The next leg of our summer tour took us to Pinedale, Wyoming, where we found a campground with a great view of the Wind River Range. “The Winds” are a backpacker’s and rock climber’s paradise, although the season is relatively short: mid-June to mid-September, and even that is optimistic. It can snow any day of the year here. Pinedale sits at 7,182 feet elevation, and has a population of 2,030 of the nicest folks you would ever want to meet. Its motto, “All the civilization you need”, is perfect for this cowboy and cattle town that also caters to visitors from around the world who want to experience Wyoming hospitality and the unmatched beauty of the Wind River Range. We originally scheduled a stop here to visit one of Suzanne’s mom Ruthie’s very best friends, Gina Feltner, but I had a selfish motive: I had never backpacked The Winds, and this might be my best opportunity.
We arrived at our campground, contacted Gina, and met her and Bob at their house just outside town. Gina was born and raised here on a cattle ranch, and knows horses like most of us know our closest relatives. Bob is a real cowboy who transplanted to Pinedale after his Army service. He then spent over 20 years punching cattle and guiding elk hunts in The Winds. He also had his own farrier (blacksmith) business and knows the mountains here like the back of his hand. For years he spent summers in cow camps in the high country, taking care of cattle, guarding them against marauding wolves and bears, and moving them from winter to summer grazing grounds in “drifts”. Bob and Gina took us to lunch at a mountain lodge run by some friends. You can see the transition of sagebrush to pines and spruce in the background of this photo.
I knew the weather on my backpacking trip might be a bit chilly, so I got a new, 29 ounce, 19 degree F sleeping bag (my old one was rated to 32F, totally inadequate for this trip above 10,000 feet in Wyoming, even in mid-August). Food wouldn’t be a problem, since My Lovely Bride had given me a big box of freeze-dried meals as an anniversary gift (yes, I have ribbed her about her romantic gift since then). By the way, I had mentioned my new sleeping bag to Bob, and he showed us his cowboy sleeping bag, which he still uses, that must weigh at least 29 POUNDS! But then he has a pack horse to carry it.
In researching The Winds, I was drawn to an area called Titcomb Basin, described by Backpacker Magazine as “a perfect 10” and “North America’s most beautiful alpine ridge”. One writer stated that he had hiked trails from Tibet to Timbuktu and found nothing more gorgeous. Suzanne dropped me off at the trailhead near Fremont Lake, and I started my four day adventure into the Bridger Wilderness, named for the 1820s mountain man Jim Bridger. The trail started off in a mixed forest of lodgepole pine and spruce trees, and because of the possibility of encounters with bears (both grizzly and black), I carried an industrial-sized can of aerosol bear spray.
Fortunately, the most dangerous mammal I encountered was this Wyoming ground squirrel (Urocitellus elegans) who was trying to mooch a meal. I decided not to use the bear spray on him since I was able to successfully fend off his vicious attempts to take my lunch…
After a few miles, meadows and small glacial lakes (tarns) appear, with the rugged peaks in the background providing many scenic vistas.
After a few more miles, larger lakes followed, providing primitive campsites (no showers, toilets, running water, or even hot coffee) and fishing opportunities for those who can spare the weight; since my pack was already at 32 lbs., I decided not to decimate the local golden and rainbow trout population and left my gear at home. (No smart-aleck remarks, Bob).
The trail followed an up-and-down traverse of hills, valleys and small mountains leading into the heart of the Wind River Range. The higher I climbed, the more sparse the forest became. Treeline was about 10,400 feet, above which there would be no big trees.
I did run across a few other day-hikers and backpackers. This guy/gal was just far out in front of me that I never caught up; more folks were headed back home because I left on a Monday; mid-weeks are my favorite time in the backcountry because there are fewer people to share it with.
The trail was often very rocky, making for slow going, since loose rocks can be a hazard – a twisted ankle or fall out here would be troublesome.
After 6 hours and 10 miles of hiking, I turned a corner and this vista opened up – Seneca Lake, my first night’s destination. I had been told that it would be crowded, but at first glance, I didn’t see another soul.
There weren’t a lot of choices for campsites that offered a flat place to pitch my tent and some shelter from the wind, but I was able to find this primo spot with a great view of the lake and some small, stunted pines for a windbreak. My one-man tent weighs just 3 lbs, including a ground cloth to protect the very thin nylon fabric from the rocky terrain. After walking down to the lake for 4 quarts of water, purifying same with chlorine tablets, and then adding another chemical to neutralize the chlorine taste, I brewed up coffee and my freeze-dried dinner, a “nominal” double serving of fettuccine Alfredo with chicken (total 540 cals, 12 g fat, 36 g protein, 72 g carbs). Lest you think I was being a piglet, I could have eaten more, since I brought no dessert or wine… what a mistake!
That night I fell asleep with the sound of wind in the willows, so to speak, but it finally died down around midnight. I got up to take a biological break, and looked up into the moonless sky (it had not yet risen) to see the Milky Way in all its glory. It was about 30 degrees F back in Pinedale (7,100 ft), and while I didn’t have a thermometer with me to check the temp up on Seneca Lake at 10,272 ft, I was as snug as a bug in a rug in my new sleeping bag. More about this fantastic trip in my next post…