Wind River My Route

“I found the perfect hike,” Cricket sent in a text along with a link to a video. “It’s called Wind River High Route (WRHR), roughly 80 miles, there will be snow, and there’s route finding, what do you think?” he said in another text. After our thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) we knew we had to stay home to work for a year or two before our next long thru-hike. However, I felt it was important to still do hikes and have something to plan. I also thought it was vital to hike in mountains with ice and high elevation and that challenged us with route finding. “Let’s do it,” I responded.

The WRHR is a made up route in the Wind River Range in Wyoming. This is not an “official” trail and trekkers have come up with many different paths throughout the range. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT), along with several other trails, runs through this range. However, this high route is designed to go somewhat parallel to the CDT and, as the name suggests, on a path that is at a higher elevation, often with more technical climbs.

While there are guides and maps that one can use, the route is considered more difficult for several reasons. The route is seldom on official trail, it is not maintained, the path sees very little traffic, and it requires hikers to do a lot of route finding. The WRHR is considered an alternate on the CDT and crosses over passes that often have snow and ice. These passes also have scree on either side, making for an unsteady ascent and descent. Andrew Skurka and Alan Dixon have each come up with a route through the Winds and these seem to be the most popular choices. We chose to do the Adventure Alan route, as it is a tad shorter and we had a limited amount of time to complete the trail.

Once we decided to attempt the WRHR, Cricket became enamored with researching the route. He also wanted a third person to join us so he invited Middle Brother. Cricket met Middle Brother (MB) on their thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2017. Cricket did almost all of the planning and I am so incredibly thankful for his efforts. He knew the route by heart, but we brought several paper maps, a compass, and had Gaia GPS maps downloaded. Each mountain or lake we came across, Cricket knew it by name at first glance. This trip would have never came into fruition without my partner and countless hours he spent studying this route.

Logistics/Day 0 – Saturday

 Because the trailheads are remote and the courses are point to point, the WRHR can, logistically, be tough. Pinedale, Wyoming, is the nearest option we found for shuttles and other amenities. Many people park a car at one end and hitchhike to the other. Due to time constraints, and to have a guaranteed ride, we opted to rent a car, leave it at our destination and take a shuttle to the Northern Terminus of our chosen route.

On Saturday, August 24 (Cricket’s birthday!), we flew into Salt Lake City, hit an outfitter and the grocery store to resupply and drove toward the Winds. Big Sandy Opening is the Southern Terminus of Dixon’s route. The dirt road to Big Sandy is rugged and bumpy, but the views are endless. This spot is popular for outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts. The camping is free and plentiful near the trailhead. Cirque of the Towers is near this trailhead and is a common backpacking and climbing spot. We decided to camp at Big Sandy for the night to make for an easier Sunday morning, as it was the spot our shuttle was picking us up.

We were almost to Big Sandy when I asked Cricket to pull over; I could not hold my pee any longer after the choppy two hours on potholed roads. Just as I squatted, Middle Brother (MB) yelled, “Moose!” I looked up and 200 yards in front of me was the biggest bull moose I had ever seen. “Y’all, this is going to be a good trip,” I said. We stood there and watched the moose for a minute, then looked for a campsite.

Just as the sun was going down, we set up our shelters in a meadow, along with several other tents. We ate sandwiches and watched the stars. There was a sense of excitement in our group and I was anxious to finally be back on trail.

Day 1 – Sunday

We woke up early the next morning in order to organize all of our gear and food before the shuttle came to pick us up. Though Big Sandy Opening seemed quite remote, the parking lot was jam-packed with cars and people. Tonya*, our shuttle driver, was waiting for us. “Here she is,” Tonya said, gesturing toward a 1980s Suburban. “We lost the back seat so one of ya is gonna have to sit in the back and duck down when we see a copper, but I brought a pillow for you to lean on,” she said, chuckling. I volunteered to sit in the back.

A couple of weeks earlier, the outfitter had contacted us asking if it would be OK if two other people could join our shuttle and we would get a lower rate. We, of course, gladly accepted this offer. Our shuttle companions were from Wales and had been trekking for several weeks; the WRHR was their last hike before going home. “Skurka or Dixon?” I asked them, “Dixon, southbound,” they answered in unison. We were surprisingly relieved to know that we’d have other people on the same route as us; we would refer to them as “shuttle buddies” for the rest of the trip.

The shuttle ride was filled with great conversation and interesting facts about the area from Tonya. We stopped in Pinedale to pick up a few items from the outfitter. MB, Cricket, and I are all big fans of craft beer and breweries and next to The Great Outdoor Shop stood Wind River Brewing Company. “That’s where I’ll be in a week,” said MB. “Yep,” Cricket and I said.

(From left to right) Peanut, Cricket, and Middle Brother posing at the Green River Lakes trailhead. Photo Credit: Tonya*

After the bumpy three-hour ride in the back of the shuttle, Squaretop was a welcome sight. The jade-colored river flowing through the sprawling meadow with the unusually shaped mountains in the background was one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. We gathered our stuff, had Tonya snap a couple of photos, and we were off. Finally.

We had been dreaming about this for months and Cricket had poured his heart and soul into planning this trip. Middle Brother and Cricket could not stop snapping pictures; we were practically skipping, so happy to be hiking alongside the Green River.

Peanut approaching Squaretop Mountain. Photo Credit: Cricket

Thirteen miles went by quite quickly. Our mileage was not planned out for the first day, because we had no idea what to expect. We were not able to start hiking until midday, so we were impressed with our mileage. By 6 o’clock we were ready to set up camp as we had taken no breaks throughout the day.

Prior to this trip, I had never hiked in grizzly territory, so this was a new experience for me. We each had an Ursack, which is a Kevlar sack that is a lighter weight, less cumbersome alternative to a bear canister. After the advice of several friends and Tonya, we rented bear spray from The Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale. I wasn’t nervous or scared of seeing a bear but I did want to make sure we followed the right protocol.

After we set up our tents, we walked up the trail, away from our camp, to cook our dinners. During my 2018 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, I did not carry a stove and opted to cold soak my meals. While I embraced that challenge, I see hot meals on all of my future backpacking trips. We packed our Ursacks with all of our “smellables” and hung them up. We were all exhausted walking back to our camp.

A wave of uneasiness overcame me as I laid down on my Therm-a-Rest. My breath became short and I wondered if this was anxiety driven or if the elevation was catching up to me. The day before, I had read Zach Davis’ WRHR post and I wondered if this is how his hiking partner had felt. I was so nervous about getting altitude sickness that I was manifesting it into existence. I took a Benadryl and tried to calm myself down. Of course I was feeling this way. In 24 hours, I had left a city that sits at 597 feet elevation, flown across the country, driven seven hours on bumpy roads, hiked over a dozen miles, and now I was over 9,000 feet elevation. I told myself it would be better tomorrow and I finally drifted off to sleep.

Day 2 – Monday

I heard footsteps walking past our camp; the sun was already high in the sky. “Good morning, Bourbon!” I said. We had met him the previous afternoon and had a long chat. He had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 as well. “Decided to sleep in a bit, eh?” he said. “I felt like we deserved it,” I answered. “The altitude is catching up with us, I think,” I added. “You’ll be all right, see you up there,” he said as he waved.

Middle Brother brought us our food bags, a task he sweetly did almost every morning for the rest of the week. We leisurely packed up and ate breakfast before heading up the mountain. We knew we had a long day ahead of us, but we still felt pretty confident.

As we filled up water at a stream near our campsite, we chatted about the day ahead. Cricket explained that we needed to get over Knapsack Col and camp at Titcomb Lakes. I told the boys it was important we drink more water and eat more snacks today. We also decided that we would take as many breaks as we needed and no one was to rush the group.

The weather could not have been more pleasant, with not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was quite comfortable for hiking. We reached Peak Lake at approximately 2 o’clock, a little later than we had intended. However, we weren’t worried, because we had gone over halfway for the day only had about 4.5 miles left until Titcomb Lakes.

“That’s it, that’s Knapsack,” Cricket pointed to a jagged ridge. He explained exactly where we’d be going over and, at that moment, I was relieved. There were patches of snow and clearly some scree, but, from what I could tell, we had been over worse in the Sierra. “That doesn’t look too hateful,” said Middle Brother. I had to agree. We were feeling super confident, too confident, almost to the point of cockiness.

Peanut scrambling around Peak Lake, located on the north side of Knapsack Col. Photo Credit: Cricket

Peak Lake sits roughly at 10,500 feet and Knapsack Col is over 12,000 feet, so we had some climbing to do. I estimated we would be at the top of the pass by 5 o’clock at the absolute latest. As we began the ascent, a group of three guys passed us going the opposite direction. “We heard Knapsack is impassable on the south side,” one of the men said. My confidence began to waver.

I thought back to our “game time” decision to leave our ice axes in the car. The north side of the pass looked so perfect, but I knew from experience that that didn’t mean shit. After a minute of deliberation, we decided that the information we had just received differed from the countless reports we had read or heard about. If we reached the saddle and decided it was too dangerous, we could return to and camp at Peak Lake and go around on an alternate path the next day.

The climb was much more difficult than anticipated, but not necessarily because of terrain. We did have to do a bit of route finding, mainly deciding on the best line to the top, but that wasn’t the hard part. The altitude was getting to us. We’d go about 50 yards and have to stop to catch our breath. The breaks began to add up and there was a sense of heightened uncertainty in our group.

I knew we were making progress, but as soon as we would make it to the next big feature, there would be another behind it, and the top of the pass seemed to move farther and farther away. We had each drank several liters of water by this point and had eaten a couple thousand calories, but the altitude was starting to really take its toll on us. I had a headache and I was emotionally and physically exhausted.

Middle Brother looking up at Knapsack Col.

About halfway up our climb, we crossed paths with a man coming down the pass. He didn’t have a pack. In fact, he didn’t seem to have anything but a Katadyn BeFree in his pocket. “How is it up there?” we asked and explained we were talking about Knapsack. “I didn’t go up to that col,” he answered with an accent, perhaps Swiss. “I went over that one,” he pointed to an ice-covered pass next to Knapsack. “Looked more interesting,” he continued. We told him we were nervous about the other side, and he let out a laugh. “Oh, I heard people were uncertain that you need ice tools. It’s easy. The other side is nothing,” he chuckled as he talked. We all let out audible sighs of relief.

Our breaks became more frequent and the frustration began to creep back in. We all tried the best we could to make jokes and keep up the positivity, but morale was getting low. “Should we try to take a hit of oxygen?” Middle Brother asked. I thought back to a couple of days before when a friend made fun of MB for purchasing the small canister of oxygen. “It couldn’t hurt, right?” answered Cricket. We all took a couple of hits. It felt like my brain flipped right side up. It was the exact boost we needed.

Peanut and Cricket at the top of Knapsack Col. Photo Credit: Middle Brother

We all had a sweet, brief moment of victory when we finally reached the top. I looked down at my Garmin Instinct watch—6:30 p.m., hours after our initial goal. I took a few steps to see the north side of Knapsack Col. My heart sunk; it was all ice and scree. We were going to have to be precise in our movements and we had to do it quickly. The hardest physical part may have been over but the way down was going to be all mental. There were limited ways to get down and they all looked dangerous. The sun hung low in sky and I knew we had to get down to Titcomb Basin before it got dark.

I’d be lying if I said I was 100% on board when Cricket invited Middle Brother. I wasn’t sure if three would be a crowd. Now, I can’t imagine this trip without him. Middle Brother looks at every situation with such positivity and on the way down Knapsack Col, we needed that.

Before we began our descent, we tried to pick out the best line down. We could see a couple that we had been behind all day at the bottom of the valley. “If they can do it, we can do it,” said Cricket. There were two initial options to get down this mountain. The first was a semi-used trail with a cairn, but most of it was washed out and it looked extremely sketchy. The second was an ice chute down to scree, which looked a tad less precarious. We opted for the chute. Someone had cut out footholds in the ice and shout-out to that person, you’re swell. MB went down first and waited for us about 20 feet below and, with his guidance, I was the next one safely on the ledge. I looked up at Cricket; he was frozen. He began to apologize for “getting us into this dangerous mess,” but MB and I shut that down as soon as it started. Cricket would wrestle with this thought for a couple of weeks.

Over the next 30 minutes, we would plan out our route 20-30 feet at a time as a team. Middle Brother’s alacrity never faltered. It was scary, dangerous, and we’d refer to it as “type three fun” part of the trip. We decided about halfway down to cut over to a glacier and snowfield. This was the right decision. We all put on our Microspikes and ran across it with glee.

Microspikes rule. Photo Credit: Middle Brother

We had made it down, but we still had to get to Titcomb. I looked at my watch, but had forgotten it had died awhile ago. However, I guessed we had less than a mile left, but it was almost dark and, because there wasn’t a trail to follow, we did not want to finish the hike with headlamps. After crossing over a stream several times, our feet were freezing and it was dark. We were unsure if we had quite reached the lake, but we found a spot that would work and set up our tents.

Too tired to make dinner, we shoved random pieces of food into our mouths and each took a Benadryl and some ibuprofen. I crawled into our Zpacks Duplex while Cricket and MB finished their snack. Before I fell asleep, I heard Cricket say, “Thanks buddy, we could not have done that without you.”

Day 3 – Tuesday

My eyes shot open the next morning and I scrambled to find my watch. “Shit,” I muttered. “What time is it?” said Cricket. “It’s after 7,” I replied. I heard Middle Brother moving around outside. “Wait ‘til y’all see this,” he said. We opened our tent to an unbelievable view of Titcomb Lakes. We quickly packed up and ate breakfast, because today we had two passes to go over.

Titcomb Lakes basin. Photo Credit: Middle Brother

Less than two minutes after we left camp, we had a stream crossing. Middle Brother started across first, “I think we can rock hop,” he said. Cricket and I began to walk over to him when we heard a splash and a slew of cussing. “Damn it, I just put my only dry socks on,” yelled MB. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt but he would gain a few bruises and aches from this fall.

The walk around Titcomb Lakes was quite muddy, but a pleasant, gorgeous couple of miles to the base of Indian Pass. We passed several groups of hikers who were going the opposite direction to the lakes and a couple who were going to attempt Knapsack. I told each of them that their route would be a bit less cumbersome because they would go up the difficult part. Only one group had information about Indian and Alpine Pass. “You’re going to laugh when you see how easy it is compared to Knapsack,” a gentleman told us.

We arrived at a fork in the path. To the left was the trail to the top of Indian Pass, to continue on the High Route. To the right, was the trail to Island Lake and, eventually, to the Continental Divide Trail. I started to the left but looked back at the boys, they were stopped. It was already almost 10 o’clock, morale and confidence was low.

“Are we going?” I asked, but I knew the answer from the look on their faces. We contemplated different options and poured over our maps. “I just don’t think I can mentally do it, and this altitude is still messing with me,” said MB. He said what we were all thinking. I pushed them to stay at Island Lake to give us just another day to acclimate, but I knew we didn’t have enough food for that.

Of course, now I have all the answers. If we had just acclimated a day or two in Pinedale, we could have continued on the route. Two extra days of food, we would have succeeded for sure. We should have left two hours earlier from camp and then we would’ve had all the time in the world to get over Indian and Alpine. If we kept going, we would have been fine, I’m sure, but our bodies were exhausted from altitude sickness and the best decision for the group at that moment was oo head to the CDT.

We all sat in silence, sulking for a few minutes, drank water, and ate a snack. Disappointment was emanating from us. An older gentleman walked up to us. I think he could tell we were upset about something. “So, what’s your plan?” he asked like he knew we needed someone to validate our decision. We told him everything as if we were venting to a close friend. We chatted with him for several minutes. Everything that he said, he said with a purpose and he put us at ease. I’m going to leave you with this: “All things are solved by walking,” he said before continuing north to Titcomb.

I had never failed a hike attempt before, but I felt like I had failed the Wind River High Route. I’ve heard that hikes never go as planned, but for me they always have. Sure, there have been stress fractures and fire reroutes but I’ve always been able to complete my thru hikes.

Before we left on this trek, I told Cricket that the worst possible scenario would be that we’d have a week to hike in the Wind River Range if the WRHR didn’t work out. At the base of Indian Pass that is exactly what we decided to do. Instead of continuing over Indian Pass we made our way to the Continental Divide Trail. At that point, we were unsure of what the rest of the trip would look like. “Wind River My Route,” Middle Brother said encouragingly. “Wind River My Route,” Cricket and I repeated.

After Island Lake, we hopped on the CDT and immediately saw a couple of thru-hikers, which comforted us; these were our people. We had several therapeutic conversations throughout the day and I think we were all relieved to be on an actual trail for a bit. The hiking, terrain wise, was easy but the altitude still made it difficult to make good time. However, because we were at lower elevation, the saddles were much more forgiving.

Peanut at the top of Lester Pass. Photo Credit: Cricket

“It’s getting harder and harder to breathe,” Cricket sang, quoting Maroon 5 as we were nearing the top of Lester Pass. We went over two more passes that day before we started to look for a good spot to camp. Around 6 o’clock we came to a river that we had no chance of crossing with dry feet. “That meadow back there looked pretty great,” said MB. We all turned around to set up our tents and eat our dinner.

While we ate dinner up the trail from our camp, we discussed our plan. We got out the maps and discussed several different options. The final decision was to stay on the CDT until the Cirque of the Towers, where we’d get on a trail that would lead us over Texas Pass. We’d get to Cirque on Friday and camp somewhere in the basin. On Saturday we’d continue over Jackass Pass back to our car at Big Sandy Opening. I was happy with this plan; Cirque of the Towers was the main event to me, the perfect way to end the trip.

Day 4 – Wednesday

On the Pacific Crest Trail, we walked through several streams per day and I had accepted that my feet were just going to be constantly wet. On this trip, however, I refused to start our fourth day with wet feet. I stopped at the water crossing, took off my shoes and socks, and started walking across. “How is it?” Cricket asked. “The water is so cold that your feet go numb and you don’t feel the jagged rocks after a bit,” I answered. MB and Cricket took off their shoes and joined me in the freezing river.

Middle Brother passes Peanut in the race across the stream. Photo Credit: Cricket

We went over a pass and had done several miles by 10 o’clock; we were acclimating. It felt good to finally be able to walk without stopping every few feet to catch our breaths. Our spirits were lifting and I think we were all accepting our new plan in our own ways.

“Look how white your Hyperlite pack is!” I said to an approaching couple. I love my pack and I get excited when I see another one, especially when it’s still bright white and I know it has so much life left in it. I gestured at my dingy, well-loved pack and smiled. The couple was from Maine and since our group had all completed the AT, we knew the Pine Tree State quite well. After we talked for a few minutes, the woman asked if we wanted each wanted a bracelet she had made. We eagerly accepted, and she tied them on our wrists.

The thru-hiking community can be laden with ego; a constant contest to see which hiker can do the most miles or thru-hike an obscure trail before the other. I’m totally culpable of this, I’m embarrassed to admit. Each time I heard of another hiker attempting the WRHR, this “ego monster” would creep up. Instead of being stoked for another hiker, I’d feel some sort of ownership over the route, like I had more right to hike it because I’d been dreaming of it for so long. It breaks my heart to even admit I felt this way. Of course, I’m not the only one guilty of this, but if this trip taught me anything, it’s to ignore the blatant jabs and accept the fact that I didn’t complete my intended route and I just have to be OK with that.

We waved to the Mainers and continued up the path. “These are our ego bracelets,” Middle Brother said. “Any time we notice another person’s ego creeping up in the group, we’ll just point to the bracelet.” We came up with an elaborate story about a shaman from the mountains of Maine who gave out healing bracelets that contained the power to tear down smugness and elitism. It was silly, but the concept had serious underlying tones and lessons.

Just after we reached 14 miles for the day, we decided to set up camp near a small lake. It was the earliest we had made camp the whole trip, which allowed us to have a relaxing evening. After we found a good spot for our Ursacks, we climbed into our shelters to get some rest. At first, the breeze off the lake had felt nice, but it had cooled down significantly after the sun had gone down. “Do you think we should put our Sawyer filters in our quilts?” asked Cricket. “Nah, it’s not that cold,” I answered.

Campsite on night four.

Day 5 – Thursday

The morning of day five. Photo Credit: Middle Brother

I opened my eyes just as the sun’s rays were starting to hit the lake. I sat up to watch the sunrise for a few moments and reached for my water. As I popped open the cap on my Sawyer squeeze, I heard ice in my Smartwater bottle and I tensed up. “Maybe the water froze, but not my filter,” I naively thought to myself. I unscrewed the filter from the bottle—ice. The boys’ water filters had also frozen overnight, as did my freshly rinsed socks.

Peanut holds her frozen socks next to her frozen Sawyer and apologizes profusely for saying the temperature wouldn’t get below freezing. Photo Credit: Middle Brother

One of the many lessons that thru-hiking teaches you is that you’re going to be in a lot of uncomfortable situations and there will be many frustrating circumstances. However, the way you react to these predicaments changes everything. “There’s nothing we can do now but walk,” I said. So, I put on my extra socks, packed up my gear, and we continued south, filtering our water with compromised Sawyers for the rest of the week. C’est la vie.

This rest of the day was filled with enjoyable, almost effortless hiking. The trail meandered over meadows and around lakes. With minimal elevation gain, our pace was the best it had been and our bodies seemed to be totally acclimated.

By midafternoon we made it to our highest point of the day, about 10,600 feet elevation, and were greeted with our first look at Cirque of the Towers. My heart leapt; it was an astonishing sight to say the least. We stood there several minutes to take in the view and make some pictures.

Peanut walks toward Cirque of the Towers. Photo Credit: Cricket

As we looked around, I noticed the sky was filled with clouds. I thought back to a couple of days earlier and realized we had only seen one other cloud on Lester Pass. “Whoa, look. A cloud,” Middle Brother said. “When we get to the top I’m going to get a picture of the only cloud we saw.” “Ha! You better snap it now before it dissipates,” I joked, and sure enough the puff had disappeared minutes later.

“It’s going to rain soon,” I said to the boys. “No way,” said MB. “I don’t think it will,” echoed Cricket. We began to descend into a valley and decided to pitch our tents in a group of trees near a stream. We walked across the meadow to a rock outcropping to cook our meals and watch the sunset over Cirque. The clouds became darker and more prevalent. We hurriedly finished dinner and put up our food. “I still don’t think it’s going to rain,” said Cricket.

I zipped up the tent just as a torrential downpour began. I curled up in my quilt and fell asleep listening to the rain fall on our tent; the drizzle continued until the wee hours of the morning.

Day 6 – Friday  

The sky was back to normal in the morning, not one cloud in sight. I walked across the field to retrieve our Ursacks and when I returned the boys were up and about. As Cricket exited the tent, he groaned in pain and I knew something was wrong when he crawled to his food bag.

Cricket was in a lot of pain. I sat next to him to give him ibuprofen and gauge his level of discomfort. Cricket never complained about the aches and pains, but I knew this trip had been mentally exhausting as well as physically challenging in a lot of ways. This trip was more difficult than he could have ever imagined and I knew he felt defeated and guilty. Cricket had been lucky to have minimal ailments on previous thru-hikes. However, this hike had given him his first blisters, the worst chafing I’ve ever witnessed, and now his back was giving out.

After we finished our breakfast and packed up, Cricket seemed to be feeling better. I knew in a couple miles we’d come to the fork in the path I’d been waiting for. We’d leave the CDT and head to Cirque of the Towers. We all knew, though, that if we continued on the CDT, we would reach our car by lunchtime. I didn’t say it out loud because I did not want that to be an option. By 8 o’clock, we were off.

After an hour or so, we walked past a small use trail to the left with a little cairn next to it. After a few minutes, I asked, “Do y’all think that was the turnoff to Cirque?” We checked the maps and it indeed was our turnoff, but their faces told me that our trip had come to an end, and, without a word, we continued hiking in the opposite direction of Cirque of the Towers.

The last view of Cirque of the Towers. Photo Credit: Cricket

I sobbed like a toddler who didn’t get their way for the entire three-hour hike back to the car. The boys were a couple hundred yards ahead of me for the rest of the hike; I dragged my feet and sulked, turning around often to look back at Cirque. We began to descend into a pine forest and I knew that it was my last look at Cirque of the Towers until we came back to attempt our CDT thru-hike. I stood there until I heard Cricket calling my name. I walked into the trees until I reached him and fell into his arms.

Even weeks after our trip, I still can’t explain exactly how or why I was so upset on our last day in Wind River. Cricket held me and tried his hardest to comfort me, explaining we’d do the route on our thru-hike, when we were more prepared and in thru-hiker shape. It helped a little. I think the hardest thing for me was facing the world waiting outside Wind River, the world I was going to have to admit to that I was unsuccessful.

We reached the parking lot and I mustered a smile for a picture. The boys drank a beer to celebrate while I continued my pity party. I took off my Hokas and I put on my Bedrocks and my town clothes–back to reality. We drove through Big Sandy Opening, dodging cows, and listening to music.

Wind River Brewing Company came into view, “vacation mode: commence,” I thought. After a hot meal and a couple of beers, I was feeling better, but mortified by the way I had acted. I vented to the boys for a minute and tried to explain the way I felt. Middle Brother pointed to his ego bracelet and gave me a sincere look. We decided to enjoy the rest of our vacation.

The end

Over the next two days, we explored Grand Teton National Park and camped on national forest land. We went on leisurely day hikes, visited breweries, and appreciated the remainder of our time. We slowly made our way back to Salt Lake City to meet up with our dear friend Gumby, before heading back to Nashville and reality.

Cricket takes in the view at our campsite in front of the Tetons.

No, we didn’t complete this made-up route that we had intended to follow and it feels like shit. It has been a few weeks since we’ve been back home and it still stings. It’s still hard to talk about and to accept, but I’m grateful for the experience and the lessons I learned. Of course I know that the Winds and the route will be there when we’re back to do our CDT hike in the near future and I know what I need to do differently to complete it. Until then, I’ll be keeping myself in check with the help of my ego bracelet and playing outside in the Southeast. Stay tuned!

*Name has been changed

The Great Salt Lake. Photo Credit: Cricket

Quick Stats:

Miles – ~76.5

Marmots – 4

Pikas – 12

Moose – 1

Elk – 0

Dogs – 9

Blisters – 8

Peanut finds the Peanut bus in Salt Lake City.

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Comments 1

  • Andrew Skurka : Sep 27th

    One of the big differences between conventional thru-hikes and high routes is that success is much less guaranteed with the latter. Simply walking is usually good enough to finish most trails, but not high routes. You also need cooperative weather, health, and group dynamics, as well as efficient navigation and enough time. In other words, everything has to go right, because high routes will demand everything from you.

    Your next high route will be better. Give yourself more time, add in another day or two to acclimate. Maybe consider doing just a section loop instead of undertaking a committing point-to-point itinerary that involves an expensive shuttle. High routes are a blast and will force you to gain extra skills, so don’t bail on them just yet.


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