Wind River Mountain Fest 2017
Wind River Beer on the Rocks
Can't have a Fest without our local Wind River Brewing Company beer. Shawn said I could have all the beer I wanted.
and Surly Pika Adventure Race
by Terry Allen
July 26, 2017
Last year's first Wind River Mountain Fest celebrated Pinedale's designation as the first Continental Divide Trail Gateway Community in Wyoming. Long known as the Gateway to the Winds, Pinedale sits at the base of the tallest mountain peaks in Wyoming in which are found most of the 1300 lakes in Sublette County.
Expanding on the same theme this year, Fest organizers Josh and Laura Hattan of The Great Outdoor Shop, and dozens of volunteers worked together to both educate people about the Wind River Range, its seven decade exploration by explorer Finis (pronounced: fine us) Mitchell, and to encourage people to go deep into The Winds to experience much of what they have to offer, by way of a sanctioned adventure race.
By chance, Dawn Ballou of Pinedale Online found herself in possession of a treasure trove of Finis Mitchell slides and audio recordings. She got together with well-known local trekker Ric Samulski who dressed up as Finis last year, and they decided there was great benefit to the community in giving a presentation on Finis at The Fest.
Those in attendance at the Pinedale Auditorium were treated to a big screen slide show and the passionate voice of the great trekker. Like the mountain men a hundred years before, Finis ventured into the unknown. We heard about his 74 pound backpacks and the other expedition quality gear he carried. He also carried still and movie cameras, 66 rolls of film and all the food and other gear he needed on his weeks long expeditions away from his family. He climbed all but 20 of the 300 peaks in the range. We saw the pictures of the fish he ate when he ran out of all the food he had packed. We learned about the fall which broke a leg. He lost his camera and crawled out of the mountains for almost two days. The camera has never been found.
A surprise added benefit at the slide show was a presentation by Finis's great grand daughter, Savannah who had put together a presentation for the Western Social Science convention in Reno. We learned of his service as a Wyoming legislator, his life as a railroad employee, as a fishing guide which kept food on the table during the depression, how he had stocked 314 lakes with fish, that he set up a scholarship fund for like-minded young people, and how he left his photographs for all to use. In attendance were also Alvin and Jacob Mitchell and they all agreed to a group photo with Ric who played Finis.
I went back to the park and watched young people navigate the agility course. Young Dace Rhea was there and explained to me why Tip Top Search & Rescue wasn't putting on a water rescue clinic like they did last year. "You could drown," he said. "The water is too high and fast and your feet could get knocked out from under you. Then you might get swept over a waterfall and get stuck up against a log jamb. There might be bears downstream catching salmon...that's probably the most dangerous part, but only if you're still alive."
I spoke with Josh and Laura briefly about what to expect if one ventured into The Winds. "The Winds are not a beginner range," said Laura. "Most people who come here know what they are doing. The two most important things to have on you are rain gear and bear spray."
"Our store is heavily tailored to the back country we have here," Josh said. "We have stocked our store with carefully selected gear for Wind River Range trekking. We strongly recommend that visitors from lower elevations dedicate a couple days to get established logistically and allow their bodies to get used to the high altitude. We recommend bear spray. You probably won't run into a bear, but just having it gives you peace of mind. You'll sleep better and a well rested and confident person will make better decisions and have a better wilderness experience."
I bumped into Julie Belton and she mentioned that her Mom, Melba age 87, had just ridden in the Special Olympics bike competition at the park with four generations of her family.
It was beer time so I headed over to the Wind River Brewing trailer and Shawn gave me a Blond Ale on the house. It was poured in what I thought was a plastic cup. "No, it's made out of corn," he said. "Drink your beer, throw it on the ground and in a week it is totally gone. Bad part is, they leak a lot." I guess I better drink fast...and go listen to some music at the bandstand.
Sunday morning 5:30 wake up call for Surly Pika Adventure Race which starts as high in the Winds as you can drive...and then you go higher on your pedal bike, then run up and down paths, and game trails...if you are lucky, then an hour long paddle across Fremont Lake to the finish at Lakeside Lodge. It is scheduled as an eight hour race.
Darren and Keri Hull used to compete and later organize adventure races in Alaska. When Josh Hattan heard this he asked the Hull's if they thought they could do one here for The Fest and they thought they could. It required months of planning and paperwork to satisfy all the government agencies and lease holders; and then a lot of hill climbing to plan a route thru the rugged terrain. Darren covered the course four times to get it right and sometimes Josh and Keri went along.
Race morning at White Pine I found Erika Tokarz and Katie Rutherford had spread out their vintage 1964 topographical map on the bed of someone's flatbed trailer in the parking lot. "We've been riding these trails all summer just for fun," said Erika. "This is our playground."
In the lodge, Pinedale native Sara Percy Taranto and Ann Marie Hunt were intent on their map as Darren and Keri talked rules and safety before the race.
I'd heard there was a highly ranked team entered, so at the Elkhart Park overlook, I stood on a rock and looked thru the crowd and immediately settled on the most likely suspects. They stood out from the crowd. Look, posture, attention, simply how they stood with each other. They were like two fish who moved and thought in unison. They were lean and compact. I introduced myself and confirmed the guess. They are from Idaho and have been competing together since 2011. They are entered in The Adventure Racing World Championships called Cowboy Tough...a 500 mile race to be held in Wyoming this year.
The first leg of the race was riding a bike from Elkhart Park down to the Half Moon Lake overlook. They navigated with only a compass and a map. All along the way they had to register themselves at checkpoints. They ditched their bikes at Half Moon and continued on foot thru convoluted boulder strewn and Aspen and brush-covered valleys and ridges until they arrived near Fremont Lake. A very welcome aid station stocked with watermelon, protein and high sugar foods awaited them. Lance and Sean had been fighting severe leg cramps and took a few moments to stretch as they ate the high energy foods. 100 yards away athletes donned life vests and portaged their water craft downhill thru the Aspen forest to the lake and then paddled their canoe's or kayaks toward the finish line at Lakeside Lodge.
Sure to put a smile on any personís face is the story of Charlsey who was competing with the youngest competitor in the race...her own 5 month old baby in the womb. She had come directly from spending 2 weeks backpacking in the wilderness and didn't make any fuss about it, but I thought you'd all be as impressed as I was.
As expected, Jason and Abby won the race...about 2-1/2 hours ahead of the number 2 finishers Erika and Katie and number 3 finishers Dean Clause and his 13-year old daughter Darby. I had spoken with Dean and Darby at the top and they had figured out they needed to deduct 11 degrees from the compass headings to allow for magnetic north distortion. Having that information and being able to apply it during the race was key to their racing success. I'm sure The Great Outdoor Shop will post full results soon.
Jason and Abby were a thing of beauty to watch. So poised, never seeming to break a sweat. However, they did confess the convoluted Aspen forest in the running section was pretty tricky and they lost time there. I had followed them into the forest for a bit and had heard them discussing how to find their way out of the woods and up to a ridge line.
Erika and Katie said they lost focus in the beginning by thinking they could listen to others on map and compass readings. A couple wrong turns and they decided they could do better thinking on their own and did.
David Rule who we know as an exceptional local runner, said he also didn't focus enough on the map and compass part and lost a lot of time because of it.
Ryan Tollison, like Sean and Lance also suffered leg cramps on the biking leg. He plans on getting that problem fixed by next yearís competition.
As we waited on Lakeside Lodge's lawn for the other racers to finish, I asked Jason and Abby about their most important advice for adventure racing. "We eat what sounds good," said Jason. "After years of doing this, we realize savory and sweet is always a good bet. Some people get all sciencey, but Kale chips are hard to stomach during a race. We also train loading our backpacks in the most efficient manner. We train so much we know exactly where every item is so we don't have to waste time going thru pockets. We also select our packs and stock our packs in such a way we rarely have to take them off during a race. That saves a lot of time.
Finally all the other competitors arrived. Many wore shoes that had fallen apart to some degree. They didn't look like gear designed for the event. Some wore calf high socks that were full of thorns, dirt and had threads hanging. There may have been calves that were not cut up and bleeding, but Jason and Abby were the only clean legs I saw. I'm sure these competitors learned a lot and I hope you all don't mind me sharing what I observed and heard.
After the awards ceremony I was sitting on the deck over the lake enjoying a beer with Dave Hohl. Little groups of racers were sitting on the lawn, some leaning against trees. Others were sprawled on big easy chairs enjoying quiet conversations. Some were chowing down on specialty burgers and drinks. It struck me then...I have been in many different kinds of races in my life and it is always a rush to pack your gear and go home...but almost no one was leaving. They didn't want to leave, didn't want the day to end. Special times are like that. Good ideas meeting good people who work hard together to create something meaningful.
It was a beautiful thing to be a part of. Thank you all for being sports and letting me try to make good photographs of your day.
Adventure Racing World Championship in Wyoming this fall: http://www.cowboytoughwy.com/
Wind River Mountain Fest home: http://www.greatoutdoorshop.com/windriverfest/
Your photographer: Terry Allen - email@example.com
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A huge thanks to Dawn Ballou of Pinedale Online for sponsoring this story. If you have a story idea and would like to sponsor me to write and photograph it, please contact Dawn.