There is something very special about Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Perhaps it’s the dramatic, wildflower filled glacial valleys that sweep up to high passes. Or maybe it’s the diverse color pallet that seems to go from  over-saturated greens and blues in the low elevations to stark Ansel Adams-esque black and white tones in the alpine areas. The Winds are truly a spectacular mountain range, and one of my personal favorites. These mountains just beg to be explored, and what better way to do it than on a high route?! This post will serve as a quick guide to anyone hoping to hike the Wind River High Route. Included is info on the route, necessary maps, logistics, gear, a GPX/KML file of the route, videos from the trail, and even an FAQ answering some of the most common WRHR questions.

In late August 2017, during the total solar eclipse, 3 thru hiker friends and myself set off to hike the Wind River High Route. What follows is info from that trip and from past trips through the Wind River Range.

The Route

If you scour the internet, you’ll find quite a few Wind River High Routes available for your perusal. Though I’ve heard great things about Andrew Skurka’s route, we ultimately chose to do the Adventure Alan route for it’s ease of access and because it’s slightly shorter length meant that it would be easily doable in 6-7 days. The details of Alan’s route can be found on his website here: http://www.adventurealan.com/wind-river-high-route-guide/.

Throughout our trip, the lovely MeHap tracked our coordinates, campsites, and progress using the Gaia GPS iOS app. As a side note, this app was incredibly efficient on battery and tracked our movements quite accurately. I’m of the opinion that GPS units are a thing of the past, with a small exception for those that use GPS units as an emergency beacon. With the data gathered by Gaia, MeHap put together a GPX/KML file of our entire trip, the spots we camped at, passes/lakes/glaciers of interest, and to top it all off he separated the tracks by day.

Here’s a link to download the file:  WRHR2017   (Please remember: these tracks represent our individual route and are not a guide. Use them only for reference purposes.)

Maps

There are very few options for maps of the Wind River Range. Some are broken up into multiple parts, some are ridiculously big. This is the only one you need: http://amzn.to/2zktkdW  It covers the entire range, it’s cheap, and it is fairly compact and light.

Logistics

Time Required: 6-7 days – We took 7 days to do the ~83 mile route. Though the terrain and navigation make for slow going, this route could easily be done in 6 days (for experienced hikers.) The first half of our day one was spent hitchhiking to the trailhead, and we exited early (around noon) on day 7.

Southbound vs. Northbound: SOBO (In my opinion) – Alan’s Wind River high route lends itself rather well to a southbound (SOBO) hike in my opinion. I found that a SOBO hike had a very nice difficulty curve to it. Green Lakes Trailhead makes for a nice gradual (and gorgeous) start to the hike, easing you into the higher elevations. From here Knapsack Col will give you your first true test of elevation and endurance, while still providing a bail out point afterwards should the hike prove too difficult. Following Knapsack, the next two days ramp up in difficulty, giving you a chance to really stretch your legs and test your off-trail skills. The final days ease you back into a more comfortable pace and feel like a perfect end to a tough hike. I should say that the beauty going southbound is incredible as well. The Cirque of the Towers is an amazing place to end an already amazing hike.

When To Hike / Hiking Season: I think that late summer moving into fall is the best time to hike this route. It is certainly doable in late spring, but you’ll have to contend with plenty of leftover snow fields. Mid-Summer is certainly an option, however mosquitos can be a bit outrageous at times in the Summer Winds. Mid-Fall is beautiful too, but will usually mean very cold nights and possible snow.

Weather: The weather in the Winds can vary dramatically by hour, day, month, and year. Temperatures can swing from sub-freezing at night to nearly 80 degrees F during the day. My best advice is to research the predicted weather and temperatures for your expected hike date and prepare for temperatures a good 10-15 degrees F outside of that range. Elevation, cool valley air, and even glaciers can all affect your sleeping and hiking temperatures, making them far cooler than most weather services will predict. Just be prepared for that. As far as precipitation goes, rain and even snow can happen nearly every month in the Winds so even if it isn’t predicted, expect it. Additionally, if rain is predicted, expect far slower travel times. Navigating becomes harder in the rain, as does traversing long slippery boulder fields.

Parking/Shuttling/Trailheads: This route is bookended by two (dirt-road) accessible trailheads with free overnight parking: Green River Lakes Trailhead on the northern terminus and Big Sandy Trailhead on the southern terminus. Though the two trailheads for this hike are only around 80 miles apart, it can take from 3 to 4 hours of driving on sometimes rough dirt roads to get from one to the other. There are basically 3 options for shuttling on this hike:

1.) Take two cars and drop one off at the trailhead you’ll be hiking towards. (This would take a helluva lot of driving, both pre and post hike, so I’m not so sure I’d recommend doing this.)

2.) Arrange a shuttle with the amazing Great Outdoor Shop outfitter in Pinedale (See here: http://www.greatoutdoorshop.com/services/shuttles/) This is by far the most efficient/practical option and fairly affordable as well.

3.) Hitchhike. This is what we did and it worked quite well. Fair warning: we were hitching on the eve of the total solar eclipse, so traffic was higher than normal through this entire area. We drove to Big Sandy Trailhead, parked the car, camped nearby, and began the hitch to Green Lakes Trailhead (through Pinedale, WY) the next morning. It took us 9(!) hitches (and most of the morning) to get from the southern terminus to the northern one. Though there isn’t a lot of traffic on these back roads, many of the travelers are in trucks that are more than happy to throw you in the back of their bed. I like our method, because it puts the hitching before the hiking, making it easy to just jump in your car and head home at the end of the trail.

Videos

I made two vlog style videos documenting our trip along the WRHR you can find them below. They should give you a good idea of what type of terrain to expect and of the incredible beauty to be witnessed out there.

Wind River High Route Gear List

!!! Warning !!! I strongly recommend getting as much info as you can about current snow conditions in the Winds before you head out to do the high route. Though it can vary depending on the time of year you hike and annual snowfall for the that year, it is very likely that you’ll encounter steep snowfields, patches of ice, and places where you’ll likely want both traction and an ice axe. I was debating bringing my snow gear before the trip but was very happy to have had it. I would not have felt comfortable traversing the snow fields and ice patches we did without proper gear, and probably would have turned around, cutting the trip short. With that said, here’s the gear I brought, including an ice axe and microspikes. The temperatures I encountered in late august ranged from 20 degrees F to 80 degrees F and this gear kept me safe and comfortable throughout that range. Some items are linked to amazon, from which purchasing them will help support this blog and keep it ad free. Thanks!

Snow Gear:

  • Ice Axe – Petzl Summit Ice Axe – http://amzn.to/2gPK56Q – ( 15 oz.  / 420 g) This axe has served me well on all of my snow adventures (including sections of the CDT.)  It’s not the lightest axe around, but it is tough (hot-forged), and comfortable to use. I use a DIY leash to keep the axe within my reach at all times.
  • Traction (For Snow/Ice) – Kahtoola Micropikes – http://amzn.to/2gQueVr – ( 11.9 oz / 330 g) Microspikes are the golden standard for lightweight (not-full crampon) traction and for good reason. They are comfy and provide all the assurance I need for crossing snow and ice. There are many knockoff brands, but I’d steer clear of them due to issues breaking. These are a must have for hiking in cold/snowy/icy conditions.

Big 4:

  • Pack – Granite Gear Crown VC 60 – http://amzn.to/2xQTAZM – ( 2 lbs 2 oz. / 0.96 kg) This pack is incredible. It survived both the PCT and CDT with me and is still going strong. I use it all the time for all sorts of activities. It’s bombproof, spacious, and light enough. Check out Granite Gear’s  new updated design for 2017 here: http://amzn.to/2xOTVvX (It’s a little lighter and has hip-belt pockets!)
  • Shelter – 10′ DIY Tarp –https://youtu.be/N3Ssdps_Fhc – ( ~9 oz. / 255 g) I’ve been using this home made tarp since the PCT and it has been the absolute perfect shelter for me. It’s super light, has always kept me dry, and compresses down to the size of a softball. Make your own by following my youtube video linked above. Check out more details on the tarp here: https://youtu.be/LkrndgKDF-o
  • Sleeping Pad – Thermarest Neoair Xlite Sleeping Pad (Regular) – http://amzn.to/2yoMvnw – ( 12 oz. / 340 g) This is 100% the best sleeping pad available right now. It’s superlight, comfortable, and surprisingly durable (Mine lasted through two thru hikes and is still going.)
  • Sleeping Bag – DIY 10 Degree F Quilt –https://youtu.be/_KnfpfrSm7g – ( 21.2 oz. / 601 g) I’ve never been cold in this quilt. Better yet, It’s super comfy and lightweight. If you haven’t considered using a quilt instead of a sleeping bag, check out this video: https://youtu.be/P6hX0FmI8vU.

Food/Kitchen:

  • Food Bag – Granite Gear 16L Air Zipsack – http://amzn.to/2zeypob – ( 1.7 oz / 48g) I’ve tried many ways of packing my food in the backcountry and this is by far the best choice I’ve found. It’s lightweight and provides easy access to all of your food. I always hated having to dig down through my dry bag, blindly fumbling for my snack of choice. This bag has a huge top zipper that makes it easy to load and locate any food you’re looking for.
  • Pot – Evernew Titanium 500ml Mug Pot – http://amzn.to/2xTdpQo – ( 2.6 oz. / 73.7 g) Pretty much the lightest pot on the market and just big enough for any one person meal. Holds a 100g fuel canister and stove inside itself for maximum compactness.
  • Stove – BRS Titanium Ultralight Stove – http://amzn.to/2zdCzwp – (1 oz. / 25 g) Insanely light, and stupid cheap. This stove defies the idea that UL gear has to be expensive.
  • Spoon – Optimus Titanium Long Handled Spoon – http://amzn.to/2xSNwA2 – (0.7 oz. / 20 g) So shiny… So smooth… Long too.

Clothing:

  • Insulation – Montbell Superior Down Jacket – https://www.montbell.us/products/disp.php?cat_id=25010&p_id=2301237&gen_cd=1 – ( 9 oz / 246 g) This isn’t the lightest down jacket on the market, but it is a little warmer than the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer I usually pack. Overall it’s a great jacket with generous coverage and a comfy hood. I like it, though most days I still end up grabbing the Ghost Whisperer for my jacket of choice.
  • Rain Jacket – Outdoor Research Helium ii Jacket – http://amzn.to/2y6LXyy – It’s cut is a bit tight and high, but it’s weight and durability is hard to beat. It lasted for 2+ thru hikes for me. Other jackets (I’m looking at you Marmot) tend to delaminate and wet-out while this jacket stands strong. I just wish they’d add a little more tail to this jacket.
  • Beanie – BlackRock Gear Original Down Beanie – https://www.blackrockgear.com/hats – ( 0.95 oz / 27 g) This down beanie has become my go to backpacking hat. It’s super warm, incredibly light, and comfy. It also makes the perfect warm head topper/hood for quilt users.
  • Long John Top – Patagonia Thermal Weight Zip Neck – http://amzn.to/2l0tPEj – Patagonia thermal weight Capilene is simply the best base layer material around. It is light, warm, and unbeatably comfortable (and infinitely more durable than any wool base layers I’ve tried.) I love my grey long-john-space-suit and look forward to putting on every night on trail. The thermal weight option from Patagonia is actually lighter than their mid-weight option, but at the cost of losing a little wind resistance. In super windy conditions, you’ll be wanting some extra wind resistance, but keep in mind this is a base layer.
  • Long John Bottom – Patagonia Thermal Weight Bottoms – http://bit.ly/2zyE31Y – See above.
  • Hiking Shorts – Outdoor Research Ferrosi Shorts – http://amzn.to/2zawilf – These are breathable, light, and comfy. I normally choose running shorts for my hikes, but the pockets on these convinced me to take them on trail. They’re more than light enough to use for backpacking in my opinion.
  • Hiking Shirt – Columbia Silver Ridge Plaid Longsleeve – http://amzn.to/2z7Gucg – This has been my hiking shirt of choice for some time. It has a looser fit than most shirt, and provides a breathable comfort with the option for short or long sleeves. Best of all, this shirt allows me to skip the sunscreen by providing coverage for my arms and a pop up collar to protect my neck.
  • Underwear – Saxx Quest 2.0 Boxer Brief – http://amzn.to/2iVgeO3 – These boxer briefs have become my go to underwear for every day and any activity. They have a unique baffle system that helps contain everything, are lightweight and breathable, and great at avoiding stink. I’ve yet to give them a serious long distance hike, but my initial testing tells me that they’ll do well. These are definitely a step up in comfort from the old Exofficio boxers I was using.

Other:

  • Ground Sheet– Polycryo Ground Sheet – http://amzn.to/2zluFB2 – Polycryo makes for an excellent ground sheet. It’s very lightweight, pretty durable, and 100% waterproof (unlike tyvek.) The linked window/door kit here will make 2 groundsheets for much cheaper than you’ll find them anywhere else. The only downside to polycryo is that cuts can spread rapidly, so make sure to patch your cuts and holes with duct tape.
  • Pillow – Klymit Pillow X – http://amzn.to/2y595xe – This pillow is alright, but I’m still on the hunt for the perfect backpacking pillow. I like that it has room for my ear to not be squished.
  • Pack Cover – Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Cover – http://amzn.to/2y766Vl – It works and it’s durable.
  • Trowel – Tentlab Deuce of Spades – http://amzn.to/2zinfg1 – (0.6 oz. / 17 g) Yes, I carry a trowel… I found that I just couldn’t dig good enough LNT cat-holes without one and this one is worth it’s (very minimal) weight.
  • Water Fiter – Sawyer Squeeze – http://amzn.to/2y7jyZm – It’s the best, bar none. Don’t get the mini, it clogs too easily.
  • Head Lamp – Black Diamond Iota Rechargeable Headlamp – http://amzn.to/2zo2sYF – ( 1.9 oz. / 54 g) This headlamp is lightweight, USB rechargeable, and bright enough to night hike by. It could be a perfect UL headlamp, if only it had a red light mode.

Wind River High Route FAQ

Leave me your pressing questions in the comments and I’ll answer them here for everyone to see!

    • Q: Should I bring bear spray? – I’ll list the facts out on this one. Out of the 4 of us on the trip, 3 brought bear spray. I did not. We saw no bears, nor did we see any signs of bears. They most certainly exist in the area.
    • Q: How do you store your food / Is a bear canister necessary? – Once again, I’ll lay some facts out. None of us carried bear canisters, one of us had an Ursack Ursa Major (Bear proof sack.) A bear canister is not required, though securing your food away from bears is recommended. Most nights you will have no way to hang a bear bag. All of us “attended” our food nightly by sleeping with it. No issues were had and none of encountered any critters.
    • Q: Are there places to dig catholes for poop? – Surprisingly, yes! Though there are many long boulder field traverses along the route, you’ll generally be able to find a spot to dig a LNT compatible cathole within an hour of hiking. This is especially true, when you are not on the high passes. Here are the details on digging an LNT cathole: https://lnt.org/learn/principle-3
    • Q: Is there a guidebook to hiking the WRHR? – While there is not a singular book devoted to hiking “The Wind River High Route” there is a phenomenal book that cover hiking off trail routes through the Winds. It is chocked full of great info and ideas for hiking high routes in the Winds. I’d highly recommend it! You can find it here: http://amzn.to/2zoRTGD

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