Winds - July 1-3 - Elkhart -> Hobbs -> Lester Pass -> Pole Creek

Burrito

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Sep 7, 2016
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Link to pictures / videos at the bottom of this post if you don't wanna read it all....

I'm posting this more for informational purposes than anything else. Let me start by saying: there is still a TON of snow in the range (at least 7 days ago there was). My wife and I hit a lot of patches of snow on the way in to photographer's point. From there to the trail split at Eklund Lake was even more consistently snow and from that trail split to Hobbs Lake was 95% snow. We stayed the first night at Hobbs which was really nice. Luckily the temps are really warm so that was a non-factor.

The next morning, we trekked up to Seneca in 100% snow. The creek that drains out of Seneca (not sure the name, but it's the big crossing shortly after leaving Hobbs - the one that drains down to Gorge Lake) was really high. The normal crossing spot was a no-go as the current was super strong. We hiked up the south side of the creek a ways and found a snow bridge to cross the bulk of the creek. In retrospect, we probably shouldn't have done that because if that had collapsed, we would've been in a world of hurt. I did my best to probe with my pole however and it proved to be stable enough.

The trail at Seneca was impassable near the north side where it dips down by the lake because the lake is so full. That was an easy traverse up and around the rocks at that point though. The snow on the north side of Seneca (through the big talus field) was very difficult to negotiate. Very large wavy snow fields (trough to crest over 24" in some spots) made for difficult walking to say the least. Again the trail at Little Seneca was under water and so we had to climb about 200 vert to get around a cliff to make that work.

From Little Seneca, we climbed Lester pass sans trail the whole way. In a lot of spots where the snow had a lot more sun exposure, it was a post hole fiesta. I dropped a few times to my waist. The south side of Lester pass was more of the wavy snow. We finally stepped on some actual dirt near Tommy Lake as we made our way south toward Pole Creek.

Pole creek is swollen beyond belief right now. It is absolutely raging. At the lower crossing there is currently a class 4 rapid and I gotta say, when we saw how big it was, we were both beyond disheartened. We set up camp after a long hard day of walking and I did my best to come up with a plan to get us back to the car. As we sat by the tent, we saw two packers on the other side of Pole Creek seemingly looking for a place to cross. It was getting dusk but I really wanted to talk to them to find out if they had come from Elkhart (to determine if the next crossing of Pole Creek was even doable). We ran to the edge of the creek but by the time we got there, they had ducked back into the trees. I whistled a few times (and I have a REALLY loud whistle) but there was no way they could hear over the roaring water between us. I went back to the tent and looked at the map. I wondered if we hiked up to Cook Lakes, if Pole Creek was passable there and then (assuming these guys came from Elkhart) if we could make our way back. Just before it got dark, my wife went back to the edge of the creek with her flashlight and flashed it across the river. It was enough to get their attention and they came. She yelled to me and I ran down to the creek and did my best to converse with them from across the creek. It was way too loud. I could only make out about every 5th word they said. I was at least able to communicate to them to move further upstream so we could try talking (yelling rather) without the sound of the roaring rapid drowning out everything we said. We both re-positioned and now I could hear every 3rd word...progress :) I was able to make out that they had come from Meadow Lake and not Elkhart...huge bummer. I was also able to make out that they had been to Cook Lakes earlier that day and Pole Creek was impassable up there as well. They said it was swimmable because it was a lot calmer, but still way too deep to cross on foot. All of the gears in my head were turning trying to come up with a way to get out of there. Swim across at Cook Lakes and hike out to Meadow Lake? - Nope, definitely hypothermia...the little lake where I was yelling across had ice on it. Hike back up toward Lester Pass and bushwhack west to avoid the Pole Creek crossings? - Possibly, but navigating with that much snow was already challenging enough where there was a defined trail. Hike all the way back the way we came? - This seemed like the best (safest) option and so we went to sleep that night resigned to the fact that we were going to have to climb back up and over Lester Pass, cross the wavy snow fields of death, hike up and around the traverses at both Senecas and trudge our way out.

I woke at 5:30 the next morning just as it was getting light and climbed out of the tent and doubled down on my efforts to find a decent bushwhack route. After planning, scrapping, re-planning, re-scrapping, re-planning, re-scrapping, then re-planning, I plotted out what I thought was good route to get us around the need to cross Pole Creek. I woke my wife and told her we were going to try the bushwhack plan. She wasn't super stoked because I had told her night before that there was a huge risk (we still had to cross two more creeks that I'd never seen and had no idea how big they were and while I love the Wind Rivers maps by Earthwalk, they leave a lot to be desired in terms of contour lines etc) that we may have to turn around and then backtrack all the progress we made that day, then still have to backtrack the whole route. My wife is a go-getter though, she was on board.

I'm a software engineer and I've written a GPS app for my phone that I use for navigation. I have the aforementioned earthwalk maps plugged into my app so I can literally see exactly where I am on those maps. I only mention this, because this was HUGE in our quest that day. We crossed the creek we had crossed the day before about 1.5 miles north of Pole Creek on the highline trail then turned west. It was an arduous climb but we were able to get high enough up to start our traverse around where I had picked out to cross to the next canyon, and start climbing that canyon. This was the first creek crossing that had me worried. We hiked up high enough that it was no consequence at all. Whew, step one done. As I mentioned above, the earthwalk maps contour lines (or lack thereof) really threw me off. Just looking at the map, it seemed like we wouldn't have much in the way of elevation changes once we were that high. Such was not the case. We dropped down 2 large canyons and had to climb out of them on the other side to keep moving west. Long story short, we made it to Monument Creek (the other crossing I was worried about), crossed then headed south to pick up the Pole Creek trail again (well where the Pole Creek trail should be, buried under 3' of snow).

From there we continued on our original route, out to Eklund lake, then out to the car. It was quite an adventure. I hope the tone of this post hasn't soured the amount of fun and excitement we had because it was one of the better outdoor experiences I've had in the last 10 years, I just wanted to paint a full picture of what things are like up there right now.

here are some pictures and videos that I took with the app I wrote for my phone. If anyone knows the area I mention in this post and has some other ideas of ways we could've made our way out, I'd love to hear them. What we did ended up working well, but I'm sure there are alternatives that could've worked just as well or better.

Quick edit: unfortunately I didn't get any pics / videos of Pole Creek. My mind was on other things at that point.

https://goo.gl/photos/f8KSTkUj2PmUDLMU7
 
Last edited:

Jackson

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You guys are awesome. I did the reverse of your planned route last year, and it's nuts to see it covered in all that snow. Unbelievable. Very nice work navigating your way around Pole Creek. What a cool trip!!
 

Artemus

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Great report, Burrito! Thanks for sharing, honestly, the difficulty and anxiety you encountered. The Winds are truly awesome and not many people take them on this time of year like you did. Good job getting out safely!
 

Burrito

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You guys are awesome. I did the reverse of your planned route last year, and it's nuts to see it covered in all that snow. Unbelievable. Very nice work navigating your way around Pole Creek. What a cool trip!!
Very cool Jackson. What time of year did you do it? How were the Pole Creek crossings when you did it?
 

Jackson

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Very cool Jackson. What time of year did you do it? How were the Pole Creek crossings when you did it?
It was the beginning to middle of August. Pole Creek was very easy. Just a few rock hops in a few places. Some of the rocks were slick, but the water itself was not much of a challenge.
 

Rockskipper

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Postholing up to your waist? Wow. Snow bridges and raging creeks - sounds like quite an adventure.
 

Deleted User

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Damn! That is a lot of snow still this far into summer. Nothing like some post holing to make backpacking interesting. Nice report! Thanks for sharing!
 

WasatchWill

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Ok...That PCT marker on the sign post threw me off...What's up with that? :facepalm: Now I have motivation to go up there and correct it with a CDT marker. :)

And did your wife do the same pose on purpose in two of those shots, or was that just a coincidence? Anyways...Nice photos! Glad you all made it out safely.
 

Burrito

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And did your wife do the same pose on purpose in two of those shots, or was that just a coincidence? Anyways...Nice photos! Glad you all made it out safely.

I assume you mean the two up at Seneca lake where she's looking out over the lake? One of those is just a regular shot, the other is that same regular shot stitched together with the next two shots in the sequence to make a panorama. Google photos does stuff like that automagically cause it's good like that :)
 

WasatchWill

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I assume you mean the two up at Seneca lake where she's looking out over the lake? One of those is just a regular shot, the other is that same regular shot stitched together with the next two shots in the sequence to make a panorama. Google photos does stuff like that automagically cause it's good like that :)


Yeah...I use Google Photos too, and know the quirks it can pull sometimes. I had wondered that, but then assumed it was two shots with the non-pano showing trees up close in front of her, and then they're gone in the pano.
 

Burrito

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Yeah...I use Google Photos too, and know the quirks it can pull sometimes. I had wondered that, but then assumed it was two shots with the non-pano showing trees up close in front of her, and then they're gone in the pano.

Good catch, I hadn't noticed that. Looks like the 2nd pic in the series just overlapped the trees to make the panoramic. Either that, or there was some weird divine stuff going on and the trees were removed from the face of the earth right before our very eyes!!!
 

Artemus

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Good catch, I hadn't noticed that. Looks like the 2nd pic in the series just overlapped the trees to make the panoramic. Either that, or there was some weird divine stuff going on and the trees were removed from the face of the earth right before our very eyes!!!
Weird, divine stuff? I think that is an anti-oxymoron. :rolleyes:
 

HomerJ

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WOW! Tons of snow still up there! Thanks for sharing! Your wife must be tougher than most guys!
 
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