Wind River Range, WYOMING

Bridger Wilderness Traverse

August 20th through August 31, 2011

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason L. Hummel

Remember that saying, money doesn’t make you happy? Well, it’s right. I may not be rich when it comes to dollars, but I’m rich when it comes to memories. My passion, photography, has allowed me to travel at the drop of a hat. Best of all, I get to go on every single friend and family vacation! And that’s pretty awesome. It’s been two years and five months since I left my job as a financial advisor. In that time, there’s been no looking back. Instead of polishing my resume and beating doors, I took images, wrote stories and did, most importantly, something I had a passion for. At first, I was certain I’d soon have to dust off that resume, but after 880 days I’m still planning new adventures, seeking unexplored corners near home and happily living my dream.

WIND RIVER RANGE, Bridger Wilderness Traverse ~100 miles and 12 days

I’ve been reading, asking questions and planning a visit to the Wind River Range for a year. Books told me about their size – one hundred miles long and 30 to 40 miles wide. They told me that there are over 2000 lakes, ponds and tarns dotting the landscape. They told me about the mountains, forty of which reach over 13,000 feet and that the crown of the range is Gannet Peak’s 13,804 feet summit, the highest point in Wyoming. And, finally, they told me about the area’s geology. Some of the rock found in Bridger Wilderness, I read, is among the oldest exposed rock on the planet, some 3.4 billion years old.

While all those facts are encouraging, what drew me most was what people told me. Not only was there a mix of awe and nostalgia from whomever I talked to, there was a magnetism drawling them back. It reminded me of how people feel about the North Cascades in my home state of Washington.

“Weeks,” I was told, “you could spend weeks hiking in the high country….” And it’s true. “The bugs can carry you off,” others warned. That isn’t true, of course. Only small dogs have been documented as being flown away. A bug net is honestly the best defense. I was too proud to bring one. I regret that. Days of relentless attacks would bring me to the point of wild arm swinging and screaming frantically – but I digress; while dogs aren’t really flown away by hoards of mosquitoes, in two weeks, I’m sure gallons of my blood really was.

With all those buzzing creatures, there is sure to be fish, right? Absolutely! There were so many that at a few creek crossings, I swear I could’ve reached into the water and snagged one with my own two hands, no fishing pole required. While an out-of-state fishing license is expensive and the rules confusing, it is worth the cost and will provide many hours of entertainment. I regret not doing some research and buying a license beforehand. Nevertheless, the others fished and it was entertaining to watch them, especially the kids.

Given what I learned from all sources, I don’t feel like I learned a thing about the Wind Rivers until I arrived at Green River Lakes with my girlfriend, Juya. There we were to meet my brother Jessy and his two kids, Calin and Chelsea and his wife, Trena. They would also be bringing my Mom, Linda and baby brother, Jeremy, who’s twelve years old.

The reason I felt like I hadn't learned a thing was because what you see in pictures, hear from people or read in books are no substitute for the real thing. On day one, when Squaretop Mountain appeared from behind the first row of pine trees, I knew this place was going to be awesome.

Here are some details so you know the when, where and what about the trip particulars. From August 20-27, Juya and I would be hiking with family from Green River Lakes to Elkhart Park, at which point we would pick up another week's worth of food, bid farewell to family and continue south to the Big Sandy parking area, arriving sometime in early September. Our route would traverse the entire Bridger Wilderness, which is without detours or a food pick up, 72 miles long. Given the amount of time we had, the pace was very leisurely, but that’s what we were looking for especially during the first half where we had kids along.


August 20 - Green River Trailhead to Three Forks Park
August 21 - Summit Lake
August 22 - Elbow Lake
August 23 - Elbow Lake
August 24 - Island Lake
August 25 - Eklund Lake
August 26 - A food pick up at Elkhart Park and back to Island Lake
August 27 - Island Lake
August 28 - Baldy Lakes
August 29 - Sand Point Lake
August 30 - Sand Point Lake
August 31 - Big Sandy Trailhead

Every day we pushed further south, the scenery would continue to change. There was no day where the views became routine. “The same old scenery,” I thought, “would become old after two weeks.” But there were differences, subtle to broad changes that kept the eye in-tune to the surroundings. The geology, mountains, isolation and flora and fauna changed every single day, at least once, if not more than that.

On the Fremont trail, we saw the best country of the entire trip. While Titcomb Basin was spectacular, I am attracted to less visited places. As soon as the path would peter out to almost nothing, the larger animals would come out of hiding. At no time during the first week, on the more popular sections of trail, did we see any animals whatsoever.

There were major differences between the northern and southern part of the range. While the southern end had broad open fields dotted with lakes, the northern country, while still dotted with lakes, was rockier and more rugged. Neither was better or worse than the other. To me, I love lakes and high country and both areas had a full helping of both. In fact, we would pass by at least 75 lakes and ponds and remain between 9-12 thousand feet throughout our entire trip.

Since there are too many highlights to write about, here are TEN that stuck out:

1. Watching the moon break over mountains above Elbow Lake
2. Jumping into the freezing waters of Island Lake
3. Exploring the many old and weathered trees throughout the trip
4. Grilling up the trout that one of the kids hooked
5. On entering the southern half of the Bridger Wilderness, the bugs were almost entirely gone and we could eat outside in comfort
6. 4 hours of thunder storms at Sandpoint Lake
7. Seeing the galaxy reflecting in Summit Lake
8. Standing beneath storm clouds while taking a break in the burnt forests south of Dream Lake
9. Watching a weasel play hide and seek with me at Hat Pass
10. Taking an entire day to explore Titcomb Basin and vicinity with Juya

Our two weeks were glorious. As you can tell from above, there are many reasons why. Too often I feel like the mountains are a break from reality, but in this case, the reality is becoming the mountains for me. The un-reality is home. The lakes, mountains, high meadows, fish, bugs and the spider web of trails and terrain in the Wind Rivers each present an opportunity to lose yourself, as I mentioned earlier, “…for weeks….” Walking out the end of the trail to Big Sandy was sad. I nearly grabbed onto the last trail sign to stop my progression forward, but it did no good. We'd had enough time out here…and yet, it really wasn’t. For Juya and me there's no doubt in our minds that we'll be back someday.

Photography gives me the freedom to visit places like the Wind River Range. More than likely I will return sooner rather than later. That is why I will forever be grateful for having the opportunity to be a photographer. Even if the dream ends tomorrow and I wake up, back in my office chair, I will forever be comforted by the great memories I've had over the last two plus years. So far, thank God, I haven't awakened. Count that as a blessing or measure it up to luck? I don't care how, all I know is that doing what you love is worth every ounce of sacrifice and all the blood, sweat and tears. Like I said, money doesn't make you happy. I'm out there proving it each day I drive my car past two hundred thousand miles.


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Jason Hummel