Wind River Range 5 Day Loop

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Mar 18, 2014
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Turning 40 this year has been great. I usually want birthdays to go by without much fanfare, but 40 seemed a bit bigger for some reason. I think it's the new "Over the Hill" seeing as I don't see myself getting too much out of life after 80. So in order for this to be a bigger production I would need to call in some old friends.

I phoned up some friends who had left the Rocky Mountain area to head to the midwest and greener pastures once they started having children. I understand the desire to have help for your little ones so that you can live like a normal human being from time to time. It's hard raising 2 little kids with nothing but teenage babysitters around to help our for a few hours. My wife and I rarely get a chance to hit the open road without them. So my friends from the midwest were happy to make things work and to get away for a Colorado adventure back on some familiar turf.

I'd always wanted to do a backpacking loop of the Weminuche wilderness in SW Colorado. My only information coming from a Lonely Planet Backpacking the Rockies book. The idea of taking the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railway and be dropped off in the wilderness, climb some high mountain passes, and hit up some 14ers at the end of a 5 or 6 day loop, toasting beers in the passenger car on the way out seemed like an amazing fantasy. We were all set to make that come true. However, this heavy (I do mean heavy) winter we got in Colorado made everything just a little more spicy than we had wanted it. It was time to call in plan B. We had gone over options for plan B and looked into various corners or Northern New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and into Wyoming. Giving the Wind River Range a few moments of research and finally spreading out my newly purchased, but never opened, map of the area brought new excitement into my veins. I started mapping out amazing trip reports from this website that I had bookmarked for a future trip and writing down mileage and marking off campsites from these reports. I decided that after a few reports of clear routes and we would be heading to the Wind River Range.

It was 15 summers ago before I ever moved out west that I took a roadtrip in my Honda Element, spending 4 months living out of the thing and discovering the American West. My first major backpack was from the Big Sandy trailhead up to Jackass Pass to see the Cirque of the Towers (another hike from that same Lonely Planet book). This was the fuel to start my love of the west and now 15 years later I would be returning. I joked to my friends that the dust from the road to Big Sandy was still lingering in the cracks and crevices of my car. I never realized that it was wise to roll up your windows on a dirt road when passing another car at 40+ mph.

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What a view! from 2004.

One thing is for sure. We were there in July of 2004 and again in July of 2019. The mosquitos had hatched their offspring and whatever parents or grandparents I had slapped dead those many years ago- their offspring were coming for me now. Revenge!

So we ate our meals each night with mosquito nets on and even tried to drink our water straight through them at some points. But nothing would take away from the incredible scenery of this loop. Here's our route with side trips included:
Big Sandy > Shadow Lake > Desolation Valley > Hailey Pass > Baptiste Lake > Lizard Head plateau > Papoose Lake > Cirque > Jackass Pass > Big Sandy.
5 days - something between 45-50 miles.
I carried 50-52 lbs with a huge bear vault (the weight sucks but when you want to drop a pack and stash food and hike up to a side lake it's amazingly efficient)
My friends carried less, but they were sharing weight of tents and food and such. We all had our burden to bare/bear.?

Our thoughts on this entire loop: We couldn't have chosen a better trip. I have now backpacked a ton around the American west and some in the Canadian Rockies and the day to day scenery that unfolded on this trip was hands down some of the best I've ever been in the presence of anywhere. I'll take a few mosquitoes as a trade. When they fly in your tea, well, that's just added protein!

Here are some photos:

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fueling up - if you notice: I like high salt, high sugar foods when hiking. It gives me a chance to try things like Oatmeal Pies for the first time since being a kid!
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heading up into solitude
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Eden
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first night's camp
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small trout up desolation valley lakes
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bliss
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campsite night 2
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heading up Hailey Pass
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view going down
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amazing scenery on the way up to Baptiste Lake
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I'm not religious, but this is Heaven right???
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Looking on - the small things are precious and should be admired
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heading back to meet the group
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Lots of this. Moose I'm assuming? No sightings of the real deal for us.
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TrustFall: 4 friends cradle the fall of the big guy.
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Scenery around each corner is anything but uneventful.
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Grave Lake's massive size produces sandy beaches. Not bad for a land-locked state.
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Ranger Park awesomeness. Night 3 camp.
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Valentine Lake
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Beautiful, but Desolate Plateau Walking
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Papoose! How tranquil.
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Small Fry
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Not too shabby...
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This shall be my tent site! - night 4
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The only times I ever stay in 5 star accomodation - it has to be earned.
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Much better view than 15 years ago.


A lot of photos did not upload. I guess with the 20MP cameras these days the file sizes are getting larger. But you don't need to see everything, just a little taste.

I hesitated in writing this trip report. I didn't remember from 15 years ago seeing that many cars at the trailhead. We talked about how with more of this, there is more of that. I don't subscribe to the instagrams, but I often lament their value on this world and how they seem to make everything overcrowded and permitted these days. The Winds are free, and unrelenting, if you can get past the storms and mosquitoes and creek crossings and whatever else they throw at you. We had a pretty good weather week. We were lucky. I share this with you so you can plan your own trip and make it your own. I wish my wife could have trekked in here with us. I wish we had midwestern parents who would move to our neighborhood and watch our kids at the drop of a hat so we could venture out together. I wish my kids could have made it out here. What am I saying? My whole family freaks out at the sight of a couple of mosquitoes, much less the consistent swarm we encountered. You have to be Zen, look past their little bodies, hear through their little wings buzzing. It's out there, it's surreal, it's all I ever hoped it would be.
 

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RyanP

Formerly bob32
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Mar 1, 2015
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99
OK, that's just insane. I also am turning 40, and I also was planning on doing a big 5-day trip in the Weminuche this summer (planned like a year in advance), and I also changed plans because of the snow, and I also headed to the Winds instead... and did almost the exact same trip as you! I just finished it last Sunday; when were you there? I incorporated a few off-trail "shortcuts", but otherwise basically followed the same route. I camped at Bear Lakes instead of Papoose on the way out (although I considered Papoose); was there good camping at Papoose? I too hesitated about posting a trip report, and ultimately decided against it (to not encourage increased visitation). Nice photos though! Apparently great minds think alike!
 

Hiker Seth

Member
Joined
May 15, 2019
Messages
42
Great report and pics. Stoke is super high. That scat is no moose though. Only brookies, no cuts or goldens?
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
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May 31, 2015
Messages
1,714
Great trip report! You hit some awesome places. I'm really wishing I had gone to Baptiste Lake now!

Also, to me, that scat looks very much like elk. Sometimes you get the distinct balls, and other times it's in strange layers like that. Probably just depends on what they ate.
 
Joined
Mar 18, 2014
Messages
78
Great report and pics. Stoke is super high. That scat is no moose though. Only brookies, no cuts or goldens?
I looked up moose poop and apparently it's pellet and also this gelatinous form as well. Bear then? We looked up some images when we came home and decided on moose. Brook Trout, some cutthroats, and then Baptiste had the largest and meatiest fish of all and I couldn't exactly tell what kind they were, but they were hungry! I explained them to a 70 year old man last week when we were talking fish and he said probably a brown trout that was more silver in color. Big honkers! I wished we had camped near Baptiste and I had some roasting sticks around to make a good fire and stick that fish on a stick!

I tried attaching a file of those fish but they were all too big. I'll try here with another.
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Joined
Mar 18, 2014
Messages
78
Great trip report! You hit some awesome places. I'm really wishing I had gone to Baptiste Lake now!

Also, to me, that scat looks very much like elk. Sometimes you get the distinct balls, and other times it's in strange layers like that. Probably just depends on what they ate.
That makes sense Jackson. With as much of this kind of scat that we saw (especially in Ranger Park) it would seem odd to have that many moose or bear lingering around in the open. It was everywhere!

I also wanted to give YOU big props for taking your trip the week before and coming back with all the beta we needed to make this a successful trip. Thanks again!
 
Joined
Mar 18, 2014
Messages
78
OK, that's just insane. I also am turning 40, and I also was planning on doing a big 5-day trip in the Weminuche this summer (planned like a year in advance), and I also changed plans because of the snow, and I also headed to the Winds instead... and did almost the exact same trip as you! I just finished it last Sunday; when were you there? I incorporated a few off-trail "shortcuts", but otherwise basically followed the same route. I camped at Bear Lakes instead of Papoose on the way out (although I considered Papoose); was there good camping at Papoose? I too hesitated about posting a trip report, and ultimately decided against it (to not encourage increased visitation). Nice photos though! Apparently great minds think alike!
Well I'm down to make that Weminuche trip happen at some point. I may be able to take a long weekend this fall when there's a good weather window and get back there. Or I'd be down to get to it next summer or fall as well. It will happen!
 

WasatchWill

Ready For More
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Joined
Jul 23, 2013
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Yep, social media and the Internet at large has forever changed so many wild places. For better and for worse. There are the "iconic" places that have become big people playgrounds now, blown up with crowds....but thankfully, there's still tons of open land out there that don't have the same dramatic photographic landscapes to appeal to the crowds, but very much full of tranquility, peace, solitude, and their own flavor of beauty. There are still several lakes and summits and landmarks between all those that do have names that don't seem to get the same degree of love because they are nameless, and when you can find such nameless spots on maps, that's where you're still likely to find a slice of solitary heaven. Best part of those places are that when you do share pics of such a spot, and people ask where it is, you can give them a vague answer of its general local and tell them that's all you can say because it doesn't have a name and thus nothing for them to search on google or look up on a map. ;)

Beautiful looking trip!
 

Mikjik86

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Apr 22, 2018
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Great report! Thanks for sharing. The winds are on the radar for me for sure!
 

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Outdoor_Fool

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I looked up moose poop and apparently it's pellet and also this gelatinous form as well. Bear then? We looked up some images when we came home and decided on moose. Brook Trout, some cutthroats, and then Baptiste had the largest and meatiest fish of all and I couldn't exactly tell what kind they were, but they were hungry! I explained them to a 70 year old man last week when we were talking fish and he said probably a brown trout that was more silver in color. Big honkers! I wished we had camped near Baptiste and I had some roasting sticks around to make a good fire and stick that fish on a stick!

I tried attaching a file of those fish but they were all too big. I'll try here with another.View attachment 80259
Great TR. Congrats on the return to the Winds!

I agree with @Jackson on the elk poop. Pretty typical spring poop.

Looks like a rainbow trout, not much color but could be the shadow on the fish. Spots are very much rainbow trout pattern.

I feel that I should mention that your method of holding fish for photos is probably killing a lot of fish after releasing them. Better to grab by lower lip, pull the fly/lure out and return to water. Still time for a pic if necessary. Squeezing is definitely recommended against.
 

Born to Hike

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Joined
Jan 14, 2017
Messages
83
I looked up moose poop and apparently it's pellet and also this gelatinous form as well. Bear then? We looked up some images when we came home and decided on moose. Brook Trout, some cutthroats, and then Baptiste had the largest and meatiest fish of all and I couldn't exactly tell what kind they were, but they were hungry! I explained them to a 70 year old man last week when we were talking fish and he said probably a brown trout that was more silver in color. Big honkers! I wished we had camped near Baptiste and I had some roasting sticks around to make a good fire and stick that fish on a stick!

I tried attaching a file of those fish but they were all too big. I'll try here with another.View attachment 80259
That looks like Lake Trout to me..fun to catch!
Hey..this pic is lacking the mosquitoes chilling out on your hand (like the other fish pics) too!
 
Joined
Mar 18, 2014
Messages
78
Great TR. Congrats on the return to the Winds!

I agree with @Jackson on the elk poop. Pretty typical spring poop.

Looks like a rainbow trout, not much color but could be the shadow on the fish. Spots are very much rainbow trout pattern.

I feel that I should mention that your method of holding fish for photos is probably killing a lot of fish after releasing them. Better to grab by lower lip, pull the fly/lure out and return to water. Still time for a pic if necessary. Squeezing is definitely recommended against.
I learn something new every day. Thanks for the info. I try to make sure I released them gently back so they would get even bigger for the next guy. Just when you think you have this fishing thing down.....there's always something to learn. Always humbled.
 

OldBill

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Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Messages
78
Great points on the C&R tactics. Even holding a fish underneath for a photo shoot can damage the slime they have to protect against infections. I always make certain my hands are wet when attempting something like that. However, I'm also guilty of not using a net which is a better way to land the fish carefully. Crimping the barbs on hooks is good too. Otherwise, best not to waste the fish and have it for dinner.

Wonderful report! Whatever you are using for a camera is excellent. Even looks like there is a polarizer to keep the skies so blue.
 
Joined
Mar 18, 2014
Messages
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Panasonic ZS70. I've been hunting for a cheaper point and shoot for backpacking and this one has been fun. The sensor size is small, but the photos have come out pretty decent. I love the flip up screen, not so much for selfies, but mostly so I don't have to bend over with a huge pack just to frame up a set of wildflowers with the mountains in the backdrop, I can just flip the screen and look straight down. Video quality is pretty good as well with an amazing zoom for wildlife.
 

Dr. Nick

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Feb 17, 2018
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Great trip report. My brother did a trip up there several years ago in July and the bugs were the worst he has ever experienced. Did you pick July for any specific reason? If I tried a trip up in the Wind Rivers in late August would that help with the insects?

Also that fish is a snake river cutthroat. The color of the fins on the bottom help to identify it.
 

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