9 Days Solo Wind River Range Washakie Pass, Grave Lake, Hailey Pass Loop.


Aug 2, 2012
On August 26th I set out on a 9 day solo trip on the Washakie Pass / Grave Lake / Hailey Pass loop. The goal was not rack up a large number of miles or attempt to see all of the Winds in a short period, but rather spend some time admiring the scenery, fishing, and relaxing. I accomplished all three. J

Every solo backpacking trip increases my faith in God. There is plenty of time for reflection, prayer, and conversation. Out in the unspoiled wilderness, admiring the wildlife and scenery, I have no doubt in The creator.

There were absolutely no mosquitoes anywhere on this trip. Although there was not much bear sign around I did have brief encounter with a black bear and two cubs near Upper Valentine Lake, and found fresh bear tracks below Skull Lake.

More pictures can be found here http://www.pbase.com/drimar/wind_river_range_2013&page=all

Day 1: Big Sandy to Washakie Creek

Pretty easy day, about 8.5 miles. Found the nice camp site I spotted on Google maps and set up. It started to rain at about 6 PM and continued until dark. I didn’t mind, I was tired. What I didn’t know was that the camper I spotted across the creek about a quarter mile away was a sheep herder. Bahhhhh and dogs barking all night.

Peaks from Fish Creek Park




Day 2: Washakie Creek to South Fork Lakes
The steady climb up toward Washakie Pass was tough on day 2 for a flatlander like me. The trip down the other side wasn’t much better. Lots of small loose rock and a trail that is not well defined or marked as you near Macon Lake. I went off trail just after Washakie Lake walked along the western shore of Little Washakie lake and crossed the outlet stream. I made the mistake of following the outlet steam down instead of staying high. The route finding in the talus was difficult and I was pretty tired. I noticed a couple hikers up high who were leaving the South Fork Lakes. I found a grassy slope with trees and began the climb up. It was steep but had a natural switchback to it. Eventually I reached a flat area and was able to follow it around to the outlet creek from Holster Lake. There were cairns to follow from there. At this point it was nearing 6:30 PM and I was exhausted. It was cloudy most of the day and began to drizzle. I found a decent camp site at the midpoint of Helmet Lake, relaxed and went to sleep around 8:30.

Peaks on the way to Washakie Pass


Top of Washakie Pass


View from Camp


Day 3: South Fork Lakes
I fished the lakes and relaxed. I caught several smaller cuts near the Helmet inlet and later in the day some nice ones near the outlet. Lots of 15” fish around the outlet and the Holster inlet. A brief intense storm with nearby lightening hit around 2 PM. I napped for a couple hours until the rain stopped and hit the lakes.

Helmet Lake



Day 4: Day Hike to Upper Valentine and Valentine Lake
I fished Upper Valentine until about 11 AM. It’s a beautiful little lake. I fished the West side and as far as I could easily reach on the east side. No fish or strikes. I saw one small struggling fish (about 8”) that appeared to be a golden, but there was clearly something wrong with it. Sometime later a bald eagle wooshed by (scared the crap out of me) and went down near the area of the struggling fish. I didn’t see if it got the fish. I ran into a couple college age guys who said the fish put on a show at Valentine that morning – jumping and surfacing everywhere. I headed for Valentine.

There were fish surfacing when I got there and I promptly caught a few 8 – 10” brookies. I made my way to the inlet and saw a really nice cut cruise by. I tossed my Jakes about 10’ in front of it and it nailed it. I nice 17” fish. I went to the other side of the inlet and caught another 15” fish that was cruising by. The Cutthroat fishing really died after that. I was able to catch several more brookies letting the lure sink to the bottom. I could have caught as many as I wanted, but 8-10” brookies get boring pretty fast. I decided to head back to camp.

On the way back at the beginning of upper Valentine I heard a loud Ommmph Ommmph Ommmph! To my left. I immediately thought “bear!”. Sure enough I turn just in time to see a small brown colored black bear, about 50’ away, run across a clearing to the other side- where I notice another bear peering from behind a rock. Crap that wasn’t just a small bear, but two larger cubs. I quickly look to the area where the first bear came from and see the mother high tail it across the clearing. I reached for my camera, but they were gone. I wasn’t going to follow to try to get a picture. All three looked fat and healthy. My next thought was, “I hope they weren’t at my camp this morning”. My camp was about ½ mile from Upper Valentine. I got back to camp and all was well. I ate, did camp chores, and fished in windy weather for a couple more 15” cuts.

Upper Valentine


Nice Cut


Area where the bears were


Day 5: South Fork Lakes to Grave Lake
Of course it rained during the night, making sure I’d have a wet tent in the morning. The hike to Grave Lake was pleasant and I enjoyed walking along the Little Wind River. I had the entire valley to myself and didn’t see anyone until arriving at Grave. As I neared Grave the weather looked threatening and the wind really picked up. The wind was howling when I crossed the outlet bridge. The bridge looked like it had recently been repaired. The weather cleared about 15 minutes later- it never did rain. I came to a point where the trail split. One trail looked like it stayed along the lake shore but was blocked by large cut log. The official trail went slightly to the right. I wish I would have stayed along the shore. The trail went steeply up to the base of Pilot Knob. I didn’t want to make the climb at that point; I was looking forward to camp and some fishing. After descending I found the best camp site of the trip- my home for the next 3 nights.
After dropping my pack I went down to get some water, and not 10’ from shore saw 3 cuts including the largest cut I’d seen on the trip. Had to go 20”. I knew I was going to like Graves Lake. I ended up catching 4 the last hour before sunset, including the largest I’d catch this trip – 17 – 18”.

Along the Little Wind River


Graves Lake Bridge


The Beach at Graves Lake


Graves Camp


Big Cut


Day 6: Day Hike to Baptista Lake.
I love when I can drop the big pack and am free to hike with my Mountainsmith Daylight Lumbar pack. Just throw in some food, fishing gear, PLB, rain jacket, Sawyer water bottle with filter and go. It’s about 2 miles to Baptista with a decent uphill climb. Once you get close to the lake the trail fades, but the way up to the lake is fairly obvious. Baptista is surrounded by a stunning cirque. Unfortunately the wind was strong making it difficult to fish. I went around to the West and found some relief. I saw a few nice sized cruising cuts but had no takers. A fly fisherman joined me on the less windy West side and he eventually caught a smaller fish. I fished hard for 3 hours and struck out.

I decided to head back to Graves around 12:30. I was greeted by a friendly chipmunk who followed and watched everything I did for about an hour. I felt like I was his personal reality show. I explained how I could drink my urine to survive and how to start a fire by shorting out a cell phone battery, but eventually he got bored with me and left.

I spent a couple hours around camp and then headed to the rock pile below Pilot knob to try my hand at Lake Trout. Using a ½ ounce Kastmaster, letting it sink to the bottom, I caught 5 lakers in the 2 – 3 lb range in just over an hour. Once the sun started to get lower the action slowed so I went back to fishing for cuts and caught a few decent fish in the 12 – 15” range.





Day 7: Graves Lake
My plan was to head to the South side of the lake and fish all the way around the lake. The West side of the lake is extremely shallow. Once I made it to the edge of the deeper water I saw a few rises and began fishing. I connected with what I thought was a really nice cut, but it turned out to be a laker- caught fishing right on top. I then noticed a handful of lake trout cruising in shallow water just a few feet from shore. I could get them to follow my lure but not strike. I moved down to the shoreline opposite Pilot Knob, put on a 3/8 ounce Kastmaster and tried fishing for Lake Trout again. I quickly caught 3 more of the 2 – 3# fish. I walked further and came upon an elk carcass. It was picked pretty well clean but still smelled terrible. I didn’t find tracks around it. Eventually the shoreline becomes difficult to navigate and I headed back. After my afternoon break I headed back to the rock pile for a couple more lakers and added a couple decent cuts before dark.

Lake Trout


Elk Carcass


Mount Hooker


Pilot Knob


Day 8: Graves Lake to May’s Lake.
My plan was to hike into the East Fork Valley but the weather changed my plans. It was a cloudy rainy morning. I waited extra time to let my tent dry and didn’t get started until 9:45 AM. I began my trek toward Hailey Pass under grey skies. As I approached Hailey Pass the wind really kicked up. As I approached the steep, rocky part of the pass I took a short break out of the wind to hydrate. The Pass is steep and the trail is made up of small slippery rocks. It’s grueling, but short. I would say it wasn’t too bad except the wind was absolutely howling. I had to stop and kneel down several times. I strapped my Tilley hat on tight; otherwise I would have lost it. Someone said they measured the wind at 35 mph with higher gusts. There is a point close to the top where the trail splits. I saw some elk tracks to the left and figured they knew what they were doing so I took that route. The wind was really bad at the top and I didn’t hang around.

High above May’s Lake it began to rain pretty good. I ducked under some trees for about 5 minutes until slowed. As I approached May’s lake the skies were threatening, and it looked really bad towards the East Fork. I dropped down to May’s and it looked like the downpour would start any minute. I found a spot and set up my tent around 1:30 PM. The weather blew over, but there was another band behind it- and that blew over. Now I was ticked and thinking I made a mistake. I really wanted to head over to the East Fork and this was my only chance as I was hiking out the next day.

Fortunately I stayed put – at about 3 PM heavy rain and wind hit. In the middle of the worst part of it I heard yelling and a group of people run by my tent. The rain stopped close to 6 PM so I headed down to the lake to get some fishing in. In just over an hour I caught 6 browns to 10” and decent 14” rainbow. When I got back to camp I noticed a group camped about 100 feet away. A young woman who was gathering firewood said they had a fire going and invited me over. There was 1 guy and 3 women, all in their early 30’s. They live in Jackson and were all experienced backpackers. They were drying their boots, shoes, jackets etc. by the fire. They and much of their gear had gotten soaked in the downpour. We chatted for close to an hour. They were really nice people, even offering me something to eat. A nice ending to a crappy day weather wise.

Hailey Pass


Looking down half way up Hailey Pass (if you look close you can see some people at the bottom)


Pyramid Peak from May's lake


Day 9: May’s Lake to Big Sandy
I said farewell to my neighbors, telling them that even though I was starting an hour before them they would probably catch me- and they did, about 2 miles from the trail head. About a quarter mile South of Skull lake I found some very fresh bear tracks. My senses instantly went on high alert, but I didn’t see or hear anything. The 10.5 mile hike out was fairly easy, with just a few ups and downs near Dad’s lake. I was out around 2:30 PM and on my way to Pinedale and my traditional Wind River Pizza celebration dinner. As great as a BP trip is, it always feels good to get back to the trailhead, take a hot shower, and have a decent meal.

Bear Tracks


Looking back from Fish Creek Park


Dad’s Lake


The next day I drove up to Meadow Lake and fished about 5 hours finally catching one 12” grayling. The next day it was back to Jackson, and a flight home.

Pronghorn on the way to Meadow Lake




Meadow Lake


Gear that impressed:
Tarpent Double Rainbow
Komperdell Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles- 3 major BP trips and numerous day hikes and still going strong.
Sawyer Personal Water Bottle with Filter- Really nice to just dip the bottle in a lake or stream and drink.
Sawyer Gravity Filter
St. Croix Triumph 4 piece spinning rod
Samsung Galaxy S3 with Backcountry Navigator Software- In airplane mode with the GPS on only used 2.5 batteries in 9 days.
Smartwool long underwear- for sleeping
Railriders Eco-mesh pants.
Kovea Camp 56 stove
Tilley Airflo Hat

Gear that failed:

Cocoon Travel Pillow- the air bag inside the pillow became twisted and would not inflate properly. Ended up using my down coat as a pillow.

Thermarest Z-lite SOL. Just not comfortable enough. Especially on hard ground.

Special thanks to my wife for understanding my desire to do these trips and not giving me a hard time about it- nearly two weeks away with travel time is not easy; and to God for being there every step of the way. Next year, God willing, it’s over to the Fitz in search of the golden trout that has eluded me.

Featured image for home page:


Mar 3, 2013
Nice report.......... Had my eye on a similar trip ........ I have too many places to go too far apart!


Jan 19, 2012
Awesome trip! I've been itching to get into Grave Lake for awhile!


Aug 9, 2007
Very, very nice! I started into this the other night and just got a chance to finish up. I'm set on getting into this area of the Winds next year so this is really helpful. The fishing looks awesome and the bear encounter - very cool! Thanks for posting!


New Member
Aug 13, 2014
Just found this site.

Tarpon wrote: "Bahhhhh and dogs barking all night."

The day before you got there that big white guard dog accosted me while crossing Washakie creek. When I turned to watch the sheep the dog got behind me and growled menacingly. As soon as I faced the other way he went benign. Repeated several times before I got the idea to leave his sheep alone.

Going back in September. Hope he's moved on.


I walk
Jun 25, 2012
Great report and great route! Have done the same myself. And I have personally seen the sheep destroy! the Fish Creek Park on at least 3 different occasions. Basically they overgraze it every year. That herd numbers in the at least high-hundreds in size. Inappropriate impact on the resource and environment IMO.
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