Sunday, March 1, 2015

Wind River Range 2013 - Green River Lakes to Elkhart Park

Backpacking in the Wind River Range

2013 - Green River Lakes - Titcomb Basin - Elkhart Park

Way back in about 2002 or so, we did a beginner backpacking trip in the Wind River Range.  Heavy packs, no bear storage for our food, and general ignorance of backpacking.  It was great.  We have wanted to return every since.  We finally made a plan to go back to the Winds in the summer of 2013.
And then again in 2014.  It was awesome!

We started at the Green River Lakes trailhead and hiked the Highline trail to Island Lake where we detoured to the must-see Titcomb Basin.  We also did a side trip up to Indian Pass.  We shuttled a car for that trip and ended at Elkhart Park.  5 nights, 6 days and something like 65 miles?

We wanted to finish the north to south route through the Wind River Range basically along the Continental Divide Trail.  So we started at Elkhart park and joined the Fremont Trail and exited at Big Sandy Trailhead.  4 nights and 5 days and also about 65 miles? - Blog Post to follow. Stay tuned.

Here is our 2013 Trip:

Peek-a-boo View of the Northern Wind River Range from Photographer's point, Pole Creek Trail
This photo is the exit to Elkhart Park from Island Lake basically along the Seneca Lake Trail.  It's also the entry back to the Pole Creek Trail.
View of the Southern Wind River Range from the road to Big Sandy TH
The Green River Lakes Trailhead is quite a long drive from anywhere. The nearest town is Pinedale, Wyoming which has any supplies you might need as well as a few hotels and restaurants and makes a great starting/ending location.  Don't miss the local brewery, Wind River Brewing.
The trailhead is something like 45 miles from Pinedale.  At least 15 miles is dirt road and can be pretty greasy after a storm.  We drive a 2000 Honda Insight - 2-wheel, front-wheel drive with a 1.0 liter 3 cylinder engine and low clearance and we had no problems with the road.  Local inquiry is suggested before driving the road though!
Before we started we shuttled a car to the Elkhart Park Trailhead (paved the entire way, good road). 

Green River Lakes and Squaretop Mountain from Highline Trail 
We did not get an early start from the trailhead but no matter.  The Highline trail immediately presented us with great views of the Green River Lakes as well as the impressive Squaretop Mountain.
Beaver Park Campsite
Our first night we camped in Beaver Park, essentially having the place to ourselves despite the numerous cars in the trailhead parking lot.  The hiking was generally flat and the trails in the Wind River range are very well maintained.  All of the river crossings were bridged.  And despite a decent rainstorm the previous evening, we had great weather.

**Robin adds: I decided to pre-emptively wear a knee brace to prevent my IT band pain, and it turns out you aren't supposed to wear a tight knee brace for eight hours while doing intense activity in the heat of summer...because all of a sudden I had incredible burning pain on my leg and saw that I had an incredible heat rash. Woops.  Sooo bad I almost turned back, but seeing as we were ten miles in, had to camp either way.  Great start to the trip!  Oh, and Grant's camera was dead, so yeah, comedy of errors for first day, as usual :)  The next day, my rash wasn't as bad, so we kept going...

The next morning was also great weather and though the climb up to Summit lake was a long slog, the views were outstanding.  The trailhead is approximately 8100' and the first 11.5 miles only gains about 350' elevation - nice and flat!  From the Three Forks park up to Summit Lake the trail grinds up about 2000' in 4.8 miles.  Summit lake sits at approximately 10,300'.  The trail up to the lake is well graded with adequate switchbacks.  There are plenty of opportunities for water all along the trail.
Once up on the plateau the trail becomes somewhat exposed however.  If there is any threatening weather, Summit lake would not be a great location.
It was early when we reached Summit lake but very windy.  We had a short snack and kept moving along the Highline trail until we found a great campsite at Pass Lake.

Approaching Summit Lake on the Highline Trail

We found a great campsite near Pass lake - flat spot for the tent and good cooking area.  Also, we arrived early enough for a nice sunset swim in Pass Lake. 

Campsite near Pass Lake

Pass Lake Supper Views

Beautiful Pass Lake Morning
We awoke to a beautiful morning at Pass Lake.  Unfortunately there was already threatening weather on the horizon.  Generally if the morning is nice, you can count on a nice day with possible evening thunderstorms.  But if the weather starts raining early, you could be in for a day of the wet stuff.  We had the opposite!  Beautiful early morning, mid morning thundershowers, and beautiful afternoon!  The mid morning was a little wet but not too bad.  Of course, there was that moment when Grant panicked like a wet cat and tried to hide under the smallest pine tree in the Range.  Thankfully, that rain didn't last too long.
A little morning rain shower near Elbow Lake

Highline Trail Near Elbow Lake

Highline Trail Near Elbow Lake

Pass between Elbow Lake and Lake 10935 on the Highline Trail

Upper Jean Lake?  (might be lake 10935)

I'll just hold this rock up so you can safely pass by

Lower Jean Lake, and now the weather is awesome!
By the time we made it to Lower Jean Lake, the sky was blue, the sun was out and we were in shorts and t-shirts enjoying the awesome weather.  Who knew?
Looking SE Toward Mount Lester from Lower Jean Lake area

Viewing SE on the Highline Trail above Fremont Crossing

Looking down at Island Lake with Fremont Peak in the background
Our primary destination on our 2013 trip was the Titcomb Basin.  We had heard and read great reviews of this mountain gem.  Because it is wilderness and we didn't need a permit, we played it by ear to decide when and where to camp.  We decided to base-camp at Island Lake.  This is a very nice place to stop and is within striking distance of three main items: a) Titcomb Basin is just a short day hike away, 2) Indian Pass is also within a day hike and -7) Elkhart Park trailhead is a mere day hike away.
This also means it is a very popular camping area and we managed to be there on the weekend.  Despite all the popularity, we found a decently secluded campsite although from the rest of the trail we were a little shell-shocked due to all the people.
Island Lake, Fremont Peak, Jackson Peak, Indian Pass

Boy are we glad we are here!  I mean, we could be at work pfffffftt...

Island Lake Base-camp

Island Lake Breakfast

Fremont Peak and Jackson Peak from Island Lake campsite

Peaking into Titcomb Basin
We had a wonderful trek into Titcomb Basin the next day.  Surprisingly, despite all the campers at Island Lake, we only saw two other groups on the hike into and out of the Titcomb Basin!  Even in the popular spots of the Wind River Range there is still lots of empty space.
Viewing SE in the Titcomb area
I think in hindsight, we should have pushed a little further on the day we arrived at Island lake so that we could camp closer to the Titcomb/Indian Pass junction.  It would have been more private and more enjoyable to be away from Island Lake and there were plenty of great spots to be had. The Llama camp we passed had a pretty sweet spot.
Titcomb Basin above upper Titcomb lake
And if we had planned better, we could have just kept going from the upper Titcomb basin - so much to explore!
You see Captain, the reason I don't like work is because I'd rather be here.  Why is that so hard to explain to you people?
Sometimes it's hard to explain to our co-workers why we don't like to ship out much.  Let's see?  Trapped on a steel box 700'x70' with 20 other prisoners or wandering around in the wilderness anywhere we please?  Let me get back to you on that......
Classic Titcomb Basin

Morning storm blowing across Fremont Peak
We had an exciting night back at our Island Lake camp.  Lots and lots of thunder and lightning - a good ol' mountain thunderstorm.  The lightning storm kept us awake for a while but the rain and wind weren't too bad - snug and dry in our cozy little tent. 
We woke up to questionable weather and so we snoozed a little to see what would develop.  The mantra in the mountains is 'go early, go fast, go high' - getting a later start might mean turning around early due to afternoon thunderstorms.  Instead of getting out of the tent and making progress, we thought we'd try to catch up on some of the sleep we missed for the lighting and thunder the night before.  And who wants to get out of a nice warm sleeping bag when it's gray and cloudy outside? 
Questionable weather moving through Indian Basin
We finally had some breakfast and headed up toward Indian Pass with threatening weather the entire time.  It's always a little distracting hiking up to a high saddle and looking over your shoulder to see if the weather is getting worse or better?  And wondering how wet and exposed you might be.
Indian Basin morning

Questionable?  I meant nasty weather!  Lets hide under this rock for lunch!
It's a known fact that Grant melts in the rain so at the first sign of water, he decided to look for a shelter and have lunch to 'wait it out'.  Nice try buddy!  We did find a nice little rock to have lunch under though.  The wind was blowing and the rain was coming down but our little rock sanctuary wasn't too shabby!  We couldn't stay there all day though so Grant finally got enough courage to keep on hiking.  (Was that the courage wine we brought with us?)
Ok, it's gonna rain.  Let's keep going?

Indian Pass - not snowing though!
We finally made it the top of Indian Pass!  What an awesome place!  We were a little bit apprehensive of lightning but then more nervous of the snow.  We were very glad we persevered and made it to the top.
Looking back down toward Indian Basin from Indian Pass
Walking back down the pass we were walking directly into the windy rain - our hiking pants were totally soaked with water and it was kind of cold and unpleasant walking down.  We knew we had warm dry clothes in the tent and a nice warm sleeping back to crawl into though.
Hey look!  The weather's clearing...Woohoo!
Before we made it to Island Lake though, the weather blew through and the sun came out - the warmer wind and the sunshine completely dried our clothes and by the time we got back to the tent we were mostly dry and mostly warm too!  Mountain weather can be so fickle!
Earliest Departure yet!  Guess who's thirsty?

Pole Creek Trail near Photographer's Point (2013)
We had three nights at Island Lake and got to see both Titcomb Basin and Indian Pass.  From Island Lake we decided it was time for cold beer and pizza!  So we cruised down the trail to our shuttle car at Elkhart Park.  

We had a great trip on our 2013 hike.  Most of our trip was above Ten Thousand feet and the Highline trail was stunning.  The scenery is just awesome and we couldn't wait to get back for another taste.

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