Knifepoint Glacier, Wind River Range, Wyoming
This morning, I woke up at about 5:15 a.m., to the smell of fire smoke. Initially, I thought someone had a camp fire cranking, even though a fire ban was in effect for the area. Emerging from the tent, I looked to the horizon and realized that we were being smoked out by forest fires from afar; probably fires from Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho combined. The West has been of fire this summer.
Sunrise, over Elephant Head, was quite a sight through the smoke haze.
Our day in Titcomb Basin was a pretty long one, and we’d heard stories about how difficult day 5 would be, moving up, and through Indian Pass to Knifepoint Glacier. As a result of this intel, we decided to decree day 4 a “rest day”. For breakfast, Cliff prepared a delicious mix of muesli, peanut butter, dried fruit, and almonds. We sat on, and lolled about, our Island Lake living room, taking in the view for a good long while, and Cliff spotted a mama Common Goldeneye, and her 6 chicks, swimming around down in the lake. We went into Ninja mode and started a stalk to get a better look.
After our viewing of the water-fowl beasts on the lake, we decided to check out Lake 10,794, which is at the foot of Elephant Head (Cairn Peak). Our route started on the western shore of Island Lake, next to a stream that comes down the hill.
This is the view, looking northwest, from the top of the hill that rises up from Island Lake.
Just a little further up, Elephant Head reaches for the sky.
Earlier in the morning, Cliff discovered that our day in Titcomb Basin had earned him, not one, but two blisters. Both of his heels developed blisters. As good planning (luck doesn’t play into this scenario) would have it, Cliff brought along a premium self-made first-aid kit. Later in the day, Cliff perfected his application of such things as “tincture of benzoin”. Look it up, and consider adding it to your personal first-aid kit; it works wonders.
Moving along, we are continually greeted with inviting views, and out-loud statements like “I wish we had more time” and “when we come back, we should…”
As we moved along we realized that we’d misjudged our direction and were a bit off course. After consulting our map, compass, and a couple prominent geological features, we righted our course and got back on track. Not that it really mattered. After all, this was our day off. Come on!
After returning from our day out, Cliff and I both took a nice bath in Island Lake. The water was not nearly as cold as I expected, but quite refreshing. This is where I earned my adventure injury. I don’t recommend slipping on the rock you’re using as a bench, and grinding the skin off your shin. Not as fun as it sounds.
Our official “Day of Rest” allowed us 6 or 7 trail miles, and some beautiful scenery. As the sun dropped behind the western horizon, we had a nice hot meal, watched the only deer we saw on the entire trip walk behind our camp toward the lake for a drink. We chatted at length about our next day’s trip up Indian Pass, and to Knifepoint Glacier. We’d read, and heard, such varied accounts as to the difficulty of getting to the summit of Indian Pass, that we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we also didn’t care. Regardless of the degree of challenge, we’d be on our way early the next morning.
4:00 A.M. wake up call and it was time to pop out of the tent. Truly, we took our time getting going. Had coffee, a light early breakfast, and we were off a little before 5:00. It was still dark, and we had our head lamps blazing, and our “hey bear” calls blaring, as we tramped through the willows. When I say “our headlamps”, I mean Cliff’s head lamp, and the index finger-sized flashlight I had taped to my hat. You see, the previous evening, my headlamp decided to fail on me. Not pretty, and not convenient, but that’s the way that particular cookie crumbled. Today’s quarry is the summit of Indian Pass, and Knifepoint Glacier.
Given that we were in such a hurry to get up the pass, in order to beat any weather, I took very few photos on the way up. The photos you see will be from the trip down, but they’re posted from the bottom portion of the hike, and as though we’re moving up, rather than down. This is the reason few will look like early morning photos…they aren’t.
The Indian Basin junction is an easy mile from Island Lake, so we had a nice warm up before heading up hill. The sign at the junction says the distance from that point is 6 miles. Actually, the distance is only 3.2 miles. There’s no telling how long that sign has been there, but the sign is a big fat liar. One of the reasons we started so early was that not only were we unsure as to the distance, but our hope was to also summit Jackson Peak.
Initially, the trail is not very steep. Don’t count on many flat areas, but I’d consider the first couple of miles moderately difficult. Even with the lingering smoke from forest fires, at points unknown, the scenery was incredible.
Of course, Indian Basin has a nice variety of flowers to go along with the rocks, water, and jagged peaks.
After passing through a very wet area, in the upper bowl of the basin, the trail turns very steep, with many switchbacks. About half-way up the steep push to the summit, there is a great view Harrower Glacier.
As we break through the Indian Pass summit, this is our view, looking north.
Passing over the summit of Indian Pass brings you to views of Indian Glacier, Knifepoint Glacier and Bull Lake Glacier.
After taking a lunch break, and Cliff touching up his ankles, with more tincture of benzoin, we headed for a point about 1/4 to 1/3 of a mile northeast of the pass. This area afforded us a great view of the Knifepoint Valley, and the surrounding glaciers.
After soaking in the view from out on the point, we started moving up toward the pass, and made our way back to base camp. Before getting back to the summit, we met two gents who were out and about for a longer term than we were. The first nearly rocketed up the snowy slope from the valley floor with a pack that had to have weighed 70 pounds…at least! He was out for a 30-day “training” trip, and wore sneakers and running shorts. For some reason, this looked very odd to us. Shortly after he arrived at the summit, his partner, wearing more traditional back country garb, pulled up the rear. Later in the day, Cliff and I heard his partner say, “I’m willing to keep going, but my feet aren’t”. We were told they were out for 30 days. Another gentleman we met was a little lost, and after some discussion around maps, discovered that he was about a mile off track. He was out for however long it was going to take him to hike the Continental Divide Trail from the United States/Canada border to the United States/Mexico border. He’d been out 5 weeks when we met up with him. He had a looooooooooong way to go, and was doing the trek solo. I hope he makes it.
As with the Titcomb Basin adventure, I’ve spliced several short videos together, so that you can walk up Indian Pass with Cliff and me.
Even though we were unable to summit Jackson Peak, due to it not having been a “simple ridge walk”, as we’d been told, this was a grand day and we saw, and did, grand things. For me, this was the highlight of the trip.
Back at base camp, and the sun sets on our patio for the last time.
On this morning, we broke from our base camp, and were on the trail at 9:00. We had an ambitious day ahead of us, and knew that if we started later, we’d never make our goal of reaching Pole Lakes for our next overnight. There was no possibility of a slow warm up, thanks to a short, but very steep hill that carried us out of the valley where Island Lake resides. After three days without a full pack, I’ll admit, it took a little getting used to.
After backtracking, to just shy of Little Seneca Lake, we made it to the junction for Highline Trail, which would lead us up Lester Pass, is located next to a very nice unnamed pond.
This was a longer and more strenuous pass to get over than we expected. On the way up, we met up with a couple who had been out, with their mules and blind dog, for a week. As was so common on this trip, we passed plenty of ponds, and lakes, of varying size.
Admittedly, the walk up the pass sapped a lot of my energy, and I was happy as a wombat to have the uphill portion behind us. The view from the summit was, not surprisingly, beautiful.
Moving down the southeast side of the pass took us through more flowers, and more lakes.
A little further on, and we decided to settle in for what became a long lunch at Lake 10,175. Cliff took the kitchen duty this time (pretty sure to lighten his pack a bit more) and made an amazing, hearty soup. We enjoyed our dining room view for close to an hour and a half.
And of course, there are fish galore in this lake. This gave me cause to remind Cliff that he’d left his reel at the trailhead. Cliff showed his appreciation for my reminder by proving that he’d not forgotten how to swear.
After talking with an outfitter and her clients, heading up the trail on alpacas, we headed down the trail. We found ourselves at a junction that, if we so chose, we could go a mile in the direction opposite of that which we were headed, and visit Cook Lakes. We dropped our packs, took a water bottle, and followed that choice.
Dropped our packs here.
What a choice it was. These are amazing couple of lakes. On the way up, as we were hopping boulders to get across the stream that originates in Upper Cook Lake, and moves into Lower Cook Lake, we ran into a very unusual gentleman who was dressed in military garb, had a disheveled pack, with all manner of paraphernalia hanging from it, and a walking stick that was more a tree limb than it was a walking stick.
Lower Cook Lake
Upper Cook Lake
Already picked out this camping spot for the next trip.
Moving on, we left Highline Trail for Pole Creek Trail. After crossing a wide stream (it would be considered a river in Colorado), we passed through several marshy areas. We discovered a lily, neither of us had seen before, and that we only saw in this single pond system. I give you, the Rocky Mountain cow-lily.
One last stream crossing, before we get to Pole Creek Lake, where we’ll be spending our last night. There just wasn’t any way to get across without getting wet. If you go to this area, I strongly recommend gators that will help keep your feet dry during such crossings.
This is the point where day 6 went a bit awry. Up to this point, every single lake we’d found on the map, and wanted to see, was within line of sight, and there was never a struggle to find any of them. After crossing Pole Creek, we thought we might have roughly a quarter mile to go before being able to set up camp. We actually heard people, off in the direction where we expected the lake to be, and expected that we’d come upon it soon. We did not. We kept going, scratching our heads, looking at the map, and complaining. We were both tired, and my feet were wet from crossing Pole Creek. After talking ourselves into believing the lake would be around the next bend, we met up with a couple who were camping in a meadow at the top of our last hill. They’d also missed the lake, and after discussing the situation with them, Cliff and I bushwhacked in the direction where we believed the lake to be. Finally, we found it. The lesson to be learned is to be extra special careful with your map, and your thinking, when you’re completely exhausted.
We ended up setting up camp, only about a hundred yards from the people we’d heard earlier. Turns out it was a Boy Scout troop. To be sure, they were an interesting and entertaining group. In the morning, we made great sport of their bear hang follies. After our several bear hang follies, we’d earned the right.
Of all the days, and nights, we were out, this was the only night we had rain.
Again, by 9:00 in the morning, our home was back in our packs, said good-bye to Pole Creek Lake, and we were under way.
We bushwhacked in a different direction, back to the trail, and were off again. After a couple more lakes, a hill or two, passing the boy scout troop we’d shared the lakeside with, talking with outfitters and their clients, telling a few more people we hadn’t caught any fish (yeah, Cliff’s fishing rod was secured on the outside of his pack),then completing the loop by reaching Ecklund Lake, where we retrieved the pre-filter for the water filter, it was time for the final push to the trailhead. As "Keeper of the Maps", Cliff took on the task of calculating the miles we covered on our trip. We put about 54 miles of good Earth behind us.
We were a bit conflicted, as it would’ve been nice to stay one night, but we knew that we didn’t want to drive 5 hours back to Casper after putting out, and stayed the night, in tents, on the outskirts of Pinedale. Here’s a tip that makes reading to the end well worth your while. The Pinedale Aquatic Center
charges $5.00 to get into their facility. For $3.00 more, you can buy a towel, if you hadn’t thought to take a towel. There are nice private showers so you can scrub all that mung you built up over the last few days in the woods.
If you decide to explore the Wind River Range, and I hope you will, you will not regret the experience.