Wyoming: Wind River Range- Peak Lake to Titcomb Lakes
Total Mileage- 7.42 miles
Total Elevation Gain- 2165 feet
Total Elevation Loss- 2205 feet
At 2am into our third day there was a sound as if someone was taking their hands and hitting our 2-man tent violently. We awakened perplexed as to what the sound could be. We were not underneath of trees. It sounded more violent than wind. I looked out the window and saw massive amounts of snow falling from the sky. Our three season tent (not winter) was beginning to sag from the weight and accumulation of snow. We knocked it off from inside. We were not expecting snow. Sure there is always a chance, especially at higher altitudes, but we thought we had another couple of weeks before this area would see snow. For a moment I was a bit nervous about our situation. I didn’t know how much snow would accumulate and knew that both routes forward and backward would be completely treacherous and dangerous if the snow was too deep. The boulder field was a difficult traverse without snow and ice. And going forward off-trail to hit two passes in one day in the 12,000-13,000 range would be even more difficult. We stayed awake until it stopped snowing after about 30 minutes. We reached out through the tent vestibule and noticed that it was only about four or five inches. That’s doable. We put our heads down to go back to sleep, but heard a lot of commotion and saw a lot of headlamp movement coming from the other three-man tent. We thought they were just acting silly because of the snow. We went back to sleep.
It was really cold the next morning and there wasn’t much urgency getting out into it. There are many difficult things about backpacking, but I would say that the most difficult for me is unzipping my warm and cozy sleeping bag and getting out of it when the temps are freezing. Maybe you already do this, but I usually grab the clothes I will be putting on and stick them in my sleeping bag with me to warm up before dressing. Anyway, we got up retrieved our bear cans for breakfast. As we all began to circle up, we heard what all of the commotion was about the previous night from the other tent. The other tent began to sag significantly from the weight of the snow. The three guys woke up and began to knock it off. Sometime during the activity Patrick began to feel nauseous, likely from a mild bit of altitude sickness, and tried to open the tent but struggled with zipper. Before they knew it he had thrown up in the tent on his sleeping bag. That is the commotion that we heard. He stepped out into the frigid 20-degree air with accumulating (only wearing his boxers) on to clean off his sleeping bag. With him still feeling under the weather at breakfast and the fact that our route was now covered in ice and snow… we had to figure out a plan. This particular day was supposed to be our biggest day with two passes, one of which was the steep Bonney Pass that would take us into The High Route. With the weather at higher elevations now unpredictable, we were concerned that if we punched up to 13,000 feet we could put ourselves into a situation in which we could not get out. Ever cautious and conservative in our planning, we already knew that hitting The High Route (the crown jewel of our hike) was not likely to happen. But we had one immediate decision- do we backtrack to get out or do we at least hit the first pass and then evaluate our situation? We decided that backtracking was way too precarious through the now icy boulderfield. With 40 pounds on our backs we did not need to snap a leg. We were going to press forward and make the pass between Twin Peaks and Winifred Peaks, which was about a 1600 foot climb, and then descend the steep and broken rock that runs parallel to Twins Glacier.
Even without a trail and with accumulated snow, the first mile was really pretty easy. It was the next two and a half miles that would really slow us down. As you can see from the map at the very top of this post, the route for this day was mostly green. It was only our ascent and descent to and from the pass that was in the red, or was significantly slower. The hardest part on either side of the pass was our footing. Without a trail we were obviously making our own route. With each step up we had to make sure that the rocks under our feet were not loose or wobbly, because we could not see the rocks. This was a painstaking process, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It just took time.
We were sucking wind going up to 12,200. Because we thought that the previous days would gradually acclimate us, we didn’t take any Diamox for this trip to speed the process. While we had gradually increased our elevation over the previous days, these Indiana boys live at 650 feet above sea level. Once we hit the pass I didn’t take any pictures going down Knapsack. It was too steep and treacherous. We heavily relied on our trekking poles for stability. I think I fell a couple of times due to loose rocks. It was certainly more difficult going down than going up. So the next pictures you see are at the bottom of Knapsack where we had to make a decision about our route. Would we try to hit Bonney or take an alternate route?
We stopped for lunch to put together a plan. The most unfortunate part was that we were already into the early afternoon, which meant that a Bonney Pass attempt likely would not be wise for the time it would take. Another factor that weighed heavily was the possibility of more intense inclement weather at 13,000, if we went ahead and hit The High Route. The last thing that any of us wanted was to get into a situation in which the weather worsened at higher elevations and necessitated a rescue. Maybe that wasn’t likely, but we don’t know the area that well. We actually thought the snow window may have opened a couple weeks after our trip, but it didn’t. So who knew what we may have been getting ourselves in to. The third factor was that one of the guys was still not feeling well. That made our decision really quite easy. With Bonney Pass looking really gnarly, steep, and slick, the unpredictable weather at higher elevations, and a person possibly suffering from mild altitude sickness… we decided to take a twenty mile exit through Titcomb Basin and out. Of course this was disheartening because it wasn’t our original plan, but it was the wise decision.
Our plan was to get to the second of two Titcomb Lakes and set up camp. The weather, as we dropped elevation, was magnificent. While we initially believed that Titcomb Basin would be a sorry consolation prize, it ended up being one of the most glorious and beautiful places we have ever hiked. It was certainly no consolation prize.
The day ended with a super sweet spot to camp with unbelievable 360-degree views. As unpredictably as the day started, it ended as one of the most memorable and one of the most majestic. Our next day would take us out of Titcomb Basin… over an hour away from our vehicle… which means that the adventure is really only just beginning.