Backpacking the Wind River Range, August 2018 – Part 2

Day 3

We got out of camp a little earlier than planned and were covering the last couple of miles to the top of Porcupine Pass (the second one of the same name in the less than a month for me) by 8:45am.

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The first few switchbacks were tough but the trail soon opened up into a gorgeous alpine valley surrounded by towering peaks of granite on all sides and a fabulous view of the 2000ft descent we had made yesterday, and the 2000ft climb we were now doing.

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At the end of the valley we stopped for a quick snack break before the final switchbacks to the top. The weather was partly cloudy and perfect for climbing in open terrain and we stopped to soak in the next valley of absolutely stunning beauty.

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Pictures were taken in abundance before we started down the nice and not-too-steep switchbacks on the north side of the pass. I kept stopping to take pictures, not just of the views ahead but of the pass and Jerry and Colby behind.

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We filled up with water at the first creek crossing, grabbed a snack and I pulled my poncho out and stuffed it at the top of my pack…black clouds to the west looked pretty ominous. We followed the trail into the trees and within five minutes we were feeling the first raindrops and then hail. We all donned rain gear quickly and continued down the trail. The hail petered out and soon it was a light off again-on again shower. But eventually it got worse and the rain became more persistent and was less like a passing rain shower and more like a blanket of wetness. We hiked on and thunder grumbled around us.

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With a large pine tree providing a dry respite just off the trail we took a break. I was doing okay but wasn’t sure how I would do if the rain continued. We waited for 20-30 minutes in the shelter of the tree before I started getting cold and was beginning to shiver slightly. Despite the rain I knew I had to get moving to stay warm.

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Despite my poncho keeping most of me dry my hands were getting wet and they were going numb with the cold. And wet plants drenched my feet. I was starting to worry about me staying warm and what we would do as a group if the rain continued…I knew if it didn’t break soon I would be facing some serious issues. Jerry kept a check on me to make sure I was doing okay (he admitted later he was worried about me too).

Finally after another 20 minutes of steady rain (not torrential downpour thankfully) we started to see a break in the weather. Sadly there was a creek crossing that had only one log for the crossing (and it was a no go as it was wet and slippery) so with already soaked and frigid feet I just barreled through the water, cussing the whole way. And on the other side of the creek, just as we reach a beautiful open meadow and the trail junction to Green River Lakes (30 miles from our starting point), the sun came out and immediately began to warm and dry us. I was beyond thankful.

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We crossed another creek, thankfully by log bridge this time, and covered the final switchbacks to Green River Lakes and crossed yet another creek. I took my shoes off for this one as my shoes were finally starting to dry and I wanted to keep them that way. Of course there was a log at the crossing that I had completely missed but it gave me a chance to get my now-stinky feet and socks clean. As we crossed the meadow at the southern end of Green River Lake we got our first glimpse of Squaretop Mountain.

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We finally turned north on the Highline Trail aka CDT (Continental Divide Trail) and circumnavigated the lake, all the while getting some quite impressive views of the aquamarine-colored lake and Squaretop Mountain. The trail was mostly level and we made good time, conversing with another hiker briefly and asking about camping spots ahead. He mentioned one but also that another group of six guys had seen a bear sow and cub in the area ahead of us…thankfully it was a black bear and not a grizzly.

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We hiked on a short way and found an amazing campsite 100 yards off the trail and just below Squaretop Mountain…and probably one of my favorite campsites of any trip in the Winds so far (including last year’s trip). We were watching the weather closely and wanted to get camp set up before any more rain came in.

 

 

 

 

 

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We got settled and ate, and most stuff had dried out from the night before when the rain, lightening and thunder hit about 6:30pm. We scurried for our tents. Thankfully we had been watching the clouds encroach on the valley and all gear had already been safely stowed in protective DCF cocoons.

Rain and thunder continued for almost two hours before finally abating at about 8:15pm. We were glad to see the end of it and made a move to hang our food bags before we completely lost the light.

Day 4

We awoke to mist and fog shrouding everything, including our tents. It would break briefly and then come back in and it certainly provided for a couple of pretty pictures of Squaretop Mountain. But it was not a morning that was conducive to wanting to crawl out of warm sleeping bags and even the dogs were shivering a little.

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Everything was damp. Even my camp towel couldn’t get my tent dry this morning although it got it close and the dogs soon warmed up as I let them out of the tent and they enjoyed 20 minutes of running and playing together.

We eventually got on the trail and I was still wearing my fleece base layers and gloves to stay warm. The sun was starting to break through a little and after a mile or so I packed away my gloves and base layer top.

 

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The trail continued for another four miles on a pretty level trail beside the meandering Green River. We crossed a couple of fairly wide and deep creeks that required some serious balance and careful stepping to stay dry on rocks or logs. Jerry, who doesn’t hike with hiking poles, had the toughest time and started crawling across the logs on the first crossing. On the second crossing I had the guys hold the dogs back so they didn’t try to follow me immediately as it was a precarious crossing. Kye, as always, tried to rush across the log and slipped a couple of times but the double log bridge meant she didn’t fall in.

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Eventually the trail split and we crossed the now-raging Green River via a foot bridge and climbed above it. The sun was beginning to come out more consistently and make the day warmer, finally…we were all glad for the warmth. Another mile and a half put us at the base of the switchbacks and before the climb I packed away my base layer pants; it was still chilly but I didn’t want to sweat in my sleeping clothes.

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The switchbacks were a pretty easy climb and we stopped for views of distant waterfalls and peaks as we hiked up, eventually crossing Trail Creek were we ran into the six guys on a guided family trip who had seen a black bear sow with her cub not far from where we had camped the night before. We chatted for a while and climbed the final switchbacks to Trail Creek Park.

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Soon the trees deserted us and we we surrounded by grey boulders, green meadows and fields of talus all interspersed with reds, golds and blues of wild flowers. It was a beautiful sight and just kept getting better as we hiked up through the valley, each step providing a better view.

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Eventually, after much stopping to take dozens of pictures, we reached the plateau that is Green River Pass. It was not an up-and-over pass like I was expecting but was an open-ended expanse of rocks, emerald carpet and alpine lakes glistening in the now-warm sun. It was stunning.

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We reached the end of the plateau and looked over Summit Lake towards a grove of trees that looked like a good place to camp. We were high and exposed and wanted a little protection if a storm came through. But the skies remained clear and the sun, despite the wind and chilly air, was very welcome.

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We had camp set up quickly so everything could dry and then sat for a while and enjoyed the view as the sun set and the moon rose. Soon it was too cold to remain outside of the tent and we all departed for bed.

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Backpacking the Wind River Range, August 2018 – Part 1

Our first up-close views of the peaks we would be hiking through, and the too-friendly local wildlife:

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Day 1

We started pretty slow this morning as we all stayed up too late and enjoyed a few beers but we did manage to make it out of Elk Hart Park by 9:30.

From left to right: Jerry, me, Colby and Dave

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For 3 miles the trail wound down through the pines with some great views to the north. I lead for a while as we climbed down into the valley. In planning this route I knew we had a decent climb ahead but apparently I had missed the steep descent beforehand and by the time we reached the lake and then the creek after a few miles my legs were like jelly and were visibly shaking with the exertion. On the way down we passed a couple from Rochester NY coming up which was crazy as Jerry lives about hour from there.

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We grabbed a bite to eat Upper Long Lake and took some pictures before crossing a nice bridge over Pine Creek. The sign mentioned the trail was technically abandoned, was not suitable for pack stock and was not maintained. A lot of blow down trees confirmed this.

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The initial climb wasn’t too bad but once over a low saddle it got super steep and made for some tough going. However in the steepest section the trail was generally clear and easy find. It was here that Dave started feeling the affects of the altitude and of not having hiked as much as the rest of us. We paused to wait for him to catch up several times but it was obvious he wasn’t enjoying himself at all. Words of encouragement were spoken as we stared out at the views from the Crows Nest.

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From the Crows Nest onwards the trail leveled out considerably and we were all appreciative of the mostly-level trail for a while. We stopped to get water at a lake below the trail and then it started to rain. It wasn’t serious rain and just a summer shower that last for half an hour but it was enough for us to don rain gear for a while.

And then we ran into a big old moose with wonky antlers that trotted across the trail. He stared at us, we watched him and I was glad Jerry had finally seen one in the Winds. Our last trip here and proven to be utterly wildlife-less with the exception of a deer and a couple of marmots.

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We moved on and had another short climb up and over a saddle. Thankfully this one was nowhere near as steep as the torture we had endured earlier when I had been wondering who the asshole was who’d mapped this route…yup, me.

From the top of the saddle the trees opened up into grassy rock-strewn meadows with yet more stunning views of northern peaks. The trail remained on a moderate decline but was, in most places, level and we finally reached Trapper Lake sooner than I had anticipated we would. This wasn’t a bad thing at all. We took another break and Dave was holding up well…he was definitely hurting though.

From Trapper Lake we had a little over a mile to our intended campsite for the night at Section Corner Lake, a short climb followed by a rocky descent dropped us out on the edge of the lake and we started scouting for a campsite. The first we came across was nice but wouldn’t see the sun early but the other place that looked decent was very rocky and would have been hard on the tents.

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We got camp up quickly although Dave struggled to find two good trees for his hammock. And when you’ve had a tough day the last thing you want to deal with is struggling to set up camp and deal with more frustration. We all ate dinner and hung or tied our food bags away from camp as dusk settled in. We then talked for a while, Jerry, Colby and I trying to be encouraging to Dave to focus away from the pain and be positive about the trail for the next couple of days.

With darkness all around us and the clock saying 9pm we all headed for our respective tents for what hinted at being a cold night.

Day 2

I slept like a rock and I couldn’t believe I didn’t wake up until 7:45am. I never sleep that late when I’m backpacking, and especially not on the first night. I hollered at Jerry who sounded like he was just waking up.

Dave dropped off my bear bag and said he was heading out shortly so he could get a head start and not slow us down. We showed him where the trail was across the creek and he headed out.

We took our time packing up camp to give Dave a decent head start and left camp at 10am…the latest I have ever gotten out of camp. We backtracked to the lake slightly and followed the trail around the water’s edge before turning north again up the valley.

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With only a granola bar in my belly I struggled with the uphills more than I had the day before and was soon left behind…something I found myself agreeing with Dave about was that it was kinda demoralizing to be at the back and not with the group. I could certainly understand why yesterday was so hard for him on that level.

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I caught up to Colby and Jerry at Round Lake and grabbed a snack before we headed down. We were keeping our eye out for Dave ahead of us but didn’t figure we would catch him quite that quickly as he had an hour or more on us.

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With a few calories in the system we circumnavigated Round Lake and met up with the connection of the original trail we were supposed to take. The sign was on the ground and the only obvious trail was the one we would have come down. We checked the GPS and got on the right trail for 1/2 a mile before making a brief error and having to back track slightly. It was also the time we were beginning to wonder where Dave was and worry was starting to niggle at us, but he still had a decent head start and my pace certainly isn’t speedy.

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The climb from Round Lake was brief before the trail plateaued and then peered down at Palmer Lake. At the far end we could see two guys and one was wearing similar clothes to Dave. Sadly the person turned out to be a young man fishing with his friend, and not Dave. We were now getting more worried as the guys hadn’t seen a solo guy backpacking by himself on the trail.

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We made slow progress to the top of the hill and then enjoyed they awe-inspiring views of Palmer Creek Canyon.

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We descended amid stunning wildflowers along a steep and rocky pass to a low, rock-bound creek that showed obvious signs of being a raging torrent at other times of the year. It was this creek we followed for a while until losing the trail in the marshy areas where there were few signs and only hoof prints to go by.

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With the aid of the GPS again we managed to keep on track until we found the trail again (after a ridiculously steep climb up a tall embankment) and continued our way down the valley with magnificent walls of towering granite that made us feel extremely insignificant ahead of and beside us. It was also through here that we came across our second and third moose of the trip as we disturbed a momma moose and her calf. She eyed us with uncertainty while the calf did what his instinct told him to do and ran (or trotted) away up the hill.

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We passed a couple of guys camping prior to the trail intersection and stopped to ask if they had seen Dave, and gave them his description. They hadn’t seen him and some serious concern was starting to set in. With no way to know where he was; if he was on a different trail, if he was backtracking, or even if he was truly lost we were starting to question if and when we would need to hit the SOS buttons on our GPS units.

We tried not to think about it too much as we crossed another creek and started our climb towards Porcupine Pass, which, while moderately steep wasn’t too bad. Two miles below the summit of the pass we crossed another creek and eventually, after much hmming and hawing, we decided to make camp there and blitz the pass in the morning.

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With tents set-up and dinner cooking our thoughts were very much on Dave and what had happened to him. Colby and I both theorized that he had taken a wrong turn at the badly-marked trail junction north of Round Lake and had followed the trail back around to Trapper Lake as the rest of the trails had been obvious and well-marked…and that was the place we could easily have made an error without a good map.

We continued talking as the sun sank behind the mountains and finally, just as Colby was about to turn his InReach off we got a message from someone at The Great Outdoor shop to say that Dave was fine and would be hiking back out the same way we had hiked in, and going back to Elk Hart Park. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and knew we would all sleep better for knowing that. We felt bad but there was little we could have done at the time.

With dark clouds drawing in and a few raindrops starting to hit us we all withdrew to our tents for the night and listened to the thunder grumble away to the south.

Gear Review: Klymit Static V Insulated LITE Sleeping Pad

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Specs: Weight – 19.6oz, Size – 72″L x 23W x 2.5″ thick

This was the first pad I bought for backpacking and I have been in love with it ever since. I first went with this pad due to the price to weight ratio as I couldn’t afford the super-light Neo Air XLite or XTherm pads at the time. As a side and stomach sleeper I knew I needed an inflatable pad that wasn’t insanely heavy but still insulated for the cool alpine nights common to my favorite backpacking locals.

Initially the V-shaped baffles took some getting used to and I wasn’t sure I quite liked them but after a few nights of pretty decent sleep I started to really like them. Part of the baffle design on this pad means that I can feel where I am on the pad before I fall off the edge, even in a semi-conscious half-sleep state.

Unfortunately during my Solitude Loop Trail trip the pad started leaking air and I had to re-fill it overnight, but generally only once. I sent it in for repair upon my brief break off trail (when my water filter froze overnight) and replaced it with an Exped Downmat with vertical baffles. I didn’t like it at all after using the Klymit pad and realized how much I’d come to like the V-baffles and size of the pad. Klymit was extremely quick at fixing the leak (user error) and sending it back to me at no charge.

And there comes the other thing I like. The 23″ wide Static V is wider than most pads of 20″ which helps your time asleep feel a lot less constrained to staying in one spot all night…you can actually move around and not fall off the edge.

The construction and durability of the fabric used has been great. I have my dogs in the tent with me a night and during an occasional thunderstorm they have jumped on me and the pad, or at other times walked over the pad or pushed against it with claws at night. I have seen no ill repercussions of these dog-related incidents and no punctures or leaks.

The one leak I had, and it was partially due to user error and also the one thing I don’t like about this pad, was at the valve location. I had not been careful about holding the base of the valve when closing and tightening the valve cap and had created a minor leak due to too much torque on the valve base. I am now more careful. However, the valve still protrudes at a right angle and sticks up from the pad which makes a vulnerable point when you roll it and stick it in a pack…I would much prefer to see a flat valve incorporated on this pad similar to the one on the Exped Downmat.

I made one modification to this pad and that was to add strips of silicone to the underside of the pad to help reduce slippage. It works to a point but the pad tends to move around more when I move around than actually slipping on the DCF tent floor.

This is definitely another piece of equipment I highly recommend and wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one in the future or buy and give as a gift. You really can’t go wrong with this pad for the price, quality and Klymit’s Limited Lifetime Warranty.