Fun Layers (AKA Wind River Adventure in Three Parts)

Previously… Adventures Delayed AKA the prologue to this story or AKA how I ended up backpacking 52 miles while pregnant.

August 2021 – 21 weeks pregnant. McDonalds breakfast in hand and starting the two day, 15 hour drive to Lander Wyoming! 

After a pandemic year of canceled adventures and a general sense of being cooped up at home, it felt great to be driving out west. That drive, even when it’s seemingly empty and monotonous is also astoundingly expansive. The slower you move through a landscape the greater the sense of awe and connection. Flying is so unsatisfactory. 

Part One – We started with so much Type 1 Fun in Spearfish SD

At the Spearfish campground. We deeply enjoyed this creek.

How very fortunate that our first two days had gone so smoothly. Type 2 Fun was just around the corner. 

The Fun Scale:
Type 1 Fun is classic fun. It’s laughter and relaxing. It’s what most people when they think of a “vacation.” But for people like us, nothing but Type 1 Fun gets kinda boring.
Type 2 Fun is not fun at the time, but the best fun in hindsight. It’s miserable and challenging and sometimes scary. Type 2 Fun tests your grit, endows confidence, and makes for the best stories you retell for a lifetime. 
Type 3 Fun is not fun. You thought it was going to be fun and it wasn’t at the time and isn’t fun to recall. It’s traumatic. Type 3 Fun usually involves hospitals and sometimes bodybags. Be careful not to underestimate the risks in your adventure. 

Day three of our fourteen day trip was day one on trail. Type 2 Fun was sneaking up on us slowly. Our trail head was Bruce’s Bridge at 7,000’ elevation. We started in a warm intermittent rain. 

Our first evening was pleasant enough, but it was a good thing we had dinner at 4pm because at 6pm started a steady rain that didn’t let up for fifteen hours. 

Day two was also intermittent rain but now the temperature was around 50ºF. We took a lunch break shortly after making it to 10,000’ and crouched between some boulders for protection. 

Good thing the hiking was so easy and beautiful. I’ve done my fair share of hiking and backpacking. Some hiking is gorgeous but physically brutal. Some hiking is easier but claustrophobically green. Here the path was rustic but well maintained and surroundings from the trailhead at 5,000’ to 11,000’ were open and enchanting. 

On the afternoon of day two we had made it past the base of Wind River Peak and explored off trail to find a beautiful place for our dispersed camp site. It was at 11,000’ right when the trees turn into stunted little bushes. We set up on the east edge of an alpine lake with classic granite cliffs on it’s western side. 

Dispersed camping is when there is no established or required camp sites and zero accommodations. There are slightly different rules depending on the land you are on. Often the rule is that you must find your own place to set up at least 200’ away from any trails or water sources. There are often limits on how long you can continuously occupy the space. There are no fire rings or pit toilets and as always, you should Leave No Trace (LNT). Dispersed camping is usually free. It can also be very beautiful and peaceful as there should be a real immersion in nature with no human impact. It’s also challenging camping as you need to be very self sufficient and proficient with your LNT skills. 

It had been a long day so we decided to have two of our hot dinners. 

Part Two – Begin the ominous music…

Remember, Type 2 Fun pictures are very rare. When you’re in the thick of misery or fear, you rarely think “This is a great time to pause and fumble around with my phone/camera” 

While setting up and tending to the camp kitchen the temperature was dropping. The day of scattered rain was transitioning to scattered snow and sun. It was beautiful. And cold. I put on my puffy wrap skirt and mid layer jacket. Though one meal, and then the next (which was taking too long due to a packing error we will not make again) I was shivering on and off. As I struggled to choke down my much needed second dinner Will came back from securing our food bags and pointed to an dark cloud bearing down on us. I shoveled the food down as fast as I could while packing up the kitchen while sleet started to pelt down. 

I dove into the tent vestibule just as the hail hit. Shivering and fumbling with zippers I broke down. Will popped in to find me half in and half out of the tent sobbing. 

“Oh no! What’s wrong?” 

“I’m… just… cold…” I got out between sobs. I wasn’t quite hypothermic, but it’s something I’m prone to. We’ve been here before. 

Will ever so lovingly helped me get my shoes off, get me all the way in the tent, and redress me in all my warmest layers, and snugged me down in my sleeping bag. Even with the hail beating our tent I knew I was safe. It didn’t take long for me to feel very content. Everything was done, we were safe and cozy and would stay that way for the next 12 hours. Or so I thought. 

After I was warm and cozy, happily reading Jane Eyre, I took this picture of the hail from the vestibule. Back when I thought I wouldn’t be opening that fly for at least 10 hours.

10pm, we had been asleep for about two hours when we woke up to the tent wildly angrily flapping in the wind. It wasn’t just annoying, it wasn’t sustainable for the tent. Worried, we got out and saw to tightening things up. One guyline was being held out by a rock, which the wind had slid loose. So Will pulled it taught and piled up more rocks on it. It seemed to do the trick, the tent was quiet. We fell back asleep. 

2am WILD ANGRY FLAPPING. Fuck. What the hell? What else could we do? Just wait out a miserable anxious windy night? I figured we were awake, so at least I’d pee. While crouching in the vestibule with my pants around my ankles… SNAP! The windward corner by Will’s head had popped. FUCK FUCK FUCK. 

We had to pack up. Sitting in a broken tent with the wind continuing to rip at it was not a sustainable option. I struggled get my pants back on and into the tent. We deflated pads, stuffed sleeping bags, repacked our packs and crawled out of our sad tent into the sharp deep night. 

Careful to not lose anything to the wind in the dark, we un-staked and packed up our broken tent. By headlamp I made the short trek to the camp kitchen, and Will to the food stash. Will gave me his wind pants and gloves in the biting cold. Our headlamps swept the grass, rocks, and shrubs, scanning for misplaced gear. Then we began a slow careful hike down. We needed to get out of the wind. We needed to go down elevation until the trees were full sized. 

We had crossed some talus (in this case a field of pillow sized rocks) and a little stream to get to a goat trail which we followed to get back to the main trail. 

I’ve never had to navigate at night. This could have very much been an out of the frying pan into the fire situation. For some it may have been safer to just hunker down in some bushes and wait out the night. But being able to stay oriented in new surroundings, in the dark, under stress, was possible for us. It comes from being vigilant and super oriented while we explored during the day. It comes from practicing being always oriented in our daily lives. It’s also risk assessment. Even if something else went wrong while hiking in the dark, we were still equipped to handle it. 

Back on the main trail, Will started to dip off trail into trees periodically looking for a new place to set up. It didn’t take long to find a suitably flat soft spot surrounded by large healthy trees. Will fixed the broken tent corner and we got re-set up. Then Will had to poop. Of course. 

4am Finally back in the cozy tent, trying to fall back asleep. 

Part Three – Summits and more hail…

Day Three. We let ourselves sleep in until the exceedingly late 9am. It was a relief to wake up to a partially blue sky. 

Will starting breakfast on day three from the new camp spot we found at 3am.

Today was supposed to be our day to summit Wind River Peak of 13,197’. By 12:30 we had stashed most of our stuff in the shrubby Krummholz spruce (which we just call ‘crummies’), took one pack with water, snacks, and emergency supplies, and began our slow and steady hike up. It seemed ridiculously late to start a summit bid. But we agreed on a turn around time, and knew what conditions in both the weather and my pregnant body we would turn around for. 

Slow and steady, it started beautifully. 

At the base of Wind River Peak!
Careful hiking through the talus.

As we went up, the terrain changed from soggy grass, to scree, to talus and then finally to car sized boulders at up to a 42% incline. While it wasn’t “climbing” it also wasn’t “walking” and I was grateful for all my strength, mobility, and cardio fitness that made it a fun challenge. With 500’ or so to go (which feels way longer than it seems) we were fully in the clouds. We evaluated, was it safe to continue? Did we want to continue? Yes. We repeated that evaluation again with 300’ to go when the clouds were spitting a bit of snow at us. 

YES! SUMMIT! Even though there was nothing to see but the white sheet of clouds. 

Slow and steady on the way down as well. Many tragedies occur after people let down their guard. Yet with the summit behind us and the weather seeming to hold, we took our time to enjoy the views. 

Descending out of the boulders.

Five hours after we had started we were back to our stash of gear. We repacked and headed down another 500’ or so to find a peaceful spot to camp. Thankfully, after three long days and two challenging nights, this one was blissfully uneventful. We would need it because the next 24 hours would be eventful. 

Day four was for exploring off trail adventure! 

Looking at the map Will identified a peak just northeast from Wind River Peak. It was an unnamed little blip compared to the more jagged continental divide. After hiking down to the river on trail, we took a bearing for up and away. We were headed for what looked like some flat high areas about one mile off trail. It took some frustration and patience but we did find some high mountain meadows around 10,500’ to set up camp. From there we set off for our next peak! 

Will pointing to Wind River Peak. The peaks on the right in the foreground was our next summit.

It was beautiful easy hiking. I felt transported to the Sound of Music. I couldn’t help but skip and bound and run in the expansive grassy saddle adjacent to our summit.

The actual summit took a little boulder scrambling. We dubbed it Sprout Peak, after our nickname for the baby.  

Sprout peak dance!
360º view

Not long after beginning our nice walk down we got a glimpse of lightning in the distance and then the hail began to sting our faces. DOWN DOWN DOWN! Hiking over the rocks and through the trees as fast as we could back to our meadow and tent! We got ‘home’ safely and snuggled down. 

The rest of the afternoon was on and off sun with rain/sleet/hail. 

A moment of sun between the storms.

Around 4pm in an increasingly narrow gap of no rain we figured we should make dinner.  It unfortunately was again the same miscalculated meal we ate two nights ago in the scattered snow. It was still an unfortunate meal even with a revised cooking plan. We ate a watery burnt bean and rice thing in the wet cold. The best Will could say was “it won’t make us sick.” 

With everything done, clean, and buttoned up we crawled into our cozy tent. Then the rain and hail began in earnest. Then the lightning, which got quite close. But we were in the safest spot we possibly could have been. There was no point in moving. It passed. 

9pm and we had just been drifting off to sleep. In the dark, behind my eyelids I sensed the lightning.  Again. After a while of laying there counting seconds between lightening and thunder, listening to it get closer, I asked “Are you awake? Are you counting?” Yes, of course he was. 

When it got to 5 seconds (about one mile away) we reluctantly sat up. Sitting up means less potential contact with the ground in case of a nearby lightning strike. 

It’s not fun sitting up in the cold dark trying to count the seconds between the most blinding flashes and biggest booms, waiting for it to pass, trying not to let your imagination run away with you. 

It did pass. And the tent held. And we got sleep. 

We woke up at dawn to hearing the howling wind in the trees. Thankfully our tent was protected from the gusts but we could sense the stinging cold. 

Warm and snug in my sleep system I scowled at the weather. I proposed what I always hate. I hate hiking on an empty stomach. I hate having to pack up in a rush without enjoying some coffee and the morning light. But I also hate being cold. And it was certainly in the low 30s (F) and windy AF. 

So I said “Let’s just GTFO and have breakfast when we’re lower and warmer.” And that’s what we did. 

See the hail outline of our tent? it’s between Will and my pack. It was so cold we had to keep rewarming our fingers.

The hike down the north side of our special off trail mountain meadow was an adventure in itself. It was very steep, wet, and a maze of old blow down. Giant bark-less trees to work around or over with no end in sight for what felt like quite a long time. 

All the Type 2 Fun was worth it. Ultimately this trip was a Type 2 Fun sandwich. Big slabs of Type 1 Fun on either side of our adventure. On day five of our backpacking (and day 7 of 14 of our vacation) we had worked our way through most of our Type 2 Fun and were on to a big chunk of Type 1 Fun. 

The middle fork of the Popo Agie river

Our last 24 hours of backpacking were sunny, warm, and easy. We plenty of time sunning ourselves on smooth rocks, reading, and eating. Our camp was perfectly flat soft pine needles in an open bit of forest. We ate a quick, easy, satisfying meal and slept soundly. 

The most challenging (and memorable) part of this trip was over and we still had seven more days to go! 

Next up: No strippers, Yes Climbing (AKA Epilogue to the Wind River Adventure)

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2 Responses to Fun Layers (AKA Wind River Adventure in Three Parts)

  1. Pingback: Adventures Delayed (AKA Prologue to Wind River Adventure) | Midwest With Zest

  2. Pingback: No Strippers, Yes Climbing (AKA Epilogue to our Wind River Adventure) | Midwest With Zest

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