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WYOMING: HIKING THE WIND RIVERS

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The Wind River Range rips like sharks' teeth into the western Wyoming sky. It is a backpacker's paradise with lakes fed by glaciers, trails bordered by wildflowers, and rocky peaks more than 13,000 feet high.

Last August my 70-year-old father and I went to this paradise. Our purpose was to climb 13,804-foot Gannett Peak, Wyoming's highest mountain. My father was reliving the past. He had climbed the peak 51 years earlier.Like many of the 25,000 annual visitors to Bridger Wilderness, we began our hike at Elkhart Park, a 14-mile drive east of Pinedale. The trail starts at an elevation of 9,186 feet. At 10,000 feet it rambles up and down between passes and valley floors.

We began our six-day trek at 2:45 p.m., walking 61/2 miles to Barbara Lake. We arrived at 6:30 p.m., just in time to set up camp before dark. Our equipment included two tents, a water purifier (giardia is prevalent in lakes and streams), and a fuel-powered camp stove.

The next day we hiked to a ridge between Island Lake and Titcomb Basin, a distance of at least seven miles. I sat on a hillside and watched the changing colors of the sunset silhouette the peaks and cast their reflection in the lakes below.

We set off for Dinwoody Pass the next morning.

The climb up Gannett is grueling at best. You need crampons and ice axes for the glaciers and must descend Dinwoody Glacier, losing over 1,000 feet in altitude.

To make our ordeal easier we hiked to the top of Titcomb Basin and set up base camp behind a rock wind break that was already there. We left one tent with most of our food and equipment. We climbed to Dinwoody Pass, 12,800 feet, and spent the night.

It was a miserable place to camp. There was no wood and no water. The wind was terrible. We tied our tent to rocks so it wouldn't blow away. Our food was candy bars, granola bars, cereal and bagels.

It was cold. I couldn't melt snow in a bottle in my sleeping bag. In bed I wore polypropylene long johns, a wool shirt, a ski suit with a hood, a sweater with a hood and gloves. I wore the same clothes, plus a face mask, to the summit. My sleeping bag, on top of an air mattress, was rated to plus 10.

I felt sick in the night. I ate a Pop Tart, took some aspirin and went back to bed.

The hike up Gannett Peak and back took all day. We descended a glacier to 11,600 feet and climbed up to 13,804. We arrived at the summit at 1:45 p.m.

The view from the top was spectacular. Peaks line up one after another the length of the range. The west side of the mountain drops off for thousands of feet. The east side drop-off ends at a glacier.

We thumbed through the register. People from all over the country had climbed Gannett. "A walk in the park," wrote one. "It's cold, we gotta get out of here," wrote another. "Second time, 51 years later," wrote my father.

Fifteen people were here the day before. But we were the only ones to brave the summit that cold, windy day.

Our altitude sickness got worse as we made the descent. Both of us were beat. My legs kept going but I couldn't get enough air. We took 21/2 hours to climb the hill to Dinwoody Pass. I wondered if we were going to make it.

We reached camp and grabbed for the Tylenol. We spent one more miserable night on Dinwoody Pass.

We packed up as soon as the sun came up and headed to base camp. There we ate a decent meal and recovered. We began our walk out of the mountains, camping one more night along the way.

All in all, we walked 45 miles. I lost eight pounds in six days and suffered from altitude sickness part of the time. But I felt I had accomplished something. I could hold my head up and look people in the eye.

I'm already planning another Wind River trek. But next time I'll take a book, relax a little and watch more sunsets.