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Weminuche High Route
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Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Weminuche High Route on 09/06/2010 20:14:10 MDT Print View

This was a route of a lifetime, and is strongly recommended for those comfortable off trail. Steve Howe recommended this route to me when I met him unexpectedly in the Wind River Range a few years back. Thank you for putting it together and recommending it to me, Steve. It is a shorter but similar version of Roper's Sierra High Route. It is found at You can download the waypoints and send it to google earth and your GPS.

Good eye-foot coordination and a calm disposition are prerequisites (along with stamina at high altitude as his article says, so pack lightly).

By that I mean there are several steep alpine tundra or talus slopes after you leave the Vallecito Creek trail to the end of the route that can rattle the uninitiated. If you fall on one of these slopes you could be injured to the point of being immobilized. Take your time on these sections and concentrate on your immediate footing, trekking pole plants, and handholds. I would not go without poles; you’ll use them when traversing a steep slope of loose talus (that has eroded away any available use trail), or when descending talus/boulders. Some talus will move underfoot and you won’t know it until you’ve got your weight on it; recall the Presbyterian pastor who got trapped in the Wind River Range and died. If you get preoccupied with the possibility of a fall, you'll panic and miss the scenery. I went solo and sent an OK after or before any sketchy section. As suggested, I sent several OK messages a day. As you get accustomed to the slopes, it is easier to manage your emotions.

The best route referenced at WEM026 is do-able; it took me less than an hour from the tarn at the foot of the pass to the top. However, there were times when I was using feet and hands to ascend and rocks were unavoidably falling behind me. So, don't follow someone in the fall line. It appears from the tarn there is an unpassable cliff band at the top. It is not unpassable, and can be walked around easily. I hiked up through the lower diamond shaped tundra area just above the tarn, then climbed the talus to the left or west of the outcropping of rock in the center. There may be other routes, but from the tarn that looked easier to me. Note, however, that erosion and more rock fall over the years may change the best ascent. Once you are at the top of this saddle or pass, it is an easy meadow walk back to Steve's coordinates. Having not taken Steve's original route, I can't say how much time I saved, but I would guess it was substantial. I can’t comment on whether it was safer for the same reason, but my educated guess is the less time you spend on talus slopes the safer you are even if the slope is a bit steeper.

The route's views were spectacular and rarely seen by those who stick to the Weminuche trails. I saw only two groups of people, once on the Vallecito Trail and once again at the Highland Mary Lakes region. Otherwise, it was just me, the moose, the mountain goats, elk, and seemingly overweight marmots!

The worst section for me was finding the use trail in the first half of a mile from the Elk Trail towards Verde Lake. I ended up following the coordinates from point to point from the foot bridge on the trail. It was not hazardous, but it was hot and exhausting because the slope was really steep and there was a lot of deadfall. Eventually, I caught the use trail, near the tree line, and gasped my way up to the Whitehead trail.

Don't worry about WEM045. Since Steve was there they may have also color coded those handholds...

Like any other Weminuche trip, timing is critical because of the altitude. Don't try this route until the snow has melted otherwise crampons and an axe would be essential, and don't schedule it during the monsoons. I went the end of August and beginning of September and managed all dry days except one with hail. The slopes would be too steep for me if the wind is high or variable, and/or the talus/tundra is wet and slick.

My sense is this route is more demanding than others that are rated strenuous. Has anyone else done this route?

Edited by hikerfan4sure on 09/10/2010 20:41:13 MDT.

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Weminuche High Route short cut picture at WEM26 on 10/24/2010 14:33:30 MDT Print View

Photo shows the shortcut. The triangle of tundra is above the tarn, the route left of the rock band.

Edited by hikerfan4sure on 10/24/2010 14:34:44 MDT.

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Short cut WEM 026 redlined route from tarn on 10/24/2010 14:46:15 MDT Print View

Redlined trail

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Sunlight Lake camp with Jagged mountain on 10/24/2010 14:57:33 MDT Print View

sunlight lake

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Unnamed pass with WEM026 in the background on 10/24/2010 15:07:38 MDT Print View

The pack sits at the top of an unnamed pass. I'm facing WEM026. The route descends a boulder field from the pass, and then ascends to the tarn. If you didn't follow the "best route" you'd take a right at the tarn.

I'm about five hours from the tarn from where the photo was taken. There is no way I felt that I could move quickly down the boulders.

unnamed pass

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Boulder descent interrupted by a little weasel on 10/24/2010 15:11:13 MDT Print View


Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Boulder trough on 10/24/2010 15:17:20 MDT Print View

There is no trail here. You just take the least steep fall line and control the weight onto your downhill foot until your certain the rock won't move on you. And then repeat as necessary...


Leviathan Peak is to my right.

Edited by hikerfan4sure on 10/24/2010 15:26:52 MDT.

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Leviathan Peak Camp on 10/24/2010 15:26:11 MDT Print View

The descent route described above is just to the right of the Sea Monster or Leviathan Peak. There was no snow there for my trip, but it is in the shade most of the day. Any earlier in the year would have snow.

Behind me is the tarn shown in WEM026 above.

One of the only flat places around for a camp, and it wasn't especially cold or windy that night.


Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Deceptively dangerous at a distance, but okay once there! on 10/24/2010 15:55:30 MDT Print View

At a distance the route often may look impassable. And, if your vision is no longer 20/20, even with corrective lenses, as mine is, it can definitely raise one's anxiety level!


Especially, if you knew beforehand that the route takes you here:


But, once you get there the route may not be quite so bad at all. There may be a use trail that marks the route. Having said that, there hasn't been any maintenance over several snows, if there ever was any.

route easy

In this stretch I lengthened the downhill pole and shortened the uphill pole. Vertigo was kept at a minimum with eyes fixed firmly on the route.

Having said that, sometimes what looked straightforward turned treacherous after you were committed. This stretch of tundra looked harmless enough. A chocolate GU and I'd be at the top in an hour. Unfortunately, that tundra covered rotten rock that crumbled under foot, requiring the use of my hands. Several weeks after this trip I continued to lose skin off my finger tips.


I should have mentioned earlier if it isn't obvious from the photos that the Weminuche High Route should be taken with an internal frame pack that can be cinched closely to your back. It is windy and steep and keeping your balance is paramount. You may need to use your hands on short notice, so bending over with a flexible frame is essential.

Edited by hikerfan4sure on 10/24/2010 16:17:23 MDT.

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Wind and humanity on 10/24/2010 16:01:54 MDT Print View

The beginning and end of the High Route takes you through the mining history of the region. The picture below shows the remnants of a building well above timberline that has collapsed.


Note the number of nails that were used to keep the boards secure. It still wasn't enough.