Wind River Wilderness Backpacking Experience


Photo by Kaelyn Kroeger

The group standing at the top of the first pass they hiked up.

Waking up in a drenched tent only to unzip the tent door to 36 degree weather seems like pure torture. However, it’s worth it when you reach the top of a 2,000 vertical foot pass huffing and puffing and see the views on the other side. This is what I experienced when backpacking in the Wind River Range, Wyoming for five days.

Our group was great, we had a few people from each class: each very diligent in hiking and leading each other through the mountains. Annika Nichols and I were the only two freshmen, but we were quickly accepted among the upperclassmen.

The first night we arrived at the trailhead, we ate a hearty meal to prepare us for the challenge ahead. The next morning marked the first real day of backpacking. Like all of the mornings, it was cold and wet. Packing together my sopping wet bag was painful enough, but when I put the pack on my shoulders, I knew the day would be difficult. We traveled through two huge meadows full of green grass and flowers, grazed along a few lakes, and hiked up several hills. We also had to backtrack a few miles after realizing we made a wrong turn!

There was literally no better feeling than slamming down your bulky backpacks and ripping the shoes off your achy blistered feet after a difficult trek. When we finally reached Skull Lake, we set up camp and relaxed or swam for what little daylight was left before dinner. Every meal you eat on a backpacking trip is one of three things: trail-mix, something freeze-dried, or oatmeal. That night, the special was chili-mac. We had to cook it in our bowls by covering them, so the mac was slightly crunchy and uncooked. Delicious!

The next day was a rush: the group woke up at 7:30 and was on the trail by 8:30. We had to climb up the first pass that day, which didn’t look too difficult from the bottom. However, every time you thought you had reached the top, there was another what looked like half a mile left. Finally getting there was so satisfying: looking beyond what we couldn’t see earlier to find even larger mountains and lakes. We sat down on our packs and ate a ton of trail-mix as we took in the lovely scenery. We continued down the steep pass on the north face which was chilly. Grave Lake came into view a few miles later, and it was absolutely gorgeous. A huge mountain rose up to the right and rivers ran down from all directions. Sandy beaches stretched out on the shores where grassy campsites sat behind them. I was excited to go swimming again, and after a day like that, I’d be in the lake for a while. Even though it was hard, the group’s optimistic spirit was enough to make me forget about the pain and just enjoy my time there.

After camping at the lake, we woke up around 6:30 to watch a beautiful sunrise. Unfortunately, it was a bit too early, so we stood shivering by the water for about an hour waiting for sunlight. Then, we had a slow morning from a long night of cold rain and strong winds. I had gotten at most 5 hours of sleep that night and I think we all felt too sleep deprived for the day. In addition, today was going to be the most difficult because we had to hike up the second pass: 2,000 vertical feet. After pushing through the pain for about 45 minutes, we reached a steep snow-field which we slowly and wearily crossed. Once we reached the top, the wind hit us like a truck. It blew directly at us, and it was a struggle to push against it on a downhill. We then walked a few more miles and got to our original campsite. By that time the day was nearly over, so we quickly set up camp, cooked chicken teriyaki (which wasn’t bad, to be honest) and got in our sleeping bags. That night was similar to the one before, only colder, wetter, and windier. We woke up to the caps of the mountains covered in snow.

It was the last day of backpacking, and by now everyone on the trip had feet covered in blisters, so it was a pretty painful walk of 8 miles down the trail we’d hiked up the first day. Once we reached the trailhead, it began pouring rain and hail with thunder and lighting. We piled our packs in the car and got in to drive down the road to set up camp. We decided to sleep in the car just because of how insanely cold it was. We woke up early the next morning, drove to a diner for breakfast where we ate the best meal we’d had in four days, and continued on to Aspen.

This Ex-Ed was a very fun experience for the entire group and I am so happy I had such an amazing freshman outdoor ed, especially after just moving here. The beautiful sights, the uplifting group, and the overall organization really made the trip amazing!