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[TR] A Tale of Two Cirques - Wind River Range II - 8/26/2013

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Trip: A Tale of Two Cirques - Wind River Range Redux

Date: 8/26/2013


Over, Under, and Inside the Temples of Valhalla (Deep Lake Cirque)



Somnatatorium. Temple Lake by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



One look at the Deep Lake Cirque this past July and it was love at first sight.


Three weeks later, Mr. Kaplan and I were rocketing through intermountain deep space, blaring Metric, Tool, and Elton John, he texting to relieve the boredom of sub 150 mph speeds, me ratfucking his passenger seat with Bugle and Big Breakfast crumbs; a metallic comet of planned chaos accelerating towards the budding petro-boom town of Pinedale, Wyoming.


After stopping at the Rockrabbit for strong coffee and maple bacon pancakes served while a flat screen resurrected Jerry Garcia crooned, we drove the empty miles to the crowded Big Sandy Trailhead, armed with enough supplies for 9 nights out and hardware to tackle any route up to 5.9 that would entertain our advances, plus an alpine aider for those that wouldn’t. That, and Josh’s new micro-USB based, solar powered sound and light studio.



The Wind River Power Administration by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr


Nine days is a long time to smell each others’ feet. We opted for individual camp chairs, stoves, and tents; his spotless in its organization, mine stained, dusty, and festooned with Gorilla, Tenacious, and Seam tape, courtesy of a chicken sized missile that had entered unannounced in the wee hours of a Liberty Ridge ascent a couple of years prior.


We hung a 4 day cache at Big Sandy Lake near the Cirque of the Towers/Deep Lake trail junction and moved up to flat slab camp at the south end of Deep Lake. We had this gorgeous cirque all to ourselves.



Deep Lake Camp by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr




Sunset from the Haystack by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



Warmup: Day 2 - North Face of the Haystack 5.6, 4 p


Nothing special, but a good way to acclimate and great way to tag Haystack’s summit (which is all the way on the south end of the ridge). We took the opportunity to familiarize ourselve's with one of the Haystack's most unique features, the Grassy Goat Ledges (sans goats) – a walk/scramble descent route that diagonally traverses right down the middle of the Haystack’s mile long face.



Grassy Goat Ledges, the Haystack by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



Electroshock: Day 3 - North Ridge of The Steeple, 5.8, 7 p


Do you like airy traverses and getting caught in the rain? If you’re into huge chimneys, and chockstones big as a train…look, the Steeple is so wonderfully weird, you have to hit it.


Springboarding towards victory from a typically slackpine start of 10:30 or so, we found ourselves poised for the technical portion on Steeples north ridge when Josh turned to me and asked “you don’t have any TP do you?”


Poo can be a friend or a nemisis. These fickle, fragrant creatures wield tremendous power over a climber's success or failure. The morning started off perfectly, with two text book coffee nudges, but Josh, who is built like a brick shithouse, has the alimentary canal of a paper mache shithouse on a rainy day. He was staring down round two, and round two was leaning on the steam whistle.


“All I have are these toffee wrappers. Some of them melted, though. I’ll try to chew the toffee off of them for you.”


I think that may well have been a climbing first. To whomever invented hand sanitizer: we salute thee. Hand sanitizer would save my ass, too, as we shall soon see.


Josh was rusty and slow – he’ll readily admit that. The traverse crux move certainly warranted a more deliberative approach. After this, we arrived at the base of the Great Northern Chimney.


The Steeple is the only mountain I’ve ever climbed through rather than on. The Great Northern Chimney is formed by a skyscraper sized block that one day will make for one of North America’s most spectacular natural trundles. The subject of hydraulic jacks came up, of course, but I digress. It provides the passage from the Steeples north to south ridges.


It’s a chimney gym. Perfect ass to feet. Wonderful chockstones. Some challenging moves. Great pro. Even a resident bushy tailed woodrat.


We emerged on the south ridge to deteriorating weather and a pitch that Kelsey had omitted – mostly 5.7 with slick, quartzy rock.


BOOM. The strike was close. The rain began. Slick got slicker. I was still mid-lead. It was on! I scurried to a belay and brought Josh up.


The lightning transformed him. He wasn’t just fast, he was, well, lightning fast, and remained that way through the rest of the trip. Flaring cracks, overhangs, laybacks, tiptoe traverses; didn’t matter. The man had instantaneously grown a pair…of wings, I mean.


We quickly topped out and scurried down the south ridge (4 raps), the short squall sparing us from breaking out our emergency bivvys. A scramble started sounding pretty good for the following day.



Great Northern Chimney. the Steeple by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



Entering the Great Northern Chimney, the Steeple by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



Chockstone, the Steeple by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



Steeple P 5 by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



Steeple summit by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



Deep Lake and the Haystack by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



A Hard Rain: Day 4 – East Temple Peak scramble


To hell with federal holidays. Seriously, who came up with that turd in a shoebox? The Labor Day herd had arrived, and we’d forgotten all about it. One party lit off a huge bonfire (which they were later fined $150 for) while another made the lakeshore their night soil repository. An older British couple set up camp so close we had to wait until they were gone before talking trash about them for it.


We scrambled up East Temple Peak – a gorgeous trip, but the Witch of September came calling and this time she was really pissed off. Josh had descended before me to avoid another round of electroshock therapy. When the driving rain went horizontal, I went full rodent and slipped under a rock to wait things out



Bivvy Cave, East Temple Peak by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



Crux: Day 5 – Central Corner of the Haystack, 5.9, 8 p



Central Corner, the Haystack by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr


We’d planned to climb the Minor Dihedral, but chose the shorter Central Corner as a test piece. From several accounts, however, the test piece is sketchier and more sustained than the real deal.


Our timing was perfect – after two pitches of easy 5th with a few 5.8ish moves, we started up the crux pitch, with its layback roof (not bad, but the thin lead up makes it a real challenge) just as the sun rounded the corner. Unplanned, of course – we just got up late.



Central Corner P 3, just below the crux by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



Central Corner P 3 by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr


With a sloping, ledgy section below the crux, I took my time figuring out a safe way to do it. If you like laybacking, the Central Corner delivers. There are really several 5.9 ish cruxes, and the 5.8 is thin, shallow, flaring, and sustained. Pro can be a challenge at times, particularly without offsets. Overall, the climb has a nervous feel about it. Even the 5.7 chimney at the top ends with a kicker layback. We were happy to be off it.


I spent that evening relaxing and training our camp mouse. The first night he went full kamikaze, slamming against my tent door in his repeated attempts to jump through the narrow opening above. Once inside, he was a master of concealment until I finally evicted him.


Every time he got near the tent I slapped the nearby fabric to scare him. By the fourth night he made no attempts to get inside the tent, content instead with policing crumbs from the slab. Our mutual interests satisfied, we left him be.



Howdy from 1890: Temple Peak scramble


We extended our stay in Deep Lake for this – stretching our lunch food in the process.



Temple Pass by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



Ascending Temple Peak by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr


From Temple’s summit you can look straight down – all the way down. The summit block – perched precariously over this precipice – isn’t as unstable as it might seem, given the 1890 something graffiti scratched into it. There we met Chance, a young petroleum engineer from CO, who informed us that the Pinedale region is just beginning to be developed for fracking. Will sleepy Pinedale be a meth fueled lap dancer’s paradise in 10 years? We’ll see.



Temple Peak summit by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



We returned to our cache, hungry and out of food, arriving just after dark. More accurately, we returned to where our cache had been.


It was gone.



The Lone Ranger and our Tuan Tuan Fistfight In Heaven (Cirque of the Towers)




Where's the cache, Lebowski?


Josh was quick to figure it out by reading the back of our map, as you do in these situations. “Caches aren’t allowed. It was a ranger.”


I went to a nearby party of six down to beg. These generous souls ponied up two freeze dried dinners and six energy bars. After dinner, Josh announced “I’m running out to the trailhead. I need an itemized list of what you need.”


“OK, we can do that first thing in the morning.”


“I’m leaving right now.” It was 10:30 pm.


Now, you may think this a bit odd, but I do not. Every now and then nocturnal hyperactivity takes hold and he goes into “I’m going to build an entirely new civilization by morning” mode. The disadvantages of such behavior are relatively small – awaking at 2:00 am to his headlamp light sabering through the woods as he prepares to burn a ragged, abandoned tarp he’s just unearthed, for example.


The upside, however, is a guy who will get a completely hosed trip back on the rails by noon the very next day. His superpowers kick in, and they are prodigious. An hour and five minutes later, he was at the car and driving to Pinedale. After all, the ranger had stolen his snus. Not the crap from 7-11, but that fine Swedish snus you can only buy in Seattle.


This was war.






Meanwhile, back at Big Sandy Lake, I was enjoying my own adventures. To comply with the 200 foot rule, I’d pitched my tent exactly one rope length from the trail atop a large, flat boulder that lorded over the trail Cirque/Deep Lake junction. From Camp Barely Legal I chat with the passing llama hippies, cowboys, hikers, and climbers while keeping an eye out for Josh and incoming squalls.


After a breakfast of Builders Bar and my last two Vias, the poo train whistle predictably began to blow in the distance. I should have paid more attention to the Doppler shift. As I performed a stretchy yoga move to exit my tent, I thought to enjoy the morning's first fart when the unthinkable happened.


Free will is an illusory luxury born of a functional sphincter. The moment one’s sphincter malfunctions, it takes charge. Busy performing brain surgery? Tough. You’ve now got a scheduling conflict, and that glioblastoma multiforme excision will have to wait.


Fortunately, I was on top of an 8 foot high boulder and could pirouette just in time in to mitigate the disaster, then carpet bomb the result from the air with dirt. I also had two full water bags nearby and lots of hand sanitizer, which I can’t stress strongly enough is really not for mucous membranes. Good thing I had the water, because the only alternative was a Pepperidge Farms Geneva wrapper. Our TP resupply was in the cache.


My tent door faced away from the trail – another positive, so all my fellow travelers could see was a fake-smiling head bobbing above my tent, and not the chocolate dipped porky pig desperately hosing himself off with a camelback behind it.


So that was my morning.



Packer, Big Sandy Lake by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr


Once I'd recovered, I circumnavigated the lake looking for a ranger, our cache, or both. Along the way I met four campers sported shoulder holsters with a variety of firepower – a chrome .357, a Glock – wow, different world, Wyoming.


Josh returned around midday. A ranger had, indeed, taken our cache. When Josh got it back, it was light by half. Every baggy within baggy within baggy had been gone through. Tobacco, coffee, tuna, energy bars, candy - everything good had been stolen, about 100 bucks worth of supplies. Funny, they left the Chili Mac.


Josh wanted to make a break for the Cirque, but two violent squalls earlier that day gave me pause. I reluctantly agreed, and half an hour later we were huddled under his sil tarp in a third torrential downpour…about 400 feet from Shit Rock. When it let up a couple of hours later, we moved to Horse Piss Camp for the night, just up the trail. The sil tarp would come with us on Wolf’s Head.



Squall. Big Sandy Lake by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



It’s all fun and games until…Horse Piss Camp, Big Sandy Lake by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



We moved up to the Cirque the following day, spending most of it lounging around a waterfall, admiring Warbonnet’s spectacular countenance.



Warbonnet by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr


The Cirque. It’s famous. It’s beautiful. And it’s full of poo – under every rock, it seems. I just wish that person suffering from anal bleeding had sought medical attention rather than continuing to climb there. Seriously – that was disturbing, even to me. I don’t know what disease you’re afflicted with, pal, but the rest of us would prefer not to catch it, thanks. I'm not sure it was a guy, though, given how TP-only caches grace the Cirque - including one right in our own camp under a cute li'l rock. Hey ladies: just a rumor perhaps, but I've heard they've come up with burnable TP. Check it.



Scratching the Wolf’s Head



Creep! Liz (CO) and partner on the Wolf's Head by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr


We got up early for the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head and were only the third party on it. We quickly tucked behind Liz and (CO) and her partner and happily joined the conga line on this spirited, scenic outing.


Further on we asked Dan and Gordon, a couple of docs from HI and CO, respectively, if we could pass, then immediately cockblocked them when Josh could neither retrieve a foot level cam on an airy traverse nor communicate his pain to me. We should have simuled with a half rather than full rope. Fortunately, these two gentlemen have a superbly dry sense of humor, so our fail quickly became the trip joke. We recovered and continued our momentum. All six of us got along famously. It was a really great day.




Starting up the Wolf's Head by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



Wolf's Head East Ridge by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



Josh. Wolf's Head summit by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr


We finished the route quickly and descended via 4 short raps and northside ledges. At the Overhanging/Wolfs Head col we met two parties from Washington who I’d previously chatted with on CC coming down from Overhanging Tower and the Shark’s Nose. Washington represents! The weather was fine and the day was just getting better and better.



Rope! Wolf's Head descent by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr




Fresh ground pepper? Wolf's Head descent. by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



A day off in the Cirque by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr



Orange on Orange by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr


We met a party of older gentlemen on the hike out. My accent de jour was that of a New Zealander, and I somehow failed to slip back into Merkin when speaking with them.


“Are you from Australia?” one asked.


“Auckland” I replied.




Actually, I am from California.


They were also coming down and I told Josh that we need to stay ahead of them because I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep the act up.


No such luck. We took a break and there they were.


“When’s your flight back?”


“Oh, I’ve been living in Seattle for a while” I replied in my best Aucklandese, which was quickly degrading into Afrikaaner.


“Have you climbed Mt. Cook?”


“Noi. Just Aspiring. Bettuh weathuh.”


“Oh. Well, cheers then!”




Cheers indeed. What a ride!





Upon our return we began waging peace, love, understanding and reform with the USFS in an effort to get the regulations, or at least their local enforcement, to accommodate properly stored temporary caches so no parties are ever endangered in the Winds again. And get reimbursed for our stolen goods. We’ve had one productive conversation with the district ranger there, he called us promptly after receiving our initial email report.


We’ll see, I reckon.



One bushy tail that will never bother anyone ever again by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



War and Peace by Pat Gallagher, on Flickr



A real man's dog doesn't need water. Fail. Missoula, MT. by Josh Kaplan, on Flickr


Click for more photos...


Edited by tvashtarkatena

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Beautiful! Pics and prose, quite entertaining. Makes my first trip to the Winds this spring sound a touch dull. Though the lightning, thunder, and wet unprotectable approaches seemed epic at the time...


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there are few rules in this fucking world, not touching another man's sacred tobacco being one of them...


can't believe you goddamn bastards couldn't bring me along. shit woulda been d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t. :)

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Great writing and photos. I had no idea that poo and rangers would be the crux of my future trip to the Wind River range.

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Shitty TR, though the pics and prose didn't stink.


Did you tell the ranger that 'tobacco' is now legal in WA and that O has promised not to prosecute white males with double-bagged stashes as long as they don't text and drive?

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Shitty TR, though the pics and prose didn't stink.


Did you tell the ranger that 'tobacco' is now legal in WA and that O has promised not to prosecute white males with double-bagged stashes as long as they don't text and drive?


Thankfully (this was Wyoming, after all), the tobacco in question was actually just regular ol' tobacco. We actually had a fairly long discussion on whether or not the food bags contained any...extralegal...substances before I committed to showing up at a federal agency to claim them. :) Thankfully I had been smart enough to travel with my pharmacopoeia and child pr0n.


What a trip; tons of fun and in the end, the lone ranger only adds to the story though at the time various forms of frontier justice were discussed.


The Wind River range is just incredible. I've wanted to go there for over a decade, so I'm glad to have finally made it happen. The most memorable aspect was the lighting. The constant travel of clouds makes for all sorts of cool light effects, often dramatic and surreal. I think there was all of one day where we didn't have an incredible sunrise and sunset.


If anybody is interested, I have some more pics posted at http://joshk.smugmug.com/WindRivers2013



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FYI: the USFS decided not to pursue reform of the 'no cache unattended for more than 24 hours' regulation - it's nationwide, and the fine is $200, so plan your trips accordingly. The USFS could legally fine a benighted party that failed to return to their camp within 24 hours, additional food cache or no. The regulation applies to any private property left on USFS land.

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awesome TR, enjoyed it a lot.


Not sure the tree situation (maybe nowhere good basically) but I think the take away is to cache anything in a place where a ranger won't find it? Might make it tough to find it oneself though. Also to include a note explaining circumstances, "Left this cache here this morning, will be back in the evening, please don't steal from it unless you're in dire need, because if you do you'll befall a terrible tragedy in the forest".


Situations like this absolutely do not engender an iota of respect for most FS rules -- precisely what you said -- let a horse shit in a lake and a river, charge me entry, limit my entry to lotteries, clearcut to the edge of the wilderness, but ride my ass about things that matter not..

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I would not leave a note. That leaves a paper trail so they can (and will) ticket you, and it probably (my assessment based on lots of conversation) won't prevent confiscation. We've made the local rangers painfully aware of the possibly dangerous consequences of this practice, they've weighed that against the increasing frequency of abandoned caches, primarily by horse packers apparently, and a rapidly advancing grizzly population from the north, and decided to stick with the current program. They can't seem to separate the idea of properly animal proofed caches that are left for a few days and the bad kind. Every time I mentioned the former they talk about all the problems they have with the latter. We've had extensive conversations with them regarding this - I don't believe any stone was left unturned there. It is what it is.


Hiding a cache is one option, albeit a prohibited one. Don't leave any ID in the cache. There are plenty of trees in the area for hanging. The Pinedale ranger station loans out free bear canisters, which are obviously easier to hide than hanging bags, so that's another alternative.


Pinedale made it clear that if you do have a cache confiscated and try to claim it, you'll be ticketed. The only reason why we weren't ticketed was the theft issue. Caches are dismantled and inventories - and the perishables tossed. If you lose your stuff, fuggedaboutit, unless you've got more than $200 worth in there.


I can't imagine anyone would be ticketed for a forced bivvy, though, even if it would be legally sanctioned. Then again, I couldn't have imagined anyone would take a brand new food cache and put a party at risk. Some of the rangers seem to understand and take this risk seriously, but I'm not sure that percolates upward very far.


Remember, this is a nationwide regulation. Local districts must have some enforcement leeway however - you can camp 16 days in a spot in the Winds (an accommodation to hunters) instead of the nationwide limit of 14 days, for example. Pinedale chose not to pursue such an avenue, however.


Pinedale is considering posting this regulation at the trailhead. They are not going to post it at the ranger station, citing that its the backcounntry travelers responsibility to know the regulations.


True...but is pretty obvious that very few people are aware of this one. It's a bit disconcerting that Pinedale isn't more concerned about awareness of a regulation they care so much about. Don't ask me about the philosophy behind the thinking - I can't figure it out either.


Rather than reform the enforcement of this regulation, we've more likely bolstered enforcement of the current one. Our bad on that. Enforcement in the area is strict in general. If you do it - camp within 200 ft of a trail or lake, have a fire above treeline (that includes both cirques), put up a cache for more than 24 hours, you'll be cited.


To its credit Pinedale got on this issue, treated it seriously, and went through a thorough and obviously painful process to resolve it. I won't go into the details, but suffice to say justice was swift, we take no joy in any of it, and neither do they.



Edited by tvashtarkatena

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all them horses can't hoof in some permanent bear-proof cache boxes like in yosemite to be put at trail junctions?

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There are two bear boxes at Big Sandy Lake. Same cache rules apply. The bear boxes are more often garbage cans, apparently. Pinedale said the space is for local campers, but they were less than a 3rd full on Labor Day, and there's no distance limit from camp to cache, so that one falls a bit short.


There's reality and there's regulation. In reality, the 200 foot from a trail rule makes for lots of unnecessary new campsites. Several large, already hardened campsites 200 feet from the lake but not the trail, even if hidden in trees, are prohibited. Because the FS has not allowed some natural (slabs, etc) hardened campsites, there are far more trails than there would be if the trail rule was softened or eliminated entirely.


The rule also prevents a benighted party from camping in the trail. I don't know about you, but I've been there a time or two. Instead, the USFS would prefer that you crash through the bush at night, not find a flat spot, and terraform one yourself.


This system does create jobs, and jobs are scarce in Wyoming.


Seems like a distance limit to lakes and streams is all you need. Lots of horse camps are right on the trail in WA - where you want them - less trail, more meadow. Or closer to the lake - their going to destroy the area between them anyway, you might as well minimize it.

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After we reported the incident I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the USFS making some sort of sensible change to avoid this sort of thing from happening again. In the end, however, my original assumption that the organization as a whole is little more than the forest cops was proven true. All of the rangers we had talked to previous to the outcome were sympathetic and appalled at what happened. But when all was said it done, it was the bureaucracy that trumped all. When I was in Pinedale retrieving the stolen goods, I spoke with an individual who had been a wilderness ranger the year before. I told her what happened and she replied "That is exactly why everybody hates the forest service around here." Not surprising.


I find it completely pathetic they aren't able to sensibly differentiate between a long-term cache and some food hung in a tree for a few days. As long as the wilderness is respected, sensible measures are taken to make sure animals don't get to it, and it is removed at the end of the trip, common sense should prevail and they should leave it alone. This is what I would expect from a organization tasked with land stewardship, and that is where my reasoning failed. In the end, they are land stewards second, and law enforcement first.


Big Sandy Lake is the sad, shining example of this. Rules are enforced, tickets are passed out, and the wilderness is what suffers. The lake is teeming with people, horse shit is everywhere, and large sprawling, disgusting campsites proliferate across the area. Way trails lead every which direction, an expected result from enforcing campsites based not in accordance with what impacts wilderness the least, but an easy-to-police "200 foot" rule.


But I digress. Despite learning this disappointing lesson, the area is stunningly beautiful and I look forward to returning soon. When I do return I will compensate appropriately for what I've learned and treat the USFS as I would any law enforcement agency: something to avoid contact with whenever possible.


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Having played the diplomat, I can appreciate the emotions and mis-perceptions on both sides. It was a difficult episode with several outcomes, lessons attached. I think all parties are resolved to do better next time, so it seems some good came out of it.


No, I don't still don't agree with the cache policy - in reality it won't prevent any climbers in the know from logistically supporting a trip where a cache makes sense.


There may be several reasons why Pinedale was not inclined to take it on; I would hope the leadership there is able to separate its perceptions about us from the larger issue of a policy that endangers the public with really no benefit to the wilderness at all. Again, Pinedale has won variances in national regulation in the past - so there's clearly a process to do that, however laborious.


Pinedale's refusal to even post the regulation they do have at their Ranger station (printer out of ink?) does seem odd, however. I would think they'd want folks to know to avoid such incidents in the future.

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Thanks for the thoughtful discussion regarding your experience with this completely asinine policy. And not posting the regulations??!! I'm especially confused by the 200' from the trail rule. If you wanted to make sure the wilderness was trashed as much as possible, this seems like a great way to go. Otherwise, not so much. That is just a local policy, specific to the Winds? I've never heard of such a thing.

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200' rule from trail does seem like a prime example of over-enforcement that is at odds with its preservation goals. The USFS is not well loved in WY, that was pretty clear, and its not all due to the ambient libertarian spirit there, I suspect.


It would be interesting to learn if and how Pinedale measures the success or failure of that rule. I doubt there's much of a feedback loop here.


For our part, we may not have a 200' trail rule, but we also have permit areas that are much stricter and more heavily enforced. Me? I'll take the 200 foot rule, as silly as it is, thanks, give the two alternatives.

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