Pole Creek Trail started as an easy but steady climb. Climb being a bit of an aggressive term as it was a wide, well-worn path. It felt like we were on a casual stroll through a wooded park, going uphill ever so slightly.
I journeyed back to our backpacking trip in Banff the year prior, where the trail was most decisive in its choice to start with some solid elevation gain. No meandering casualness about it. A precursor to the trail and days to come.
Regardless of the start, Banff was epic and I had no doubt our adventure Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range would be as well.
We had arrived at Trails End Campground Sunday afternoon to snag a good campsite so we’d have minimal travel Monday morning to start our hike. Campsites were first come, first served. But we need not have worried as it seemed like no one else was around, despite two marginally full parking lots.
Each of the 8 sites housed a fire ring, picnic table, and bear locker. The pits toilets were well-maintained, and there was a water spigot at the Elkhart Park - Pole Creek Trailhead (right next to the campground). Unfortunately for us, the spigot was not working at the time of our adventure, but in theory, it would be a convenient feature.
Throughout the evening and into the night, more adventure seekers wandered in. I was glad we’d nabbed a spot early; the campground was full when we rose Monday morning.
Our rough goal for the first day of backpacking was to reach Hobbs Lake at roughly 7.5 miles. Up in Banff, we realized we preferred the days with moderate hiking that allowed more time for relaxed exploring (i.e., enjoying time without packs on our backs). This adventure to Titcomb Basin wasn’t meant to be a sufferfest.
On the way up it seemed as though we saw just as many horse prints (and poo!) as we saw human tracks. From the trailhead to Hobbs it seemed like we saw more people than we did during our entire trip in Banff. A fair bit of that traffic included day hikers heading to Photographers Point, 4.5 miles up the Pole Creek Trail. We stopped here for lunch because, as the name implies, it is a great spot to take in the view.
While the foot traffic died down after that point, we did stop to chat with one pair trekking homeward who recommended we stop at Eklund Lake for our final night. This would put us just 5 miles from the car, which would make for an easy final day. We tucked that tidbit away for later in the week.
At Eklund Lake, we took the Seneca Lake Trail to continue our route. You can continue on Pole Creek to hit the Highline Trail as an alternate route to Titcomb Basin, but that was more mileage than we wanted for this trip.
Upon reaching Hobbs around 3 pm and found a grand set of campsites, four of them clustered together—perfect for our crew. The made for an easy decision to stay the night here versus continuing to Seneca Lake or Little Seneca Lake. We were halfway to Titcomb Basin. Shortly after we set up camp, the clouds started sputtering raindrops, a perfectly timed cue to enjoy a nap before dinner. Everyone dispersed and zipped into their tents just as the clouds really let loose.
It poured. A heavy, drowning rain perfectly enhanced by swift blasts of wind. This had not been in my forecast for the week. Not until possibly our last day or two. But, as we all learned later, the Winds have their own weather routine once you wander far enough into their domain.
One should generally assume there will be an afternoon storm every day around 3 pm, give or take a bit, depending on the mood of the skies. We survived with just minor leakage in one tent and a renewed respect for the epic power this landscape held.
Dinner was devoured under blue skies.
Overnight rain left us with damp rain flies the next morning, but we only had about 5 miles to cover so there’d be time for them to dry out at Island Lake. Even with the afternoon storms.
Trekking up to Seneca Lake and then on to Island Lake brought more elevation than the prior day. This is what we’d been expecting; I was happy to labor up. The views were outstanding, especially following the trail along a granite cliff overlooking Seneca Lake.
However, my favorite portion of the trail was between Little Seneca Lake and Island Lake. It was nice to head out of the woods and see more of the wide-open views. Plus: Wildflowers!
And then we crested our final ridge until our hike into Titcomb Basin and caught our first glimpse of Island Lake—what a stunner!
We rambled down the valley, dotted with pine trees and boulders until we happened upon a good campsite where two men looked to be just finishing their packing. They highly recommended the spot and we enjoyed a lively chat until they headed out. The best part was learning that they’d been friends for 38 years! Goals!
We set up just in time for the afternoon rain (much less tumultuous than the prior day) then spend the rest of the day exploring the valley and Island Lake.
Day three held our only day hike. The actual hike into Titcomb Basin. It felt luxurious to be able to have a base camp and leave the tents in the same spot for more than one night. We enjoyed a lazy morning and set out for Titcomb Basin around 10 am, packing lunch and rain jackets, just in case. The morning had been chilly, but as the sun came out and the hike warmed us up, soon it was t-shirts and tank tops.
Titcomb Basin was quite rad between the lakes and the peaks that tower behind and around them. There were very few people hiking up there even though tents and backpackers heavily speckled the Island Lake valley. It was like we had Titcomb Basin to ourselves.
That was until we ran into several gentlemen at the base of the last lake. They were coming down from the peaks and had all sorts of crazy stories about the weather and conditions. Unfortunately, the start of the afternoon rains cut our socializing short. So, we pulled out the rain gear and hiked our way back.
The rains cleared by the time we returned to Island Lake so we spent the remainder of the day exploring the waterfall that emptied into the lake. This is what made the trip to Titcomb Basin 100% worth everything for me. Even considering the thunder, lightning, sleet, and snow that filled our evening later.
In the morning we shook off the snow, packed up with frozen fingers and feet, and hustled up out of the valley. As we stopped for lunch, tired and damp, we decided to power through the remainder of the miles (12.1 total) to Elkhart Park Trailhead so we could get hotels and hot showers that evening. We also stopped at Wind River Brewing in Pinedale WY for a celebratory burger and beer, which I’d highly recommend.
I’d categorize Utah is my freshy fresh 2017 love interest (the Supes are my local love and Canada is my big love). Utah caught my eye sometime late last year and has been on my mind ever since. It is the area of the map I’ve been searching as I make plans for new adventures.
There are wonderful national parks in the state, but I’ve found that national parks only seem to have one or two relatively short trails that dogs are allowed to hike. National forests, on the other hand are prime time adventure dog real estate! For this trip my eyes were on Dixie National Forest in the southeast corner of the state – Whipple Trail in the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, to be exact.
There is something to be said for planning ahead…we’ll just get that statement out of the way right now.
A week before we rolled out is when I decided we’d be rolling out. The plan was to leave work early on Friday to drive the 7 hours to the Pine Valley Recreation Area where the Whipple Trailhead is located. We’d camp at a designated campsite and start hiking right away Saturday morning, sleep in Whipple Valley, hike down Sunday afternoon to spend the night at the campsite again, and then head home early Monday morning.
Not a bad plan for a regular weekend, but a horrible one plan for Memorial Day weekend when everyone and their uncle’s cat decides to go camping and you’re trying to stay at a first-come-first-served campsite and work gets busy so you can’t leave until Saturday morning.
We still had a grand adventure!
We arrived in Pine Valley around 2:30pm. As expected, no campsite available. Luckily you can park for free at the trailheads if you’re just hiking for the day or doing overnights on the trails.
A three-person family was gearing up as I pulled into a parking spot. We compared notes on what we knew about the trail – rangers had yet to clear it, downed trees across the trail, potential snow at higher elevation on north facing areas.
The weather was warm and the elevation hit me a little harder than expected, but it was a beautiful hike with spectacular views and just enough shade to even out the warmth. The hounds were on their best behavior – or maybe the elevation was hitting them a bit as well. ;)
There was no water on the trail until we hit a few streams halfway up, which is also where we ran into our second human encounter. A couple was setting up camp and reported that they’d only gone halfway up the remainder of the trail before they turned back because it was harder than the first portion. Suuuuper!
I kept on trekking, taking breaks often, thinking about how easy it would be to turn back or just set up camp at any of the other sites we came upon after that point. We reach the first pocket of snow tucked up under some pines. Then a patch, closer to the trail. Another blob covering half the trail. Just as we came upon the next set of campers, snow covered the remainder of the trail as it headed from the summit area of the trail down to where the trail spilled out into the valley.
We hopped and slid down to the green space ahead – I stared in awe as we stepped from the trees into the grassy valley that opened up ahead. Green grass, little spring flowers, a stream down the center. There was still snow tucked away in the shadows of the tree line, rumpled up dirt where the snow pack had moved along, and water simply flowing out of the ground from the thawing process.
We located a narrow portion of the stream to cross and set up camp across the way. I could see two other campsites when we explored a bit more and saw the family of three arrive a short time later. We wound down with a beautiful sunset and retired for the evening.
The houndy hounds were a bit chilly at night (it dropped down below 40) because someone forgot their winter jackets – no names mentioned – okay it was me!! <insert multiple crying emojis> I covered them in every extra piece of clothing or fabric I had, but I was still thankful for the morning sunrays that were a toasty piece of heaven.
We explored the valley for a while before making our way back down the trail. Greeted by a dead car battery, I was grateful for friendly hikers willing to give me a jump and for my dad for making me carry jumper cables in my car at all times because the other hikers didn't have any. If you take anything away from this post, take that -- always carry jumper cables in your car!!
Even with a few detours to the original plans I'd cooked up at the last minute, I loved every second of our adventure and can’t wait to get back to Utah for another one.