July 24: Stroud Glacier to Lower Titcomb Basin

We all woke up at about 6:15 after another night of crappy sleep. Big rains never materialized and the morning was bright with sunshine for our big climb of Knapsack Col.

A hanging valley en route to Titcomb Basin.

I continued to eat my heavier items for breakfast, in this case 4 more granola bars, to further lighten my pack. Afterwards, another disaster nearly crippled the entire trip when I broke Reeds poop trowel. Frankly, I think I did him a favor. Not only did I lop off an ounce of plastic, the break was such that the trowel actually did a better job of penetrating the rocky soil.

By 8:30 we were off, offtrail, on our way up Knapsack Col. As far as I knew there was no official trail leading to the top, but figured there had to be one and would stumble across it at some point during the climb. As we climbed we reached a large, flat hanging valley that almost appeared to have been paved in scree which made for some fairly easy hiking. In a few minutes we took a break and tried to figure out exactly where it was we were going. To the right was a coulior that looked impossible for us to climb. To the left...that's gotta be it.

As we continued to climb Reed got separated from Ward and I among the huge boulders. We made contact, saw that Reed was making his way towards us, then continued to pick our way up. Ward and I then came to a small ledge and looked for Reed, figuring he must be close by. We were wrong.

We shouted out to Reed a few times, waiting for a reply. No reply. "This isn't good" Ward and I said as we dropped our packs. We'd have to climb back down to find him. There were a million places where he could have slipped, smashed his head and fallen unconscious. We were probably 20 miles from the trailhead and hadn't seen anyone in nearly 48 hours. Mentally, I figured if we found Reed injured, Ward would have the best chance of making the 20 miles today IF we couldn't get a cell phone signal from Knapsack or possibly Winifred Peak...

Stroud Glacier from our way up Knapsack Col.

Before heading down I rigged my trekking poles and Ward's hikin' stick with my bandana to mark where our gear was. It wouldn't do us any good if we found Reed and couldn't find our packs. After descending about 50 ' I stopped and looked up towards the Col. That's right, there was Reed making his way upwards, about 200 vertical feet above. I called out to him, told him to stay put and relayed my good news to Ward. By the time we made it back up to the packs we both needed another rest. It had been a frightening moment.

After we caught our breath Ward and I made our way back up to Reed who, surprise, had found the trail leading to the pass. Not much of a trail in places, it was still far easier than climbing over boulders and we were soon at the top.

To say the views from up there were magnificent would be an understatement. 13,000' peaks surrounded us. Snow, Ice and Twin Glacier contrasted against the steel gray of the granite slopes. We were at about 12,200 feet but it felt like we were back home in Wisconsin. At that moment I think we all realized just how big the mountains really were.

This is what I came to the Winds for but Reed wanted to keep going. I had to put my foot down on this one, telling him you don't climb 1500', get to the top without taking a few minutes to take it all in. Out of curiosity I turned on my cell phone and tried to call home---without luck. Had Reed really needed medical attention poor Ward would have had to scramble up Winifred Peak, and even then there was no guarantee of a signal.

Reed and Ward at Knapsack Col.

Ready to leave our perch high above two valleys, we tried to determine the best way down to Titcomb Basin. Reed asked "how do we get down?", to which I replied "On our butts".

I had done a short glissade last year down Hailey Pass and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. This one looked like it would be a real kick in the pants! I collapsed my trekking poles and assumed the position. As I made my controlled descent I skillfully avoided several large rocks that protruded above the soft snow. When I neared the end of the snow I prepared to stop, figuring I'd just dig my heels into the dirt, pop right up, wipe the snow from my ass and move on down to the valley floor.

Not so fast, literally! The dirt I was counting on to stop was actually a layer of ice with debris (read: small stones, etc.) on top. Not good. I was starting to pick up a little speed and had to think fast so I rolled to my left (so as not to smash my camera to bits which was in my right pocket) and jammed the tip of my right trekking pole into the ice and began to execute a near perfect self-arrest. One small problem: my left hand, still gripping the other trekking pole was being ground to a pulp as I stopped. Ouch.

I stood up, checked for additional damage to my body which was limited to a nice little scratch on the inside of my right shin (how did that happen?), then looked at my left thumb. Nice. Blood was flowing from my wound at a rapid rate so I yanked the bandana off my sweaty head and applied pressure. The scrape was about an inch and a half long by a half-inch wide and looked completely devoid of any skin---except for the few strands that were dangling loose around the perimeter. I'd probably live, but I wanted to get down to a flat area where I could patch it up.

While this was all going on Reed and Ward were carefully picking their way down. It wasn't easy. There was a thin layer of ice covering the slope with tiny rivulets of runoff carving away at the ice from above and below, as I would find out shortly myself. Eventually we all met up without any more bloodshed and began rendering treatment to my gash.

The climb down from Knapsack Col was an adventure.

First a little rinse water from my bladder to irrigate the wound. My, what pretty red water! Then Ward gave me a squirt of hand sanitizer to disinfect it. A 2"x2" gauze pad covered the injury perfectly and I happened to have a very large band aid in my kit which covered all but a bit of the gauze. Nicely done...I would live to hike another day.

We continued to make our way down to the valley amidst a tremendous amount of runoff. Small streams were everywhere, bringing minute particles of the mountains with them. Ward saw a larger piece of the mountain come tumbling down over the Glacier and we both heard the groaning of the massive sheet of ice slip perhaps a few inches. It was a remarkable descent.

At noon we found a good spot out of the water to grab some lunch. We still weren't able to see the Titcomb Lakes from where we were but knew they would be visible soon after we started off again. The conversation at lunch centered on how far down we had to descend from Knapsack. There seemed to be 3 different layers or benches, each of which I had dubbed "false valleys".

The remainder of the afternoon would be a walk in the park compared to the morning as we hiked to lower Titcomb Basin. The isolation factor dropped to about 25 at the upper Titcomb Lake as we discovered a church youth group camp site consisting of 4 or 5 tents. We chatted briefly with a young man and moved on. In a few minutes we cam across a father and his 13 year old son from Idaho. I was afraid the boy was going to run his father into the ground with his ambitious plan to hike up to Bonney Pass and Summer Ice Lake the next couple of days. The route up to Bonney Pass, as we had noted earlier in the day, was still covered with snow.

Looking south down Titcomb Basin.

The falls draining the uppermost lake made for a great picture, unfortunately my camera was telling me I had to change the battery pack. What? I just put the fresh battery in yesterday afternoon. No way could it be drained already. I was pissed. Ward told me that was something I had to let go but I would have none of that. The reason I go on these trips is to take photos so that when I'm old and crippled I can look back and say "I was there". I really got pissed when I thought of not having a camera on top of Fremont or getting the picture of Island Lake at sunset or dozens of other possible photos. Grrrrrrrrr.

A little further down the trail we walked past a couple of 30-something ladies filtering water. Just a brief hello as we kept walking. We kept plugging away, hoping we'd have the energy to make it up to Indian Basin but knew we'd settle for a site lower down in Titcomb. having camped in the area last year I knew there were ample sites to be had, but was hoping for a site near the small gorge draining lake 10549. Soon the trail became very familiar to me as we came upon the point I'd climbed last year just south of the second Titcomb Lake. From here it was an easy 20 minute hike to the gorge.

There wasn't enough room for our three tents where the fat naked guy was camped last year, but we were able to find more than enough room across the gorge. Unfortunately that meant donning our water shoes to make the crossing. It was worth the hassle as we were able to camp on some of the softest grass yet and still were next to the stream draining the upper basin.

A look at our camp in lower Titcomb Basin

After dinner the three of us decided to hike over to Pothole Lake (10467) to look at the waterfall feeding it and whatever else we could see. It seemed like yesterday that Yumi and I were camped at Pothole and I found myself wishing she was here with me now. Then I remembered how tough it had been to get here and thought it was better she was at home. We then climbed to the highest point we could and were able to see over to Island Lake and one lucky camper camped there. We also tried to figure out the easiest route up to Fremont from the southwest saddle. The only thing we could agree on was that it looked difficult. Whether we got up or not I wasn't worried---I know the views from the saddle would be a pretty nice consolation prize.

After we, and the mosquitos, got back to camp we held a brief summit and decided to move our camp up into Indian Basin in the morning, figuring we were going that way anyhow to get up to Fremont. We also thought we'd get a better view of a possible way to the top from a different vantage point. In retrospect it didn't matter.

Everyone was in their tents by 8:30, ready for tomorrow's climb IF the sketchy weather held out. Clouds were building all day and I was a bit worried tomorrow might be a rainy one. At least my thumb had stopped throbbing.


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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