CDT Thru Hike: Wind River Range

Hi everyone, since we’re a little behind on the updates we’re going to jump ahead a bit here and go straight to the Wind River Range. We have a lot to catch you up on, but of all the sections we could skim over this is not the one. This particular range, “the winds” as it’s commonly referred to, is roughly the middle of the Wyoming portion of the CDT. A beautiful, challenging range, this section is a thru hiker favorite.

As with many miles of the CDT, the highlight of this range wasn’t even on the official route. There are two alternates in this stretch: Knapsack Col and Cirque of the Towers. We started heading into the Knapsack alternate but had to bail due to bad weather. Lucky for us though, there’s no not scenic route through these mountains. After a chilly climb up a pass back to the official trail we were treated to many miles of lakeside hiking, surrounded by towering peaks.

Within our first few days in the winds we were hit with some storms rolling through. There was one day our hiking was marked by breaks to wait out the weather, with one thunder storm passing especially close as we sheltered underneath some pine trees to cook dinner, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder. We’d hoped that storm was the worst of it and set a goal of five more miles before setting up camp. We wouldn’t be so lucky though, as we neared our five mile mark the sky was clouding up again and we could hear more thunder closing in fast.

The tent was barely set up and bear bags hung when the rain hit. Of all the close storms we’d had so far on trail, this one took the title of downright scariest. As the wind and rain picked up and the time between lightning and thunder decreased to nearly in sync, we resorted to one of our only real means of distraction. We huddled under our quilts to watch an episode of Star Trek. By the time the episode ended, the storm had subsided enough for us to fall asleep.

The following day we got a late start due to taking the time to dry out our gear in the morning sun. There’s no guarantee the sun will stick around in the mountains, no matter what the forecast says, so you have to take advantage of it any chance you can get. Despite the late start we still managed to make good time and reach the Cirque alternate late that afternoon.

Our introduction to this trail came in the form of a rocky pass that, at first look, didn’t appear to have any real trail up it at all. We did eventually find one, and upon making our slow and steady way to the top we got our first good look at what lay ahead.

It was disappointing to have to bail on the Knapsack alternate, but we didn’t know that much about it anyway and therefore couldn’t be as disappointed about missing it. The Cirque alternate however, this one we were more familiar with and had been looking forward to for quite some time. It was a relief to see the skies clear up in time for us to safely take this route.

In fact, the weather was so nice that our first night on the Cirque alternate we opted to sleep under the stars rather than set up the tent. This meant that not only did we get a beautiful lakeside sunset, we got an equally beautiful sunrise as our wake up call the following morning.

We’ve done this a few more times since then, though most nights we do still set up the tent. Despite how lightweight it is, it does hold in a bit of heat as well as provide a good wind block; two things we’ve begun appreciating more as we’ve ventured into higher elevation.

Heading up to the final pass of this alternate the trail brought us by some of the most stunning lakes we’ve passed so far. The water was vibrant blue and turquoise, and the wind created incredible swirls on the surface when it hit just right.

In true thru hike fashion, this scenic, rewarding hiking ended almost as abruptly as it began. There’s a certain type of beetle wrecking havoc on most of the forests we’ve been through, resulting in an unhealthy high number of blow downs. In the last several miles of this section we hit a stretch of trail where the blow downs were so bad there was no trail to follow. Our only option for getting through was to choose the path of least resistance in the general direction we needed to go, then push and climb our way through on top of the downed trees. As you might imagine, this made for a very slow send off out of the winds.

One thought on “CDT Thru Hike: Wind River Range

  1. Tremendous views! Not surprised you pulled out the Star Trek episode during that thunderstorm–close to nature is nice, but that sounded too close for comfort! Which one of you said, “Beam me up, Scotty” first?


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