Last July Karen and I drive north to one of our favorite wilderness areas - the Wind River range in central Wyoming. The Winds (that's what the cool kids call the Wind River range) are easy to access and have spectacular alpine terrain. In the past few years we have made regular trips there. Our standard routine now in the Winds is to have only the vaguest sort of plan. We plan the approximate number of days, and a rough idea of what part of the range we want to explore. Then we make up our itinerary as we go. Every day we look over the maps and improvise. Weather, whim and beauty dictate the route on a daily basis.
I'm as competitive as most guys, and I am motivated by the idea of elegant, long hikes, done quickly. I have no plans to stop those types of trips anytime soon. But our Wind River trips have re-opened my eyes to the joy of spontaneity and exploration.
Our collective experience in the montains, and the terrain in the Winds, allow us to go almost anywhere. We look at the terrain and our maps every day, and re-think the route. "That ridge looks nice, let's climb it and explore the valley beyond". What makes this interesting is the different dynamic it creates among myself, Karen and the terrain. We're exploring within the range instead of running across it.
Usually we spend about half our time on trails, and about half off trail. The Winds has a good trail system, but also many valleys and drainages that are without any maintained trail. If you can read a map pretty well, you'll find a huge amount of off-trail hiking in the range is predictable and manageable. Sometimes, it is almost as fast as hiking on a trail, though usually it is considerably slower. Planning a route each day, reading the map and terrain, and exploring new valleys is nothing short of a great time. Dropping into an alpine basin dotted with lakes, but devoid of people and trails, then finding that perfect campsite is satisfying in a way that no 30 mile day can match.
On this trip we had food for 8 days, and planned to head into the range from its most popular trailhead at Elkhart Park, outside of Pinedale, Wyoming. We knew we wanted to explore around Indian Pass on the continental divide. After that, no plan.