Follow @CreatingEzra and  <a href="http://www.creatingezra.com">http://www.creatingezra.com</a>

Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range

Looking in toward Titcomb Basin

About the Wind River Range

The Wind River Range, Wyoming's highest and largest mountain range, is a continuation of the greater Rocky Mountains from Colorado. It contains Gannett Peak, Wyoming's tallest and 2nd most prominent peak, as well as nearly 50 other 13,000 foot peaks. Despite being more well known, nearby Grand Teton is not as tall as Gannett. In fact, the Tetons only have two peaks over 13,000 feet, joining just 6 in Wyoming that are outside of the Winds.

In addition to tall peaks, the Wind River Range has the vast majority of Wyoming’s glaciers. Of the nearly 40 named glaciers in the state, about 25 are in the Winds. Wyoming itself has the 3rd most glaciated mountains of any state in the US following Alaska and Washington. The Winds contain many more unnamed glaciers and permanent snowfields, usually resting over 11,000 feet in elevation. Of course, like most in the US, these glaciers are rapidly disappearing so if you want to see them the time is now.

Much of the Wind River Range is above the treeline. While there are plenty of beautiful forested foothills, much of the mountains are so high that they are either wildflower filled meadows or rocky barren landscapes. The rocky landscapes lend to the rugged feeling one gets when spending time here. I am well aware that many mountain ranges in the US are loved for their wildflowers, but the Winds have some of the best I’ve seen (and this trip was late in the season).

All these factors make the Wind River Range one of the most spectacular and underrated mountain ranges in the lower 48 US states. I didn’t visit in person until 2018, having read about them just briefly before that. Now that I’ve finally spent time in the back country here, I can’t wait to go back and get off-trail where much of the magic is hiding.

This report will primarily focus on my experience backpacking one of the Wind’s more popular routes,The Titcomb Basin. There are several other equally beautiful and popular entry points into the mountain range which I will also briefly discuss. The range is nearly all under US Forest designation and does not require any special permits or reservations. That being said, some of it is part of the Wind River Reservation and is run by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. Permits are required to enter this part which is more remote and less frequented but still beautiful.

While the Wind’s are nowhere near as popular as the nearby Teton Mountains or Yellowstone, they have been attracting increasing numbers of visitors who recognize what a gem they are. Luckily the range is over 100 miles long and once you leave the most popular areas, it is still quite easy to find wilderness solitude. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) runs directly through the range. There are a few popular day hikes such as Photographer’s Point. But for the most part, these mountains are just too overshadowed by their more well known neighbors to be overcrowded most of the time.

Nemo Hornet 2p tucked behind a rock in Titcomb Basin

Logistics, Gear, and Planning

Regulations and Reservations. As mentioned earlier, no permits are required to hike or camp in the Wind River Wilderness. You do not need to reserve campsites either. There is no National Parks or Forest Pass required at the trailheads. There is a registration at the trailheads to help the forest staff know how many people are visiting the wilderness and track anyone that may be lost. Organized groups and livestock users are required to get a free permit online.

Proper bear resistant food storage is required in the entire range. While we used a hefty bear canister, some people choose to hang their food which is acceptable if there are sufficient trees in the area you are camping. However, rangers we met seemed to prefer the bear canisters as many people don’t properly hang their food and much of the park is above the treeline. If hanging your food, it must be “suspended at least 10 feet clear of the ground at all points and four feet horizontally from any supporting tree or pole”.

One of the most important regulations is where you are allowed to camp. There are several Wilderness areas which are part of the Bridger-Teton and the Shoshone National Forests. These have different regulations which can be confusing if your trip crosses from one to the other. Titcomb Basin is part of the Bridger Wilderness in Bridger Teton National Forest. Here you are required to camp at least 200 feet from lakes and official trails as well as at least 100 feet from streams and rivers. The Fitzpatrick Wilderness in Shoshone National Forest (North East part of the range) has slightly less stringent regulations.

Fires are permitted below the tree line. This is approximately 10,000 feet although we did see several people having fires above this level as there were some small scrub pines. There is limited dead wood available and during the summer the risk of forest fires is high. We chose not to have any fires during our stay due to these factors.

The trail in to the basin

Trailheads

The Winds have relatively few entry points and trailheads. Since there is no developed National Park here, most of the sites require backpacking and day hikes are less common. I’m going to list just the most popular entry points. There are quite a few other spots that are not used as often. While these popular trailheads do lead to more well known hiking spots in the Winds, it is quite easy to access more remote and equally beautiful destinations as well. The Winds have a surprising number of decent trails and even during peak season (Labor Day Weekend for instance) there are tons of places where one can find solitude.

Big Sandy Trailhead. Starting from the South, this is the first major trailhead you encounter in the Winds. This is the gateway to one of the most famous parts of the Wind River Range, Cirque of the Towers. I won’t go into too much details about this area because I hope to actually trek from here and do a dedicated trip report. The road is about 27 miles of unpaved gravel with the last 10 or so miles being more challenging although small 2-wheel drive cars do make it. The trek to the Cirque of the Towers is about an 18 mile round trip journey. Access to the rest of the Winds and the CDT is possible from here.

Elkhart Park. This trailhead is near the small town of Pinedale and is probably the most popular entry into the Winds. Titcomb Basin is probably one of the most famous destinations accessible from this trailhead. From the trailhead the basin is approximately 15 miles away. Other popular spots accessible from this trailhead include Gannett and Fremont Peaks, Indian Basin, Island Lake, Photographers Point, and the Cook Lakes. Hiking South one could eventually reach the Cirque of the Towers. The CDT is accessible from here as well. The road is paved the entire way to the trailhead and there is an extensive paved parking lot and a developed campground for car camping.

Green River Lake. Moving North, this is the third major trailhead and most famous for it's access to Squaretop Mountain, an iconic Wind River photo favorite. Besides Squaretop, the northern section of the Wind’s CDT portion is accessible here as well as the Natural Bridge. Heading South, one could access Titcomb Basin in about 28 miles.

Dubois. Dubois, Wyoming is a small town on the North East side of the Wind River Range across the continental divide. There are two popular trail areas accessible from near this town: the Glacier Trail and the Ross Lakes trail from the Whiskey Basin. The Glacier Trail leads 22 miles into the wilderness to the Dinwiddy Creek Basin at the foot of Gannett Peak. Climbers of this iconic peak often use this trailhead. Meanwhile in Whiskey Basin, the first Ross Lake is about 9 miles from the trailhead.

Peaks rising above Indian Basin

Logistics

The closest major airport to the Winds is Salt Lake City which is about 4-5 hours from trailheads. Denver is 7-8 hours away. Driving is probably your best option if you are a reasonable day's drive from the area. We drove from Seattle to the Elkhart Park Trailhead which is about 15-16 hours.

If you plan a through hike and want a shuttle, there is good shuttle service available in Pinedale. The Great Outdoor Transport Company offers three types of transports: vehicle shuttles, people shuttles, and point to point transfers. If for example you want to thru hike the Winds from the South to the North, you can order a shuttle from the Green River Lakes trailhead where you left your car to the Big Sandy Trailhead for $305 for up to three people. A shuttle from Pinedale to the Elkhart Park Trailhead is only $50 for three people.

If you don’t wish to do a shuttle, there are numerous options for loops in this range. We created our own loop which did require some backtracking over already covered ground. This is probably your best option for seeing the most in the least amount of time.

Wildflower in Indian Basin

Weather and When to Visit

Snow can fall any time of year in the Wind River Range, especially above the treeline. Temperatures regularly drop below freezing in the summer. Peak time to visit these mountains is mid-July to mid-September which is an extremely short season compared to many other ranges. During a low snow year one could potentially make it into the range in June without encountering too much snow. My first visit was in early October and temperatures were comfortable and snow only in the most shaded areas.

Thunderstorms are another issue in the Winds. By mid-afternoon it is not uncommon to have a storm build up. Many backpackers recommend setting up camp by early afternoon in order to have shelter in case of a storm. This also makes camping above the tree-line more dangerous. Late August when I backpacked here, we had some mild rain almost every day with otherwise partly cloudy skies. One evening we did have a full blown thunder storm with thunder, lightning, wind, and torrential rain.

We trekked in late August which to me was perfect.Thunderstorms were only a problem once though always something we watched for. Bugs were present but not terrible. Temperatures were warm and pleasant without being too hot. Snow was not an issue. Waiting longer were leave us with fewer wildflowers to enjoy but decrease bugs storms. 

It's hard to get accurate weather information even just days before trekking. We read some reports that temperatures would drop into the teens at night while others said it wouldn’t even drop below freezing. I would guess nighttime temperatures generally hovered around freezing in late August above 10,000 feet. Daytime temperatures definitely reached into the 60’s on more than one occasion.

Overlooking Island Lake

Gear

I went on this trip with my partner and we split shared gear as best as possible. I carried food in the bear canister and she carried the tent and cookware. I also had about 6 pounds of heavy camera gear. That being said my pack was about 25 pounds and hers was 21. Compared to other backpacking trips I’ve been on, there were more ultralight backpackers in the Winds, many with very minimal packs. The one exception was hiking out the first day of Labor Day Weekend where nearly everyone had traditional overloaded backpacks.

Backpack. I used my Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 50 that weighs about 27 ounces and has an internal frame and plenty of room for a bear canister. If you hand your food and don’t have a large camera, you could easily get by with a much smaller frameless pack for the 4 nights we were there. My partner used the Osprey Eja 48 which weighs about 2.5 points but is specifically designed for women and carries quite comfortably.

Tent. We used our 3-season Nemo Hornet two person tent with titanium stakes and a Tivek footprint. Total weight was about 2.5 pounds. It held up well in any condition we found ourselves in including frequent wind as well as the storm I mentioned. No leaks during the rain and no collapsing with the wind.

I’ve since upgraded to a Zpacks Duplex, saving weight and gaining room, which I think would also work well in this park. The one thing that was really nice about the Nemo Hornet was the fact that you need such a small amount of space to set it up. There were a few sites that were quite tight on space and yet we always managed to have just enough for the Hornet. I could see that being more of an issue with the Duplex as the few times I’ve used it so far, I definitely needed a wider area to tie it out.

Sleep Setup. I slept on my 7 ounce Yamatomichi UL 15+ sleeping pad and was warm enough every night. That being said, I’ve not taken this pad below the upper 20’s and doubt it would be warm enough for most below 25. It's a great weight savers, doesn’t risk puncture like a blow up pad, and can go on the outside of your pack. Next time I will likely use this same pad unless temperatures are expected to be much colder. While super light, from a space saving perspective this pad takes up way more room than an inflatable pad. I strapped mine to the top of my pack.

I also brought my 2 pound Enlightened Equipment -10 degree Enigma which was probably overkill but wasn’t sure if my 30 degree quilt would be warm enough. I don’t think most people would need something warmer than a quality 20 degree quilt during peak season up here.

Cookware. We used a jetboil and small fuel canister to cook our meals and make hot tea on this trip. While heavier than other options, the convenience is hard to give up on. We have titanium sporks and mugs and usually eat hot meals directly from the packages they come in or from our mugs. Be aware that you are frequently above 10,000 feet and thus may need more fuel to boil water.

Water. While you are in a wilderness, there are other people and animals up here so I’d recommend filtering your water most of the time. We used a Sawyer Mini Filter, 1 liter bag, and each carried a 1 liter Smart Water Bottle. There is water everywhere so we never carried more than a liter at a time.

Outerwear. I brought an 8 ounce 850 down puffy from the now out of business My Trail Co. It was warm enough with a wool long sleeve and my rain jacket at night. During the day I hardly ever needed. While this jacket is not top of the line, for what I paid it's a great part of my kit. It easily rolls up into its own zipper pocket which makes it easier to pack.

My rain jacket was the 6 ounce North Face Summit L5 Storm Jacket. I would definitely recommend a rain jacket and possibly rain pants although I felt fine without them. If you don’t bring rain gear you have the option to either high out under your tent or tarp when it rains or just wear quick drying clothes and try to keep moving. The rain never lasted more than an hour and, except for one storm at night, was followed by at least partial sunlight.

Thin gloves and a wool cap were all I needed at night. I met a couple of guys who used $1 cheap work gloves for the harder climbs and to keep their hands warm. There doesn't seem to be much of a need for waterproof gloves despite the rain unless you have an exceptionally hard time keeping your hands warm.

Electronics. I brought my Sony a7r II with both my Sony FE 24-240 and my Tamron FE 17-28mm lenses. I also had a carrying case for them, an Anker 10,000 backup battery, a Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, and a small off-brand solar panel I picked up on Aliexpress. Together these accounted for at least 7 pounds.

Winter Gear. We brought our Snowline Chainsen Trail Light microspikes (weighing only about 7 ounces) but never used them. They would have been useful for more off-trail travel and glacier crossing which we never did. There were some mountaineers we came across with helmets (recommended), spikes (used occasionally), and ice axes (which at least for what they were doing weren’t needed).

Upper Cook Lakes looking toward Angel Pass

Trip Report

We spent a total of five days and four nights in the Wind River Range. Overall we hiked over 53 miles of which 34 were backpacking and rest were day hikes from camp. We started August 27th and hiked out August 31st. We drove 16 hours from Seattle to do this trip starting after work and driving about 5 hours before sleeping at a rest stop in our car. The next day we continued 11 more hours arriving at the trailhead about 4 pm. Sunrise is about 7 am and sunset is close to 8 pm this time of year.

Day 1: Hiking in near our first campsite

Day One: Elkhart Park Trailhead to Hobbs Lake (7 miles backpacking).

We set off late in the afternoon from the trailhead where the parking lot was about half full. The trailhead starts at 9,280 feet above sea level. Unlike some other mountain ranges, the Winds often don’t require extreme gains in elevation. The trail goes up and down relatively generally with an overall elevation gain of about 1000 feet on our first day. After day one we rarely went below 10,000 feet for the rest of the trip.

The trail starts in a relatively lush pine forest with some undergrowth. A couple miles in the trees become thinner and occasionally open up to wide grassy meadows. We never got consistently above the tree line on day one. There are several side trails that lead to other lakes and sites so be sure to watch the signs and follow your map. The official name of the trail is the Pole Creek Trail till you reach the Elklund Lake junction where we turned left toward Seneca Lake. From this point onward there are numerous alpine lakes dotting the landscape.

As the sun set we approached Hobbs Lake where we set up camp (200 feet from the water) for our first night in the Winds. We only passed a couple people hiking out during the day and did not spot any other campers nearby. The day had been warm and sunny and the night grew cool but never freezing cold.

Climbing Above Titcomb Basin and Titcomb Lakes

Looking back from over 12k feet down Titcomb Basin

Wildflowers line the trail heading deeper into the basin

Day Two: Hobbs Lake to Titcomb Basin with day hikes in the Basin (7.5 miles backpacking and 5.5 miles day hikes).

We awoke with sunrise and quickly packed up eager to beat the intense midday sun and reach our destination Titcomb Basin. There are several hills and one decent size switchback climb from Hobbs to the basin. Even so the elevation gain is only just over 1000 feet again. We pass a lot more hikers this day including two rangers. The rangers were both friendly but did ask us about our food storage situation. They also reminded us of the camping regulations.

About 4.5 miles into the day, the scenery began to grow increasingly more dramatic. Island Lake is one of the more iconic sites in this area. Numerous people were camped primarily on its South side. Most people were staying a good distance from the water and trails. Despite all the people, it appeared that there were plenty of available places to camp.

We pushed on around the East side of the lake and began climbing up into Titcomb Basin itself. About half way in, we passed the trail to the right which heads into Indian Basin. Where each basin technically starts, I’m not exactly sure. We hiked past several smaller lakes beyond the Indian Basin cut off until we reached the first Titcomb Lake where we decided to stop and set up camp. The sun was hot and this is where many of the most recognizable photos of the Basin come from.

Compared to Island Lake there were surprisingly few people up here. Between Island Lake and Titcomb Lakes we passed maybe 4 tents. But up in the basin itself there seemed to be very few campers. Most of the people we saw were day hikers coming from their camps at Island Lake or thru hikers passing by. We camped on the South-West end of the lower Titcomb Lake in a grassy well-sheltered area with excellent views directly from our campsite.

The wind definitely picks up in the basin which perhaps has something to do with the fewer number of people. From our spot we could hear a group tucked away in the boulders somewhere on the East side of the lakes but never saw their exact spot. If you want solitude Titcomb Basin seems to be the place to go with many options to tuck your tent away in a quiet green hideaway.

The basin itself is lined with dramatic peaks on both sides and ends in a wall of jagged snowy mountains behind which is Gannett Peak. Fremont Peak, the second tallest in the Winds, dominates the Eastern side of the basin. Heading North the Eastern ridge continues with Mount Sacagawea, Mount Helen, and Dinwoody Peak. Miriam Peak, Skyline Peak, and Mount Woodrow Wilson from the Northern terminus of the Basin. The Western ridge is not so prominent but has several peaks including Winifred Peak and Henderson Peak.

While my partner rested up from the hike in, I decided to do a scramble of my own. I started up a rocky ridge on the Western side of the first Titcomb Lake. The views were spectacular as I climbed higher and higher above the basin. Eventually I reached the summit of an unnamed peak at about 12,500 feet which offered me a view to the West of the basin as well. Surprisingly there was a strong cell signal at the top of this peak. To the West the mountains drop off quickly toward the grasslands below and off in the distance the town of Pinedale.

Later that evening we took an evening walk through the basin itself reaching just beyond the second of the Titcomb Lakes. Wildflowers at this elevation had just passed their peak. Arriving back at camp just before sunset, we got to watch the last light glow off Fremont Peak. There is a distinctly beautiful alpine glow in this range, perhaps more so than other areas I’ve backpacked.

Sunrise over Titcomb Basin

Rock hopping in Indian Basin

Looking back down Indian Basin from Indian Pass

Harrower Peak, one of my favorite in this basin

Day Three: Titcomb Basin to Indian Basin to Island Lake (2.5 miles backpacking and 9.5 miles day hikes).

After a hearty breakfast of “noatmeal” (low carb breakfast porridge made from almond flour, ground flax seed, powdered coconut milk, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit), we left our camp for Indian Basin. Unsure where we would spend our next evening, we left our tent in Titcomb Basin. The trail backtracks nearly 1.5 miles to the Indian Basin turn off.

Unlike Titcomb Basin which is mostly straight and lined on both sides with towering peaks, Indian Basin is more of a rambling scattered jumble of lakes and mountains. The trail is slightly harder to follow and initially climbs significantly with minimal scenery. Eventually you reach a ridge of sorts where the basin opens up to the East. There were surprisingly more people camped in this basin than in Titcomb but it did not seem crowded. I suspect for those in the know this may be the more popular basin to camp in. Before trekking here, I had several people tell me it was their favorite part of the Winds.

There are three main lakes in the basin and at least five smaller ones, all of which appear to be unnamed on my maps. The wildflowers were again just past their peak but seemed to be more plentiful and varied than in Titcomb Basin. As you hike into the basin your background view is dominated by Fremont Peak and Jackson Peak. Fremont is possibly the most climbed peak in the park as it can be done in a day as a scramble without technical gear. The approach is normally from Indian Basin.

Looking back South East across the middle of the Basin, Harrower Peak dominates the background. The beautiful massive rock reminds me of Temple Crag in the Palisades of the Sierra Nevada. Of all the mountains we saw in the Winds, Harrower Peak was arguably the most picturesque especially as viewed from the lake about 2 miles from the trailhead.

We continued our way through the basin and began climbing up to Indian Pass. I’m not exactly sure why the trail goes up to this pass other than for views as the trail does not really continue on the other side. The views going up are incredible, especially looking back into the basin. One of the most spectacular views is near the pass about 3 miles in looking back toward Harrower Peak and Elephant Head.

Looking East the landscape dramatically changed over the pass. It appears more barren with peaks that are less dramatic and interspersed with flat shelves of alpine landscape. Due to what appeared like inclement weather moving in from the West, we headed down fairly quickly.

If you are a photographer, I would definitely recommend spending at least one night in Indian Basin. While the landscape was stunning, it would have been that much more amazing in the soft light that bookends each day. I would have loved to see the alpen glow on Harrower Peak and perhaps captured it's reflection the next day in the still morning lake water.

Walking back into Titcomb Basin after a long day hike

Storm Clouds moving in

Sitting next to Island Lake watching the clouds building

Dramatic Lighting over Island Lake and Fremont Peak

We made it back to camp in Titcomb Basin before any storms arrived. Having already spent a night here, we decided to pack up and try to make it down to Island Lake for a different view the next morning. We made it down just in time to set up before a thunderstorm started moving in. Island lake is very popular with probably a dozen tents around it's Northeast end and at least that many on its South East side. We found a spot that wasn’t ideal but worked for one night.

As the storm rolled in we watched dark clouds and sunset colors dance around the dramatic peaks North of Island Lake. Eventually the rain picked up and we hunkered down in our tent to wait out the storm. Enough room poured to thoroughly test our tents waterproofing. Lightning struck once quite close to the lake but dissipated rather quickly. It was an incredible display watching the storm beat it's way across the intrepid peaks behind the lake.

Watching the sunrise over Island Lake wrapped in a quilt

Exploring the rocks around Island Lake and views of the waterfall

The Island

Climbing Lester Pass

Day Four: Island Lake to Cook Lakes junction (6 miles backpacking and 4.5 miles day hikes).

The next morning we awoke to the sun shining and spread our belongings across the rocks to dry. While the inside of our tent was dry, our shoes, pants and jackets were soaked as we had stayed out in the rain a long as we felt we safely could. The tent needed a thorough drying as well. Within an hour or two, the warm sun had dried off our belongings sufficiently. We ate a delicious breakfast and tucked away our camping gear behind some rocks to spend the morning scrambling the boulders hills South of Island Lake.

Island Lake is much larger than the lakes in Titcomb Basin. We passed at least a dozen tents all over the slopes leading down towards the lake. There is plenty of room for many campers and numerous well established campsites away from the water. The only problem is that there is little flowing water nearby so if you must walk to the lake to replenish it could be a bit of a climb on the way back. We made our way around the Southern end of the lake heading West and eventually got to some large boulders which we climbed for a better view. From here you can see into Titcomb Basin and all it's lakes. These lakes feed a stream which comes crashing off the cliffs around the North side of the lake in a waterfall which ends in Island Lake.

During breakfast we had spread out the map to decide where we would spend our final night in the Winds. We decided that we had seen enough of Titcomb Basin and Island Lake for this trip. We also didn’t want to just head out and camp somewhere along the same route we had come in. Thus we came up with a mini loop where we would camp near another set of lakes called the Cook Lakes. This route branches slightly East from our original trek in, following the CDT over Lester Pass into another basin.

The sky had become partly cloudy and the potential for more storms remained. So we soon gathered our packs and headed out. On the way out we passed a team of pack horses with riders headed in. This same rider we had passed just the day before with another team. He said he rides in with supplies nearly every day. Many people who thru hike the Winds will have a mule team resupply them half way through.

As soon as we left the Seneca Lake Trail and headed up the CDT toward Lester Pass, the crowds on the trail significantly dropped. We only passed a handful of people the rest of the day on the trail. The landscape felt different heading up the pass. Perhaps it was the ominous threat of a storm that followed us throughout that day. Over the pass we entered into a wide basin filled with meadows and eventually trees as we lost elevation. Most lakes dotted the landscape, many of the deep dark blue. The landscape was distinctly dryer as we got closer to Cook Lakes. I’m not sure if there is some kind of rain shadow that blocked the last storm or if it really is dryer here. The ground appeared to have not seen rain in weeks.

Heading down from Lester Pass

Dryer landscapes ahead of us

Looking toward Angel Peak from a rocky ledge on upper Cook Lake

Sunset from out campsite

Just before the split in the trail which leads to Cook Lakes, we discovered a beautiful spot to set up our tent for the evening. It was close enough to water and had a great view along with some wind protection. The clouds were significantly less as the evening wore on and we felt the effects of the sun. A brief hike up to both Cook Lakes led us by some beautiful somewhat developed campsites in the forest along the lake. We pass a single group fishing by the first lake. At the upper lake we counted half a dozen tents around it's shore which was surprising given the extreme lack of people on the trail. I would definitely recommend camping by the Upper Cook Lake if you come through this area. We loved our secret spot but would probably camp by the lake next time.

The basin that the Cook Lakes are in is somewhat reminiscent of Titcomb Basin. It is surrounded by jagged high peaks that beg one to spend time exploring them. In the distance you can see Angel Pass below the dramatic Angels Peak. The lakes are huge and stretch off into the distance spurring the imagination. Apparently Wall Lake to the North East is another special site if you fancy getting off trail. We took a dip in the cold waters which was refreshing after 4 days of hiking. Heading back to our protected campsite behind a large rock on an idyllic hill, we watched the sunset as we cooked a hot dinner.

Lily pond on the hike out

Day Five: Cook Lakes junction to Elkhart Park Trailhead (11 miles backpacking).

The final morning awoke warm and sunny. This was the first day of Labor day weekend and as we hit the trail we began seeing more and more folks headed into the Winds. It was a good time to be hiking out. From the junction of the CDT and Cook Lakes trail, it's a long hike to the trailhead but easily doable in one day. In fact we made it out by mid-afternoon. The trail wanders up and down with no major hills and an overall minor loss in elevation. There is one significant creek crossing which we did by hopping rocks but others were doing by accepting the water and just walking through.

The scenery was markedly diminished on the way out. Perhaps it's that we’d already grown accustomed to such magnificent heights that we failed to see the beauty around us. Either way, the trail does leave the high alpine landscape fairly quickly and feels more like a walk through the woods most of the time. There was a pond full of lilies at one point which stood out. All in all it was a great backpacking trip. While I’d like to do a new route next time, I can wholeheartedly recommend this route to anyone wishing to spend a similar amount of time getting a taste of the Winds.


Final Thoughts

Much of the Wind River Range is best enjoyed by getting off trail. It's crowning attraction to me is the high alpine landscape which is farther in and higher up than many of the trails. The forests are not the lush, varied, “get lost in” type of forests you find in the PNW or the huge Sequoia dominated ones of the Western Sierra. However, the alpine greenery and colorful wildflowers surrounded by sharp peaks, blue lakes, and melting glaciers is second to none in the US.

Aesthetically I think the Winds have some of the most beautiful mountains in the lower 48. And while their glaciers are small and melting, there are still some to be found especially off trail following the high routes North of Gannett Peak. This range definitely makes it into my top 5 North American mountain ranges.

  • No Comments
Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In