From the rocky shoreline, Mike and I stare up at Haystack Mountain towering over the still water. We first witnessed this scene in 1968, on a summer outing of the Iowa Mountaineers, a university-based club from the Midwest. We were two 14-year-olds in a climber’s basecamp of 65 people, a vast tent city from which smaller groups dispersed to hike valleys and bag peaks. Behind various leaders, we got dragged through some of our first brushes with real mountain travel, and we learned how magnificent yet committing such places can be.
The Iowa Mountaineers basecamp was also a huge logistical operation, and all the cook tents, latrines, pack trains, and boot soles had their inevitable impacts. I remember three guides fishing one afternoon and bringing back a trout for each person in camp. And I remember the meadows looking pretty trampled when we left.
Now, Clear Lake looks about the same as it does on those dusty old slides, and the others I’ve taken here in the years since.
Mike and I sit quietly, remembering childhood naivet?, climbs we made or failed, and friends we haven’t seen in years, pondering back across the decades of mountain experience. “The Winds were lucky,” my sibling eventually speaks up. “They were never cursed with big timber or precious metals. After the beavers were gone, all you could do was run sheep or cattle, and only a couple months a year at that.”
And so the Wind River Mountains see visitors rather than development, and no shortage of them. But I’m leaving with a strong feeling that these mountains are big and brawny enough to hold their own. Weeklong trips just scratch the surface, creeks rage impassibly through June, and the snow doesn’t clear from most passes until late July. Their future challenges may well come from more external and insidious effects, like air pollution. But I suspect that when Mike and I return here for more adventure in 10, 20, or even another 30 years, this will still be a range where challenge, beauty, and loneliness are commonplace. It’ll still be a range big enough for the spirit, where the only requirements for adventure and solitude are a little imagination and a heap of effort, just as it’s always been.