Wind River winter traverse
by Tess Carney
May 22, 2014
Local Pinedale girl, Tess Carney and New Zealander Shane Orchard recently completed an ambitious winter traverse of the central Wind Rivers Range as part of their "Last Descents" project. The traverse involved twelve days of wilderness travel beginning at Elkhart Park and finishing at Green River lakes.
The aim of the journey was to document and photograph the glaciated terrain and surrounding peaks in the area and complete snowboard descents of as many as possible. They travelled using split snowboards (splitboards) for this trip which were essential to cover the big distances involved.
The pair are both well-known as ski mountaineers in New Zealand and Tess has recently competing in the Free Ride World tour qualifying big mountain snowboarding competitions.
Global warming is well known to be taking its toll on glaciers worldwide and there are well-documented cases of glacial recession. There has been less work completed on small pocket glaciers which may be in danger of being lost or in some cases be already gone. Changes in temperature ranges and snowfall patterns are important to glaciation trends through lag effects make it difficult to predict what will happen over time. However a comparison with USGS Topo quad maps for the area and recent aerial photographs showed that several Wind Rivers glaciers may be on their last legs and the concept for the "Last Descents" project journey was born.
Although history shows there are natural ice ages and periods of recession, these typically happen over timeframes of tens of thousands of years. Compared to human life spans the loss of glaciers represents a major change in the landscape in the headwaters regions that persist over many generations. This affects the way we experience these places, and of course there are direct effects on the ecology of these headwaters too. In places like the Stroud Glacier "new" gullies, lakes and area of moraine were observed that were covered with ice in 1963, being the last time that the USGS topo was updated.
The "Last Descents" traverse took in the 10 major glaciers between Ellingwood and Klondike peaks together with a range of side trips along the way. Thanks to a surprisingly good run of weather this included snowboard descents from the top of 8 of the 10 glaciers.
Some of the other highlights were climbing Gannett Peak and riding the north face to the Gannett Glacier in powder conditions. Other interesting routes included snowboarding the west faces of Sunbeam, Jackson, and American Legion peaks, the east face ‘gun barrel’ chute of Mt Woodrow Wilson and the southeast face of Fremont Peak via the 5 finger couloir.
However the good luck came to an end on day 8 with the onset of a major storm. Two feet of snow fell in 36 hours trapping the pair for a full day on Dinwoody Glacier. On the next day they continued their exit plan to the north in trying conditions. Despite the deep snow and considerable avalanche hazard, they managed to successfully navigate the blizzard conditions along the divide over the next two day to reach Klondike Peak before descending through the Golden Lakes area.
Their last night camp was near Bench Lake above the Green River valley and from there one final long day was required to reach their snowmachine at the Moose Gypsum road. It was 11 pm that night when the pair finally reached the end of an amazing adventure after 12 days in the wilderness.
The pair would like to note the huge support from a team of local people who made the trip possible with special thanks to Rita Donham, Jamie Burgess, Courtney Skinner, Dave Smith, Jason Ray and Aili Farquare.
For more keep an eye on the websites www.tesscarney.com and www.shaneorchardphotography.com where images and links will be posted in the near future.