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John B

Wind River backpack

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John B    53
John B

Just returned from 5 days/4 nights in the Wind River mountains of Wyoming (8/31 to 9/4). I had targeting the week of Labor day to do this for the past 6 months. The original plan was to lead a trip for the Colorado Mountain Club. I posted the trip 6 months ago, had 5 people committed a month ago (myself and 4 others). Two canceled a month ago, 1 two days before departure, and the last the night before. Very disappointing. Decided to do the trip solo, as I had done this loop in 2007, and had let family know my itinerary. In addition, I stopped in the Pinedale ranger station the day prior to departing, and advised them that the group (you are required to get a permit for groups) trip was canceled, and let them know my plans.

Left my home in Black Hawk Colorado 6am Saturday 8/30 and made the 8 hour+ drive to Pinedale, arrived 3pm, checked in with the rangers as mentioned above, and then checked in at my motel. I had originally planned to car camp somewhere on the 12 mile road from Pinedale to Elkhart Park trailhead. However, I knew that the weather forecast for Saturday night, and the following few days did not look good, especially Saturday night, when heavy rain (snow at elevation) was forecast. Turned out to be a wise decision, as I listened to extremely heavy rain and thunderstorms while dropping off to sleep at the motel that night.

Woke at 6am Sunday 8/31 and saw light drizzle and heavy clouds when I stuck my head out my motel room door. At least I would be starting the trip well rested and dry! I took advantage of the free continental breakfast at 7am, and then headed for the trailhead, arriving at 8am. The rain had stopped, but heavy clouds were everywhere, and I was pretty sure from the forecast that I would be hiking in the rain (I was correct). Left at 8:30am from the Pine Creek/Pole creek trailhead (9200ft) that starts from the Trails End campground a few hundred yards north of the Elkhart Park trailhead (where everyone else parks--typical to see 50-60 cars on a weekend, and that's what was there on this Labor Day Sunday). The loop I planned entailed an immediate drop of 1800 feet to Long Lake, followed by a climb back up the same 1800 feet to a ridge and then traveling north on the Pine Creek trail toward my planned camp for the night at Trapper Lake. Soon after I started, the expected rain arrived, and continued until about 2pm shortly before my arrival at camp. The rain never became torrential, but was steady. As daytime temps the entire trip were in the 50's and most days a bit breezy, it was prime conditions for hypothermia. Being prepared for the conditions, I managed fine. I arrived at Trapper Lake (9700ft) at 3:30pm after putting in a 10 mile day. I knew going in that day one would be the toughest--not only the taxing gain/loss of elevation, but this section of trail isn't maintained by the forest service (the only section like that in my loop). Consequently, when I entered the forest halfway up the ascent, I spent most of my time detouring around deadfall across the trail--what fun! I began to question my intelligence in choosing to do this loop knowing of bad weather early on, and hoping that good weather would follow?? I was at least able to see some of my equipment dry out a bit in the hour or so of no rain before arriving at Trapper Lake. Just before that arrival, it again started raining. I wasn't going to spend a lot of time searching for a campsite, and so set up about 100 yards away from a party of four. After quickly getting my tent set up, and water filtered for dinner and the next morning, I noticed that the folks next to me had a good sized fire going at a separate site from their tents back in the trees about equidistant between our campsites. I thought this was a prime time to introduce myself, and was able to spend some time next to their fire drying out! Turns out they were all from Pinedale, so I got all the latest gossip. Nice folks! Here are pictures from day one: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/WindRiversDay12014_08_31?authkey=Gv1sRgCPaHhZ7x3u7zjgE

Monday 9/1 (day two). Up at 7:15 as I didn't hear my alarm go off at 6:30am--was trying to stay warm in my bag as it got down to 30 degrees or so (as would be the case for the first 3 nights). Left camp at 8:45am with a goal of Elbow Lake 10 miles to the north and east. Started out under cloudy skies and it appeared I was going to get rained on again (oh, joy!). Turned out not to be the case, as it threatened rain but never happened all day. Typical terrain in the Wind River mountains is climbing a few hundred feet out of one lake basin to a ridge, and descending the same several hundred feet to the next basin--became my routine on the loop. Saw several groups along the way, in contrast to 2007 when I went two days without seeing a soul on this portion of the loop--guess people have discovered the Winds?? In any event, it was enjoyable hiking up to Elbow Lake, which was my high camp of the trip at 10,800 feet. Found a nice site at the far end of the lake after arriving there at 3:30pm. It's always nice to have an arrival at camp early enough to get all the usual chores done (set up tent, filter water, dinner, etc) and have time to enjoy the scenary before dark! Here's pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/WindRiversDay22014_09_01?authkey=Gv1sRgCLuS_qDUi8e9-wE

Tuesday 9/2 (day three). Up at 7:15, left camp at 8:30am under bright blue/sunny skies. It appeared the weather had turned as hoped! Ascended a few hundred feet to the high point of the loop at 11,200ft. Then turned east and descended past upper and lower jean lakes to Fremont crossing--if it wasn't for a nice bridge here, it would be impossible to ford the stream--it's about 50 feet wide and 5-6 feet deep with a significant current (forgot to take a picture of the bridge!?). Enjoyable days hiking again. Met far more folks again this day than my previous 2007 trip. Always nice to chat with like minded folk on the trail, tho. Met at various times folks from: Oregon, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, Colorado, Ohio, even a couple of ladies from central Africa! Arrived at Island Lake at 3pm. I have always thought this spot to be one of the most beautiful in the Winds--judge for yourself from the pictures, a number of which I took from my campsite: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/WindRiversDay32014_09_02?authkey=Gv1sRgCNvO9NSpyanF4QE

Wednesday 9/3 (day four). Up at the sinfully late hour of 8am, as I planned my easiest day of the loop, needing only to get 5-6miles to either Hobbs Lake or the next nice campsite. Left (reluctantly) from Island Lake at 9:30am after showing off my trophy fish (see pictures) at the top of the dead tree I used for food hang to a couple of fisherman camped near me. The night before saw the first rain since day one--only a couple of light showers that lasted 5 minutes or so each. Another enjoyable day hiking, and arrived at my last camp for the trip at Barbara lake at 2pm. Hobbs Lake had several areas closed to camping due to overuse, so Barbara lake was the next viable site--just made my last day/hike to trailhead that much easier! A couple from Kentucky ended up camping next to me that night--they arrived at 5:30pm very tired, and I invited them to take advantage of a spot 100 yards from mine, rather than continue. Got a chance to chat with them, and discovered that they literally had "sold the farm" (he had farmed for 15 years, and finally decided it was time to see the country, sold his farm, and they have been traveling and living out of the camper shell in the back of their pickup for the past 10 months!!)--they rock!! Here's pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/WindRiversDay42014_09_03?authkey=Gv1sRgCP-1pPSwxqrzLQ

Thursday 9/4 (day five). Up again at 8am, left camp after leisurely breakfast at 9:30. Had an easy 6.7 miles back to the trailhead with good weather again. Ran into the same fellow from Colorado that I met on day one, and hiked the last 2 miles with him. All in all, an awesome trip, total of 41.1 miles and 8100 feet of vertical. Pictures from the last day: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/WindRiversDay52014_09_04?authkey=Gv1sRgCIPHtoaK_sLIwQE

Hope you enjoy the pictures!

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Aaron    192
Aaron

Thanks for the report John, sounds like a nice trip. Have hiked that loop in separate parts in the past and it's without a doubt a great part of the Winds...I do seem to recall a lot of traffic when we hiked through around Labor Day weekend a couple years ago. Your photo of Photographer's Point was pretty interesting...Every time I've been there I've never seen anyone else there! Jen and I finished a trip to the south 2 days before you out of the Scab Creek Trailhead and experienced some of the same rainy chilly weather on the first day, but luckily after that the weather was beautiful. Best of all, only saw a handful of mosquitoes the entire trip. :D

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John B    53
John B

Aaron,

Thanks. Part of the reason I like to time trips to the Winds to Labor Day or later is to avoid the mosquitoes. The few times I have gone in July or August, I have regretted it!

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kwhowell    21
kwhowell

Hey Fellas,

I'm heading out West next week and the Winds is one of my stops. I'm thinking I might try and duplicate this loop, but the map I have doesn't show trails connecting the Elkhart Park trailhead and the Pine Creek trails. Were you bushwhacking this section (or any section - I don't have my map in front of me so I may be talking about the wrong section)? Just want to know what I'm in for.

Also, how is the weather and mosquito situation in late August? I see John mentioned it can be pretty rough dealing with the mosquitoes, but I'm curious if this is only in lower elevation areas?

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Aaron    192
Aaron

Hi kwhowell, if you head to the campground (north side) at Elkhart Park you can jump on the Pine Creek Canyon Trail from there and continue past Long Lake and Trapper lake etc. Part of it is marked as unmaintained, but when I hiked it it was easy to follow, though with a section of blowdowns. It should be shown on the Beartooth Publishing and Earthwalk Press maps. Just curious - which map are you looking at that doesn't show the connection?

Late August is usually a pretty nice time to go, much less of a wildflower display but also less mosquitoes. A chance of rain and snow, but less of a chance of it being a multi-day weather event than as you move into September...and speaking of mosquitoes. I've found mosquitoes to like most elevations I like to camp at in the Winds!

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kwhowell    21
kwhowell

I was wrong. The pine creek trail doesn't connect to the Park trail that leads to Trapper Lake... on the 2005 Bridger Wilderness Forest Service map, at least. If there's a trail, though I'll find it!

We'll see how the mosquitoes like the Thermacell. Just picked one up.

Thanks! 

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John B    53
John B

KW Howell,

Sorry for the late reply--just got back late last night from 9 days in the Sierra's--trip report soon.  I would echo Aaron, the earthwalk map I used clearly shows the connection from elkhart park trailhead--there were some downed trees as you climb out of long lake going north, but nothing I would call horrible.  Have fun!

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