Tuesday, August 11, 2015

1998 Backpacking Wyoming's Bridger Wilderness -- Wind River Range

The Bridger-Teton National Forest is the second largest National Forest outside of Alaska at 3.4 million acres. Included are 1.2 million acres of designated wilderness in the Bridger, Teton, and Gros Ventre Wilderness Areas. This area is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which represents the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states. Over 2.25 million of these forest service acres are part of the Wind River Range, with mountain peaks ranging from 5900 feet to 13,785 feet in altitude.

Over 1000 species of plants exist in the forest, along with 355 species of birds and all big-game found in the intermountain west, including grizzly and black bears, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope, North American lynx, and wolverine. The Wind River Range has 48 summits over 12,500 feet and encompasses over 428,169 acres of the Bridger Wilderness Area. More than 2900 lakes and ponds dot the wilderness and seven of the largest glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are in the Wind River Range. 80 miles of the Continental Divide run through this area and over 700 miles of trails are available.

Lower Green River Lake is the start of the Green River Trail, also called the Highline Trail, which extends 72.5 miles through the Wind River Range. This trailhead is the third most popular entry into the Bridger Wilderness. If you are like me from a low altitude home, the Green River Lakes Campground is a good place to spend a few days acclimating to the 8000 foot elevation. A number of good day hikes can be taken to assist in acclimating.

On the right of this photo below is the mile long Lower Green Lake. The Clear Creek Falls and Slide Lake Trails split off at the end of this lake and provide good side hikes or day hikes from the campground. We observed one solitary cow (as in cattle, not moose) wandering around in the willow thickets near the lake's shoreline and wondered why she was there. We had also seen a moose with a calf along the shore earlier. The trail then heads south to Upper Green River Lake.

As we head south the major landmark predominates the view -- Squaretop Mountain at 11,695. It is said to be the most photographed element in the Wind River Range. Here it towers 3700 feet above the Green River which is the origination of the Colorado River and eventually courses through the Grand Canyon. Colin Fletcher, the philosopher/guru of backpacking, found the source of the Green River from several springs high in the Wind Range beyond Squaretop, followed the stream to the campground, and then rafted the entire length of the Colorado to Mexico. He retells this story in his 1997 book,  River: One Man's Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea.

The spectacular Clear Creek Falls is seen far below the trail in this photo, and in the next photo is Natural Bridge.

Look closely in the center and you can see the water entering under the rock and coming towards you after it passes beneath the Natural Bridge formation.

If you are looking for a wonderful campsite, the northern shore of Upper Green Lake has three or four sites, each providing views you will not soon forget. Our campsite the fifth night was by Squaretop Mountain. In the middle of the night, the wind picked up and two adjacent treetops began rubbing against the other making some scary noises as if one of them was about to fall. The term "widow maker" jumped into my mind and made it difficult to get back to sleep!

Squaretop Mountain is mirrored in Upper Green Lake at sunset. The trail then follows the shore and passes to the east of Squaretop still following the Green River. Campsites are available at Beaver Park, and it is possible to find your way to Granite Lake, located in a cirque between Granite and Squaretop Peaks. The trail then continues to Three Forks Park which does not offer much in the way of campsites. The best site in 1998, just off the trail, was marked as "No Camping" in an attempt to revegetate the area. A series of switchbacks then takes you up past Trail Creek Falls, a crossing of Trail Creek, and then the intersection with New Fork Trail.

Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains by Joe Kelsey; Chockstone Press; Evergreen, CO;1994; 379 pages. (More for climbers)
Hiking Wyoming's Wind River Range by Ron Adkison; Falcon Publishing, Inc.; Helena, MT; 1996; 262 pages.
Walking the Winds by Rebecca Woods; White Willow Publishing, Jackson, WY; 1995; 220 pages.
Wind River Trails (pocket guide) by Finis Mitchell; Wasatch Publishers, Salt Lake City; 1975; 144 pages.

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