Although everyone should see Titcomb Basin at least once, it’s not nearly my favorite hike. The trip is much more worthwhile if you also climb Fremont Peak.
➻Quick Facts and GPS Map
Hank and Peggy, along with my dear mother, wanted to hike again, so hike we would. I’d repaired my poor Double Z air pad again and was ready to hit the road, though I only had a day off between this trip and the hike I’d taken to Middle Earth. That was plenty, and to top it off, my new sternum strap for my Osprey had arrived, and I’d successfully repaired it. How? Liberal heat and by following this helpful video.
Our initial plan had been to hike Middle Cloud Peak Lake in the Bighorns, which I’ve done before, and which is much shorter. However, people were already posting pictures of the heavy snows up there while I was up Sonnicant, and the forecast was grim, with highs in the 30s and very low 40s for our proposed dates, along with snow and wind. Not enviable. However, the Winds were forecast to remain nice. Sadly, everyone wanted to go to Titcomb, which I’ve been to a million times.
I am not a big fan of Titcomb during “the season” (and think that much prettier areas of the Winds exist, period), Hank and Peggy wanted to see it something fierce, as one of the mountains in the area was named after one of them. Or all of them, if you consider mountains as hills. I also don’t like the undulating, 11-mile hike into the first pretty lake, during which time you climb about 3500 feet but also descend about 2300. Yuck!
Work would preclude an early start, and we were taking different vehicles. Hank, by the way, is a nuclear engineer, and incredibly loud. When he was a kid, his parents asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he told them, “a nuclear submarine.” That didn’t work out, but he ended up being a U-boat officer for some time, though he eventually got tired of bossing people he didn’t know very well around, and thus returned to his family.
Of note, each day of this hike, as we did it, presents an average elevation over 10,000′. For this trip, I mostly read a book about the challenges that philosophy of math presents the LDS religion. It was interesting.
⤑25th Aug: 1/2 Day, Elkhart Park to Two Top Lakes
We didn’t reach the trailhead until 4PM, and with the season wearing on, darkness would come earlier, with the final orange on the horizon disappearing around 830PM.
We saddled our packs up and set out under clear skies and a rather warm sun, leaving the stupidly-packed trailhead behind. At this time of day, we were the only folks going in, but we saw a number of parties leaving.
The trail for the first four miles is dirt with embedded boulders, and it always seems to make my feet sore, though that’s probably mostly just because I’m bored to tears by the scenery. I suggested that our party take one of the cutoff trails, but when we got to it, it had been piled up with slash to prevent hikers from using it. A couple of new, official bypasses seemed to have been added, so we took one of those—the Photographer’s Point bypass trail. Photographer’s Point is a long walk to the trailhead for a view that just isn’t very attractive and doesn’t offer anything beyond what one can see from Skyline Drive during the trip to the trailhead. I’ve even climbed up to the Sapphire Lakes to overlook Suicide and Gorge Lakes, and it wasn’t prettier there. It’s just not a pretty area. Anyway, if you look at Google Earth with the KML overlay I’ve provided, you’ll see some of the trails that we missed. Overall, I was happy with the new bypass.
At the flats just above Upper Sweeney Lake, we kept “right” along the use trail to Elkhund, since we were heading to Two Top Lakes. If you are going to Barbara Lake, you can cross over in between two of the little ponds and get on track, which bypasses Elkhund and saves you a little time. (I think that they will eventually put in a trail from the flats down to Barbara following the fields.) But back to the discussion of the flats. I love the views here, and they’re especially good in early summer, when the fields are green, the ponds reflecting sharply, and the wildflowers in bloom. They weren’t too great at this time of year, and some campers were on the west side, so we pushed on quickly, reaching the edge of Elkhund Lake.
- The area of flats. The field in the left picture goes downhill basically to Barbara Lake, so at some point I imagine they’ll put a trail in there.
The trail up from Elkhund to Two Tops is steep with loose gravels and suffers from multiple personality disorder. (It has two trails that criss-cross each other.) You can see the distant Titcomb Basin mountains from the path up, and I like it! We got to the first Two Top Lake and started looking for a camp. Everywhere we looked there were people hidden. I thought that maybe we should head straight east around the shore of the first one, but we couldn’t tell if camping spots would exist back there…later, on Google Earth, I saw a hidden, but high-use use trail in that direction, along with multiple ponds and grassy flats. That is probably where I’ll camp if I get a late start on this trail again. The use-trail seems to head toward Pole Creek and bypasses Marys Lake, which I’ve camped at before, and which is very gorgeous. In retrospect, since there was no one in that direction, I feel a bit sad that we didn’t go and explore, but it was getting late.
Above: Elkhund Lake. We considered camping somewhere back in the trees. In the back is Fremont Peak, which I’d climb shortly.
We explored all around Two Tops, looking for a hidden spot, but found none worthwhile due to campers already being present. My GPS was still acting the fool (as I mentioned many times in previous writeups), and I confirmed that it wasn’t due to battery issues, though I always set the screen to dim, low-rez, and throttle back the CPU during hikes as battery discipline. Well, no exploration pathing there. You can see where we stayed, though: the little pink scribble in the picture below, though the ingress trail doesn’t display due to GPS errors. To the left of the bottom lake is the use trail that I was mentioning, too.
I climbed up and down hills while the party stayed below, as I was in much better shape. Soon I found a little spot to stay in a minor saddle. I was worried about it being a wind tunnel, and the wind was blowing a bit off and on, but overall it was acceptable, so I called up the folks. They didn’t want me to look anymore, so we decided to settle on the area at 715PM. There were a couple of places we could put our tents, with a main “hollow,” a little shelf above on a rock ledge, and a spot further west and nearer to the cliffy areas. We went with the spot further west, as it had more trees. Although closer to the main bit of wind, the trees gave us more protection.
Above: the camp area and sunset.
There was cell service here, so Hank sent some pics of the gorgeous sunset that we got to see. It quickly got chilly, but that kept any mosquitoes away. I ate some snacks and Hank and Peggy went down to fetch water with their Katadyne pump. Fatefully, they suctioned too far down and brought up muck into the filter, which made getting water with their pump much harder as time went on, though we tried to clean it as best we could.
By 8:30, I’d gotten my last picture and was heading to my sleeping bag to cuddle up for the night. It got a bit windy, but nothing too raucous.
Day 1 totals: GPS errors prevent exact measurements. ~5.25 miles, +1600/-500 feet. Elevation min/avg/max: 9354, 10068, 10537
⤑26th: Ingress to Titcomb Basin
The morning dawned clear and cool and we stayed in our tents until about 0845, as Hank had been exhausted and we wanted to warm up a bit. The hike today wouldn’t be too long, either, since we’d already cut off a lot of the miles. I took some pictures of our camping area and we were on the trail around 1000.
On the way down to Elkhund, we came across two elderly women who were going to Pole Creek Lakes. They were blasting up the trail despite their advanced age, and had incredible muscles! I was impressed. They were also incredibly nice. In minutes we were to Barbara Lake, where I’d camped once in 2016! It’s a pretty lake with a lot of fish that I’ve never caught. From there we descended to the area that I call the “deep pools,” and we got water there. We’d passed a man on the way down, and he wasn’t very friendly at all when we talked to him…not that he would respond back.
At the pools, we got water and he passed us, and again we said hi. Again he just stared at us. Wow! Yet a bit ahead, he stopped and yacked with a person at length. Turns out, it was a forest ranger, though we didn’t get a chat with them.
Up the hill we went to Hobbs Lake, which is not very gorgeous. if you were going to amp in the area, Sapphire Lake above is prettier, but I do not know if it has fish, as Hobbs does. (I’ve even caught fish in Hobbs.) There is a kind of…green, wet, pond filled slash in the mountains that the trail follows, going ever downward, which I really, really detest; I don’t know why the trail does this—is it to get to Lost Lake faster? Did there used to be a split-off trail? I don’t know. We listened to the Futility Closet Podcast, which I love, during this section, and played lateral thinking puzzles.
Eventually we took the hard right and climbed up to Seneca Lake. We also talked to some older hikers who’d been to Wall Lake and said that it was mosquito-filled, ugly hell. Later on, we’d talk to a couple who claimed that it was the prettiest place ever with no bugs. Hmmm. At the top of the hill, we came across a llama-packer camp, but it only had llamas, and no packers.
- 1. Llamas.
- 2-3. Seneca Lake.
- 4. I’ve never hiked over Lester Pass, but I have been on the other side.
My mom loves Seneca Lake, though I don’t care for how it looks. She thinks that the water is so beatuful. Hank and Peggy liked it as well. There aren’t many places to camp around it past the ingress overlook, at least not until you get to its NW end.
Up and down we went, winding along the rocky path until we came to Little Seneca Lake with its cute little island, which I suggested camping on. However, rangers can swim, too. Immediately past that is a lake I’ve camped at before, though it has no official name: Lake 10,388. Then up and over the hill to a view of Fremont Peak, and then sadly back down to a creek, and then up again! We passed many people in this time, going in and going out, and then had a view of Island Lake. I informed my party of our camping options. I’d never camped in the basin proper before, but my group wanted to, so we settled on that and off we went. Like I’d seen on my last trip, there were weird “toe shoe” tracks on the trail.
As we crossed the creek that empties in from the Wall Lake Pass, we saw a nice young couple who’d see again the next day, and said hello. There are fields on the northern side of Island Lake, though usually they’re packed with tents. In this case, they weren’t, and my party members wanted to press on, upward into the basin. given that they also wanted to see Indian Basin to the east, I told them that we shouldn’t go too far into Titcomb’s reaches, or we’d have to do more backtracking than made sense. We left the trail where it makes the right turn to go north, and instead used a use-trail that runs west, aiming for a low-lying mini-saddle to get over toward the waterfall that splashes down into Island Lake. Coming down the use trail was a fine-looking, dark-haired lass and her dog. She was alone, other than the dog, and very affable, though a little odd.
“Did you see it?”
“That white stuff!”
“Oh, the waterfall? Yes, we’re going to see it soon.”
“I hiked over here to see if. I didn’t know it was a waterfall. I thought it was ice or snow.”
- 1. The pretty, odd girl walking away with her dog. (Background.)
- Other photos: views from the little saddle.
Odd girl, but very sweet! We climbed the saddle and looked down. People were already camped in the prime spots. I asked if we should take a small spot that I thought existed on the hilltop to the west, but the folks wanted to be closer to the water. Should we cross the river here? There are some ponds up a draw to the NW that we could…No, not that either? Ok, we’ll go deeper into the basin.
We ended up going along the shore until the next river crossing (the river becomes lake becomes river becomes lake becomes…), which consisted of easy rock hopping. You’ll have to look at my map to see where we camped. I told the folks to stay at the bottom while I scampered up and checked things out. I looked over every nook and cranny and then settled on a place that I wasn’t sure they’d like, but which had its own water (meltpond/reflecting pool) and just killer views. It was rocky and had signs that, surprisingly, it wasn’t—yes, WASN’T—used often. Cool! So at 4:30, we had our location picked.
There was debate about where we should camp. I wanted to be closer to the meltpond on the soft grasses, but everyone else wanted to camp with the tents close to each other near some trees in the rocks and dirt and boulders. We spent a ton of time getting that ready, and I didn’t like the selection, but was overruled. Hank was very tired, too, though he went and fetched water, and I helped him pump it. My dinner that night was Good-to-Go’s smoked three bean chili, which was more expensive than many options. It didn’t taste smoked, and in fact was more of a slightly tangy, yet otherwise flavorless mush. Give it a hard pass if it asks you out. What a letdown!
- First picture: Hank is made for the sea, not for this!
- Last picture: my proposed route up Fremont Peak. My party said it looked much too steep.
Some people set up show across the “divide” in knolls from us, at the bottom, and a bunch of others camped down below us, back toward the eastern braid of the river, which we’d also considered, though thought was too exposed. Up on our little crow’s nest, no one was around, and it was very quiet.
By 7, the temperatures were cold, and only got colder, so we all put on our jackets. We stayed up late talking, watching the sunset, a rosé wine slowly seeping across the granite-hewn slopes above, until light faded, revealing the glory of God’s creation in the night sky, shining with thousands of stars. It ended up not being windy, which was a blessing.
Day 2 totals: GPS errors prevent exact measurements. ~8 miles, +2100/-1900 feet. Elevation min/avg/max: 9993, 10351, 10640
⤑27th: Dayhiking Titcomb Lakes
This day was the easiest of “hiking” and doesn’t require much explanation. We slept in until 0900, or at least I did. When I came out, Hank and Peggy were busy munching and chatting. My Double Z had deflated some, but not terribly. We packed up and I took them to the place I knew to cross, so that we could fish the western edges of the creeks and lakes in Titcomb Basin. The golden trout loved my fake grasshopper! Even Hank caught some fish. 🙂 Goldens can be really fussy, so it was a blessing to catch them. We also discussed climbing Fremont Peak, as our plans were very open. Everyone except for me thought it looked “too steep,” despite me pointing out that the first European descendants to ascend the peak had said it was easy walking until you suddenly came upon a sheer cliff overlooking a glacier.
No one was on our side of the lakes (which has typically been my experience, so I don’t know why more people don’t go camp over in the area), and we wandered along to the landbridge between the upper and lower lake, where we crossed. The beach nearby was so beautiful. I took some pictures and edited in the Empire State Building for comparison. We then hiked on up to Mistake Lake, which was also pretty. I’d only ever seen it from above, but I love the “ledgy” look of it. The last time I saw it, in fact, I was about 800 feet almost directly above some skinny dippers. Brrr! Some people have said that you can climb the grassy ramps up to Fremont Peak from Mistake Lake, but I don’t know about that. I’ve tried to climb down and it didn’t work out and seemed like a good way to die.
We walked on down from Mistake and saw some folks coming and some going, as well as some tents hidden in the rocks, including the tent of the couple we’d seen the day before. I wouldn’t want to be exposed like that, but I like my tent hidden and unobtrusive. I stopped to do some more fishing, and my mom did as well, though after a bit she took off to go back to camp where Hank and Peggy were probably eating. I fished until it was getting closer to sunset, and then realized that I didn’t pack my filters, so I couldn’t get the waterfall shot I wanted. Oh well. I crossed the creek and climbed the granite to the WSW, climbing from 10,600 to 11,100 so that I could look at the ponds we’d thought about camping at from some cliffs above them. They were pretty enough and had plenty of room to camp at. I could also see Fremont Lake; there was some cell service, so I checked the weather.
- First photos above and onward: from Titcomb to Mistake Lake and back down to Titcomb.
- In the last two photos above, there are 4 tents that can be spotted. Do you see them?
- In the third photo below, do you see the fisher?
- 4th picture from bottom: our camping location. See our tents?
I then walked back down toward my camp, which I could see from my high vantage point, and came across some killer, hidden camping spots on that side of the river. After trying to get some waterfall pictures, I made my way back up to camp and got dinner ready for myself, crossing the creek just above the big waterfall. There was a slight breeze, but nothing bad, and I still got some evening shots.
Day 3 totals: GPS errors prevent exact measurements. ~5.75 miles, +/-1245′. Elevation min/avg/max: 10508, 10644, 11088
⤑28th: Summiting Fremont Peak
This is another day which doesn’t need too much description. We got up before 9 and made some granola, and then discussed our plans. My party felt that they couldn’t summit the mountain. Hank reminded me that he’s clumsy, and it looked too steep. As such, the decided to hike up Indian Pass, while I’d do Fremont by myself.
Instead of hiking the mountain via the Indian Basin ingress route, I foolishly made my way up to Lake 10,850, where I’d been before, and then kept to the west of the rock “spine” that leads to Fremont Peak. I was able to follow some grassy ramps and make my way through boulder fields on the way up towards the spine proper. I also had myself some gummy worms at 11,250 feet, where I found a small stream coming out of the cliff, and got myself a ton of water there, as I realized that I might not have any more water for quite some time. Packed with water and my camera, I moved up, crossing to the east and then back west again.
- Above: checking out my leg, looking at the dumb dirt patch the tent is on, eating some granola, climbing to the first lake, then keeping left on up towards the spine; Indian Basin then came into view.
For a while, the going was fairly benign—a little backtracking to find good granite ledges to ascend, but nothing too bad. I listened to Marc Marin talk with Robert Downey, Jr the whole time. I don’t care for the podcast, but it was long and kept me occupied without needing much brainpower. As I climbed, more and more mental effort was being devoted to route-finding.
My topo map indicated that the spine should have a pretty flat top, but this ended up being utterly false. At 11,970 feet, I found a cairn of sorts, but that was the last sign of human travel I’d have for a while, and it was very early into the traverse of this dumb spine. The farther I went, the harder it got to turn around, with some travel being fairly “one-way” for the sake of safety. A few times I had to do some real “George of the Jungle” moves, which I really didn’t like, and once I ended up backtracking 200 feet because I ended up at a 1,000′ fall. It was also windy, and I spent tons of energy scaling up and down the sides below the spine, as the spine itself was very narrow, and given to having abrupt upthrusts of boulder that couldn’t be climbed.
- Above: climbing along the spine. I didn’t take pictures during the scary parts as I was scared! And also worried that I would lose my phone in the wind. In the first photo, there is what I took for a long-forgotten cairn.
And yet I also ended up on top of the spine at one point, with one leg over the west cliff, and the other over the east, pulling myself on my belly forward! Really dumb of me. I tried to climb down at one point, but the scree pile below was far too vertical to traverse, and I would have tumbled 600 feet to my death…so I climbed back up through the cliffs in search of a route.
Eventually I made it off the spine, but it sure as heck sucked. Just terrible. I was listening to William Lane Craig talking about a musician who’d left Christianity for nihilism at that point, and wondering how depressed he’d have been in the situation I was just in. The entirety of the 2.3 miles I’d traveled from camp had taken me about 3.5 hours, and most of that time had been spent in a section only 2,000 feet long!
Anyway, I ended up at the little saddle where I found a couple of guys. It was way later than I’d planned, and I didn’t like the thought of the climb at 2:40 PM, followed by the longer-mileage trek back to camp. The saddle is around 12,050, and the peak is at 13,751, so it was quite the climb. The two, older men told me that it would take about 3 hours to climb, but they didn’t seem in the best shape. They said that they’d met a guy at about the half-way point some time ago, so he should be almost to the top, though they remarked that he was “Austrian” and in crazy good shape.
I set out on my own ascent, finding a path up through the boulders; throughout the climb, use trails come and go in various directions. About 20 minutes into it, the man they mentioned came screaming down the mountain. Holy fast! He stopped and talked to me, and it turned out that he was from Croatia, and was incredibly kind. He said he loved the affability of Americans, and loved this mountain, which he rated as a moderate scramble. He gave me some tips and told me that I was about 60-90 minutes from the top. “At the pyramid, GO LEFT! And then you’re 3/4 of the way up at that point.” He was adamant about that pyramid vector, but assured me that all the footing was very stable. I left him and came to the pyramid at 3:30PM, and veered left to avoid the slicker slabby bits. (Others will like these for a little more technical scrambling.) I arrived at the top at 3:47 PM, having climbed the 1,701 feet up over .68 miles in 1 hour and 10 minutes. Not too bad!
- Above: Titcomb Basin sprawls out. Notice how vertical the area above Mistake Lake looks.
- Last: the pyramid.
The views from the top were pretty good! The Tetons were quite visible, as well as the Gros Ventre, the Absarokas, and the Wyoming Ranges. I think that the vista from the top of Wind River Peak is a bit better as it shows off more vastness in one direction, but for views in all directions, Fremont wins. Because the mountains to the north become flat-topped (even though they’re at 12,000′), Fremont makes them seem smaller than they are. If you’re at the base of, say, Squaretop, it’s an imposing giant. From the top of Fremont, the area looks like flat-plains with canyons.
Fremont Glacier also sprawls out 500 feet straight below, so don’t walk too far. There’s no warning—you just go over the edge. Because the wind became very fierce, I did not get too close to the edge myself. That’s not a way I want to die.
- Above: views from the top.
- First picture right below: if you enlarge it, you can spot a tent that I almost stumbled upon later.
- Above: Downs Mountain, which I’ve also climbed, is in the far distance. Fremont Glacier and Milky Lake can be seen, too. (What’s with the weird discoloration around Milky Lake?)
- Below: Looking South, the hidden ponds and Lost Lake (with the little island).