Total Miles: 1481.4
Did we miss something? Not five minutes down the trail from where we’d slept, it looked like a great hand had swept through the forest and toppled everything in its path, both the living and the dead. What looked like perfectly healthy trees, some several feet in diameter, lie one upon the other like match sticks that had spilled from their box. Where their trunks had once met the soil, rough disks of earth full of roots and boulders now stood perpendicular to the ground still attached to each fallen tree.
The damage was certainly recent and it appeared as though we might be the first to negotiate the labyrinth of horizontal forest that stood in front of us. But what could have caused this? Our only guess was the snow storm from a week ago, but having seen nothing approaching this degree of destruction in the week since, it didn’t make much sense.
After less than a mile, the obstacle course seemed to be behind us though the number of scenic bushwhacking detours over uneven ground had slowed our pace to a crawl. As the forest opened into grassy hillsides, I can’t say we were disappointed, not only to be free of the potential for navigating yet more blowdown but for the scenery that started to appear around the corner.
Pronghorn sheep scattered and breezed across the hills, even though we were never closer than several hundred yards. Distant small cabins came into view in the sweeping Green River Valley with its namesake river carving a path from the towering peaks in the southeast to the open country in the northwest.
Following the aptly named Green River, it would expand from river into lake and back again, its waters shifting between emerald green and the shade of turquoise that calls to mind the lakes of the Canadian Rockies. Ahead of us, the peaks of the Wind River Range began to unfold in earnest.
Immediately in front of us, Squaretop Mountain dominated the valley, like a close relative of Devil’s Tower or even a sibling to El Capitan. The closer we came to its foot and the more its neighboring summits rose above our heads, the more it felt like a version of Yosemite Valley devoid of its throngs of people.
Having followed along the course of the river for miles, the trail began to tilt upwards which made for a welcome change from all of the flat walking, as pleasant as it had been. Before the climbing could really even begin, we came across a US Forest Service trail crew who were working to clear what was another stretch of spectacular blowdown.
Upon hearing of our stories of blowdown from earlier this morning, the crew said that last week’s storm was indeed the culprit and that instead of snow, the wind had been particularly violent in the area, even upending several trailers at campgrounds not far from where we stood. Working with only non-mechanized equipment to clear the trail since we were in a wilderness area, they said they expected the work to take the better part of a year or even two to fully restore the trail. In the meantime, they cautioned us to expect some severe sections of blowdown for the rest of the trail through the Wind River Range. So, we’ve got that going for us…
As we climbed away from the crew and alternated between open trail and utter disaster, requiring rough detours both large and small, I heard a snap that did not sound like the breaking of a dead tree limb. One of Emily’s trekking poles had snapped when negotiating some downed trees. After a moment of silence for its sad end, I lent her one of mine and on we went, happy that tomorrow would be a day almost entirely above treeline, far from the tangled mess we’d run headlong into today.