Wind River Range: Big Sandy/Deep/Cirque/Texas Loop

lostlandscapes

rope mule
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
328
On July 24th my girlfriend and I set off to spend 6 days exploring (from what we could gather) some of the finer (if not most popular) terrain in the Wind River Range. It was the maiden voyage for both of us to this spectacular, glacially scoured alpine paradise. Moving to Utah two years ago meant leaving the majestic beauty of the Sierra Nevada behind me. As a consequence, I've been in withdrawal from that wondrous golden refuge ever since. Thankfully, the Winds satiated my need for sheer, tormented granite. Now I can't wait to get back.

[parsehtml]<iframe width="640" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src="https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&amp;msid=204335470138595281142.0004c4d0d7157e4d70211&amp;hl=en&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;t=p&amp;ll=42.746508,-109.236717&amp;spn=0.121019,0.219727&amp;z=12&amp;output=embed"></iframe><br /><small>View <a href="https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&amp;msid=204335470138595281142.0004c4d0d7157e4d70211&amp;hl=en&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;t=p&amp;ll=42.746508,-109.236717&amp;spn=0.121019,0.219727&amp;z=12&amp;source=embed" style="color:;text-align:left">Winds Loop July 24-29</a> in a larger map</small><br><br>[/parsehtml]Our first (car) camp, about two miles south of the Big Sandy Trailhead after the afternoon drive up from SLC:

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After setting up our camp down at Clear Lake in the early afternoon just as a brutal thunderstorm caught up with us (by far the worst weather of the trip), we eagerly wound our way up to Deep Lake:

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One of the many serene cascades emanating from the Deep Lake drainage, with Warbonnet lingering patiently:

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Back at our Clear Lake camp just in time to catch the last light on Haystack:

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The clouds (bluffingly) gathered quickly and early on the day #2, which encouraged hasty exploration of the Temple Lake environs. We were tempted to hike up to the pass, but the threatening skies held us at water's edge.

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Day 3 witnessed us both regrettably and excitably packing up for the Cirque. The Deep lake region is utterly surreal. But we knew we had something with even more grandeur beckoning us. The climb from Big Sandy Lake was more moderate than expected, and the first clouds of the day greeted us as we leisurely made Jackass pass at noon. Our absurdly scenic camp for the next two nights waited for us quietly in the lush meadows seen in the left-center portion of this image:

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Fading light on the northern segment of the Cirque. Texas Pass is the notch to the right of the unnamed prominent peak. It was crazy staring at that route of ours for two straight days, knowing nothing of it. It ended up being extremely benign (with exception to the north side, which is a different scree-from-hell story all-together)

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Late light during night 3. We met some haggard climbers at this spot who were just coming off of Pingora (most prominent peak on the right)--most of whom only carried and consumed one liter (one!) of water in over 13 hours of climbing. Minimalists, indeed.

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Warbonnet and Warrior Peaks:

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Mitchell Peak, with Jackass Pass the prominent saddle on the right:

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Breakfast:

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On day 4 (our second day in the Cirque), we chiseled our way up towards Cirque Lake at the base of Wolf's Head, about as high as a Class II jaunt will take you in the Cirque. The beauty is unspeakable up there.

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Later that day we clambered up to an unnamed tarn below Warrior and Pylon Peaks to discover this mysteriously over-sized mammalian pelvic/vertebra remnant. Bear?

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First light on Pylon Peak and the Watch Tower from near camp:

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Day 5, and finally picking our way up towards Texas Pass. From L-R, Warbonnet, Warrior Peaks, Pingora (up front), and Watch Tower (recessed):

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The final snowfield below Texas Pass:

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The view north from Texas Pass down into the Washakie Creek drainage. Although it doesn't look like much from this vantage point, that scree field heading down to Texas Lake is fairly violent. Definite roll-over territory. I surmise it'd be much easier coming up it.

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From this point we moved at a pretty good clip towards the Hailey Pass Trail and the western (and final) segment of our circuit.

Dead sentinel of Fish Creek Park:

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We entertained grand thoughts of making it all the way back to the Big Sandy trailhead and the beer cooler, but decided to lay up at Mirror Lake. Ended up being a wise choice, as we were granted the finest light of our entire trip:

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Mirror Lake and Laturio Mountain:

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The Winds are an insanely beautiful mountain range. Hoping to get up there one more time in 2012, and hopefully many, many more times in 2013. Have a lot of lost time to make up. Truly a Land of Alpine Sublime.

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Aldaron

Member
Joined
Jun 16, 2012
Messages
1,485
Outstanding!

I think I was just a day behind you on your trip. I was at Clear Lake on the 26th, and at the top of the Cirque on the 27th. My brother climbed Pingora on the 28th, which was the same day I hiked out.

Thanks for the report!
 

Dan

Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2012
Messages
454
after hiking 400 miles in the sierras, i will say the winds are every bit as good as their taller western siblings... only difference - the sierras cover sooo much more territory.

but the 90 miles of goods in the winds are up there with the best of the sierras, from my experiences.

awesome TR, thanks!
 
Joined
Jan 23, 2012
Messages
601
Great report! My favorite is that waterfall pic. All these Wind River TR's as of late are making me drool.
 

Nick

-
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Joined
Aug 9, 2007
Messages
12,934
I meant to ask... you've been to a lot of pretty epic mountains like the JMT though the sierras and the Annapurna in Nepal. How did the Winds stack up?
 

lostlandscapes

rope mule
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
328
How did the Winds stack up?
As Dan hinted at above, there are many similarities between the two ranges. Both are comprised of mostly granite; both trend northwest to southeast; both are mind-blowingly angular and precipitous in geologic composition (thank you glaciers); both crests determine the fates of fairly crucial watersheds (culturally and geographically); and both are indeed transcendent in radiant beauty. In my opinion, there are three major differences: One, as mentioned earlier, is size. The Sierras are certainly a longer mountain range by definition (400 vs 90), but of that 400 mile spine, only about 200 (the "High Sierra") are truly spectacular. So really not that great of a difference there as one would expect. The second, and more important factor, is accessibility. Due to the lack of modern day glaciers, some lucky geological breaks, and the tireless and brilliant trail building of the Army Conservation Corp in the early 20th Century, the Sierras are much easier to navigate along the Crest than are the Winds (see: JMT), which helps the range lend itself to a much more leisurely and thorough exploration. The third, and to me at least, perhaps the most significant difference, is weather. In 8 years of backpacking the Sierras (including my 2.75 times doing the JMT), I got rained on exactly *twice*. And only several other times did I even see threatening clouds. There's a chance I got very lucky; I know people who experienced a bit more weather than I did over those years. But either way, it can't be denied that the climate in the Sierras is positively humane by comparison. One of the things that I miss most was the ability to hike all day until I dropped, without anxiety or awareness of the tree-line or without fear of what that looming cloud had in store for me over the next mountain pass that I was at the mercy of. Those long, golden days are a beautiful thing. It really does lend itself to an unfettered and unique backpacking experience.
 

Aldaron

Member
Joined
Jun 16, 2012
Messages
1,485
In my one trip to the Sierra's, though, I was extremely turned off by the one significant killer of beautiful mountains: people.

Is that not a problem throughout the "nice" part of the range?
 

lostlandscapes

rope mule
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
328
In my one trip to the Sierra's, though, I was extremely turned off by the one significant killer of beautiful mountains: people. Is that not a problem throughout the "nice" part of the range?

Not really. They certainly have their easy access hot-spots of absurd overcrowding (Desolation Wilderness, Yosemite high country, the Thousand Island Lake region, and Mt. Whitney), but there are plenty of nooks in that range that offer isolation. With exception to the areas listed above, at least in my experience, I don't think the Sierras are any more population-dense than Washington's Cascades or Colorado's Rockies, or from what I saw two weeks ago in Wyoming's Winds. Solitude can definitely be found.
 

Dan

Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2012
Messages
454
no question, the winds are just as dense with people in the popular spots as the sections in the sierras. elkhart park is a complete zoo sometimes...

cool comparison tim. only thing i'd add is "legitimate glacier travel" to the winds as well.

your observations on weather are spot on. i did around 40 days in 2010 there, and got rained on once, never at night. crazy.
 
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