From the joys and comforts of Devils Tower Lodge we headed west and then south to the climber friendly haven of Lander Wyoming for some hiking in the Wind River Range. We were hoping to find some reprieve from the cold and windy weather while pulling on the limestone pockets of nearby Sinks Canyon. On our last foray through central WY we opted for Wild Iris, the higher elevation cousin which sits at a cool 9000 some odd feet above sea level, perfect for summer outings. Sinks is around 5000 feet and we hoped it would provide us with some convenient climbing.
Sunset just East of Lander, The Wind River Range is in the background…
This is a decent time for a confession, I suppose…clipping bolts is not an endeavor that I relish if it entails a grueling approach. Canyons seemingly always come with this caveat and this time was no exception. We looked a little and decided that the pay camping sucked and that staying in the town park for free was a little sketch since there were teens partying there the previous night while we attempted to sleep. Further complicating the situation was the weather forecast. We had hoped to get into the Wind River Mountains and the Tetons before it was too late; winter had been coming ahead of schedule and there had already been snow in the Tetons. We decided that we had to pick one and go for it before the approaching cold fronts slammed the region.
Climbing out of Sinks Canyon en route to the Winds access point
The Aspens and Cottonwoods were on FIRE!
Louis Beach- tons of fishing and primitive camping and solitude…
Wind River Mtns won out, and we decided to beat feet for the Green River Lakes access point near Pinedale WY where we would camp and then attempt to summit Squaretop Mtn via a class 2-3 route (class 2 or 3 meaning that it would not require technical climbing gear, just hiking and some exposed scrambling). Our guidebook had very little concrete information, having been written in 1980, with the intent of “preserving adventure” and not spoonfeeding the information. Nevertheless, we felt confident that a 16-20 mile round trip could be done in one day, putting us back at camp in time to hole up in time for the deteriorating weather.
A sign of changing weather, as we cross onto the long dirt road.
A few Moose chowing down in prep for the weather
Green River. Next time, I’ll be packing my fishing gear…
A young bull Moose
Arriving in camp after 20 some-odd miles of bone-jarring clattering down the forest service road we found the temperature decreasing as the wind coming off the lake increased. The waning light of evening allowed only a brief repast of ramen noodles and canned vegetables before we settled in for the night. We were the sole occupants of the the campground as it had shut down for the off season. The solitude served as a palpable reminder that our plan was starting off outside the boundaries of the ideal.
Around midnight, I stirred in my sleep, knowing full well that Grizzly bears were preparing for hibernation, and that if one decided to savage our tent, I would not be able to get a slug in my trusty 12 gauge fast enough to get a shot off. A twig cracked outside the tent. Breach, load, cock the hammer…breach, load…I rehearsed mentally. Suddenly a loud bellowing grunt from about 200 feet away, in the direction of the lake, resounded in the forest. A droplet of sweat trickled down the back of my neck but I refrained from movement which would obscure the sounds outside the tent.
“Did you hear that?” Stef whispered
I had indeed heard it. The fact that it was a horny and enraged bull moose failed to comfort me to any great extent. Would it be better to be gored and trampled or clawed to death? I carried on this debate internally while pretending to sleep until the facade gave way to actual slumber.
Morning came way too fast and though we were pleased to be alive and well, the cold provided a sizeable obstacle. Our water was frozen and leaving a warm sleeping bag in a warm tent to thaw and boil breakfast is not as charming as it might initially sound.
Once done with the tedium of the morning routine, we hit the trail, bundled against the cold, a rookie mistake that left us peeling off layers a half hour later, cursing the heat in the early morning sun.
Stef with our objective looming in the background
Corral and crude living quarters for cattle herders…not sure if they are still used as such.
I am consistently surprised at how well WY maintains the trails and bridges in its backcountry. Here is Stef putting one to the test, about a mile and a half in.
After skirting two twin lakes, (upper and lower Green River Lakes, which feed the Green River which flows into Utah) our path delved in and out of densely wooded patches which necessitated constant noise-making to avoid surprising a bear or a moose in the shrubs.
We enjoyed this macabre bit of nature’s harmony. This unfortunate animal (I speculate a moose calf) was torn to bits and its bones left to bleach in the sun after some big meanie failed to get the memo from PETA about how such savagery is frowned upon…big UNLIKE for the carnivores out there. The NERVE!
No idea what this is, I would guess a western cousin of the Dandelion.
The route is flanked on the left by a spectacular canyon wall…which could yield some nice climbing but again, the approach…
Hiking is pretty mundane to describe in writing; left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, and so on. As our objective loomed closer it became obvious that our pace would be insufficient to summit and return in one day. We had come about ten miles and were still about three or four miles from the start of the route to ascend Squaretop. It seems that there are very few summits in the Winds that will submit to car to car ascents by anyone but the fittest athletes. We turned back and made it to camp by 8:30 pm. 20 miles in 12 hours was a stout day for us so we were happy but decided to save the summit for another time when we could be able to devote more time to the endeavor.
It is hard to describe the energy that a big mountain gives off, but there is something ominous about this one. Even as we left it behind, it leered down smugly. Next time…
We arrived back as the wind was picking up and the clouds rolling in. It was no surprise the following morning when we woke up to snow and wind in generous quantities. Sore, cold and tired, we packed it in for the warm and sunny climes of Utah.
Storm blowing in over the lake.
It was late, no tripod, and I was tired.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
— Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It