July 1-4, 2016
For a month or two leading up to the Fourth of July long weekend Carly and I had been trying to decide on a destination. We hemmed and hawed, but when it came down to it we decided on the Wind River Range, otherwise known as the Winds. Are first we were worried about snow and then it was the bugs and then it was the people. In the end we were able to bypass both the snow and people, but didn’t skip the bugs.
Friday we left from SLC at a less than opportune time, 5:30 pm, but that was as early as Carly could get out of work. Unfortunately we hit some traffic in Park City of all places. There was an accident and Google routed us off the highway. While there must have been a supercomputer crunching the new route as faster, it was horrendously slow. I think just sticking to the highway would have been better.
As we finally got through Park City and started racking up the miles we ended up in Evanston, WY. This is a border town which is good for a liquor and food stop. Our new favorite place in Evanston was closed for the long weekend so we had to settle for Subway. Trying to make the best use of our time we split up. Carly headed to Subway while I went to the liquor store, gas, and Autozone (for an extra quart of oil for the CRV). I was able to do all that before Carly had even come close to getting our food. The Subway was swamped, there were three workers, but they didn’t have an interest in easing the bottleneck of assembling the veggie portion of the sandwiches. The bread and meat girl just did her thing. The cashier, would idly chat to the veggie assembler as the sandwiches piled up in the queue. Very irritating.
Finally we got to the 50 or so miles of dirt road heading towards the Big Sandy Trailhead. The weekend’s weather was mixed with a typical alpine forecast of afternoon thunderstorms. We saw this was true on our way in as it was pretty dark and inclement. The occasional flash of lightning silhouetted the mountains as we drove.
Getting closer we ended up stopping at the same spot where Matt, Jamie and I had stopped before our Labor Day trip in 2013. Rather than setting up the tent we slept in the CRV. Unfortunately, the length of the flattened seats wasn’t quite enough for my six foot frame leaving me with a restless night’s sleep.
Saturday morning we drove the last 20 minutes or so into Big Sandy Trailhead. Thankfully the lot wasn’t nearly as full as the previous time I was here. We found a great parking spot just across from the start of the trail and the bathrooms. While packing our bags and making coffee we spotted our friend Kelly and her partner Vlad. We knew they were headed up but didn’t know if we’d see them or now. It turned out they followed us in on the dirt roads as well. Our other friends Matt and Leanne we saw had hiked in the previous night based on the logbook at the trailhead.
The hike in is pretty easy as the Big Sandy Trailhead is around 9000′ of elevation. Our objective wasn’t the Cirque of the Towers, which is the popular spot, we were headed towards Clear Lake and Deep Lake. As we got through the first portion of the hike and reached the end of Big Sandy Lake about 5 miles from the start, we had lunch with Kelly and Vlad. While eating we could see clouds rolling in and thunder intermittently. We each parted ways to our respective sections of the range. While crossing some of the wide open marsh and streams at the east end of Big Sandy Lake, we started getting a few pieces of hail. We hurried along across the last few streams and under the shelter of a large set of pines. From here the skies opened up and it hailed for about 30 minutes. The even reminded me of my hike with Dave and Phyli on Grand Mesa.
Eventually the storm subsided enough for us to continue to our camping area. As we approached Clear Lake and Haystack Mountain we were amazed at the scenery. The alpine lake and forests are always breathtaking. The massive west face of Haystack looked wet and we hoped it would dry out enough for climbing the next day.
We found a one of the only flat and somewhat dry spots at the base of the north summit of Haystack. A few more rumbles of thunder hastened our retreat into the tent while another little cell rolled through. Thankfully the skies cleared and the sun came out and it was quite pleasant. Another friend was also headed out towards our direction for some camping. We were able to get Coty on the radio and let him know where we were camped. While making dinner he strolled in and joined us in enjoying the view across Clear Lake.
Sunday we woke early and had a quick breakfast of hard boiled eggs and bacon, both pre-cooked at home. We headed up the drainage to the north of Haystack to reach the exposed ridge and end up at the base of the north face. While on the ridge the wind picked up. It was cold despite being sunny. When we reached the base of what our intended route was we had a hard time standing at times due to the gusty wind. Another party who was also there for the same route tried to huddle out of the wind in some rocks. After a little discussion Carly and I decided that our intended route wasn’t as obvious as we’d like, especially with the wind being the way it was. We opted to go for a very easy, but sure fire way to get to the summit.
After three pitches of climbing, me on the first and third, and Carly in the second, we reached near the north summit. Resting out of the wind for a few minutes we untied and scrambled over the talus to reach the north summit. The views were awesome though cold and blustery. We could see into the Cirque of the Towers and wondered how our friends were doing there. We summited around 10:30 which allowed us to get back down to camp with plenty of time to retreat to the tent when the eventual afternoon t-storm rolled through.
Coty had hiked around and up to Deep Lake while we were out climbing and gave us a rundown of the area. We decided that would probably be a good plan for the next day, Monday. We’d made tentative plans to try and meet Matt and Leanne back at the cars around 1 or 2 pm for beers.
Monday morning came and we slept in until 7:30 or so. A quick oatmeal and boiled egg breakfast and we headed up to Deep Lake. The area between Deep and Clear Lakes is a massive slab of granite. Over the years soil and plants have taken hold, but as we hiked higher the plants gave way to more and more rock. After about 30 minutes we reached the shore of Deep Lake. From here was got an unobstructed view of the precipitous face of East Temple. I really would like to learn more about the climbs on this peak. I’m not sure that they are within my ability but it is an impressive mountain.
After a short break we continued up the tiny trail towards Temple Lake, which is over a small ridge separating the Deep/Clear Lake drainage from the next one to the west. The snow melt was in full swing and at times the trail was just a small stream requiring us to tiptoe around it on wet grass. We reached the top of the ridge and were granted a view down into Temple Lake, which still had ice and snow on it in spots. The weather was great and the sun was out. It was a great spot for a snack. We were completely by ourselves.
Heading back down to Clear Lake we struck camp and headed out. Thankfully the way out wasn’t marred by any inclement weather, though we did hear a couple rumbles of thunder. Getting Coty on the radio we learned we was well a head of us and had just been passed by Matt and Leanne, which meant we’d all get to the cars around the same time. The seven mile hike went quickly on the way out, though it was a little hot–thank god for the breeze to cool things off and keep the mosquitoes at bay. We reached the cars and were able to swap stories of the weekend over ice cold beers (thanks to a sweet cooler). A great end to a mountain weekend.