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TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

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TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Sep 14, 2016 9:29 am

Titcomb-Indian Basin-NFBLC-Pole Creek
Aug 16-26, 2016

After three trips in the lower elevations, this trip brought me back to the high country that I love. My old buddy Juan went with me; he is up for any adventure and proves that you can still use all your 1970’s style gear, albeit heavy. To his credit, even with some serious peripheral neuropathy and constant painful feet he soldiered on. I loaned him my new Copper Spur UL tent and I used my Tarptent, with broken zippers and all. We packed 11 days food and it proved to be just right. Although heavy, we took crampons for Indian Pass. Not absolutely needed, but it sure made crossing the glacier faster.

The trip was to focus on Titcomb Basin and the North Fork of Bull Lake Creek. Getting ahead of schedule we were also able to return via Wall Lake and Pole Creek giving me a chance to explore the beautiful headwater cirque. I had been in these areas in 1969, 2002 and 2007. The glaciers have melted; more moraine, less ice. When I worked for NOLS, Titcomb Basin, perhaps the most popular destination in the Wind Rivers, was “verboten” so I was able to see what all the fuss was about; needless to say, it is extremely spectacular.

Day 1. Elkhart TH to Seneca Lake; 8.8 miles, 6.1 hours, 1890 feet gain.

We left Lander at 6AM and headed out with a dubious weather report for the next 3-4 days, stopped at the FS office to check on recent bear sightings and were on the trail by 9AM. The hike to the Lost Lake trail junction at Seneca Lake was a repeat of what I did on my fist trip this summer. With heavy packs, and being Juan’s first trip of the season, we were ready to camp and found a nice established campsite. I had an unfair advantage of being totally acclimated while Juan was still adjusting to the altitude. Soon several other tents popped up in the surrounding area. Clouds were building but weather remained good.

Day 2. Seneca Lake to Titcomb Lk 10575 plus day-hikes; 7.9 miles, 6.3 hours, 1855 feet gain
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With a forecast of 40% rain we passed beautiful Island Lake and decided to take the chance on weather and camp at the more exposed Lake 10575 in the heart of Titcomb Basin. We arrived early enough to day-hike to the west, on a “short-cut” route to Jean Lakes. We went as far as Lake 11092, half mile east of Lower Jean Lake and returned. Short on miles but slow travel makes this less of a short cut. Nevertheless, it offered a fine view from above or Titcomb Basin. In the late afternoon I hiked up to the next higher lake to get some sunset photos.

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Camp at Titcomb Basin

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Nice view on our return from the day-hike


Day 3. Day hikes to upper Titcomb Basin; 8.8 miles, 5.9 hours, 1730 feet gain.

I had planned a long day-hike to Knapsack Col. A storm was brewing as we started up the trail so we only went as far as the Twins Glacier, where we could see that the route over Knapsack was free of snow and simply a steep talus hop. We passed a group’s base camp below Dinwoody Pass. Juan is a caver; he just had to walk into the melt cave at the base of the Twins Glacier. No way was I going to go into that! On the return it started to rain. We met another group heading for Knapsack Col, which is a part of a well- publicized Wind River “High Route”. Back at camp the weather cleared enough for a short hike up to a small lake on the ridge to the east. I had hoped to get to Mistake Lake, but rain started. I had to cook inside my vestibule and we both squeezed into my tent to eat supper. A brief respite from rain allowed us to hike down to Lake 10457 before calling it a day. It rained nearly all night.

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Calm conditions early morning on hike up towards Knapsack Col

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Ice Cave on the Twins Glacier

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The storm chasing us on our return to camp

Day 4. Titcomb Basin to upper Indian Basin; 3.6 miles, 3.1 hours, 1135 feet gain.

After sleeping in, we moved to a camp closer to Indian pass and waited to see if the weather would settle down. Juan took the shorter off-trail route via the lake on the ridge to the east and I took the longer trail route. His route was 10 minutes faster. Not sure the extra effort was actually worth it-a toss-up in my opinion. We then continued on the trail to Lake 11088 debating to camp or go higher. We continued, not sure if we would find a good campsite. No worry, we found a nice established site among huge erratic boulders. This pond filled bench at 11400 feet was starkly beautiful. We hung out, talked to several day-hikers, dropped to see the lower pond, and ended the day early. Huge clouds built, but no rain.

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Camp at high ponds below Indian Pass

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We watched the clouds roll over Indian Pass



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Re: TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Sep 14, 2016 9:36 am

Day 5. Upper Indian Basin to Shangrila Lake10790 plus day-hike; 8.1 miles, 7.8 hours, 2425 feet gain.

Morning broke with clear blue skies! We headed up to Indian Pass and then dropped down over endless ugly moraine. In 2002 this was snow! In place of steep ice, now was a steep, loose, horrible lateral moraine to descend. At the west edge of the Knifepoint Glacier we put on crampons and traversed to the east side in half an hour. The glacier was actively melting with parallel rivulets cut into the ice. The crampons definitely kept my feet from getting soaked. After stashing the crampons we headed north over the right lateral moraine, another slow agonizing process. Finally we reached linked snow stringers and our travel rate sped up.

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On the Knifepoint Glacier

I wanted to test a direct route northeast to “Shangri-La”, a lush grassy alpine bench with five large lakes at about 10700 feet, a lower lake at 10,100 feet and a set of small ponds on a high plateau at 11400 feet. First we had to drop to a cobblestone valley and then up grassy hills to a small pass. On the other side the entire gully was filled with another mini-glacier. Luckily we were able to skirt its north edge and with a little down-climb scrambling, reached the lush vegetated stream below. We set up near the outlet of Lake 10790, took a short break, and then did a 4.3 mile loop hike to several of the Shangri-La Lakes. We dropped form alpine terrain down to thick healthy forest surrounding Lake 10185, not staying long as there was plenty of evidence of bears. We climbed back up to Lake 10743 and Lake 10834, returning to camp after 6PM. It was a long hard, but rewarding day. I quickly took a bath and washed clothes before the shadows hit our camp. It was nearly dark when dinner was done.

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Mini-glacier we had to get around on our way to "Shangri-La" lakes.

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camp at Shangri-La

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Shangri-La Lake 10730 with a view of the valley we descended (snowfield just visible on horizon)

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Forested lowest Shangri-La Lake (10185)
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Re: TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Sep 14, 2016 9:47 am

Day 6. Shangri-La to Lower Glacier Panorama plus day-hike; 6.2 miles, 4.9 hours, 1090 feet gain.

We moved north to “Glacier Panorama”, the upper outwash plains of the Fremont Glaciers at the head of the North Fork of Bull Lake Creek. A use-trail skirted the north shore of Lake 10730. A huge bleached elk skull and rack marked the route that dropped 400 feet in timber to Kinfepoint Creek. A good rock-hop crossing was found and we then headed up 700 feet over lush steep grassy slopes to the ponds on windy “Panorma Pass” where we ate lunch. There are three distinct outwash benches at the head of the North Fork; Upper Glacier Panorama at the foot of the Helen Glacier moraine, a smaller braided outwash about 100 feet lower (mid-Glacier Panorama) and the nearly mile long lower outwash (lower Glacier Panorama). An “old Indian trail” was rumored to drop to the lower outwash. A cairn marked the start of the trail which became faint as it dropped 400 feet to the milky North Fork which we found a rock hop crossing- likely not possible at peak flows. We chose to pass up the sheltered campsites in trees on the north side and camp at the lower (east) end of the valley which had the best view, but the worst wind. We did have a small krumholtz shelter to cook in. There was time left to day-hike to the upper outwash valley with milky flow from the Helen Glacier. The outwash was barely covered with water; in 2002 it was a totally covered braided milky “lake”. As the day went on, the cold wind off the glaciers picked up! We estimated it got up to a steady 40 mph wind. To me the view was worth it; others may disagree! Since my tent fly zipper was broken, I moved my tent farther behind the krumholz for a bit more shelter. Juan stayed out in the wind tunnel and tested the wind-worthiness of my new Copper Spur, which performed very well in these conditions.

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Unique elk head trail marker!

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View of upper Glacier Panorama from Panorama Pass

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North Fork tumbling to lower Glacier Panorama

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Camp at lower Glacier Panorama

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Day hike to upper Glacier Panorama


Day 7. Day-hike to Little Milky Lake inlet meadow; 7.7 miles, 7.5 hours, 1585 feet gain.

The hike down to the lower North Fork was one of my key requirements of the trip. I had to be sure that one could cross at the outlet meadow of Little Milky Lake. Otherwise, I would have to take two routes out of my guidebook in the update. This is elk country as well as grizzly country. We followed huge elk trails down the North Fork dropping 680 feet in a mile to the first mile-long braided outwash, choked with over-the-head willows in the flat outwash and a difficult talus cone on the north. We slowly hopped huge blocky talus for ¾ mile finally reaching the grassy lower bank. For the next nearly flat mile and half we followed elk trails through brush, trees and only inches from the bakes of the large milky stream. The elk tracks sunk in the mud half a foot deep, making waking a lumpy endeavor. Just before the inlet meadow to Little Milky Lake is a large, extremely flat forested area with abundant camping as well as abundant HUGE piles of bear poop! We checked out two crossings and decided to return before we actually encountered a bear. On the way back, we followed elk trails through the head-high willows in hopes of avoiding the talus. Unfortunately before the talus cone ended, the elk chose to cross the swift and deep North Fork. We were dead-ended and had to bash through willows to regain the talus. We returned via a parallel valley a quarter mile north of the North Fork which involved a steep 900-foot gain. The rest of the afternoon we checked out all the sheltered campsites in lower Glacier Panorama before cooking dinner. Early shadows and the wind drove us into our respective tents by 7PM.

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First we dropped down the North Fork below lower Glacier Panorama

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The wide milky North Fork in the lower meadows

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Another nice view from lower Glacier Panorama
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Re: TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Sep 14, 2016 9:54 am

Day 8. Lower Glacier Panorama to Indian Basin Lake 11008; 8.8 miles, 7.5 hours 2495 feet gain.

The original plan was to take a short day and camp below the Knifepoint Glacier. Instead we made good time and were able to get over Indian Pass and camp in Indian Basin. First we returned via Panorama Pass to Knfiepoint Creek, headed upstream a mile towards the terminal moraine, and then veered south to steeply ascend 400 feet to the cobblestone valley we passed a few days ago. There was a use-trail that was marked with cairns. This route is part of Andrew Skurka’s competing “Wind River High Route” and the cairns were likely put up by him. This time we stayed off the lateral moraine and hopped across the talus in a slot between the moraine and the steep slope up to Alpine Col. We spotted two people just going south over Alpine Col as we put back on crampons to cross the Knifepoint Glacier. The glacier was really wet and running water as it was now afternoon. The climb up the west lateral moraine was steep, loose and miserable. We stopped and chatted with two day-hikers on Indian Pass, then dropped back to Lake 11008 where we found a great grassy campsite near a tarn south of the lake. We had fine views of Fremont Peak and Harrower Peak, which I think is actually more impressive. There was enough daylight to take a bath, eat dinner and do a little sunset photography. It froze hard that night.

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Sunrise as we left lower Glacier Panorama

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Another nice view

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Upper Knifepoint Creek

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Cobblestone Valley

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Indian Basin camp


Day 9. Lake 11088 to Wall Lake plus day-hike; 7.9 miles, 5.5 hours, 1010 feet gain.

We were now a day ahead of schedule, so decided to return via Wall Lake and the Pole Creek Trail instead of backtracking out the way we came in. The route to Wall Lake is a wonderful off-trail route through alpine lakes with great views back to Fremont Peak and Titcomb Basin. On “Wall-Island” Pass I found a Tenkara fishing rod on the ground. We never found the owner so I gave it to Juan since I already had one. We camped exactly at the same campsite that we had occupied in 2007! Juan’s feet were killing him after the long days so he rested in camp while I hiked up to the head cirque of Pole Creek. This stunning hidden valley is a seldom visited gem of the Wind Rivers. Travel was easy off-trail mostly on grass with a few sections of talus or rock slabs. The surrounding high walls kept this valley in shadows and it was still lush, green and the wildflowers were at peak. Back at camp I took a bath and washed clothes and we both enjoyed the last rays of sun. It was very cold again so I opted to dive into my sleeping bag early.

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Hidden Valley at head of Pole Creek

Day 10. Wall Lake to Eklund Lake; 8.8 miles, 6.0 hours, 1375 feet gain.

We awoke to threatening clouds on the Divide. We instead were headed west as the dark clouds hung in the sky making interesting lighting. A use-trail goes along the east shore of the very long Wall Lake before dropping down to upper Cook Lake. The trail then intersects and the Highline Trail which drops to the Pole Creek trail junction. The normally thigh-deep crossing was so low that we could hop across on rocks. We camped at the very crowded Eklund Lake. I walked around the lake out of sheer boredom. Before the day was done it “groppled” on us coating the ground in half an inch of white. We cooked in the shelter of trees. The night was again cold and it froze.

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Clounds hanging over Cook Lake

Day 11. Eklund Lake to Elkhart TH; 5.2 miles, 2.4 hours, 90 feet gain. It was an easy fast hike down the ever-crowded Pole Creek Trail to Elkhart Park. I guess we ran into nearly 30 people. At the trailhead I ended up advising a backpacker who was packed up but had no idea where he wanted to go! On the drive back to Lander we stopped in Farson to indulged in the famous ice-cream at the corner store.

We got back to Lander early afternoon. I stayed one more night, bid farewell to all my friends and met Juan in the coffee shop to exchange photos. Then I drove home in two days, camping along the way at the beautiful Angel Lake FS campground just outside of Wells Nevada. My summer in Wyoming ended.
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Re: TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Sep 14, 2016 10:00 am

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Here is the missing photo of upper Glacier Panorama
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Re: TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby windknot » Thu Sep 15, 2016 8:50 am

Thanks for showing photos of a place I've only seen before on the map! Another great report.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby andrewskurka » Thu Sep 29, 2016 7:29 am

Nice report, great country.

Wandering Daisy wrote:the cairns were likely put up by him.

I rarely (never?) erect cairns, and make an effort to knock over unnecessary or superfluous ones, so this was definitely not me.
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Re: TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby sparky » Thu Sep 29, 2016 11:13 am

holy cow. what a hike! Scenery is top notch!

thanks for sharing
There is a million ways to be human, all are worthwhile.

True happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.
-Chuang Tzu.
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Re: TR: NFBull Lake Creek, Wind Rivers

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 29, 2016 12:59 pm

Thanks Andrew for joining our forum! I am glad you also are not into putting up cairns. So we do not know who did or when. I am just amazed that every time I go back into the Wind Rivers, more cairns have been put up. Same with the Sierra High Route. I did bits and pieces of the SHR in the late 90's and when I did the route as a thru-hike in 2010, cairns had been put up.

There are many historical cairns in the Wind Rivers, particularly on the Reservation. These I leave alone. They have been there over 100 years and since the Reservation does not maintain trails, they do help to keep the trails in use. I do not kick down cairns unless I am absolutely sure they have been recently put up, repetitive, or outright wrong. I do not mind cairns on major trails- they are there so you can find the trail early season before the trail melts out.
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