On September 20, 2017, Dave Anderson and Szu-ting Yi completed a north to south traverse of the Wind River Range in Wyoming. They also summited 33 of the named peaks along the Continental Divide. The husband and wife team traveled 162 miles and their elevation gain and loss was over 68,000 ft (which is the equivalent of climbing Everest five times, basecamp to summit).
Despite their impressive effort, an early season winter storm shut them down before they could summit the last 10 peaks along the Divide.
They started at Union Pass, WY on August 30 and stayed within a few miles of the Continental Divide throughout the expedition. They finished the traverse by hiking out along the Middle Fork Trail to Sinks Canyon near Lander Wyoming.
When asked about the motivation for the traverse of the Wind River Range, Anderson stated, “I love all different types of climbing from indoor bouldering to high altitude mountaineering. For me, the mental and physical challenges involved in climbing are just as captivating today as when I first started 35 years ago. Finding a challenge that at first seems out of reach and then focusing all of your energy toward that goal is an amazing, powerful experience.”
Anderson had considerable knowledge about the Wind River Range having previously lived in Lander, WY, the eastern foothills of the Winds, for 12 years. “Most of my forays into the Winds were less than a week,” Anderson said, “often just a couple days. But I always wanted to travel the length of the Winds and spend the time to fully appreciate the range.”
Even though his previous excursions to the Winds had been relatively short, Anderson was able to establish multiple first ascents and set several alpine speed records (https://web.archive.org/web/20061103105251/http://climbing.com/news/hotflashes/windrivers06/)
“It takes an effort to get into the Wind River Range,” Yi emphasized. “The Winds do not have the drive-by viewing appeal of the Tetons or Yellowstone. It takes at least half a day of hiking to get a good vista of the mountains, which also means you will usually have the Winds to yourself. Outside of the Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers, we saw very few people during our traverse.”
“Despite all of our previous experience in the Wind River Range, we still underestimated how long certain section of the traverse would take us,” Anderson stated. “The technical difficulties of the traverse, are relatively moderate, nothing harder than 5.8 rock climbing and 50-degree snow/ice. But unstable scree, boulder fields and numerous route-finding challenges slowed our progress. You can study USGS topo maps and Google Earth, to get a rough idea of the terrain you will encounter, but until you put your boots on the ground you have no idea how long it will take.”
“As a result, we didn’t bring enough food,” Yi reflected. We started rationing food on day three and for most of the traverse, we consumed less than 800 calories a day. By the end of the expedition, Dave lost 17 pounds and I lost 14. Fortunately, before the expedition, Dave and I had been experimenting with a diet that allowed us to efficiently use body fat as fuel. As a result, we never bonked,” Yi explained. “But we were very slow during some of the uphill sections of the traverse.”
“We are also indebted to several backpackers who shared their food with us toward the end of our expedition,” Anderson added.
“The first two weeks of the expedition were magical,” Anderson reminisced. “Besides the smokey skies due to the fires up in Montana, the weather was perfect. We were surrounded by migrating songbirds, followed wolf tracks across snowfields, woke to bugling elk and only saw a handful of other backpackers. Despite the lack of food, we were confident we would finish the traverse and summit all 43 peaks along the Continental Divide.”
Later, when Anderson and Yi descended from Texas Pass into the Cirque of the Towers they met some backpackers who warned them of an approaching storm that would bring winter conditions.
“We managed to climb the iconic Wolfs Head formation and Overhanging Tower in the Cirque before a wall of black clouds and hail chased us down,” Anderson stated. We hunkered in our tent trying to wait out the storm. We had been hiking/climbing 12-14 hours a day for the last 16 days. So at first, the rest was nice, but on the second day the rain changed to snow and started to accumulate.”
“I knew it was probably impossible to climb the last 10 peaks after the storm, but we had come this far so I felt like at least we should give it a try, ” Yi said. They attempted to climb up War Bonnet, but the knee-deep snow and verglas rock prevented them from reaching the summit.
“At that point, we were nearly out of food and we knew a bigger storm was predicted for the end of the week, so we hiked out to our planned finishing point, Sinks Canyon in Lander,” Anderson recounted.
“We are disappointed that the weather shut us down with only 10 easy peaks left to climb,” lamented Yi. “But we are proud of summiting 33 peaks and completing a north to south traverse of the Wind River Range.”
“In the end, climbing all the peaks along the Continental Divide of the Winds was an arbitrary goal that the two of us chose to challenge ourselves,” Anderson concluded. “The real benefit of the expedition was the time the two of us got to spend together in such a beautiful, wild, remote area, facing numerous obstacles and working together to overcome them.”