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TR: Bridger Lakes, Wind River Mountains

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TR: Bridger Lakes, Wind River Mountains

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 12, 2016 2:36 pm

TR Bridger Lakes, Wind Rivers, Wyo
7/16 to 7/21 2016

This was my first trip in the Wind Rivers this summer. Bridger Lakes lie east of Pine Creek Canyon and north of Fremont Canyon far west of the Continental Divide. Like most backpackers I have generally stayed close to the Divide ignoring this little used lake-filled bench at about 10500-feet elevation. The Game and Fish have uncreatively named the major lakes as “B1” to “B6” and “W3”. Although a short distance from Elkhart Park Trailhead, as the crow flies, access from various trailheads takes a minimum of two days. Fishing and scenery is considered OK but not “great”. What you do get is amazing solitude.

Day 1. Elkhart Park TH to Lake at 10180 (west of Seneca Lake). 8.6 miles, 6.1 hours, 1875 feet gain.

My “home base” while in Wyoming was Lander, on the east side of the Wind Rivers. So I had to drive back over South Pass to reach Elkhart Park Trailhead, 12 miles from Pinedale. After a 2-hour drive and a brief stop for breakfast I was on the trail at 9:15. Weather was perfect for hiking, cool, breezy but clear. The trail was dry and dusty but the terrain was lush green and wildflowers were in full swing. Being such a popular trail, I ran into many people. I kept going all day with only a few short breaks- not that I am that tough; the mosquitoes would swarm after sitting a few minutes. I did a side trip to Sapphire Lakes, a short distance off the main trail. My first route failed in this “lumpy”, brushy terrain but the second try I found a game trail that took me to the largest lake, which was quite pretty with a lovely campsite. Although tempted to stay it was early afternoon so I dropped back to Hobbs Lake and continued north. I left the trail before it headed up to Seneca Lake, following a parallel bench to the west with an obvious “slot” route to Lost Lake. This off-trail route was tough and tricky. When I arrived at the unnamed lake at 10180 feet elevation I actually felt a bit sick. I set up camp and then just hung out slowly walking around and taking photos. The lake is surrounded by big cliffs and small enough to quickly walk around.

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CAMP Day 1

Day 2. Lake at 10180 to unnamed lake near Moya Canyon. 5.4 miles, 6.3 hours, 1640 feet gain.

This day did not go as planned! It started out great. The walk down the “slot” was complex, challenging, and scenic in a woodsy way. A tricky and hard-to-follow use-trail runs the entire way. I suspect fishermen come up from Lost Lake. I left camp at 7:30 and it took two tries before I got around Lake 10192, a very long lake with cliffs. I ended up missing the trail once and having to go over a ridge to get into the proper drainage. Several small lakes are passed before reaching a huge beautiful meadow south of Lost Lake A well-marked fisherman’s trail goes along the southeast shore of Lost Lake to a big established campsite. Fish were rising in Lost Lake.

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POND on route to Lost Lake

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LOST LAKE

I had hoped to cross the inlet to Lost Lake, but decided it was too high and swift. In retrospect I should have put up with the willows and wade in the lake at the inlet to reach the trail on the other side. Instead I decided to follow game trails east and north up the inlet, which quickly turned into a very difficult route with the terrain forcing me south when I really wanted to go north! After 500 feet of climbing I finally was able to cut north through a valley past a scenic unnamed lake just west of the Highline Trail (this trail is part of the CDT). The trail quickly dropped to the Fremont Crossing Bridge where I met four people. All this took over two hours. I ate lunch and then took the trail going back west into Moya Canyon to intersect the Lost Lake trail. My “detour” had required three difficult miles to get half a mile along my route! I continued up Moya Canyon on a use-trail crossing to the west side.
I had studied the continuing route on Google Earth. Now I just had to find it! I followed game trails that traversed the very steep canyon wall and ended up above the small lake at 10500 just west of the canyon. It took many tries before I found a way down the cliffs along the south side of this lake. A better use trail continued shortly west and then south into a distinct valley. The continuing route to the lake east of Pt. 11101 was confusing. I ended up faced with a cornice, so traversed into the next valley north and dropped to this lake. The camping here was essentially non-existent but an incoming storm forced me to set up. I had hoped to get farther and this was the most exposed spot on my entire route! The storm ended and I walked around, discovering better campsites on the east shore. Well, I was not going to move and stayed at my rocky perch.

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CAMP Day 2

Day 3. Lake E. of Pt 11101 to the “Duran” Lakes. 6.4 miles, 7.2 hours, 1350 feet gain.

My route this day definitely was unintended! Navigation was difficult and I sure messed up. I was aiming for two lakes a third mile west but had to traverse south around the slab buttress. I dropped too low and ended up in two nearly identical lakes to the southwest. Had I only known I was at the wrong set of lakes, I could have easily climbed the 200-foot grassy slope to reach my intended lakes. A distinct game trail lured me further off-route southward. I had heard of a rumored “trail” to Bridger Lakes from Moya Canyon and was sure I had found it! Each step of the way I felt a little more confused and “off”. Eventually I realized that I had spent an inordinate amount of time to travel the third of a mile to the unnamed pass northeast of Guiterrez Peak. Finally coming to an open high rock buttress with a view, I realized I was instead a mile south of my intended pass. I decided to drop to the unnamed lakes below (I call these the “Duran Lakes”) and simply reverse my intended loop, visiting the lower lakes first and then the main”B1” to “B6” Bridger Lakes. There was only one feasible route between cliffs with a few “Jungle Jane” moves to get down one steep vegetated gully. It had taken me 3 hours from my last camp to get here. I camped at the western “Duran” lake and then took a long day-hike to view into the canyon to Triangle Lake, my intended exit route. It was ugly; nothing I wanted to do by myself. Next I checked out an off-trail route north to reach the middle Bridger Lake (B4). That turned out to be a navigation nightmare too! Returning I missed my route and “discovered” an alternative, but dubious route back to my camp. I hate being lost! After a long and confusing day, I slunk into my tent and listed to music. There were a few fish in the western lake, although no fish in the eastern “Duran” Lake.

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Lower Bridger Lakes -- Oops! Did not want to be here!

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Pretty east "Duran" Lake

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Nix that exit route! Looks ugly!

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Beautiful Middle Bridger Lake (on day-hike) even if I got lost going back to camp!



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Re: TR: Bridger Lakes, Wind River Mountains

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 12, 2016 2:49 pm

Day 4. West “Duran” Lake to Bridger Lake 10541 (B5). 6.5 miles, 7.1 hours, 1270 feet gain.

Although I had found a direct route the previous day, I also wanted to find a route that “toured” more of the lower Bridger Lakes before I went to the main lakes. I left at 7:30 with a blue sky and puffy cumulous clouds and dropped southwest over rock slabs to a slightly larger lake that looked like a “V”. Then I turned northwest to a smaller lake nestled below Pt 10662. This little lake was exceptionally scenic with a wonderful reflection. A distinct game trail headed to a northwest trending slot that intersected the drainage from the middle main Bridger Lake (B4) and headed upstream on a gnarly route and soon was scrambling up cliffs on the north side. At the west arm of “B4”I had to wade below a cliff and saw many nice sized fish. I stashed my pack and hiked down to the lower lake (“W3”) which was not that scenic. I returned to my stashed pack and continued long the north side of “B4”. It was only noon when I reached the north end so decided to continue up to Lake 10541 or “B5” where I found a perfect campsite. Both of these lakes are very scenic with fish.
I had time in the afternoon to backtrack on my previous day’s intended route. After a short hike up to the uppermost Bridger Lake (B6) I quickly reached the pass. It was humbling to see how agonizingly close I was when I messed up. I am so glad I went back as the upper“twin” lakes I missed were both stunningly scenic. I felt more anchored now that I knew exactly how I messed up. Back at camp I bathed, washed clothes and cooked a big dinner, which the eating was ruined by mosquitoes. I ducked into the tent at 7:30. The Bridger Lakes were certainly proving to be very remote feeling and very challenging off-trail travel and much more scenic than I had anticipated.

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Pretty unnamed lake with reflections. west of "Duran" Lakes

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Middle Bridger Lake (B4)

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Guiterrez Peak above Middle Bridger Lake

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Day hike to missed route (Lower of the two lakes)

Day 5. Upper Bridger Lake (10541) to Elbow Lake. 7.2 miles, 7.4 hours, 1220 feet gain.

I awoke at 5:30 to light rain feeling out of energy. Thankfully it cleared by the time I left. Breakfast was also consumed in a swarm of bugs. I left at 7:30, passed a nice little pond and reached Threlkeld Pass in an hour. From the pass numerous elk trails drop to Sauerkraut Lakes. An extensive cliff south of Sauerkraut Lakes forces you to veer east and drop into that drainage at about 10,400 feet elevation. A large cairn in the drainage marks the location where you need to be, although it is of little help as you cannot see it from above. Luckily the elk trails come out at the proper location. A use trail continues downstream on the south side of both lakes. Between the two lakes one can see that a more direct route from Threlkeld Pass would go, but is full of steep talus. I followed a large trail that veered away from the lakes, but not sure where it went, returned to walk off-trail along the south shores of both lakes and reached the maintained trail from the southern Gunsight Pass at 10:30. (There is another Gunsight Pass on the CDT north of Green River Lakes.) As I sat on a rock munching walnuts, two old fellows on horses rode by, looking like they just stepped out of some western movie. They were camped on the Highline Trail and rode down to fish. I had not seen people since Day 2. I reached the top of the pass at 11:30, followed a cut-across horse trail past Pass Lake and reached the upper Twin Lakes, my intended camp. It was early so I decided to follow Elbow Creek up and camp near the outlet from Elbow Lake. I rounded one corner and smack in front of me was a HUGE bull moose! I turned and went into the talus; he turned the other direction. I guess we each thought “OMG” I am getting out of here. I stayed in the talus until I was sure to be out of his way.

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Upper Sauerkraut Lake

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Lower Sauerkraut Lake

I found a nice campsite just down from the outlet of Elbow Lake. Elbow Lake is a notorious wind tunnel so I avoided camping up there. And it was windy! It was barely after 1PM so I day-hiked up to Elbow Lake, a very large stunningly beautiful lake with a very complex shoreline. On the way back I got stuck on a cliff and then had to find a way off a rocky buttress. I was ready to be done before I reached camp. Tired, I tripped and fell flat on my face. No injury; it just made me realize how tired I was. Back at camp I took a bath and cooked dinner. After dinner I hiked a short distance to peek over an unnamed pass into the Sauerkraut Lakes that I had passed earlier in the day.

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Elbow Lake

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Elbow Lake outlet area

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Elbow Lake camp
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Re: TR: Bridger Lakes, Wind River Mountains

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 12, 2016 2:56 pm

Day 6. Elbow Lake to Pine Creek Bridge. 12.6 miles, 9.0 hours, 1450 feet gain and 3635 feet loss.

I awoke to a beautiful morning with a light breeze and no bugs. I left camp at 7:45 and dropped back to the Highline Trail and continued on a west-side use-trail to the lower Twin Lake. In higher water one would get feet wet at a few pinch points. The use trail ends and a game trail continues high above the south side of the lower lake, shortly intersecting the Highline Trail south of and above the bridge across Elbow Creek. At this point I could have returned south via my intended route, back to Bridger Lakes and down the rough, remote canyon to Triangle Lake and subsequently down Bridger Creek. I was not up for that much “adventure” so instead I opted for an all-trail route via the Trapper Lake Trail. Having never been on this lake-filled route, it appealed to me more. The only problem was that I had very little map coverage with me.

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Lower Twin Lake

As the Highline Trail ascends north towards Summit Lake, there appeared to be a cut-across trail to Borum Lake. I wanted to stay on major trails with signs, so I walked the extra miles to reach Summit Lake at 10:30AM. This trail to Borum Lake is very serene, lush and wildflowers were at peak bloom. I sat on a rock for a rest where the cut-across trail intersected the Trapper Lake Trail. A coyote (or wolf) circled around me. Although the size of a coyote it was too furry and wide-faced so perhaps it was a young wolf, as there are many wolves in this area. Soon I reached the large beautiful Borum Lake. I only stopped briefly then dropped to Gottfried Lake. A one mile side trip to Heart Lake was not worth the effort. By noon I was headed south nearing Trail Lake (here I had no map coverage) and inadvertently took the by-pass, an efficient yet ugly trail that missed the lake. I was again off my maps. I ate lunch at the very large Trapper Lake (1:10). I was planning on camping at Glimpse Lake but missed the trail junction since I diverted up to “Crows Nest” to see the view of Fremont and Pine Creek canyons.

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Borum Lake

At 3:35 I started down the trail, soon realizing that I had missed my junction. The Pine Creek Trail is supposedly the worst trail in the Wind Rivers. Well, it was no worse than a lot of unmaintained trails, but it was a challenge! The hot, dry and excessively steep trail contains about four miles of switchbacks, significant deadfall at 9200 and 7800 feet, as well as “goes missing” at critical points. I was exhausted by the time I reached the Pine Creek Bridge at 5:00PM. I set up at the tiny established campsite squeezed between the bridge and the river. I washed up and cooked dinner and put the bear can under a log upstream. From the tent at dusk, I looked out and down the trail came a black bear. He first sniffed where I had brushed teeth. Then he went over to the bear can, which was out of my view. I did not sleep well for the next hour!

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Camp at Pine Creek Bridge

Day 7. Pine Creek Bridge to Elkhart Park TH. 3.3 miles, 3.0 hours, 1800 feet gain.

The bear apparently had not moved the bear can. I was happy to find it in place and cooked breakfast. I had planned on doing a side trip up Bridger Creek but decided I did not want to hang around with the bear so I walked out. I was on the trail at 7:30 AM. It was good that I stayed at the bridge, because there was no camping past it until Long Lake where there was an over-used established campsite. I was glad for the cool of the morning as I climbed out of Fremont Canyon. The trail stays away from a creek until it crosses at 9150 feet elevation. I was out to the Pine Creek Trailhead by 10AM. I walked up the road to the nearby Elkhart Trailhead to find my car had a flat tire. Since I had never changed a tire before, it took me two hours. I asked a fellow at the nearby campground to look at the spare to be sure I got it on correctly. After a long wait to get the tire fixed in Pinedale, I headed back to Lander for a beer, hot shower and a few town days to visit my old friends who provide me with a home-away-from-home when on my Wind River adventures.
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Re: TR: Bridger Lakes, Wind River Mountains

Postby rhyang » Mon Sep 12, 2016 6:29 pm

Have only been to Wyoming for ice climbing in winter a few times. I really need to see what it's like in the summer. The pics look wonderful.

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Re: TR: Bridger Lakes, Wind River Mountains

Postby windknot » Thu Sep 15, 2016 8:30 am

Great photos and sounds like a nice trip, thanks for the report!
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Bridger Lakes, Wind River Mountains

Postby Tom_H » Sat Sep 17, 2016 12:35 pm

Breathtaking! Thank you.
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