Vol. 15, No. 32, February 3, 2003

Climbing the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming

Rule, Kopczynski
Alex Rule (L) and Cary Kopczynski at the top.

In one of the BBRC’s famous “Been There, Done That” programs, the audience was entertained by the exploits of two of our number – Cary Kopczynski and Alex Rule – who teamed up last August to spend nearly two weeks in the obscure Wind River Mountains. In a brief, but powerful, introduction, President Kim Shrader hailed programs presented by our own members.

Cary and Alex have a common interest in mountains … and mountain climbing and hiking. Cary opened with a geography lesson. “Most of us know about Grand Teton National Park with the formidable Grand Teton peak at 13,700 feet. But, a stone’s throw to the east are the Wind River Mountains, which have taller peaks. Some of the nation’s largest glaciers, and 1,600 high-altitude lakes dot this area that is 120 miles long and 60 miles wide. The area is difficult to access, with the Bridger Federal Wilderness area on the western side and the Wind River Indian Reservation on the east.”

Cary remarked that there is “little human activity in these parts. We saw only two other people during our ten days in the Winds. Alex and I planned this summer trip and rendezvoused in Salt Lake City in August. In order to access the mountain range, you must cross reservation land. Thus, we hired a Shoshone Indian guide. There were three of us, including Alex’s brother Philip (Flip), from a small town in Maine. Flip handled the string of horses which packed in our gear and Alex and I hiked the first 25 miles. Horses can travel at four miles an hour; man, closer to three miles per hour. The horses passed us before we reached our destination – Lake Heebeecheechee (spelled phonetically!). Most all of these 1,600 lakes are loaded with native cutthroat and other species.”

Wind River Mountains of WyomingAlex took the microphone and described the first climb. “Our week-and-half outing in the Winds began at the lake at 10,400 feet. This is line of sight climbing. You can see exactly where you’re going. Since the elevation is so great, there’s hardly any underbrush. The Wind River Mountains represent the single largest piece of granite in North America. The scale in this place is awesome. There are lakes everywhere. My climbing partner, Cary, is as strong as an ox and motivated. He was always out in front, waiting for me to reach the ridgeline! Wolverine Peak is 12,350 feet and is a great example of glacial scouring, leaving broad expanses of incredible valleys. Almost all the peaks have a couple thousand feet of vertical face. The effects of the ice age are truly spectacular.”

Alex continued as the pictures they brought back showed their trek to the summit. “There is little vegetation at this altitude. At the summit, there was a 2,500 hundred foot vertical drop. Mount Odyssey, at 12,000 feet, revealed a panorama of the Wind River range.” Alex pointed out mountains across the valley, with water pouring out of the granite. He commented that Cary and he have a “common ground and a love of climbing. I love the BBRC for that.”

This part of the world features the Continental Divide. Take a look at a map and you’ll see that Wyoming is bisected several times by this important geographic feature. Cary remarked that “this country provides an endless lifetime full of hikes. If you love high mountain lake fishing, then this is the place for you. The lakes are full of native fish. cutthroat, rainbow, brook, and golden trout. A common catch is a 20-inch cutthroat. What makes this an ideal place for fish is that most lakes have fresh water shrimp in them, which gives the fish a year-round food supply. Even when the lakes are iced over (about six months out of the year) there is still food available.” The climbers said the fish were plentiful and, when cooked, were combined with lots of wine. The audience wondered how they got all that wine up in those mountains. They said they had to leave some behind (?).

Wind River Mountains of WyomingAlex described an “afternoon of non-climbing”  – building a fire along side the bank of the lake, catching some fish, lying on their backs, looking at the sky and clouds, and eating fish. (Oh, yes, and drinking some wine!).  Said Alex, “The light in that part of the world is amazing. The mood of the mountains can change at the drop of a hat. There were afternoon thunderstorms almost daily. There was bear in the area, so that warned us to haul our stuff up a tree. Problem was these were black bears and they climb trees! After a night’s rest we rose to find a pack and a float tube taken during the night. Bears are pretty smart,” Alex observed. 

The tallest peak in the range is Wolverine Peak. Since there is no underbrush, there are no trails; the climbers just ramble. They traversed a glacier and got to 12,700 feet. “We were exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Cary wants to go again.

Alex closed their presentation with a quote from the great naturalist, John Muir: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out I found, was really going in.” That pretty well summed up the trip to the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, the presentation received with great enthusiasm and admiration by the BBRC audience. Thanks to Alex and Cary!

President Kim said, “You know what’s coming next,” as he prepared to give a certificate to Cary and Alex for their program. “It was a great trip and thanks for sharing,” said Kim. For their work, the Club has donated 240 doses of polio vaccine in each of their names to help eradicate polio worldwide.

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