Wind River High Route
I put good effort into making this trip report aesthetic, but another fun visual summary is Quinton's 8-minute video.
I've been aware of High Routes for a long time, since I first heard of the Sierra High Route in 2015. But I began to concretely understand the appeal in 2021 when I realized the joy of off-trail movement. While hiking a long lengthwise section of Grand Canyon in February, it occurred to me that what we were doing was analogous to a desert "high route". When I went to work in Wyoming that summer, I had two large trips floating around my brain as big, ambitious goals: the DuMor Packraft Route and the Wind River High Route (WRHR). In reality, I lacked partners, lacked understanding of the environmental conditions conducive to these trips, and lacked the skills to safely complete the DuMor. But that summer allowed me to begin working on those prerequisites, and gave me three forays into the Wind River Range. In doing so, I realized the grandeur that the range had to offer and specifically, thought to myself while walking around Titcomb Lakes on trailless tundra, "wow, off-trail movement would be incredible here". I set aside a week at the end of my summer work season for the High Route, but couldn't find anyone to join. I was willing to try it solo, but was too lonely after the work season and went home to Flagstaff. In 2022 after gaining a lot more packrafting experience, Daniel, Quinton, and I returned for the DuMor. In 2023, I came back to the area to guide, and had the WRHR at the top of my list. Daniel had committed before summer even began (a rarity), and Quinton later decided he was in as well. I finished guiding a 7-day trip in the Gallatins, and had one day to food shop and commute to Dubois to meet the guys and set the shuttle. On August 21st, we hiked into the range with 11 days of food.
Daniel overlooking Iceberg Lake
Quinton in Alpine Lakes Basin
Things were quite moist after camping near the trailhead. Knowing that we were not entering exposed terrain today, we took a slow morning to dry gear. It quickly became clear that mornings are a slow time to dry stuff, so we started hiking at 10. The trail up the Middle Popo Agie was quite sunny and warm at first, with faint wind. After less than 2 hours of hiking, we came to an awesome spot for a break and swim, grabbing some water as well. The spot featured a narrow chute with aerated water blasting through it, which we swam through. We were excited to have a taste of the granite magic so early.
I never carried more than a liter today, which was excellent. My starting weight was 46lbs, satisfying for an 11 day trip with rugged conditions. I measured a 15lb base weight and had 27.5lbs of food. I was interested to see if this felt like more than enough food, at 2.5lbs per day.
We continued hiking up the Middle Fork trail which became almost entirely forested, and the rest of the day was pleasant but not super exciting. The grades were easy and after a 1pm lunch break, we continued making our way up.
Things got a bit more interesting when we turned into the Deep Creek trail, traversing the base of a nice cliff. We walked alongside Deep Creek, past a nice gorge, up to the lowest of the large Deep Creek Lakes. I had drawn today's route going a bit higher, but we wanted to camp below treeline because the wind was ripping. It had gotten much more windy and cloudy throughout the afternoon as we approached the divide. The sky was absolutely epic, as was the scenery around and behind the lake. Here, it finally felt like we were in the high Winds. This lake reminded me of Titcomb lakes, with a shore lined with both boulders and grassy tundra.
I pondered camping on said grassy tundra, but eventually Quinton managed to find a flat enough area up in the trees, which would make for a better overall camping experience. We setup around 7:30 pm and had dinner, then walked down to get more water as it got dark. The wind howled high above, but we were safe and comfortable.
We plan to start hiking at 7 am tomorrow, in hopes of beating not just thunderstorms but also wind. This morning was very calm, so we'll see what happens. Being up on the divide in the current conditions would be wild.
We awoke at 6 am. I wanted to try a speed morning, so I lay still until 6:10 and was ready to go at 6:40. I walked down to the lake to enjoy the sunrise. The others were ready shortly after 7, and we walked 20 minutes up to a small lake. There, we paused for a rather inefficient break that ended with us finally starting up the ramp at 8:10.
I walked up the ramp for about 15 minutes, then paused to call Joelle (we had discovered cell service). We continued up the beautiful northeast ramp which provided amazing walking conditions. It was extremely windy, but we were often sheltered, stopping just short of a false summit. After walking across a platform with beautiful flowers and a dramatic view of little El Capitan, we continued up the bouldery summit. As we got within 20 minutes, the sky started to clear. We were gloriously surprised to be on the summit at the first clear moment of the day. The entire range was visible, except for the highest peaks in the far north whose summits were still cloudy. We marveled at the nearby East Temple.
I began enjoying the great microviews
like this orange lichen
and Parry's Primrose, my favorite
We started down around noon, entirely on boulders. This made for fun travel for me. I had been descending what seemed like the most obvious route without looking at the map, and ended up on a flat platform. In doing so, we had chosen the second gully, rather than the first described by Skurka which features a long traverse. We ended up being happy with our choice.
The West Gully of Wind River Peak is indeed ugly, but passage generally felt safe. At times, large piles of large talus migrates underfoot, but we were able to mitigate any danger. I generally led, and it took a very long time for me, and even longer for Quinton. He is very cautious on rough descents because of chronic knee pain, and this was the roughest. The scenery was incredibly dramatic, with sheer granite walls and a melting glacier, frequently freeing rocks to tumble down into the ice blue lake below. We skied a short distance down the snowfield and stopped for a long break around 1 pm.
I descended further to the inviting left shore Lake 11185, only to find that it quickly became awful. I course-corrected to the right (north) shore, which was more consistent in its moderate difficulty.
We continued dropping down steep but large and stable boulders, following the creek. I was loving the travel, but a huge gap opened between us somewhat immediately. Around 10800, I heard a faint rumble of thunder. The weather has been mostly sunny but windy since the peak. In less than 5 minutes, we were fully blasted by a storm, with lightning directly overhead and full downpour. I was warm from the movement, but I stopped and put on my shell. I waited there in the pouring rain for about 10 minutes to regroup. The boulders were big, complicated, and increasingly slippery. Visibility was getting low, and I didn't want to get too far ahead. I was thankful for my bright orange jacket.
We continued descending to about 10600, where the travel dramatically eased. Following the creek was a mixture of mild willow-bashing, tundra walking, and boulder hopping, but it now felt flat by comparison. Our speed improved, especially so when we found a faint trail on the left side, well before the small upper Black Joe Lake. As we approached the lake, the weather became sunny! It was incredibly beautiful, with flowers, and the Temple group towering above. As Daniel arrived with Quinton he said "well, this is maybe the most beautiful thing of my entire life". I feel similarly.
We traversed the left shore to a rocky spot where a long break was apparently in order. I was happy to take advantage of an excellent diving rock. We continued along the right shore of Black Joe Lake, which was really easy travel on a faint trail. Near the end of the lake, we were forced up about 100ft by some cliffs. From the sunny platform, we could see storms far in the distance. As we neared the valley floor again, it became clear that those storms would move our way. We set our sights on a camping area near the dam and hustled towards it.
Scouting around, it appeared that there was great camping everywhere. We were indecisive, hoping to avoid camping on plants. I reminded everyone of our urgency, and settled on what looked like an impacted campsite, very flat, and the ground was not too mushy. As we set up tents, the storm began to hit. It was like nothing I have experienced before. The wind drove through the trees with such power; it really did sound like a freight train. Perhaps the loudest wind I've ever heard. The darkness also onset instantly, and added to the aura. Lighting flashed within a mile. Daniel and I both felt an overwhelming sense of intimidation and fear. We barely managed to crawl inside right as the rain hit. Setting up was the right call. We were happy to be right next to each other.
But our spot was wrong. It poured for 45 minutes and water began pooling. It quickly became evident that there was no limit to the pooling. I did not set up my bed because I was focused on making and eating dinner. By the time my water finished boiling in the vestibule, the canister was sitting in an inch of water. The tent floor was a waterbed. I knew it would get deeper and I would have to move, but it was still raining. As I finished eating, it began to get lighter. I organized my things and stepped outside. My pack was sitting in about 2" of water in the vestibule. The tent stayed relatively dry in the inside, and I was happy to have a warm and dry place to eat dinner. But I was very lucky the rain stopped to allow to move in peace.
It rained off and on throughout the night until 4am, giving us a great morning. Things were wet, but we packed up and headed to Big Sandy Lake, then up past North Lake to Arrowhead Lake. There, we took the climbers trail to the alternate Jackass Pass, which made sense regardless of what we chose for our second pass. At the top, we dried our things in the sun and breeze with an excellent view of Cirque of the Towers. We pondered our 3 pass options; New York, Texas, and an unnamed pass with a trail drawn on our phone apps. I was excited about the unique route on New York, but Quinton was eager to do something easier. Texas seemed to add miles, so we decided to compromise on the nearest, most direct, unnamed pass directly above Cirque Lake.
Looking back towards Arrowhead Lake
Alt Jackass Pass, Cirque in view
As we started walking down, I was wondering why Skurka does not mention this pass. It seems to go through the heart of the most stunning Cirque, and be very direct. Something felt wrong. I looked over slope angle shading, comparing all the passes and the West Gully on WR Peak. The unnamed pass was red for longer than any other, including 300ft of red on the ascent. I brought this up to the group, and we decided to change to Texas. I was okay with the decision.
We meandered unnecessarily to get back on track. Passing beneath New York Pass, I was a bit sad to miss its unique sneaky ledge route, which reminded me of the unlikely alcove I watched my friends Sam and Jessie walk across this spring in Beryl Canyon. But Texas Pass was beautiful. We stopped 500ft up, which seemed soon. There, Quinton drank a liter of water. I was amazed he was so dehydrated in a place with water coming out of every crack. He can't reach his bottles very well thanks to the stupid Osprey pockets.
Nice boulders and stunning peaks
Enjoying my new UL gravity system
Backside of the dramatic Shark's Nose
The walk past the 4 major lakes was gorgeous, especially Shark's Nose. Multiple people had told us that Wolf's Head looked cool from the back, but they had the peaks mixed up, which I thought was funny. We were able to eye the descents from New York Pass (which looked fine) and the unnamed Pass (which definitely went on continuous talus, but looked wild). We took a long break at Shadow Lake.
The hiking down Washakie Creek was as easy as it gets, but we really weren't going more than 2mph unfortunately. Quinton and I had some great deep conversation here. At the junction where we headed to Skull, rain hit briefly, then stopped. As we walked to Skull I saw some lightning hit Lizard Head, near where we had just come. But we had a safe margin of about 3 hours today, luckily.
We pulled into a campsite at Skull Lake before 6, which felt incredibly early. I would've happily kept walking into the East Fork, but this was a good opportunity. The sun was out, wind was low, and swimming was great. We had a chill evening organizing, cooking, eating, and enjoying a beautiful sunset.
Today the weather seemed much more standard for mountains, but still we got lucky. We caught up to my pace estimates, but it was entirely on trail. I hoped this break in the intensity would set us up well for the future.
After packing up camp, we were hiking downhill from Skull Lake by 7 am. We left trail immediately, and descended through moderately steep forest. It was pretty fun though - not too dense and some game trails. We hit the East Fork River perfectly and chose the right side. The travel was extremely nice all the way to the head of the valley, except for a huge boulder field in the Geike moraine.
Ambush Peak became my favorite mountain for its pure elegance and height - quite similar to Pingora. There was a cool fresh glide avalanche beside it with jagged snow boulders visible.
At a later break, Daniel found a piece of an old projectile point.
I heard extremely faint voices, and walked shortly uphill to say hello. I was excited to see a group of about 12 on a NOLS course, and everyone in the group was Black, including instructors! So awesome to see People of Color out in such a wild and beautiful place. They were all pretty focused on maps, planning their hike over Raid Peak pass. We hiked up to the base of the pass ramp and stopped for a while to dry our things in the sun.
Raid Peak Pass became my favorite, first a grassy ramp, then slabs, then huge stable talus. Very fun travel! We didn't stop for too long on top, and the north side was equally fun, including some real downclimb moves. We stopped at the most comfortable backcountry seating location I've ever had near the Bonneville Lake outlet. The lake was gorgeous and we ate a large lunch there around 1 pm.
The journey around the lake was easy, and I gunned straight up Sentry Peak Pass in less than 30 minutes. It looks improbable from below, but there is a thin line of tundra that had good steps. On top, I talked for a while with a nice guy named Jake Griffin, who is a pretty accomplished hiker and is developing some of his own high routes. He had already done Skurka's WRHR in 5.5 days and was back again for a slower paced 8 day loop.
As we crested Sentry Peak pass, we were surprised by the magnificent Pronghorn Peak and the basin below. I identified a nice snowfield, and traversed some fun slabs to get to the top of it. It was perfect for shoe skiing and glissading! I could self arrest well with the trekking pole, but the surface was nice and smooth. I believe we slid about 300ft. Below that, the travel continued to be remarkable, all the talus was flattened and welded in place despite no vegetation. Eventually we descended into the green zone again, near Lee Lake.
We took a long pause but decided to keep going, because it was still early. The travel around Middle Fork Lake and up to Bewmark was surprisingly not straightforward, but fine. The lake is very near the crest of the hill and we camped in between. I was excited to find cell service at the top of the hill, then went for a nice swim. The sunset was incredible.
This was certainly the best day of the trip so far. Day 2 had more wow factor because it was our first day in the high Winds, but I was stressed about our pace quite often. Today felt more free flowing and optimistic, and was incredibly scenic. The Winds truly are the most beautiful mountains in the 48.
We decided to not push for Europe Peak tomorrow. Tomorrow should be a half rest day, which would hopefully allow us to push harder in the coming days.
We didnt set alarms for today, which was nice. It was cloudy, windy, and cold for the whole morning, but inside the tent was super cozy and I was able to sleep on and off until about 7:15. We didn't leave camp until 9, totally fine given our goal for the day.
Walking around Bewmark Lake was really nice, then we grabbed some water below Photo Pass as a faint rain started. We all climbed the pass in rain jackets, and soon the rain stopped so we were warm at the top. There was a good trail the whole way, and down the steeper backside to the South Fork BLC.
Daniel looks back on his favorite view of Pronghorn and Nylon
This silpoly jacket and Showa gloves are powerful for the weight, but this rain was faint and brief so I got warm quickly
The South Fork was really nice, with good walking through meadow fading to open spruce. There were indeed tons of elk sign everywhere. We crossed, and started up the hill on the left, following a faint but cairned route through the woods, occasionally popping out onto granite. We started finding some mushrooms and Quinton found a big King Bolete, which we carried up to camp.
The granite was really complex here, and the route finding was fun. We scrambled some nice slabs and found ourselves above our destination lake, but it looked bad for camping anyway. We headed across to the higher lake, at 11200, our first super high camp with some nice grass and a small glacier across the lake. We made it there around 4 pm. This is one of the best campsites I've ever had.
I ran along the lakeshore talus to find a nice spot deep enough to dive. It was beautiful. We cooked the mushroom in butter and all added a good portion to our mashed potatoes. Yum! Then, we had a nice stretching session on the soft grass. We were all ready for bed and it was only 7, but that was good because it started raining. Easy day!
It was about 35 degrees this morning, with frozen condensation on the tents. Nevertheless, we rolled out of camp at 7, right as the sun hit. The climb up to Europe Peak was amazing! Splitter weather with no clouds or wind. The ledge weaving up to the ridge was really fun, as was the chill class 3 section on the nose. I summited at 8:30, and we hung out on top for a while drying gear and admiring the views.
The long sloping ridge descent was also really fun, cruiser walking. When the ridge faded into a drainage and became a creek, we stopped for lunch around 12:45. I decided to take off in front after that and enjoyed walking fast for about 10 minutes until I hit a densely treed area. Luckily, I caught a glimpse of the Hay Pass trail coming down the slope on the left. I crossed over there and waited to get the others attention. After that I still wanted to cruise, so I walked in front down the excellent trail all the way to the middle of Lake Louise. I had a great time!
It was warm and I was already planning on swimming when I found a good spot. Luckily, right in the middle of Lake Louise, the trail cuts through some cool steeps, and I found a 10ft rock jump right off the trail! I stripped down and did it once, then did it again when the others caught up and we all jumped. That was probably my favorite jump of all time - high enough to be exciting, mandatory length to clear boulders, and really deep water cool enough to be exhilarating but tolerable.
We carried on around Upper Golden Lake, passing a group of 6 who were on day 2 of their trip. They had come over Timico Pass and were pretty upset about it, asking us with some desperation if we knew an easier way out of this basin, where they planned to stay for 2 whole days. We suggested Hay Pass because the trail seemed really good.
Quinton led the climb up the short 600ft Camp Pass and kept a really great pace, and I carried on to the top. Unfortunately, even though we only had a little bit of vert left it seemed to drag on forever. I was feeling okay but was expending a lot of energy routing through mushy ground. By the time I made the top I was pretty tired, and after the others caught up we all walked down to camp near the outlet of Lake 10787, which should be called Douglas Lake. There was a very intriguing group of critters in the lake that were almost impossible to see. There appeared to be about 30-50 of them grouped very tightly. We weren't sure if they were birds or fish. It was early, and we pondered pushing over Douglas Pass, but Quinton didn't want to and I wasn't upset, I wasn't feeling really good either.
We had a chill evening and I went for a dip. I tried crisping pepperoni in my pot and it was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten! The sunset turned pretty and then we watched lightning roll through about 5 miles to the northeast. We crawled in, feeling decent about our position. Faint rain started at 9.
Today was another great day. We had incredible weather, fun movement, and a great swim. The scenery was obviously great but a bit less exciting than days 2, 3, and 4. This is our most beautiful camp yet!
We ended up getting ravaged by a thunderstorm, with at least 3 close flashes producing instant, loud booms. Heavy rain and hail pounded on the tent. It's a nice feeling when those subside.
We woke up to everything dry thanks to a good breeze, and started walking around 7. I got off route early in and cliffed out, and had to descend a bit. Douglas Peak Pass turned out to be really easy following the wall. We descended the talus gully into the Alpine Lakes basin.
A large trickle pours out near the top of a pass. Water in high places - unique.
Always finding cool rocks
Easy routing and walking up the base of the wall on Douglas Peak Pass
The Alpine Lakes environment was indeed austere, feeling very remote. Adding a feeling of eeriness was the weather - cold, windy, and sprinkling. The place felt very remote and inhospitable, but we managed to find good tundra routes around all but the highest lake, occasionally finding good flowers as well. The relatively frequent Parry's primrose has been a highlight for me on this trip. The final Alpine Lake shoreline was much more convoluted and bouldery, but we made it around in good time. With the weather seeming to soften a bit, we headed up the pass. By the top, it was partially sunny.
I was really relieved to make it to Alpine Lakes Pass by 1. I knew we absolutely had to make it over today if we wanted to finish the route, so it felt good to be ahead of schedule for once. We had lunch up there and as we started down, a very cold and windy rain began, but then it got sunny after 10 minutes and stayed that way for the rest of the day!
After the pass, the trip turned glacial. We could now see the full glory of Knife Point Glacier, the biggest and realest glacier we had ever seen. I was amazed at the way it seemed to glob around a cliff feature, creating stress cracks. We descended some good snowfields, then walked along an incredible creek that flowed through beautiful boulder cobbles. I've really enjoyed the amount of "walking on water" on this trip.
Down at the major tributary of the North Fork, we basked in the sun a while. The scene was amazing, with glaciers above and beautiful milky water cascading down into the green meadows around us. Eventually, we decided to push on to the top of the small pass, hoping to camp by a small lake. When we got up there we encountered 2 Wyoming hick guys named Cody and Zade, carrying both bear spray and at least 3 guns, along with an assortment of other Walmart gear. I was surprised to see them in such a remote area. They had been planning to go over Blaurock tomorrow but decided not to based on looking at it. They were surprised to hear that we would be doing it without "climbing gear" so they changed their minds again.
We didn't want to camp with those guys, so we headed down the the proper North Fork of Bull Lake Creek. The scene that unfolded was truly unbelievable. The milky creek was cascading in some sections, but enormously wide and flat in others. The valley was huge and jagged, glaciated 13ers like Mt Warren and Turret towered above. We pulled up to an enormous high meadow bank with perfect grass and a million flat spots to camp. This was now the most unreal mountain spot I've been to.
As night fell, the wind died fully and the sky was completely clear, making for the most beautiful evening of the trip. I cooked pepperoni again to go with my potato dinner. We stretched in the soft grass for a while, then just stood admiring the sky.
Today felt really good, because we made excellent time and progress given the terrain, and finished ahead of plan. We traversed some of the most epic terrain and had fun doing it. Best day yet, with day 4 close behind.
We had an easy day planned, so we took until about 9 to leave camp. It was a beautiful morning enjoying the North Fork valley. Just as we were leaving camp, the guys from the night before rolled in, hoping to follow us up the pass. We chatted a bit more about the route and learned they were on a thru trip from Elkhart Park out the Glacier Trail that Zade had planned for his birthday. We took off up the pass and quickly left them behind. The route up Blaurock was generally really good - steep tundra, then a flat snow gully, then a short and steep boulder scramble, and a steep tundra ridge, then stable talus to the summit - a 2100ft climb.
We took our time and enjoyed it. After we got some water amidst the steep boulder scramble, I found in a snowfield above it some monstrous fresh rockfall where a car-sized boulder had left a slice and crater in the snow. It was super cool, and intimidating. We had heard small rockfall in that area earlier.
We got to the top of the pass around 12:30 and had lunch. Daniel suggested going 700ft up to Sunbeam Peak, and the convenience of the opportunity was irresistible. Quinton stayed to guard our packs from pikas, and Daniel and I cruised up the peak at a great pace. It was generally easy boulder hopping with some class 3. The summit view was incredible, and for the first time we could see the Tetons, just right of Gannet! There was also a summit register that had been planted by the CMC in 1961, and still had only 5 pages of entries since then. It was the coolest summit register I had ever seen. For the first 4 pages, many years saw no entries at all! Only after about 2010 did entries become annual, and only about 5 people had signed in 2023. Amazing!
When we returned to the saddle, we were excited to see that Zade and Cody had almost made it up. We talked to them briefly before heading down. The route down Blaurock was super fun, steep scree trail first, then good snowfields, then tundra boulders all the way to the base.
We paused just above Dinwoody Creek to admire the view in its entirety. The scene was once again spectacular, with milky glacial water tumbling out of a massive moraine, tiny tents dotted between boulders, and 4 huge glaciers and Gannet looming above. It's the closest I've ever felt to something like Everest Base Camp - a totally otherworldly valley.
We decided that we would not push on over West Sentinel Pass, even though it had been a short day. It was 4pm, and we knew nothing about camping opportunities going forward, so we decided to post up and enjoy the spectacular valley. I went for a swim in a nearby clear Lake which had good diving, and then after I had put all my clean warm clothes on Daniel and Quinton decided to dip in the glacial Creek instead. It was all fresh and cold! I enjoyed some more cooked pepperoni at dinner, then we had a fun time stretching and enjoying the sunset.
Today was maybe the easiest of the trip, despite the massive climb and descent, it only totaled 3.6 miles. But our itinerary allowed for it, and hopefully we will benefit from being well rested for the coming push days
Daniel and I overslept about 20 minutes because I forgot to set an alarm. We rolled out of camp at 7:15 and headed up through the Dinwoody moraine through the boulders. Climbing West Sentinel Pass was great, and quite chilly being surrounded by hard shade with a cool breeze. We finally put on spikes to walk up a few hard snowfields on the way up, which made for great travel.
At the top of the climb, we entered Gannet Glacier, the most significant crossing in the route. The glacier was mostly covered in gravel, but spikes still made for easier travel. We immediately were drawn to the flowing waterways in the ice. Nearby, we found a leg bone with a hoof, then shortly after I spotted a full bighorn skull with horns. It was so wild to see the remains of such a significant animal in such an austere place. We continued walking across the glacier and were excited to gaze up at its origin high on Gannet. More icy waterways brought us to the edge, where we climbed to another pass, then descended great steep scree on the backside.
We climbed through the boulders headed towards the next pass, and shortly crossed below the northernmost arm of Gannet Glacier, where an eerie stream of dark grey water was coming out. After that, we headed towards a brilliant blue tarn for a nice contrast. The boulder field became super fresh and unstable, and as we neared the left side of the tarn, it became clear that we were climbing into a massive ice crack covered in boulders. Scary! We backed out and moved through the tedious terrain to the right side of the tarn. Then, we climbed talus to the pass, which became increasingly stable and was nice on top.
Daniel had been hoping to go for Flagstone and Pedestal peaks, and I agreed to go along too. So we split up from Quinton, planning to meet at camp. We cruised around the stable shoreline of a nice lake and got water at the outlet, then headed up towards the peaks. It was obvious that the snow in the saddle would be too steep for us, so we headed up a rocky ridge directly towards Pedestal. There was some fun scrambling and we enjoyed cruising through it quickly with our lightened packs. When we intersected the ridge, we found a full-on snowfield, but it was soft and not too steep so we cruised up to the summit Plateau, finding a nice rock formation on top. We weren't on top long before we decided to go for Flagstone, which felt very close and was 100ft higher. We left our packs behind and the run up Flagstone went quickly. The view from these peaks was amazing. I especially enjoyed seeing Mammoth Glacier, which looked to be the largest and most continuous glacier in the Winds. There was great cell service at the top.
We cruised back to our packs, then headed along the divide. Crossing the very upper portion of Grasshopper Glacier was interesting because the surface was extremely dirty, to the point of appearing black. The divide was indeed a lunar landscape after that, but the walking was good. Eventually, we came to overlook Baker Lake, Iceberg Lake, and the Sourdough Glacier. This was an amazing scene, because Sourdough has little rubble, but many large cracks, terminating in a huge face to the ridiculously milky Iceberg Lake. Baker Lake is immediately adjacent, about the same size, but clear blue. The contrast was stunning.
Where snow meets glacier. Very dirty glacier.
I always love red tundra - a reminder that summer is short here.
We carried on down to easily find Quinton at an amazing campsite above Baker. From above, we had spotted a nearby beach in Baker Lake and we walked down to it. It was incredibly beautiful, with pulverized granite sand and crystal clear water - very cold. After a dip, we headed back up for dinner. After dinner we hiked up an even shorter distance to overlook Iceberg Lake for sunset. The sky was beautiful, as was the scene before us. As it got darker, we talked about the grandeur of the glaciers in the recent past, and how different they have become. It's sad to think that they will likely be gone in our lifetime, perhaps even in 10 years. Leaving behind miserable piles of rubble as evidence of their existence.
We walked back to camp and didn't linger long because it was cold and windy. Sleeping in tents has been really nice on this trip, as it really helps with warmth. Today was a surreal day, with the most unique set of experiences on the whole trip. I will treasure this forever. Days 4, 7, and 9 have been my favorites.
Around 10:30, it was still windy and lots of lightning was happening somewhere, but we couldn't even hear it. Shortly, the storm came to us and there were a couple loud booms and some moderate rain, but the wind gusts were extreme. Quinton had taken all the good stakes, and the ground was somewhat loose, which I thought was fine because it was not windy when we arrived. Things changed, and one of the corners blew but the Xmid stayed up thanks to two stabilizing stakes. Unfortunately I did not notice this until about 4am when I had to pee, I just assumed it was super windy because the tent was quite flappy! After I fixed the corner it was pretty stable and quiet again throughout the morning despite ~30mph gusts.
We woke at 6am, and it was still very cold and windy outside, and very cozy inside. I suggested to Quinton that we postpone an hour to make up for sleep lost to the storm. A good idea! We got up at 7 and it was still 35F and windy, remaining so until 8 when we started charging uphill. I really wanted to move fast today, largely due to the wind, so I jetted ahead to the overlook of Connie Glacier. Then I waited there for about an hour while the others caught up.
Connie Glacier. I am pointing to Kevin Lake because I was thinking of my friend Kevin and wanted to send him a photo!
After that, I still wanted to move fast all the way to base of Downs. The glacier traverse was easy, although there was a big crevasse below. Some fast boulder hopping across the lunar landscape brought me to a nice rest spot at the base of Downs, where I was again stopped for about an hour. We found some great water near here.
I stayed still for a while as Daniel and Quinton got ahead, then I charged up Downs at full effort, having a great time! The boulders were quite complex and engaging. It was exhilarating to have such powerful cold wind and such a light pack, allowing me to push full speed without overheating. The summit was incredibly windy! We hid behind a small block and ate lunch.
We did some boulder hopping off Downs, and identified a huge permanent snowfield leading down almost all the way to the tarn. After traversing above the firm ice sections, we sat down and glissaded a glorious 700ft. It was bumpy, but steep and soft enough for easy control. Amazing!
After getting water near the tarn, we set off across No Man's Pass, and into the abyss of Goat Flat. I walked ahead to the Goat Flat summit, and then when Daniel caught up, I decided to launch across the flat alone, going all the way to the Glacier Trail in 1:15. I was listening to music the whole way and had an incredible time walking quickly on the slight downhill. It was nuking wind the whole way. It was my emotional high point of the trip.
An hour later, Daniel and Quinton arrived at the trail and following an extended break in the wind, we pushed on down the trail, finding camp in the trees about 2 miles below at a creek crossing. It wasn't a great camp, but it was nice to be out of the wind!
We woke up in no hurry, but didn't linger and packed up. Walking down the Glacier Trail was quite easy and we were amazed at the switchbacks and trail built through boulder fields. In about 2 hours, we arrived at my car to find my keys still in the ignition in the partly on position (I had forgotten because there was some confusion about which car we would take to the start), the battery dead, and some mice had nibbled on our chips. Bummer! Luckily a nearby Gannet climber was just leaving his truck, and we were able to get a jump start. We headed out to the same diner in Dubois where John had paid for us to eat last year before the DuMor.
I am generally really happy with my 14lb base weight for this trip, and it is hard to be critical of anything, which feels like sort of a first actually. My major highlight is my entire clothing system - it feels really versatile and powerful for the weight. So far there is nothing I would add, and I'm happy with my decision to skip rain pants. I may have left my warm gloves behind, as they feel a bit redundant with the Showa gloves. I am interested in upgrading to lighter weight silk sleep pants. I sometimes debate bringing my sleep pants since I'm often too lazy to put them on, but I have really been enjoying them on this trip. I am also really excited about the cnoc gravity filter system, which has been awesome to have so far. I worry about the longevity of the bag and the hydroblue filter, but otherwise I'm in love with this. I would've totally brought only one smart water bottle.
I'm happy with the tents we brought for these conditions, and my choice to bring my regular Xlite. It's not cold enough to need the large xtherm. I have been warm enough in my Alsek, but I'm over it's lack of fill and moisture problems. My old UGQ quilt that Daniel has is way better, it's just more fussy. (I got the Alsek used in 2021 and was immediately a bit dissapointed by the fill. The down can shift to the sides leaving the chest uninsulated and therefore also prone to condensation. After this trip I contacted Katabatic and they said down degradation can happen over time, and I sent it in to be refilled. They suggested 4oz of down! Now I regret buying the quilt used because I had to pay for this service and it's heavier. At the time I figured down lasts so long it didn't matter, but this quilt has probably been used a ton of days now).
I'm glad so far to not have an ice axe, and I expect that will continue. Shoe spikes were useful for a portion of the trip, but could have been avoidable. Regardless, I'm glad mine are light. The Ursak has been really nice, plenty of space and it fits into the bottom of my pack perfectly. It feels like an appropriate compromise between canister and sleeping with food for this trip.
With the mentioned tiny exceptions, I feel everything I brought is appropriate for this trip. That being said, I am over the moon with the movement on this route, and I think I would really enjoy doing similar routes in an even lighter and much faster style. The UL Big Wild remains probably the biggest gear highlight of my life, but I'm pretty excited about trying a small pack. Otherwise not much would change. I will never be the type to run through a route without sleeping, so some things remain necessary, like a real tent, air pad, and quilt. On a shorter and/or faster route, most of my weight savings would come from food, which is huge. I could probably skip the puffy, and plan on either moving or crawling in. My first aid/repair kit could undergo some small shaving.
Reflection on the pace of the trip
I came to terms with our pace, and clearly loved the experience. But the beginning of the trip was really emotionally difficult for me, especially day 2. I should've known, really, when we packed 11 days of food that the experience would be different than what I wanted. But I held onto hope that we would use that extra food to do a lot of extra things.
I had become aware of high routes mostly through the lens of fast hikers. To me, the idea of a high route has always been synonymous with the aesthetic of a thru hike, to keep moving continuously through the landscape. But also, I believe at my core that speed equals safety. It demonstrates confidence and comfort in the terrain, and allows movement to be the primary risk management strategy. Storms coming? Move down. Nowhere to camp? Move somewhere better before dark. Weather window is short? Seize it.
Really, I was just hoping this trip would finally be my dream, where relentless movement is the focus. That's what I've been craving forever and a high route is where I want to do it. This route had the best movement I've ever experienced, a longer opportunity for flow than anything else. But compromises must be made. To enjoy this experience, I had to let go of that dream a little bit, and it worked, it was incredible to be out there with friends. I look forward to trying another.