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  1. #1

    Default Wind River High Route- Skurka Version - Part 1

    Hi all,
    For an overview of what this route is about see Andrew Skurkaís website:
    https://andrewskurka.com/adventures/...er-high-route/


    I bought his guide and studied it religiously for several months in preparation for this trip.


    In brief, the WRHR is listed as 97 miles with 65 miles off-trail and over 30,000 feet of vertical climbing. (the general idea of a High Route is to keep the highest line of travel through a given range without requiring technical climbing)


    If you know me skip this next part, but I want to give some background for those that might use this report for planning purposes as I used others reports.


    My background/ trekking resume:
    Iím 46 years old, and an avid backpacker; Iíve done over 8000 miles of backpacking in the last decade. I work full time but go out almost every weekend (44 trips last year out of 52 weeks). For the last 6 years, Iíve averaged about 1000 miles of backpacking per year. The majority of my experience is on-trail but over the last few years Iíve been doing solo off-trail trips in the Southern Appalachians. These types of trips often involve following old, overgrown, and faded routes (known as ďmanwaysĒ locally) or using creeks as hand rails and hiking in the creek while climbing falls and cascades, or bush-whacking through heinous rhododendron (my least favorite).

    I live in East Tennessee and so the southern apps are my goto, but I usually go out to the western US about once a year to backpack in some new area or mountain range. Here are some of the places Iíve trekked: Sierra out of Mineral King, Grand Canyon (Rim to Rim to Rim), Grand Teton National Park , Four Passes Loop in the Elk Mountains of Colorado (Maroon Bells), Glacier National Park Montana, Weminiche Wilderness , CO .

    If you want to peruse for more here are about 100 trip reports on Trailspace.com (the older ones have broken picture links). I bagged my first western peak about 6 years ago in the Sierra (Sawtooth Peak 12,343) and have since done five fourteeners in CO: Snowmass, Sunlight, Windom, Eolus, North Eolus. Iíve done occasional class 4 moves but never with a full pack. Iím not a rock climber or mountaineer.


    As far as navigational skills, Iíve done years of terrain association with topo maps, Iím proficient with dead reckoning (determining distance based on rate and speed), and Iíve done quite a bit of route-finding in my home terrain. I know compass basics as far as transferring bearings from the map to the field and vice versa as well as how to triangulate but have not used these skills extensively. I did quite a bit of practicing for this trip though.


    Prologue:
    I partnered with an experienced backpacker that I had never met: trail name Notbad (Jerry). He had a pulled a 70 mile loop in the Winds with another group led by hiker Dune Elliott, took one day off, then met me in Lander for our High Route; super tough guy! Many thanks to Dune for providing a shuttle for us between trailheads.
    At the last minute a cold front blew in from Canada and the local towns were abuzz with news that we could be hit with 4-8 inches of snow above 9000 feet (99% of our route was above that). This forecast caused us to load up with extra insulation that we had not originally planned to carry. Oh well, better to be prepared. Spoiler: the weather was perfect, never even got below freezing, I did not use my extra base layers and only even put on my puffy a few times.


    Data notes:
    I tracked this trip with a Suunto Ambit Peak 3 GPS watch and came up with some variance from Skurkaís data. I can only account for some of the variance through two alternate sections but Iíll just list what I have while knowing it may not be 100% accurate. I show we finished with 115.28 miles, 33817 feet of ascension and 32008 feet of descent.


    Day 1 August 28th
    Middle Fork Trailhead at Bruce Bridge in Sinks Canyon Wyoming to Deep Creek lakes / Iceberg Trail junction.
    15.42 miles
    Ascent: 4032 feet
    Descent: 627 feet


    Thatís me on the left. Yeah, Notbad (Jerry) is 6í4 and Iím 5í7. Mutt and Jeff with backpacks.


    We found the nice protected camps in the Krumholtz about over 10,000 feet in elevation per our guide. Jerry has the Duplex and Iím using a Tarptent Stratospire.


    Sunset over Deep Creek lake and the cirque silhouette.



    Day 2 August 29th
    Deep Creek camp to Tayo lake near the Coon Lake junction after summit, West Gulley descent, summit again, and then dscent off the south side of Wind River Peak.
    6.71 miles
    Ascent: 4787
    Descent: 4245


    Here, weíre starting up the east side of Chimney Rock after leaving the trail behind for the first time. I took great joy in shooting our first compass bearing to follow as we ambled up the broad mountain slope.



    This is me on the summit of Wind River Peak at over 13,000 feet! What an incredible view and feeling to hit the first one!


    This is where things turned a bit in our execution. I only made a couple of navigation errors but this was a good one. In my rush of adrenaline I had trouble associating the terrain properly and led us down the West Gully too low too soon and right to this icy cliff with ball bearing rocks underneath. It was a scary moment and a total spazz out on my part. (the guide even lists that you wonít miss this traverse because cliffs will force you over, but, um, I did). Knowing this was one of the routes hardest features we decided that maybe we should use the Coon Lake alternate instead. I did stop to map check and realized that we should have traversed to the west more before heading down but didnít realize how far down we had dropped (maybe 1500 feet) . It was exhausting to climb all the way back up to the summit then tackle the impossibly long traverse down the south side of Wind River Peak. By the time we got near the junction of Tayo Lake and Coon Lake trails we were whipped and found an off-trail camp on a little knoll near a waterfall.



    Day 3 August 30th
    Tayo/Coon junction to Cirque of the Towers via Temple Pass
    14.68 miles
    Ascent: 4350
    Descent: 4495
    The route finding from Coon lake down to Little Sandy creek was a blast and we had a good time figuring it out. My second last real navigational error was here also: I could not find the trail up to Temple Pass. I saw some natural ramps on the right and even said out loud ďif I were a trail I would go up that wayĒ but didnít trust my gut enough to investigate closely. Instead, we wound up shooting straight up the mountain on unstable talus, but luckily stepped right on the trail near the top. We could see the trail from up there and my gut was right. Live and learn.


    This is me mugging on Temple Pass (which was awesome!).


    Jackass Pass above the Cirque of the Towers
    We had a nice night camped below Lonesome Lake (legally more than .25 miles away).



    Day 4 August 31st
    Cirque of the Towers to near Raid Peak Pass
    12.26 miles
    Ascent: 2936
    Descent: 2448
    We had decided to go over Texas Pass instead of the primary routes New York pass, not to avoid the feature but because Texas Pass had sentimental value to Jerry. A friend of his had camped at Texas Pass and shown him the photo some years before and thatís what had captured his imagination and drew his attention to the Wind Rivers in the first place.


    Pingora Peak as seen from the grassy area just below Texas Pass


    Dudes mugging at the actual pass.


    One of my favorite sections was the off-trail traverse of the East Fork river up towards Mount Bonneville and Raid Peak. It has such a great vibe to it. This picture is looking downstream towards the back of the cirque. Fantastic!


    Good tent spots were at a premium up there (see them in the lower left?); we found this cool sandy pit about a mile or so below Raid Peak Pass. Yeah, rain would have puddled us but we thought it worth the risk.



    Day 5 September 1st (though really, every day was ďlabor dayĒ on this trip)
    Below Raid Peak to South Fork Bull Lake Creek on the Res
    I had issues with hitting the pause button on my watch this day so the data is skewed a bit. I only tracked 6 miles but Iím sure it was closer to 11. I also sure there was more elevation gain than what is listed.
    **11 miles
    Ascent: 1916
    Descent: 2028


    This pic of Jerry may be my favorite from the trip. By the way, he did this 10 day trip with a 38 liter pack!??


    Sentry Peak pass: I really liked the quick hitting combo of Raid Peak Pass, Bonneville Pass and Sentry Peak pass; super cool!


    We chose to spike-up and walk the snow field down from Sentry Peak.


    Here is Jerry getting his form just right for the descent. J


    And me with our route behind me as seen from Photo Pass.


    And finally, our camp on the Res (by permit) which was thick with elk and trout. We heard the elk bugling and one almost walked right into camp but I accidently scared it away while returning from the creek. The trout were so thick in one part of the creek you could have scooped them up with a net. I was too exhausted to fish sadly.

  2. #2

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    Awesome report Pat. And you're totally welcome about the shuttling. We were just discussing in another thread how notbad aka Jerry managed to fit all his gear and extra stuff for 10 days into the Burn...that is almost as extraordinary as the WRHR!!!

    And love the pictures...I only saw a phone since Jerry's phone died and then couldn't find the camera.

  3. #3

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    *Only saw a few, not phone...

  4. #4
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    Great trip report with the pics Patman. Just like the Citico Crk Wilderness, hey?

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    Ohh that nut buster trail.

  6. #6

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    Part 2 Added to this post

    Day 6 September 2nd.

    South Fork Bull Lake Creek to Golden Lakes

    11.2 miles
    Ascent: 3323 feet
    Descent: 3422 feet


    This day was something.

    One of the harder navigational exercises was finding a tarn through a dense forest; I relied on the GPS app more than I wanted, but hey I did bring it. Then we got climb Europe Peak which was really neat.


    Here is Jerry about to scramble over the knife edge to Europe Peak, our mid-route summit.


    A dual summit pose for posterity.


    I love this pic of Jerry but his wife may not.:0


    Approaching Golden lakes from the Divide.


    My camp at Golden Lakes. I cast my line four or fives times here but was just too whipped to fish still. This route was brutal.


    Day 7 September 3rd

    Golden Lakes to North Fork Camps
    10.08 miles

    Descent: 3963

    Ascent: 3287

    This was a big brutal day. Alpine Lakes was tough and beautiful.

    Douglas Peak Pass looks undoable (our route is the shadowed wall on the right) but it’s actually a really great route; the distance throws you off. It was a simple walk-up. The other side was much more crappacious though.


    Me, posing at the top of Douglas Peak pass.


    Look at the thickness of that ice…wild!


    Infinity pool!


    At the top of Alpine Lakes pass we met the only other Skurka Route Guy on the whole trip. I did not get his name, sorry man!


    Day 8 September 4th
    North Fork camps to Gannett Creek

    The next morning I waited for the sun to hit my tent. What a spot!


    An early view of our next pass: Blaurock! The monster. (the dip on the right)


    Just wow


    And wow some more.


    Groups of big horn sheep kept us well entertained on the long grind up Blaurock Pass. It helped a lot.


    Here I’m posing at Blaurock with Gannett Peaks broad snowy top visible over my shoulder.


    Here is Jerry on the Gannett Glacier after our exhausting ascent of West Sentinel.


    Check out our desperation camp at Gannet Creek. It was lower than a spot annotated on our map but worked fine.


    Day 9 September 5th
    Gannett Creek to Downs Mountain northern base
    9.39 miles

    Ascent: 3684

    Descent: 2533


    Getting close to the Grasshopper Glacier


    Mmmm, glacial melt water!


    Infinity and beyond!


    Or just beyond…..


    Happy me!


    We kept joking about the Alan Dixon route and how he seems to be reclining in many of his photos. This was Jerry’s Alan Dixon impersonation.


    Our final Summit Pose: Downs Mountain!


    View from Downs


    Day 10 September 6th
    Dows Base to Glacier Trailhead, done!
    13.88 Miles
    Ascent: 646
    Descent: 5203

    The long walk out across Goat Flats, looking back from whence we came.


    And finally we hit more mellow tundra as we rejoined a trail for the first time in many miles.
    If you read all this, God Bless You!
    And good luck with your planning. O:

    Like others have written, you just cannot overstate the difficulty of this route. Words fall short of the beauty, the remoteness, and also the pure, total, exhaustion. I’ve done a lot of backpacking in a lot of places in my lifetime but this was the hardest and the most incredible route I’ve ever done.

    I feel like thanks are in order, lol:

    Thanks to Andrew Skurka for publishing this route and guide

    Thanks to my tough-as-they come partner Jerry for suffering it with me!
    And thanks to my wife for holding down the home-front while I disappeared for two weeks!

    Happy Trails!



    Full raw pics here: https://patricktn.smugmug.com/2018/August-28-Sept-6-Wind-River-High-Route/i-QzSMrCQ

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    Registered User JPritch's Avatar
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    Incredible report, thanks for sharing!
    While searching for that unknown edge in life, never forget to look home. For the greatest edge you can find in life is to stand in the protective shadow of those who love you.

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    I take it you didn't have any wildlife encounters? I really want to do WRHR one day, but the whole grizzy thing, I've spent just as much time researching grizzly defense as I have doing initial planning for the hike itself.
    While searching for that unknown edge in life, never forget to look home. For the greatest edge you can find in life is to stand in the protective shadow of those who love you.

  9. #9

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    We saw Elk, Marmot, Pika, a bird of prey get fish twice from a lake, but no bears and no bear sign. we never camped below 10,500 feet

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by JPritch View Post
    I take it you didn't have any wildlife encounters? I really want to do WRHR one day, but the whole grizzy thing, I've spent just as much time researching grizzly defense as I have doing initial planning for the hike itself.
    We had no bear encounters in the Winds the two times we went (this year and last year). Notbad was on both trips.

    I don't hike alone in griz country which is why the two Winds trips were group trips...although I did end up hiking half a day alone, but it was the busiest route into the wilderness...Elk Hart Park to Titcomb Basin.

    While the Winds do have some grizzlies they are only just starting to move into the area and mostly boars right now. It is highly unlikely you will see one...black bears are much more common and we encountered a group of six who did see a momma and cub BB.

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    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    I was along on the first trip Dune Elliott mentioned.
    I didnít see any bears.
    What I did see, and the closest Iíve ever come to serious bodily harm in the woods, at 3:27 am was a galloping adult moose cow about 5 feet from my sleeping bag. I donít know why, but thankfully put my sleeping bag next to a row of mature pine trees.
    Watch out for moose.
    Wayne

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    I was along on the first trip Dune Elliott mentioned.
    I didn’t see any bears.
    What I did see, and the closest I’ve ever come to serious bodily harm in the woods, at 3:27 am was a galloping adult moose cow about 5 feet from my sleeping bag. I don’t know why, but thankfully put my sleeping bag next to a row of mature pine trees.
    Watch out for moose.
    Wayne
    I'd rather face a black bear on the trail than a moose

  13. #13
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    My point exactly.
    700-800-900 pounds. As fast, or faster, than a horse.
    A few years ago I read that moose kill more people in Alaska than bears.
    Donít mess with the moose!
    Wayne

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    Fantastic, great write up and phenomenal pictures. Talk about “nut buster” trails, how bout “nut buster” days/weeks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    My point exactly.
    700-800-900 pounds. As fast, or faster, than a horse.
    A few years ago I read that moose kill more people in Alaska than bears.
    Don’t mess with the moose!
    Wayne
    True, true on moose, no fear at all of humans. While fly fishing upper Colorado stumbled on a set of twins hidden behind a willow. All hell broke loose

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    Nut buster it was Hosh! Loved almost every minute! I was lucky enough to have spent 17 days out in the winds over two trips... The pics are great! Not only is Pat a master navigator but he did a real nice job of recording the trip too!

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    JPritch....Excellent place! You should go! I’d be more worried about hitting the stairclimber than learning to fight bears before you go!

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    Impressive amount of residual snow, hiking on sloped snow fields adds a different dimension. Looks like youse had good eyewear and skin protection. Folks not familiar with high altitudes can get severely sunburned in a short time

  19. #19

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    Beyond gorgeous. Congrats on completing this route.

  20. #20

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    Epic trip, Patman!! What pack did you use this time?

    How did the TarpTent work out?

    Obviously you guys didn't have to carry bear canisters??? Could you have gotten by without the microspikes?? (The slopes never look as steep in pics as they really are!)

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