With the busy summer tourist season in full swing, Iâ€™ve been â€˜making the donutsâ€™, yet somehow still managed to pull off a three-day ski trip into the Wind River Range last weekend. I wanted to go earlier this spring/summer, say 1-2 months ago, but it just didnâ€™t work out with partners and schedules. Luckily though, I was contacted by a friend Andy Dimmen from Colorado about a trip last minute and was able to make it work out.
Most of the lines on my Winds â€œhit-listâ€ require better conditions than what can be expected in mid July, but it was still fun touring and skiing around the Titcomb Basin area and Mount Helen (WY 5th highest) and another random peak nearby. There is still a ton of snow in the Winds above 10.5kâ€™, though there are some near penitente sized sun-cups on the flats, which can make skinning and walking rather interesting.
We started the 16-or-so mile hike/ski into the basin from Elkhart Park TH at about 8AM on Friday and moved quickly through the first 4 miles on a mostly dry trail to Photographers Point, passing dejected fishing pole toting backpackers and weary teenage NOLS groups on the way. Some looked at us with confused stares, while others commented that we were the smart ones with the skis. Of course, we agreed.
The next 4 miles were mostly snow covered, with dry patches here and there. We opted to keep walking and our feet got soaked in our tennies as we post-holed and sloshed through water submerged trails and creek crossings. It wasnâ€™t until we reached Seneca Lake that we started skinning, and then it was mostly smooth sailing (relatively speaking) the rest of the way. I was on my lightest setup, 175 BD Guru skis w/ Dynafit Titanium bindings (discontinued) and TLT5 Performance boots, which made the last five miles of skinning with the heavy pack on almost enjoyable.
The basin lakes were frozen, but the sections with running water at the top and bottoms of the lakes were melted out, which made getting water easy. We camped in between the lakes and slept well, regardless of how loud our pyramid tent flapped in the stiff breeze. Old tracks in the snow donâ€™t last long in the heat of the summer (we could barely see our entry tracks two days later on the way out) but it looked like there may have been someone in the area about a week priorâ€¦going for Gannett.
We got up with the sun the next morning, not in too much of a hurry, and made it out of camp just after 7AM with our eye on an east-facing line right next to the tent that already was getting the sun. The cramponing was easy on the firm snow and we gained elevation quickly. Hitting a ridge, we continued on towards the summit and enjoyed stellar views of classic Wind River terrain, as well as the Tetons in the distance.
We skied a little different line than we climbed, which make the descent more interesting. The snow was in decent shape and the skiing was fun, especially were it got steeper and as we skied down to the water filled pools on the frozen lake. We put our skins on and then toured deeper into the basin to look around and find something else to ski. It seemed like Helen Couloir was the most logical choice, since it is probably the biggest skiing feature in the basin.
A few falling rocks in the couloir kept our focus looking upward and I was glad I had my helmet on. The wind kicked up as we neared the top of the couloir and my body was starting to feel the miles and vertical. The rest at the top felt good, but the wind kept it short and we were soon skiing. After the top few hundred feet, a large runnel forced you to choose one side of the couloir. I went left, Andyâ€¦right.
Surprisingly, the slog back to camp wasnâ€™t too hot. With the sun reflecting tall granite walls and snow covered slopes surrounding the basin, it can often feel like a furnace this time of year, but the wind and cloud cover kept things comfortable. An hour or two after arriving at camp, the clouds grew and finally rained on us, forcing us to take shelter while the thunder cracked above as well. The storm broke just before sunset, which gave us time to whip up some dinner outside as the peaks and cloud turned red.
The wind died down and allowed us some much needed rest that night, but we were up-and-at-em in the morning, packing our packs for the ski out. It took great focus to not stuff a ski tip in the pothole sized frozen sun-cups for the first few miles, but once in the sun and a couple hours later, the snow began to soften making travel more enjoyable. Some snow on the approach had melted from when we came in, but we were able to skin out a lot further and we didnâ€™t really fully commit to walking until arriving back at Photographerâ€™s Point, where the bugs began to surround us as soon as we stopped. Ahhhâ€¦summer.