Living the High Life

Wind River Range
Wind River Practicalities
The route: This loop starts and ends at the Trail's End Campground near Pinedale. Going counterclockwise, follow Trail 119 to 094 to 165. Trail 094 (the old Highline) is the highlight. From Summit Lake to Pole Creek, it stays well above 10,000 feet.

Distance: 40 miles.

Weather: Alpine standard.

Information: Bridger-Teton National Forest, Pinedale Ranger District, 210 W. Pine St. PO Box 220, Pinedale, WY 82941, (307)367-4326. Visitors map, $5 (includes shipping & handling).

Getting there: The Wind River Mountains are located in western Wyoming. The nearest city is Jackson. Trail's End Campground is located about 15 miles northeast of Pinedale on Forest Service Road 134.

Maybe it's because I hiked the Wind River Range one early September when the weather was picture perfect. Or maybe it's because of how the photos came out: Saturated blue skies contrasting with the russet hues of early autumn grasses. It could be because of how quiet the mountains were in the hush that descended after Labor Day. Probably it's some combination of all of the above that when I close my eyes and imagine the high country, it's the Wind River Range that so often comes to mind.

This 40-mile loop takes you through the cold rocky heart of this high, wind-blown wilderness. You'll walk past the largest glacier system in the contiguous 48 states as well as Gannett Peak (Wyoming's high point). From the trailhead you've got to climb to reach the 10,000-foot elevations, but once you get there, this loop has another treat in store: Rather than a series of rugged and constant ups and downs, it meanders and rolls, taking a gentle path of least resistance through high plateaus and tundra. Without having to worry about hauling yourself up yet one more hill, you can focus on the stupendous 360-degree views of rocky towers, alpine and subalpine meadows, and dozens of twinkling tarns that sparkle like jewels on the landscape.

The main trail through the Wind River Range is the Fremont Trail, originally called the Highline Trail, a name it came by honestly, since it hovers around 10,000 feet. Our loop joins this trail (Number 094 on the Forest Service visitor's map) for 17 miles of spectacular walking almost wholly above 10,000 feet. But if you have the time and can manage the logistics, the hike from Green River Lakes to Big Sandy Campground stays above 9,500 feet for 75 miles. (Be sure to detour to the famous Cirque of the Towers, a semicircle of thrusting precipices equally renowned among rock climbers and photographers).

My advice for the Winds: Get as much time off as you can, carry as much food as you can, stay out for as long as you can.



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