When we moved to the East Coast in 2014 we had high hopes that the rolling green hills and plentiful rock climbing would keep our interests piqued. Unfortunately, after a season of hiking and climbing we were restless and pining for the thin mountain air and big scenic vistas of the West. So that fall, after looking at our options, we decided to head for the isolated mountain range that we’d laid eyes upon a year before as we drove from Jackson Hole to Kansas – the Wind River Range. Why had no one ever told us about the Winds…?
We have been on many hikes before and have seen some marvelous country, but the Winds may top it all. A wild place, with vast domes of granite, endless glacier carved valleys, and bountiful alpine lakes. It is a place where you could spend an entire lifetime hiking and climbing. After pulling out the maps and determining what was feasible, we decided on a week-long hike consisting of established trails and cross country routes (no trail). Our intended path would take us from Big Sandy trailhead through the Cirque de Towers, over Lizard Head Plateau, past Pyramid Lake, over the Raid/Bonneville pass, up to Lee Lake, around to Dad’s Lake, up and over the backside of the Cirque, and back home. As with many plans, this one would not go as anticipated…
After three days of working our way up and over tough passes, yakking from altitude sickness (as I am apt to do), and running from hailstorms, we finally came to our first day of cross-country travel. The day started out stunningly beautiful as we left Pyramid lake and rounded into the valley that would take us over Raid/Bonneville pass. As we began navigating our ascent over the rocky pass, hopping from car-sized boulders onto car-sized boulders, we soon realized that our window of good weather was closing and the thunderstorms were about to roll in. After a couple of hours of working our way through the boulderfield and down the backside of the pass, we felt the first drops of rain.
Being deep in the mountains, far from the cares of everyday life, is an experience everyone should have in their lifetime; however, being stuck in a massive lightning and hail storm high in the alpine…not so much. As we plotted our next steps, we noticed that our planned path took us over a pass that was being hammered by lightning. Following a hasty discussion, we plotted a new, lower route through an adjacent valley and headed off. After making our way through the dense trees, we stumbled upon what we thought may be a trail heading in the right direction. However, we followed the barely-there trail deeper and deeper into the woods and to a dead end. We found ourselves completely and utterly turned around. Off-trail, off of the original planned off-trail route, preparing for a big storm, and now lost – cool beans.
Sitting on the side of a soggy marsh and debating the accuracy of our compass, we realized we had been heading in the opposite-of-the-right direction. After some close examination of the topography, we were able to locate a creek on the map that, if we followed it, should lead us in the right direction. A couple of false starts later, we finally found ourselves oriented and back on track. Shortly after patting ourselves on the back, the clouds rolled in and the lightning came. It came, and it came and it came. Lightning and hail and us cowering under separate trees (typically, in the case of lightning, you want to spread out so that both of you don’t get hit at the same time and the lucky one can administer first aid to the not so lucky one).
A tumultuous 40 minutes later, the storm abated and we were left with a beautiful sky, calm weather and bad attitudes. As we made our way to our newly planned camp location, we were wondering out loud why we were out here, if we were getting too old for this stuff, and how an RV life wouldn’t be so bad. There always seems to be a point during a trip when you question what in the hell you are doing and why chose this for a “vacation”. While these low times come and go, they have never been persistent enough to convince me that I would want it any other way. There is always another beautiful sunrise to see, and another day filled with hard work and fresh mountain air.
Laying in our sleeping bags that night, we looked at the maps and plotted a new path back up to see the lake we missed and a new route to the car. The next couple of days blessed us with gorgeous weather and great hiking. As our trip came to an end, we found ourselves thankful and sitting on the patio of the Wind River Brewing company sipping beers watching another storm sweep over the Wind River Mountains.
We are planning our return.
You can see the rest of our photos here. Comments and questions are always welcome!