*I initially wrote this as a trip report for our shop’s blog:www.greatoutdoorshop.wordpress.com.*
Every June, Josh and I get to do at least one hike without Sierra while she visits her grandparents in Nebraska. We try to shake it up a bit and explore new areas of the Winds, or at least link up areas that we think would make for a great trip. This year we decided to head south and play on both sides of the Continental Divide, because, well…why wouldn’t we? Right? The tentative itinerary would take us from the Big Sandy Trailhead, over Hailey Pass, with a loop around over Washakie Pass and back out again. Both Hailey Pass and Washakie Pass have USFS maintained trails that cross over the Continental Divide, but as it was only June we figured they’d still be covered with snow. So, we packed up ice axes and bug spray (only in Wyoming, right?) and hit the trail.
The bugs were bad. June can be hit or miss for the mosquitos, but this year they were definitely very…uh…friendly. They were hovering around the car before we even got out of the car, which is almost creepy in a really bad sci-fi/horror movie kind of way. After the worst trip of our born days about 10 years ago, Josh and I have gained some intelligence in blood-sucking-insect-devil preparedness, so luckily the mosquitos didn’t deter us from our trip. We arrived at the trailhead after work, so it was right around 8 pm when we started hiking. Due to our late start, we figured we’d hike in to Dad’s Lake (just over 5 miles) and set up camp for the night.
As you can see, Dad’s Lake is a super ugly place to set up camp. Especially at dusk. You should probably avoid it completely. Of course, this is sarcasm at its finest, and Dad’s Lake is beautiful. In perfect Wind River Range form, we didn’t see another soul around. We could hear a marmot chirping in the distance, but we made sure to hang our food well away from camp and certainly out of the reach of varmints big and small. Be safe and smart with food out there, folks!
The next morning we woke up early because that same blasted marmot was chirping his fat heart out at the earliest arrival of dawn, so we packed up, ate some oatmeal and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the world waking up around us. Dad’s Lake is also ugly in the daylight, just so you know.
It’s a real short jaunt through the meadows to Marm’s Lake, which is just as stunning as Dad’s Lake, if not more so. Here we actually witnessed a tent, presumably inhabited by folks who didn’t have a friendly neighborhood marmot serenading the sun.
After Marm’s Lake, you enter a little uphill gulley that follows alongside a stream drainage from Washakie Park. When you actually crest the hill it is a beautiful thing; partly because you are done climbing the hill, but partly because those mountain views just motivate you to keep on going. By this point we have completely abandoned the bugs, which was another beautiful thing, I assure you.
After the rolling terrain of Washakie Park you cross Washakie Creek on the Pyramid Lake Trail. This is looking toward the East. You’ll notice the Cirque tips in the distance. The backside view of the Cirque of the Towers as visible from Shadow Lake is, of course, way better than it is here, but Shadow Lake is thataway and that’ll have to be another post. Side note: this water is direct melt-off from the snow and glaciers and it felt like it.
As we made it to Skull Lake, we met up with the only folks we actually saw during our entire hike. The Wind Rivers can be a lonely place for people unused to solitude, and they were very happy to see our friendly faces and have a conversation about how isolated our mountains are. As they chatted us up they also offered to take some photos of us. We (eventually) continued on toward May’s Lake and the Hailey Pass Junction.
P.S. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry; you’re not the first to covet The Hat, nor will you be the last. The Hat has been with me for years, for miles, and for memories. I will never let it go.
Hailey Pass is an incredible trail. Weaving in and out of pine trees, it teases you with high peak views on all sides, and rapidly ascends to a boulder field above tree line. We had to stop and put on our gaiters when the snow got too deep, and decided to have lunch and soak up uninterrupted views of the snow-tipped peaks surrounding us.
From just below treeline we were in consistent snow for the rest of the day. Luckily, it had set up beautifully so we weren’t post-holing at all. The Twin Lakes on the upper sections of Hailey Pass were both still almost completely frozen. The elevation of Hailey Pass is around 11,200 feet.
Coming up around the Twin Lakes you find yourself dwarfed by the looming shape of Mount Hooker. Mount Hooker’s nearly 2,000 foot north face is the longest continuous vertical face in Wyoming and one of the longest in the Rockies. It has a plateau-style summit that spans nearly 100 acres. It is a big mountain.
The descent on the backside of the Divide was one big snowy glissade fest. We did not use our ice axes, as the snow was in top condition.
The trail got marshy as we dropped down into a basin on the backside of Hailey Pass. Luckily, there was still enough snow around to make it cool enough to deter mosquitos. I shudder to think what this area would have been like if it were 10 degrees warmer and all of the snow had freshly melted into millions of little mosquito farms. By this point we had also realized that we were the first folks on Hailey Pass for the season as we had not encountered signs of any other travelers. Our boot prints were lonely in the snow.
The valley that leads to Grave Lake is gorgeous. The trail flirts with alpine meadows full of scrubby tundra and pine tree-lined stream-beds that drop off to roaring waterfalls. Whoever first said “Never look back” was obviously not a hiker, because the views looking back at Mount Hooker were amazing.
Generally speaking, Wyoming is not beach country. Our lakes are pristine and some of them are huge, but no one would really speak of beaches and Wyoming in the same sentence, unless they were saying something like, “There are no beaches in Wyoming.” Well, naysayers, you would be incorrect. Wyoming has beaches. You just have to make it to them. If it were not snowy, frigid, and mid-June, we would have paused to soak up the sun (if there had been sun) at the incredible beach on the banks of Grave Lake. Tough to beat the views, that’s for sure, so we paused for a bit anyway.
We made camp near the outlet of Grave Lake. It was only a 10 mile day so we made camp comfortably early and did some fishing in the outlet of the lake before settling in for the night. We laid out the map in the tent and made a tentative route for the following day. Unsure of the snow conditions, we decided to try for Washakie Pass, knowing that if it was still snowed in we would have to backtrack for several miles and take the Bear’s Ears Trail into the Cirque instead. With the knowledge of a potentially LONG day ahead of us we turned in early.
The next morning after breakfast we did some more fishing. Josh had packed in his Tenkara rod and couldn’t resist wetting the line for a bit. After all, the Wind River Range boasts some of the best backcountry fishing in the country. He was well rewarded with several cutthroat trout. As always, we set them back loose.
From Grave Lake, we were immersed once again in a pine tree forest and we began to wind quickly downhill on the Bear’s Ears Trail. When we made it to the incredible Ranger Park we startled a herd of elk. The whole scene was so picturesque it was almost unbearable. Ranger Park has become one of my all-time favorite areas in the Winds. Payson Peak juts out into the meadow and makes for some incredible photos.
The Washakie Pass Trail rolls upward through trees and Washakie Lake almost coincides with tree line. The bowl that is formed by Payson Peak , Mount Washakie and some other unnamed, but by no means insignificant, peaks holds a lot of water. Washakie Lake is huge, but Macon Lake and Pass Lake are also incredible.
Washakie Pass, like Hailey Pass, is a USFS maintained trail. However, since it was June, the trail itself was still covered in snow. Luckily, we are not totally lacking in the brain department, and the route, like all mountain passes, was readily apparent.
Since the pass itself was still completely snow-covered, we did some short test runs on the base to test it out. The snow was soft enough to kick in steps, but still firm enough to hold us so we decided to go for it without grabbing our ice axes off of our packs. It was a short jaunt to the top, and we were rewarded with more stunning scenery from the backside of the pass.
The western side of Washakie Pass is a long haul of gently sloping terrain. I think that going up the Western side would be miserable because I hate long, low-elevation gain slogs. Give me a short, hard route to the top over a drawn-out elevation gain any day. However, the views all around are spectacular any way you slice it. If you aren’t already acclimated you may prefer going over the pass in this direction rather than the route we took.
We decided to make our way back toward Dad’s Lake to camp again. The descent is pretty quick and we found ourselves at the Washakie Creek crossing earlier than anticipated. We were both out of water so while we filled up, Josh decided to grab his Tenkara rod and see if he could catch anything. Washakie Creek doesn’t hold big fish, but there are a number of little brook trout to be caught. He caught about 10 in as many minutes and as many casts.
As we approached Dad’s Lake the mosquitos picked back up, much to our dismay. Headnets don’t really make a strong fashion statement, but they sure can make a trip a little less insane this time of year. Folks should just always have one with them in June, July, and August. It’s kind of like bear spray: you should take it but hope you don’t have to use it.
We spent the night trying unsuccessfully to swim in the just-thawed-yesterday frigid waters of Dad’s Lake (remember that comment earlier about not lacking in the brains department?), eating a hot meal, and crashing for the night. While the days were not long in miles, they were big in elevation gains and losses, and the content exhaustion that settles makes for a darn good night’s sleep.
The next day was spent in perfect bliss: Josh fished Dad’s Lake to great success and I read a good book on the shore. We hiked out without incident and grilled up big, juicy burgers when we got home. Another successful trip under our belts, we always, always, always look forward to the next one.