Trailhead Conditions Report 7/15/2020

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It seems that the hotter-than-average summer predicted for Wyoming is coming to pass. With a high yesterday of 73F above 11,000 feet, the remaining snow is melting fast. This super heating is causing swelling creeks in the high country. One of note is Pole Creek. Not only was it high in most places, but it was running quite fast. Use caution!

Pole Creek crossing, running thigh deep.
Pole Creek crossing, running thigh deep.

As we move farther into summer, and more snow melts, there are more backpackers turning their eye towards the Wind River High Route. Adventure Alan’s guide goes into great detail about the route and what to expect. Remember, that if you decide to take on the WRHR, there is one glacier crossing: Knifepoint Glacier, over Indian Pass. In the later parts of the summer, the glacier receedes enough to make the crossing manageable without microspikes; this is possible around the first couple of weeks of August. Before that, expect glacial ice underfoot. The second part of the route worth mentioning is the Alpine Lakes section, just past Knifepoint Glacier. 3rd and 4th class scrambling will be encountered through this section, up and over large boulders and talus; it should be noted that the easiest way around the lake is on the west side of the lake. Again, Adventure Alan’s WRHR Guide is a great resource to be utilized when planning this Wind River traverse.

The snowline in all parts of the range is sitting above 11,000 feet; above that expect sporadic snow but nothing that will stop you in your tracks or that will require Microspikes or an ice axe. Expect lows around freezing, possibly higher, and highs anywhere from mid 60s to low 70s. It will feel hotter because of the altitude. The bugs are definitely out, so be sure to stop by and stock up on some DEET and a headnet; both will make your trip much more enjoyable.

If you require pack services or gear drops, consider using Expedition Winds and the owner, Taylor Pyle. While spot packs from horses are nice, Taylor is on foot, and can reach many places that outfitters will not go, and his prices are cheaper than it would be to hire a horse and rider for the day. He’s an experienced guide with lots of local knowledge about the Wind River Range.

Out of Big Sandy Opening, we see no snowline keeping you from doing any of the three most popular loop hikes: Texas Pass Loop, Washakie (pronounced wah-shuh-kee) Pass Loop, and Hailey Pass Loop. As a side note, please be respectful of the Big Sandy Opening trailhead by picking up your trash and burying your waste. There is a very convenient bathroom located at the trailhead that is stocked and cleaned regularly by volunteers. Make their job a bit easier by picking up after yourself. This goes a long way in keeping the parking lot looking nice. Stop by Big Sandy Lodge on your way out of the mountains after a long trip. They have ice cold (and I mean ICE cold) beer and great food.

Farther north, in the Scab Creek and Boulder Lake trailheads, just about everything is accessible. Expect to be able to hoof up and over both Hay Pass and Photo Pass snow free. All the lakes in the area are ice-free and are fishing incredibly. You’ll see lots of rising fish prone to sipping dry flies, but will always catch your bigger fish on sub-surface streamers, particularly leech patterns and olive Wooley Buggers. If you’re catching and releasing, consider pinching down the barbs on your flies and nipping two of the three hooks on the treble hooks of spinning gear.

As we approach Elkhart, please note the same advice as at Big Sandy Opening Trailhead. This trailhead sees lots of traffic and use, so respect for the land goes a long way! If you see trash on the trail, pack it out! Consider epoxying the rubber trekking pole tip protectors and the plastic baskets on your poles. Getting up to Titcomb Basin and beyond is possible. Bonney Pass and Indian Pass are almost completely free of snow, and Lester Pass is crossable with a small section of snow on the Cook Lakes side. Cook Lakes is completely snow-free, but be aware of the deep and fast creek crossings over Pole Creek. As the water levels equalize in the coming weeks, these won’t present as much of a problem. Expect a few muddy trails where lingering water has collected. Seneca Lake is seeing lots of camping traffic. If possible, hiking a couple of miles past will present parties with much better options for camping, and spreads out usage. Lakeside Lodge offers some of the best drinks and food in Pinedale. Stop by and try the Thai fusion food that Jeremy cooks!

Looking north from the top of Lester Pass towards Titcomb Basin.
Looking north from the top of Lester Pass towards Titcomb Basin.

Spring Creek Park seems to be the quiet trailhead this year. The trail is completely clear up to Elbow Lake. Expect some lingering snow and muddy trails and you pass Elbow Lake and make your way around to Peak Lake. Knapsack Col will still have some lingering snow, especially on the Titcomb Basin side. Another few weeks will see the Col passable without any walking on snow.

New Fork Lakes Trailhead also seems to be a little more quiet than usual. The spectacular scenery of Palmer Lake and the Doubletop Mountain trail should not be overlooked! The trail here was recently renovated and is in great shape thanks to the Rocky Mountain Conservation Corps. The creek crossing in the New Fork Canyon heading to Palmer Lake should be noted as being high.

Green River Lakes is totally open for large loops in the northern part of the range. Cube Rock Pass will still present some intermittent snow upon heading towards Peak Lake. Just a heads up that there is no longer a foot bridge over Clear Creek heading towards Slide Lake. You’ll be forced to cross the creek higher or lower than where the trail shows on a map. Expect at least knee-deep water crossing Clear Creek. The trail to Alexander Park is currently undergoing renovation thanks to the Forest Service.

As a final, very important side note… CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF. This means scattering cold fire rings, NOT burning your trash, packing out what you pack in, and (I can’t believe I have to say this one) PROPERLY dispose of your waste, your furry friends included. As more hikers, backpackers and climbers access the Winds, the idea of using the Wilderness responsibly falls more squarely on our shoulders as a collective user group. Use common sense and the seven Leave No Trace principles, so that other users can have an untainted experience and future users can experience the beauty of our wild backyard.

We do share the Wilderness with lots of other creatures. Make sure to do you part in not allowing bears, moose and marmots in the Wind River Range to become habituated to humans by hanging your food and practicing proper food storage. This is true above, as well as below, treeline.

If you have any questions regarding trip planning or gear, feel free to give us a call at (307) 367-2440 or email info@greatoutdoorshop.com. We carry a full stock of rental backpacking and mountaineering equipment, as well as fishing setups, bear spray and bear-proof containers, fuel and a full assortment of books and maps. Visit us online www.greatoutdoorshop.com to see trip reports, current conditions, or to browse our online store. Follow us on Instagram (@greatoutdoorshopwy), Twitter (@wrrconditions) and Facebook, and be sure to tag us in your Wind River pictures! Our staff is ready to help you plan a Wind River trip or to help with any questions you may have along the way.