Wyoming: Wind River Range- Three Forks Park to Peak Lake
Total Mileage- 9.3 miles
Total Elevation Gain- 3917 feet
Total Elevation Loss- 1383 feet
On Day 2 we would be hiking from Three Forks Park to the Peak Lake Area, which would take us just over 9.3 miles for the day and close to 4000 feet of elevation gain. This trek is a fairly gradual ascent with the last couple of miles, as we head eastward off-trail, being significantly more slow going. This early September morning was overcast and cool and it would stay that way the entire day with intermittent frozen precipitation. I say “frozen” because what we experienced was not ice, sleet, or snow. It was frozen rice-sized precipitation that was chewy before it melted in my mouth. It was surreal, but more on that later.
From Three Forks Park the Highline Trail begins a gentle climb, still hugging the Green River, initially enveloped in pine but then opening up to some beautiful autumn colors. At about 8400 feet the Highline begins to switchback southwest about 800 feet to Clark Creek, which is an easy cross. Around the Trail Creek Park area some 11,000 foot unnamed peaks begin to pop up on either side, making for some amazing views.
It has been a gradual climb up to this point and relatively uneventful. I can’t say the same thing for the second half of this day. Beginning at Vista Pass, the sky darkened and began to rain and thunder as we trailed into the high country. We stopped long enough to pull out our raincoats and then proceeded. But the thunder intensified and the rain turned to soft ice pellets. It was a strange precipitation. It was the size of rice and when I put it in my mouth… was chewy before it melted. I have to be honest and say that I have never felt so close to thunder in my life. I could actually feel it when it would rumble. We knew that we needed to take shelter immediately. Fortunately we were close to a boulder field which yielded a nice “cave” for us to duck into until the storm subsided. After about twenty minutes holed up we were in the clear to begin a very tiring trek through the boulder field up to Cube Rock Pass and Dale Lake.
Dale Lake sits at about 10,700 feet above sea level and is directly west of Peak Lake. There are some decent spots to camp west of Peak Lake, but our plan was to circle northward around Peak and camp in the basin just east of the lake. As we looked at our route around Peak Lake, we could not immediately make out the trail, but as we got closer it was apparent that the trail actually hugged the lake tightly en route to the basin. I should say that the precipitation did not let up. In fact, we were still getting pelted by the rice-sized ice. To be honest, I was ready for the storm to blow over… and it eventually did as we found a spot to set up camp.
We set up camp in the basin just east of Peak Lake in a really, really sweet spot. Directly to our east we could see the first pass we would tackle the next morning in Knapsack Col. The sun broke through just before supper. We had some magnificent views all around and some really great spots to sit among the broken boulders. As the day closed out we knew that the next day was going to be our most challenging in terms of elevation and going off-trail. We were going to hit Knapsack early the next morning and then tackle Bonney Pass as our entrance into The High Route. Little did we know that our plan would change so dramatically in the middle of the night.
Day Three would take us over Knapsack and down passed Twins Glacier to make some tough decisions about how we were going to proceed with the remaining planned hike. The elements were going to be a huge factor (and game changer) for this trip.