The Wind River Range is Wyoming’s best-kept secret—so much so that I’m reticent to even write about it here. In fact, I vowed I wouldn’t publicly reveal our exact destination as a condition of our two local friends allowing my wife, Kelly, and me to tag along. And it’s for good reason: Less than a half-dozen others passed through our private, paradisiacal glacial basin in the three days we camped there. Nobody else so much as stopped for lunch.
There’s a wild rhythm to the world’s great ranges and desolate places. In our homes and cities and with our technology we are distracted from it, but it doesn’t go away; it persists, unheard. When we set our boots to the soil in these lands, we take up that rhythm, or more accurately, it takes us up, and the transformation is surprisingly swift. It’s like a pulse, an essential, underlying, living tempo and the granite, the subalpine spruce, the glacial tarns, and the blankets of heather crumble, ripple, and sway along, syncopated, irregular, and unassailable.
The Winds are aptly named, though lengthening their title to the Wind, Rain, and Lightning Range would provide a better descriptor. Throughout the first 13 miles of our hike we were accompanied by a thick rainfall of a type unique to the alpine—the rain doesn’t so much fall as cling to you as you pass through it. Adding to the soggy ambience was a ubiquitous, perpetual roll of thunder punctuated by vague flashes of lightning.
“There’s a wild rhythm to the world’s great ranges and desolate places. In our homes and cities and with our technology we are distracted from it, but it doesn’t go away; it persists, unheard.”
Graciously, the conveyer belt of storms paused long enough for us to set up camp our first night beneath a tetrahedral massif. But by now, the damage was done and, combined with our gain of 2,000 vertical feet, the temperature had dropped close to freezing. Save for a few minutes cooking our dinner, we remained tent-bound for the balance of the evening.
We woke to sunny skies that, except for a spate of gusty storms our second night, generally prevailed, keeping us warm and satisfied. We also abandoned trails altogether on our second morning, traveling cross-country over saddles between higher peaks and eventually down into our Shangri-La: a moraine ringed in lofty granite spines, carpeted in heather and soft grasses. Except to hike out in a few days, we had no agenda but to ponder the peaks, swim in the azure waters of unnamed alpine lakes, let the breath of the mountains wash over our skin, and feel the beat of the wild throbbing up through our bare feet.
The breath of the Wind River Range is the omnipresent wind; its dull roar over the ridgelines overhead was sedated by the time it reached us in affable waves, like the ocean tides had somehow penetrated thousands of miles of the American West and had come to rest two miles high atop the Miocene Plateau. The breeze set our pace—it dictated when we rose and when we slept, when we ate and when we swam. It allowed us to explore much of the valley ahead of us, then informed us in violent howls when it was time to return to our camp. In the evening it acquiesced to our pleas for calm, and it retired with the sun, the neon orange and magenta cumulus clouds slowing their march across the sky in its absence.
Few of us have the luxury of fully succumbing to the heartbeat of the wilderness, and we soon had to return to civilization. For six miles we followed outlet streams bursting with trout, passed waterfalls like steppingstones down into the valleys ahead, climbed up and over knobby hills crisscrossed with game trails cut by grizzly and black bears, elk, cougar and deer, and eventually connected with an established path back to our cars. As the Winds diminished in size in the rearview mirror with each mile we drove from the trailhead, so did the pulse that had been beating through us those four days. Though we can no longer feel it, it still thrums on, eternal and immutable. Nothing can stop the cadence of the wild and un-tame.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Nick Lake now lives with his wife, Kelly, in Seattle, Washington. He takes every chance he gets to explore the endless peaks and valleys, beaches and forests, searching for stories to tell through his lens.