2018 Wind River Trip Report

I’m convinced that nature is one of the greatest “frugality hacks” on the planet. But even more compelling, I’m convinced that nature is one of the greatest hacks (of any kind) on the planet.

Last year, a buddy of mine went backpacking in the Wind River Range with his brother. Prior to this, I had never heard of the place. Tonight, I returned from the best backpacking trip of my life. In preparing for this trip I consulted many trip reports on the topic, so I figured I’d pay it forward by posting my trip report. Hopefully someone who stumbles across this post from a google search will find it helpful.

TLDR: The trip to the Wind Rivers was the best backpacking trip of my life, far more dramatic than trips to the John Muir trail, the Uintas, and the Cascades.

**** Key Stats ****

Dates Traveled: Monday 8/13/18 – Thursday 8/17/18

Route: We took the “Primary” route shown in this pdf (link). Alternatively, you can view the Caltopo version here (link).

Elevation Profile:

Mileage: 45 miles over 3.25 days (more than maps due to unmapped deviation to Baptiste Lake).

Weather: Absolutely perfect. Blue skies for 4 days straight, with only a brief rainstorm our first night.

Bugs: I counted about 5 mosquitos the whole trip. It was a Christmas miracle, though a miracle strategically made possible by taking this trip later in the season.

Grizzly encounters: None, but the prospect of being in Grizzly country and thus part of the food chain caused me to lose some sleep. However, we did run into a hiker who had encountered a grizzly (within 100 ft) about 40 miles north.

Difficulty: The passes were tough. The flat parts were pretty easy.

Fishing: Unreal at Baptiste lake. Caught fish at all but one lake we fished.

Cost: A few bucks of trail mix & Mountain House and a $400 round-trip plane ticket to Utah  And a few dollars for a fishing license.

What to bring: Usual backpacking gear + bear spray + fishing pole.

Crowds: Parking lot was packed, but Winds are so vast that crowds were not a problem.

Remember: Leave no trace.

Day 1. Monday 8/14/18. 6 miles. Big Sandy Trailhead to Dad’s Lake.

Arrived to Big Sandy Trailhead (map) at 6:15pm. Hiked 6 easy miles in 2 hours and camped at Dad’s Lake on cliff overlooking lake. 

Day 2. Tuesday 8/15/18. 15 miles. Dad’s Lake to Grave Lake.

As we packed our packs, my friend placed his round sleeping bag on the sloped ground. Why do I emphasize the shape of the bag? Because round things roll. And his round sleeping bag rolled of the ledge and tumbled 50 feet into Dad’s lake. Luckily it stayed afloat in time for my buddy to retrieve it. Exciting way to start the day!

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Where the trail split for Shadow Lake there was a stream that was perhaps my favorite spot on the entire trip.

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Just before crossing Hailey pass, we swam in the lower of the Twin Lakes at 11k feet. It was cold.

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On top of Hailey pass, there were sustained winds of 50mph. Unreal.

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After hiking down Hailey pass, we decided to take an excursion (not shown in our PDF or Caltopo route) to Baptiste Lake. We hung our packs to save on weight for the excursion. The 500 feet of elevation gain were painful, but we were rewarded by an incredible view of Mt Hooker, which is regarded as the most iconic back-country big wall climb in the US. Mt Hooker towers over 1500 feet above Baptiste Lake. Baptiste Lake had the best fishing of any lake we tried. We caught a fish every other cast.

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That evening we camped at Grave Lake. There was a demoralizing climb up a portion of Grave Lake Dome to get to the North-Eastern part of the lake where we would camp.

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Day 3: Wednesday 8/16/18. 12 miles. Grave Lake to Billy’s Lake.

We found a sandy beach at Grave Lake and swam.

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Just East of Grave Lake, we headed south along South Fork Little Wind River towards Washake Pass. This portion of the trail didn’t show up on Caltopo, so I worried we would have to bushwhack it. Fortunately, there was a trail here. It was flatter than any other portion of the hike and a joy to travel along.

Washake Pass was grueling. But we were rewarded with a second stop (& swim) at my favorite stream at the head of the Shadow Lake Trail.

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The trail past Shadow Lake to Billy’s Lake was poorly marked and we lost the trail but meandered up the valley and eventually found Billy’s Lake. We camped at the southern end of Billy’s Lake. Fishing was good, though fish were much smaller than at Baptiste Lake.blank

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After 6 hours of insomia, I took a walk at 4am and took pictures of stars. They were pretty. They made me feel small.

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Day 4: Thursday 8/17/18. 12 miles. Billy Lake to Big Sandy Trailhead.

Awoke after a couple hours of sleep to tackle Texas Pass, an intimidating pass. At the top of the pass, we were rewarded with a view of the Cirque of the Towers, one of the most impressive views I’ve seen in my life. Unfortunately the air was a bit hazy due to smoke from the California forest fires.

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We hiked through the Cirque towards Jackass pass. Jackass Pass was deceptively difficult, primarily due the boulder field at Arrowhead Lake.

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Once over Jackass pass, we opted to hike past Arrowhead Lake on the West side of the lake rather than the Eastern trail which goes considerably higher than the lake. Unbeknownst to us, the Western side of Arrowhead Lake is a boulder field, jam-packed with automobile-sized boulders. Traversing this section of the trail proved to be quite technical and dangerous. We took a break halfway through the traverse to swim at 10.5k feet. There was no shortage of boulders to jump off of into the lake.

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The rest of the trip down was pretty uneventful. And by uneventful I mean full of jaw-dropping views most of the way to the parking lot.blank

Wrapping it up.

The trip was probably the most memorable trip I’ve taken in my life. The views were astounding. The terrain was challenging. The people we met were incredible. The fishing was great. The swimming was invigorating. The mountains & streams were photogenic.

Addendum.

It appears that Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing company, says that the winds are his favorite place on earth. Pretty interesting read: https://www.patagonia.com/blog/2009/08/summer-reading-my-favorite-place-on-earth/.

We met a father & son duo at Grave Lake who compiled a great video on their experience with beautiful 4k footage (link). Apparently they have been doing an annual backpacking trip for the last 18 years. It was really neat to observe that relationship and hear of their experiences.

Notes to self:

Burn your 3/4 length sleeping pad that you got when you were a 12-year-old boy scout. It is uncomfortable and will cost you hours of sleep.

Bring a camp pillow. Making an ad-hoc pillow from dirty socks in a stuff sack will cost you hours of sleep.

Bring ear plugs while camping. Lesson learned from decades of sharing a tent with with snorers. Luckily my buddy had an extra pair.

Bringing an extra (light) pair of shoes for river crossings was unnecessary. There were no river crossings that caused wet feet.

7 thoughts on “2018 Wind River Trip Report”

  1. 50 mph winds at Hailey’s pass, eh? So, it felt like home? 😉

    I’m glad you were not mauled by a grizzly bear. Also, it looks beautiful. We’ll have to go together sometime. 🙂

    The frugal kids love the pictures of the stars. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Oh man! Those pictures make me want to do this. How should one prepare for this? Based on prior posts I know you practice rock climbing. Would that be a prerequisite? Could a relatively in shape man in his late twenties attempt this “cold turkey”?

    Also, seems you have a gracious wife to let you go off on these adventures while she attends to the 5 frugal kids. Clearly she is deserving of her choice of item from the Costco food court.

    Reply
    • Jim,

      This comment made my wife and me laugh pretty hard. It’s true that people rock climb pretty extensively in the Winds, but my buddy and I just went backpacking. What this means is we packed the following in our bags: sleeping bag, tent, stove, food, and water purification. Then we hiked 45 miles over 4 days and slept on the hard ground at night. The most challenging thing with any hike is to take your first step. I guess doing so requires that you have the right gear. Fortunately, the trend in backpacking these days (relative to when I was a kid) is to go “ultralight.” What this means is that you bring the minimalism mentality to backpacking, bringing nothing unecessary. Most everything I brought on the trip can be purchased at Costco for cheap ($30 carbon fiber trecking poles, $10 wool socks, $10 fleece beanie, $10 beef jerkey, $10 string cheese, $5 tortillas, $30 running shoes (in lieu of hiking shoes), etc). A few things you’d buy on Amazon ($100 tent, $100 stove, $100 backpack, $30 sleeping bag). The nice thing about backpacking is that once the fixed cost is incurred, the marginal cost is about zero. If not for the plane ticket, the trip would have essentially cost zero (since I would have eaten a similar amount of food backpacking or lounging on my sofa).

      These are good resources for gear if you’re serious:
      https://darwinonthetrail.com/2018/04/19/darwins-2018-pct-thru-hike/
      https://blackwoodspress.com/blog/25623/erik-the-blacks-backpacking-gear-list-2016/

      Some of these guys are crazy though and buy top of the line stuff. I buy simpler things and make due. You don’t need to spend $300 on a sleeping bag when a $30 Amazon one will suffice.

      Reply
  3. Laughed at the Dad’s Lake campsite photo. My brother and I camped in exactly that same spot a couple of years ago. You guys must be in pretty good shape. 45 miles in 4 days is good mileage given the terrain. What did the packs weigh in at? The photos of the stars brought back memories of a truly spectacular display of stars up in the East Fork Valley two years ago. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • I loved that campsite at Dad’s lake! It was pretty spectacular, especially given the hilarity that ensued the following morning with my buddy’s sleeping bag.

      We’re in decent shape. Just two 36 year old dudes who are hanging onto our youth by a thread. We did the Uintas last hear (Red Castle Lake, Red Knob Pass, etc), and we found the Winds to be no more difficult than the Uintas.

      Here are my pack weights. As ultralight as we could get without paying $250 for a titanium spork. Basically the poor-man’s ultralight.
      Base pack: 10.6 lbs
      Food: 8.9 lbs (excludes water)
      Camera: 2.5 lbs
      Total: 22.0 lbs

      Reply
  4. Thank you for taking the time to create a record of your trip, very nice. I’m with you, I enjoy the Wind River Range more than any Wilderness I have Backpacked.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the thanks. The winds are indeed magical. I can’t wait to go back this coming summer with a group of 6 friends from undergrad.

      Reply

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