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The 600-foot scramble from Jackass Pass down to Lonesome Lake might be in one of the most popular wilderness playgrounds in Wyoming, but it’s also my all-time favorite mile of hiking in America. Located in the heart of the Wind River Range, the Cirque of the Towers takes some effort (and dirt-road driving) to get to, but it pays off in the form of some of the finest granite monoliths and trout-filled lakes I’ve seen in 25 years of hiking. Peering down into the cirque as I took my first steps from Jackass Pass is permanently etched in my mind.
I spend the first few miles from the trailhead sweating under my load of camping gear. At Big Sandy Lake, I take a break to dip my feet in its clear waters. Past the lake, the grade intensifies along an increasingly ephemeral trail with sections of teetering boulder scrambles. Cresting the pass at 10,790 feet, I step into a the miracle realm, like when The Wizard of Oz goes technicolor: The toothy clutch of 12,000-foot peaks and glassy Lonesome Lake demand a rest break. It’s a hall-of-fame view, part Patagonia, part Tuolumne, with endless possibilities for climbing and basecamping. Pikas squeak in welcome.
From the pass, I pick my way down an occasionally loose grade just shy of a mile to reach an embarrassment of camping riches. It’s not the trail itself that stands out so much as this arc of towers lording over an emerald green valley; no human imagination could ever conceive of something so grand as the austere gray cliffs draped in lingering snow.
The Winds hold some of the best miles in the west, but this descent rises above them all, a dream made real.