GET OUT: Wind River survival

By on July 15, 2015

Tips for entering a massive range

The author gallivants along the trail by Titcomb Basin .(Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

The author gallivants along the trail by Titcomb Basin .(Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – This time of year, many a mountain wanderer may be called to the Wind River Mountains. Not to be confused with the brewing company, the Wind River Range can be accessed by roads around Pinedale or Dubois and stretches a length of about 100 miles.  This range holds Wyoming’s highest point, Gannett Peak, as well as the largest glacier in the Rockies.

There are many great activities beyond typical backpacking in the Winds. These mountains are recreational hotspots for rock climbers, horseback riders and anglers. I’ve learned a lot of rules to survive in these mountains. They stretch beyond the backpacking basics of bringing a map, compass and basic camping supplies. Here are some tips that have helped me in dealing with other humans and massive amounts of insects:

Give yourself shelter. This range is vast. There are more than 600 miles of trails and rainstorms can whip in with fury. Much of the trail systems are in high alpine meadows, which may leave you exposed and drenched without a proper tent. Having a shelter is also essential for keeping out unwanted visitors.

Properly plan for bugs. The mosquitoes in this joint are unlike anything you have ever seen before (unless you have resided on the shores of Wonder Lake midsummer in Alaska). One false move in preplanning for your trip could leave you with very few options and may even drive you into a crazed mental state. For those of you who enjoy walking in the woods with scanty amounts of clothes, think twice unless you want to serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner for these insects.  Loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing may act as typical mosquito armor, but I also bring a brimmed hat with a scarf to keep them away from my ears. Earplugs for sleeping can also be helpful if the sound of buzzing freaks you out.

Think before you camp. These mountains see a fair amount of traffic, so try to pick an established camp spot before creating a new one. That said, I once picked a campsite that was a bit “too established.” While I was wrapping up breakfast one morning in the woods, I heard what sounded like a small army clomping toward me. Soon, the horses rolled in, and while they weren’t planning on staying there, the packers stopped to unload gear they were carrying in for other people. In no time, the horses were dropping excrement and peeing on everything they could. We switched camps later that day due to the reeking urine. Beware: if it looks like horses use the site, they probably do.

Food is a wonderful thing. When planning for a long trip, bring snacks that you have had before and look forward to eating. If making your own meals from scratch, stick with something you have done before. There is nothing worse than falafel gone wrong when you are starving in the middle of nowhere with no other options. Do not try to skimp on what you bring. Save starting a new age paleo-gluten free diets for the front country. Whoever goes with you will greatly appreciate it.

Plan your people experience. Humans, or lack thereof, can make or break your nomadic experience through the mountains. Make a plan before you go. Consider avoiding the most popular places during peak times. Long ago, my parents decided to base camp around Cirque of the Towers and were shocked to see lawn chairs, coolers of beer and people partying nine miles in from the trailhead. Had they consulted me, they would have received fantastic recommendations for places to go to soak up the solitude.

Wherever you go in the Wind River Range, all places can be pleasant with the right mindset. Be creative, bring a map and enjoy your experience.

Elizabeth Koutrelakos spends her days tromping around various mountain environments for work and play. She also may be found snowboarding or picking berries in  locales such as southern Patagonia and northern Alaska.

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