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Northern Wind River Range Trek

Every summer I plan a trip or two to the remote and rugged Wind River Range in Wyoming. With home based in Fort Collins, it is one of the closer locations within Colorado to Wyoming - although still a 6-7 hour drive from home. Although it might be mundane for much, it more than makes up for avoiding the heinous I-70 traffic. Once arriving in Pinedale, you know you are about to embark on one hell of an adventure.

As with most of my buddy and I's trips, we tend to wing it. We knew the trailhead, we knew we wanted to get our eyes on Titcomb Basin, and that was about it. We had each casually read over various trip reports and gained a basic understanding of the surrounding peaks, but really did our research at our car camping site the night before heading off.

One of the original goals was to perhaps go for a summit bid of Gannet Peak - the infamous and tallest peak in Wyoming. Gannet puts up a severe challenge, combining long distance (appx. 55 miles round trip) heavy packs with full crampons, axe, mountaineering boots, mixed with glacial travel, a bergschrund to cross, and Bonney pass to navigate. For most of our trips, we always have to find the hard balance between primarily chasing photography or a strictly mountaineering adventure. Of course, one may ask why you can't get good photos mountaineering, and you most certainly can, but my taste tends to lend towards a sunrise summit, or in an exact planned location to execute an envisioned composition. Given that, we would either have to bivy on the summit of Gannet Peak to not have to navigate the glacier and bergschrund at night, or take the risk of glacial travel at night. Neither seemed like promising options, and frankly, we were both craving some good images over a most likely failed summit bid for Gannet. Thus, we were finally able to start locating our main objectives and save Gannet for another day.

To start off with, we knew almost definitively that we wanted a picture of Harrower Peak at sunset. FATMAP revealed great aspect shading and lovely looking lakes below that presented a great opportunity for reflections - and if we were lucky, some still frozen chunks of ice. One night planned - two more to figure out.

FATMAP Slope Aspect Shading of Harrower Peak

After taking a closer look at the map, it revealed that Island Lake, the mere entry in to Titcomb Basin, was about 11 miles in. We knew this was the base camp that many choose for their first night towards the basin, so we figured we'd bank on that and keep our legs just a little more fresh rather than trekking on. This locked in night one - hoping to find a nice composition of sunset light illuminating Fremont Peak.

FATMAP Slope Aspect Shading of Fremont Peak

This left the second night in flux. One of the primary questions was whether or not to go for a sunrise summit of Mount Febbas. Febbas appears to have some of the best views of the Wind River Range, illuminating glaciers, Gannet, and the various other jagged peaks in the range. However, it is certainly out there and would make you suffer for it, and we were not sure of the conditions of Indian Pass nor the next pass going up to Febbas - with our previous choice to only dawn microspikes and ice axes to drop the weight from full on crampons - we decided to nix Febbas. This left us gazing in the tent on FATMAP to hopefully find an achievable summit with good views. Let alone, we found Buttress Peak. With no beta, we decided it looked achievable so we set our sights on that for a summit high camp.

FATMAP Slope Angle Shading of Buttress Peak

Day 1:

From Elkhart Park Trailhead, we began the long but gradual approach into Titcomb Basin. In typical fashion, we mozied about and started late around noon. Weather was not a concern, so really our only goal for the day was to set up camp around Island Lake in time to shoot sunset. Being early July, we immediately got hit with the swarms of mosquitos. Jungle Juice was very handy on this trip, almost getting through an entire bottle! Many have their concerns with deet, and I understand, but my concerns of getting demolished by skeeters outweighs my questions of deet. It was appreciated. About 7 hours later we found a nice spot a small distance away from island lake and were rewarded with a lovely view of Fremont Peak and captured the first image of the trip:

Sunset over Fremont Peak as seen from near Island Lake

With the positioning of island lake within Titcomb Basin, sunrise light is incredibly difficult to photograph. Surrounded by such towering peaks, many of the basin does not see light for hours after sunrise. As such, we decided to sleep in, skip shooting sunrise and feel fresh for our climb up Buttress Peak.

Day 2:

The approach to Buttress required us to hike most of the way back into Titcomb Basin - which we were happy to do. The views the entire way were extraordinary. Buttress peak is the smaller, more accessible looking peak center slightly left of the frame.

Waterfall cascading below upper Titcomb Basin

Wildflowers in upper Titcomb Basin

Since we had the whole day, we decided to take a detour up to Mistake Lake. If the views were good enough, we would consider setting up basecamp here as sunrise might yield potential - but as soon as we climbed up to the lake we recognized a composition would be quite difficult- just like about every image out here is. Regardless, the views once again were great:

After the quick detour to Mistake Lake (aptly named) we pushed on to the river crossing in route to Summer Ice Lakes. The river crossing had spectacular views, and gave a true expedition feel to the trip. The water was as crisp and clear as I had ever seen, and was very refreshing and easy on the muscles before our jaunt up Buttress Peak.

After the river crossing, we navigated our way up some small slopes / gullies and arrived at the also aptly named Summer Ice Lakes. We took a good break and stocked up on as much water as we could for our night up on the summit of Buttress Peak.

Looking at the slopes up Buttress Peak we wern't convinced on a certain route. It all appeared to be class 2 / class 3 - but looked like there could be a couple of tricky sections involved as we had full packs. We slowly chipped away and it ended up being a pleasant and easy climb, summiting a couple hours before sunset. We set up camp and starting scoping out compositions, eagerly awaiting sunset / dusk. In typical Titcomb fashion, the views were outstanding, with Helen dominating the scene, as well as views of Twin Peaks, American Legion, Henderson, and Woodrow Wilson. Bonney pass was also in view, but Gannet managed to escape us. Sunset light was nice, but once again, photographing this basin is tricky with such tall towering peaks. For my taste, the best shooting conditions were at dusk when the light begfan to even out, settling a nice glow on the peaks with a twilight wedge in the distance. This presented perhaps my favorite image from the trip:

Dusk over Titcomb Basin as seen from the summit of Buttress Peak - From left to right you can see Twin Peaks, Woodrow Wilson, Bonney Pass, Mount Helen, Fremont Peak, Titcomb Lakes, as well as our tent in the bottom right frame.

Dusk over Titcomb Basin and our high camp as seen from the summit of Buttress Peak

The next morning we woke up and shot sunrise, but barely any light manages to sneak into this Basin. Thus, dawn presented the best conditions, although still tricky to photograph.

Dawn over Titcomb Basin and our high camp as seen from the summit of Buttress Peak

Day 3:

After shooting sunrise we began our descent and headed out of TItcomb Basin towards Indian Basin. Just like everything out here, it is 10X bigger and longer than you expect. Eventually we made our way into the basin, set up camp, and were rewarded with some of the best views yet. Harrower is a gorgeous peak.

Sunset over Harrower Peak as seen from Indian Basin

Sunset over Harrower Peak and ice as seen from Indian Basin

Camp in Indian Basin under a moonlit Harrower Peak

Day 4:

Our last day consisted of about 14 miles out from Indian Basin back to the trailhead - brainstorming what food we were going to crush in Pinedale.

Overall, this was a great trip for my first time out to Titcomb Basin. It was a challenging trip for photography, but ended up working out with some good images. It is a great feeling chasing the creative process and having to work a bit harder for it - no matter how beautiful the location.

Click the image below for my route on FATMAP.

Appx. 40 Miles, 7500 Vert


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