Wind Rivers, Sept. 2013

Dave

Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
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The rattling wagon crested a gentle hill on the sage-dotted badlands of western Wyoming, somewhere along the lonely 50 miles separating Evanston and Kemmerer. Ahead on the horizon, red tail lights illuminated on the backside of a black fleck. Another car, northbound, ahead of us. It slowed and pulled to the right of the faded asphalt with its surface worn by alternating extremes of long summer sun and abrasive winter snow.

My eyes flicked down to the speedometer. Its needle bounced like a hyperactive child high on a sugar rush, averaging out somewhere between 70 and 75.

Throw on another five to compensate for the over-sized tires… carry the zero… crap.

My foot eased off the throttle. Squinting, I tried to make out the tell-tale signs on the other car, still far ahead.

Don't brake, just let friction do its work.

Glancing sideways at my brother in the passenger seat, I could tell he saw it too.

"Cop," he said.

"Yep."

As if on cue, the radar detector suction-cupped to the windshield began blaring.

At least I shed some speed before he clocked me.

"Well, this isn't a good start," I said through my teeth as we passed the other car. The yellow swoosh across its door flashed by in the corner of my eye. In another second, it's rack lights lit up blue and red.

My finger punched the wagon's hazard lights button. For the first time since spotting the car, my foot tapped the brake. The speedometer needle settled down as it dropped steadily from 60 to 40 to 20. We both rolled to a stop over the far side of the rumble strip.

Window down, ignition off, keys on the dash, hands at 10 and 2.

In a moment he was at the door, standing slightly behind and above where I sat. One of his hands rested loosely on a holstered sidearm.

"Good morning," he said.

"And to you, sir."

"You were going a little fast back there."

"Was I?" In my head, I tried to remember how much velocity the car had lost before the radar detector activated.

"I'd say so. The speed limit here's 65. In fact, it's 65 on pretty much all of these highways off the interstate." He paused as if waiting for an admission of guilt that wasn't coming. "Can I see your license and registration?"

While I gathered the requested documents, the chatty trooper continued conversing.

"Where are you guys from?"

"Salt Lake."

He peered through the rear windows into the cargo area of the car, rocking back on his heels.

"Taking a little camping trip?"

"Yeah, backpacking."

"Where to?"

"The Winds."


Winds Classic
by ashergrey, on Flickr

It had already been a wet summer. Pushing into this late season meant we were gambling on the weather. Rain had lashed the Wind Rivers in the September days preceding our trip.

As originally conceived, this trip was to be a solo paddle/hiking adventure up to the headwaters of the Green. But when my brother became available, we decided instead to make a backpacking trip into the heart of Titcomb Basin.

We rolled into Pinedale in the early afternoon, the warning notice from the Wyoming Highway Patrol still sitting on the sun-faded dash. Thick, foaming masses of cumulus piled up against the mountains to the east just outside town. A break of clear sky sat behind them, then another band of clouds. This pattern repeated all the way to the them extending to the western horizon, making the columns look like waves on the Pacific still rolling into shore.

Delays along the drive (not limited to face time with a generous trooper) meant we didn't get to Elkhart Park until mid-afternoon. We hoped to make Baker Lake by nightfall. But as we geared up in the parking lot, rain started to fall.

DSC00019.JPG

Photo courtesy Mark Cawley

Conditions did not improve as we headed up the Pole Creek Trail. A steady drizzle wet the way. Only a short way into the hike we paused to don rain gear.

DSC00034.JPG

Photo courtesy Mark Cawley



Bridger Wilderness
by ashergrey, on Flickr

The rain eased as we passed Eklund Lake.


Eklund
by ashergrey, on Flickr

While short of our goal, it seemed a prudent place to pitch camp as the daylight started to fade.


Camp at Eklund
by ashergrey, on Flickr

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?q=https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3847512/GPS/Eklund.kml&t=t4" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]Day two dawned just as gray as had closed the day prior. We broke camp after spreading out our damp gear to dry a bit. More lost time.


Contingency Planning
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Behind schedule and in need of making up ground, we struck out on the Seneca Lake Trail with the intention of following it to the Indian Pass Trail and ultimately Island Lake.

Mark shooting 1920.jpg


The weather had other ideas.


Ominous Pass
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Rain started mid-morning. Thick gray clouds swirled around us at times. Our waterproof layers soaked through. Hoof-worn rocks half buried in the trail were polished slick by the rain. Water gathered in boot prints and depressions, flowing from one puddle to another. We wasted energy hopping from side to side around them, then gave in to the inevitable and began trudging through the muck.

At times the sun would break through for a few tantalizing moments, only to duck again behind a veil of gray.


A Peek of Blue
by ashergrey, on Flickr

That fleeting sense of hope, that prayer uttered under the breath proved futile at each repetition. The rain turned inevitably heavy as lead ball bearings, sending us scrambling for cover.


Shelter
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Each delay set us that much more behind schedule. We crested the pass to Seneca Lake in time to see roiling, angry clouds pouring down the range. Caught exposed, we split up in search of shelter. Finding none, I went back to find my brother. Only now he could not be seen anywhere. I called his name and heard only the rain pounding on my poncho in response.

Rain water pooled in any little divot or wrinkle in the saturated fabric. It splashed off the toes of my boots and brushed off rocks and bushes into my pant legs. The sound of nearby thunder sent my tired legs running to stunted pines, struggling to grow more than a couple feel tall there at the tree line. Backing my spine against the boughs, I struggled to find relief from the unceasing storm.

After what seemed an hour I decided to head up trail in search of my brother. I found him about a quarter mile ahead, huddled under a hastily erected tarp shelter.

There we waited.


Halfhearted Rainbow
by ashergrey, on Flickr

It was late afternoon before the storm eased. Under the patter of light rain we ventured out to reconnoiter. We found no usable camping spot around Seneca. Everything was soaked. Titcomb and the spine of the range were concealed by clouds thick as chowder. Wet skin prickled in the dropping temperatures.

It had then rained by my estimation for essentially eight straight hours.

We weighed our options: hoof it over the pass in the unlikely hope of finding dry shelter or at least tree cover around Island Lake, or retreat to Hobbs Lake and give up nearly all of the mileage we'd fought to gain that day.


Sullen Seneca
by ashergrey, on Flickr

A well-timed growl of thunder made up my mind. It was time to concede defeat.

Our heads stayed down in surrender on the stumbling walk back to Hobbs. We didn't talk much as the rain came on again in force. When we arrived at the shore famished, cold and weary we had to prioritize. I felt for the first time on the trip not just the sting of disappointment but also a tinge of fear. We were cold, soaked and disheartened. It seemed imperative to get warm food and to establish a dry shelter.

In the failing light, we hobbled together makeshift cover using two tarps and a spare poncho. Using this small area as cover from the rain we boiled water, rehydrated our dinners and attempted to stabilize our moods and body temperatures. We then pitched just one of our two tents in the narrow space between a pair of pines.

Dark had come on in full by the time we stashed our food and stripped out of our waterlogged trail clothing. We crammed together into the little tent, my back on a root and his on a rock. Just as we zipped up the flap of the rain fly, the rain stopped.

Welcome to the Winds. I hate this goddamn range.

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?q=https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3847512/GPS/Seneca.kml&t=t4" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]Sun crept over the Wind Rivers at the outset of day three, lighting remarkably clear skies a deep blue. Crawling out of a damp and frosted sleeping bag, I pulled on wet wool pants made stiff with unseen ice crystals.


Hobbs selfie
by ashergrey, on Flickr

The entire earth seemed absolutely still. The lake water no longer bore the ripples of countless drops pattering across its surface. That photographer's thrill shot through me.

At last, a scene on this stupid hike worth shooting.

I pulled my camera out of its rain-soaked bag and set it up on the tripod. Then I pulled off the lens cap to see haze across 77 millimeters of UV-filtering glass.


Through the Haze
by ashergrey, on Flickr

So heavily had it rained that the very air itself seemed saturated with moisture. Shooting through the haze gave the scene an unpleasant softness, like looking through greasy waxed paper.

I unscrewed the filter, only to watch as condensation formed on the front element.


Hobbs
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Dejected, I detached the lens and looked at the rear element. It too had hazed. Now finally defeated, I left the disassembled camera in the sun to dry while we broke camp.

DSC00105.JPG

Photo courtesy Mark Cawley


Humid Hobbs
by ashergrey, on Flickr

On the hike out, we passed hordes of hikers heading to the region we were vacating. Without fail, they all asked about the weather. Some joked about it not looking so bad. Neither my brother nor I laughed. One hiker described sitting in a motel room in Pinedale the day previous watching weather radar images on the news, feeling grateful over his decision to remain in doors.

I envied him.

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?q=https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3847512/GPS/Hobbs_return.kml&t=t4" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]
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Artemus

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Well, good one, I think :)

Way to go for it. Usually if I get to the trailhead and the forecast still looks that bad I wimp out. Nice touch, on the vid, casting the camera into the sky, like a dove!
 

HomerJ

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I was so excited to see a Winds report, especially now at the end of February! I feel bad you didn't get to see Titcomb. It's an awesome place, you need to go back and see it some day!

I loved everything about this trip report (except for you missing Titcomb). Great photos and video, especially the aerial video! And it was a blast to read!!!

FYI - I camped nearby where you took the photo from the north end of Seneca (Sullen Seneca)!
 

slc_dan

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From what I understand, even with a good forecast you are likely to face harsh weather in the Winds. On our outing the weather added depth, a fun level of extremes. This just sounds miserable...

Hopefully you make it up there again. Thanks for the story.
 

Nick

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Dislike all the rain. Like the photos. The worst weather I've ever been through has been in that range. The scariest was this past summer but the longest was my first trip up to Temple Lake. Stuck in the tent for something like 18 hours. That gets old fast. Anyway, great stuff and it will only make Titcomb that much sweeter when you go back. Oh, and I really dig the video. Did you guys pack the phantom all the way in there? And do those things float by chance?
 

Dave

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Did you guys pack the phantom all the way in there? And do those things float by chance?

They don't float and in fact it nearly crashed into Eklund. That was the other big disappointment on this trip -- my brother hauled at least 10 extra pounds in flying gear in his pack but we were only able to get the one flight. The Phantom kept giving him a low voltage warning after that flight so it was essentially unusable even if the weather had allowed.

My disappointment over this trip was pretty severe. I came away with no photos that I really felt proud of and I used that as justification to upgrade from the Rebel I'd been using. So in that, at least, something positive came from all the rain.
 

Nick

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Bummer. But hey, you got a new camera! :) I've been eyeballing the Phantom Vision 2 after seeing this and your Flaming Gorge trip reports and hearing about it from @langutah. In addition to the obvious draws, it might be good for business by getting aerial shots of properties. Pretty tough to pony up $1200 though...
 

Dave

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I won't even tell you how deep my brother is into UAVs now.... suffice it to say he's flying gear capable of carrying heavy payloads.

Commercial use is still prohibited by the FAA. People are using them for what you describe, but you run the risk of being issued a cease and desist from the Feds.
 

HomerJ

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From what I understand, even with a good forecast you are likely to face harsh weather in the Winds.

I've been rained on (or snowed on) , on every trip in the Winds. But then again, I've been rained on (or hailed on), EVERY DAY in the Unitas! (OK, so it didn't rain the very first day of my first trip in the Unitas, but after that it has been every day.)
 

Artemus

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I've been rained on (or snowed on) , on every trip in the Winds. But then again, I've been rained on (or hailed on), EVERY DAY in the Unitas! (OK, so it didn't rain the very first day of my first trip in the Unitas, but after that it has been every day.)
I am surprised you guys have such bad luck in the mountains. Every DAY in the Uintas??? On my crossing of the Highline we waked 7 days and 70+ miles and saw only one day of precip. and that was virga 10 miles away. That was a strange stretch of course but I still have good luck. I do try and not go unless it is a high pressure or building pressure. The Windies crossing too. Day 2 we got wailed on the same storm that Nick refers to above and two other couple hour periods of rain out of 8 days. Hmmm....
 

HomerJ

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I am surprised you guys have such bad luck in the mountains. Every DAY in the Uintas??? On my crossing of the Highline we waked 7 days and 70+ miles and saw only one day of precip. and that was virga 10 miles away. That was a strange stretch of course but I still have good luck. I do try and not go unless it is a high pressure or building pressure. The Windies crossing too. Day 2 we got wailed on the same storm that Nick refers to above and two other couple hour periods of rain out of 8 days. Hmmm....
I should probably mention that I've only been (camping/backpacking) in the Unitas on two trips. First trip being 4 days and the 2nd being a overnighter. So I haven't spent much time at all in the Unitas.
 

Bob

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13 days in the Winds crossing........one day of rain. Last week of August. :). Now your post has made me dig out and finish our route for this summer..... it's up to 70 miles.

Hate to say it, I'd probably shoot a UAV down if I saw one.... not in a wilderness area for something flying that low. Only with emergency use, say SAR.
 
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Artemus

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I should probably mention that I've only been (camping/backpacking) in the Unitas on two trips.
Well stick at it Homer. With 30 years of visits to both the Windies and the Uintas I probably have been washed out 5-10% of my visits and had couple-of-hour precipitation events for two days ore less less than half the time. Go on a good high-pressure-building forecast or you have to tough it out like @ashergrey did. You can invert those percentages for the Alaska Range, the Wrangell St.Elias or the Canadian Rockies where rain or snow is a given. The range that really has the good weather is the Range of Light, the High Sierra. What is your experience, Dave?
 

Dave

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Hate to say it, I'd probably shoot a UAV down if I saw one.... not in a wilderness area for something flying that low.

If you're packing the shotgun necessary to shoot down the UAV okay, but I'd reserve the right to knock that gun out of your hand as well. ;) Both are simply tools.

Wilderness designations prohibit mechanized travel, but a small unmanned aerial craft isn't designed for travel. It's fair to argue that they're outside the spirit of the Wilderness Act because they have motors and make noise. But by that logic, so are battery-operated digital cameras.

I think the point for now is to not be a jerk about when and where the tech is used. When my brother flies and shoots video, he's sensitive not to hover or get in the face of anyone else. From altitude the craft are actually pretty quiet.

People have interesting reactions to the tech, ranging from apathy to curiosity to hostility. But it's here now and you'll be seeing more, not less of it.
 

Dave

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Go on a good high-pressure-building forecast or you have to tough it out like @ashergrey did.

Yeah, since I have to schedule time off work well in advance I'm stuck with what the weather provides. I try not to be a fair weather-only camper, but 2013 was a bad year for me weather-wise. I only had two trips that weren't either rain soaked or sandblasted.

That being said, summer weather in the Uintas usually tends to move so fast that while you'll see rain it doesn't stick around long enough to spoil an entire outing.
 

Artemus

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Yeah, since I have to schedule time off work well in advance I'm stuck with what the weather provides.
I live with the same curse. :facepalm:
My method involves a) having to plan mostly 2-3 day weekend trips and b) planning one every weekend to compensate and canceling those ones that mother nature and the NWS "counsel" me not to enjoy...
 
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Artemus

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If you're packing the shotgun necessary to shoot down the UAV okay, ...

I am a little conflicted on near-wilderness use as well but I think I will use Bob's method when an Amazon logo-ed craft shows up at my house to bring junk mail. Course I will be flying rocks like David against Goliath since there is no gun to be found...
 
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Bob

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If you're packing the shotgun necessary to shoot down the UAV okay, but I'd reserve the right to knock that gun out of your hand as well. ;) Both are simply tools.

Wilderness designations prohibit mechanized travel, but a small unmanned aerial craft isn't designed for travel. It's fair to argue that they're outside the spirit of the Wilderness Act because they have motors and make noise. But by that logic, so are battery-operated digital cameras.

I think the point for now is to not be a jerk about when and where the tech is used. When my brother flies and shoots video, he's sensitive not to hover or get in the face of anyone else. From altitude the craft are actually pretty quiet.

People have interesting reactions to the tech, ranging from apathy to curiosity to hostility. But it's here now and you'll be seeing more, not less of it.

Guns are a legal use in a wilderness, I don't pack them backpacking but lots do, trying to knock a gun out of someone's hand could be dangerous. In the provision in wilderness Act of Prohibition of Certain Uses it says 'motorized equipment' and 'no landing of aircraft' of which drones are. Also if someone is using a drone and sells photos from it the FS needs to be paid a permit fee. In these days of budget crunches, that could get enforced more.

Just my opinion I have no intention of getting into a lengthy discussion/debate. Their use will probably end up in the courts eventually, I would guess........ :)
 

Dave

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Guns are a legal use in a wilderness, I don't pack them backpacking but lots do, trying to knock a gun out of someone's hand could be dangerous.

So is firing into the air with the intent of damaging someone else's property. I guarantee you that shooting an UAS out of the air would bring the shooter legal trouble, regardless of whether or not the operator of the UAS was using it lawfully.

And while you might consider a UAS an "aircraft", it's legal designation as such is unclear. As I stated above, a digital camera could be argued to be motorized equipment -- a DSLR uses a battery-powered motor to move the mirror and close the shutter. But you'll never see digital cameras banned in wilderness areas.

Commercial use of drones is currently restricted by the FAA, which is in the rulemaking process right now. I agree with you that these issues will need to be vetted in the courts. However, in the meantime I'd advise against the hyperbolic response of shooting one out of the air. :twothumbs:
 

DrNed

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@ashergrey As always I am entertained by your words as much as I am by your photos.

Sorry to hear the weather prohibited you from attaining your target. Now that the sting of disappointment has faded, do you find any value in the misery? As a kid my dad got me into Patrick F. McManus books. In his book, A Fine and Pleasant Misery, he says outdoorsman go into the wild to be miserable so they can come back and tell everyone about it. One of the things that I enjoy most about backpacking is coming home and telling stories about my adventures (and how tough it was). ;)

It's too bad that using a UAS will need to be "vetted in the courts." I love the backcountry because while there are laws about it, 99% of the time people get along, respect each other and enjoy the wild without having to have an enforcement official present. I believe the backcountry is an example that fewer laws are better than more. I hope that's the case with these flying machines. I find the images they bring back prodigious.
 
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