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The Wind Rivers: Cirque of the Towers

Wednesday – Saturday, August 21-24, 2019

After our first backpacking trip into the Wind River Range for The Great American Eclipse two years ago it was time that we finally headed back for a another one. Since we had some pretty good conditions on that last trip (weather and mosquitoes) we planned to go at the same time of the year. Of course, since we had already visited Titcomb Basin and Island Lake on that previous trip, this time I really wanted to check out the Cirque of the Towers. I had originally planned this trip to be a four day loop that would take us past Big Sandy Lake into the Cirque of the Towers and then over Texas Pass to Shadow Lake, but things didn’t quite go as planned and we ended up not completing the loop. It was still an amazing trip and we both really enjoyed our time spent in the Cirque of the Towers!

We left home right after work on Wednesday and started the long drive north into Wyoming. The drive ended up taking longer than I expected since we got stopped by some road construction, stuck behind some slow-moving vehicles and then made a couple of extra stops along the way, including dinner in Vernal. We made it to the Big Sandy Opening in the dark and found a campsite off the road just after midnight. We quickly got our tent set up and went right to bed. I was tired! On Saturday morning we woke up around 7:00am, took down our tent and finished driving the last few miles to the Big Sandy Trailhead. After we finished packing our backpacks we started our hike up the trail to Big Sandy Lake. The trail was easy hiking and we made it to the lake in just a couple hours, and that was with us taking our time along the way.

Diane hikes ahead of me as we started up the Big Sandy Trail on Thursday morning.

On Our Way

Entering the Bridger Wilderness.

Bridger Wilderness Sign

The first part of the hike was along the Big Sandy River.

Big Sandy River

Hiking near Big Sandy Lake as we started to look for a campsite.

Nearing Big Sandy Lake

We found a great little spot at the far end of the lake.

Big Sandy Camp

After relaxing in camp for a while we decided to go for a hike up the trail to Black Joe Lake. When we arrived we found that we had the place to ourselves and laid down on a boulder along the shore. I think I may have even fallen asleep for a little bit. Diane spotted a few climbers high above us on Haystack Mountain, so we watched them for a while, too. On our way back we followed another trail down to Clear Lake which created a small loop.

Enjoying the view of Black Joe Lake below the Continental Divide.

Black Joe Lake

Haystack Mountain is the peak on the right where we saw the climbers high above.

Below Haystack Mountain

Hiking down to Clear Lake with Temple Peak and East Temple dominating the skyline to the right of Haystack Mountain.

Clear Lake View

A fast-moving storm was coming our way as we hiked along the shore of Clear Lake. It hit us with some rain and wind for a brief period of time.

Clear Lake Storm

Diane hikes through the trees just after the storm had passed and the sun started to come out a little.

Green Trail Light

A view of Big Sandy Mountain and Dog Tooth Peak after we returned to camp.

Big Sandy Mountain

Schiestler Peak and the trail along Big Sandy Lake.

Big Sandy Trail

The sky above Big Sandy Lake looked pretty nice for a little while in the late afternoon.

Big Sandy View

Haystack Mountain towers over Big Sandy Lake.

Haystack Mountain

After dinner I hiked up to an overlook of Big Sandy Lake for sunset and this is about as good as the view got.

Big Sandy Lake Overlook

I had just given up on there being a colorful sunset and was about to get into the tent for the night when this red light struck the face of Haystack Mountain.

Last Light on Haystack Mountain

The final glow of the setting sun.

Final Glow

Since I didn’t get much sleep the previous night, I fell right asleep after getting into my sleeping bag and slept very well all night. There were some storms that moved in overnight that brought wind, rain, graupel, lightning and thunder with them. These storms kept Diane up but I was so tired that I slept through most of it. I woke up to photograph sunrise, but there were still too many clouds in the sky and it was pretty much a bust.

We wanted to get an early start hiking over Jackass Pass into the Cirque of the Towers in case more storms were on the way, but our tent’s rainfly was soaked and there was no sunlight out to dry it quickly. Luckily, I usually keep an extra garbage bag in my backpack, so we were able to pack the rainfly into that so it wouldn’t get the rest of my gear wet and were still able to get that earlier start. The weather remained windy and cloudy for most of the day which made for some beautiful conditions, and there would be no more rain or storms. It was a gorgeous day for hiking!

There were nice clouds in the sky as we left Big Sandy Lake behind and started our climb up to Jackass Pass.

Morning Clouds

Spotlight on War Bonnet Peak

Spotlight on War Bonnet Peak

War Bonnet Peak over North Lake

War Bonnet Peak over North Lake

Looking back at the Sundance Pinnacle over North Lake.

Sundance Pinnacle

Following the trail toward the pass.

To The Pass

Our first views of Pingora Peak and part of the Cirque of the Towers over the ridge ahead of us.

Over The Ridge

The higher we climbed, the better the views became!

First View

The view from Jackass Pass on the Continental Divide was amazing! It was also very windy!

Jackass Pass

A spectacular view of the Cirque of the Towers!

Cirque of the Towers

Spotlight on Pingora Peak.

Pingora Peak

There was an amazing view over Lonesome Lake, too.

Lonesome Lake

Following the trail down toward the lake. We didn’t actually go all the way to the lake, instead we got off the trail to search for a campsite with a good view higher up in the cirque.

Trail to Lonesome Lake

It was a little tricky finding a campsite since there were plenty of places to pitch a 1 or 2 person tent, but not as many spots that would fit our 3-person tent, but we did end up finding an awesome campsite with a 360 degree view.

This flat rock at camp made the perfect place for us to sit and watch the clouds and light change all afternoon.

Sitting Rock

After relaxing for a while we went on a short hike over to this waterfall that was nearby.

Cirque Waterfall

Diane enjoys another view from camp.

View From Camp

Later in the evening I climbed up to the ridge above our campsite to see Arrowhead Lake.

Arrowhead Lake View

I wonder why they called it Arrowhead Lake?

Arrowhead Lake

Evening light on War Bonnet Peak.

War Bonnet Peak

We had a nice view across the valley to Lizard Head Peak.

Lizard Head Peak Evening

Texas Pass was our original destination for the following morning.

Texas Pass

Our tent nestled between the boulders and trees below War Bonnet Peak.

Cirque Evening Campsite

Light and shadows on Mitchell Peak.

Mitchell Peak

Last light on Lizard Head Peak.

Lizard Head Peak

After sunset the clouds above turned a beautiful shade of magenta. It was a great way to end an amazing day!

War Bonnet Peak Sunset

Mitchell Peak Sunset

North Popo Agie View

On Saturday morning we woke up to watch the sunrise together. It was a decent sunrise but certainly not nearly as nice as sunset was the previous day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling too well this morning and decided that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try and climb over Texas Pass like we had originally planned and instead we should probably head out the same way we had hiked in. So that’s what we ended up doing and we cut the trip a day short. Since we both had an amazing day in the cirque on Friday we weren’t too upset by this last minute change of plans.

Golden light on Pylon Peak and the Watch Tower.

Towers of Light

Morning Towers

Morning Light on Pingora Peak

Morning Light on Pingora Peak

One last view of our tent in the cirque before we packed it up and headed out.

Camp In The Cirque

Nice clouds above the Warrior Peaks.

Warrior Peaks

Leaving the Cirque of the Towers on the ‘Climbers Trail.’ Even though we were heading back out generally the same way we came in, we were able to take a couple alternate trails to change things up a little.

Leaving The Cirque

Temple Peak reflected in Arrowhead Lake.

Temple Peak Reflection

Scrambling through boulders to get around Arrowhead Lake.

Through The Boulders

We stopped to rest near the point of Arrowhead Lake and this little pika joined us for a bit.


Approaching V Lake as we took a slightly different route back to the trailhead.

Approaching V Lake

One last view of V Lake before we finished the hike back to the trailhead and started our drive back home. It was another amazing trip to the Wind Rivers!

V Lake

>> Cirque of the Towers Photo Gallery


  1. Louis
    Louis August 28, 2019

    Looks like it was a great trip! It’s pretty tough to beat backpacking in the Winds. I went over Texas Pass from the Shadow Lake side. The Shadow Lake side is a lot steeper with loose rock.

  2. Michele
    Michele August 28, 2019

    Your story telling is great and takes me there to experience it with you! Great pics, captions and narrative. Thanks. I very much appreciate your efforts!

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