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Backpacking the Wind River Range at Green River Lakes Trailhead

Backpacking adventures in the Wind River Range. We started and returned to the Green River Trailhead in 8 days. We camped below Square Top Mountain and climbed many passes. We ate backpacking gourmet food compliments of the Sierra Club.Square Top Mountain Wind River Range

Anticipation was growing as we motored across rough, unpaved roads, jostling about the car and cursing grumbling about our discomfort.  Following the Green River all the way to trailhead with its green, lush beauty, gave promise to the wonderful world we were about to explore.

The river, surrounded by reeds and grassy fields, lined by evergreen trees, was a hotbed of trapping between 1820-1840 after John Fremont surveyed the area.  French Canadian fur trappers were already in the area on a small scale.  Beaver and otter were hunted, earning top dollar as the rising upper class had a thirst for fur and leather goods.  The mountain men were adventurous thrill seekers, risking life and limb.

Another backpacking adventure for me and my friend, Suzanne.  She is a very experienced backpacker, she can hike circles around me.  I’m not really sure why we put our bodies through so much punishment every year.  Sure the views are spectacular, nature is inspiring and it’s a great workout.  I think it might be that when a group of strangers meet up, experience something wonderful yet very difficult, bonds are made, stories are told, laughter lingers in the air.  Yes, that must be it.

This part of Wyoming has a rich history including the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Rendezvous between the trappers and middle men from St. Louis, the Mormon Pioneer Trail and the Oregon Trail.  I feel like I have travelled through time hiking these mountains.  It was easy to imagine the expeditions that came through here as well as the Native Americans thriving in this area of rich resources.

The Green River

We followed the Green River for a day in the beginning of our trip and the last 2 days.  The river really is green, rich in sediment, fed by a shrinking glacier at the headwater.  The water, cold and swift, was our water source during these days, it’s always important to hike along water or hike from water source to water source.  A backpacker needs about a gallon of water per day, this includes drinking, hygiene, rehydrating meals and cleaning your dish or pan.  I really don’t want to carry 9 gallons of water on an 9 day trip, do you?  This majestic river provided a much needed resource and we really appreciated her.

Backpacking The Wind River Range

We had good fortune in our selection of tent sites.  For most days we were able to set up camp on cushiony ground like this meadow.  It’s not always like that.  Sometimes you sleep on a rock, a big one, with no way to even pound your stakes into the ground.  Problem solving abilities are a strength out here.  Also, backcountry cooking skills.  Hot, rehydrated chili was the highlight of this days dinner.  Food just tastes better out there, after we earned it.

Backpacking Chili in The Wind River Range


Hiking over passes in The Wind Rivers

Sometimes the landscape looks like something from a sci-fi movie.  The picture above is how I envision Mars.  The picture below reminds me of the movie The Time Machine, the original one with Rod Taylor.    

High altitude lake in The Wind River Range Wyoming

High altitude lake in The Wind River Range Wyoming

After 8 days, all 12 of us emerged, alive, blistered, bruised and rejuvenated.  We came back a day early due to some last minute changes in our itinerary from the Park Ranger and weather.  We had to camp somewhere else the last two nights and the weather was cold and rainy.  We had a choice, go back a day early or hide out in our tents or under a tarp for a whole day.  We started imagining steak dinners and cold ales.  Yes, our nine eight day trip in the Wind River Range was spectacular!

High altitude lake in The Wind River Range Wyoming

If you are thinking about taking up this amazing hobby, rent or borrow some gear for your first couple of trips, small trips, like 1-2 days.  It’s a small investment and you will get to try out some gear before you buy, besides, you might not like backpacking, that would be painful if you just bought a bunch of gear.  You will make a lot of rookie mistakes in the beginning.  That’s why you should keep your trips short.  The most common mistake, made by 100% of all new hikers is carrying too much gear & weight.  Sometimes too much gear equals too much weight, sometimes the wrong type of gear equals too much weight.  A sleeping bag used in car camping is a no-go in the backcountry.  It’s too heavy, takes up too much space in your pack and won’t keep you warm in sub-freezing temps.  Did I tell you?   It gets really, really cold at high altitude.  I’m kind of wimpy so I bring my Marmot sleeping bag which is rated to zero degrees Fahrenheit on trips in July.  Yep, it’s cold at 11,000 feet, and the air is thin too.  It’s great if your gear has multi-uses, it saves on weight and space in your pack.

Multi-use gear you should bring with you when backpacking

  1.  Smart phone.  No, you usually can’t make calls up there so just read my 5 uses for the iPhone while backpacking below.
  2.  Bandana.  It’s a pot holder, your bowl is very hot at dinner, and a washcloth, and a snot rag (if you bring a second one), a neck cooler (dip it in the snow-melt river) and a tie thingy when you need to harness your mug to the outside of your pack.
  3. Mesh bag.  It holds your clothes and makes for a decent pillow, when the clothes are in it.
  4. Sleeping pad.  It keeps your warm as a barrier between your sleeping bag and the ground, and also functions as a comfy chair when leaned up against a rock or log.  It’s a good barrier to ticks when using it as a chair too.
  5. Rope.  You don’t need a lot, maybe 10-30 feet.  It makes a great clothes line when doing laundry or hanging up stuff to dry.  You can also use rope to tie your tent down to medium size rocks when you a re sleeping on a giant rock.  You can also hang up your bear bag, a bag with your food in it.  The rule of thumb is 10 feet up and 4 feet out, bears can climb trees.

5 Uses for the iPhone while backpacking

  1. Alarm Clock-  Normally I would not set my alarm while camping and let the songbirds wake me up but when camping with a group and it’s your turn to make breakfast, it’s a nice tool to have.
  2. Flashlight app-  This is not my primary source of light, I like to use a headlamp but it makes a good backup light.
  3. Camera app-  My phone takes decent pictures outdoors so why bring an extra camera?  That would just take up space and add precious ounces to  your pack.
  4. Kindle app-  There is a lot of downtime.  I like to nap, read and play games.  I usually have a book or two downloaded.
  5. Games-  Just in case I don’t want to read my book in #4 above.

All of these uses for the iPhone actually saves me a few pounds of gear in my pack.  The iPhone is definitely on my packing list every time.  I pack a small external battery charger and leave my phone in airplane mode or turn it off completely when not using. This has always been adequate for 9 days of backpacking.

Some recommended books:

  1.  Lip Smacking Backpacking, a culinary guide and cookbook to eating well in the backcountry.
  2.  Tales of the Mountain Man, 17 stories of survival, exploration and frontier spirit.
  3.  The Last Season the story of Randy Morgenson, Park Ranger.
  4. The Backpackers Handbook, 4th Edition by Chris Townsend.
  5. Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee


Git on out there!

Jamie Irons

Sunday 5th of April 2020

I've never hiked in the Wind River Range but I've always known about it -- two of my friends at Yale in the late 1960's backpacked there every summer. I've backpacked in similar areas --the entire summer of 1970 in the Canadian Rockies, and in the summer of 1972 in Yellowstone, on the Mirror Plateau.


Sunday 5th of April 2020

The Winds are beautiful and so easy to access. I have never been to the Canadian Rockies or even Yellowstone, but someday I will. I'll be back in the Winds someday. Happy hiking Jamie!