Category Archives: Wyoming

Ellingwood/Harrower to Jackson (4 peaks)

Sunset on Ellingwood’s north arete


My failure to grind out evening trail miles the day before incurred a morning pack plod, from Shannon Pass down to the approach trail from Elkhart Park, then up to the Indian Pass trail junction. Knowing I had a big day ahead, I managed to get started toward the tail end of headlamp time. This kind of mindlessness, some of it forested and uninteresting, required me to dig deep into my podcast reserve to pass the time. The one that stuck in my mind was an interview on the FKT podcast with a guy who seemed seldom to travel without a “crew” on all his FKTs, including at least pacers, aid station workers, and a social media person; sometimes there was also a videographer. This engendered dark thoughts of professionalization, commercialization, and the all-consuming cancer of social media, where micro-influencers (i.e. sharecroppers) eke out a bit of free stuff promoting and leveraging their “brands,” so that soulless engineers can be paid well into the six figures and Mark Zuckerberg can buy private islands and politicians. But then my mood brightened: I was out in a beautiful and remote place, using my abilities as I chose, and accountable only to myself. If I turned around and headed back to the trailhead, no one else’s time would be wasted, and only a few friends would be the wiser.

Bridge at Fremont Crossing

I began seeing more people after joining the standard Titcomb approach from Elkhart Park, perhaps a dozen before I reached the Indian Pass junction. I found a giant flat-topped boulder nearby, an adequate “durable surface” to camp, and eagerly dropped the big pack to prepare for the day. Not knowing what to expect, I brought crampons and ice axe in addition to my ration of two Clif bars, two packs of pop-tarts, and a quantity of wasabi almonds. The day was already well advanced, and I had four peaks to climb, but I was still on the right side of the equinox and could count on clear skies.

Lake below Ellingwood

First up was Ellingwood Peak, so named in the 1930s, then officially rechristened “Harrower” in honor of a ranger and Pinedale mayor in 1968. Both men have legitimate ties to the peak, and Harrower has a cooler last name, but I am a climber, so I prefer to call it “Ellingwood.” As I hiked toward the unnamed lake at its base, hopping from rock to rock in the low stream, I debated which route to take. The easiest way would be to circle around to the saddle with neighboring Elephant Head and scramble the class 3-4 ridge up the “back.” But the north arete is a 5.6 Kelsey claims is “the best in the Titcomb area,” which has been on my to-do list for many years. Remote, long, and utterly committing, it would be the technical crux of my whole outing. I had not done any scrambling at that grade in awhile, and was somewhat tired and on a deadline, but the arete would be much more engaging than the standard route, and I was not sure when I could next motivate myself to either dayhike it or backpack in for it.

Somewhere on the ridge

I vacillated as I skirted the lake’s south shore, and began heading toward the easier standard route, but then some switch flipped in my mind. I was here for adventure, and ready to apply myself. My indecision had put me awkwardly high for the approach, so I had to side-hill across some talus-fans and couloirs, doing a bit of fourth class to get out of one. I skirted up and around some ice in another, and ended up on a grassy ledge at the base of what I thought was the arete. I retreated a bit to climb a step on the right side, then started up a dihedral with a crack. Though I did not feel comfortable and backed off, I saw a large stuck nut, suggesting that I was in the right area. I tried another dihedral to its right, felt better, and found an ancient spinning hanger attached to the rock by a skinny, rusty bolt. Now confident that I was on-route, I got to work.

High on Ellingwood’s ridge

While there are plenty of ledges on which to rest, the north arete’s climbing is sustained. Much of the first part is stemming up slanting dihedrals left of the indistinct ridge, which feel secure on the route’s solid, grippy rock. Higher up, I also found some short, easy liebacks and a heady section of steep face climbing on knobs to return to the crest. It is heads-up climbing requiring good route-finding, and there are no possibilities for escape, but nothing felt harder than the first pitch. I took a couple of photos, but was mostly focused on the climbing, paying no attention to time as I climbed higher and the ridge became more pronounced. Though it is north-facing, most of the route was fortunately snow-free. This changed near the top, where a slabby headwall held patches of snow and ice. This forced me to the right, where I had to carefully climb some featured but worse, lichen-covered rock that did not require friction climbing.

Knife Point

Finally at the summit, I found some kind of giant milk jug for a register canister, which contained the register and an explanation of the peak’s official name, but alas no writing implement. I basked in the sun and my success for awhile, then set about finding my way down. The peak’s standard southwest ridge route was tricky near the top, with a bypass to the west where many people seem to rappel, but soon eases off to ledge-walking on the east side. As the ridge nears a saddle, I headed east, aiming to cross the deglaciated bowl beneath the peak’s south face. This would probably be an easy walk with snow, but was instead a mix of talus and benches, with several slab-sided gullies requiring a bit of route-finding to cross. I meandered up and down while staying fairly high, then climbed to the saddle southwest of Knife Point. Though it looks impressive from some angles, and shelters a substantial glacier on its northeast side, the peak is mostly an easy scramble when wrapping around its south side, and its east face is a boulder-field. I stood on the summit block, noted the bighorn skull someone had placed nearby, then took off across the endless talus to Bete Noir, a.k.a. Brown Cliffs North, an unimpressive plateau well east of the other 13ers.

Bete Noir from Knife Point

Bete Noir’s summit is one of several bumps on the plateau, most looking like giant brownish-gray cow turds. I tagged the one with the cairn, plus another pile of talus to its northeast that looked just as high, then headed back the way I had come, following a convenient ledge around the steep talus-slope on the col above Alpine Lakes. This is probably part of some backpacking route, because I found a bit of a trail leading down into the disaster once covered by the lower Knife Point Glacier. I crossed this wasteland of loose talus, glacially-pulverized grit, melt-streams, and brown ponds, then crossed the remaining glacier on my way to Indian Pass. I could have avoided it entirely, or stuck to low-angle parts, but I had not yet used the crampons I had brought, so I decided to give them some exercise.

Indian Pass

Reaching the wooden post at the pass, I picked up a decent trail heading back toward camp, which I followed only a short distance. The standard route on Jackson is described as a ramp leading up from the first lake below the pass, but I saw a higher chute leading to Jackson’s long summit plateau, and decided to take that instead. It was the loose garbage-chute I expected, but turned out to be an easy and efficient route through the cliffs. From the top, I climbed a shallow valley to the crest, then turned left to boulder-hop toward the summit. A couple sections of snow made travel easier, but it was mostly bare.

Fremont from Jackson

From Jackson’s summit, it was clear why it is not normally linked with nearby Fremont: its north face down to the glacier is sheer, and Fremont’s southeast ridge up from it looks difficult. I enjoyed the late-afternoon views of Ellingwood and Island Lake, then returned to the shallow valley. Figuring the standard route might be better than what I had found, I followed some cairns heading left from the bottom of the valley. They led into a bowling alley and disappeared, leaving me to pick my way down loose terrain and gritty slabs that felt harder than what I had climbed.

Once back on the trail, I made an earnest effort to jog and walk quickly to beat the sunset. However the trail is braided and confusing in places, and the evening light on Ellingwood’s north face compelled me to stop for frequent photos. Less than a mile from camp, I came upon a line of kids with running vests, one even hipster-ed out in skinny pants, a checked shirt, and chunky glasses. They were coming back from Fremont, headed to a camp somewhere below Island Lake. I passed them after chatting for a minute, then watched them hike by in the fading light as I performed my evening camp routine. I had big, uncertain plans for the next day, and wanted to get as much sleep as I could on my not-quite-flat pedestal.

Henderson to Whitecap (6 peaks)

North from Henderson to Gannett etc.


I had thirty peaks to climb in eight days before I ran out of food, and hoped to do them in seven. That meant I had to average just over four a day, and my single peak the day before was dragging down my average. It was time to fix that. There are six 13ers surrounding the cirque above Peak Lake, with Bow, Henderson, and American Legion on one side of Knapsack Pass, and the Twins, Split, and Whitecap on the other. While one cannon simply traverse along a ridge from one to the next, they seemed to form a natural link-up. Looking at them up close, it seemed easier to tag Bow by itself (and I had had extra time the day before), leaving the other five and giving myself time to add Sphinx in the hope of simplifying my route later on.

Henderson from the west

I left my camp in place at Shannon Pass shortly after first light, hiking down the trail a ways before heading off cross-country before Upper Jean Lake toward the lake at the base of Henderson’s east face. I knew that Eric had used the north ridge, and Kelsey said the face was class 3 or 4, so I could use whichever seemed most convenient. I filled up on water at the lake’s inlet, looked at the long talus-slog leading to the col with American Legion, and decided to climb the face. There are many possible paths, following a mixture of talus and ramps, and I picked what felt best as I made my way to the ridge just north of the summit. The ridge itself is a bit of a block maze, so I dodged back and forth, eventually taking the west side to reach the summit. Here I had a mostly-unobstructed view of the Titcomb Basin peaks in morning light, showing their most intimidating faces. The ridge south to two unnamed 12ers looked hard, but American Legion seemed to be a simple boulder-hop from the col. The register was an old gem from the 1940s, left by the Wasatch Mountain Club before the peak had a name.

Descent from Henderson

Getting down to the col was a bit trickier than I had expected, in part because I had to contend with snow lingering in places on the north-facing ridge. The ridge crest remained intermittently blocky, so while I could sometimes follow it, I often bypassed it to one side or the other. American Legion was mostly as easy as it looked, with only a bit of scrambling near the summit. Befitting the peak’s name, the register was a well-kept book in a sturdy ammo can decorated with military pins. Unlike Henderson, this peak sees a fair amount of traffic, including the authors of a documentary about the death of the Colorado River, at the start of the longest route water can take to reach the Gulf of California.

Descent from American Legion

After adding my name, I faced the day’s first big question mark. Kelsey says that he reached Knapsack Col from American Legion with a rappel to the glacier, and that someone mentions climbing the north ridge in the register, suggesting that it goes. However this is not a normal route, and there is also annoying little Winifred Peak standing in the way. Though it looked like I might be able to pick my way east down the face to the glacier, my life would be much easier if I could descend the ridge, so I headed off to give it a try. A number of towers and drops made this difficult and time-consuming. While I preferred to bypass them on the sunny east side, I was often forced to the shady and snowy northwest, where I encountered the day’s sketchiest climbing getting down and around a notch and ravine. The route would have been easier when dry, but still apparently low fifth class.

Twins, Wilson, Sphinx

Finally at the col, I was relieved to make an easy boulder-hop up Winifred, then descend some loose scree and talus to Knapsack Col, finding a faint use trail along the way. The south ridge of West Twin looked difficult, so I descended around the right side to reach the col between the two Twins via the southeast glacier. Having done Bow the previous day, I had some extra time, and decided to tag Sphinx and possibly Warren. If I tagged the former, I could climb the latter from the Dinwoody side, avoiding another trip up from Titcomb toward Knapsack Col in another few days.

Sphinx ‘schrund

Dropping around the East Twin’s slabby south ridge, I crossed some annoyingly hard ice to try to stay high, then climbed a talus-field to the Sphinx Glacier. This was crevassed on the left, but easy in running shoe crampons to the center and right. I followed a snow ridge above a deep wind-carved swale below Sphinx’s west face, then was stopped just before the Sphinx-Wilson col by an annoying bergschrund. It looked possible to climb out the other side on the right, but tricky to climb in, so I traversed to the far left where it met the rock, then sketched my way back across the icy remnant above the ‘schrund to the rock below the col.

Wilson from Sphinx

Stashing my crampons, I started up the northwest ridge, cruising some class 3 climbing on dry rock. Unfortunately the ridge steepened and forced me to the left, where snow on outward-sloping ledges made for careful climbing. I wandered quite a ways from the ridge, then climbed straight back up to the crest beyond the difficulties, where easier and drier ground led to the summit. Sphinx has magnificent views in both directions, with the Titcomb Lakes on one side and the much-shrunken Dinwoody Glacier on the other. I studied what I could see of Woodrow Wilson: the south chute looked unpleasantly loose at least, and possibly impassable with a large, exposed chockstone; the high glacier lobe to its northeast looked more promising. My hopes of adding Wilson to the day were dashed, but at least the Dinwoody route looked promising.

Dinwoody Glacier from Sphinx

I tried to get clever and stay closer to the ridge on the descent, but this proved ineffective, and I wasted time cliffing out on slabs before returning to the slow but tried-and-true route on the snowy side. Relieved to at last be past the ‘schrund, I skipped down the glacier, then ground out the talus slog back toward the Twins, dropping lower rather than fighting the steep ice. As it turned out, this side-trip was a waste of effort, though it did not cost me any time in the overall speed record.

Split from Twins

Reaching the Twins col was slightly tricky, with steep-ish bare ice giving way to loose garbage on top this late in the season. East Twin was an easy boulder-hop, while West required a bit more scrambling, once again made trickier by lingering north-side snow. Looking toward Split from both, it was clear that it made no sense to traverse the serrated ridge from West Twin. A traverse down and around via the Mammoth Glacier only drops to about 12,000 feet, and Split is an easy boulder-hop from the saddle to its west. Reaching the lower Mammoth required a bit of path-planning, as the upper part had several long crevasses partly hidden by snow. However nothing desperate was required, and I was soon traversing under Split’s sheer northeast side and zig-zagging up a glacier tongue to the saddle. I was getting tired, so the talus-grind to the summit was slow but mercifully short.

Mammoth Glacier from Split

From the summit, I had a magnificent view of the upper Mammoth Glacier in some worryingly late-feeling afternoon light. I took some time to contemplate the day’s second and third big question marks. The slope down from Whitecap to above Peak Lake looked easy, but the ridge to it from Split looked intimidating. Kelsey does not mention the ridge at all, and says of the unnamed intervening peak more or less “there is no reason to climb this slag-heap.” Eric had dropped all the way around and down to almost 11,000 feet when linking these two peaks, but that sounded miserable, so I resolved to try the ridge, trusting in my ability to usually make things work.

Whitecap ridge

Peak 12,845′ was unremarkable, but nowhere near as bad as Kelsey’s description had suggested. The ridge itself, while perhaps little faster than going around, took less energy and was much more fun, cheering me toward the end of a long day. The best route tended to stay on the crest or to its left (dry) side, with only one tricky low fifth class bypass on the snowy right. My hopes of boasting a coveted First Ascent in the Winds were dashed when I found a cairn at a convenient notch bypass, and again when I found that some kind of decent-sized animal, whether bear or cat, had climbed to just below the snowy-side crux. No matter: it was all uncharted territory to me, and I enjoyed just as much uncertainty and problem-solving as if I had in fact been the first mammal to touch these rocks.

Shannon Col from Whitecap

Whitecap, named for a permanent summit snowfield, is bare now, and I found no register in a quick search of the summit cairn. It felt late, and Shannon Pass still looked far away. I roughly followed the route I had picked out on the south side, aiming for the valley north of a rib descending southeast to the stream above Peak Lake. However, many lines are possible on this side of the peak, and no doubt others have climbed it on their way over Knapsack Col. I picked up a decent trail at the valley bottom, and was surprised to meet a group of two couples hiking one way or the other. After seeing no one all day, it felt almost crowded. The trail makes its way around Peak Lake’s north shore before joining the Shannon Pass trail. I made it back to camp before dark, and probably should have put in another hour of hiking, but decided that this was enough. I believed (incorrectly) that I had taken care of the most uncertain part of my trip, had snagged Sphinx as a bonus, and felt well on track to make it out in seven days.

Bow

Trailhead cabin


I woke to rain. Pounding, drenching rain starting around 2:00 AM and continuing until dawn. It felt like a repeat of the storm that had scuttled Renee’s big plans earlier by dumping several inches of fresh snow on the high country, making the talus treacherous and quick travel impossible. I lay half-awake in my car until it stopped, then emerged as it cleared to see how bad things looked. There was fresh snow on the peaks on either side of the Green River, but it did not look too deep, and I was already well into my record attempt. Sometimes sunk costs are a useful motivator. I stuffed more things in my pack, ticking them off on a checklist on my phone, the only way I could hope to pack effectively in my groggy state. I shoved my sleeping bag into my bivy with my pad, rolled the whole thing up, and strapped it under the topper, then started up the Highline Trail around 7:00. A mile or so up, I fortunately realized I had forgotten my down jacket. Dropping my pack, I muttered and jogged my way back to the car, where I grabbed the jacket and shoved another couple handfuls of trail mix in my mouth. It was the last food I would eat without carrying it on my back for… eight days? I was not sure.

This part of the journey was a big question mark. The thirty 13ers of the northern Winds, stretching from Ellingwood/Harrower in the south to Downs in the north, are connected by a network of ridges. Many have only a couple of known moderate routes, which are often highly condition-dependent. I had some link-ups in mind, but none was certain. All of the approaches are long, ranging from fifteen to over twenty miles. The shortest is from Elkhart Park, well south of all the peaks. Of the other two, from Trail Lakes and Green River Lakes, the latter is overall closest to the peaks, but requires a twenty-mile trail slog to reach the southern end, and a mysterious cross-country route via Clear Creek to reach the northern. I assumed that I could figure out Clear Creek on the return with a lighter pack, and could grind out the slog south along the Highline Trail with a full load.

Lakes and Squaretop

The Green River Lakes, and Squaretop beyond them, are built on an inhuman scale, so the first part of the hike feels endless. It does not help that the trail follows a rolling path nearer and farther from the water. The trailhead parking lot had been packed, so I was not surprised to meet a horse-packer and several backpacking parties on their way out. These hearty folk seemed in good cheer despite having endured a vicious soaking only hours before. I was already hating my load by the time I crossed the bridge and started up the switchbacks leading to Trail Creek Park, which bypass an impassably narrow part of the Green River gorge. I refilled from a rivulet where the trail levels off, then made a further climb to Vista Pass, where I stopped to eat some pop-tarts and admire my first view of a 13er, Whitecap Peak, across the Green.

Stroud Peak

From here, the trail descends slightly as it returns to the Green, then climbs through talus to Cube Rock Pass. This was once apparently a built-up stock trail, but has decayed in places to a line of cairns. Shoulders sore from the unaccustomed weight, I descended toward Peak Lake and dropped my pack to look for a spot to camp, despite its only being mid-afternoon. Fortunately frustration at a lack of flat sites, plus time without a heavy load, caused me to remember my mission. I put the pack back on, hauled it south over Shannon Pass, then dropped it at a flat spot to tag Bow Peak. This would save me some time the next day, and make use of the unexpectedly pleasant evening weather.

Bow north face

From the pass, I trended up and right on grass, then talus and slabs, finding nothing harder than class 2. I stayed right of the crest along the sloping summit plateau, only approaching the northwest ridge as I neared the top. The steep north sides of Bow, Arrowhead, and American Legion Peaks held some recent snow, and behind them rose the higher Titcomb and Dinwoody peaks in craggy, snowy glory. At last I felt I was in the mountains where I belong, and I reveled in the view, forgetting the day’s grind and the uncertainty ahead. Surprisingly, I also had cell service — the northern Winds are narrow enough that one often has line-of-sight to a Pinedale or Dubois tower — so I messaged a couple of people to share the views and my excitement before returning to camp.

My evening routine was reasonably efficient. First, roll out my bivy with pad and bag already in it, and inflate the pad. Second, boil a pot of water while putting breakfast in my thermos: half a cup of whole powdered milk, half a cup of oats, and a quarter-cup of trail mix. Third, add some of the boiling water to the thermos and use the rest for dinner: four ounces of pepperoni, a half-cup of grits, and a generous pour of olive oil. Finally, rinse the pot, brush my teeth, stuff most of my clothes into the inflater sack for a pillow, and wriggle into my bag for the night. I rarely sleep well while backpacking, and there was almost no moon, so I had plenty of time to admire the Milky Way and brilliant stars so high and far from civilization. Tomorrow the serious peak-bagging would begin.

Wind River Peak (again)

Wind River Peak from Little Sandy


Wind River Peak is an outlier among the Winds’ 13ers, being farther south, gentler, and less glaciated. I had recently run it from the east starting at Worthen Reservoir when Renee was visiting, but this time decided to come in from the south via Little Sandy. There are two trailheads from which to do this, Block and Tackle Hill and Sweetwater Gap, with the former being shorter if you have a bike. Since I do, I chose to do that. Unfortunately, a major wind event over Labor Day of 2020 massacred much of the forest from just north of the Hill to the north end of Little Sandy Lake, leaving much of the trail littered with downed trees. So while this route was about eight miles shorter than coming in from Worthen, it was probably no faster. On the other hand much of it was new to me, so I was introduced to more of this relatively unfamiliar range.

Block and Tackle required

Though the road started off smooth past the Forest boundary, it soon turned impassable to anything other than an ATV or possibly souped-up Jeep. I was able to ride some, but quite a bit was hike-a-bike as it became too steep, loose, and/or rocky. Near the top of the hill I kept seeing a light in the sky to my left, which was too orange to be Venus, too bright to be Mars, and too small to be the moon. I soon learned what it was: a light on top of a wooden flagpole flying the US and Wyoming flags. Perhaps it was solar-powered, as there were certainly no power lines in the area. I had to be cautious on the downhills past the flagpole, as my headlamp and puny clip-on light were no match for a decent modern bike light. I briefly got off-track and was stymied by a creek ford, then retraced my steps to find the correct route, riding between walls of dimly-seen sawn logs on a road that was, as befitting the area, a little sandy. It was too cold to be riding so early, and I had to stop several times to warm my hands.

Flagpole on Hill

Finally nearing where the Wilderness boundary was drawn on my map, I saw a big canvas tent with a light inside. Clearly the occupant was awake but, figuring I would slip by without disturbing his morning, I swung my headlamp around looking for some sort of trailhead sign and a place to lock my bike. This, of course, was not exactly stealthy, and the man and his dog came out to greet me. As expected, he was dressed in camouflage, and somewhere between groggy and grumpy to have been disturbed in the middle of his morning routine. He asked me where I was going, and when I told him “Block and Tackle,” he confirmed that this was it.

Lots of this

Dawn being peak elk-hunting hour, he asked me to wait a minute so that we could walk together as far as his nearby hunting-grounds in the marshy, grassy area where the Little Sandy meandered nearby. We talked a bit as he finished his coffee, and he warned me that while the trail had been cleared as far as a nearby field where a friend from Farson’s ashes had been spread, it was a mess of downed trees beyond that. I assured him that I was used to such things. As the light slowly arrived, I saw that he also had a side-by-side 4×4, a target and basic compound bow (not one of those fancy ones with pulleys), and American and Wyoming flags flying from a snag. Done with his coffee, he tied up his dog, took a couple of well-aimed practice shots, and we set off up the valley. I tried to be as quiet as possible, but he seemed happy to talk in low voices and not particularly careful in how he placed his feet. He confirmed my understanding that bow-hunters have to be very close to take a shot — 25 to 30 yards — so perhaps he intended to later hide and call the elk to him.

We parted ways in a field, he to look for the source of the bugling and me to hurdle and thrash through logs. I spooked a couple of cow elk, and heard a bull screaming occasionally to my right, but hopefully did not hurt his prospects. The downed trees made travel slow, but at least they gave me plenty of log bridge options at the first creek crossing. I picked up the trail-bed on the other side and, with the help of both my map and my eyes, had little trouble following it as it wound its way north and gradually climbed. There was a pile of rocks at the faint junction where the other trail came in from Sweetwater Gap, and I also found occasional cairns and faint boot-prints. Though it likely no longer sees maintenance, the Little Sandy has not been entirely forgotten by backpackers.

Not-so-helpful sign

Before Little Sandy Lake, I found a ridiculous sign in the middle of the devastation pointing to Big and Little Sandies, and headed toward the former. This took me away from Little Sandy Lake and up a side-valley to get around a constriction, and involved some of the worst deadfall and hardest trail-finding. Animals and humans alike had created multiple routes through the chaos, none particularly fast. Finally, at a broad meadow above the lake, the trail descended out of the woods and became clear once more. I admired the towering granite walls to either side as I hiked and jogged upstream toward the semi-obvious chute or ramp leading up to Coon Lake.

Climb to Coon Lake

Leaving the trail, I managed to dunk one foot crossing the braided river, which annoyed me but did no real harm, and made it to the chute with almost no thrashing. Climbing up the chute, a mixture of semi-stable talus, hard-packed dirt, and spiny currants, was tedious but efficient. Emerging at the top, I found myself just above Coon Lake, where I picked up a faint fisherman’s trail leading around the near side. Somewhat to my surprise, I also found a fisherman, sitting placidly on a rock and failing to catch fish. I talked to the solitary older man for awhile, and he told me he was retired, and sometimes worked on the trails to pass the time. He was only moderately surprised that I was out for just a day carrying so little gear. I felt somewhat out-of-place, an outsider running around these mountains setting some silly “FKT” while these older men enjoyed and took care of their backyard wilderness.

Tayo Lakes and Little Sandy Lake from summit

I crossed the lake’s outlet, then made a slightly annoying cross-country traverse to shortcut the indirect trail down the valley and back up toward Tayo Lake. Once on the Tayo Lake trail, I was on familiar ground from my recent run. I passed the lake and made my way up more or less the same route to the summit, though with much less jogging. I had the top to myself this time, and it was colder, but I spent the time to take a few photos and send a couple of texts before retracing my steps. The forecast had called for possible afternoon showers, and by the time I returned to the Little Sandy, clouds had built over the mountains with shocking speed. However, I only felt a few drops of rain as I made my way southward and downward to the trailhead.

I greeted the hunter, John, and he emerged from his tent in a better mood and much more talkative now that he was fully awake and not trying to surprise an elk. I learned that he had been coming to this spot to hunt for decades, and that the peak of the rut was not for another few weeks. He planned to stay up there for that entire time, or at least until he got his kill — like many hunters, he seemed to do it for the quiet escape to nature at least as much as for the meat. He also told me that the area’s trails had been put in by the CCC, who had named Block and Tackle Hill for having to use blocks and tackle to ratchet their wagons up the steep slope. Reluctantly departing, I rode back to the trail, glad to have a bike despite having to walk it down some of the steep, loose, rocky sections of the hill. Back at the car, I quickly put my stuff away, then returned to the Lander Cutoff, continuing on the network of good dirt roads to pavement at Boulder, then driving on through Pinedale before taking the wretchedly-washboarded dirt road to Green River Lakes. I packed as much as I could in my overnight pack, including 16 pounds of food, then got to sleep around dusk, slightly nervous before the start of the serious and uncertain part of my journey.

Cloud, Black Tooth

Black Tooth and Woolsey


The Bighorns of north-central Wyoming contain the Rockies’ northernmost 13ers, Cloud and Black Tooth. I had already done Cloud in the Indian summer of October, 2014, as it is an ultra-prominence peak, but had yet to tag Black Tooth, its neighbor to the north. Doing so would give me the northernmost and southernmost 13ers (Black Tooth and Truchas) and 12ers (Robson and Tesuque) in the Rockies, and the northernmost 11er (Whitehorn). The southernmost 11er, Peak 11,385, is hidden annoyingly behind the Santa Fe Watershed.

Cloud at cloudy dawn

Most of the trail to Cloud is rocky, wooded, and boring, so just as last time, I did not mind doing it by headlamp. I had a bit of trouble finding where to leave the official trail for the use trail up Cloud, but managed without too much backtracking. It was light by the time I reached the endless boulder-field toward Cloud’s summit, but the day dawned both cloudy and smoky, so the views were not exciting. I hopped from rock to rock at a steady pace, following a line of cairns near the right side of the plateau to where it bottlenecks below the summit. The last stretch from there to the summit seemed to take forever, and I was increasingly unhappy as my hands froze in the cold and wind. I huddled behind the summit boulder to examine the register, then headed into new terrain on the descending talus plateau toward Black Tooth.

Woolsey from near saddle

I followed Eric’s track for awhile, then dropped down sooner than he had, following a steep and mostly-dry gully toward the head of the Cloud Peak Lakes drainage. Contouring high to save elevation and talus-hopping involved some steep slabs and probably did not save me any time. I found generally class 2-3 terrain on my way up the gully to the saddle between Black Tooth and Mount Woolsey to its south. Were it just 22 feet higher, Woolsey would be a formidable addition to the Wyoming 13er club, looking intimidatingly steep on all sides. Black Tooth, on the other hand, has a moderate class 2-3 ramp leading around its northeast side to the summit. I found and signed the register, which showed only a few climbs per year, tagged a point farther north just to be sure, then retraced my route to the saddle and down the gully.

Back up Cloud Peak Lakes

The route back out to the trail at Paint Rock Creek goes on forever, passing no fewer than seven sizable lakes, the last being Middle Cloud Peak Lake. From there I found bits of use trail contouring around the toe of Cloud’s long west-southwest ridge, rejoining the Cloud Peak climbers’ trail just before the official Solitude Trail. I jogged the smoother sections of trail to relieve my boredom, but tried not to push too hard. Passing Mistymoon Lake, I spotted a bull moose calmly stripping leaves off the shrubbery, who glanced up only long enough to see that I was merely passing by. It was mid-week, but there were still numerous groups of backpackers either at camp or on the trail, presumably headed for Cloud.

Hey, Moose!

Back at the trailhead, I tried not to waste too much time before beginning my longest drive of the record attempt. From West Tensleep, I returned down Tensleep Canyon to Worland, then south through Thermopolis to Lander. A delay for “rock scaling” in the Wind River Canyon north of Shoshoni tried my patience and guaranteed that I would reach the next trailhead after dark. I stopped for gas and a brief internet session in Lander, then headed on over South Pass before taking the good dirt Lander Cutoff road. My offline maps were incorrect, but fortunately the BLM has done an excellent job signing the correct way to Block and Tackle Hill. I arrived at the Forest Service boundary at full dark to find one large pickup with an empty ATV-hauling trailer. I took my bike off the rack, shoved more food in my pack, and once again set my alarm to a painful hour before almost instantly falling asleep.

Francs

Francs from plateau

Francs Peak is the highpoint of the Absaroka Mountains of northern Wyoming, and the range’s only peak above 13,000 feet. It seemed to be the most efficient place to start my speed climb of Wyoming’s 13ers in terms of driving time, so I drove up the rugged road toward Kirwin to camp before beginning my ordeal. This, the first of several long drives on dirt roads, starts off smooth and gets progressively worse, ending with three stream crossings that were Element-able late in a dry year, but could be scary earlier in the season. Since the peak would not take a whole day, I killed some time in the morning turning my remaining bread into PB&Hs, then finally got impatient and started around 10:00. Francs is notorious among peak-baggers for grizzlies congregating on its summit to dig for moths, so I was pleased to see a backpacker in a monster truck park a polite distance away, then start up the trail ahead of me.

And so it begins

The Meadow Creek trail is obscure on the valley bottom, but becomes clear as it switchbacks up away from the Wood River valley, with views of impressive choss-cliffs to the south. At least, there are views when it is clear, as it was the afternoon I drove in. The morning I started it was heinously smoky in the valley, so I inhaled a bit of California with each breath and saw only outlines of the surrounding mountains. I passed a backpacker on his way down as I climbed the steep trail, and finally caught the one I had seen in an open meadow below the cabin ruin on the topo map. He turned out to be a sheep hunter headed up to meet some friends, getting a head-start on the next day’s start of the season.

Meadow near lower cabin

I lost the trail in the meadows, then regained it as it climbed out of Meadow Creek Basin along the south fork. I left it again where it switchbacks up toward Galena Basin, turning uphill toward the undulating 12,000-foot plateau leading toward Francs. I was entering grizz-land, and no longer had a decoy to follow, so I was on my guard. I found plenty of bear prints and signs of digging on the plateau, but it was apparently past moth season, because I did not see a single bear. Much of the terrain was runnable with a bit of care, but I did not try too hard, since I had much ground left to cover and my left knee was still a bit sore from my fun but ill-advised run up Wind River Peak some days prior.

Smile!

The plateau finally narrows to a ridge beyond a significant dip to the head of the Francs Fork, and a decent use trail appears, with the users seemingly more ursine than human. Trudging up the ridge while trying to avoid the worst of the fresh snow-patches and loose talus, I was surprised to see two other people descending the northeast ridge. They were probably returning to a vehicle parked at the end of a high jeep road on that side of the peak. Since neither my car nor my bike is nearly capable enough for such a road, I had dismissed it. I reached the summit around 1:20 PM, finding it windy, cold, and dismal, with barren slopes all around fading into smoky skies. The rock smiley face on the other ridge cheered me a bit, but I did not linger.

Descending to Wood River

I made it back through bear-land without incident, and even saw a bull elk with thirteen cows and calves as I cut down to the trail. I spoke a few minutes with the hunter at his camp, telling him that I had not seen any sheep. He seemed somewhat pessimistic about his chances of spotting any in the smoke, but had a comfortable tent and enough food for a week, so perhaps he was around long enough for the smoke to clear. I jogged some of the trail down out of impatience, then jumped in the car for the long drive to the Bighorns. The first part of the drive was familiar, the middle part boring but the drive up through Tensleep Canyon was interesting, passing by limestone cliffs popular among climbers. The dirt road to the West Tensleep trailhead was somewhat washboarded but in good shape, and I arrived just before dark to set my alarm for 3:00 AM and get some sleep in the overnight lot.

Wyoming 13er speed record (8d23h)

As some readers may already know, I have spent most of the past two weeks climbing all of Wyoming’s 13,000-foot peaks. These 13ers consist of five peaks in four isolated clusters (Francs in the Absarokas, Cloud and Black Tooth in the Bighorns, Wind River Peak in the southern Winds, and the Grand Teton), and the remaining thirty packed together in the northern Winds. The four clusters are all reasonable dayhikes on well-defined routes, although the Bighorn pair are a grind.

The northern Winds, however, require multiple days and, unlike the California 14ers, there is no established, clearly optimal route. In addition to topo maps, I went in with photos of Joe Kelsey’s guidebook, and Eric Gilbertson’s well-written and thorough trip report from his climbs last summer. Both were helpful, but neither was sufficient to plan a complete route ahead of time. Route conditions in the northern Winds depend upon the time of year, the previous winter’s snowpack, and global warming’s inexorable march. An easy couloir in June can be be blocked by a gaping bergschrund in September; north-facing class 4 slabs can be covered in treacherous ice and snow from a late summer storm; and certain routes in Kelsey’s guidebook, last updated in 2013, have changed beyond recognition.

The previous record for doing this, set by Gilbertson in 2020, was 16 days, 18 hours. Beforehand, I expected to complete the peaks in 11-12 days, and was pleasantly surprised to do so in just 8 days, 23 hours, about 4 days and 13 hours of which were spent on foot. My route involved approximately 220 miles and 82,000 feet of climbing. The time I saved all came in the northern Wind River Range, where I was able to link more peaks together than I had expected, and to hike out the same day that I completed the northern ones. With support (e.g. car shuttles and horse packers), it should be straightforward to cut a day off my time. With less sleep and better link-ups, it may be possible to cut off another either with or without support. However, since relatively few mountaineers have the skills, free time, and desire to attempt this record, I suspect my effort will remain the fastest for some time.

What follows is a brief description of each day; I will write my usual detailed/verbose trip reports as I am able.

  1. Summit of Francs

    Francs: This was a dull hike to a dismal peak. Smoke from burning California marred the views, which were mostly barren choss reminiscent of the dry Andes. The road to the trailhead is Element-able, but has a few stream crossings that may short-circuit your Prius.
  2. Black Tooth from near Cloud

    Cloud, Black Tooth: Cloud by itself is a long, rocky pack trail followed by a long, easy boulder-hop. Adding Black Tooth spices it up with some class 3 and adds some distance. The hike back down the valley to Cloud’s northwest is interminable, passing endless lakes while losing little elevation.
  3. Wind River Peak from Tayo Lake

    Wind River Peak: Like Eric, I came in from Block-and-Tackle Hill, using a bike beyond the Forest boundary. ATVers have cleared the road of deadfall to the Wilderness boundary, but a microburst over Labor Day weekend 2020 has covered portions of the trail all the way to Little Sandy Lake with downed trees. The standard route from Worthen Meadows Reservoir may be faster in the future, as this trail seems unlikely to be cleared.
  4. Ugh

    Bow: Backpacking sucks, but is sometimes necessary. I lugged 16 pounds of food, both cold and wet weather gear, and crampons and an ice axe from Green River Lakes along the Highline Trail and over to Shannon Pass, at which I dropped my pack to tag nearby Bow Mountain via easy slabs and talus.
  5. American Legion from Henderson

    Henderson to Whitecap (6 peaks): There were two question marks on this leg: the ridge from American Legion to Knapsack Pass, and the one from Split to Whitecap. Kelsey speculates that the first is class 5, and says nothing about the second. Both were indeed low fifth class, though the descent from American Legion was fairly spicy with fresh snow on its north-facing aspects.
  6. Harrower/Ellingwood

    Ellingwood (Harrower) to Jackson (4 peaks): These make a natural loop from the Indian Pass trail junction. Ellingwood’s standard route is only class 4, but the 5.6 north ridge is amazing and probably no slower if you feel comfortable at that grade. The route from Ellingwood to Knife Point is somewhat convoluted, crossing broken, deglaciated slabs and gullies.
  7. Fremont, Sacagawea, Helen

    Fremont to Febbas (8 peaks): This was pretty wild, and saved me a day. Kelsey’s couloir from Fremont down to the Upper Fremont Glacier was too hard and steep for my gear, and also ended in a massive bergschrund. Fremont’s east-northeast ridge is not mentioned in Kelsey’s guide, but goes at class 4-5 on and south of the crest, and leads to the glacier. The normal route on Helen looked too steep and icy, but the east ridge is straightforward and not much longer. Spearhead Pinnacle has a short class 5 crux on the east side of its north ridge, but is mostly easier scrambling. Warren is a mix of scrambling and choss. Turret is a bit tricky, especially with snow descending the north slopes to Backpackers Pass. I started up the “west ridge” route (not really a ridge), then made a tricky downclimb into the “west gully” used on the first ascent. Sunbeam and Febbas are not hard. The long return down Blaurock Pass and over Bonney Pass was depressing, crossing endless moraines while staring at the much-diminished Dinwoody Glacier.
  8. Woodrow Wilson from Pinnacle Ridge

    Woodrow Wilson to Desolation (5 peaks): This was a last-minute plan that worked fairly well. From camp at the Indian Pass junction, I hiked up to the Sphinx Glacier, thus making my time climbing the Sphinx two days prior mostly a waste. I then traversed around to Wilson’s (dry) west chute, ascending that and descending the north chute to reach the upper Dinwoody Glacier. The upper glacier was crevassed but, as I had hoped, not too steep and retaining some new and old snow. I stayed high on the way to Glacier Pass (a horrible scree field on both sides), with a detour to Pinnacle Ridge. From the pass, I reached Gannett via class 4-5 climbing east of the ridge leading to the standard Gooseneck route. I then descended and crossed a col to the Minor Glacier, which was flat and easy, and the slabs below it, which were not. Koven is, as Eric indicated, low fifth class by its south ridge, which can be reached from the lake below the Minor Glacier. Beyond, I found a good camp at the Desolation-Rampart col, then made a quick evening side-trip to Desolation, setting up a potential exit the next day.
  9. Winds from Downs

    Bastion to Downs (6 peaks): Starting at first light, I climbed to the plateau, walked around Rampart, and tagged Bastion. From there I headed north, roughly following Eric’s route all the way to Downs over a mixture of talus and tundra. The stream south of Downs leads to a high plateau with many lakes and gentle undulations, though this valley may be impassable earlier in the season. I then followed a pleasant path I had plotted on the topo, passing high above Bear Lake before dropping to Faler Lake, which lies at treeline. The steep descent to Clear Lake was slightly ugly, and things only got worse going around Clear Lake, then down Clear Creek to the maintained trail at the Natural Bridge. From there it was a simple slog to the car.
  10. Dawn on the Grand

    The Grand: I was hoping to finish on the Upper Exum, but needed to be down by 10:00 to finish under nine days. I therefore went up and down the Owen-Spalding, which is easier to do in the dark.

Washakie Needles

Needles and choss


My rare outings with other people are opportunities to be pushed outside my routine of one-day fast-and-light peak-bagging. With Renee, I usually find myself running more than normal, as I did on our recent opposite-direction outings to Wind River Peak. With Ted, I often visit peaks that I would otherwise skip, such as Rainier some years ago. This time it was Washakie Needles, the highpoint of Hot Springs County in the Absarokas of north-central Wyoming and one of the 20 “Apex” (i.e. “hardest” by some measure) county highpoints in the lower 48. What makes the Needles hard is a combination of a short stretch of exposed class 4-5 near the summit, an easily-resolved private property issue, and a ridiculous 60-mile drive from the nearest town, Thermopolis, about half of which is rough dirt. I normally wouldn’t put in that effort for a single peak, because gas is expensive and I value my car, but this was a special occasion, and the Needles proved sufficiently interesting.

We met in Thermopolis on a Friday evening and drove to Anchor Reservoir, where the road gets bad, to sleep before driving the tricky part by day. We both continued on the rough dirt track the next day, Ted showing remarkable driving ability in his little Ford Focus, and me cringing at the potential damage to my aging Element. We both drove over a 9000-foot divide, where someone was harvesting timber, then Ted stopped shortly afterward near a couple of mudholes.

Bear trap, peak, and road

Now both in my car, we continued up a rutted climb to a locked gate guarding what is either someone’s ranch, or BLM land adjacent to someone’s ranch. Ted had tried calling the listed number repeatedly over the past couple of weeks and received no response, and we had no luck guessing the combination, so we shouldered our packs and resigned ourselves to an eight-mile road walk. Less than a mile in, just after passing an empty (nonlethal) bear trap, we heard a motor behind us and were soon caught by a man driving a backhoe. I let Ted do the talking as he asked us what we were doing on “private property.” While not exactly friendly, the driver was not hostile. Apparently he is used to rednecks with guns and ATVs cutting his fences and driving all over, so a couple of unarmed hikers were no big deal. He gave us a number for the ranch foreman, then drove on to repair the road.

Near camp

We returned to my car and drove a few miles back down the road to find a cell signal. The foreman, Josh, was friendly when we explained what we were doing. He quickly gave us the gate code, told us to be careful of the bears, and asked that we let him know if we saw any freshly-mutilated cows. Back at the gate, I drove through, then continued another indeterminate distance on nerve-wracking roads before finally deciding that enough was enough about a quarter mile before a fancy hunting lodge. The dogs at the lodge barked as we passed, but neither they nor the occupants were hostile.

We saw the ruins of some older cabins as we hiked up the road, and a few unbloodied cows as well. The cows had completely obliterated the former Forest Service trail and littered the valley with dung, and the fences and gates were all in some stage of disrepair. Apparently property boundaries and notions of ownership are vague in this seldom-visited corner of Wyoming, though locals are certainly vigilant and quick to let you know when you are on “their” land. Following more cow-paths, we left the valley where it narrows, climbing past another old cabin at treeline and eventually finding the old trail connecting Owl and Rock Creeks over the high ridge southeast of our peak.

Camp sunset

We reached the ridge in late afternoon, then found a spot to camp slightly down its eastern side to escape the persistent southwest wind. Neither of us had brought a stove, and there was no water for cooking food anyways, so I dined on Pop Tarts and Chex Mix, then slid into my bivy for the usual dismal 12 hours of pseudo-sleep. The moon rose late and the nearest town was many miles away, so the stars were bright and clear, with the Milky Way clear in the night sky. Though I am often in remote places, I usually fall asleep in my car, so enjoyed seeing the stars, even if I knew I would sleep poorly and breakfast on Clif bars and cold water.

Approach

Morning was cold and windy, but at least we were on the east side of the ridge, so we got the first sun and a bit of shelter. We waited for some of the frost to evaporate, then hiked along the ridge toward the Needles, popping up to take photos but mostly staying down and slightly out of the wind. The peak itself is made of some kind of harder volcanic rock, perhaps welded tuff, but the surrounding hills are all chossy conglomerate, with fins and hoodoos poking out of the rolling tundra. At a ridge junction we headed southwest; looking at the other ridge to neighboring Dome Peak, I saw a half-dozen bighorn sheep, but decided the peak was not worth the effort. Descending a couple hundred feet to the saddle, we found a well-used game trail with some fresh bear prints. Ted was apparently more alert than I, because he spotted a mother bear and two cubs making their way up Washakie Needles toward the ascent route. They seemingly saw or heard us about the same time, because mom and cubs sped up, heading up and around a rock fin before descending a northern talus gully with remarkable speed. Surprisingly, I spotted a fourth bear sitting on a rock near where the other three had passed, which seemed to be neither with nor hostile to the other three. This was my first encounter with a grizzly while not sitting in a car, and it went just about perfectly.

Approaching summit ridge

Wildlife-watching done, we made our way up some loose, blocky talus, then got on a class 3 rib to avoid a great deal more of it on the way to the base of the peak’s twin summits. Both look imposingly vertical, but the route description we found said that the higher southeast one was only low fifth class from a notch. The ridge above the notch looked vertical to overhanging from below, but proved much easier when seen up close, with good positive holds on its less-than-vertical left side. There were a couple of old bleached slings at the base, which I noted for cleanup on the way down.

Crux scramble

Ted had brought a rope, rock shoes, and a few cams, but I did not feel like I needed any of that on 60 feet of what felt like exposed class 4. There were a few loose blocks, but they were easily avoided, and I was soon happily back in the sun on the narrow summit ridge. I shouted my impression of the pitch down to Ted, who also made quick work of the climb. From this perch, a hundred easy but very exposed feet of traversing led to the summit, where I found a detached benchmark and a Nalgene with a pencil stub and a few scraps of paper as a register.

Winds from Needles

The views in all directions were glorious, with Dome nearby and Francs, the Absarokas’ lone 13er, farther north. To the southwest we could see the whole of the Winds, from Wind River Peak in the south to Gannett, the big Continental Glacier, and the high plain descending to Togwotee Pass. We could even see the tip of the Grand Teton peeking above the Pinnacle Buttes north of the pass. The Absarokas stretching from west to east to the northern horizon are a mixture of rolling tundra and chossy crags, explaining the lack of attention paid them by climbers. We enjoyed the calm, sunny views for awhile, then retraced our steps. Since he had brought a rope, Ted rappeled from a nest of tat above the notch, then I removed all the tat and downclimbed while Ted coiled the rope and cut free the last of the tat. It felt right to leave such a striking and seldom-climbed peak free of climber garbage.

Currants

Retracing our route at midday, we saw no other wildlife, and none had molested our bivy gear. We packed up and headed back toward Rock Creek, starting down a more direct and less pleasant line before returning to the trail. Both of us were out of water, making the wax currants growing in abundance along the trail even more appealing despite their thorns. We got some water from Rock Creek, hoping it was flowing fast enough to dilute the cow dung, then hiked the dull miles back to my car. Near the end, we were passed by a couple in a pickup returning from the hunting lodge. Either the man was the one Ted had spoken to on the phone, or it was obvious what we were doing, because he immediately asked if we made it to the top. Despite roaming the surrounding area for many years, he had never tried to summit, and was curious how hard it was. I gave the usual non-answer — “not hard if you do this a lot, but it depends on your comfort and experienced” — then we threw our packs in the car for the long drive out. It was a lot of effort for a single peak, but I was glad to have visited this isolated perch.

West Atlantic, Atlantic

Atlantic and West Atlantic


Though they merge almost seamlessly with the Absarokas to the north, the Winds end remarkably quickly in the south: Wind River Peak is the southernmost 13er; Atlantic Peak, the southernmost 12er, is only five miles south of it; the southernmost 10,000-foot peaks are only another five miles south of that; and only a few foothills lie between them and the 7000-foot southern Wyoming plain. I was looking for something to do out of the Worthen trailhead, and Atlantic looked like a moderate outing to an interesting vantage point, covering some new terrain. Atlantic did not disappoint: hiking up the Stough Lakes reminded me of the Sierra, the return along the high plateau northeast of Atlantic was easy and quintessentially Wind Rivers, and there are even a couple of well-hidden glacial remnants in the cirques to either side of West Atlantic.

Stough Lakes

I got a slightly later start up the same trail, moving much more slowly in hiker mode after the previous day’s effort. Fortunately I had saved up enough podcasts not to be too bored hiking through the woods to the unnamed pass. I tried a bit of a jog on the other side, but my left knee quickly reminded me that it needed more time to recover. The day looked to be about twenty miles, which I could easily cover at a walk. I eventually reached the Stough Lakes turnoff, and left the previous day’s route to climb gradually up the long, broad, southward valley. As is typical, the east side was mostly gentle, while the west had been carved into steep cirques. I passed by several large fish-bearing lakes and some well-established campsites, but saw no other humans on a perfect late-summer day.

Hidden glacier

As the trails faded, I made my way for a break in the western cliffs that I had picked out on my topo map, an east-west ridge just south of one of the westernmost lakes. An easy hike up tundra and talus led to the point north of West Atlantic. The south side of my ridge was a sheer drop to the cirque northeast of the peak, where I was surprised to see an old, well-hidden glacier that did not appear on either of my maps. This shy bit of ice was completely buried in talus, except for a central lake surrounded by blue-gray ice walls. This reservoir kept the stream flowing through the Stough Lakes, even when the snow had long departed the high country. I contoured around the west side of this point, then climbed to the summit of West Atlantic, where I found a survey marker and the old wire and wood surveyors typically leave behind. From the summit, I saw that the first part of my return route would be straightforward, and spied another well-hidden chunk of ice in the Atlantic cirque.

Tail end of the Winds

Wrapping around south and east toward Atlantic, I found the day’s only real difficulty, a section of ridge that had been carved on both sides. I could probably have made things easier by dropping north, but I stayed on the crest for some class 3 downclimbing, which soon relented and became slabby sidewalks, then boulders and tundra climbing to the summit of Atlantic. To the west were nothing but plains, with forests fading into scrubland. To the south, a ridge descended in a line of 11,000-foot bumps, the tail end of the Winds. To the northwest, Temple and Wind River Peaks stood side by side, with other high peaks indistinct beyond them. I hid from the southwest wind for a few minutes, then started for home.

Plateau home

On the map, it looked like I could cross the head of Atlantic Canyon, then follow the plateau between Stough and Roaring Fork Creeks before dropping into the latter below Leg Lake, the largest of the Body Part Lakes. These lakes and a nearby creek are named for one of the darker episodes in Lander history, during the closing of the Wild West in the early 20th century. John G. Bruce was a respected Irish ranger for whom Bruce’s Bridge and Bruce’s Parking Lot are named. One night in 1920, Bruce and his beloved cat Silas disappeared suspiciously after a heated argument with the Cartes brothers, local ranchers grazing their cattle illegally on federal land. No one was ever charged with a crime, but some of Bruce’s body parts were later found in several lakes southwest of his cabin. His thumb was found in a large lake at the head of what became Silas Canyon, while other parts were found in Roaring Fork Canyon, in what became Leg, Ear, Forearm, Kidney, and Pineal Gland Lakes. Local legend has it that Bruce’s soul still haunts Pineal Gland Lake, and can be seen looking for his body on a full moon.

Grim history aside, after a steep talus descent and an easy walk across Atlantic Canyon, I scrambled up the narrow ridge east of West Atlantic, then had an easy walk north across the plateau. As is often the case in the Winds, the tricky part was getting down into a canyon, but the drainage I had picked out worked nicely. I descended some slabs and talus past a small snowfield, then worked my way around the brush and krummholtz, eventually picking up a faint, cairned trail. To the surprise of everyone involved, I met two parties of two on this obscure trail, shortly after they had met each other. One was a couple of older female backpackers headed up, probably to Stough Lakes; the other was a local man and woman out failing to fish for the day, as it was too windy to cast a fly. The trail improved as I descended, and was quite well-maintained by the time it joined the official trail network at Roaring Fork Lake. As is often the case, a “trail thataway” sign helpfully points away from this unofficial trail. I walked casually back to the car, had a late lunch, then drove into town. I was out of coffee, peanut butter, and ideas for what to do next out of this trailhead.

Wind River Peak (S-E loop)

First view of the peak


Wind River Peak is the Winds’ southernmost 13er, standing alone some 35 miles south of the rest, with only a handful of significant peaks between it and the high plain south of the range. I needed to retrieve my car near Lander, and Renee wanted to do something semi-big with her last day in Wyoming, so we settled on running Wind River. By historical accident, the traditional fastest known time (FKT) for the peak follows a counterclockwise loop from the high Worthen Reservoir, as the peak is a similar long trail and class 2 boulder-hop from both the south and east. The men’s record is far beyond my reach, but the women’s record (as usual) looked soft, so Renee went for that while I ran the loop clockwise. I wanted to see a lot of new territory, to hedge my bets lest another early storm ruin my future plans, and to see if I still had some speed in me despite advancing age and a lack of focused running this season.

Choo-choo!

Temperatures felt ideal as the near-full moon set and the sun rose around 6:30 over the reservoir. I felt energized starting off in shorts and an overshirt, carrying my little running pack with about 3000 calories and a liter of water. As the trail gradually climbed through the woods, I stashed my overshirt on my pack, where it would remain for most of the rest of the day. What a contrast with conditions only two days earlier! There were two significant water crossings along the way, of Roaring Fork and Stough Creeks. Most locals seem to bring horses or wading shoes for such things, but I found acceptable dry crossings downstream of both, as it was too early in the day to splash through and soak my shoes.

Wind River and maybe Lizard Head

I got my first glorious view of Wind River Peak at the unnamed col around 10,600′, where the trail descends to Stough Creek and the Middle Popo Agie River. After an hour or so spent in the woods, the sudden sight of acres of bare granite was inspiring, though Wind River Peak looked distressingly far away. Feeling a strong runner’s high — those are some good drugs, self! — I took off at a respectable run down the other side of the pass, maintaining a decent jog through the flats past Stough Creek and down to the Popo Agie. This section of trail was moderately annoying, consisting of gradually-climbing rollers. The trail crosses the river in a meadow/swamp before Tayo Park, and here I did not find a dry crossing, though it looked like someone had tried to build one using some stepping-stones and a too-thin log. I made it to the log, then took off my shoes to cross the last bit, losing a sandwich from my pack as I bent over to put my shoes back on.

Peak from Tayo Lake

From here, I continued on a clear trail past mysteriously-named Poison Lake, then took the faint but signed fork up toward Tayo Lake. Here the climbing began in earnest, and while the trail was never hard to follow, it became little more than a use trail, with a faint tread in the woods and cairns leading through open meadows. I stopped for water at Tayo Lake, taking an extra couple of minutes to plot my route up Wind River’s south side and admire the sheer face and unnamed pinnacle to the west. From the lake, I found no more than an occasional and faint boot-pack weaving through the krummholtz and up the tundra, and a couple of cairns, which I destroyed.

Temple from summit

I made good time up the flatter lower slope to the peak’s eastern snowfield, then began to struggle as the steeper slope, bigger talus, and elevation took their toll. As I neared the summit, my eyes were drawn to Temple Peak, a more impressive-looking summit that falls just 28 feet short of being another 13er. Crossing the summit plateau, I was a bit surprised to see two guys sitting by the high point with overnight packs. They turned out to be hiking the Wind River High Route from south to north, just about to get into the Serious Business descending the peak’s steeper northwest side. I noted that I had made the summit in just under four hours, but felt sociable despite my steady effort to that point. We talked for “approximately” 18 minutes, and I learned that one of the guys had done the Great Divide Trail, a rugged route from the Glacier/Waterton border in the Rockies to Mount Robson Provincial Park. I was duly impressed, more so after learning that he had suffered near-daily rain. I must be lucky to have had so many clear days on my summer trips to the Canadian Rockies.

Descent to Deep Creek Lakes

I thought I might see Renee after spending so long on the summit, but she had not appeared by the time I got antsy and started down the peak’s east side. The route circles around Chimney Rock, then follows a broad plateau down to the trail network at Deep Creek Lakes. The upper section is large talus that is slow on the descent, while the lower section is runnable tundra. Unfortunately this is a Wind Rivers plateau, so glaciers have taken a couple of deep bites out of its east side. Not looking at the route on my phone often enough, I strayed too far left and had to regain some elevation to get back on the correct path. In addition to losing some time, I must have missed Renee on this part, as she is generally better at paying attention to maps.

Looking back from Deep Creek Lake

I refilled on water at the highest Deep Creek Lake, then spent another 5-10 minutes talking to a guy from Missouri out on a backpacking trip. He was trying to puzzle out his position using a printed map and compass, which was understandably difficult given that the lakes all look the same, and some of the trails on the USGS map have ceased to exist. Less-used trails in the Winds seem to be in constant flux, with new ones being created by fishermen and climbers while old ones quickly fade. Thus I found it helpful to load my phone with both USGS maps for older trails, and OpenStreetMap-based maps for newer ones. Of course, I also found trails both old and new that appeared on neither map, such as the one leading down from Middle Mountain.

The trail down Deep Creek and the Popo Agie to Sheep Bridge was largely pleasant running, with occasional climbs long enough to walk, cram down food, and look at the map. I was starting to feel my lack of running this summer, but kept a respectable pace. The 500′ climb from Sheep Bridge back toward Worthen Reservoir was a slog, but less than half the climb out of the Popo Agie going the other direction. It passed quickly at a determined walk, though I had to wait for a couple of minutes while trail workers from the Montana Conservation Corps blasted rocks to re-route the trail. This part is outside the wilderness boundary, and is therefore being made more comfortable for mountain bikers. I passed more hikers in the final mile, including a group of four women with identically-huge packs, a sure sign that they were with NOLS.

Reaching the parking lot, I was pleased to see Renee’s van was still there, and that she had not been forced to abandon the effort and drive for home. The whole thing was a bit over 32 miles the way I went — about a mile longer than the most efficient route — and took 7h43m. Subtracting my ~30 minutes of socializing, that is on the order of Gabe Joyes’ original FKTs in 2014 and 2015, though nowhere near his 6h19m 2016 effort, or the newer, faster times going up and down via Deep Creek. I was encouraged to see that while I am likely a bit slower than I was in my thirties, I am also uncompetitive on these kinds of courses because standards have risen. Running the route in the opposite direction would probably be faster because the east slope route is easier to follow on the way up, and because one can just splash through streams toward the end. However I prefer my way, for the sudden first view of the peak, and the more pleasant running down Deep Creek. In any case, the loop was worth doing, even if I did not stand a chance at a record.