An Overnight Epic in the Wind River Range, WY
The Wind River Range in western Wyoming is in my opinion one of the supreme backpacking destination in the United States (if not North America). This 100 mile long glacier carved granite batholith (a fancy name for a large mass of igneous rock) is home to Wyoming's tallest peak, Gannett Peak, as well as some of the most pristine wilderness in the country. Nearly the entire length of the range is protected as federally designated wilderness making it one of the largest untouched roadless areas in the Lower 48. Here, the trails are long typically requiring many miles of rather monotonous hiking through thick forest to get to the "good stuff". Once you do though it is a haven of alpine splendor! Hundreds upon hundreds of sparkling alpine lakes, massive Yosemite like granite walls for climbing, craggy peaks that feature world class mountaineering, and some of the largest glaciers left in the Rockies. The Wind Rivers are a must for those who love big wilderness!
I had been craving to return to the Wind Rivers as it was now only a five and half hour drive from me in Colorado. The issue was the long approaches mean that to fully appreciate this wilderness one must spend several days or more backpacking in the range. And dayhikes are very hard to come by. I only had time for a one night backpacking trip, so the question arose. Could I pull off something worth driving out there for? Now there in mind I could've slogged a 11-12 mile one way to get to the good stuff and push myself. However, I didn't feel like doing that (been there done that), so I was hoping for something in the 6-8 mile one way range that still could get me to experience the best the Winds have to offer.
A few days of staring at maps, scouring Google Maps, and the internet I finally found a spot that looked worthy of the long drive. So off I went. The main access point for the western side of the Winds is the tiny cowboy town of Pinedale which has one of the best coffee shops I've ever been to, Pine Coffee Supply. Seriously, this place makes stunning single origin coffee with an aesthetic that looks like something you'd find in Portland, Seattle, or Los Angeles, not a tiny town of 2,000 people. Being only an hour and 15 minutes from Jackson, WY (Grand Teton) if you ever find yourself passing through Pinedale make Pine Coffee Supply a must stop!
Anyway, the trail itself was smooth sailing with the first half a hot dusty forest walk before hitting the first big view at Photographer's Point. This viewpoint (a great dayhike option!) offers an incredible view looking into the heart of the Wind River's highest peaks. It evokes comparisons to Yosemite's stunning Glacier Point view. From Photographer's Point, a few more miles passing peaceful lakes, wildflower filled meadows, and rugged granite domes got me to my camp spot for the night. A nice high point with far reaching 360 degree views.
After dinner I wandered to a potential viewpoint I had scoped out on Google Earth. Navigating the rough but open terrain of smooth glacier scoured granite, boulders, trees, and small ponds I reached the overlook. It was incredible! The granite dome I was camped on plunged over 1,000 feet into a deep gorge with a large lake surrounded by huge granite walls. Behind the lake a powerful river cascaded through a narrow canyon. The sound of the whitewater echoed across the gorge. Above the gorge sat the mighty high peaks of the Wind River Range and in between was an impossible maze of granite domes, lakes, rivers, and forest. It was one of the best views I've ever seen and I do not say that lightly. I have been lucky to see a lot of amazing views, but this was different. It felt so wild and pristine, there was no one else around, a true wilderness.
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