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For an overview of what this route is about see Andrew Skurka’s website:
I bought his guide and studied it religiously for several months in preparation for this trip.
In brief, the WRHR is listed as 97 miles with 65 miles off-trail and over 30,000 feet of vertical climbing. (the general idea of a High Route is to keep the highest line of travel through a given range without requiring technical climbing)
If you know me skip this next part, but I want to give some background for those that might use this report for planning purposes as I used others reports.
My background/ trekking resume:
I’m 46 years old, and an avid backpacker; I’ve done over 8000 miles of backpacking in the last decade. I work full time but go out almost every weekend (44 trips last year out of 52 weeks). For the last 6 years, I’ve averaged about 1000 miles of backpacking per year. The majority of my experience is on-trail but over the last few years I’ve been doing solo off-trail trips in the Southern Appalachians. These types of trips often involve following old, overgrown, and faded routes (known as “manways” locally) or using creeks as hand rails and hiking in the creek while climbing falls and cascades, or bush-whacking through heinous rhododendron (my least favorite).
I live in East Tennessee and so the southern apps are my goto, but I usually go out to the western US about once a year to backpack in some new area or mountain range. Here are some of the places I’ve trekked: Sierra out of Mineral King, Grand Canyon (Rim to Rim to Rim), Grand Teton National Park , Four Passes Loop in the Elk Mountains of Colorado (Maroon Bells), Glacier National Park Montana, Weminiche Wilderness , CO .
If you want to peruse for more here are about 100 trip reports on Trailspace.com (the older ones have broken picture links). I bagged my first western peak about 6 years ago in the Sierra (Sawtooth Peak 12,343) and have since done five fourteeners in CO: Snowmass, Sunlight, Windom, Eolus, North Eolus. I’ve done occasional class 4 moves but never with a full pack. I’m not a rock climber or mountaineer.
As far as navigational skills, I’ve done years of terrain association with topo maps, I’m proficient with dead reckoning (determining distance based on rate and speed), and I’ve done quite a bit of route-finding in my home terrain. I know compass basics as far as transferring bearings from the map to the field and vice versa as well as how to triangulate but have not used these skills extensively. I did quite a bit of practicing for this trip though.
I partnered with an experienced backpacker that I had never met: trail name Notbad (Jerry). He had a pulled a 70 mile loop in the Winds with another group led by hiker Dune Elliott, took one day off, then met me in Lander for our High Route; super tough guy! Many thanks to Dune for providing a shuttle for us between trailheads.
At the last minute a cold front blew in from Canada and the local towns were abuzz with news that we could be hit with 4-8 inches of snow above 9000 feet (99% of our route was above that). This forecast caused us to load up with extra insulation that we had not originally planned to carry. Oh well, better to be prepared. Spoiler: the weather was perfect, never even got below freezing, I did not use my extra base layers and only even put on my puffy a few times.
I tracked this trip with a Suunto Ambit Peak 3 GPS watch and came up with some variance from Skurka’s data. I can only account for some of the variance through two alternate sections but I’ll just list what I have while knowing it may not be 100% accurate. I show we finished with 115.28 miles, 33817 feet of ascension and 32008 feet of descent.
Day 1 August 28th
Middle Fork Trailhead at Bruce Bridge in Sinks Canyon Wyoming to Deep Creek lakes / Iceberg Trail junction.
Ascent: 4032 feet
Descent: 627 feet
Day 2 August 29th
Deep Creek camp to Tayo lake near the Coon Lake junction after summit, West Gulley descent, summit again, and then dscent off the south side of Wind River Peak.
Here, we’re starting up the east side of Chimney Rock after leaving the trail behind for the first time. I took great joy in shooting our first compass bearing to follow as we ambled up the broad mountain slope.
This is where things turned a bit in our execution. I only made a couple of navigation errors but this was a good one. In my rush of adrenaline I had trouble associating the terrain properly and led us down the West Gully too low too soon and right to this icy cliff with ball bearing rocks underneath. It was a scary moment and a total spazz out on my part. (the guide even lists that you won’t miss this traverse because cliffs will force you over, but, um, I did). Knowing this was one of the routes hardest features we decided that maybe we should use the Coon Lake alternate instead. I did stop to map check and realized that we should have traversed to the west more before heading down but didn’t realize how far down we had dropped (maybe 1500 feet) . It was exhausting to climb all the way back up to the summit then tackle the impossibly long traverse down the south side of Wind River Peak. By the time we got near the junction of Tayo Lake and Coon Lake trails we were whipped and found an off-trail camp on a little knoll near a waterfall.
Day 3 August 30th
Tayo/Coon junction to Cirque of the Towers via Temple Pass
The route finding from Coon lake down to Little Sandy creek was a blast and we had a good time figuring it out. My second last real navigational error was here also: I could not find the trail up to Temple Pass. I saw some natural ramps on the right and even said out loud “if I were a trail I would go up that way” but didn’t trust my gut enough to investigate closely. Instead, we wound up shooting straight up the mountain on unstable talus, but luckily stepped right on the trail near the top. We could see the trail from up there and my gut was right. Live and learn.
We had a nice night camped below Lonesome Lake (legally more than .25 miles away).
Day 4 August 31st
Cirque of the Towers to near Raid Peak Pass
We had decided to go over Texas Pass instead of the primary routes New York pass, not to avoid the feature but because Texas Pass had sentimental value to Jerry. A friend of his had camped at Texas Pass and shown him the photo some years before and that’s what had captured his imagination and drew his attention to the Wind Rivers in the first place.
One of my favorite sections was the off-trail traverse of the East Fork river up towards Mount Bonneville and Raid Peak. It has such a great vibe to it. This picture is looking downstream towards the back of the cirque. Fantastic!
Good tent spots were at a premium up there (see them in the lower left?); we found this cool sandy pit about a mile or so below Raid Peak Pass. Yeah, rain would have puddled us but we thought it worth the risk.
Day 5 September 1st (though really, every day was “labor day” on this trip)
Below Raid Peak to South Fork Bull Lake Creek on the Res
I had issues with hitting the pause button on my watch this day so the data is skewed a bit. I only tracked 6 miles but I’m sure it was closer to 11. I also sure there was more elevation gain than what is listed.
And finally, our camp on the Res (by permit) which was thick with elk and trout. We heard the elk bugling and one almost walked right into camp but I accidently scared it away while returning from the creek. The trout were so thick in one part of the creek you could have scooped them up with a net. I was too exhausted to fish sadly.
Day 6 September 2nd.
South Fork Bull Lake Creek to Golden Lakes
Ascent: 3323 feet
Descent: 3422 feet
This day was something. One of the harder navigational exercises was finding a tarn through a dense forest; I relied on the GPS app more than I wanted, but hey I did bring it. Then we got climb Europe Peak which was really neat.
Day 7 September 3rd
Golden Lakes to North Fork Camps
This was a big brutal day. Alpine Lakes was tough and beautiful.
Douglas Peak Pass looks undoable (our route is the shadowed wall on the right) but it’s actually a really great route; the distance throws you off. It was a simple walk-up. The other side was much more crappacious though.
Day 8 September 4th
North Fork camps to Gannett Creek
Day 9 September 5th
Gannett Creek to Downs Mountain northern base
Day 10 September 6th
Dows Base to Glacier Trailhead, done!
If you read all this, God Bless You! And good luck with your planning. O:
Like others have written, you just cannot overstate the difficulty of this route. Words fall short of the beauty, the remoteness, and also the pure, total, exhaustion. I’ve done a lot of backpacking in a lot of places in my lifetime but this was the hardest and the most incredible route I’ve ever done.
I feel like thanks are in order, lol:
Thanks to Adnrew Skurka for publishing this route and guide
Thanks to my tough-as-they come partner Jerry for suffering it with me!
And thanks to my wife for holding down the home-front while I disappeared for two weeks!