View southeast from Mitchell Peak's East Ridge
While Mitchell Peak doesn’t attract the same attention or unconsciously draw the eye in the same way as the jagged peaks of the Cirque of the Towers, its immensity dominates the eastern end of the Cirque above Jackass Pass, and it’s probably the most popular “walk-up” summit in the area. Its South Slopes, according to Finis Mitchell himself, “a ten year old kid could walk up”. Mitchell Peak, along with Dogtooth Mountain and Big Sandy Mountain form a high northwest-southeast ridge on the Continental Divide. The distinction between these points on the ridge is probably more apparent from the north, where enormous rock faces drop to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River. From Lonesome Lake, the 1000 ft North Face of Mitchell Peak gives this mountain a more inspiring appearance. This face had its first ascent in 1960 by a group including Yvon Chouinard and the amazing Fred Beckey, and this III 5.7 route is the easiest on this aspect of the mountain. From the summit one can see most of the major peaks in the range, including a great perspective on the Cirque of the Towers peaks and Lizard Head, and if you have good eyes as far as Fremont and Gannett Peak 30 miles to the north. The first recorded ascent in 1923 was via the South Slopes by mountains’ namesake, Finis Mitchell (1901-1995).
A mountain is the best medicine for a troubled mind. Seldom does man ponder his own insignificance. He thinks he is master of all things. He thinks the world is his without bonds. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Only when he tramps the mountains alone, communing with nature, observing other insignificant creatures about him, to come and go as he will, does he awaken to his own short-lived presence on earth.
- Finis Mitchell, from Wind River Trails
Finis Mitchell’s wandering, climbing, and popularization of the Wind River Range contributed significantly to the history of the range. A list of his accomplishments and contributions to the Wind River Range include hiking and climbing in these mountains in each of 9 decades during the 20th century. He climbed 'his' mountain (Mitchell Peak) at least 11 times, in addition to climbing hundreds of other mountains in the Wind River Range (apparently all but about 40 summits) making dozens of first ascents throughout the range, and experiencing the very rare privilege of having a mountain named for him while he was still alive. The naming of this mountain actually required an act of Congress. The mountain is visible from Big Sandy Opening where he started a fishing camp in 1929 that evolved into the current Big Sandy Lodge. There is a bronze commemorative plaque on the summit (the only such plaque in the range) dedicated to him.
Finis (rhymes with 'highness') came over South Pass with his family in a horse-drawn carriage to homestead. They homesteaded at Big Sandy opening. Finis moved to Rock Springs as an adult to work for the Union Pacific railroad. He stocked over a thousand lakes in the range by hand before state game and fish existed and before it was done by plane. If you catch a fish in the Winds, it's because Finis put it there. While hunting with his dad he climbed his first mountain and was hooked. Most of the walk-ups in the southern end and several in the northern are first ascents of his. He was the friendliest guy when you ran into him - and in his later years stood out because you don't usually see guys of that age in the deep mountains. The day I climbed 'his' peak I ran into him. He asked where we going and it was strange to say 'Mitchell Peak'! He absolutely loved to share the Winds with everyone and was an avid photographer (some say there are 70,000 photos). He would often travel around the state showing slides at student functions at the University, at regional Elks Clubs, etc. and could answer any question about every photo. That was his big deal, showing those slides to goups and politicians from Cheyenne. On the trail he would point out your rope and want to make sure you were being safe. Apparently, he prefered the walk-ups (the few that exist in the Winds) but jumped at the chance to go up peaks such as Gannett when a knowledgeable partner was present. His book has thankfully remained in print, is still the preferred trail guide, and is an entertaining read. (contributed by jimmyjay)
|Photo by rpc||Photo by Stuart Buchanan|
Wind River Range
Wyoming’s Wind River Range runs southeast from its intersection with the Absaroka Mountains at Togwotee Pass to South Pass, where the Continental Divide yields to the rolling hills and sagebrush desert of the Great Divide Basin. Nearly the entire range is wilderness totaling roughly 1 million acres, without a single road crossing or even entering the entire range. This necessitates multi-day approaches for most peaks or climbs. The range contains 43 of Wyoming’s 50 highest peaks, including most of its thirteen thousand foot peaks. The range was deeply chiseled by glaciers during the Ice Ages, resulting in many steep-walled cirques and river valleys, as well as massive lakes such as Green River Lakes, Fremont Lake, and New Fork Lake where the glaciers pushed out of the high country into the surrounding plains. The glaciers still linger primarily on the leeward side of the divide in the northern part of the range, and are some of the largest remaining in the U.S. Rockies. Much of the rock in the range is solid granite and metamorphic providing abundant opportunities for rock climbing if you’re willing to undertake the approaches.
Big Sandy Opening Trailhead:
This trailhead is on the western side of the range and provides the shortest approach to Mitchell Peak. Reaching this trailhead requires negotiating nearly 40 miles of washboard dirt roads before you even begin hiking. A good description for reaching this trailhead can be found on Alan Ellis' Cirque of the Towers Page. This is a very popular trailhead in the summer, and it's common to see more than 50 cars here. Using this trailhead, the total distance to the mountain is about 8 miles.
Big Sandy Trail:
Follow the Big Sandy Trail about 7 easy miles to Big Sandy Lake. This lake is VERY popular, so don’t come here if you’re looking for solitude. The Lonesome Lake and Deep Lake areas also make popular base camps.
Dickinson Park Trailhead: This trailhead is on the eastern side of the range. In the past 30 years, WR Reservation policy for the Dickinson Park Road has varied from a)open to the public b)open to the publc carrying a tribal fishing permit or c)closed to the public. It is currently (Sept., 2005) open without permit requirement. There is also a tribal outfitter working out of Mocassin Lake. If outfitted, you can use the Mocassin Lake trailhead which is the most direct access to Grave Lake and saves going over Bear Ears Pass. (contributed by jimmyjay)
To reach this trailhead, follow the unmarked but only paved road heading west from Fort Washakie. The road turns to dirt after a few miles and is rough, which makes for very slow driving, but it is still passable in 2WD vehicles. Follow this for about 20 miles to the trailhead at end of the road. Using this trailhead, the total distance to mountain is about 15 miles.
North Fork Trail: Follow the North Fork Trail for 13 miles as it drops into the deep valley of the North Popo Agie River and follows this valley until Lonesome Lake. This trail crosses the river 4 times, although only the third crossing is tricky (waist-deep with a fast current) in early summer.
Mitchell Peak is located on the junction of the Bridger Wilderness in Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Popo Agie Wilderness in Shoshone National Forest. Standard wilderness regulations apply, i.e. no motorized vehicles, bicycles, etc. Camping is free anywhere in the backcountry, although camping within 100 yards of streams and lakes is prohibited and open fires are prohibited above treeline. The practice of low-impact camping techniques is critical in this extremely popular area. Water should be filtered or sterilized before drinking as some of these lakes have been found to be contaminated with human fecal matter. While there are no grizzlies in this part of the range (yet?), precautions should be taken to minimize encounters with black bears such as hanging food and cooking away from the area where you sleep. There have been recent maulings by black bears in this area due to poor camp hygiene.
When To Climb
Summer is the most common season for hiking, mountaineering, and climbing. While mountaineering and ski touring are possible in the winter and spring, the multi-day approaches and wilderness flavor make this a pursuit of only a hardy few. Expect plenty of other backpackers, horsepackers, and climbers in this very popular area. Summer also brings hordes of mosquitoes that will drive you crazy. They’re not as bad when you’re moving, but can make cooking and pumping water miserable. Mosquito repellant containing DEET is partially effective. By September the mosquitoes are mostly gone for the year. There is still a lot of snow in the high meadows in late June and early July, and this is the worst time for mosquitoes.