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Published: August 8th 2008
clench your buttocks, its gonna be a bumpy ride...
Climber/Author Mark Twight asserts in his book “Extreme Alpinism” that suffering may be a by-product in many aspects of climbing and indeed recreation in general but in alpinism it is the goal in itself. I would not agree on hundred percent with this statement but then again who the hell am I and what the hell do I know. On the other hand I like this idea in that it validates the time we just spent in the Wind River Range as a raging success…
Sunday saw us throwing our worldly possessions into the back of my Civic, not knowing or caring to arrange them for our backpacking excursion that was soon to follow. We headed out of Lander to find the trail head at Big Sandy in the Bridger National Forest, which would ultimately deposit us smack in the middle of God’s country, aka the Winds. If you have ever driven down a dirt road in a vehicle which very clearly was NOT designed for unmaintained byways then you will understand this initial lament of mine. We turned off of highway 28 west onto a dirt road which we knew we had to follow for 25 miles and change.
At first it wasn’t so bad…the initial stretches were wild and rugged and not altogether intolerable. After about 10 miles, when you have been lured in far enough that retreat seems as bleak as continuing on, it starts. By ‘it’ I mean bone jarring sections of poorly maintained road that will have you counting to be sure you still have all the teeth in your head before it’s done.
After negotiating the way in, we arrived at Big Sandy only to find every outdoorsman and everyone who has seen the Eddie Bauer catalog and can afford to hire mule trains to carry their espresso machines and Starbucks lattes into the wilderness occupying what was to be the site of our adventure in the wild. This filled us both with a sense of dismay but we decided that there had to still be room in there for two more, so we payed our cover fee and went on in.
As we loaded up our packs and enjoyed the last comforts of civilization (outhouse) I admonished Stef about the hardships of backpacking and Alpine climbing. I even delivered the quote with which I opened this blog, hoping to prepare her
all packed and ready to go- bitching will commence in t-minus 30
for the hard times that I knew would follow. I have done enough backpacking on the Appalachian Trail and Adirondacks to know somewhat of the suffering of those who would venture off the beaten path for days at a clip. Our packs weighed in at about 70 and 45 lbs respectively and before we had hiked out of the parking lot onto the trail I was cursing my admonitions and having serious misgivings as to my own ability to make the 7.5 mile hike into the mountains.
Ordinarily, a pack filled with gear and provisions for 4-5 days should only be about 50 lbs (give or take) and with two people splitting the load, a reasonable balance can be struck. Climbing gear, however weighs a good bit, and after all the mountains would not come to us so we had to go to them.
Bitching and moaning all the way, we made it to Big Sandy Lake (about 5.5 miles) at the end of our first day- which to be fair, had gotten a late start. We set up a hasty camp and hoped that the morning would not leave us too crippled up with stiffness to proceed.
Big Sandy Lake
Hike in day two.
By a narrow margin, we were able to shoulder our packs the next morning- which were two servings of Ramen lighter from the previous nights repast. And yes, you start counting that kind of thing. You also start talking to yourself and hearing songs play over and over in your head at random with no control or reasoning behind them. Stef had “Boys of Summer” by the Eagles stuck in her head. I got stuck with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Alvin and the Chipmunks. Truth is stranger than fiction and I clearly got the shit end of that stick, I’m afraid.
Just before we began our second day of hiking in, we went down to Big Sandy Lake to get water and we got a much better look at what the previous nights dusk had been hiding. Any number of superlatives can be used to describe the sheer aesthetics of the mountains shown in photos; no matter their beauty or artistic value they inherently fail to convey the energy of the mountains. In my mind it is nothing short of magic. It is so unreal based on everything you have known and yet there it is. You
Descending into alpine meadow after leaving Big Sandy
Thanks for the christmas present Christie, actually many of my christmas present were put to good use this week. Especially the water filter from Kizzie.
can’t tip your head back to take a drink of water without the skyline catching your eye and distracting you just long enough to pour filtered lake water up your nose. Or maybe you can. I sure couldn’t.
As we hiked on the pain seemed dulled and the weariness lifted like sun breaking through the morning haze. We plodded on, only now with the expectation of it all being really worth it. There is a price to pay for beauty,freedom and energy like one can experience only in the wild, only relying on your selves for your most basic needs. Freedom is anything but free and going off the beaten path is anything but a vacation- but there follows rewards which can only be obtained through that initial suffering.
We hiked around the south shores of Big Sandy and several stream crossings later found ourselves on the other side of a lovely alpine meadow which put us at the last leg of the hike, uphill to Clear Lake where we ultimately made our base camp under the looming shadow of Haystack Mountain. I would like to parenthetically note at this time that the names of these areas do
not adequately convey their power and serenity. Nearby,the far more popular Cirque of the Towers boasts peaks named “Warrior”, “Warbonnet”, “Wolf’s Head” and “Pingora” which means ‘the unclimbable one’ in the Shoshone dialect. We camped in the Deep Lake region, just south of the Cirque- monosyllabic names which only reflect a puritan simplicity and peasantry. On the other hand, the Cirque sees climbers, hikers and fishermen stacked one on top of the other while the twin lakes (Deep Lake/Clear Lake) are pleasantly uncrowded.
We set up camp just a few hundred yards away from the stream which connected the two lakes and I can honestly say that in terms of primitive camping, it was one of the nicest spots I’ve ever been in. It still couldn’t beat our spot at French Creek RV Park but with awesome food, great friends and all the amenities one needs, FC was hardly primitive.
What makes a good campsite? Ok, there is the obvious: scenery, proximity to water, etc…but when you have to hang a bear bag (suspending odorous items from a tree branch) to keep the critters- both large and small away from your food, it is possible all too often
hamming it up on the boulder at our campsite. You get a nice profile of the north tower of haystack just behind the model...
to find that your seemingly perfect spot is devoid of trees that suit this purpose. Our site had a perfect tree for hanging a bear bag, and it was close enough to a waterfall that doing dishes was a simple matter of leaving them in the falls weighted down with a rock, and then returning later to sterilize and dry them.
We explored only a little that first day since it was 2pm by the time we had set up camp. Not much else happened other than a lot of eating and sleeping. About 2 am that night I woke up to check my email and without my glasses outside the tent, I saw the stars in a whole new way. They were not OUT there-- they were RIGHT there. Ironic how many visual feasts we drown out in our attempts to see things better.
The following morning we decided to explore a little and see if we could do a 4th class peak called East Temple peak- one which did not require technical climbing and its requisite protection. The weather was wonderful and although the altitude proved to be a bit too much when combined with miles
of hiking, we got far enough to see some marmots and some residual snowpack.
Wednesday I suggested that we try climbing Haystack Mt since Stef’s ankle was feeling limber and we were quite recovered from the altitude. Since our arrival, I could not help constantly looking up at Haystack, wondering if we were up to the challenge. After all, this was a first in terms of leading in the mountains and a 1200’ wall is…well pretty big when you're standing below it. Our route however did not take us straight up the face—and in retrospect, it was perfectly suited to our experience level and comfort—if not a bit beneath what we were capable of. The imposing North Tower of Haystack sports two routes which run from the top of the shoulder in the picture, to its peak. We took the North Gully Route, which went at an easy 5.2 and then eased up even more as you climbed higher.
In fact, we were able to climb the last 300 feet or so without a rope. Let me insert here that the greatest dangers on terrain of this nature are weather (specifically lightning) and falling rock, not falling climbers!
Stephen was very proud of this well hung Bear Bag.
Lightning generally claims most fatalities in the mountains followed closely by mistakes made whilst trying to get away from an imminent storm. I say all this so that the reader understands that moving quickly on easy terrain, regardless how high up it may appear, is in fact far safer than moving slowly when the risk of a fall is so low.
Once on top we took the usual summit shots- and were able to see our tent on the valley floor. Having looked up at the summit from the tent so many times, it was pretty wild to look down at the tent from the summit…
The descent was a little trickier than the ascent- but we found our way down 3rd class ledges and rock slabs for about 3/4ths of the way and after one rappel and a little more scrambling we were back at camp. It was a long day and we both felt pretty worked after the whole thing but it was a life affirming experience.
I would have to say that it was probably one of the most significant events of my life since I first aspired to alpine rock climbing after reading
Haystack from the tent
our route basically followed the left skyline up to the summit
about the late, great Alex Lowe in National Geographic. The feeling of actually doing something you have dreamed of for so long was totally worth it. Additionally I can honestly say that I have never felt more comfortable or secure climbing anything, anywhere than I did that day. We look forward to returning to the Winds again to climb many more of the peaks in this remote wilderness. It certainly was worth the hike in, and the hike out.
Thursday, hiking out was far easier, having eaten most of our food, which contributed to several pound of weight apiece. We got an early start (11:30 ish) and covered the entire 7.5 miles in one day. This of course left us with enough time to unpack and then drive out over another 30 miles of horribly unmaintained dirt roads towards Jackson WY where we will be enjoying (enduring?) Grand Teton National Park.
Tot: 1.743s; Tpl: 0.058s; cc: 11; qc: 52; dbt: 0.0301s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb