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WRHR, day 1: Green River Lakes to Peak Lake, 18 miles 

Taking a small break under the cooling shade of tall pines, a stream gurgling nearby, Katlyn leans up from her pack-as-couch and exclaims, ”I just had deja-vu!”

Kelly and I look at her quizzically.

“It means I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”


I have long wanted to walk Wind River High Route, a variation from the more plodding Continental Divide Trail that follows the peaks from below, never quite touching their rocky passes or the wild (yet extreme) grandness.

But as a route, it was not something to do alone. It’s not so much getting lost since I have access to several bread crumb satellite tracks. It’s more how to manage all an off-trail route can throw at a hiker – snow fields, talus and scree, endless up and down on elk paths and many micro decisions better negotiated as a team.

I put out an all-call on social last June and put together a trio able to travel in late August – when it’s not yet too cold but the infamous swarms of mosquitos have subsided. Also, the daily afternoon electrical storms begin tapering.

Kelly Floro is a 28-year-old editor at The Trek and has walked the Appalachian and Colorado Trail. She lives a ’van life’ with her partner, Harv and has trained in Colorado for a month with a heavy pack.

Katlyn Pickett is 34 and has walked the Pacific Crest and Te Araroa, though most important, she’s done many routes and is fearless crashing through willows on a 65-degree slope or skipping over Volkswagen-sized talus.

I am old enough to be their mothers, and took two days to drive to Green River Lakes Campground about two hours southeast of Jackson Hole, where I took a few days to acclimate to the altitude with the help of Diamox.

It was a perfect spot to spread out gear like a garage sale and let the ’committee’ decide what should stay and what goes – like my two pounds of gummy bears (I swear it was only a half pound!) and snow gear like our axes and microspikes, plus bear spray for the extremely rare but possibly devastating chance we encounter a grizzly.

Kelly suggests we move fast and far on day one to set the pace and prepare us up for the hard bits to come which can slow a hiker to a crawl. So we shoot for Peak Lake, just under Knapsack Col.

This requires 2,400 feet of climbing over 18 miles but begins gently via the Highline Trail, part of the official Continental Divide. Right away, the group moves well. I’m not as fast, but no one seems in a big hurry. It’s more steady and full of conversation as we push along humpy moraine covered in blue bells, paintbrush and lupine. The water is a cool turquoise. The fortress of Square Top Mountain leads us like a massive cairn past both lakes then up into the high country.

The first day is always the hardest. I cut my food weight to twelve pounds for seven days, and cut three panels from my sleeping mat – the same one trail angel Margaret delivered to me on the Arizona Trail. I pack my fears taking my warmest bag, justifying it as something I can wear if the temps drop below freezing.

We meet lots of backpackers and day hikers before entering the forest to follow a waterfall, the trail on long and easy switchbacks. I take note the diamox is working and I feel good – also that we won’t have trail this good again for a while.

Clark Creek is lovely and we find more rock ’couches’ in shade to relax because soon we leave the Highline to meet to high country. It’s still clear and easy trail up to Vista Pass. Katlyn announces we’ve passed 10,000 feet and we’ll stay up here all week.

Our innate skills reveal themselves: Katlyn easily balances on a single log across a stream and runs ahead for a perfect photo. Kelly keeps us moving and on task, her pace quick and steady. I power uphills without a problem, though I hate leading feeling I’m holding everyone up.

“You’re too self conscious!” I’m told and just laugh. Right. Who cares anyway? As stunning Vista Pass reveals itself and pointy peaks reflect in an Alpine Lake, I realize we’re becoming a team and just moving ahead bit by bit and enjoying this spectacular place is what matters. It’s a shocking contrast to last season’s group, where it was all competitive jockeying for speed, leaving me to hike alone in truly dangerous country.

We hear thunder and feel a few drops, but never take out the rain gear. It’s a gray day, keeping things cool and we dive down into the woods, the fresh pine smell overwhelming.

We follow another enormous waterfall, crawling on our hands and knees under blowdown and into a shallow bowl under a seemingly impassable rock wall. Cube Pass.

We’re tired, but determined and there really is nowhere to camp. Thus begins the boulder hopping with overloaded packs. (three ounces less after lunch!) Someone has placed cairns which make little sense taking us straight up, but we oblige using our hands to reach a trail of boulders.

Lovely Dale Lake appears with views down a deep canyon, almost on top of Square Top now. It reflects Stroud Peak, Oeneis, Sky Pilor and with that struggle of rock, the high route initiation begins.

It’s easy now on a use trail to a large lake, Peak Lake, our planned campsite. We set in grass looking straight into tomorrow’s pass. Katlyn dunks in the water and I go so far as to wash my dusty feet. I am so tired, but so happy.

It’s important to recognize good fortune and enjoy it. It’s also important to know the difference between between quality partners and less quality partners.

My food bag is a little less now and I’m tucked in before dark. The water flowing from the lake sings me to sleep as it works its way into the Green River and eventually the Colorado to the sea.

One Response

  1. Day one did not disappoint! I’m rationing these entries, one per day. Adding it to my “ pill box” and cup of coffee.🤗

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