Beginners and Beyond in the Wind River Range, Wyoming

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13157A, Backpacking


  • Explore Wyoming mountains renowned for their beauty
  • Hike in inspirational settings with experienced leaders
  • Enjoy great company while learning new skills


  • Educational and practical instruction in backpacking
  • Tasty, vegetarian-friendly meals
  • First night’s lodging at a rustic lodge


DatesJul 20–27, 2013
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffPam Dalitz

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The southern Wind River mountain range affords a wilderness experience to make this backpacking trip truly memorable. Forming an unbroken line of beautiful wild lands for a hundred miles, their crest marks the Continental Divide. There are 45 peaks over 13,000 feet, and more than 1,300 lakes are sprinkled across the highest mountains in Wyoming, all fed by the clearest streams you’ve ever seen.

In this range, seven of the ten largest glaciers in the lower 48 have left their mark. The landscape is covered with rugged, serrated granite peaks, ridges and walls, alpine cirques, and magical hanging valleys. The “wow” of your trip will be a day-hike to a high pass for an overlook of the fabled Cirque of the Towers. The Cirque forms a 300-degree arc of granite towers above a lake that is almost surreal. Part of the fascination with this area lies with its remote location and the lack of visitors up until 50 years ago.

The Winds are a critical part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and help support the biodiversity required to maintain its healthy natural system of both flora and fauna.

Whether you have only a little hiking and camping experience, or just the desire -- if you want to improve your skill and confidence while enjoying a sensational location with experienced leaders, this trip is for you!

By the way, most participants also find that spending time in the company of other concerned, like-minded Sierra Clubbers from across the country is an added bonus to your vacation.

Your adventure will start at a remote rustic lodge near a popular trailhead. While there, you’ll have plenty of time to ask specific questions while reviewing topics like these:

  • Equipment, clothing and how to properly load your backpack
  • Safe wilderness travel: common problems in the backcountry and how to avoid them
  • Wilderness ethics and low-impact (Leave No Trace) camping
  • Our route and basic navigation skills
  • Planning your own wilderness travel
  • Expedition behavior and leadership

Our route will follow a mix of popular and little-used wild trails. This wilderness journey will take us through stunning settings. The distance we hike each day will increase as you get used to the elevation and the weight of your pack. You will find some routes to be uneven under foot, so proper footwear cannot be emphasized enough.

Each night, you’ll camp in sight of a gorgeous backcountry lake or stream, in a beautiful  setting. Everyone takes a turn helping with the cooking, clean-up, and water hauling. You’ll do your own camp set-up. Above all, you’ll have fun sharing this wilderness adventure with new friends who care about you and your safety.

You’ll work hard in this high, rocky terrain, but you’ll play hard as well. There’s nothing like setting your pack down on top of a pass to look out at miles and miles of new country at your feet. It’s exhilarating! You’ll learn skills that will help you to travel confidently and safely in mountain wilderness for years after our trip ends.


Day 1: You will need to be at the Jackson, Wyoming airport no later than 11a.m. After collecting the group and backpacks, we’ll caravan to our lodge for the evening at Big Sandy Opening, east of Pinedale.  This is a four-hour drive, about half of which is on dirt roads that usually are in reasonable condition.  Along this last stretch, you may actually see “the deer and the antelope play.” There will be time to get acquainted and answer questions in the evening. The lodge is located above 9,100 feet elevation.

Day 2: In the morning, we will cover instructional topics followed by a Questions and Answers session. After lunch at the lodge, we distribute the equipment and food, then hike about 4.5 miles to Boulter Lake. Net elevation gain 130 feet.

Day 3: We move farther north following the East Fork River, hiking about five miles to a campsite near small twin lakes. We’ll gain another 900 feet of elevation and camp above 10,000 feet.

Day 4: Turning east and south, we’ll cover more than five, but less than six, miles today. Depending on the group’s ability, we may be able to go cross-country and shave a little off our total mileage. We’ll drop 200 feet and will cross the East Fork River.

Day 5: We’ll pause just west of the towering peaks of the Cirque near Shadow Lake.

Day 6: We continue south to our layover camp. We will take breaks near Marm’s and Dad’s Lakes to admire their beauty. Our hike today will be downhill until we turn off the main trail for a 140-foot climb that's spread over a mile to our campsite near Donald Lake.

Day 7: This is our layover day when we can hike without packs. Most of the group will choose to hike up the Wisconsin Couloir to a view the Cirque of the Towers. Others may relax. Did you bring enough batteries for your camera? You’ll want to preserve the vistas.

Day 8: Today is a mostly level hike back to our starting point. We will pass small Mirror Lake and Fish Creek Meadows. Memorable views will be just over our shoulders, up the trail we just completed. You’ll be amazed how quickly the six-plus miles have passed as well as our whole week’s adventure. We’ll drive back to Jackson, arriving early evening. 



Getting There

Optional (extra cost) van transportation will be available and our trip will begin and end at the Jackson, Wyoming Airport. You’ll find this arrangement gives you several advantages:

  • No hassle to arrange carpools
  • Less gasoline needed -- pooh on the oil companies!
  • Fewer carbon emissions in the atmosphere -- help fight global warming!
  • Easier parking at trailhead -- space is limited
  • You help the Sierra Club set a good example!

Please arrange your travel to arrive at Jackson airport by 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 20. After a four-hour drive, we’ll arrive at our lodge. We’ll have you back to Jackson late Saturday, July 27. For those who wish to drive, the leaders will provide detailed directions.

Accommodations and Food

Our first meal will be dinner at the lodge the first night of our outing. Our last will be breakfast on the final day.

High-carbohydrate cereals, pasta, and dried fruit will make up the bulk of our meals, with cheese, nuts, and chicken adding a small amount of protein and fat. Most dinners will include hot soup and a dessert (no meal is complete without a treat!). Fresh coffee or tea will be available each morning.

Despite jokes about freeze-dried food, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good the food tastes. Everyone will take a turn on the cook/cleanup crew under the watchful eye of your leaders. We won’t allow any disasters -- we want to eat, too!

You’ll be able to tell your friends how you enjoyed four-star wilderness dishes. A quantity of trail treats will be available for your selection before our time on trail begins. If you have any special treats you can’t live without, feel free to bring those. It would help if vegetarians could be a little flexible. Please let the leader know of your food preferences and any allergies.

Trip Difficulty

As a beginner’s trip, this is rated ‘3’ or moderate because of the relatively short distances and duration. Backpacking is, by its nature, a strenuous activity, but it is a goal that most people, regardless of age, can attain. In addition to physical conditioning, your leader believes that mental preparation is also an important factor. Like runners, hikers need to understand what is happening to their bodies as they hike for several hours in a high-altitude setting. Some of this can be gained only through experience. You’ll have plenty of patient support as you gain such experience during this trip.

High altitude and challenging trails can make this trip physically demanding. A positive attitude and structured aerobic pre-conditioning will add to your enjoyment of the trip. You should engage in a regular aerobic training program for several months prior. Do not count on getting in shape the first few days of this trip. Start a regular exercise program—this means at least an every-other-day strenuous activity. Run, bike or swim for a half an hour, or walk fast for an hour. Include in your conditioning plan an occasional long walk on unstable terrain, while carrying some weight in a backpack. In addition to endurance, you will need leg strength; be able to lift yourself and your pack the equivalent of two stairs at a time.

Our trailhead (beginning) elevation at Big Sandy Opening is 9,100 feet. The total distance for days on the trail is less than 30 miles, with one layover day. On several days we’ll be above 10,000 feet. Our travel will be as exciting as each day’s destination. Since all backpack trips contain some strenuous elements, you owe it to yourself, as well as to the group, to get into the best possible physical condition.

Equipment and Clothing

Once accepted for this outing, you’ll receive a detailed equipment checklist. To enjoy this adventure to the fullest, you're also asked to come equipped with a flexible mindset, as well as a healthy sense of humor! Here are some equipment items to consider now:

  • The Club provides food and cooking equipment, first-aid kit, and water purification tablets. Bring only the absolute essentials and keep them as light as possible.
  • A pair of well-fitted, Vibram-soled boots providing adequate ankle support should be your first investment. Buy them and start wearing them NOW! Campmor, R.E.I., and EMS have a good selection. Find a knowledgeable clerk to help ensure they are properly fitted to your feet (with the socks you’ll use hiking). Many other pieces of equipment can be rented or borrowed, but not boots.
  • A backpack of the proper size for your torso is probably the next most critical piece of gear. Speak with knowledgeable salespeople or your leader and choose one that is light and well fitted, while accommodating the load we’ll carry. In addition to your equipment listed below, there should be room for a 12-15 pound load about the size of two gallons of water.
  • Your sleeping bag should be able to keep you warm on the expected cool nights. Daytime temperatures should be in the 70s but at night it can fall to the 30s.
  • Most people will enjoy hiking in shorts and a T-shirt, and long pants will not be needed except for inclement weather. People often put on long johns or other layered clothing and their rain pants for comfort in the evening.
  • A rain suit (not a poncho) is essential. Coated nylon or Gore-Tex is best, but vinyl will do in a pinch.
  • If you do not have a good lightweight waterproof tent, advise your leader. Your leader will also be encouraging the sharing of tents with other participants of the same sex. This will lighten our pack loads and minimize our camp “footprint.”

Please note that although we’ll carry a large first-aid kit, its use is reserved for emergencies only. You must supply all materials you may routinely need, including Band-Aids, moleskin, pain relievers, and especially any prescription medicines that you may need. No prescription drugs are included in our first-aid kit.



  • An excellent map of the area we’ll visit is “Hiking Map & Guide: Southern Wind River Range,” Earthwalk Press, 2289 Union St., Eureka, CA 95501; 800-828-6277.
  • We’ll be operating on these optional USGS 7.5-minute topographic maps: Big Sandy Opening, Mount Bonneville, Lizard Head Peak, and Temple Peak.


  • A good guidebook is “Climbing and Hiking Wind River Mountains” by Joe Kelsey; Falcon Publishing, PO Box 1718, Helena, MT 59624. 800-725-8303.
  • Another reference, with lots of good pictures is “Wyoming’s Wind River Range” also by Joe Kelsey, published by American Geographic Publishing, Box 5630, Helena, MT 59604.

All the references listed above are available from the Great Outdoors Shop in Pinedale; phone 307-367-2440. They are a wonderful resource for visitors.


We’ll discuss and practice minimal impact techniques and take on minor chores to erase the signs of less considerate packers, such as fire rings and “camp furniture.” We’ll also attempt to restore our campsites to their original condition. We may also encounter a variety of different user groups, and will consider the proper respect due others, a cornerstone of traditional western ethics. We will not be building campfires.

This trip is in an area protected by Congress as Wilderness, but most of Wyoming’s roadless areas have no such legal protection. We will discuss what wilderness protection means, reasons for protecting more land as wilderness and how we can do so. The area west of the Continental Divide has been grazed for years, and we will consider the effects of the Forest Service “multiple use” policy.

Broadening our focus, we’ll also consider the protection of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, its relation to the Yellowstone-to-Yukon movement, and perhaps topics like the “extinction vortex” facing flora and fauna in both Glacier and the over-loved Yellowstone national parks.

Each evening, time will be allotted to discuss national and local environmental issues. You are encouraged to come prepared and introduce any topics of interest.

The areas we will visit are quite remote, yet we’ll still see evidence of earlier users. We’ll have a magnificent setting to reflect on the question “How much wilderness is enough?”

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Bridger-Teton National Forest, Pinedale Ranger District.



After attending a Sierra Club trip several years ago, Pam Dalitz felt right at home. While enthusiastic about her love of nature, Pam wants to encourage others to get outside, while learning to preserve our remaining pristine wilderness. Pam has backpacked, hiked, bicycled, in the U.S. and Canada. She currently fills the role of Equipment Officer for the Rocky Mountain Sub-committee. Pam is a Wilderness First Responder, and works as a nurse in a very busy hospital. Pam shares her love for the outdoors with her two Golden Retrievers.


Roger Grissette has led outings for many years in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as the Eastern Sierra, Utah, Mexico, and Hawaii. Leading four to five trips per year recently, he's thrilled to share these adventures and their sense of discovery with a diverse group of Sierra Club members. Discussing challenges that face the wild places his trips visit is always a highlight for him, as is the time he spends in the camp kitchen. "Sometimes I feel I'm preparing a dinner party," he says. When not backpacking, he spends his spare time playing traditional music with friends in a string band.

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