothing obvious, headed downstream on the best-defined elk-trail. The local animals usually know an area best, and I would appreciate their help threading my way through the thickets of willows, or alders, or whatever bendy, dense, deciduous things I saw infesting the slope ahead.

So much of this

The slope was regularly split by steep-sided ravines, with a mix of what I’ll call “grass” and “alders” in between. The “grass” was actually a mix of shin- to knee-high dead plants including pea-sized burrs, nature’s Velcro that is so effective it even sticks to your hands. At the first, I spent some time looking up and down for signs of the trail, but eventually gave up and looked for wherever the animals crossed. Thrashing up out of the ravine through the alders would have been next to impossible, but fortunately game had broken a path. I continued like this to where the trail was supposed to switchback down a rib to the creek. The alders were frequently dense enough that I found myself standing on some to push them down, lifting others over my head, and still having a few grab at my ankles. I may not make it to Washington this year, but I will at least have something of the Cascades experience.

Slightly better

If the trail would be visible anywhere, it would be in the woods where it used to switchback, but I found absolutely nothing. Even the game trails sucked, and I found myself bashing downward through alders and deadfall. After this I gave up on the trail, which supposedly followed above the creek on its west side, a steep slope was covered in alders. At least it was late in the season, so I could boulder-hop down the creekbed. The creek meandered back and forth, and was just a bit too wide to jump, but it was still easier than the slopes to either side, and I rejoiced in accelerating to perhaps one mile per hour. After a few foot-soakings and a painful fall when a river rock rolled, I finally reached the road to find absolutely no sign that a trail had ever existed. No old parking lot, no sign, not even a helpful cairn. Later than expected, I made my way against early afternoon traffic back to Red Creek, then drove into town to recover.

Clause

Clause from approach

Clause Peak is the highest of a small group of peaks south of the Hoback River between Bondurant and Hoback Junction. The peaks are a sandstone uplift, so they are normally easy from the west, or along their north-south crest. However Clause is a long hike from any of those directions, forcing the lazy peak-bagger to climb it from the east, ascending Clause Creek via an old road, some bushwhacking, and steep choss. To add a bit more variety, I camped at the base of Cliff Creek Road and biked to Clause Creek. I passed many trailers along the way, no doubt some of the many hunters out enjoying the fine season. I don’t know if they were having much luck, but I have seen very few elk in my time up here, and have not heard any bugling (“screaming,” really). This could be because I have not felt the need to start early, especially when doing so by bike, but the valleys and meadows do seem quiet.

Eroded road

I had hoped to ride my bike up the decommissioned Clause Creek road, but the bridge was out and it looked somewhat overgrown. I stashed my bike behind a bush, then found a nice log crossing perhaps 100 yards downstream. Once on the other side, I found that the trail was smooth and well-used, and I could probably have ridden it to save some time if I had been able to balance across the log holding my bike. This would only have saved me a few miles of walking, though, so it was no great loss.

Epic game trail

Where the road/trail crosses the creek to switchback up the south side, I left it to follow the creek’s north bank as Turiano’s route description suggested. I was initially dismayed by the deadfall and underbrush, but soon found an epic game trail climbing the crest just right of the stream. Though they were not continuous, and there was some thrashing, the game trails in this valley continued to impress me, with elk clearing a path lower down, and sheep taking over on the steep climb out of the creek to the bowl northeast of the summit.

Nearing split

I followed game trails through the woods, briefly picked up an old trail appearing on the USGS map, then left that on more game trails to descend into the creekbed. This route would be underwater and infeasible earlier in the season, but the creek was low enough to almost jump across in most places, leaving a wide, plant-free area of rocks and gravel that was, while not fast, at least more efficient than the woods to either side. I had made the mistake of filling up water at Hoback Market, realizing later that the water is bearable for cooking or coffee, but too heavily mineralized to be drinkable straight. I therefore dumped it out and refilled from Clause Creek, which tasted much better and seemed to be above cow territory at this point. I eventually left the creek to the left, and found more game trails in the woods and meadows.

The Business

At the prominent split in the creek, I immediately spotted a massive trail leading straight up the spine between the two forks, and took it as it climbed most efficiently through the woods. The tracks changed from elk to sheep, and the path steepened, almost too much to follow without hooves. At one point I passed some sort of “sheep altar,” where the ground had been trampled in a circle around a single scraggly pine tree. I eventually emerged above treeline, and continued on the edge of a colorful north-facing cliff to reach the plateau along the base of the headwall.

Pick a chute…

On to the chossineering! I made my way on a faint sheep-trail across a boulder-field, then aimed for the first likely-looking chute through the headwall. This consists of two layers of choss: rotten red rock below, and some even worse gray stuff little better than gravel above. The steep slope leading to the red cliff-band was miserable hardpack with the occasional loose rock on top, but at least low-angle enough to be home to some plants. I struggled up this for what seemed like forever, and was inordinately pleased with myself when my chosen gap proved to be no harder than class 3-4.

Step-chopping complete

Would that the difficulties had ended there… The slope above was made of the awful gray rock, a mixture of hardpack and short cliff-bands, the joints all angled in the wrong direction. I started up cautiously, thinking it was short and low-angle enough that it would be unpleasant but brief, carefully testing every embedded rock and divot, sometimes kicking steps in the dirt. Partway up, though, things began to feel serious, and I needed a new approach. Downclimbing seemed like a bad idea, so… grabbing a nearby rock, I began chopping steps in the dirt. I have “stone-tooled” my way across hard snowfields in the Sierra and elsewhere, but it feels irrationally less sketchy on snow. With a dozen or so blows apiece, I methodically dug my way to the crest. Once there, I found a mostly-easy walk to the summit, aided by yet more sheep trails.

North from summit

It was a clear day, but I did not enjoy much time on the summit. I was absolutely not going to descend the way I had gone up, so I needed to find the supposed “class 3-4” way through the headwall. The best prospect seemed to be at the next saddle north, where the deadly gray layer was thinnest. I made my way there, then began carefully scouting. It is much harder to see the best route from above than below, so it took me a couple of sketchy false starts before I eventually found a sheep trail leading along the edge of a gray cliff-band, then a traverse below that leading to a red gully in which I could crab-walk down to the steep plants below. This was certainly easier than my ascent route, but I would not recommend it.

Now it was just a matter of slogging. I found the game trails harder to follow on the way down, frequently checking my up-track to get back on course, but it all went smoothly. I heard one gunshot in the woods lower down, but I think I was wearing enough red and orange that the hunter would have been in trouble if he had hit me. Back at the Cliff Creek road, there was now another large truck, this one with a full-sized chest freezer lashed in its bed, an optimistic bit of cargo. I had a quick ride down to the car, then poked around the map on my phone for what to do next.

Tosi

Tosi from the south


Tosi is a peak at the southeast corner of the Gros Ventre Range. From the south, driving from Pinedale to Hoback Junction, it looks like the apex of a broad uplift plateau. Perhaps it once was, but its north side has eroded away, leaving only a narrow rim of sandstone around a lower plain of some harder rock (limestone, judging by the color) to its north. Turiano describes a route from the south involving ten miles of dirt road and an unmarked hunters’ trail. Sometimes such routes have fallen out of use and faded in the decades since the book was published, as was the case for Ramshorn, but in this case the route was almost exactly as described, and still sees regular use.

Approaching headwall

Not wanting to abuse my car more than necessary (driving to Big Sandy counted as “necessary”), I parked at the highway and rode the 3.5 miles of easy gravel road to where things get real. There were large camping trailers at all the established spots along the way, and a few big pickups pulling horse or ATV trailers at the junction. It was a weekend during bow-hunting season, and the locals were out in force. The rough part started with a descent too rocky and loose in places for me to ride, which had me worried about how long it would take to ride the remaining 6+ miles. Fortunately the road improved somewhat, though it was still frequently rutted and steep in places, and mostly too rugged for someone with my limited bike-handling skills to ride quickly on a gravel bike. Still, 9.5 rolling miles passed in an hour and ten minutes, much faster than I could have run them even if I were in running shape.

Near the end, I ran into a man and his son in a side-by-side, returning from an apparently failed hunt. The man gave me a thumbs-up for riding in so far, and was curious what I was doing. When I told him I was headed up Tosi, he warned me to “watch out for long-claws” before continuing. I know there are grizzlies as far south as the southern Winds these days, but I don’t really think of anything south of Mount Moran as “bear country” in the sense of having to carry bear spray. The Gros Ventres feel tame in a way that, say, the Absarokas do not, but I did turn my music off and make some noise while I was close to water or in brush.

At the junction with Elbow Draw, I stashed my bike in the woods, then set out to see if I, as suggested, had to ford Jack Creek. I did, but it was only fifteen feet wide and not even calf-deep this time of year. I splashed across in shoes, then wrung out my insoles and socks before continuing. Knowing that the trail followed the right side of the creek, I started off on that side, following various game- and cow-paths looking for them to resolve into a trail. This turned out to be a mistake which led me into a bog between two branches of Elbow Creek. I eventually sidehilled back above some beaver ponds and saw the real trail below me, well-used by horses and recently maintained. On the return, I found that the trail crosses to the west side of Elbow Draw above the beaver pond, fording Jack Creek just downstream of where I had.

Headwall climb

Once on track, I found easy going along the creek and up the ridge to its right, eventually emerging in open sagebrush almost directly below Tosi’s summit. The trail forked a couple of times, then seemed to end at a sort of highline traversing the base of the peak below the uplift’s cliffs. These cliffs are conveniently broken by a ravine directly below the summit, with enough grass in it to indicate that it would make a good route. I gave up on the human trail, following faint game trails and the path of least resistance through some scrub pines oft-abused by avalanches.

Eastern subpeak

The lower ravine was a comfortable grade with stable footing, but it became steeper and looser higher up. Eventually the plants disappeared and I was left to contend with unstable sandstone talus. Above the choke-point, I bore right, searching for the least miserable way to reach the ridge. I could have stuck to the boulders, but scrambled more directly up a couple of short cliff bands to shorten the route. I abruptly emerged on the ridge, finding a near-vertical face dropping several hundred feet on the north side. I looked back east at a similarly-shaped shorter summit, then picked my way through ledges and talus to the summit, where there was a cairn and benchmark but no register.

Western plateau

It was a relatively smoke-free day, so I could see mountains in every direction, from the northern Winds, to the east to the Wyoming Range to the south, to the Grand Teton rising behind the Gros Ventres far to the northwest. The most striking sight, however, was the lower plateau immediately northwest, where the gentle uplift had been worn down to a slanted plain of harder, gray rock, with a white-orange sandstone rim on its southern end. It reminded me of upper Darby Canyon on the west side of the Tetons.

I retraced my route on the return, finding the talus even worse on the way down. I had to crab-walk down most of it, maintaining three points of contact against shifting boulders. Even that was not enough once, when the boulders under one hand and one foot shifted simultaneously. Once back on the trail, I skipped back to Jack Creek, forded it in shoes again, and did not bother to wring out my socks afterwards. It was hot by then, and I figured they would mostly dry on the ride. I made better time on the net-downhill return, passing a couple of ATVs on their way in, and was back at the highway by midafternoon.

Raid, Bonneville

Bonneville and Raid


Mount Bonneville is a central Winds landmark, clearly visible from Pinedale to the west. Unlike most of its neighbors, which follow the southern Winds pattern of having cliffs to the north and east, and talus ramps to the south and west, Bonneville is a serrated north-south ridge with sheer sides. Its easiest route is a low-fifth-class scramble on its east side, derisively referred to by climbers as the “descent route,” and happily used by me. Raid Peak, its neighbor to the south, is of more typical shape, and therefore mostly boulders from the west. The cowboy and the shepherd are not friends, and peak and nearby Raid Lake are named for an incident in which the cowboys massacred well over a thousand sheep nearby. Confusingly, the benchmark on Raid says “Bonneville,” so the names have apparently moved around some.

Pack trail is better than no trail

Bonneville can be reached from Big Sandy to its south via the Fremont trail, or from Scab Creek to its west; I chose the latter because it was new to me, and because I had gotten bored trying the former ten years ago. I started around first light, plying the stock trail at a semi-respectable pace. While nowhere near as popular as the Big Sandy trail, it is well-used, and the heavy stock traffic over the years has had the expected result: erosion, large exposed rocks lubricated by dust, big steps, and a thick coating of pulverized dirt and manure. It is more or less runnable on fresh legs, but requires some agility, and I personally obsess over my feet stewing in dust-manure-filtrate all day.

Western plateau

The western Winds feature a broad plateau separating the habitable valley from the peaks, much of it below treeline, so after an initial climb, the first ten miles or so of the approach were all in trees, covering rolling terrain past numerous lakes. This would doubtless make the area mosquito hell earlier in the season, but that is why I visit the Winds now, after they have frozen. It was pleasantly cool, with frost on my car and on the willows, and I started in my hoodie and mitts, keeping the hoodie well into the morning.

One fewer horse

The trail finally breaks out into a long meadow and splits, with the left fork going to Dream Lake. I could finally see my peaks from here, barely visible while backlit in the smoke. There are more junctions in extensive and confusing Winds trail system, but the correct direction is usually clear. Shortly before Raid Lake, I turned off on a well-used but unofficial trail to Bonneville Basin, which follows a stream for awhile, then climbs through more woods to a bench with several lakes. The trail rapidly fades to little more than a game trail before the first large Bonneville Lake.

Bonneville from Raid

I left the trail at the lake’s outlet, passing a guy’s camp at a respectful distance, aiming for the Bonneville-Raid col. Finally above treeline, I found some easy grass, bits of use trail, and then some excellent slabs leading me toward Raid’s west side. The standard route climbs its north shoulder from the col, but the west side looked doable and more direct, so I headed straight for the summit. I found some enjoyable class 3-4 scrambling at the base of the slope, then a long but moderate boulder-hop to the summit. The sheer east side was much more impressive — the other approach to Bonneville clearly has better views. I found a large cairn, an unreadable wooden sign, and an old bottle with a single scrap of paper in it, suggesting that the peak does not see a lot of modern traffic.

Bonneville east face

The descent north to the col was tedious, with larger and somewhat less stable talus than the west side, but no particular difficulties. The route to Bonneville’s upper east face was clear, a talus slope leading to a chute left of a cliff band. I followed a faint trail a short ways down the east side, then took off across the boulderfield. Rounding the southeast shoulder, I found myself cliffed out, and had to descend a bit to traverse onto the face. This is shown as a permanent snowfield on the USGS map, but is now the expected hard-pack and rubble. Continuing north, I reached fairly clean slabs crossed by ledges and ramps, which looked like the route.

Fun climbing

I climbed a series of black ramps to the edge of a couloir, then stayed near the couloir up to its notch in the summit ridge. The climbing was mostly class 3-4, with perhaps a few fifth class moves, and I felt surprisingly comfortable given my lack of recent scrambling. Unfortunately the crux was finding my way from the notch to the summit. The ridge itself is too steep, so one must traverse onto the east face, then pick one’s way up a choose-your-own-adventure obstacle course. After trying a slab traverse and backing off, I went lower and farther south, then made my way back up to the summit, passing a couple old rap stations along the way.

Musembeah

The summit block itself presented a final challenge. I initially scrambled up to its south side, but found a couple of moves there a bit too spicy. Traversing back around north, I found a short a cheval or balance-beam, then an easier traverse along the west side leading to a moderate finish. There was no register or benchmark, but a comfortable seat, so I enjoyed the mostly smoke-free views for awhile. To the south I could make out Lizard Head and the Cirque, with Wind River, East Temple, and Temple behind them. I recognized Pronghorn nearby to the north, but not much beyond that. To the east, Musembeah dominates the view with its huge west arete. I will have to look into the possibility of approaching it from Big Sandy to avoid the costly fishing license required for eastern approaches.

Bonneville Basin

I carefully retraced my route to the base of the face, found a slightly more direct one back to the col, then crossed more boulders and turf to rejoin my ascent route. Once back at Bonneville Lake, everything was over but the slogging. I jogged as I was able, but this was my longest day on my feet in almost two months, and my body was starting to protest. Back on the official trail system I passed five kids with high gaiters and monster packs, doubtless NOLS-ies, but otherwise had the trail to myself until I was back in the woods. It was a Saturday during bow hunting season, so I met several parties headed in, mostly with stock. There were the usual men with horses, but also an entire family walking with a herd of pack-goats and a couple of alpacas. Awesome! I also came upon a couple of young women on horses headed out, who very politely moved off the trail into a field to let me pass, a striking contrast to the usual packer entitlement. With some awkward jogging, I was back at the car in under 12 hours, but felt as beaten-up as if I had done a longer outing.

I don’t see myself using this approach again, as it is long and only useful for a handful of peaks. I am glad I at least saw the central Winds, but don’t anticipate dayhiking more peaks there. They are hard to reach, not particularly high, and while they have some impressive faces, most are too hard for me by their interesting sides, and boulder-hops otherwise. I could see myself backpacking through and tagging some summits along the way, but not this year.

Temple

Temple from Sedgewick Meadow


Temple is a landmark of the southern Winds, rising just shy of 13,000 feet with a gentle south slope leading to a sharp prow over a precipitous north face. It is one of a line of three similarly-shaped peaks at the southern end of the range’s high section, along with East Temple and Wind River. It had impressed me last year on my two ascents of the latter, and it is in Turiano’s book, so I made plans to climb it while I was in the area. The easiest route is probably via Big Sandy Lake and Temple Pass, but I had been to Big Sandy the previous day on my way to Lizard Head, and would not enjoy repeating the dusty slog. Turiano’s preferred route is via Sedgewick Meadows, starting a few miles south of the Big Sandy trailhead.

Smoky sunrise

For all of the book’s strengths, it is not immune to decay and time. In the Winds, as in wilderness elsewhere, social media focuses visitors in a few places, while chronic under-funding of the Forest Service limits maintenance. A few routes are loved to death, and most fall into disuse and disrepair. Roads become trails, trails become game paths, and especially in the Winds, these are obliterated by deadfall. Reading between the lines, I suspected that this route would barely exist, but it would take me to some new terrain, and was not too long.

Enter the suck

I hiked the half-mile of road to where more capable vehicles drive, then continued on a trail that still bore faint signs of having been a road in the distant past. This path crossed the faint Continental Divide Trail, then emerged into Sedgewick Meadow, from which Temple was faintly visible through the sunrise and smoke. I immediately lost the correct trail, finding another that crossed Dutch Joe Creek before petering out near a fence. I thrashed through the woods for awhile, then recrossed the creek and rejoined a faint trail with occasional small cairns. None of this is on any map, but there were horse prints from this summer, so it is still known and used by some local hunters or fishermen.

Looking back at the suck

The trail faded in a long meadow, but this was such easy ground that I did not mind. Unfortunately I did not find where it left the meadow’s upper end (nor would I on the return). The woods between this meadow and Temple’s granite southwest ridge were various forms of miserable, a mixture of windfall, large boulders, and thick brush. I soldiered on, occasionally finding well-developed game trails, and eventually reached the base of the ridge. Turiano describes the face as a boulder-field, and I was dreading a long talus slog, but the lower part had long stretches of slabs, while the upper part was mostly turf, and the talus was generally stable.

Summit prow

I reached the crest a bit west of the summit, giving me an impressive view of the prow and sheer north face. I worked my way through some tricky large talus to the summit, peered over the edge, read the “summit register” (Owen liked to carve his name in summit boulders), then had a snack and took in the smoky views. On a clear day one can supposedly see Gannett from Temple, but I could barely see farther than Lizard Head. Looking back southwest, I tried to pick out a better route for my return.

North to Lizard Head

I retraced my route most of the way down the ridge, then continued farther left, following slabs to open forest and a meadow. I had found a cairn and faint trail on the way up, and I returned to that, then tried to guess where it might lead. I almost lost it right away in a meadow, but an little museum of old cans put me back on course. The trail seemed to head west and southwest, staying well above Dutch Joe Creek. It was cairned and easy to follow at first, and one deadfall had been sawn through in the not-too-distant past. Unfortunately, as seems common in the Winds, a windstorm had massacred quite a bit of the forest, and the trail became some combination of invisible and impossible to follow. I meandered roughly toward where I wanted to end up, following bits of game trail, stepping over some logs, balancing along others, picking my way through big talus, and crossing a small bog.

I finally emerged in the big meadow, and eventually picked up the trail again. It was easier to follow on the way back, eventually taking me to a hunters’ camp with a fire ring and suspended log for hanging game. The trail disappeared into Sedgewick Meadow after this, explaining how I lost it, but it was easy to take the correct line on the return. There was an old Toyota truck parked at the 4WD “trailhead,” but I neither saw nor heard its owner. What a contrast to the previous day’s crowds!

Lizard Head

Lizard Head showing up and down


Tom Turiano’s Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone is one of the best guidebooks I have read, one that I personally admire and aspire to emulate. It covers 107 peaks in ten ranges of the wild, high area of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho surrounding Yellowstone. The peaks are chosen based on the author’s taste (Turiano seems to have climbed them all himself), giving a representative sample of the region and with difficulties ranging from short hikes to scary 5.6 choss. Rather than giving detailed route descriptions and maps, the book gives a brief description of one or a few routes for each peak, plus a list of the distance, technical difficulty, and time required. In the space thus saved, the book delves into the mountaineering and cultural history of each peak, making it not just useful as a reference, but worth reading cover-to-cover.

Unfortunately the book has long been out of print, and copies sell on Amazon for over $500 as of Spring 2022. (A lesson for authors: if you work with a publisher, make sure to retain the right to self-publish if they stop printing your book.) However someone was kind enough to put the peaks on Peakbagger, losing the lore but creating a worthy set of red dots to turn green. I have been slowly chipping away at this list as opportunities present themselves, and am currently almost a third of the way through. No one other than Turiano himself has completed it to my knowledge, but it seems like a worthy lifetime goal.

While the Winds are high and north enough to regularly receive late-summer snow, a heat wave had driven temperatures in Lander into the 90s for the first week of September, making it imperative to get high. Other than Sinks Canyon and Trail Lakes at the extreme south and north ends, eastern access to the Winds is blocked by the Wind River Indian Reservation, which charges around $100 for a “fishing” or “trespassing” license. They even have a graduated fee system for half-bloods and people married to full tribal members — go figure. That ruled out Musembeah Peak for me, but I still had a few Turiano peaks in the southern Winds accessed from the west, near the Big Sandy Opening. This is the trailhead for the Cirque of the Towers, which would doubtless be mobbed on a holiday weekend, but I was not planning to climb a popular route, and had not visited the area in a decade.

Trailhead sign

I drove down around the southern end of the range, then took the dirt Lander Cutoff road. It was somewhat washboarded, but still a good Wyoming dirt road, and my car and I were only slightly unhappy taking it at 30 MPH, a bearable speed with good listening material. The final road to Big Sandy was much worse, cutting my speed to 10-15 MPH and making me worry about my tires and feel sorry for my car. There’s a reason I don’t visit this area very often. Perhaps a half-mile from the trailhead, I saw fifty or more cars parked in a field that had become an improvised overflow lot, and more along the road in every conceivable spot. It being Sunday evening, I got a prime spot right next to the trailhead sign, but it was discouraging to be once again confronted with outrageous wilderness overcrowding. The Cirque is unfortunately within the holiday weekend radius of Boulder, and while Boulderites are legendary NIMBYs (it is effectively a “sundown town” for dirtbags like Yours Truly), they are equally YIOBYs (“Yes In Others’ Back Yards”).

Be that as it may… I got started around 6:45, hike-jogging up the trail in an overshirt. I saw a few others dressed as trail runners, but was slightly faster than them even in my current state. The trail climbs almost imperceptibly over seven miles to Big Sandy Lake, so I was able to jog quite a bit of the approach. From there it climbs steeply but inconsistently to Jackass Pass, the entrance to the Cirque. The trail situation is complicated, with the official one going high to the right, while a well-used climbers’ trail passes near the lakes on the way to another crossing of the saddle to the left. I was pleased to meet a steady stream of people leaving the area, driving home and leaving more space for me. They were a mix of climbers, fishermen, and backpackers with dogs and, in one case, an execrable Bluetooth speaker.

There were campers scattered around the Cirque, but they thinned out as I passed Lonesome Lake and headed for Texas Pass. After some willow-thrashing and boulder-hopping, I eventually found the well-beaten use trail — it turns out Texas Pass is part of “The Loop” up the Fremont Trail and back over Jackass Pass. Just below the pass, I left this trail to head up some slabs toward Camel’s Hump, a minor bump on Lizard Head’s west ridge. Turiano suggests this ridge as the best non-technical route to the summit, and rates it class 4. I found the crest itself time-consuming and tricky in spots, but perhaps my scrambling skills are rusty. I ended up mostly contouring below the ridge to the right, returning to the crest to get around a few difficulties and to climb the final headwall to the summit plateau.

Like many peaks in this part of the Winds, Lizard Head’s north and east sides have been chewed vertical by glaciers, while its summit remains an uncarved talus plateau. I hopped across this plateau to the highpoint, checked out the sheer faces on the other side, then sat for a bit to have a snack and check my email (most Winds summits have some service, as the range is narrow). Rather than returning the way I had come, I decided to try descending a mixture of gully, slabs, and grass from below the final headwall that I had seen did not cliff out. This proved much faster than the ascent route, seemed no harder than class 2-3, and deposited me at a seldom-visited lake where I refilled my water bladder.

From the lake, I descended toward the eastern side of Lonesome Lake, eventually picking up a faint use trail and then the main trail. From there it was a steady hike and jog in the direction of traffic back to the car. I had briefly entertained the thought of traversing Mitchell, Dog Tooth, and Big Sandy Peaks to connect the top of Jackass Pass to Big Sandy Lake. This would add some time but not much distance, and I had plenty of food and daylight, but I am wary of over-stressing my body after a month and a half of almost no hiking or running. I passed the same mix of people on the way out that I had on the way in, mostly ignoring them, but stopping to talk with a mother and son hiking in their camp shoes while carrying their hiking boots, which had cruelly abused their feet. The parking lot was slightly more than half full as I made my post-hike meal, then drove a short distance back down the road to the next trailhead. My body seems to be handling the return to hiking and even jogging better than I expected; I hope that continues.

Medicine Bow

Sugarloaf and Medicine Bow


[While I intend to write about the rest of Europe, I’m currently back in the States and hiking some easy peaks, which will be interspersed with the tail end of the bike tour.]

Medicine Bow Mountain is the highpoint of the small Snowy Range in southern Wyoming, reaching just over 12,000 feet. Even without snow, the mountains have a snowy appearance from a distance thanks to their large fields of quartzite, and they are even home to a few small glacial remnants. I was planning to climb Elk, another prominent mountain south of I-80, but Ted informed me that Medicine Bow was better, and Elk had private property issues. After attending a presentation in Boulder, I drove north and west until I was too tired, pulling over at a rest area to sleep before finishing the drive in the morning. From Laramie, I followed the Snowy Range Road as it climbed to over 10,000 feet, then took a short dirt side-road to the popular Lewis Lake trailhead. Medicine Bow by itself would be a ridiculously short hike from there, so I decided to add neighboring Sugarloaf and Browns to make a slightly longer loop.

Hiking kids!

I started off on the trail along the lake, then left it where I it looked like I had a direct line up Sugarloaf. The climb was an easy class 2 mixture of turf and talus, and I was soon on the summit, looking across at a crowd of people slowly making their way up the trail to Medicine Bow. The descent to the saddle was somewhat more annoying unstable talus, but not too much trouble, and once I picked up the well-used trail I began to pass the group. They turned out to be the students from two small towns’ elementary schools, with some kids as young as five making their way up the boulder-y trail toward the summit. Having started hiking at a young age myself, I was cheered to see them making their way upward with very little whining.

Browns and saddle

The trail more or less disappears on the summit plateau, where the highpoint is a short boulder-hop to the south. I stopped near the benchmark to have a snack, then took off north across the plateau on my planned loop. This was easy but not particularly fast going, grass mixed with boulders and scrub brush. The east side is often sheer, but as I had suspected, the ridge leading down to the saddle with Browns was easy, with perhaps a trace of a trail. The hike up Browns was similar.

Tedious Browns

Browns’ summit is an expansive plateau made up of rough grass and rock, very slow to traverse, with three potential highpoints. I walked over the one that looked highest, tagged the spot that Peakbagger claims is the summit, and ignored a pile of rocks to the northeast that was another contender; I was out of patience with the terrain. I took a direct line south-southeast from the “summit,” descending a faint ridge to pick up the trail a short walk from the parking lot. Exercise achieved, I got back in the car and continued my drive north.

Izoard and Galibier

I like the term “motards”


Unlike the Col Agnel, the Izoard and Galibier are frequently on the Tour, and therefore much more popular with cyclists. I had enjoyed merely driving over the Galibier on my first trip to the Alps, seeing in person something I had only seen in television Tour coverage as a kid, so I definitely wanted to ride it this time. The Izoard was merely the natural way to get from my “campsite” below the Col Agnel to Briançon. As it turned out, both were swarming with cyclists on a weekend, including several boys (no girls) on small bikes that cheered me up and reminded me of myself at that age.

Chateau Queyras

From camp, I descended to the Guil River, then followed it past Chateau Queyras, an impressive fortress that recently sold for a mere $660,000. Past the fortress, I turned up a side-valley toward the Izoard, and began ticking off the kilometers and elevation on the cyclist-friendly signs. Each one had a tidbit of Tour history, usually about someone who had won a stage over the pass. There is also supposedly a Tour museum at the top, though the whole area seemed to be a construction zone when I was there.

Izoard sign

The Izoard starts climbing gently up a valley, eventually reaching open fields and a ski area at La Chalp. (I was back in the part of Alps where small towns are named “The Mystery-French-Word.” I don’t know what a “Chalp,” “Draye,” or “Praz” is, or what “Houches” are.) The road steepens through town, then climbs in a series of switchbacks through the woods and eventually above treeline. The final section is narrower, and features a descent across a chossy slope before the final climb to the summit. I hung out for awhile, then carefully descended the other side with my worn brakes.

Lautaret is boring

It was Sunday, but Briançon is large enough to have a few stores open until 1:30, so I was able to find lunch and enjoy it in a shady park before continuing. For the first part of the afternoon I climbed the Col du Lautaret, a useful but boring pass connecting the exit valleys leading to Gap and Grenoble. Most of the pass is a gentle climb up a valley on a too-crowded road, with only the final bit having any character.

Galibier from Lautaret

The Galibier connects the Gap-Grenoble divide with the Arc River valley and Chamonix, and is the fifth-highest pass in the Alps. It is much more fun and interesting, with more switchbacks and even a silly tunnel just below the summit, and not particularly large on the south side. (edit: Wikipedia informs me that the tunnel was actually the original pass, with the switchbacks over the saddle added later while the tunnel was under repair.) I was once again racing the weather, so I pushed as much as I could on the climb. I stopped in the crowd at the top to take photos and put on my hoodie before I got chilled. It looked like the storms were worse on the other side, so I chose to return the way I had come. I was thinking of heading out when a man asked if I wanted my photo taken. I politely declined, but he insisted: “You’ve just climbed the Col du Galibier!” He unfortunately took a short video by mistake, but the camaraderie cheered me up for the chilly descent.

La Grave

I returned to the Lautaret, then dropped down to La Grave (“The Serious?”), a tourist town where I found a shop open Sundays with sufficient food for dinner and breakfast, then continued down-valley, admiring the steep walls to either side and looking for a campsite. I eventually found an abandoned-looking dirt road with some pallets stacked at the end, which suited me fine. I had a quiet night, and had just finished breakfast when I was again interrupted, this time by some people harvesting herbs. I felt less embarrassed this time, since I was out of the way and not obviously on anyone’s property, and they did not mind my presence. I was still far enough up in the mountains to find free places to camp, but felt that was coming to an end.

Col Agnel

Agnel slabs


My train-warp to Turin saved me from either 2-3 days of flat riding in the heat, or another trip through Switzerland, landing me back near the French-Italian Alps from whence I came. However, it also left me a reasonable distance away, and not far above sea level, so I had some flat rolling to do, then over 8,000 feet to climb to cross the Col Agnel back into France. After the Stelvio and Iseran, the Agnel is the third highest paved pass in the Alps, and one of only three over 9,000 feet. Despite being near Briançon and on the French border, the Agnel has only been used in two Tours de France, in 2008 and 2011, and two Tours of Italy, in 2007 and 2016.

From downtown Turin, I navigated my way out of the city with occasional stops to make sure I was on the right road, and constant uncertainty about where I should ride. The major city streets have a central, multi-lane part with fast traffic, one-lane “frontage roads” on either side to park and access businesses, and multiple sidewalks or bike paths. I tried to follow the occasional local, but would lose him and/or get confused at the roundabouts, which threw the division of traffic into confusion.

Stupinigi

The city finally trailed off, and I was riding through farmland and small villages in the increasing heat. I headed generally southwest then south, with a deviation around a palace at Stupinigi, and sections of well-paved separate bike path around Vigone. I stopped at the base of the mountains in Saluzzo to refill water and eat lunch, then began the gentle climb up the Varaita River valley toward the pass. The climb followed the gentle grade of the river to Casteldelfino as the mountains rose above it to either side, then somewhat more steeply up a side-stream to the lake and the tourist town of Pontechianale.

Steep when loaded

Slightly above town the climbing begins in earnest, with switchback and grades up to 10%. The road climbs above treeline into a broad valley full of rocky uplifts, then meanders its way up the right side before traversing back to a saddle. The forecast called for evening rain on the Italian side, so I was highly motivated to get to France. Riding into the evening, I saw several other cyclists headed in both directions. I finally reached the pass, pausing just long enough to take a few photos and put on some warmer clothes. It was not quite raining, but I had to descend at least 3000 feet before I was low enough to sleep comfortably with my meager gear.

Totally quiet campsite…

The descent was a bit sketchy with my worn-out brakes, but the French road was more sane than the Italian one, and I managed not to crash into anything. Finally, shortly above a small village, I found a rough and unused-looking side-road ending at some beehives, and pulled a polite distance off the highway to camp. I found out in the morning that the road was in fact used, but the guy who bounced his van down to the beehives did not seem annoyed or angry, pausing while I quickly moved my things out of the road before continuing by. Liberté, egalité, fraternité!

To Turin

Turin


West of the Etsch/Adige, the next two major river-trenches leading south out of the Alps are the Adda and Mera, which join at Lake Como, one of the three giant lakes of the Piedmont (along with Garda and Maggiore). From the Passo Tonale, I followed the road down the Oglio, then climbed over the low Paso Aprica before making a long, at times steep descent to the Adda, which runs west through Sondrio to the head of Lake Como at Colico. The riding was wretchedly hot and humid in the valley, but fortunately there was a nice bike path with some shade. Being out of the mountains, there were no longer small towns with their well-tended springs, but the Italians had thankfully installed regular water stations offering cold, neutral, and even sparkling water. I will miss this easy and ubiquitous access to water back in the States.

Water dispenser

As I rode, I considered my various options for how to continue. I could head up-valley from the lake to intersect my eastward route at Chiavenna, but that would put me on old ground and probably back in Switzerland. Alternatively, I could take the ferry down or across Lake Como and continue somehow toward Lake Maggiore, but that looked like it would require a lot of lowland riding. Finally, I could just take a train back to Turin on the western side of the country and skip the flat stuff. I chose the last option, which would save me time and, as it turned out, cost less than the food I would have eaten riding the distance.

Lake Como

I found a decent spot to camp in some woods a few miles east of town, then rolled into Colico first thing in the morning and found the train station. I bought a ticket from Colico to Turin with one transfer in Milan for 20-some euros, got permission from some official to take my bike on the train, and was soon cruising south. I got a few views of Lake Como, but this being Italy, the train spent almost as much time in tunnels as on the surface. After a long and slightly confusing wait in the hot Milan train station, I boarded a low-speed train for Turin. (Throughout Europe, high-speed trains are more expensive and much more restrictive when it comes to bringing a bike.) I was planning to chip away at the long ride back into the Alps after arriving in Turin, but it was already late afternoon when I arrived, and again miserably hot and humid, so I got a cheap hotel for some good rest and an early start the next day.