July 22: Tommy Lake to Lower Jean Lake

Amazingly, I slept straight through from about 8 PM to 2 AM, then had troubles for a few hours before nodding off again round 3:30 until waking up for good just before 7:00.

Looking south from near Lester Pass, Nelson Lake on the right.

The sun poking over the mountains east of Tommy Lake was a sight to see as we ate breakfast. It also meant that I'd be battling the sun without my beloved hat for another day. A few comments were made about the climb up from the lake to the trail. "Sucked" and a few derivitives came up often. I hate climbing first thing in the morning and this would be a climb from the moment our packs were shouldered.

I wasn't in any hurry to get going but I was very much anticipating todays hike. The guidebook said we were about to hike what was "arguably the most scenic stretch of trail in the Winds" the next two days.

We hit the trail (read: started climbing) at 7:45 and didn't stop until we were standing at the top of Lester Pass 700' higher and 45 minutes later. Lake Nelson had finally appeared along with its endless campsites about 300' higher and west of Tommy Lake. On a whim, I pulled out my cell phone to see if I could get a signal, which I did. I left a message at home letting everyone know I was OK, forgetting they'd all be at the boys' soccer tournament in Neenah. Reed then took a shot and made contact with his wife. In the meantime, Ward meandered ahead to get a look at the valley across the pass.

Looking north at Lester Pass

The views on the other side, while nice, were not what I had expected. Instead of endless mountains we pretty much got a high plateau dotted with tarns and small lakes. Still, better than anything in Wisconsin. I took a few pictures for our route advisor, Swimswithtrout, who hadn't seen a lot of sunshine on his trips over the pass during his travels in the Winds. Score one more for the Dorfman!

We hiked down to the "valley" below, disecting the two small lakes that were candidates for our camp the night before and down to the smaller lake Yumi and I took a lunch and fishing break last year. We were due for a break so we stopped there again for a few minutes. I was familiar with the next half mile of trail and warned the others that climbing the next ridge would suck almost as much as the climb out from Tommy Lake. After that everything for the next couple of days would be new to all of us.

As it turned out, the climb wasn't all that bad. Maybe it seemed worse last year because we climbed it later in the day? Whatever the case, we reached the Highline-Titcomb Basin Trails junction at 9:45 and immediately began a series of up and downs that seemingly went on forever. The views were so-so, mostly through small stands of trees, tarns and the occasional stream.


I'd been looking forward to visiting the Big Water Slide for almost a year. Mission accomplished.

At a rest break under the shade of some Pine trees Ward innocently made a remark about using pine pitch to repair my boot. Not a bad idea. I began harvesting small globs of pitch and working it into the broken seam. Before long I had a good amount of the gooey stuff on my boot. I surveyed my handiwork and thought it just might hold for the duration of the trip. Hell, if I was lucky it might hold up for our Glacier trip as well.

We arrived hot, sweaty, tired and hungry at Fremont Crossing bridge at 11:30 AM. Reed was content to eat under the shade of a few trees while Ward and I decided to hike another half mile around a pool to the Big Water Slide for ours. I was going to make good on last nights personal oath to see as much as I could on this trip, and it would start now.

The Big Water Slide was the most impressive falls I had seen in the WInds to date. It was probably no more than 50' high but contained an incredible amount of water. Ward and I were intrigued by the forces of water on the exposed rock and both wished we could see the slide during May and June when it was really flowing with run off.

After spending an hour eating, relaxing in the shade and filtering water for the afternoon it was time to find Reed back at the bridge. We had another 2-4 miles left to hike for the day, depending on where we'd opt to spend the night. I think we were all hoping to find a good spot to camp at Lower Jean as it was the closer alternative.

It only took a few minutes of climbing out from the Water Slide where we'd leave the trees behind for a few days. We were now hiking in an alpine environment which meant our only sources of shade would be behind large boulders. If I hadn't lost my hat... Anyway, Reed, the groups expert at finding shade in the most unlikely places, found another spot near Lower Jean after an hour of hiking. Ward walked down to the lake while I checked out the bench above the trail for possible camp sites. There were a few tarns above the trail but nothing that excited me at all. I walked back down towards the lake, spotted Ward and directed him to a point jutting into the lake. There appeared to be a few level, grassy spots where we might be able to fit the tents.

A look down at our camp.

Ward agreed and just like that it was settled:we'd camp at Lower Jean Lake. Ward climbed back up to the trail and we grabbed our packs and headed back down to the lake. I was a little surprised to find the spots I'd spied from above pretty much sucked but was relieved to see there were plenty of spots further back. This would be a great camp, albeit illegal as it was too close to the lake.

After taking care of the normal camp chores it was time to do some laundry and get cleaned up. It was a very hot day so I decided economy of motion would be the best way to take care of both tasks. I'd briefly mentioned it might be cool to blow up our mattresses and float across the narrow lake to the other side. Neither Ward nor Reed wanted anything to do with my hastily thought up plan so I'd have to do this on my own. The only change to my plan was that I wasn't going to try to get across the lake. Rather I'd see if I could spend a relaxing few minutes

I blew up my 3/4 length Therm-a-Rest, gave Ward my camera and walked down to the lake. This might be cold, but dammit, I was going to be clean, if only for a few minutes, on this trip. As I waded in up to my shins I was relieved that the water wasn't that cold. Ward snapped a few pics then I dove into Lower Jean...

...and promptly tried to get out. As soon as my body hit the water my heart stopped, I couldn't breathe, and I couldn't touch bottom. I shouted up to Reed and Ward that the water was a little chilly and that this might not have been the best of ideas. After the initial shock I made it back to shallow water and realized just how close I came to dying, then calmly washed up.

Finding alternative ways to keep cool at Lower Jean Lake.

When I got out we decided to walk over to a small snow field near the lake. About half way there I lamented the fact that I hadn't brought my Therm-a Rest along as it would have made a great sled. Instead I was content to take a running start and flop onto my stomach, sliding down without any equipment.

We ate dinner then pondered what we'd do next. Ward and Reed decided to hike down to the foot of the lake and discovered a nice waterfall while I stayed at camp to check out how my boot repair had held up through the afternoon. All it took was a little more smearing of the pine pitch and a small strip of duct tape to convince me the boots would make it through the trip.

That task completed, I set my eyes on a point 10992 which was about 300-400 feet above the lake to the north and hoped there would be some good views from up there.

This was pretty much the view I had looking out my tent from our 3rd nights camp. Not bad

Hiking in Crocs I easily made my way up to the point and started to survey my surroundings. To the south was the head of Island Lake. Southeast was a broad plateau, again dotted with small tarns nad views of the Wyoming range further west. To the north and northwest some smaller lakes. I looked down on camp, our tents nothing but small dots, and saw Ward in his white T-Shirt. I hollered down to him to come on up, which he did with lightning-like speed and efficiency. We checked out our surroundings and explored the area above Lower Jean for 20 minutes before heading back down to camp, which by now was a half-mile back down the trail.

We arrived back at camp to find Reed bunkered down in his tent so Ward and I sat down by the lake watching for rising trout and clouds blowing in from the south. Ws it possible we'd get some rain during the night? After spending a half-hour near the lake we starting climbing back up to the tents when another disaster struck: Ward had blown out his flip flop strap. No! Luckily I was genetically predisposed to fix footwear and shortly had the flip flop back in working order with the aid of my Leatherman's needle nose pliers and lighter. If you're scoring at home, that's two shoe repairs in a single day for the Dorfman.

It wasn't long after that we were in our tents trying to sleep. What started out as a peaceful evening rapidly turned into yet another life-threatening ordeal as strong winds began pummeling us from the south. These were not ordinary winds, however. It would blow steadily at what we later estimated to be 30-40 mph for about 10 seconds then become deathly calm for nearly a minute, then start up again. I could hear the winds coming toward our camp and would grab onto my tents larger hoop pole to keep it from snapping. Between gusts I mentally began formulating a plan for how to use what would be left of my tent as a shelter for the next few nights. Unbeknownst to me, Reed was doing the same thing 50 ' away. To make things a bit more interesting, lightning began to light up the sky. It all ended after an hour, but at least we now knew for certain how the wind river range got its name.

It had been a good day, but the next two were the one's I was really looking forward to.


Wind River Range
Trip Planning
The Drive West
Mary's Lake
Tommy Lake
Lower Jean Lake
Stroud Glacier
Titcomb Basin
Indian Basin
The Hike Out
The Drive Home
Final Thoughts
Trip Photos
Back to Backcountry Trips


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