Wind River Range stretches for about one hundred miles in west central Wyoming. It takes its name after the Wind River, a Yellowstone River tributary. Some of the largest glaciers in the contiguous USA cling to the lofty peaks of the range. Among the peaks, Gannet Peak is the highest mountain in Wyoming. Much of the range is within the Bridger-Teton national forest, and most of it enjoys the added protection of a wilderness area status. Bridger, Fitzpatrick, Aggie Popo Wilderness areas together with a part of the Wind River Indian reservation combine in a large roadless area, a place, where one can get away from it all.
I have thought about returning to the Wind River Range ever since my first incidental exposure to it six years earlier. That time, on the way to the obligatory and tourist crowded destinations of northwestern Wyoming, Yellowstone national park and Tetons national park, we looked for an inexpensive (read free if possible) campground. After a late start from Denver, we made it as far as Pinedale, Wyoming, from where we saw an impressive looking mountain range to the north-east. We took a road toward the range, found a campground at the end of the road full, and ended up camping on the national forest land near the road. It was a cold frosty night in late August, but the views of the range in the evening whetted out appetites to see a little more. So we made it as far as the Photographers Point on a day hike. We wanted to see more, but were not equipped to do so, and there were other places to go.
Six years later, Radka and I were looking for a suitable summer backpacking destination. We wanted to bring Radka's dog, a ten year old female lab named Karkula or Sol, with us, as she had frequented kennels due to Radka's busy traveling schedule a little too much. A dog and national parks do not go together, so that ruled out quite a few places. On top of that, national parks are victims of their status and summers there tend to be a little too busy for my appetite. With a picture of the Wind Rivers still in my mind from years ago, I thought of a backpacking trip into the Wind Rivers.
A few weeks later, I found myself at a big parking lot at the end of the same road as a few years ago. Elkhart Park trailhead owes its popularity to a number of reasons: it is the best access point to the very rugged and spectacular northwest part of the range, the road to it is paved all the way and provides a relatively high altitude starting point at 9,370ft.
It is about five miles from Elkhart Park to Photographers Point, 10,400ft. The trail up to this point is not very exciting, passing through wooded areas and only later through a few meadows. A popular question we were faced with from people heading in the opposite direction was 'How much farther to the trailhead?'.
Photographers Point seemed almost as nice as six years ago despite the fact that I had seen a lot of mountains since then. The terrains drops some two thousand feet down into the Fremont Creek canyon, that hides a few lakes, among them one aptly named Suicide Lake. Behind the canyon, it rises back up to the glacier smoothed plateau in front of the high mountains of the Continental Divide.
Past Photographers Point, the trail descends toward Eklund Lake and Barbara Lake, and still lower into a valley, before climbing to Hobbs Lake. This is a first big lake along the route, and because of our late start, we set up camp shortly after passing it.
|Photographers Point||Photographers Point||Karkula||Barbara Lake||Big sky||Hobbs Lake|
|Reflection||Hobbs Lake||Unnamed pool|
I do not think anyone likes to wake up to the chattering sound of rain on the tent canvas. On the other hand, waiting out the rain is a good excuse to take some rest and read a book.
It was late in the morning when we hit the trail again. The clouds gradually broke as we passed Seneca Lake and Little Seneca Lake. Shortly afterwards, we arrived at a 10,600 ft high saddle from which great views of mountains around Titcomb Basin opened up. We continued toward Island Lake, now mostly above or just around tree-line. Views from another saddle above Island Lake were unforgettable.
For some reason, it already felt like a long day, so we started looking for camping shortly after we had passed the lake. We crossed a ridge to the left of the trail and ended up in a valley above the Island Lake just below Pothole Lake. One could hardly think of a nicer place to camp, and we were not the first people that day to choose it as a camping place. Steve, a friendly backpacker from Pittsburgh, came over to say hi while we cooked dinner. It was his sixth time in the Wind Rivers. I guess they are addictive.
Karkula showed her age toward the end of the day, and could not wait to get into the tent to sleep. I fell asleep quite a bit later listening to a distant thunderstorm.
|Seneca Lake||Llama-packing||Grass in the water||Island Lake||Above Island Lake||Waterfall|
|Boulders||East side of the Titcomb basin||Fire in the sky||Dusk reds|
We chose not to part with our great camping spot, passed on carrying a heavy backpack, and went for a day hike into the Titcomb Basin. It was easy to spend a long time taking in the scenery there, since scenery there is. The entire basin is above the tree-line, and where rocky terrain allows, it is carpeted by wildflowers. On the basin floor, there are several lakes, and a number of thirteeners rises around the basin. Several glaciers descend from them, but mostly to the other side of the Continental Divide.
|Sunrise||Tent-scape||Good morning||Out of the tent||Into the Titcomb Basin||First Titcomb Basin lake|
|Wildflowers in the basin||Bird||The water is so good||Connection||Wildflowers||A gull and a waterfall|
|Boulder and Island Lake||Unlikely trees||Boulders and Fremont Peak|
It was a frosty morning as I set out for the Continental Divide, or rather its most accessible point - Indian Pass. Karkula is not exactly a mountaineer and would have a hard time making it, and Radka stayed behind with her. I only allowed myself some four hours for the trip, and rushed up the trail as fast as I could. I did not even pull out my camera in great morning light in the Indian Basin, which was a pity. The Indian Basin contains contains a few lakes, and it is enclosed by Fremont and Jackson Peaks to the north and Harrower Peak to the south. There are nice views of the Harrower Glacier and just before reaching the pass, the trail passes a few snowfields. I descended a little to the other side to take a peek at the Knife Point Glacier, but from my vantage point I found it a bit disappointing - a receding glacier that the global warming may take care of in a few decades.
We made our way back in the afternoon, and camped at the north end of Seneca Lake. It would have been a nice place for a campfire, but as was the case over most of the Rocky Mountain West, there were fire restrictions in place.
|Morning coziness||Icy water-bottle||Point 12,834 just south of Indian Pass||Knife Point Glacier||Indian Pass||Rock|
|Harrower Peak||Indian Pass Trail||An Indian Basin lake and Harrower Peak||Mt. Woodrow Wilson and Island Lake||Radka and Karkula||Rock in blue and yellow|
|Rock in blue and yellow||Rock in blue and yellow||Rock in blue and yellow|
It was a Saturday and the trail back to Photographers Point was busy with people and pack animals on their way into the wilderness. Karkula would take advantage of every opportunity to rest, and sometimes it seemed as if she would not get up again. Her paws were swollen, probably from a bit of arthritis and having to walk on the rocky trail for the past five days. But she made it back as we did. We could not even sign out of the trail register, as the day when we signed in was already missing. It did not seem that we stayed so long...
|Frosty sandals||Seneca Lake||Seneca Lake||Walking the trail||Karkula and myself at Photographers Point||Radka and Karkula|
|One tired dog||Muddy temptation||Photographers Point||Fremont Peak from Pole Creek Trail||Last view from the road|