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Topic: A Tale of Passes and Canyons< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 8:23 pm  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Prologue:

It's been a couple years since I've done a serious mountain backcountry trip.  Last year, my friend Blair and several others were able to go to the Beartooths, but I was unable to go with them due to work.  This year I was itching to go, but didn't find out that it was possible until maybe sometime in July.  Blair, crazy sonofagun he is, was all in for a trip.  We were both in pretty poor shape, and with little time to prepare, we tossed around many ideas for more relaxed routes that would give us maybe 5 days of semi-remote travel in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.  

Just a few weeks before leaving, Blair tossed me a route idea slightly modified from an old and totally crazy one we had come up with years ago.  He modified the route to take 7 days instead of 5, and decided that Bloody Hell Pass would be an easier route than going through the Alpine Lakes area and pass.  I looked over the route, and having done a fair amount of training myself, made the fateful decision that it looked doable.  The only questionable part of the route in my mind was Indian Pass.  We were coming at it from the East side, and I had read many varying reports on routes up that side of the pass.  I had stood at the top of the pass, having climbed it via the trail from Indian Basin on the West side in 2010, and didn't think there was anything that special about getting up the East side.  However, I really didn't have a very good view of the whole route down, and assumed we would probably be doing it early in the year with plenty of snow, and probably some ice gear as well.  

Late in planning this trip, we both got ice axes, but did not get crampons.  We later made the wise decision to leave the ice axes in the vehicle, seeing how little snow there was in the Winds on our departure date of August 25, and I figured quite correctly that almost all snow left would be ice that would require crampons anyway.  The lack of ice gear would haunt my mind for most of the trip in anticipation of what we would find on the East side of Indian Pass, regardless of what we could see of the snow conditions.

To shorten the already lengthening story, we simply counted on there being a route up the East side of Indian Pass without needing ice gear and took off.

Day 1

We drove to the trailhead at Elkhart Park from Kearney, NE plenty uneventfully, and made the long and mostly boring hike up the Pole Creek Trail to Mary's lake in decent time, though we both struggled a bit to get used to the weight of our packs.  Blair was pretty out of shape and was dragging under his near-50lb pack.  I had prepared for cold weather at this time of year, and that combined with food that wasn't the lightest for 7 days gave me a pack weight of about 45lbs, which is close to 10 lbs heavier than I ever usually carry for any trip.  We set up camp in decent time, and turned in to get rested up for another day of travel on good trails.

This trail is very boring.


Obligatory Photographer's Point picture


Camp at Mary's Lake


Day 2

The next morning we were very eager to get going and broke camp very early—probably the earliest day of the trip.  We continued on the Pole Creek trail until we came to the “shortcut” trail just before the second crossing of the Pole Creek.  Stopped for lunch along this stretch of trail.  Blair caught a few small brookies that were just big enough to bite a lure.  We continued what seemed like a hundred yards and met the Highline Trail, which would be the last “real,” maintained trail we'd hike for several days.  On up and up we went, until we said goodbye to the trail and headed toward Spider Lake in the Bald Mountain Basin.  

Monument Creek




Finally, we broke treeline!  Maybe it's because we were both born and raised on the plains, maybe it's because we just love the grandeur of unobstructed mountain vistas, but neither one of us has much of any love of hiking below treeline.  It's nice to have a few trees around for a protected camp, but after hiking so many miles in the timber we were elated to be in open high country.  We also got our first look at our first real challenge of the trip—Angel Pass.

Bald Mountain Basin and Angel Pass


The Bald Mountain Basin is really an excellent place.  Very good views, easy rolling off-trail terrain, lots of little alpine lakes, and lots of fish (if you don't mind catching smallish brookies).  We were distracted by the pass, though.  Both of us hiked with our eyes on it, trying to figure the best route up.  It was pretty steep, with lots of boulders, talus/scree, and some areas of slabs near the top that concerned us more than the boulders.  I had heard no reports that any sort of climbing gear was needed for Angel Pass, but information was actually pretty scarce as to the actual ascent.  



The evening at Spider Lake was pretty routine.  It drizzled for a long time, making for a fairly damp and dreary camp for the most of the evening.  When the drizzle broke late in the evening, I took the fly rod out and caught some fish for the one and only time during the trip.  At this point we were really struck by the lack of mosquitoes and snow.  There were even fewer mosquitoes than snow, and up to this point we had seen virtually no snow.  We hung our bear bag with some difficulty (the kind of difficulty where the rope breaks and drops your food about 10 feet onto a rock face where it rolls another 30 feet down the hill before stopping) on a massive erratic perched in a downright silly looking spot on a slab.  We turned in for another very uneventful night, though I believe there was some more drizzle.


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--B. Stark

Not all who wander are lost.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 8:24 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Day 3

The next morning we awoke early, but took our time breaking camp.  Today wasn't going to be a very long day.  We would climb over Angel Pass then descend on the East Side into a pretty darn big canyon and camp at either Upper Golden or Louise Lake.  This would be the day—the day we went to the East Side!  Both of us had read much about the glories of the fabled East Side of the Winds.  The East Side is held in almost a sacred, mystical position by a large number of seasoned backpackers.  The East Side had many secrets, partly because it is a very remote place, and partly because the people that go there are very tight lipped about it.  We had for several years wanted to break through to the East side.  In 2009 we hiked along the Continental Divide for several miles and took a fairly deep look into the East side.  In 2010 I had hiked to the top of Indian Pass and again looked at the East side.  Neither of us had ever really spent any time there, though.  This was the day!  

A Breakfast Tradition:  Scrambled Blueberry Muffin Pancake Mush


Sunrise in Angel Pass


But first we had to climb that confounded pass.  We decided that a route climbing up the left side of the pass would be best.  It looked to offer a bit more grass to climb on, and looked to me to get us around a very steep slab full of waterfalls partway up.  It also gave us the opportunity to look into a hanging valley partway up that offers an alternate route over the divide.  

There's an alternate route over the divide up here somewhere.


We began the ascent at a relaxed but purposeful pace.  After a side trip to look into the very pretty hanging valley off the north side partway up, we dug into the thick of it.  Boulders, boulders, boulders.  Up and up.  Lots of tedious route finding and much spirited discussion of which path through the boulders would be best.  It was pretty easy going until we got most of the way to the top.  To keep hanging high would require a pretty nasty looking scramble on steep scree.  To hang toward the middle of the pass would keep us on more stable boulders, but would take us right to the middle of a lot of slabs.  We had been unable to see anything conclusive from the bottom, and our view from here was even worse.  We figured there were probably enough boulders laying around to get us up the slabs, and headed for the middle.





The slabs turned out to be more a series of benches separated by slab faces, though with plenty of boulders in creases between them.  The climb from here to the top was as simple as any part of the climb, and after spotting the cairn at the top I pretty much ran up it in my excitement.  Not gonna lie, I kissed that cairn.  It had been quite a climb, and the most difficult one I had done in years.  The views from the top of the pass were amazing, both to the West from where we had come, and to the East.  

East side view


West side view


The top of the pass is one of the more interesting places I've been in the mountains.  It's a nearly solid slab with just a few erratics hanging onto the top.  It is very narrow, with a nice easy sweep in the middle that then climbs precipitously up toward jagged peaks on either side.  We sat around for a long time, taking in the views and letting our boots and socks, wet from the previous evening and the slog through alpine grasses and willow brush in the morning.  We took a good hard look toward the extremely barren looking East side, and did some quick planning of our route after descending the eastern side of the pass.







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--B. Stark

Not all who wander are lost.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 8:26 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The descent.  Oh, yeah, we had to go down now.  The East side of the pass was a sign of things to come.  Boulders!  BOULDERS!!  Good heavens, when do these dumb things end?  The descent is down steep but quite stable boulders.  It's tedious, but by far not the most challenging boulder field a guy could find.  When you get to the first lake on the basin at the bottom, there are still plenty more boulders to hop, though now on mostly level ground.  With water levels so low we were able to hop along on very level boulders that would have been under the surface with more snow to melt on the mountains.  Along the cliffs on the Southern side of the basin, melting snowfields occasionally dropped huge rocks down the side of the mountains, startling us with thunderous noise.  If we were quick enough, we were able to watch the rocks hit the bottom of the snowfields and come to rest on the boulder fields below.

Headed down


The hiking for the next couple miles was pretty easy compared to the previous bit going up and down Angel Pass.  We hiked along boulder strewn meadows full of massive crickets until turning Northward to descend into the Golden Lakes chain.  The descent started easily enough, and we talked to a couple partway down that gave us some information as to cairns and trails on the way down.  After passing lake 10,885, we reached the stretch that was supposed to be cairned.  We lost the cairns pretty quickly and ended up doing some pretty steep descending through boulders and thick brush.  Canyon walls began to shoot up on either side of us, and we finally got a bit of the flavor of the East Side:  Canyons and passes, with little that wasn't steep.  



Sad rock is sad.  Don't be sad, sad rock!


The hike was taking us longer than we thought it would, and was much more difficult.  We stopped what ended up being probably ¾ of the way down the canyon and had lunch and rested up.  Where on earth was that trail those people had talked about?  They seemed to know what they were talking about, and were eager to share the information.  Surely there had to be something somewhere...



We almost sat on the answer while eating lunch.  As we were hefting our packs back on, I spotted a cairn barely 10 feet away from where we had made lunch.  There were more, across the boulder field.  Then, when the cairns left the boulder field, they led us to a fairly nice trail which led the rest of the way down to Upper Golden lake.  At Upper Golden, we found the old trail that led from Hay Pass on to Camp Lake, and followed it down to Louise to make camp.  The folks we had talked to earlier were part of a group camping at Upper Golden, and we decided based on wanting some solitude and reports of more fish in the lower lakes to head that way.  On the trail between Upper Golden and Louise we spooked a couple mulie does, which is about as big of wildlife as I've ever seen while hiking in the mountains.

We found a trail a few minutes after taking this picture...  finally.


Upper Golden Lake at last!


We set up camp and rested for a while before deciding that we needed to find out how the fishing was.  We found out there were indeed Goldens in Louise.  Deep.  Very deep.  My fly rod was useless for them.  I gave up pretty quickly and went back to camp to attend to my normal business of fiddling with my gear, getting things as ready as possible for rain in case some should come, and did a bit of just lounging around and recovering from the day.  The weather had been pretty nice the past couple days, so I was taking advantage of the warm afternoons and lack of bugs by washing up a bit at camp.  It was a real luxury to be able to clean up a bit with the sun shining and without having half your body's volume of blood sucked out by mosquitoes before you can re-apply almost pure DEET over your body.

What kind of dummy fishes for goldens with a fly rod?



Blair had hiked all the way down to Lower Golden, and reported the fishing there to be pretty slow.  He did bring back some good pictures from the lower end of the chain of lakes, though.  We noted the gathering dark clouds and decided it would probably be a good idea to get some supper going, and cooked and ate in a slow, depressing drizzle which broke about the time we got done cleaning up.  Timing, as they say, is everything.  We hung the bear bag and turned in for a decent night's rest at the last comfortable campsite we would have until the Titcomb basin.


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--B. Stark

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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 8:28 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Day 4

This day looked to be a mixed bag.  Blair was concerned it would be one of the toughest days of the trip.  We would head from Louise to a lake we found somewhere to be called “Upper Half Fish” lake, but that name doesn't appear on any of the maps we have now, and in fact the lake isn't even given an elevation.  It is the lake just downstream from lake 10,590, which is on the bench on the SE end of Bloody Hell Pass.  I did not think the day looked to be too difficult, except that a good chunk of the route was “off trail” and below treeline.  From my research, there was supposed to be faint trail of some sort all the way from Camp Lake to our destination, but there were no guarantees, and old trails are often easy to lose, having long worn back into the terrain and when visible, branching into endless numbers of faint game trails that weave their way through the forest.

Parting shot of the Golden/Louise lakes chain


There were plenty of ups and downs, as well.  The day started with the hike along the lakes to the climb from Upper Golden to 10,787, which is a peak in a high canyon nestled beside Douglas Peak.  A look at this climb from the bottom gives the impression of a long, bouldery slog up several hundred feet.  There is in fact a fairly well established trail all the way up, and back down to Camp Lake, though the trail gets a bit faint while crossing the meadows of the inlet stream near Camp Lake.  Clouds blocked the sun and a cold wind blew as we navigated the high parts of this “pass.”  We were somewhat surprised to find the climb down to Camp Lake to be very steep, though the heavily switchbacked trail did make it much less troublesome.  We met another hiker partway down the switchbacks and talked to him for quite a while, then continued on.  He had a couple pretty rough days previously, coming from over the North Indian Pass, through the Alpine Lakes Pass, then down the Alpine Lakes canyon to Camp Lake.  He said he had to bivy on the gravel in the Alpine Lakes canyon because it was such slow going he could not make it through in a day, which made us rather happy to not be going that way.  Saw another group who were in the process of breaking camp at Camp Lake, but we did not stop to talk to them.

Headed up the first big climb of the day.


Douglas Peak towering above lake 10,787


We rounded the downstream end of Camp Lake and crossed the outlet, and to our surprise immediately found a cairn which led us to a nice trail up to the small chain of lakes marked as 10,239.  We stopped for lunch, where I proceeded to put a bit too much cayenne pepper in my easy mac and had a bit of a time getting it down.  

Douglas Peak dominating the skyline at Camp Lake


The trail from there was almost nonexistent.  Both of us are very good at finding trails, but we really couldn't distinguish much of a real trail from game trails for much of the climb down.  There was trail in a few places, but for the most part navigation is by following the terrain.  Generally, you follow the outlet from the 10,239 lakes, which joins the Alpine Lakes outlet stream, and keep going until you find a little bitty “bent” lake.  Much to our surprise, just below the outlet of this lake we found what appeared to be an old hunter's camp of sorts (lots of stumps and a washed out bridge).  

Trail pls?  Kthxbai


Not too often that a collapsed bridge is a good thing


After crossing the bridge, we found a trail with more cairns than I've ever seen before.  They were everywhere, except for one portion through a small meadow, where it took some searching to find the trail on the other side.  We climbed up to the outlet creek from Snowbridge Lake, and found an old bridge in pretty disturbing condition.  We crossed it, but I'm not sure how many people after us will, especially if there are a couple springs with heavy runoff.  After that, it's just more climbing on a sometimes steep but easy to follow (cairns galore) trail to the outlet of “Upper Half Fish”.  

This bridge is a bit iffy.


Once at “Upper Half Fish,” we abruptly ran out of trail.  There are some very faint trails around the lake with occasional cairns, but you just kind of get sent out on your own once you get to this point.  It was hard to be disappointed, though.  The area was beautiful.  Surrounded on most sides by high plateaus or jagged peaks, the place had a grandeur to it that was really something to behold.  The Fortress in the Alpine Lakes canyon was quite well visible, and to me lived up to its name perfectly.  The landscape of the bench was rolling, often rocky, sometimes swampy, sometimes just normal forest floor.  The ground was practically paved with elk turds, with plenty of bear scat thrown in for good measure.  

I forgot to take a picture of the Fortress, so this picture looking up toward Bloody Hell Pass will have to do


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--B. Stark

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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 8:30 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

We walked around to the Northern side of the lake and picked out a nicely protected campsite on a hump beside the lake, with easy access to the lake and some spectacular views.  Despite fears that it would be a very long day, we made camp by something like 2:30PM and took every advantage of the good weather to dry out gear, fish, and nap.  The sunset that evening was fantastic, with alpenglow aplenty on the peaks all around us.  The campsite wasn't the most comfortable for sleeping, and neither of us had been sleeping tremendously well anyway, so at one point we did something that we very rarely do in the mountains and went outside for a while and looked at the stars.  It was a fantastically clear night with no moon, and the stars were simply incredible.  It's easy to get a bit lost when our galaxy is called the “Milky Way” nowdays with all the light pollution most of us live in, but when at 10,000+ft elevation in mountains many miles from a major city, all is made clear.  It is a unique and amazing experience to be able to see by the light of the stars—they're just that bright up there.  We finally did get some sleep, and enjoyed a very dry night, for a change.

This is the most uninspiring view from camp at “Upper Half Fish”


More (misguided?) attempts at fishing


We're going up there tomorrow


Day 5

We awoke to another spectacle—it had been so dry the tent fly wasn't even wet from condensation.  Can't complain about that!  No packing up a wet tent that day.  We moseyed down to the lake to make breakfast and fish a bit and take in the views.  There was an added surprise bonus—the elk were bugling!  For probably an hour elk bugles echoed around the bench, perfecting the mood.  It's been long enough since I've heard an elk bugle that I don't remember it, so it was a pretty good treat to me.  This is probably one of the most amazing places I've ever been in the mountains.  It lacks some of the stark awesomeness of many of the higher and more brutal places we've been, but it made up for it in so many other ways.  The good weather, decent campsite, views, wildlife sounds—just about everything, seemed to all be present while we were there.  



It was somewhat disappointing to leave, but we had to go.  The trip had gone according to schedule so far, but our toughest days were ahead.  Today we would hike Bloody Hell Pass, which is certainly the most ominously named places I have ever been.  All we knew were that there would be boulders in astounding abundance and some very interesting climbs, both up and down.  The beginning of the hike, though, was very pleasant.  The meadows between “Upper Half Fish” and 10,590 were an easy traverse and the views were still as good as ever.  After 10,590, our first climb, where we started to encounter boulders.  When we got to the top, we got a nice view of our private little mountain boulder “playfield” of the next several hours.  I'm not sure if “play” is really the right word, but for the next several hours we would scarcely step off the boulders.

Looking back to the only easy hiking of the day


We started into the canyon along lake 10,980 and carefully picked our way along with a combination of boulder hopping and sparse high grass patches.  As we approached the upper end of the lake, the canyon walls closed in and we began to get a view of the first climb up Bloody Hell Pass.  We decided even there that there really wasn't any other name that would fit the place as well.  The terrain was a daunting mess of boulders, scree, and cliffs.  There didn't seem to be anything that was not steep.  One the side of one mountain hung one of the wildest snowfields I have ever seen—a fine ribbon of snow and ice stuck to a nearly vertical crease in the mountain that must have been pretty close to a thousand feet high (at least it looked that way to my flatlander eyes.  Never took the time to estimate its height on the topo map).  

Go home snowfield... you shouldn't be here.




We finally made it to the bottom of the first climb on the way up the pass.  We decided on pretty much a direct assault up the scree and boulders, taking the right side based on research and the fact that the left side was comprised mostly of boulders roughly the size of a moderately sized tractor.  It turned out to be a pretty good choice, and though the going was slow, the rocks were fairly stable and we made decent time up the first climb.  At last we made it to the unnamed tarn in the pass and dropped packs for a break.  The hike up to this point had been fairly challenging, with lots of tedious boulder hopping and route finding.  

First climb of Bloody Hell Pass


Our view from the lake was not encouraging.  At the other end of the tarn, we were faced with an even steeper climb up boulders that ranged up to car-sized.  The other side of the lake was rimmed by cliffs.  Nothing to do but stow the trekking poles and scramble on up.  The climb was shorter than the previous one, which made it more bearable.  The scramble along the lake was almost worse than the climb up to the top of this bit.  Once we got to the top, things leveled out a bit and we hopped the boulders to lake 11,495.  At this point, we figured we had pretty much done the hard part of the pass, and were pretty beat from all the slow scrambling but feeling fairly confident that camp wasn't that far away.  We rounded the corner in the canyon and found... another climb.  Great.  Well, at least up here there were occasional patches of grass to walk on.  Up again, and when we got over the top...


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--B. Stark

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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 8:32 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Round 2:  Don't Fall in the Tarn




We thought the hard part was over when we got to this lake


$(#@&)*)E)&^(%&*!@#%^(@#)*&($&(*@#%@(*#&%)&*(#@, among other terms, were uttered in abundance.  The downclimb was pretty massive, with boulders almost far as the eye could see (and it's a long ways from that spot) and a nice, big, steep snowfield-turned-to-ice right smack in the middle of where we wanted to go down.  I climbed down along the snowfield to the right for a while to try to see if we could get around it on that side, which looked much more doable, but no dice—the snowfield wrapped around the valley and was solid, slick ice everywhere.  Without crampons, there was no way we were taking the direct route down.  Note to self:  BUY CRAMPONS.  Having not figured out any other options for getting out of Bloody Hell Pass (the name was proving itself more accurate every minute) we had to find something to the left.  We kind of forced our way down, first climbing up high around and working our way around until we found a ravine that looked like a passable spot to climb down.  I led, and found one that required some all-hands-all-feet climbing, but eventually we made it down to the boulder field below that cursed snowfield.  Now, it was more of the routine hopping down boulders (not the most stable ones, either) for what seemed like another mile and a half down to lake 10,834 in the area known unofficially as Shangri La.  Blair convinced me it would be good to stop for lunch here.

That's not what I wanted to see.


This was unpleasant but we didn't die


Hiking through Shangri La



That pass whipped me pretty good.  The climb up was a challenge, and long, but the climb down was much more difficult than I had expected, and I was exhausted.  I cursed myself for our lack of ice gear, and began worrying tremendously about the climb up Indian Pass tomorrow.  Given what we'd seen of the snowfields so far, there was very little snow that could be traversed without crampons. The decision to leave the ice axes at the vehicle still seemed fine in my mind, as they were nigh on useless to us without crampons.  The question of Indian Pass bounced around in my head endlessly.  Knife Point Glacier was not an option for us, I was convinced.  Without crampons, it just wasn't gonna happen.  I had done hours of searching on the internet and in books to see if there was an all-rock route up the east side of the pass, with somewhat inconclusive results.  One book had a grainy black and white picture with some options that the author thought looked possible drawn on it, but no firsthand report.  There seemed to be only two types of reports about the east side of the pass:  Those who had done it with crampons, and those who had climbed up from the West side without crampons and looked at it.  I was fairly certain in my mind, given the very low snow conditions and the small size of the glaciers, that there would be plenty of rock to climb on the pass.  Pictures seemed to corroborate my thoughts.  However, there was another problem:  Most of the rocks on the East side of the pass were basically moraines.  The retreat of the Knife Point and Bull Lake Creek glaciers left oodles of moraines, that I did know for sure.  The thing I didn't know was what the condition was of the very steep scree fields/moraines we would have to climb to get up the pass without walking on the glacier.  There was the possibility they were too unstable to climb, which would put us in a serious quandary.  We discussed alternatives.  In the event that the pass was unclimbable for us, Blair's plan was to backtrack by going over the Alpine Lakes pass, through the Alpine Lakes canyon, and back the way we had come in over Angel Pass.  I thought (and still think) that is a pretty stupid idea, though my idea to sit and wait for SAR to find us wasn't very uplifting either.  On top of that, both of us, while scouring the maps in camp, found that the climb we would face tomorrow would total something in the vicinity of 1800 feet from the point where we met Knife Point creek to the top of the pass.

It was a struggle for me to appreciate the Shangri La area with all the above thoughts racing through my mind.  The hike over the bouldery meadows to lake was fairly pleasant, with great views, reasonably easy hiking, marmots galore, and more of those crazy mountain crickets.  The Shangri La area lives up to its namesake, and is an incredibly remote and beautiful place.  We hurried to find a campsite as the skies were turning a bit threatening, and settled for a spot on a bit of a hump above lake 10,780.  The site was not ideal.  It was plenty exposed, and the ground was rough.  Blair complained that laying on his side of the tent was something akin to laying on a tractor tire.  My side was better, but required careful positioning to avoid some serious discomfort.  We got everything set up with a few minutes to spare before a few pretty decent thunderstorms rolled through—the first of the trip!  We were concerned we would finish a trip without any hail and thunder, but fortunately the Shangri La area gave us just what the trip needed to ensure it was complete.  After the storms rolled through, we made supper, hung a “marmot bag,” and prepared to turn in.



With all the thoughts about Indian Pass racing through my head, it took a while for me to sleep.  I got up a couple times to check if the stars were as bright from this side of Bloody Hell Pass.  They were.  The rest of the night was uneventful weather-wise.


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--B. Stark

Not all who wander are lost.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 8:34 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Day 6

We woke up again to a pretty dry camp, though the tent fly was a touch damp this time.  At my behest, we woke up early, broke camp quickly, and got to it right away.  In the rush to get going, I forgot the straps for my trekking poles in my tent and packed them up with it.  Oh well, there was not going to be much need for them today with all the time we would be spending on boulder fields and moraines.  We got to hiking very early and began the descent out of Shangri La.  My mind was really racing that morning, but I told it to shut up so I could focus on hiking and doing at least what we could for the day.  We would find out if our route was doable easily enough once we got a good view of the pass.  

Gotta go down to go up


We hiked down with beautiful views of the back side of the mountains along the Titcomb Basin.  The massive glacial valley we were headed into was beautiful.  We had for a time a very good view of the North Indian Pass, which looks like a pretty darn tough one to me.  There was also a pretty clear view to Blaurock Pass, which looked like another unpleasant one.  We found intermittent trails on the way down toward Knife Point creek.  When we got fairly low, we crossed the outlet from the Shangri La lakes and continued up the left side of Knife Point creek.  As we came around the bend, more and more  of the pass came into view and I felt the whole trip rode on what we saw.  Finally, we got around enough to get a fairly clear view of the pass...  and it was looking good.  We still had to actually climb it, but seeing it with my own eyes, I found the view much more encouraging than daunting.  There looked to be ample options on the right side of the pass, and though it would be a slog through an ugly moraine up to steep, probably unstable boulder fields, yesterday we had done Bloody Hell Pass, so this couldn't be much worse than that!

Hope!  Yeah, there's got to be something we can climb there.


Looking downstream at Knife Point Creek


The further up the valley we went, the better it looked.  We continued up, crossing to the right side of Knife Point creek and arriving at the terminus of the moraine.

Moraines are not your friends.


Oh.  A moraine.  We had first experienced the “joy” of a moraine in 2009 while way up at Sourdough Glacier.  In a trip of extraordinarily difficult hiking, that moraine stuck in our memories, and this moraine was much larger.  We decided on an assault straight up the middle to try get it over with as quickly as possible and minimize the suck.  About 10 yards in, I tried to roll a boulder on top of myself, but came out with just a slight scrape on a shin.  After crawling through moraine for quite a while, we found the creek running on top of the boulders, and some reasonably stable ground alongside it.  Thank heavens for low water this time of year!  We were able to hike much more quickly and safely along the creek.  As we continued upward we found some very stable gravelly slopes and began ascending early and somewhat more gradually than we had originally planned.  

On the way up, we came to the outlet stream of the Bull Lake glacier, and stopped for some snacks.  I discovered that the bear bag's fall from the boulder at Spider Lake had blown up the cheese packet for that day's lunch, and much of our snacks and food were covered in nacho cheese.  We cleaned up the mess a bit and ate snacks while looking over the next part of the ascent.  

The first order of business was crossing this stream.  We had kind of hosed ourselves here by climbing early.  The stream was a very large torrent, and very steep.  We couldn't see much of any good crossings, and the stream broke up into a mess of interwoven roaring torrents amongst all manner of boulders.  We donned our packs and kept going, mindful that we needed to get over the pass before any storms came through or we would have front-row seats for high mountain thunderstorms and their lightning.  I was first to cross the stream.  I climbed for a ways looking for a good place to cross, and finding nothing amazing, just started sloshing and scrambling across wherever it looked to be less than deadly.  After several minutes of filling my shoes with water, I made it, and watched to see how Blair would do.  He kept continuing up and up, so I also went up to keep pace.  Eventually he disappeared behind a few boulders, and a few minutes later re-appeared on my side of the stream, soaked up to his knees.

We crossed that stream in the background on the way up


We ended up having to climb back down a considerable distance as we headed across the slope toward the pass to get around some very dangerous looking snow and ice fields.  We found often the ice fields were covered with several feet of boulders, and they were actively collapsing in places.  We worked very carefully around this section and finally made it to much safer hiking.  Much of the boulders up at this level were more akin to moraines than boulder fields, and moraines is essentially what they were, albeit very steep ones.  The mix consisted of everything from fine glacial silt up to maybe 8-10ft boulders, with a few larger ones thrown in on occasion for good measure.  Everything was very unstable, and it was tedious going until almost at the top of the pass.  

That's a nice glacier.


We stopped most of the way up to enjoy excellent views of the valley and Knife Point Glacier.  Our route could have been improved, but we made it in decent time and we thought without undue risks for the terrain, except maybe the high stream crossing.  After the humbling experience of Bloody Hell Pass and all the worrying I had done for the previous couple days, the top of the pass brought immense joy to me.  The rest of the trip was simple stuff.  I made it to the top of the pass first as Blair wanted to take care of a “personal issue” (he took a dump) before getting to the top of the pass in case there were other people there.  When I got to the top of the pass, I immediately noticed some approaching storms, and it was in fact starting to sprinkle right then.  I put on my rain gear and waited behind a rock for Blair to get there.  After some quick “summit pics” we took off for Indian Basin, taking little time to celebrate our conquering of the most difficult portions of the trip and a return to the West side.  As we continued down, the storms restrained themselves to heavy drizzle without the lightning that we were greatly concerned about and we relaxed our pace and had a generally fun hike, enjoying the spires of the upper end of the basin.  The trail was much as I remembered it, though the last time I had hiked here there were a few snowfields to cross.

VICTORY IS MINE


Partway down, we stopped for a bit of discussion of our plan for the rest of the day.  It was still fairly early, and both of us were feeling surprisingly good considering our rather monumental climb up the East side of the pass.  My idea was to continue on to Island Lake as my fishing permit was still valid, and I wanted to try to get some fish out of the lake.  Blair countered with camping in the lower Titcomb basin, and it took little convincing to get me on board with that idea.  We hiked on, and stopped for a sunny lunch somewhere along the erratically shaped lake in the lower end of the basin.  It was also an excellent time to dry out our shoes and socks, which were still soaked from that crazy stream crossing.

Indian Basin


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--B. Stark

Not all who wander are lost.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 8:35 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The rest of the hike into the Titcomb Basin was much as we expected, though Blair was surprised how far down it was out of Indian Basin.  Once we got into the Titcomb, we started meeting people—the first since evening at “Upper Half Fish.”  We talked briefly with a couple, but hurried in to set up camp, enjoy the views, and dry out wet gear.  We picked a site and set everything out to dry.  Blair wanted to hike up to Mistake lake, so he headed that way and left me to look after camp.  Dark clouds periodically rolled over the mountains, but it never rained, and by the time Blair returned and we made supper, the sky was mostly clear, giving us wonderful views of the fading sunlight on the spires on the East side of the basin.  

Entering the Titcomb Basin


Camp in the lower Titcomb


Evening light on Fremont Peak



Day 7

That night I slept about as well as I did on that trip.  We awoke and got ready to go at a fairly relaxed pace in the morning, but were disappointed to find that quite a bit of smoke had rolled in overnight—our first of the trip.  We had seen the views here before, and though they still held up compared to what we'd seen in the intervening years, we were ready to head out.  The plan was to hike all the way to the trailhead from the Titcomb, which was no small hike.  Evidently even when relaxing we are still fairly early risers, as we hiked past numerous tents with people in various states of wakefulness as we worked our way out of the basin and out past Island Lake.

Island Lake and the Titcomb Basin


The view back toward Indian Pass (center, just behind a ridge) on the climb up and away from Island Lake


The rest of the hike was unremarkable, except for the amount of people we saw.  It was Saturday of Labor Day weekend, so we expected to see a lot of people, but the trail was darn near packed.  We guessed quite correctly that somewhere around Seneca we would meet the hordes, and hordes there were.  The hordes didn't thin out until we got past Photographer's Point, and entered what I have declared my most hated stretch of trail in the world.  The upside is that the going is easy, and despite having much distance to hike, we still made it to the trailhead at roughly 2:30PM.  That gave us plenty of time to find a hotel room and get situated to watch the Huskers game.  Mercifully, I fell asleep at halftime and didn't have to watch our defense's (lack of) performance.  

The rest of the trip was the usual drive back home over the course of a couple days.


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--B. Stark

Not all who wander are lost.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 10:41 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Two Thumbs up !!

PLEASE post this at the Rocky Mountain Forum as well !


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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 08 2013, 11:08 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Wonderful report and pics.

--------------
"Straight paths made by man
Are unnatural and full of curses
But a trail is a song."

Louis Oliver (Creek Indian poet)
"Songs on Winding Trails"
in Chasers of the Sun
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 09 2013, 8:23 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

There's a lot of rocks out there!! Great report.

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To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 10 2013, 8:42 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Great TR, a very exciting read. I was following the whole way, flipping back and forth between the topo maps. Our 3 days off trail in the Beartooths were I think easier, but I know those feelings exactly!
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 10 2013, 3:07 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

What a great read. What a great trip.  I have never been to that part of the country, but I could not stop reading. Wow.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 10 2013, 3:34 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Bravo! A worthy trip report indeed. Sounds like a vintage insertion into prime mountain real estate. Nicely done.

-GJ
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 10 2013, 5:55 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I need to haul out the topo maps and see just where you went, but you touched on the area we explored in 2012, and you make me want to go back and get off trail.  Thanks for a great TR!

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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 10 2013, 10:11 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks for the TR.  I enjoyed reading it.  I really enjoyed the pictures!

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Everything I know, I learned by doing it wrong at least twice.

"I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth."  Steve McQueen
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 10 2013, 11:40 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Wow. What an expedition. Pretty sure I'd have given up on a couple of those passes.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 11 2013, 9:03 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Tallgrass you have hit on something we figured out recently...  we are just too dumb to give up!  That and once over angel pass we were pretty committed to the route.

We are probably going to do more on the east side in the future but we may go in from an east side trailhead for a change of pace.


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--B. Stark

Not all who wander are lost.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 11 2013, 11:28 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I am the other guy to accompany Brent on this epic trek through the mountains.  I don't have much to add as the report is quite thorough, but a little insight into my physical state a few might find comical so I will elaborate.

Up until this year, the last doctor I saw was a pediatrician. Since my wife has been a baby factory for the last few years, so I thought getting checked out by a doc would be a good idea for the family. Doctors love pills, so naturally he convinced that if I didn't start taking some my life would be quite a bit shorter than I would like it to be. He warned that I might not have much energy and to refrain from exercise until further notice.  Not heeding his advice, I went out the next day to shovel snow. After 5 minutes I retreated to the house where I laid on the floor as the room spun around me. That was the last exercise I would have prior to the hiking trip some 6 months later. My doc cleared me for exercise in late July, so I decided what better way to test my endurance on this medication than to hike days and days from the nearest maintained trail so deep in the wilderness that my body would be decomposed before SAR could pull it out of the wilderness.

Any other year, I spend a good chunk of my free time mountain biking and running. It was nothing to throw two entire bull elk hind quarters in my pack and off trail hike for miles back to the trailhead.  

This trip made me realize that my outdated hiking gear I bought 17 years ago needs to upgraded. That said, after a out day two of this trip my body had been whipped into passable shape. Perhaps it is due to what Brent alluded to and that we had no choice but to continue on once we made it to the east side. This was our first venture onto the east side, but certainly won't be our last. I can't wait until next year to see what adventure awaits us.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 22 2013, 2:00 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Your story of kissing the cairn at the top of the pass reminded me of my excursion up Knapsack Pass near Dusy Basin in the Sierra - similar granite terrain and I had a tough time over the huge boulder fields.  I was so happy to reach that pass!

Anyway, great TR :)


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PostIcon Posted on: Oct. 13 2013, 9:32 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

This was a great trip report. I loved the suspense about Indian Pass, probably because it brought back memories for me. I know that "jump in the deep end of the pool" feeling about a late trip obstacle.
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