Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range, Wyoming
If on the maps of the Wind River Range you trace your finger along the line of the Continental Divide, you will find scattered named peaks. However, there are two areas which contain large collections of named peaks and towers: the Titcomb Basin and the Cirque of the Towers. These areas are located in the Bridger Wilderness area. This wilderness was named after Jim Bridger, a famous mountain man of the 19th century, who, like myself, was born in Richmond, Virginia.
On Monday, August 12, I led a group of eight people into the Bridger Wilderness, hiking on the Pole Creek Trail towards Titcomb Basin. The night before we had stayed in Pinedale, Wyoming in the pleasant and quaint cabins of the Log Cabin Motel, and after breakfast at the Heart and Soul restaurant, we drove to the Elkhart Park Trailhead. We had a scenic drive to the trailhead past enormous Fremont Lake, the second largest natural lake in Wyoming. The road climbed higher and higher with views down to the lake and valley and forward to the peaks of the broken Wind River Range. The parking lot at the trailhead was filled with up to one hundred cars. There would be many people on the trails.
As we started up the Pole Creek Trail, we found the trail to be broad and gentle as it climbed gradually through the forest. After hiking four and a half miles, we reached Photographer’s Point where we ate lunch and admired the grand view of the wild mountains ahead of us. As we walked on through forest and scenic meadows, we passed one lake after another: Eklund Lake, Barbara Lake and much larger Hobbes Lake. The Wind River landscape was created by ancient glaciers and includes over 2,300 lakes and ponds. From Hobbes Lake, we climbed more steeply through basins of broken rock and ragged forest. Finally, we climbed over a saddle and down to enormous, deep-blue Seneca Lake. We worked our way around the lake leaving behind one high campsite, even though some of our group were exhausted and wanted to stop. After Ed spoke with a ranger, I decided to move around to the far, north end of the lake. We had some difficulty choosing a campsite because I knew we needed to camp 200 feet from the lake and 200 feet from the trail. We choose a campsite in a large meadow above the lake. In the evening, I read out loud O Solitude by John Keats and played three tunes on the recorder. In fact, there were people camped around us and there was little solitude. The large lake below us was very blue, with rugged mountains above it.
On Tuesday, we got up to find a heavy frost on the ground and on our tents and ice in the water bottles we had left outside of our tents. Cheryl spend the night in a bivy sack with a single layer, and in the morning, it was collapsed under the frost. I gave her my car keys so she could hike back and find lodging in Pinedale. The rest of us left at 9:00 AM to hike the trail to Titcomb Basin. On the way, we walked by several more beautiful lakes including Little Seneca Lake with its island. For each lake, we climbed over short passes and down into each lakes’ basin. The scenery became increasingly beautiful and we saw more and more of the jagged continental divide from each pass and lake.
In the basin, the lakes were beautifully broken and cragged with numerous rock table tops and peninsulas with deep blue water in their inlets. Above the lakes, were uncountable needles and peaks, including massive Fremont Peak, Mount Sacagawea, and Gannet Peak, the tallest mountain in Wyoming. Part of the group turned back toward camp, but Heeja, Carol, Ed and I stayed for some time exploring, and except for one fisherman, we had the enormous basin to ourselves. We spent much time taking pictures and sitting and appreciating the magnificent landscape. It is difficult to convey with photography the immensity of this basin.
On the return to camp, a ranger told Ed that we would have to move our camp and suggested a new location. It was apparently 20 to 30 feet too close to the trail. So when we got back, we moved our camp to the top of a small, rocky hill which I had seen before but had worried it was too close to the lake. It turned out to be a better, more secluded site with fine views in the lake. It also proved to be warmer during the night than the meadow below. After dinner, I played songs on the recorder and Carol sang some of the songs. Then I climbed to the rocky top of the hill and sat for some time where there was a grand view of big Seneca Lake.
Continental Divide Trail
On Wednesday, we started hiking from camp on the same route as the previous day, but after a mile and a half, we turned onto the Continental Divide trail instead of heading towards Titcomb Basin. We soon passed a large Douglas Fir tree. Four of us could barely reach around it holding each other’s hands. We hiked over ridges and down to small basins with lakes and finally descended to Fremont Crossing where there was a wide wooden bridge crossed a beautiful, broad stream. We had seen no one else on the Continental Divide Trail, and only at the bridge did we see three or four through hikers.
From the bridge, we crossed a valley meadow full of flowers and ascended steeply on a rocky trail from one stone shelf to another and finally arrived at a large granite plateau above tree line, with many ponds. On the plateau, as we continued on the trail, Mount Arrowhead, Bow Mountain, and Brimstone Mountain were in front of us. Finally, we came to beautiful, large Lower Jean Lake, completely by ourselves. It was very windy on the plateau, so we found shelter and ate lunch before returning to camp, all the while enjoying the sacral view of the well-spaced high peaks above the deeply colored lake.
Cirque of the Towers
From Big Seneca Lake, we returned to our cabins in town to find a mother moose and her two youngsters eating the flowered plants around our cabins. After our large dinner at a Mexican restaurant, we returned to find the moose family still around. Apparently, they were a part of Pinedale’s moose family who lives in the town park. The next morning we drove some distance through endless, wide-open range to the Big Sandy Trailhead where we started our trip to the Cirque of the Towers. The parking lot at the trailhead was full with many cars. It was an easy five mile hike from the trailhead to Big Sandy Lake, a large body of water surrounded by ragged peaks. We camped on a high knoll above the lake where we had plenty of room, an existing fire ring, and some seclusion. Through the trees, we could see the circle of mountains surrounding the lake.
On Saturday, we began a hike to the Cirque of the Towers. Walking around Big Sandy Lake, we found unusually colored Monkey flowers by a stream. We hiked up from the lake on a rugged trail to North Lake and then to Arrowhead Lake. Pointed peaks towered above the lakes. From Arrowhead Lake, we continued to climb steeply around boulders to Jackass Pass. High above tree line now, the wind pushed us around. We climbed a knoll above the pass to its top where there were various stone viewpoints. We were very fortunate to have this substantial hilltop area to ourselves for over an hour. Standing on the rocks provided a variety of viewpoints of the surrounding towers and of Lonesome Lake below. We were surrounded on three sides by a circle of high, peak sculptures. The enormous chiseled towers included Warbonnet, Wolf’s Head, and Shark’s Nose. Each had its own unique shape. The wind was blowing strongly and we sat behind some boulders to eat lunch. On the way back, we stopped to admire the views of Haystack Mountain and the other mountains above Big Sandy Lake. Overall, we hiked for seven days straight for a total of 57 miles. We were lucky with the weather: in seven days, we did not experience a drop of rain.
On a previous night I had read Basho’s haiku to the group:
Seek on high bare trails
Sky reflecting violets
I had dedicated this to Carol since on one of the hikes she had found the beautiful, tiny, alpine violets. That evening, after experiencing the Tower of the Cirques, we all composed and recited our own haikus by the campfire. They were about nature, the mountains and our experience. Sort of like having a poetry party with Li Po, minus the wine.