Wandering the Wild Wind River Range Wyoming Wrap Up, July 27- August 2, 2013
When leading trips for Sierra Club or any outdoor operation, it is important to go somewhere that the leader wished to go. That way if the leader only ends up with a few particpants, at he/she is not disappointed with the outing, at least the leader is pleased.
So it is with “the Winds.” The dramatic serrated ridges and peaks with apropo names like Warrior, Warbonnet, Ambush and Raid strike the drama in one’s heart. The multi peak knife’s edge appropriately named Cirque of the Towers is a gem for those donning harnesses and armed with carabineer and rope. In fact the 110 mile by 25 mile road less Winds are dominated by the irresistible rock of the southern part of the range and by glaciers and tundra in the northern part of the range.
This being my third trip to the Winds, yet first in the southern part, I have intuited that a lot of us in the east don’t even know where the Winds are. The Winds run southeast to north west in the western part of Wyoming. They begin at South Pass, the famous pass of the Oregon Trail through the Rockies, and end at Togowotee Pass in the Teton National Forest. Most of the peaks were not climbed or named until the middle part of the last century. The Winds were explored by the steady Captain Benjamin Bonneville and the impulsive abolitionist General John Fremont, but it was the “mountain men” like John Coulter and Jedediah Smith who really knew the mountains in the early to mid 1800s. Although these were brave hardy men who knew the ways of the Earth like no other, yet they have a responsibility to the decimation of the beaver In the west. And like the egret plumes of our great state of Florida, beaver fur was primarily used for men’s fashionable hats.
The beaver is a “keystone species” around which other flora and fauna draw their life. At one time there were 60,000,000 beavers in North America, yet the beaver trade brought their numbers to 1,000,000. There is argument that the decimation of the beaver is the most important factor for the degradation to the environment of the west. These members of the rodent family with the smallest of mammalian brains, are a bridge between the aquatic and terrestrial worlds, and have adaption so they can see while underwater and hear and smell while swimming. They can fell over a 100 trees a day and know how to fell a tree at just he right angle into the water to make their dam.
You see, they sequester Nitrogen behind those dams. Then come the microbes, insects, amphibian, etc…see what I mean! These dams also are like our wetland filters in Florida…they clean the water and establish appropriate flows and levels. There has been significant research in the effect of beavers on water conservation and quality.
For those of you who are learning to lead, make sure you have a competent steady assistant leader. Rudy Scheffer, the Florida Chapter Outings Chair, was very steady with lots of experience. We seemed to operate like a well oiled machine. I am grateful to have learned so much from Rudy on this trip. I take pride in that two Florida Sierrans are able to go to Wyoming and lead a successful trip.
I challenged myself to do all the food for this trip. When I say that, most of the food was cooked then dried on my dehydrator. The value of this process is that drying keeps more of the nutrients in the food than freeze dried food and the dried food is lighter to carry. We decided to use have bear canisters for our trip, and they weighed only 8-10 lbs each. Also less fuel is need for cooking.
Why bear canisters? Our itinerary was set up for multiple layover days, and while we were hiking, I wanted to avoid rodents attempting to get into our food. I recall my reluctance to carry a bear canisters on my first Sierra Trip, yet the truth is that they are on the order of ounces and fit nicely in to most packs. As a leader, very important to protect the group’s food.
We were blessed with a fine group of participants, which is not always the case. Two of our participants were Ph.D s at Iowa State one of whom was a botanist. We did have problems with two participants, one critical from the start and another who felt it the prerogative to disregard the group’s pace. However, I felt that Rudy and the group and myself did a good job of keeping them in the group. As leaders, it is important to recognize that folks act out for a reason. Also, it is important to exercise some compassion for these folks and not allow that acting out to create their own self fulfilling prophecy about their isolative role in groups.
Day one was an easy climb through Fish Creek Park to a site on Dad’s Lake. My goal was to teach some natural navigation, and although I did not teach as much of this as I wished, we did teach some navigational skills. The itinerary was good for this for we had two days that we were to so some cross-country to climb Warrior II and Mount Washakie. On Day 2, my mistake was that I got the group up too late to climb Warrior II, for I felt that it would be good to rest. I think I should have surveyed the group for their feelings, or just make the decision to get up early to climb. Participants typically want to be challenged in some way. We were able to do some cross country and climb to the high alpine lake that the group thoroughly enjoyed.
Day three we moved north to Skull Lake and to higher alpine terrain. Then on Day 4, we arose and were able to summit Mount Washakie. I was exciting to lead folks to the summit over a cross country route. From Mount Washakie we could see Cirque of the Towers as if they were close enough to touch and Mount Hooker and Mount Bonneville to the north.
Since I used this itinerary from a precious Sierra Leader and by looking at the maps, I had some concerns about our exit through East Fork Basin. I felt that the route would be drab and event less. With a consultation or two, that afternoon I did a scouting of the climb up to Mount Hooker and Pyramid Peak. I found that it was spectacular, and after running it by Rudy, we decided to stay at Skull Lake. On Day 5 we day hiked to the pass by Pyramid Peak and Mount Hooker that drops to East Fork basin. The group was enthralled by the views of Raid and Ambush Peaks, Mount Bonneville and the lakes in East Fork Basin.
On day 6 we retraced our route past Skull lake and Dad’s Lake. Two of us enjoyed and incredible swim in one to the lakes. There is nothing better than getting used to the cool water in alpine lakes while enjoying the incredible scenery all around.
The last night we had the most incredible lighting and thunderstorm…loud, scary and entrancing. Lots of fun bring under my tarp riding out this raging storm.