Titcomb Basin: Alpine Dream

Titcomb Basin: Alpine Dream

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 19, 2013
Activities Activities: Mountaineering

DO Believe the Hype

The Argument

Titcomb Basin: It’s probably one of the top 10 must-see alpine destinations in the United States.  The fact that climbers from around the world seek it out suggests it is among the must-see alpine destinations on the entire planet.

When climbers or backpackers decide it’s time to experience the Wind River Range, they invariably consider Titcomb Basin or the Cirque of the Towers as a first destination.  If you see a picture of the Wind River Range in a calendar or on a postcard or in some travel guide, there’s a good chance it’s of one of those two settings.

As a result, and even despite an approach that is 12 miles by the shortest route, Titcomb Basin is an exceedingly popular place July through Labor Day.  Very distinctly, I recall reading a guidebook description saying that at times, there have been about 75 camps in Titcomb Basin alone (not sure of that meant 75 tents or 75 actual camps, but still).

For someone enamored of solitude in the mountains and driven to find it, that bit about the crowds was enough to change my mind about Titcomb Basin and the Cirque of the Towers for more than 10 years.  Those places could wait.  And if I never got to them at all, well, no big deal-- there are many other amazing locations in the mountains of the western United States.

But summer 2013 had me looking at an extra week alone after the family went home, and I got to thinking it was maybe time to go see Titcomb Basin and climb something out there.

The main reasons:

  • How could I forever skip seeing what is supposed to be one of the most breathtaking alpine settings to be found?

  • Hadn’t I learned my lesson from avoiding the Tetons backcountry for several years for similar reasons and then finding myself stunned when I finally got into it?

  • Didn’t I think that even if there were a lot of other people out there, I could still find a secluded campsite somewhere out there and avoid others for the most part with early starts?

  • Didn’t I want to stand atop one of the highest peaks in Wyoming and look down on the largest glaciers in the U.S. Rockies?  Although I had once hiked the Glacier Trail to its end at the foot of the Dinwoody Glaciers, I wanted to know what it was like to be above the glaciers out there.

Also, for the past four summers, I’d gotten together with Tim to climb some Wyoming Peaks.  And it just so happened that he wanted to head back into the Titcomb and Indian Basin areas at the same time to climb a few peaks on his list.

Mount Sacagawea

On Monday, August 19, I set off at about 7 A.M. from Elkhart Park, cursing the smoky haze I could see over the crest of the range in the distance and thinking about how if not for the fact that Tim was already out there and waiting for me, I would have bailed on the trip and headed south down the range in hopes of finding clearer air.

About 4 ½ hours later, I reached Island Lake, planning to have a short rest and then hike the additional mile to the Titcomb/Indian trail junction and find a campsite nearby, but then I realized that the figure approaching me was Tim, who had already found a good and pretty secluded site by Island Lake.  After greetings and a quick discussion about the merits of moving the campsite, we decided to stay put.

My goals for the trip:

  • Fremont Peak-- for the stature of the peak and the glacier views.

  • Ellingwood Peak-- for the fun and because it was a primary goal for Tim.

  • Indian Pass and Knife Point Mountain for the glacier views.

  • Bonney Pass and maybe Miriam Peak or Dinwoody Peak, again for the glacier views and also for the views of Gannett Peak; or maybe Mount Sacagawea.

What I wound up doing, in order:

  • Fremont Peak

  • Ellingwood Peak

  • Elephant Head

  • Bonney Pass, Miriam Peak, Bobs Towers, and Dinwoody Peak, plus a side trip to Twins Glacier.

One regret:

  • Not climbing Knife Point Mountain.  I had enough food to stay another night but just didn't feel like it.  I could have climbed the peak the morning I hiked out, but I didn't feel like a 20+ mile day with a long, boring hike complete with heavy pack to end it.  Now I ponder whether I should have climbed the damn thing and then hiked out, or just spent another night, instead of being a big baby about it.

Knife Point Mountain and Harrower Glacier
Knife Point Mountain

The rest of this trip report is a photo trip report with some commentary.

August 19

At 2:00, or maybe it was 3, I left camp to climb Fremont Peak via Indian Basin.  Not difficult, the route was still tiring, especially after the long hike in to camp.  But I got what I wanted-- solitary and breathtaking views of the big glaciers.

Fremont Peak from SW Buttress Approach
Fremont seen during descent from SW Buttress back into Indian Basin

Gannett Peak and Upper Fremont Glacier

Upper Fremont Glacier

Other people seen that day: three, all of them climbers I passed on the trail between camp and the trail junction for Titcomb and Indian Basins.  Other people seen between the junction and returning to camp: zero.  Nice.

Henderson Peak, American Legion Peak, and Summer Ice Lake
Seen from the SW buttress of Fremont Peak

Winifred Peak, Split Mountain, and Twin Peaks

Lake 10,467 at Sunset
A pretty sunset I caught on the way back to camp

August 20

Tim and I set out for the main objective of his trip to the Winds that summer-- Ellingwood Peak by its southwest ridge (still waiting for that page, Tim!), which goes at Class 3 or 4 depending on the source.  (I'd say Class 3 since the fun Class 4 stuff I intentionally sought out was avoidable without too much effort.  One note, though-- finding the Class 3 route may now be a little harder since I, appalled at finding so many cairns on such a remote peak, knocked apart almost every one of them until I went off on my own, more exposed and more challenging way.  In my opinion, if you need a bunch of cairns to help you climb a wilderness peak, you shouldn't be in the wilderness and should stick to other things instead.)

Although a Winds and Wyoming 13er and thus on some peakbagging lists, Ellingwood is not one of the giants of the Titcomb Basin area and is not among the ones most frequently climbed, but it is one of the prettiest and is also home to a spectacular technical route-- the north arete-- which goes at 5.6 or 5.7 (sources differ).

Also, Ellingwood is not in Titcomb Basin proper and is not visible from the basin itself, but it has spectacular views of the peaks of Titcomb Basin.

Ellingwood Peak from Indian Basin

Summit View from Ellingwood Peak
From Ellingwood

Following Ellingwood, I wanted to climb Elephant Head, also called Cairn Peak, by its Class 4 southeast ridge, a short but fun climb resulting in stunning views of, yes, the peaks of Titcomb Basin.  Tim, nursing a foot injury that had plagued him for most of the summer, headed back while I climbed.  In the still-dark hours of the next morning, Tim began the long trek out, but I was in it for at least another night.

Elephant Head and an Unnamed Lake in Indian Basin
Elephant Head

The Heart of the Winds from Elephant Head
The peaks of Titcomb Basin seen from Elephant Head

Other people seen that day, not including Tim: maybe three or four, all at camps between ours and Ellingwood.  This is not counting the jackasses camped near us who made a lot of fun and noise tossing large rocks into Island Lake for much of the afternoon.  I’m not too sure they qualified as people and not pests such as the mosquitoes that found us late that day as well.

August 21

At last, it was time for the real Titcomb Basin.

Throughout the night, there had been thunderstorms and rain.  At dawn, or what passed for it, an almost-universal gray overcast did not promise great climbing.  As I hiked up Titcomb Basin, there were moments of golden summer mountain glory, but the overarching story remained the gray ceiling and the promise of rain.  Fortunately, the overcast was never so low as to behead the peaks, so even though conditions perhaps were not going to allow stunning pictures, they at least were going to allow me to enjoy the sights, or at least for a while.

Lower Titcomb Lake
Titcomb Lake

Titcomb Needles and Great Needle

Titcomb Needles Reflected in Upper Titcomb Lake

For a bare minimum on the day considering the weather, I set hiking to Bonney Pass as a goal so that I could see the big glaciers again and enjoy that sense of seeing the “other side,” which in this case would include great views of Gannett Peak, the highpoint of both the range and Wyoming.  In fact, there is no higher peak in the Rockies, U.S. or Canadian, north of Gannett.

Gannett Peak from Bonney Pass
From Bonney Pass

On either side of Bonney Pass are, respectively, Miriam Peak and Dinwoody Peak, the former rated Class 4 (but just for the summit block) and the latter likely to be no harder than Class 2, making it not too exciting but suitable for a quick climb and quicker descent with weather being an issue.

Since the weather was still gloomy but still holding by the time I reached the pass, I decided to try Miriam first.  After getting up it quickly and with no troubles (and seriously questioning the Class 4 rating when I felt it was really more like an impressively exposed Class 3), I began eyeing nearby Bobs Towers and debating whether I should try them.  From where I was, the highest of them looked Class 5 and harder than I cared to try alone and unroped, but I couldn’t resist the idea of Bob climbing Bobs Towers, so I headed over on what turned out to be a fun ridge traverse.

Bobs Towers and Miriam Peak
Bobs Towers and Miriam Peak seen from Titcomb Basin

Woodrow Wilson and Gannett from Miriam
Mount Woodrow Wilson and Gannett Peak from Miriam Peak

Mount Woodrow Wilson and Gannett Peak from Bobs Towers Highpoint
And from Bobs Towers

The highpoint was indeed Class 5 and is detailed on the page for the peaks, but I made it up and down alive and then headed back past Miriam to Bonney Pass, where I rested for about 15 minutes and had a snack before turning for Dinwoody Peak, which ended up being quick and easy but had spectacular views to compensate.

Dinwoody Peak and Spearhead Pinnacle from Titcomb Basin
Dinwoody Peak (left)

Back at Bonney Pass afterward, there for the third time that day, I would have liked to have hung out and relaxed in the grand setting, but the sky and rumbles of thunder were telling me to go:

Mount Woodrow Wilson and Approaching Storm

So I went.

But then, as is so often the case in the mountains, the weather improved, and I started thinking about what looked like a fairly easy cross-country trek to Twins Glacier, nestled in a basin beneath American Legion Peak, Winifred Peak, and Twin Peaks.  Considering that I was there and the opportunity existed and I didn’t know when the opportunity would be present again, I made my way over to the glacier.  And I’m glad I did.

Henderson Peak and Twins Glacier
Seen from Upper Titcomb Basin on the way to Bonney Pass

Poor Twins Glacier.  Maps show it being much larger than it really is; over the past few decades, it has seen substantial melting.  This is a glacier without long left; although I’m no glaciologist, based on maps and the state I found it in, I give it a couple decades until it becomes a “permanent snowfield.”

Mount Helen from Twins Glacier
Views from the glacier

Mount Sacagawea from Twins Glacier

Winifred Peak, Twin Peaks, and Twins Glacier

At the edge of the glacier, I found, among all the other sights, a cool “cave” with glacial meltwater dripping down its upper lip.  Reveling in the feeling of the alpine wild, I stood beneath one of those drips and drank down the water.  Despite the siltiness, there was something immensely satisfying about drinking that frigid water.

Ice Cave on Twins Glacier

Then I followed the glacial stream along a waterfall and back down into Titcomb Basin.  With the sun still high and warm, I shed the boots, socks, and shirt for a bit and waded in the milky waters and basked on a granite slab beside them.  Something about doing that makes me feel so much a part of the mountains, a part of the wilderness.

Glacial Stream in Upper Titcomb Basin

Glacial Stream in Upper Titcomb Basin

Not long after resuming the return journey, the storms that had been menacing me from a distance all day finally became a reality.  As I reached Upper Titcomb Lake, the rain began in earnest and stayed with me past the lower lake.  Despite lasting only about an hour, the storm did its job in making things cold and wet, so the return of the sun felt glorious as I took some of my final glimpses of this true gem of an alpine setting from the shores of the last, or first, of the three major lakes of Titcomb Basin.

Helen, Sacagawea, and Fremont After the Storm
After the storm

Lower Titcomb Basin After the Storm

Other people seen this day: around 10, and all on the way back.  Not bad for one of the most-prized backcountry spots in the country.

August 22

As stated way back, I had more than enough provisions-wise to stay another night and do some more peaks, or I could have climbed in the morning and then packed out, making a very long, tiring day.

But maybe it was the right call to head out.  By lunchtime, I was back in Pinedale and strong thunderstorms with pounding rain were slamming the town and all over the mountains.  And it was that way on and off the rest of the day.  It was good to have windows and doors to hide behind.

The Verdict

It was more than worth the effort and the minimal crowding.  Titcomb Basin and its environs are not places to miss if one is a true lover of mountains, and I would be happy to go back.  Next summer, I may have to finally make my way to the Cirque of the Towers.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-17 of 17
Bill Reed

Bill Reed - Dec 17, 2013 9:04 am - Voted 10/10

Nice report Bob!!

Good to read your thoughts on avoiding the crowds (which I always try to do) in the popular spots. Haven't been to the Winds for a few years and your report makes me think I should reconsider (except the part about the jackasses!!) Titcomb Basin.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 17, 2013 12:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice report Bob!!

Thanks, Bill. I'm glad I finally got out to that section of the range. And although there's still much more to the Winds, I wouldn't mind going back there to climb some more of the big peaks.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 20, 2013 9:49 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Re the hype..

Thanks a lot for the comment! Sometimes we forget that, as you point out, even in the busiest places, a little extra effort gets the solitude and discovery many of us crave.


aglane - Dec 19, 2013 9:15 pm - Hasn't voted


Couldn't agree more Bob, even with much regret at being more the hiker than climber there in '12. I respect the modesty of your report, and the ambition of your activity.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 20, 2013 9:51 am - Hasn't voted

Re: thanks

Thanks a lot for the comments. I'm glad I finally gritten my teeth to endure the crowds I expected to find. Now I just wonder when I can get back; there is just so much to do and see there. Even though it's not a climbing objective, I found myself thinking from up high on Fremont that I'd really like to do the cross-country ramble to Summer Ice Lake one of these days. It just looked spectacular.


ywardhorner - Dec 20, 2013 1:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Good report!

Thanks! I've been avoiding that area because of what I'd heard about the crowds. Sounds like it might not be as bad as I thought. I want to try the arete on Ellingwood.


WyomingSummits - Dec 21, 2013 10:26 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good report!

That one's on my list for sure! So much to do in the winds and the crowds really are overstated.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 24, 2013 9:50 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Good report!

I think part of my luck in avoiding crowds had to do with when I went-- fire haze was pretty thick in the area at the time and might have been keeping more away. Still, the parking lot at Elkhart Park was pretty full. But there's a lot of country out there to absorb all the people, I guess.

Anyway, that arete on Ellingwood would be a blast; looking down it from the top was tantalizing!


wyopeakMike - Dec 20, 2013 1:58 pm - Voted 10/10

About time

Bob, it about time you got to see one of the most amazing places that there is. Even if it was crowded it still is spectacular. I haven't been there since 1998 and your photos brought back some great memories. I camped below the giant boulder below Mt Helen right off of the trail when I climbed Gannett that year. Next time you should climb the state highpoint because the views are unbelievable. There were NOLS groups all around when I was there and it did take away some of the wild feeling. I am glad to see that now you know one of the best parts of the whole state. If you go to the Southern Winds, go to the East Fork Valley, it will blow your mind.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 24, 2013 9:53 am - Hasn't voted

Re: About time

Thanks for the advice, Mike. Yours is always good since you know the backcountry out there so well!


4corners - Dec 20, 2013 3:30 pm - Hasn't voted

great read

Thanks for posting. Great read on an area where I would like to spend more time.

Matt Lemke

Matt Lemke - Dec 20, 2013 8:14 pm - Voted 10/10

Lots of clouds!

It was a difficult summer all over the west this year. Storms were well above average from Edmonton to Los Angeles, and Seattle to Denver. Looks like you had a great time regardless...awesome place indeed.


WyomingSummits - Dec 21, 2013 10:28 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Lots of clouds!

They were ridiculous in the Bighorns and Tetons....I got lucky with 3 day periods of calm twice in the Winds and once in the Absarokas. Just have to have an open schedule and good eye on the weather.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 24, 2013 9:47 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Lots of clouds!

Now that I think about it, you guys are totally right. I spent about six weeks out west this past summer, in the Sierra Nevada, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, and I don't think I ever went more than two days without a storm. Oh well, it made for some cool pictures and exciting nights in the backcountry...


ozarkmac - Dec 21, 2013 5:37 pm - Voted 10/10

terrific report

Titcomb Basin deserved a thorough survey and you came through big time. Thanks for posting. I added a few photos to the album. ...love to get back there someday.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 24, 2013 9:52 am - Hasn't voted

Re: terrific report

Thanks for reading and commenting. Since this is a trip report, not an album, I thought it a bit odd when I saw those pictures attached, but I'm going to attach them to the Fremont pages and also to the Titcomb area page I'm working on, so no worries. Cheers!


ozarkmac - Dec 24, 2013 12:50 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: terrific report

Sorry, I should've schooled myself in photo attachment protocol before just dropping those on your TR! Please move or put them wherever you see fit.

Viewing: 1-17 of 17