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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

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The Winds

Derek Bartz

Heading up the East Fork River Valley, this place!

Trip Date: August 28th-September 3, 2014
Location: Fitzpatrick Wilderness
Miles: 45
Vert: 5,000'
Start/Finish: Big Sandy Opening
Permit Required?: Free, Register at Trailhead
Season: Mid July-Mid September, winter conditions linger and snow is a possibility any time of the year.  It snowed on us and nights were dropping below freezing on this trip.
Directions: Found here.  A couple options exist so read carefully, this is the main entrance for the Cirque of the Towers and it was one of the busier trailheads I've ever seen, but don't let that discourage you...most people are just heading to the Cirque.

Every year I get a call from my buddy back in Wisconsin asking, "Where are we going?  I'm itching to get out West!".  Since he is coming from the flats of the Midwest I usually try to pick somewhere epic and chose to venture a little further from the grid of the Front Range; so off to the Winds we go!

For those not familiar with the range, the Wind River Range runs diagonally through the center of Wyoming for nearly 100 miles; separating the Wind River Basin to the northeast from the Greater Green River Basin to the south and southwest.  The range contains Wyoming highest point, Gannett Peak, and the largest concentration of "glaciers" in the American portion of the Rockies.

I had planned an ambitious route for our group of six; and for my first time ever it ended up being too much.  I blame this on the weather.  Our planned route was a "loop" with visits to the East Fork River Valley, Hailey Pass, Mt Hooker, Baptiste Lake, Washakie Pass, Texas Pass, and the Cirque of the Towers; with some potential peaks to bag weather depending.  

Hiking in under sunny skies we were all smiles.  Easy miles led us to Pyramid Lake and we even found a cave where my buddy cowboy camped for the night.  In the morning we crested a ridge and explored the East Fork River Vally, a National Park'esce place with the souring tower of Ambush Peak jutting from the valley floor.  I spotted a gully leading to the saddle between Mt Geikie and Ambush Peak and we all decided to go for it hoping it would eventually lead us to the summit of either peak.  The gully was 3rd class steep, loose scree and took longer than expected so most of the group didn't go any higher than the saddle.  I ventured on up Geike a little further, the ridge is easy class 2 terrain but I turned around short of the summit.

Ascending the gully between Mt Geikie & Ambush Peak

Looking back over the East Fork from Just below the summit of Mt Geikie

Another look at the gully leading to the saddle. 

Half way through our second day the temperature dropped and some moisture moved in, and would stay along the divide the next 48 hours. This was not ideal considering we had planned to be above treeline for a considerable amount of time.  We made it over Hailey Pass but stopped short of Baptiste Lake, our initial destination.  The environs would eventually have us tent bound. Again, not ideal especially due to the fact that one of our "primitive skills" friends had chosen not to bring a shelter.  So there we are, four campers crammed into a two-man tent for the better portion of 2 days.  Did I mention is was August?   

Crossing the divide on Hailey Pass

Day 2 of the storm had us huddled around a roaring fire, despite everything being soaked) crafted by "primitive skills" (totally redeeming himself) next to Washakie Lake.  We would be greeted by  blue skies the following morning, allowing me a side trip up Washakie Peak.  Man this is an inspiring place, once on the summit a sea of granite towers and spires spread up and down the range.  

Once down from Washakie Pass, we headed right back up toward the Divide on the Shadow Lake trail toward our intended goal for the day, over Texas Pass and into The Cirque of the Towers.  Upon arriving at Shadow Lake though the group was ready to be done for the day though so we enjoyed the evening by the lake and had a short hike out in the morning. 

This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been; and can't wait to get back to the Winds next year.