Upper Titcomb Lake
☼ Photo ☼ After setting up our Titcomb Basin "base camp" at the end of Lower Titcomb Lake, the four of us grabbed our camera gear and headed for the upper end of the basin.
At the outlet creek to Upper Titcomb Lake, my brother and JJ, take off their hiking boots and treated their hiking feet to a cool soaking. Fred and I rock hopped back and forth across the connecting creek (between Upper and Lower Titcomb Lakes) and took photo after photo. Long after JJ and my brother got all the photos they wanted and returned to base camp, Fred and I found ourselves "glued" to this place. The lighting kept getting better and better and Upped Titcomb Lake took on the calm surface of a mill pond at times.
You will see LOTS of reflection photos like this on with this photo set as I just couldn't decide on which ones to post and which ones not to post. So when in any doubt at all....I posted.
The second day of our backpacking trip, from getting up in the morning at our Seneca Lake camp until climbing into our sleeping bags under a full moon (and short rain session) at Titcomb Basin, everything was superlatives. The hiking, the scenery, and photo ops, were the absolute best.
We arrived early at our Titcomb Basin camp site (night #2) so we all had lots of time to roam the granite high country (10,500’) at will. All four of us hiked together from our camp to Upper Titcomb Lake to get a close view and good feel for the basin itself.
Backpackers passing us on their way out on day one of our backpacking trip had reported high winds in Titcomb Basin, so when we arrived there we were overjoyed to find mill pond like conditions on Upper Titcomb, while we were there taking photographs. Later clouds moved in quickly for a short time, right at nightfall, rain came down. I quickly put the rain fly on my tent and retreated to its warm wind and rain protected interior.
Our time in Titcomb Basin is what I treasure most from this backpacking trip and I hope you can feel some of the rugged beauty of the area through the various photographs I took with my two little point and shoot Canon cameras (G9 & G10).
◙ THE STORY ◙
Elkhart Park to Titcomb Basin Backpacking trip.
Four days & 27 miles ~ September 9th - 12th, 2011.
HOW THE TRIP CAME TO BE:
I love to prowl used bookstores. 98% of what I buy is non-fiction. History, travel and trail guide books always seem to find their way to my house. My wife buys shoes. I buy books.
I have a long standing habit of writing the date and place where I buy a book. So it was that on 17 February 2011, at a used book store in Union Gap, Washington - I purchased: High Country Trail “Along the Continental Divide” by Michael Robbins. Photographed by Paul Chesley.
I paid two dollars for this little hard bound book. I leafed through the pages and there on pages 118 and 121, I saw photographs of a place in the Jim Bridger Wilderness of Wyoming’s Wind River Range, that knocked my hiking socks off. Wow. I knew that if I could find a way to do so…that I needed to go there. So the research began.
I have done lots of backpacking but I’m not a backpacker. I don’t like carrying a heavy load on my back for endless miles (even if you “go light”) ~ UNLESS it is the only reasonable ticket to a spectacular place where a day hike isn’t a practical way to go. Such was the case with Island Lake and Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range. To see, experience and enjoy it, I knew it needed to be a backpacking trip.
My favorite companion on road trips, hikes, and backpacking trips is my wife. We have been married over 40 years and love doing things together. Here are links for my flickr photo site, to a few of the backpacking trips we have taken together:
Backpacking trip in Coyote Gulch in Utah with my wife in April 2009:
Backpacking trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness with my wife in September 2010:
Backpacking trip up Grand Gulch on a road trip with my wife in March of 2011:
But, if my wife can’t go (she works part time) or if it is a hike or backpacking trip that might be a little bit more than she would enjoy and feel comfortable with, I will usually try to find another hiking companion or go “solo” rather than “stay home”.
Solo backpacking trip to Tuck and Robin Lakes in September 2009:
My wife and I both quickly agreed that the Titcomb Basin backpacking trip was one that would be best if she skipped. So I set about planning the trip, with the thought of finding at least one backpacking partner to join me on it.
I bought hiking guides and maps for the Wind River Range and studied the many possibilities to best see, in person, the spectacular landscapes I had seen in the “Along the Continental Divide” book. I wasn’t happy with the maps I bought so I got the Wyoming National Geographic topo map software and started creating my own maps for the trip. I laminate a few of the maps so a rain doesn’t destroy their value on the trail.
I chose a narrow window in September (the first two weeks) to avoid too many people, too many mosquitoes, and to get the trip in before hunting season and any major snow falls, closed the area for the season.
The total elevation gain on the backpacking trip would not be that great, nor would the number of trail miles, BUT the hike begins at around 9,300 feet and stays mostly above 10,000 feet (with a high point of 10,600 or so) - - which met the nights could likely be quite cold and then there is the issue of backpacking at altitude. I would want to backpack light but make certain that I carried enough gear to be safe and comfortable.
It turned out the round trip backpacking trip covered 27 miles with another four or five miles of “day hiking” thrown in. I felt I could do the trip solo if needed but I really felt it would be smarter, safer, and more fun if I could get at least one other person with backpacking experience to go with me. Enter Sawtooth photography (Fred) of flickr fame.
On a 3,000 mile road trip to the Four Corners area with another friend, Ed, in March of 2011, we stopped in Boise for lunch at the Cracker Barrel restaurant (a place I seek like a magnet - since we don’t have them in the state of Washington). Fred met us for lunch and it was the first time I had met him, though we had exchanged hiking stories and information, through flickr, for years.
Fred is an experienced hiker/backpacker and very sharing with his formidable knowledge of hiking the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. He even sent me a book and a map a few years back, on the hiking there.
So, knowing through Flickr, that Fred was an avid and capable backpacker, I brought the subject of Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, up during our lunch conversation. He was sold and now I had somebody to do the trip with. I would feel much better doing this trip with another backpacker, since this is the year I turn 65; the backpacking is 800 miles from my home; and on the second day I would be somewhere around 14 miles from the trailhead in country I hadn’t hiked before.
The trip was on! I posted a photocopy of Titcomb Basin on the side of a bookshelf, next to my computer and kept looking at from March of 2011, until the dream became reality. We had a lot of good fortune all along the way. The date we chose for the four day backpacking trip (9.9.11 through 9.12.11) never had to be moved due to weather or anything else.
Over the next six months, Fred and I exchanged emails on the Wind River Backpacking trip. Later, with Fred’s consent, I invited my brother and a good friend, both of whom I had hiked, backpacked, and road tripped with in the past. It was a four party team I felt very comfortable with and now my only worry about the entire trip became weather in the high country of the Wind River Range.
When it became obvious that we had hit a lucky weather window for our planned backpacking trip - the four of us headed for Pinedale, Wyoming. Fred drove solo from his home near Boise; JJ drove solo making the trip in two days from his house to Pinedale; and my brother and I car pooled in his Jeep Liberty, taking our time and three days to arrive in Pinedale, Wyoming (elevation near 7,300 feet).
Once the team was set at four, the four of us started exchanging information, internet links, and thoughts on about the trip. One of the team members sent me a link about a sad story I had not come across during my trip research. It is the story of Mike Turner, who hiked the same route we would be hiking from Elkhart Park past Island Lake, where Mike and his dog, Andy, turned toward Indian Basin and our team continued on to Titcomb Basin.
Mike Turner had an ambitious route that involved some travel in a remote portion of the Wind River Range. Circumstances and one mishap cost him his life. It reinforced my feeling that the Titcomb Basin trip for me would best be done with the company of at least one other experienced hiker.
The Mike Turner story took place in August 1998. It was printed in Backpacker magazine in 2002. Here is the link should you want to read the Mike Turner story (and reflect on it a bit as well):
This backpacking trip started with a few pages of photographs in a two dollar used book, purchased toward the end of winter in the Pacific Northwest. For me, it culminated on setting my one man REI quarter dome T1 tent up, on a high granite outcropping, looking across Lower Titcomb Lake at the rugged peaks of the Wind River Range. I had dreamed of sleeping in my backpacking tent with this view, and my dream came true. A big thanks to Fred, my brother, and JJ, for the big part they played in making that dream come true for me.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
OMT ~ Oldmantravels: 64, soon to turn 65. Packed a 30 year old Kelty Tioga external frame pack. Slept in a REI Quarter Dome T1 tent. Photographed with a Canon G9 and G10. Home in Eastern Washington.
SP ~ SawtoothPhotography: Probably in his mid 40s. Carried the heaviest load of any of us, in a Gregory internal frame pack. Boldly slept in a light, but weatherproof Bivy sack. Packed professional grade and multiple cameras plus a small wooden pinhole camera; a point and shoot camera; and was caught at least once, taking photos with his cell phone.
MB ~ My Brother: 62. Used a Kelty external frame pack. Slept in a new Sierra Designs Zolo 1 backpacking tent. Took memory keeping snapshots with a small. light “point and shoot” camera. Became the pace maker for our hiking as he is an experienced backpacker with a perfect trail pace, that worked for us all. We kept him up front.
JJ ~ School days friend of my brother and me. My brother’s age. He slept in a custom made, super light, tough, trekking pole supported, one man backpacking tent. JJ kept his over all load the lightest of the four of us and used a Gregory internal frame backpack. Like Fred, he qualifies as a professional photographer. He brought his Canon professional grade camera on the trip.
TRIP TO THE TRAILHEAD:
My brother and I broke up our trip down to Pinedale into three bite size segments. After spending the night at my house, the two of us headed for Missoula, Montana on the morning of Tuesday September 6th, 2011. We took the slow, scenic route up the Clearwater River and over lovely Lolo Pass. We stayed the night in Missoula, where just by happenstance there resides a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
We had dinner there Tuesday night and a big breakfast there Wednesday morning. Wednesday (9.7.11) we drove to Idaho Falls and spent the night there. Thursday it was a short (and scenic) drive over to the Snake River at Hoback Junction, and then up the Hoback River through “Mountain Man” (fur trapper) country to Pinedale, Wyoming.
I made a fortunate find researching “places to stay” in Pinedale, Wyoming. Looking on line and confirming with the Pinedale chamber of commerce, I booked a two bedroom cabin at the historic, rustic, well kept, owned and operated by efficient, fair and friendly people: The Log Cabin Motel. JJ reserved a two bedroom cabin there as well, so the four of us all bunked in cabins at Pinedale on the night before the backpacking trip.
JJ arrived soon after my brother and I did, so the three of us went up to the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale. I have read almost every book you could think of on the days of men of the fur trading times. Jim Bridger is one of my heroes, though I would not have wanted to have lived the tough, dangerous lives that they did.
The museum was a hit. Much bigger and more professional than I had imagined and all three of us enjoyed our time there. Then the three of us split up. JJ (a former high school coach and media teacher), dropped by the local high school to watch their football practice. My brother and I decided to take the 15 mile paved scenic drive up to the Elkhart Park trailhead, just to get the lay of the land.
After my brother and I returned from the trailhead reconnaissance, JJ was at the cabins and SP (Fred) arrived. It was great for the four of us to all be in Pinedale, with all of our backpacking gear and a good weather forecast holding steady for the four days we would be in the Jim Bridger Wilderness, backpacking.
We ate dinner in Pinedale together then returned to our cabins to organize our gear and be ready for an early morning trip up to the trailhead.
Here is a link to the mountain man museum in Pinedale. It was really something for me to see the 1853 rifle that was engraved and given to Jim Bridger in the museum. I learned a lot from my visit to the museum and thoroughly enjoyed it. Stop by there if you are ever near downtown, Pinedale. Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming:
There are some new multi-story national chain motels in Pinedale these days and probably more will go up, but if you really want a fun stay I highly recommend the
Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming.
They went as far as storing our gear for us, that we weren’t taking on the backpacking trip (and therefore would have to leave in a trailhead car), for four days while we were gone backpacking. This they did cheerfully and for free, even though we didn’t have a reservation for a cabin following the last day of our backpacking trip (we were all heading for home). Here is the link for The Log Cabin Motel in Pinedale, Wyoming:
THE BACKPACKING TRIP:
I will keep this portion of the narrative short and let the photographs I post, speak for themselves. Here is a rough outline of the backpacking itself:
Day One (Friday 9.9.11): Start hiking at the Elkhart Park trailhead near 9,300 feet. We shouldered our packs at 8:00 am. No permit or registration required though we did fill out the voluntary registration at the trailhead.
The first four and half miles to Photographer’s Point is the main elevation you gain at one time (1,000 feet) and it is accomplished on a gentle grade and under the shade of pine trees. We hiked on to the north end of Seneca Lake, where we set up our camp for the first night. This is about nine miles from the Elkhart Park trailhead.
We camped on a peninsula of Seneca at the suggestion of the photographer/owner of the Outdoor Store in Pinedale. A nice store and knowledgeable helpful owner. We filtered our water from the lake and the two Jetboil stoves we brought had no problem with the altitude. Beautiful moon at night.
Day Two (Saturday 9.10.11). Backpack around Little Seneca Lake then climb to the ridge overlooking Island Lake for outstanding views and one of the highlights of the trail for me. We took a photo ops break here, then on down to the S.E. end of the long narrow and gorgeous Island Lake.
The view of Titcomb Basin, when it first comes into view, after climbing up and out of the Island Lake bowl, far exceeded my expectations and my expectations were exceedingly high. What a sight!
We talked with a solo mountain climber, hiking out of Titcomb Basin (one of the few hikers we ran into in the basin). He had just succeeded, after three failed attempts, to summit Gannet Peak. He smiled at the external frame Kelty packs, which my brother and I were carrying. He too had one, loaded to the hilt AND with a heavy medium sized internal frame “climbing pack” slung beneath it. “You know” he said “If you really need to carry a LOT of weight, you can’t beat these old Kelty external frames”.
The climber told us that the camping at the north end of Upper Titcomb Lake was “stark, cloudy, and windy” and he recommended we camp at Lower Titcomb or near the various small waterfalls down below Lower Titcomb.
It was on a rock granite outcropping that I found the place I had dreamed of camping. My brother and JJ found a site that suited them (and a bit away from my loud snoring reputation), and SP didn’t bother spending too much time looking for a tent site, since his warm snug bivy bag would fit anywhere he liked and required not work to “set up”. Fred reached for his camera gear instead.
After the Lower Titcomb Lake camp was set up, the four of grabbed our cameras and took a day hike up to Upper Titcomb Lake. Here I got my favorite photographs of the entire backpack trip. Though people hiking out the day before said it had been “terribly windy” in the Titcomb Basin, we found the upper lake in mill pond calm for a long enough period of time to snap reflecting photographs as quickly as we could.
Back at camp, it was filter water, cook dinner, and take more photographs. While the four of us were wandering about exploring the area in which we were camped, rain clouds spilled over Fremont Peak and it began to rain. My brother and I hot footed it back to camp to put our rain flies on our tents. No worry for Fred with his bivy bag or JJ with his new lightweight single wall tent.
I went to sleep that night with rain tapping on the tent fly, then the clouds would race away into the night and the full moon would totally light up the interior of my tent. Coyotes howled for a short while (I thought Fred was using his cell phone HA). This was the best night’s sleep I got by far. What a place to spend the night.
Day Three (Sunday 9.11.11) The weather was great when we got up Sunday morning. My brother, who had a small thermometer with him, said it was 28 degrees. After some more photo ops we started backpacking our way back the way we came. I thought about Mike Turner when we passed the Indian Basin trail junction.
We hiked all the way to Barbara Lake (near Eklund Lake) to make an early camp and spend the last night of our backpacking trip. It was a little over 8 miles from our Lower Titcomb Lake camp to the place we camped at Barbara Lake. It was a relaxing evening around Barbara Lake, a forest and meadow ringed small lake, right along the trail.
Day Four (Monday 9.12.11) Frost was all around when we woke up Monday morning at Barbara Lake and as the morning sun started to warm the air, the frost quickly turned to moisture, so some of our gear was a little wet as we packed our backpacks for the fourth and final time. It was an easy 5.5 mile hike from our camp at Barbara Lake back to the Elkhart Park trailhead. We shook hands at the trailhead then started sorting and organizing our gear for our trips back home.
We were all back in Pinedale by noon, picking up our stored gear at the Log Cabin Motel, and getting ready to head our separate ways. Fred headed off toward Boise. My brother and I had decided to cut through Yellowstone on our way home. JJ was going to Teton National Park for some specific photo opportunities. As it turned out all three of us ended up staying Monday night in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, so we were able to have a nice dinner together (at The Bunnery, a place that JJ knew of and served excellent food).
My brother and I spent some time in Yellowstone on Tuesday morning, then on to Missoula to spend the night there. Wednesday I arrived home with a lot of great memories and I hope a few photographs to remember them by. I was very lucky to have had Fred, my brother, and JJ as quality company on this trip. We each had different approaches to gear, camping methods, and photography priorities, but we all stuck together and covered a lot of fun trail miles together.
I sincerely hope some of you out there in flickr land enjoy my photographs of this backpacking trip and benefit it some small way from the narrative and photos, should you decide to plan a trip of your own to the rugged and scenic country. Oldmantravels September 2011.