The Bridger Wilderness of the

~Wind River Range~

The Wind River mountains of Wyoming fit most people's idea of scenic Western wilderness -- huge peaks of granite, with big glaciers, tremendous cliffs, thundering waterfalls, not to mention about 2000 high mountain lakes and many peaks over 13,000 feet, including Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming. Hundreds of lakes are full of various species of trout.

These mountains are the most alpine in the lower 48 states.

The Bridger Wilderness covers most of the western slope of the Wind River range, at least once you get up a couple thousand feet up off the floor of the Green River Basin. This designated Wilderness, 428,000 acres in size, the Bridger Wilderness has long been a magnet for backpackers, anglers, and rock climbers. Despite this, many tourists have never heard of this mountain range so big it dwarfs the nearby Tetons.

The Wind Rivers are about a 120 miles long and 30 miles wide, a world class uplift and its own weather machine. Be prepared for far below freezing temperatures and snow any day of the year. Don't be surprised if you have a week of sunny weather. The mosquitoes are world class too. It's only place they've ever driven me out, despite DEET, netting, and layers of clothing.

Nobody wants to deliberately hurt this massive mountain range, but it is being harmed by acid rain from the nearby natural gas boom in the Green River Basin just to the west. Thousands of gas wells, some with "sour gas" -- natural gas mixed with hydrogen sulfide ("rotten egg gas") -- are in production and thousands more are on the way. Exhaust from the diesel engines powering the pumps and operations add a second pollutant, nitrogen oxides. Because the mountains are made of granite, the lakes have a neutral PH, and little buffering capacity if acid rain is added. This energy development could wipe out one of the finest alpine lake fisheries in America.

In 1996, grizzly bears returned to the Wind Rivers for the first time in about 70 years. Since then the number has increased, especially near the range's northern end. The number of grizzlies continues to grow, although the concentration area is just north of the Bridger Wilderness. A wolf pack also formed at the northern end of the range in 2003. However, the Green River pack as it was called, was killed off by the government after eating some cow calves. By 2005, a new pack had formed in the same location. It was killed off too by the government. Fortunately, bovines are not allowed to range in most of the designated wilderness. Domestic sheep, however, have long been a problem in some southern parts of the Bridger Wilderness.


windriv1.jpg (9576 bytes)
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

The high, northern crest of the Wind Rivers.
The photo was taken from about 10,800 feet on Lost Eagle Peak.


 

Squaretop Mountain. Wind River Range. Green River Lake
 Squaretop Mountain, perhaps the most famous scene in the Wind River Range. Copyright © Ralph Maughan

 

In recent years, nuisance black bears have also begun to give backcountry campers a bad time in the Wind Rivers. They are as much of a danger as the grizzlies that have begun to migrate in from the north. Don't feed the bears and hang your food out of their reach (they can climb, and "wise bears" know how to sever poorly concealed nylon cord that attaches to your food bag).
Despite the bears, the real dangers in the "Winds" are lightning and hypothermia.
A brief snow storm is possible any day of the summer. Those who travel from low elevation areas could very well experience altitude sickness, especially if you camp over 10,000 feet.


 
Slide Lake. Wind River Range. Bridger Wilderness
Slide Lake in the northern part of the Bridger Wilderness.
Photo Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Rim Lake. Bridger Wilderness. Wind River Range
Rim Lake, high above New Fork Canyon.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

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The Bridger Wilderness/ rmaughan2@cableone.net/ June 1, 2006