Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wind River Range September 2011

It always seems that I will start these trip reports, but never finish them. As so much happens on a trip, they tend to be long and involved. I don’t know how interested people are in a long report nor how much patience they have to read a very long blog post.
For this reason I will do two reports. A quick trip recap and a longer post with pictures and the like.
The quick trip recap will come later. Here is the somewhat long post. Please excuse the writing as I just learned that for work I will very likely be going to Cleveland for three weeks so I had to rush it out.
The trip was to be 8 days of backpacking in the Wind River Range. We started out at the Glacier trail head on Monday September, 5th.

We were to take three days to hike to the Dry Creek area and fish some golden trout lakes.

The first day would be the hardest and longest day. We hiked over 11 miles with over 3,400 feet of climbing. After hiking 31 switchbacks the trail steadily climbs to Arrow Pass finally topping out at 10,900 feet.

One surprise on the trail was the abundance of wild raspberries on the switchbacks. They grew in some of the rockiest terrain.

We were all winded, and very glad to be headed down.

After about seven hours of walking we arrived at Double Lake.

We set up camp for the first night and went fishing.

Brad and I caught 21 fish between us. The fish were decent size with some over 14 inches. That night our sleep was disturbed by the rain that came and went.

The next morning we set out under grey skies. Tuesday was another 11 miles to Echo Lake. The trail immediately climbs 300 feet up from Double Lake to Star Lake. It then descends about 1,000 feet past Honeymoon Lake to Dinwoody Creek.
The rain picked up throughout the day as we made our way toward the Ink Wells Trail junction.
Despite the rain and the mud we made good time.

By the time we reached the Ink Wells Trail it had stopped raining, but the sky was still grey. We stopped for lunch and dried out some clothes.

The view on the way up is spectacular.

We found a spot to camp and had enough time to bathe and do some laundry.

Wednesday we feared that the weather would not permit the hike up and over Horse Ridge. The ridge tops out at over 12,000 feet and all the hiking is off trail.

Brad and Grady are the tiny dots in the lower right corner of the photograph.

As we crawled Gollum-like up the ravine we got our first full glance of Gannett Peak. It is a grey, massive hulk of rock with a glacier just below the summit.

Once on top of the ridge we headed off toward Golden Lake.

After reading Rich Osthoff’s description of the ridge I imagined that once we got to the top it would be easy going. I was wrong. The ridge is crisscrossed with other ridges, small peaks, boulder fields, and snow fields.

We could not see the basins below unless we went all the way to the edge of the ridge. This is problematic because the ridge send arms out into the basins. Go out on one of them and you may have to walk back, always uphill from the edge, a long way to get back on your path.

An important fact to learn about backpacking is that nothing is flat and no path is straight. What on the map looks like one ridge to climb to get to a lake will turn out to be one big ridge with seven smaller ridges to traverse. There is no easy way to get from point A to point B. Given that reality we decided to leave our camp where it was and day hike to the lakes.

Thursday we woke early and headed out just as the sun was rising. It cast a beautiful yellow glow on the surrounding mountains.

It took us nearly two hours to make it to Don Lake. As our camp was at 11,000 feet we had to descend quite a bit to reach the lake. Don Lake has cutthroat trout. We spend an hour at the lake, but didn’t have any luck.

We then decided to try Golden Lake. We were surprised at the crowds on Golden Lake. We saw two other parties of three people, and happened upon the campsite of another group (I believe there were 5 in that group). A couple of forest rangers told us there was a party of eight camped down at moose lake. Golden Lake skunked us so we headed down to Cub Lake which has cutthroat. Brad caught three fish and I caught two. They were okay size up to 14.5 inches. By this time it was almost 5:00 p.m. so we began the trek back to camp.

Friday instead of day hiking again we decided to head back over the ridge to Echo Lake. We did not want to go back up the ridge the way we came down, so we attempted a climb to the south. Again it was steep, but not as dangerous and our previous climb.

Once we were up we could plainly see where we should have exited the ridge to come down closer to Golden Lake. It appeared to be a much easier way than the route we had chosen.

Once up on the ridge we tried to spot where we should come down to Echo Lake. We saw a spot that we thought was manageable so we took it despite believing it would leave us a half mile west of Echo Lake. Once we got off the ridge we immediately headed West toward Echo. After about 10 minutes of hiking we realized that we were actually past Echo Lake. We had come off the ridge too late, not too early. We were just a half mile from the Ink Wells Lakes. We decided to spend the night at the Ink Wells.

The upper lake is a classic Wind River brook trout lake. We caught ten inch brookies on nearly every cast.

We hiked down to the lower lakes, but the fish were not as active. We could see hundreds of fingerlings along the shore, but the large fish were not as active. Brad did catch one nice brook trout, but this was it for the lower lakes.

Saturday we began the hike out early. We wanted to fish Echo Lake while the fish were active.

We were surprised by the quality of the fish in the lake. Even though it is right by the trail, there were plenty of large brook trout. We each caught several fish up to 15.5 inches. Turns out that Echo Lake is one of the better brook trout lakes in the Wind River Range.

I was surprised to catch a fish with Whirling Disease. This is the first one I have ever seen in the Wind River Range.

With lighter packs we hoofed it all the way to Double Lake where we would spend our last night. The fishing at Double Lake was great. This time we camped by the inlet on the South end of the lake since this is where the best fishing was. The fishing was not as good at any other point of the lake. It is a fun lake with some decent brook trout and cutthroat trout.

Sunday morning we fished Double Lake again before heading up to Phillips Lake. Phillips Lake was similar to the lower Ink Wells Lakes. We saw lots of fingerlings, but the larger fish evaded us. Upper Phillips Lake also has brook trout, but as it was nearing noon the fish were not too active. The climb out is much easier (since we were starting at 10,000 feet), but the feet take a pounding on the descent to the car. Once a trip is over there is not much motivation to linger. We made the car in just four and a half hours.