Iceberg Lake Pass(76.5)-Trail Lake Trailhead(94.9)
We woke up 18.4mi (11mi off trail miles) from the end of this route. Our goal was to make it low enough to have sheltered camping and we realistically didn’t think we’d have the time and energy to hike all the way out today. We had just one major obstacle for the day, Downs Mountain, the northern most 13er in the Winds at 13,350ft. It was about 2,000ft of relatively gradual climbing with a bit of every terrain mixed in there along the way. We did see one NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) group hiking up at the same time as we were on the the final stretch.
I think at this point, we’ve all seen so much this summer that it would take quite a bit to surprise us, so we found tagging Downs Mtn to be anti-climactic and more of a task. There was also a random talus pile that we walked by that was on the route for some reason for an extra 800ft, but we felt good about passing that one up as we were just about to get the same view going up Downs Mtn. Our minds were already on getting down and out of exposure after that storm that came through last night. Clouds were lingering and we didn’t want to tempt fate any longer than necessary.
From Downs Mountain, there were some small ups, but it was pretty much 6,600ft of downhill hiking left to do over about 14mi. We hit our last pass, No Mans Pass, soon after Downs.
From the pass, we entered what is known as Goat Flat for a few hours. It’s a wide open area with rocks in grass that would vary in quantity and ease of terrain. Many find it to be boring and tedious since the exciting stuff is over, but I found it to be relaxing and enjoyable to have more of an extended time to build a rhythm and stride and go on auto pilot after so many days of technical draining stuff.
As we cut across Goat Flat, we realized that we were on pace to actually finish today! It would be evening, but we’d be done and in a hotel tonight if we stuck it out. That was just the carrot we needed!
We hit the Glacier Trail and cruised down, mostly on gradual switchbacks to the trailhead. Just as we were starting the Glacier Trail, we had some sprinkles that thankfully didn’t do much and passed.
From there, we were able to get what we think was the last available room in Dubois. Whew, it’s done! These last few days have been a blur really. This route is a perplexing one to wrap up. Basically, the Winds are a great place and should be enjoyed. It felt very unnecessary at times to do all that we did. Yes, the photos can look amazing, and it seems adventurous, but think about the hours of effort that goes into getting to that one moment. I think that there are very few that will find this to be a great fit for a thru hike. Am I glad I did it? Yes I am. Would I like do it again? Certain parts, yes. Would I return to the Winds and experience it in a more relaxed manner? Yes!
If you’ve read all my entries, you know the guidebook isn’t professionally done by Skurka. These last two days had us questioning his judgement on some things and feeling like we couldn’t trust the safety of the route. There were many typos or mix ups in the materials for the last section that showed that it hadn’t really been reviewed and that worried us. The lack of quality of the content of the guide in such a risky area made us lose confidence in our guide. It seemed like Skurka just got tired and stopped describing anything. There were many many sloppy mistakes and we questioned the reasoning of the routing at times. We had little context by which to plan our timing. In such an exposed stretch, I think it’s imperative to have more detail as to the type of terrain and how long it would last so we could plan accordingly. The feeling was that we were hitting things briefly that look good on paper and in photos, but feel unsafe and exhausting in reality. That’s my honest opinion and people can decided for themselves where their tolerance level lies in the effort to reward ratio. Coming back to do Dixon/Wilson’s route interests me as I’d like to see things I didn’t on this route like Titcomb Basin, Europe Canyon, and Knapsack Col. The Winds are an amazing place and there is no reason to rank one experience over another or state one as inferior to the other. It’s just a matter of personal preference.
I know I’ll be getting many questions from people as to what I’d recommend when combining/comparing the two routes. I haven’t done all of both, so I can only speak to what I’ve done, which is all of Skurka’s route, and where I’d note a few things I might have done differently to make it a better experience. These are listed in order going south to north.
-The first two days, the miles on Skurka’s route before meeting Dixon’s (14mi of dusty forest and summiting Wind River Peak to go down a sketchy gully) felt unnecessary and not worth the time/effort. There is an alternate way down Wind River Peak that is safer that we didn’t do (Coon Lake Bypass) that may have made me feel differently about the whole thing. Taking the west gully down Wind River Peak is just playing with fire waiting for a rockfall to seriously hurt someone and doesn’t take you anywhere worth that risk.
-The 3rd day we had to choose Texas Pass or New York Pass and chose NY because it was new. Having done both, my personal thought is that I saw more and expended less effort doing Texas Pass, but if you’re looking for a more challenging off trail kind of hike for kicks, head over NY Pass.
-On our 4th day, we hiked in a great canyon up to Raid Peak Pass. Dixon/Wilson’s route stays high on this canyon and enters it later. I haven’t done it, but our experience being low with the mountains around us was one of my favorites.
-On our 5th day, our route took us over Photo Pass. This felt extraneously tiring after just completing two passes, and may have preferred to stay low for a bit on the D/W route instead. The reward just did not meet the effort on that one for me and felt more punishing than enjoyable.
-On our 6th day, we did not go down to Europe Canyon on the D/W route, but hear it’s great. We quite enjoyed the Europe Canyon summit and being up on the Divide with easy walking. That one is a toss up and will depend on personal preference what you might enjoy. High on the Divide or lakeside in the canyon with mountains high around you.
-On our 7th day, the back to back of Douglas Pass and then Alpine Lakes may feel exhausting for some. The D/W route does have a lengthier route around the pass, but it too has quite a bit of elevation. Again, not sure on that one.
-Days 8&9: Hmm, I don’t know what to say here. The D/W route (we didn’t do) I hear is just awesome to go over Indian Pass into Titcomb Basin and Knapsack Col. It’s a great option. Maybe we would have felt better about our last two days if we hadn’t done the first two and didn’t feel so ready to be done at that point. That’s a tough call. Those last two days on Skurka’s route feels very pushed and is difficult to enjoy at the end. The last day just felt long and drawn out and not sure if it was worth the efforts of that monstrous 8th day we had to pull.
So that’s my thoughts on the options, but bear in mind I haven’t done many of the other options. We will spend the next two days driving down to Rockin’s in Tehachapi and then I’ll have two days there before I set off for the Kings Canyon High Basin Route on Aug 5th. Why Not is headed home and Rockin’ will be going back to work (teaching). Again, I have to mention how impressed and inspired I’ve been to see these two pull off such mental and physical endurance over the last six weeks. Thank you to them for tolerating the schedule, routes, me, and both my endearing and no-so-endearing quirks. I’m sure that in itself is a test of endurance!
My hiking partner for the KCHBR will be E who hiked the GDT with me last summer, wahoo! This route is another somewhat new one from Skurka that I am currently very apprehensive about given this last week. Forums have listed many concerns about the route and some changes have been made. I still have a couple days to really assess the route and do some homework, but it will be interesting to see how it goes over almost 2wks of hiking. I do want to say that I appreciate Skurka’s efforts to find new routes that are challenging and hit more remote places. I just want to feel more confident that I’m being guided there to experience something worth the efforts. Not just to have another notch on my belt or claim to have done something superior. These things really shouldn’t be ranked and it’s the idea of one-upping other routes or needing to be crowned the best that can seem to detract from the overall goal of creating a great outdoor experience and cloud judgement when it comes to safety. I’ll get another post up on that route before we set off. The journey continues!