Yesterday it became vividly clear to me, once again, why I love living in Lander, Wyoming.
I was on an epic day hike that’s in my back yard in Wyoming. Along with a dear friend, Kathy Browning (also of Lander), I hiked the Big Sandy Lake trail over Jackass Pass to Lonesome Lake and the Cirque of the Towers. It was not my first time. I’ve been to the Cirque 3 times before. Still, every time I travel Jackass Pass and see the Cirque is like the first time. It is stunning. There’s no other way to describe it.
We left our home base of Lander, WY, at 5 am, and by 7 am, we were starting down the trail. By late morning we were having a picnic lunch above Lonesome Lake and the Cirque of the Towers.
The hike was about 18 miles roundtrip. Words fall short, and honestly I can’t find the words to adequately describe the sights on this hike. So this post will be mostly photos and video clips.
But since I’m a woman of (too) many words and can type 150 words per minute, what the heck, I will provide some verbage.
The first six miles from Big Sandy Trailhead to the end of Big Sandy Lake is an almost-flat “walk.” It’s mostly forested and follows alongside the Big Sandy River. If you look closely, you can see brook and cutthroat trout in its clear waters. This 6-mile stretch provides nice scenery and a gentle grade, but nothing spectacular.
Big Sandy Lake, however is spectacular I think. Although we didn’t see any yesterday, Big Sandy Lake is a great place to see black bears. The lake has a surface area of 71 acres. This is a great place to camp or for families to hike to – or to base out of on extended trips. The lake was like glass, reflecting the granite monoliths that tower over it, including Big Sandy Mountain, Schiestler Peak, Haystack Mountain, Temple and East Temple Peaks.
The Jackass Pass trail starts at the end of Big Sandy Lake and is what we went for. It’s breathtaking in more ways than one! The pass is said to have been named because “only a jackass would travel it.” I’ve hiked this trail with people who renamed it “The Dumbass Pass” (that only a dumbass would hike up) because it can make you discouraged on one of the steep, rocky inclines.
But what the heck, Kathy and I each have Grand Teton expeditions planned in August (mine in a week, hers in 2 weeks) and we were looking for a lung-buster workout. And trust me, the views Jackass Pass provides are extraordinary, and well worth the effort.
Jackass Pass sits atop the Continental Divide. Here, precipitation that falls on the Big Sandy side of the Divide eventually makes its way to the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean via the Big Sandy, Green and Colorado rivers. Precipitation that falls on the opposite side flows some 4,000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico via the Popo Agie, Wind, Big Horn, Yellowstone, Missouri, and Mississippi rivers. (BTW, much of the information about this hike, including the aforementioned, comes from Tom Carter’s Day Hiking the Wind River Range, a pocket-sized favorite of mine.)
Basically the rest of the story goes like this: We climbed switchbacks, huffed and puffed, and oohed and aahhed at the spectacular views all around us.
Schiestler Peak, Temple Peak, East Temple Peak, Wind River Peak, Haystack Mountain, North Lake, Arrowhead Lake, War Bonnet, the Warriors, Pingora, Mitchell Peak, Lizard Head Peak, Wolf’s Head, Lonesome Lake, and other notable sights were in our view.
The views of the granite, glaciers and alpine tundra just take your breath away. I found myself trying to literally breathe in the sights before me. It’s amazing to me to know that we could leave our house in the morning in Lander, drive 2 hours in the car to the trailhead and somehow be sitting at the Cirque of the Towers for an early lunch.
By the way, it would be a real disservice to not mention here that the Cirque is home to world-class climbing. People come from all over the world every year to climb the walls found here. (Interested in climbing this area? Check out Cirque of the Towers & Deep Lake. A Select Guide to the Wind Rivers’ Best Rock Climbing, by Steve Bechtel.)
For complete photos of the hike, click here.
Here are 2 video clips, of many, that we captured:
(The first is recorded especially for Steve Bechtel, my personal trainer at Elemental Gym. Without his fitness demands I would not be able to so easily pull off a long day-hike like this one. Here, I did an interval in his honor. : >)