Temple Lake Loop, Wind Rivers, August 2011

Posted by on Sep 6, 2011

The Wind River Range is a place I’ve been wanting to visit for quite some time. It’s only about 4-1/2 hours from my house so I can’t really explain what took me so long. I guess it was just easier to keep hitting things from my list in the Uintas. But I was determined to make it up there for at least one trip in 2011 and I am SO happy I did. In short, this was one of the most spectacular backpacking trips I have ever been on and most definitely the first of many, many trips to the Wind River Range.

Our trip started in Park City this time around. I left Nikita at Nate’s place that morning so I wouldn’t have to drive all the way back down to Salt Lake after work. We were on the road towards Wyoming by about 4:30. Our plan was to get onto the dirt roads beyond Farson and just find someplace to car camp for the night. By the time we reached Farson the sun was almost down, it took a bit longer than we had anticipated as we were still nowhere near a campsite as the sun set. I took a few photos of it from the truck as we sped through the first few miles of dirt road.
Farson, Wyoming

A mile or two out of Farson we encountered a lot of Antelope around the road. You can see two on the right side of the field in this photo.
Where the antelope play

We drove for another 20 miles or so in the dark before finding a nice spot right along Little Sandy Creek. The landscape around here is very dry and desert-like so it was especially nice to find a nice spot with water and soft, grassy tent spots.

Getting the fire started.

That morning we got packed up and headed on towards the Big Sandy Trailhead. It was another 40 minutes or so from our campsite up to the trailhead. Amazing how much dirt road (about 50 miles) that we traveled on to get to such a busy trailhead.

Here is a map with our GPS tracks for the three days. My GPS recorded just shy of 18 miles. Strangely, it recorded 4.66 to the SW shore of Big Sandy Lake but all of the signs say it is 6 miles. I’m inclined to believe the GPS.

View Temple Lake Loop in a larger map

The trailhead was packed and overflowing but we scored a spot up on the main loop and headed up the trail. The route up to Big Sandy Lake is quite easy with only a few moderately steep sections. The views aren’t terribly dramatic but do offer an occasional glimpse up towards the granite peaks above.

Arriving at Big Sandy Lake. We learned form some guys on the way in that Big Sandy had been packed the night before. We stopped for lunch here before moving on.
Bear Boxes at Big Sandy

Nate on the NE end of Big Sandy. The pass in the background is Jackass Pass, the access point to the famous Cirque of the Towers. The Cirque is what keeps Big Sandy so busy compared to other lakes in the area.
Big Sandy

We kept hiking past Big Sandy up to Clear Lake where we found a nice campsite with amazing views of Haystack Mountain. The fishing was slow so I went for a swim.

And then Nate went in.
All in

Nate drying out.

A little bit later I tried the fishing again and caught a few small brook trout. I was unhooking one and I guess there was some tension on my line and the hook went from the fish straight into my finger. This shot is after 3-4 times trying to pull it out. The barb was excruciatingly painful and was not allowing the hook to budge a bit. It took something like 8 or 9 full strength rips with the pliers to finally remove the hook. I’m thinking seriously about crushing all of my barbs after this experience.

The clouds moved in thick later in the afternoon and it appeared that we may not see much of a sunset but then out of nowhere the sun broke through and Haystack Mountain lit up. If that weren’t enough, a perfect rainbow formed right across the top of the peak.
Rainbow over Haystack

Things were looking pretty good to the west as well.

A little after glow on the tops of the peaks.

Jake, Nate and myself around our campfire.

Everyone went to bed but I wasn’t really tired to I went down by the shore and tried a few star shots. The clouds had cleared out just enough to let them through.

There was quite a bit of lightning on the horizon during this long exposure, I think that contributed to the bright horizon.
Lightning on the horizon

We woke up early the next day to an incredible sunrise.

Haystack Sunrise

Lost Temple Spire

We packed up camp and started the hike towards Deep Lake, further up the same canyon. We were pleasantly surprised to find that most of the route followed huge open slabs of granite.

It was such an awesome hike between Clear and Deep Lakes with all the granite and views. The only thing I would have changed is the sky. It was totally overcast with very little definition. Not the best for photos.

We could see into the Cirque of The Towers from near Deep Lake.

Approaching the edge of Deep Lake. It was like an infinity pool with all the granite. The water just kind of rolled over the edge.

Nate, in awe.

As I started hiking around the edge of Deep Lake, I noticed a couple of people near the shore about halfway up the lake. It appeared that one of them was not wearing much. Strange as it was overcast and a bit chilly out. I knew they could see me coming so I kept hiking down the trail. I lost sight of them for a minute until I rounded a patch of trees and came within 100 feet of them. There I saw a very attractive woman in the lake about thigh deep and completely topless. She was quite the exhibitionist, when I was about 100 feet away she yelled out to me, “it’s SO warm in here!”. I know, this sounds like the plot line to a cheap porno, but it really happened. In the interest of keeping this website safe for work, I won’t be posting any proof.

I kept hiking until I was just out of view and waited for Nate and Jake to catch up before continuing over the pass to Temple Lake.

Nate on the pass between the two canyons. Deep Lake & Clear Lake on the right side, Temple Lake on the left.

Temple Lake and Peak as we approach.
Temple Peak

Our initial plan was to continue down this canyon and end up back at Big Sandy Lake. From there we were going to setup a camp and day hike up into the Cirque of The Towers. That was until we stood on the shores of Temple Lake. It was simply amazing. Jake and I were sold on staying the night here even though it was above tree line. Nate on the other hand wanted to stick with the plan and head down to Big Sandy. We were debating it when a storm moved in. I setup my tent and we all dived in and waited for it to pass. I love my MSR tent because we can all fit in there and watch the storm without having to zip up the door.

That first storm passed after about an hour and we had a break but not for long. We decided that we would camp here and day hike to the other end of the lake where there is a glacier and small lake tucked into a cirque that is hidden away under the peak. Nate and I wanted to wait until the clouds storm moved out a bit more before leaving the shelter of the tent too far away but Jake decided to go for it. It started to rain when he was about 200 feet from camp. It was light at first but within a few minutes Nate and I were back in the tent. Once again, the awning made for a great place to hide out and still be able to see out and take photos.

I kept thinking Jake was a little crazy to be out in it with a backpack full of camera gear. We kept an eye on him as he got further away. I figured he would have to duck under some rocks or something to keep dry. We lost him for a bit but then, as the rain was its hardest and the lightning was crashing down all around, we saw him again. Running straight up the saddle to the side of Temple Peak. What the hell?! Soon after we lost sight of him but the storm just kept on going for hours. We had breaks here and there where it would lighten up. And at times it would hail and blow so hard that we had to zip the door to the tent up all but a few inches. Here’s a few shots I took while we were stuck in the tent for the better part of about 5 hours that afternoon.

Nate and the dogs hiding in the tent while I was stretching my legs during a light point in the storm. I setup the tent very quickly and obviously not very well. You can see what the prolonged wind had done to it by the angle of my trekking poles.

Each time the storm would lighten up we would use my telephoto lens to look for Jake. We thought for sure he would be heading for shelter by now. We were pretty cold from sitting in the tent, I could only imagine what it might have been like up on the pass under a boulder.

Eventually the storm moved on and we had calm, overcast skies. Now I was really starting to wonder about Jake. He had been gone for more than 5 hours and we hadn’t seen any sign of him for most of that time. I hollered a few times to see if I would get a response but all that came back was the echo of my own voice reverberating off of the granite slabs around us. Where the hell is this guy? I’d only been backpacking with Jake once before so I was starting to wonder if he tried to bag a peak mid-storm or something. But then, about 45 minutes after the weather passed, we saw him. On the other side of the lake taking pictures of us.

It turns out Jake had a good old time hiding out under boulders all afternoon. Somehow he managed to climb up to the top of the pass where he hid out for a while and then when the storm lightened up a bit he came back down and crossed the snow and scree at the base of the peak and went up to the small lake and glacier. Not sure how we missed him. There were some large boulders that came down the peak at one point and he said he was not far from them so we were even looking right where he was. Big country out there. Here are a few photos from Jake’s camera while he was out in the storm.

Jake’s Hiding first hiding spot high on the pass.

©2011, Jake Kaupilla. All rights reserved.

The view from the pass of Temple Lake and the small glacier lake in the hidden cirque. Nate and I are down there near the skinny part of the lake hiding in my tent.

©2011, Jake Kaupilla. All rights reserved.

The lake tucked away in the cirque. This had some of the best water I’ve ever tasted. Jake brought us back a bottle.

©2011, Jake Kaupilla. All rights reserved.

Jake’s precarious storm shelter at the small lake.

©2011, Jake Kaupilla. All rights reserved.

We had about 2 hours of decent weather that evening. The fishing was red hot for small to medium brook trout. It was almost impossible not to catch a fish on every cast. Once again, Nate was catching them in unusual ways.

About an hour before sunset the storms moved back in with a vengeance and forced us all into our tents for the night. For the rest of the evening and well into the next morning it poured down on us with strong winds and heavy rain. Finally around 4am it cleared and things were calm and I could finally get some restful sleep. That was until around 5am when it sounded like half the mountain came falling down. There was a huge rockfall like nothing I’d ever heard before. It seemed to last forever, at least a full minute I would say. It woke us all up, even Jake with his earplugs in. Nate had enough time to open the door to his tent and see sparks flying down the face of the mountain. In the morning there were plenty of fresh craters in the snow below the peak but nothing obvious missing from the face of the peak. Still quite the experience.

The remaining clouds provided some nice drama to the landscape as we ate breakfast.
Temple Peak

I setup my camera behind camp to do a time lapse of the clouds rolling through. This was my first serious attempt at landscape time lapse photography and I made some mistakes but it still turned out okay. I would have liked for this to be about 3 times longer and included us breaking down camp and walking away but I made an error in my settings that stopped it early.

The hike down from Temple Lake on the last day was incredible. Most of it is above treeline and the lighting was surreal with the remnants of the storm still blowing through.
180 Degrees of Awesome

The trail passes Miller Lake and Rapid Lake along the way.

Rapid Creek

Passing back by Big Sandy Lake on the way out.
Big Sandy Lake

We took the slightly longer route back to the trailhead via the V Lake & Diamond Lake trail. Both lakes were pretty boring, down in the trees without much in the way of peaks around. The coolest thing on that stretch of trail had to have been this huge mushroom but it was still a great way to keep from hiking the same trail twice. We managed to work 3 loops into the route which ended at right around 18 miles.

This was an excellent starter trip to The Winds and I can say without a doubt that I am absolutely hooked. Honestly, this was probably one of the best all around backpacking trips I’ve ever been on.

View the full set of photos on Flickr.

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  1. avatar
    Gareth loosle
    September 6, 2011

    looks like such a good trip. I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about wind rivers.

    • avatar
      September 8, 2011

      It was! I think it’s actually under-hyped. Such a cool place.

  2. avatar
    September 7, 2011

    I’m super jealous. The Winds are pretty much the best mountain range ever! I need to get back.

    • avatar
      September 8, 2011

      It really is the classic mountain range. Makes me want to go see what else is out there. Maybe the Beartooths next.

  3. avatar
    Lisa Kelly
    September 7, 2011

    Such an awesome trip report! I’ve also wanted to visit the Wind Rivers for a while, and now even more so. Nice job with the time lapse video, too.

    • avatar
      September 8, 2011

      Thanks, Lisa. I can’t wait to get back myself.

  4. avatar
    September 20, 2011

    I just moved to Wyoming a year ago, I love this place. I have driven over to Lander and hiked a bit, and a bit around Pinedale. This is just making me want to head on up there. I got goose bumps from your photos, I cannot imagine being there in person! Next year I am totally gonna go!


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