Snow Puts Early End To Shakedown Hike In Wind River Range

In September, my friend Judy and I hiked 50 miles from the Elkhart Park Trailhead (elevation 9,280 feet) near Pinedale to the Big Sandy Trailhead (elevation 9,100 feet) closer to Lander, Wyo.  Judy has climbed Kilamanjaro, visited the Galapagos, ridden horses in Mongolia, hiked in the Dolomites and other places around the world.  She is a talented artist and also competes with her English Cocker Spaniels in a variety of dog sports such as tracking, barn hunt, agility, nosework and spaniel field trials.  We are friends from the dog world but also share a common interest in hiking.

The route that Judy chose took advantage of some of the lesser traveled trails in the Wind Rivers.  The good news was that we saw only a few groups of hikers the first couple of days but passed only one group of horse packers and a couple of hikers the next day and saw no one else on the trail the last two days.  We seemed to have the entire mountain range to ourselves.  We were always the only campers in our campsites at night and when darkness fell the only sounds were elk bugling and the occasional howling of a coyote.

The bad news was that some of the trails were unmaintained to the point that it didn’t seem like anyone had been on them all season.  The trail was difficult to find in some places and footing was also difficult with washed-out sections and downed timber across the path.  We crossed one high plateau marked only by cairns with no obvious trail to follow.  In other sections we ended up bushwhacking through wooded areas to get back to the trail that we had somehow misplaced. It was a challenging hike and good preparation for the varied terrain and climbs of the Appalachian Trail.

Judy took her English Cocker Zephyr and I took my Australian Shepherd Ziba, also an agility dog, on this hike.  They were both well behaved and hardy hikers except for Ziba’s tender pads.  We had already decided to cut our planned 80-mile trip short because I didn’t want to risk further soreness to Ziba’s feet by asking her to hike up and over the Continental Divide.  Zephyr was showing some signs of fatigue from carrying his eight-day supply of food in his pack.  But we made the ultimate decision to cut the trip short because of the foot of snow predicted over 8,000 feet, which was well below the 10,000-foot elevation of the pass we intended to cross.  When we had looked at the weather before the hike, there was no snow predicted.  Nighttime temperatures had been below freezing and we had gear for cold weather but no true winter gear for hiking and camping in snow.  We thought the wise choice was to head out a few days early.  All in all it was a great adventure and good prep of my gear for the Appalachian Trail.

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