Nearly 100 miles, over 30,000 feet of ascent, glacier crossings, snow slopes, one microspike, a two season sleeping bag at 12,000 feet, and a pointless laptop on my back i forgot to send before the trip. Lets Go!!
Flying by the seem of my pants seems to be something i can thrive on. This trip started one morning in Salida where i didn’t quite know what to do with myself.
‘Come do the wind river high route with me’ Said Cheetah, an Ultra runner I met a couple of days previous. Having nothing more exciting to do and being quite psyched about the route i had no knowledge of i said ‘Ok!’.
A hour later I had salvaged some food from a hiker box, enough for about 3 days (just), and packed up and walked out the door. Hitching back to Kathleens’ house, a half way point on the hitch route (around a 470 mile hitch) she provided maps of the Winds, a bonus as I had no idea where the route went or what was involved.
The next morning we hitched to Lander with the plan of kitting out properly for the route. I had a list of equipment I would need- an extra fleece, extra food, microspikes as a minimum if not crampons as there would be a lot of time on snow and glaciers, and finally mail off my laptop so I don’t have to carry it. We spent the night in Lander camped on the village green. Next morning after getting no where trying to find microspikes/crampons suitable for the route, and finding no fleeces at decent prices I hitched to the trailhead frustrated, eased slightly by Cheetah sharing some fried chicken.
The first afternoon we went a few miles down the trail from bruce bridge (7,142ft), swam in the river and drank a few beers. I was carrying 3 days food, by 3 days what I actually meant was 3 x 2500kcal, enough for an average working day at home, not the 6000 a day I could have done with. Most people would probably want a weeks supply for this route.
Wind river peak(13,192ft)- I think this was about a 6000 foot climb. It passed fast, but the descent was knarly, Steep steep talus that seemed very unstable (we moved single file), followed by the first steep snow slope. We devised a plan for one of us to go first, tying some para-cord between us to pass the microspikes after the first was down. This worked well until the 30ft of cord proved about 70ft short of what we would need. What followed was Cheetah chucking the spikes as hard as possible, and me leaning down the slope with an extended trekking pole to try to reach where they managed to wedge themselves in the compact icey snow. It worked to a fashion and a short while later we were scrambling down a talus field feeling pretty good. A long descent to Big Sandy Lake, lunch, the a climb up to ‘The Cirque’, a beautiful mountain area. We squeezed one more pass, the third of the day, (Texas Pass) giving us near 10,000 vertical feet this day. Camping next to a high lake we pitched tarps for the night and the drank whisky Cheetah carried in. I’m not going to bore you too much with the exact elevation gains and drops, but its serious up and down on this trip.
Waking cold and tired, the food situation was very clear, there wasn’t enough. From this morning rationing started. By substantially reducing calorie intake and increasing daily mileage we might just swing the route if we go partly hungry every day and even hungrier with no food the last day. We had to make around 30 miles today, on a normal hiking day this wouldn’t be bad, but this was back country travel, no paths, talus, big passes, lots of snow. Cheetah shared one of his micro spikes (like mini crampons) and we both went with one each on the snow. The approaches to passes were epic, the bluff climbs enjoyable and snow firm in the morning and slush by lunch. The end of the day was a surprise we didn’t notice when planning the night previous, after doing a mammoth 3 passes as fast as we could, we climbed a rise to a shocking site. A big pass, the biggest yet. At 6pm high in The Winds, a 3000 vertical feet climb to 12,750ft (Blaurock Pass)was a tiring odious thought. Reaching the top at 7.15 felt great. The descent was a mix of glissading and rock hopping. Camping in view of Garnett Peak, the highest in Wyoming, I was freezing. Dinner was a most miserable chicken noodle soup, the kind you put in a cup as a 4pm snack, I pretended to myself there were plenty of calories in it. Deep down I knew this was a lie.
My skimpy bag wasn’t up to a cool summer night, never mind a alpine frost. I shivered quite a bit, but consider it a good sign my body was still moving. Whats the worst that can happen right?
Breakfast- a premix bag of oats and a breakfast essential mixed together. Today would be my last bag of MnM’s which was also my last food. Not the worst thing ever, and a coffee. In reserve i had more instant coffee and herbal tea. We approached Garnett Peak ready to turn up to Garnett Glacier near the base. A group of climbers were descending and after hearing we were torn between an ascent of Garnett Peak or attempting to finish the high route due to lack of rations they gave us a big bag of almonds, some cliff energy bars and a couple of extras. The decision was made for us, with this stroke of luck, and still short on supplies we approached Garnett peak. After assessing the route, I decided it was too dangerous to take on the steep snow gully with snow bridge over crevasse with only one microspike, (also a monsterous death drop if a slide was not arrested) so passed it to Cheetah and he went for a summit attempt. I was gutted not to be making the climb but knew it was the right call (a lot of people climb this with ice axe, crampons and roped together). I did climb around half way up as far as the rocks would allow. When Cheetah arrived back at our min camp we changed direction back to the glacier route. The glacier itself was uneventful apart from the rumble of thunder keeping us moving. When your that high there isn’t really any point in trying to run downhill. The ascent out the other side of the glacier for those interested I would suggest warrants sturdier footware and crampons, even an axe if you can be bothered to carry one, but with one microspike on and clutching my hiking poles tight looking a little like a praying mantis I staggered up the slope above the crevasses (they were small here). A quick glissade down and one more climb out the next valley. We pushed hard over more open ground, more rock hopping, plenty of extra up and down, across a safer beautiful glacier and onto the most northern mountain of the route ‘Downs Mountain'(13,350). I’ll be honest and say I despised this mountain. I felt like Alice in wonderland on mushrooms. Giant boulders continually thwarting forward movement as my dehydrated body struggled up, continually trying to decide if I could step up, or jump across gaps, I was drained. We descended a short way down to the final camp. Cheetah cooked up the last noodle pack, added some almonds and split it with me. Man it was good to eat. This night was like the previous nights but more so, more vibrant shivering all night and frozen shoes and socks in the morning. My footwear and feet for that matter didn’t get to dry out at any point during these few days.
There are so many awesome pics and so much I could say but I’m burned. I’ll rewrite this later. Theres also going to be an awesome vid of this trip soon enough in 4k highlighting my terror and joy onroute. Here I lie battered and bruised but content in dubois. Where should I head next?