We did Elkhart Park to Green River Lakes in just under 4 days, but it’s probably nicer if you do it in 5. You’d be an absolute loon to do this trip the opposite way around. While many people utilize Knapsack Col, we used the CDT in order to fish for golden trout and to see extra lakes.
Mom asked me if I’d be up for a PTP hike as our friend Peggy was willing to ferry a vehicle to Green River Lakes for us, given that her family would be going there to camp. This was awesome of Peggy, so we basically settled on Elkhart Park to Green River Lakes without a second thought. Our initial plan was to hike Knapsack Col on the Loop Trail.
⤑Day 1: Elkhart Park to Lake 10388
We got on the trail around noon at Elkhart Park. I’ve written about the trail to Titcomb Basin as well as climbing Fremont Peak before, and I’ve done that section of hike a number of times, so I won’t detail it too much here. The trailhead was packed as it always is for the summer months, and I was only using a 50L Osprey, which was loaded for 5 days of hiking. Too much for that pack, and in the first 200 feet I wondered why in the world I’d made such a dumb decision.
Thankfully, I quit noticing the odd positioning within the first mile as it adjusted better to my back. The trail in to Island Lake starts out in arid forests (you should bypass Photographer’s Point using the bypass trail) and gains and loses a great deal of elevation. Between the TH and Island Lake it ends up at +2600/-1600 which is just awful, at least in my humble opinion. Mom always loves Seneca Lake, though I’m not a big fan, as I find it to be inhospitable and ugly. However, in the other trip I referenced above, we found a place in Seneca that gave me a great appreciation for it. Read there to find out what I’m talking about.
- Horses below Seneca Lake, mom in front of Seneca Lake, and the trail near Little Seneca Lake.
The trail was packed as we walked in, so we decided to camp at Lake 10388, which is just beyond Little Seneca, and almost smack-dab at 10 miles in. We wanted to use the little tree stand to the south toward Lester Pass (along that trail), but the sites there were too close to the trail…not that it was stopping all the people who were already camping there from setting up shop! Thankfully the field to the northside of the lake was empty, and it has a huge couple of boulders that we set up our tent beside. This doesn’t afford much privacy, but eventually the hikers died down. We had the tent set up by 7PM. The brookies in the lake were hitting, but I didn’t feel too much like fishing, so we made dinner and called it a night.
- Sunset at our campsite, and of course me, the stud. We climbed the rocks for a better view.
Well, actually, we would have called it a night, but a pika got angry and bellowed at us all night. We’d chase him off and he’d come back. It truly sucked, and I wanted to murder the little fellow.
- Night at camp.
Day 1: 10 miles, +2286/-1124′, 9336 min/10082 avg/ 10388 max
⤑Day 2: Camp at Island Lake, Titcomb from Above, and Indian Basin
The morning was hot early on, and got up to stifling heat in the tent. Quickly we packed up and headed up the little hill (stopping for pictures), then down the hill, across the creek, and up the next hill, where we were then overlooking Island Lake.
We saw tons of tents on the Titcomb side of the lake and discussed our plans for the day. I convinced mom that we should pitch our tent on the Elkhart side of the lake where we could still get a good site away from the crowds and then dayhike Fremont Peak via Indian Basin. From there we could decide if we wanted to do Knapsack Col or use the CDT to Shannon Pass (the name of a then-recent girlfriend who was a terrible fit for my life.).
- The sandy beach near the junction trail to Wall Lake.
- Our view of a hiker as we neared the intersection to Indian Basin.
Mom agreed to the plan, so we set up camp and then headed out to Fremont Peak. At the trail intersection to Indian Basin, we stopped and got water, and then took the rock chute to look at Lake 10850. I have been there a couple of times and it’s a pleasant little lake, though it has no fish. I’ve never seen anyone camping there, so it might be worth your time if the Basin is packed, and it has some nice views from a nearby ridgeline to the NW.
- Mom near Titcomb Basin.
- About to head up to Lake 10850.
- Lake 10850 and your young prince.
- Lake 10850 panorama; the trail proper is off to the right but is in frame in this photo.
- Mom at Lake 10850.
- Lake 10850.
From Lake 10850, we made our way east and then north up another rock chute. I have used this chute many times. It gains a little bit more elevation than is needed, but saves distance by keeping on to the west of the Indian Basin Lakes. It’s not quite as scenic as the meandering trail, but it’s a lot more expeditious. You can look at the GPS track to see how we made the approach in. The walking is quite easy with only one section of boulder field until one gets to the use trail at the bottom of Fremont Peak. The trail is easy to find as it follows the natural lay of the land.
- Indian Lakes.
- Me in front of Fremont.
Quick aside: do NOT use the Fremont Ridge to access the peak. I did that once.
Mom and I quickly scrambled the roughly 1000′ up to the saddle. At this point mom was convinced that we couldn’t summit the peak (she is scared of heights something fierce) and it looked like thunderstorms might form, anyway, due to diurnal heating.
- Looking over at Indian Pass, left side of frame, and Harrower Peak towards the right.
- Mom in front of Harrower Peak.
We made our way farther up the ridge and took an excursion to look at more of Titcomb Basin. A marmot came by and grabbed a piece of coconut snackbar, so be careful where you leave your food unattended. (I have had marmots eat almost all of my food before!) I had enough cell service to post a Bible thought to FB!
- First row: Me in front of summer ice lake. Mistake Lake below us.
- Second row: Mom above Mistake Lake. Upper Titcomb Lake and Knapsack Col. A thieving marmot.
- Last row: Panorama of Titcomb Basin.
If you climb higher, as I have done at other times, you can even see the Tetons. I’ve put pictures from the top of Fremont in the spoiler block below.
Since it was 6PM by this point, we’d need to go back to camp before too long, anyway. We scoped out Knapsack Col and decided that we’d take the CDT instead of the Loop Trail. A couple had written about taking the grassy ramps down to Mistake Lake, so we decided to save distance by doing that. Speaking of awkward, we saw a couple skinny dipping in Mistake Lake. Mistake Lake is some 1300 feet below the saddle, and the walk was steep but doable at first. 500 feet down, I told my mom to hold position while I checked the viability of further descent.
- Mom not too happy with the descent.
I ended up Tarzaning around and it was quite scary, and quickly the descent became impossible. At 11440′ I turned and headed back up the hill. Mom was disappointed—so much climbing back up to do, but we made it back to the saddle in about 18 minutes. From there we hiked down to Indian Basin Lakes and crossed the stream to the proper trail.
- Approaching Indian Lakes.
- Where I went almost skinny dipping.
I also took the time to dip in just my underwear. I’ve never been so cold in my life, but it was so refreshing. Saddled back up, we headed back toward our camp. The sunset gave a beautiful alpenglow over Elephant Head, and the flowers were just stunning all along the basin.
- Views on the way out of Indian Basin. Lower Indian Lake is in the second picture. The third picture is the outlet between upper and lower lakes. (Well, actually intermediate and lower.)
The trail meanders along the shore of the intermediate lake and crosses its outlet, but does not go down to the lowest and biggest of the lakes, instead viewing it from above. One day I need to camp there. We walked back in the growing darkness amid flashes of lightning. The storm had materialized, but later than expected. We made it back to our tent just before 10PM. Little fires dotted all along the lakeside in the darkness.
- I didn’t really bring good camera gear, so these are my shots of the night and the storm.
Day 2: 10 miles, +3689/-3735′, 10358 min/10966 avg/ 12360 max
⤑Day 3: Island Lake to Dale Lake
Although we slept well in the intermittent, light showers, we were woken up early by
“KNOCK KNOCK FOREST SERVICE KNOCK KNOCK”
I normally am all for the forest rangers, but do NOT scream and kick at my tent before 0700, especially when I know that I’ve done nothing wrong. Leave a note or something if it’s important. I turned and looked at my mom and we both rolled our eyes and refused to say a thing. If you’re going to be rude at the crack of dawn, we can play the same game. The chucklehead tried a couple of times and then wandered off. We heard him at another tent a bit later still yelling at the top of his voice. Probably needed to be bear sprayed! (I get very grumpy that early in the morning.)
I went back to sleep for a bit longer as it was cold and dismal out, but finally got out of bed. Instead of going back up the dang hill and down again to hit up the CDT, I told mom that we should just go to one of the little outlet creeks that naturally goes there. She looked at the map with me and agreed, so we set off at 1000. Plenty of people were camped along the side of the lake we were on then, and I wondered how many of of them had been woken up. The weather looked quite threatening.
- Views of the area as we walked out.
Walking along the creek, intermittent ponds were filled with brookies, and I caught a number of them. We switched creek sides twice, and it was all a total, beautiful breeze. Definitely easier than any trail. Had I known a way to cross Fremont Creek other than Fremont Crossing, I’d have done that, but that will have to be a future endeavor. The area sure is pretty, and I’d like to see more of the western side of Island Lake.
- Ponds and birds and mom fishing as we made our way to the CDT.
We got back on the trail (CDT) at 1230 and headed uphill a bit. I wasn’t very fond of this whole section of trail. It was “lumpy” which I despise, and we didn’t even get to see Lake 10300. Blah! Just before reaching Fremont Crossing, we met an old man in his early 80s who we stopped to talk to! He was incredible and explained that he was still hiking because, “If you want to do what you love when you’re old, never stop doing it.” He told us that he’d come from Upper Jean, where it had been a bit stormy, and he’d been trapped under a rock for some time worried that he might have to holdover the entire day there. What an awesome man.
- Fremont Crossing!
We finally reached Fremont Crossing and both really loved it! For whatever reason, one of my most popular pictures was from this crossing. Go figure. We wanted to check out Big Water Slide, but decided that it wasn’t worth the effort. In the future I’ll give it a look, especially as I now have a much better sense of how to make the most out of this PTP.
- Outfitters just up the hill past Fremont Crossing. They make mom happy.
- Below: Stopped for a break…and then where I hurt my knee, which you’ll learn about in the next paragraph.
From the crossing, it’s basically uphill toward the Jean Lakes. Near a rockfield at 10670 feet, I got enough service to post a BQ, and then we continued on, leveling out for the most part at 10,700 feet in between a couple of little ponds. I somehow twisted my knee here on a fall among rocks, as my body pivoted backward while my leg got locked pointing forward. It hurt quite a dang bit. After waiting a while, it hurt less and I was able to walk. Seeing Lower Jean Lake made the pain seem like a distant problem; ahead of us, lightning was cracking all over Stroud Peak, which along with the over summits in the vicinity, was quickly overtaken by clouds.
- Lower Jean Lake looking west as the storm develops.
We scampered to find a place to hide from the lightning, which was hitting the rocks above us. Yikes! We were above the treeline mostly, and ended up under a very large boulder. I was wet by this point as the rain really started to drive hard, and also freaking frigid. My emergency blanket kept me warm, though I could have used my neoprene jacket…I mostly didn’t feel like having to protect my legs against the continuing splatter. Thankfully, Mark Miller gave a great (he’s a hilarious preacher up in MT and is the principal of a private academy) lesson that mom and I listened to while we waited. We were stuck there for an hour and twenty minutes, so we ate a bit mostly out of boredom, but also to reduce pack weight a bit. Oddly, a discarded pair of women’s lingerie (in green) was with us…
By 4, the weather was moving out, and so were we. The trail crosses Jean Creek near the inlet, and we saw plenty of trout. A little bit beyond there’s a beautiful meadow, and we stopped so that I could fly fish in the now-warm sunlight. I caught golden trout after golden trout in that little creek! What a dang blast and blessing.
- Row 1: Eagle and marmot by Lower Jean.
- Row 2: Approaching the Lower Jean inlet.
- Row 3: Crossing the inlet.
- Rest: Fishing Jean Creek.
The walk from the meadow to Upper Jean didn’t take us too long, but it was 5:47 by the time we got there, as we’d dawdled. Upper Jean was just as scenic as Lower Jean, with better views of the soaring mountains. There were so many places that I wanted to camp. After snagging a couple of pics, we pressed onward and reached Lake 10954 only 12 minutes later. This lake, though small, was a total jewel. The colors were just stunning, at least with evening approaching, and the flowers all around just enhanced the appeal! How blessed we were.
- Trail between Jean Lakes. In the last photo, Stroud Peak is very clear; we wanted to hike it, but mileage dictated that we keep pressing on.
- Column 1: Me at Upper Jean (can you spot me?), mom at Upper Jean, and some other folks with a nice camp.
- Column 2: Upper Jean and Lake 10954.
Finally, at 6:20, we saw Shannon Pass ahead. Yay! We decided that we’d press on and try to make it to Peak or Dale Lakes. As we approached the pass, the CDT trail went sharply to the right, bending back toward the stunning Elbow Lake, which features tons of bouldery shoreline with little channels of water. We had no time for this, so we slogged up the somewhat steep hill, filled with loose gravel, and along the side of Stroud Peak. The beauty of this area can’t be overstated; at 11152 feet we got water at a pond and I wanted to camp there, but we still had daylight left. We therefore pressed on, passing into the boulderfield hell that is Shannon Pass.
- Row 1: Flowers, approaching Shannon Pass, ascending Shannon Pass.
- Row 2: Looking back at Elbow Lake, climbing Shannon Pass.
- Row 3: Walking along Shannon Pass; pond at the top.
- Row 4: Progress along Shannon Pass brings one into the boulders.
After stopping to get pictures at a couple of meltponds, we picked our way down toward Peak Lake. Sadly, there were a number of campers there (can you spot them?) so we decided to make for Dale Lake and hope that we got lucky. The trail isn’t really distinct in this area, since you’re just going over boulders and granite slabs, but you can find your way without too much hassle. We found the Loop Trail and climbed up to Dale Lake, though we were both sick of climbing. At least we weren’t walking down to Peak Lake, which would have meant that we’d have had to have duplicated that effort, too.
- Shannon Pass. The view of Peak Lake was absolutely wild. In the last picture, Stonehammer Lake can be seen. In the center of the frame, there’s a dark patch…that ascends “Stone Pillar Pass,” which has been described by some as a “useless gap.”
- For additional points, can you see the tents and people by Peak Lake?
Dale Lake itself didn’t have too many great places to camp, as most of the ground was pretty sloped. Uphill from the lake, on the trail side, we found one suitable location and staked out the tent. Storms were forming again, so we really battened down the hatches. Getting water from Dale Lake was a real chore, not because of the walk down, which was grassy and easy, but because it was TEEMING with amphipods that can clog filters. I went to the far edge of the lake by the outlet and managed to get water downstream, where the amphipods weren’t.
That night there were intense thunderstorms, and it got very cold.
Day 3: 8 miles, +1669/-1337′, 10252 min/10680 avg/ 11159 max
⤑Day 4: Egress to Green River Lakes Trailhead
We woke up with the sun and the sound of thunder. It wasn’t actual thunder, but rather boulders falling from the cliffs overhead due to the thermal expansion and contraction secondary to the cold temperatures overnight. Always be careful around cliffs in such weather (well, always), as I’ve about been hit twice by nasty rockfall.
- Dale Lake area.
- The scalloped edges of Whiterock.
- Vista Pass is the saddle left of center. Just to the left of the middle knob is Squaretop.
We packed up and the day quickly became intensely hot (as it would turn out, it ended up hitting 84F at Green River Lakes) for the area. After getting water again and looking at the beauty of the scalloped geology called “White Rock,” we hit up Cube Rock Pass. My knee hurt again and was forming a large knot of blood below the patella, extending around it in an almost striated fashion. Great. Cube Rock Pass for the most part leaves it up to you to figure out, and we took our time picking our way through the hellscape of a pass. Do people actually go up and over it to Elbow Lake rather than take Shannon Pass? Who are these insane people? Who let them out?
- The glory of Cube Rock Pass.
We got to the bottom 10 minutes before 11 and then followed the path downhill into forests, where we had to then climb Vista Pass. Give me a break! My pack felt uncomfy, as I’d tried a different loadout, which I was coming to regret in spades. I was also very much unhappy with my choice to bring a solar charger (the first and last time I’d do that), and my head kept hitting the top of my pack during the steep climb.
- About to go up Vista Pass in the searing heat.
Vista Pass, for what it is worth is a short climb compared to much of the trip, and has lots of old, scraggly, dead trees, and a few mosquito farms, which we ambled by 14 minutes before noon. Don’t stay there. Beyond it, we started down again, and the forest became lusher as we approached Trail Creek and Trail Creek Park at the intersection of the Highline CDT and Vista Pass Trail. Just as we neared the intersection, a group of 6 young, gorgeous women went marching uphill without seeing us, all with big packs on. Ask me about my hamburger theory one day!
- Row 1: Vista Pass trail.
- Row 2: Back on the CDT.
We pushed on and made our way through a small meadow, where we found a lost jacket, and eventually to the area above Three Forks Park, which meant having to cross the creek, which is either Clark or Trail Creek at that point (they merge nearby and I don’t know which one carries the name down to the bottom). At this time of year it was easy to do, though I imagine that it might be quite intimidating at peak melt. We made it without any issues, and a lanky, grey-haired, older man walked past. He briefly said hello and then pushed on, seeming not very affable at all. We both wondered why he was in such a hurry and why he was in such a bad mood. (Probably in a bad mood because the forest service woke him up hollering.)
- Crossing the creek and then walking down to Three Forks Park.
The walk down to Three Forks Park seemed to take forever. There are a number of switchbacks, though they’re each very long, and I personally felt like I was trapped in the forest forever. Not being able to see the surrounding country made it feel worse, I thought. It was only 2 miles and a thousand feet from the crossing, though, and we broke out by the Green River, which was properly turquoise. The glacial flour, being suspended rock particles that decrease sunlight penetration, mean that the river is oligotrophic here and has no fish life that I have been able to discern. (In the past, I have not been successful fishing much beyond the inlet of Upper Green River Lake.) While fish can exist in such areas, I have found that the stocked fish in the Winds tend to not thrive in such bodies of water, which seems to be a common finding.
- Three Forks Park. Tourist Creek is on the left of frame in the second picture.
After trying some fishing for a while, we decided to get back on the trail. I noted to mom where Tourist Creek was, in case we ever wanted to go up into that rugged area. One day I hope to, as I’ve been above it on a hike, but not properly in it.