Lander to Lava Mountain Lodge – Wind River Range

Wow. Just wow. This last section of trail through the Wind River Range has been totally amazing – some of the best scenery and the most exciting hiking of the trail so far. We’ve also had great company, hiking most of the last 150 miles with some or all of the “Aussie Posse”: Medic, Bourbon, Maps, Coach, Chippie, Obtuse and Bugs.

After resupplying in Lander and hitching back to the trail, we started out on dirt roads leading over low sagebrush-covered hills, with pine trees becoming more numerous as the day went on, until by 5pm we were in proper pine forest again.

As we were nearing grizzly bear territory, we started taking the necessary precautions – rather than cooking where we camped, we stopped along the trail to cook dinner before hiking on for another couple of miles before making camp. This way, bears are less likely to be drawn towards our campsite by food smells. Our food and other scented items get bagged up and hung from a high tree branch at night. And just in case bears do come into camp, or we get confronted by one on the trail, we have started carrying bear spray.

After a good night’s sleep, interrupted only by a few rounds of gunfire from some fellow campers (and bears are the bigger danger? Really?), we headed up into the mountains. The trail led through meadows carpeted with brightly coloured flowers, over creeks and past lakes, with spiky granite peaks towering above. A few remaining snow patches provided some fun opportunities for glissading on the way down from Temple Pass – a lot easier on the knees than walking downhill!

As we headed down towards Big Sandy Lake, we spotted the Cirque of the Towers ahead – it looked spectacular. We hoped to get as close to it as possible before camping, but ended up in a valley full of huge boulders and crags with barely any flat ground on which to camp. After hiking around 23 miles in pretty rugged terrain, we were all tired and ready to camp, so just squeezed in as best we could. We managed to pitch our tent on a tiny ledge scarcely bigger than our tent, but Chippie won the prize for the best camping spot – see the photo below.

The next day dawned clear and sunny, and by 6.30 we were on our way up and over Jackass Pass and Texas Pass. The Cirque of the Towers, sitting to our left between the two passes, was just awesome, with huge sweeping walls of pristine granite and steep snow patches leading down to icy cold blue lakes below.

Following the valley down past more glacial lakes, the terrain soon began to level out, and much of the afternoon was spent chasing the trail around lots of tiny lakes dotted in between rolling ridges. With lots of creeks and rivers to cross, we did our best to keep our feet dry by balancing on rocks. But inevitably we finally came to a creek where we couldn’t stay dry, so just splashed through with our shoes on – hiking with wet shoes isn’t great, but taking shoes off and wading through barefoot takes way too long!

Another day, another pass, and our final pass of this stage was Hat Pass, another steep ascent with lovely views from the top.

Then with food running low, we diverted off the Continental Divide to follow the Pole Creek Trail to the nearest road, and early the next day hitched into Pinedale to shower, do laundry and resupply.

After a very rushed day in town, sending three food parcels to ourselves further along the trail as well as buying food for the next stage, it was a huge relief to set some chairs outside our motel room at the Gannet Peak Lodge, and enjoy some beers with the Aussies who were also staying there. It was such a lovely motel, I couldn’t help wishing we we were spending another night there!

But the next day, after a hearty breakfast, we gritted our teeth, packed up and headed out to hitch our way back to the trail. But then things got complicated when four of the Aussies who were hitching together got a warning from the sheriff – apparently “soliciting a ride” is illegal in Wyoming. We didn’t know! But in the end we all managed to get rides, three of the group with a trail angel, four with a passerby who enquired about where we were hiking, while Neil just stuck a sign on the back of his rucksack, which we hoped didn’t count as soliciting!

We rejoined the Continental Divide via the Seneca Lake Trail, a very scenic shortcut. Thunder rumbled around us for most of the afternoon, and after we finally caught up with the others where they’d camped near Island Lake, a storm blew in soon after dark, punctuating the darkness with big flashes of lightning.

So we were relieved when the next morning the clouds cleared out, leaving another clear sunny morning as we headed up past mirror-calm lakes to Knapsack Col. We had been warned that there was very steep snow with a cornice at the top, but we were confident that it would still be do-able. When we first caught sight of it though, we did wonder if we could do it with no ice axes or crampons!

So Neil led the way, kicking steps in the snow with his trail shoes, with the other eight of us following on. It was very steep, and got quite hairy near the top where there was just a thin layer of snow overlying the ice underneath. But we made it across onto the scree, then after a short scramble over the cornice we all breathed a sigh of relief as we reached the top of the col.

I thought that after the excitement of Knapsack Col the rest of the day’s hiking would be an anti-climax. But no, it just kept going! A bluish-green glacial lake, a scramble over boulders, a river crossing with no stepping stones, another pass, a huge boulder field, then an enormous thunderstorm as we headed down through a forest. As we were all getting soaked, we huddled under some trees to try to get some shelter, and cooked dinner while we waited for the storm to pass. As soon as the rain slackened off, we hiked on until it was almost dark before wearily pitching our tent.

It was still grey and misty the next morning as we made our way along the Green River – and it really was a strange aquamarine colour, because of the glacial silt in the water.

Since the lush greenness of the Green River valley, the terrain has changed dramatically, first to open grasslands, then through aspens and pine forest, then out onto huge grassy plains, and then forest again. We also accidentally parted company with the Aussie Posse – just got ahead a little way, they didn’t catch up, and now we have come off the trail to Lava Mountain Lodge to pick up our food parcel and have a rest day, while they have gone to the nearby town of Dubois to resupply. We’re planning on taking a different route to them in a couple of days’ time – we’re sticking to the official trail while they’re planning on taking a shortcut – so we hope to catch up with them again before they finish the trail!

Early view of the Wind River Range
Little Sandy Creek, on the way to Cirque of the Towers
Exciting river crossing! At least we kept our feet dry!
First view of Cirque of the Towers
Chippie’s camping spot amongst the boulders
Neil putting the flysheet on, on our rather cramped camping spot
Medic and Bourbon crossing a creek near Cirque of the Towers
Cirque of the Towers – a photo just can’t do it justice
Neil posing near Cirque of the Towers
Near Cirque of the Towers
Whee! Medic glissading.
Crossing snow patch on the way down from Texas Pass
Billy’s Lake, after Texas Pass
Billy’s Lake
River crossing – gave up trying to keep our feet dry
Three food parcels – about 2 weeks’ worth of food, at Gannet Peak Lodge, Pinedale
Seneca Lake Trail
Sunrise at Island Lake
Early morning, on the way to Knapsack Col
On the way to Knapsack Col
The Aussie Posse drying out tents on the way to Knapsack Col
Medic, on the snow slope just before Knapsack Col
Knapsack Col – if you enlarge this, you can see two hikers at the bottom just left off centre
Medic, Bourbon, Maps, Coach and Bugs on the way up Knapsack Col
Neil kicking steps up Knapsack Col
Medic, Bourbon and Coach on Knapsack Col
Chippie and Neil at the top of Knapsack Col
Bugs, next to Peak Lake
Neil at Cube Rock Pass
Square Top Mountain, from Green River Lake
Easier going, shortly before turning off the trail for Lava Mountain Lodge

4 Responses

  1. Rita Savage
    | Reply

    So beautiful! So, why did you part with your crampons? Of no use to me at present in our blazing summer.

    • Tanya Savage
      | Reply

      Hi Mum, I brought them to America thinking I would be hiking in boots all the way as I have done previously, in which case the semi-rigid crampons would have fitted well to semi-rigid boots. When I switched to trail shoes (flexible) I bought some micro-spikes, which are more suited to flexible shoes, and which I still have in our bounce box.

  2. Jim Bispham
    | Reply

    Once again brilliant script of this section and also pictures. The next section up to Old Faithful is also great. Permit will be required. Enjoy.

  3. Robert R Henry
    | Reply

    Wow! I don’t remember any of this scenery, but then again I was only 10 when I was there!

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