Indian Basin Wind River Range
Indian Basin Wildflowers Wind River Range #66885 Purchase
In the Wind River Range of Wyoming lies Indian Basin, a rocky alpine area along the Continental Divide. Sitting at around 11,000′ Indian Basin shares the spotlight with the popular Island Lake and Titcomb Basin areas. Part of the Bridger Wilderness, these three areas are one of the most sought after destinations for backcountry adventure in North America
Indian basin is less than three miles from campsites at Island Lake, making it an ideal day-hike. The trail to the basin extends all the way to Indian Pass, one of the few hiker accessible passes in the entire Wind River Range. Aside from sitting on the edge of the Continental Divide the pass also gives close views of the Knife Point Glacier. This entire area is also part of the popular Wind River Range High Route. The High Route is a mostly off-trail 80+ mile hike that follows the length of the range.
On my 2002 trip to Island Lake, I didn’t have time to check out this fabulous area. The one extra day I had I used to day-hike into Titcomb Basin instead. On this trip, Indian Basin was definitely part of my itinerary.
Tent in Indian Basin Wind River Range #66807 Purchase
Hiking into Indian Basin
Having already spent several days at Island Lake and Titcomb Basin I was ready to move on to new terrain. Earlier in the day I broke camp in upper Titcomb Basin and made my way south to the trail junction for Indian Basin. By the time I reached the junction alongside a swift-flowing stream, the wind was again picking up. I only had about two miles and 400′ elevation gain left to make the basin, but it was a tough stretch for me.
By this time I had been backpacking in the Winds and Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains for around 25 days. I could easily say I was in very good physical condition. However, on all these trips I neglected to pay close enough attention to one very important thing, my diet. Trying to save weight on long backpacking trips is always a priority. And with my pack heavily weighed down with camera gear food was the easiest target for weight reduction.
Indian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66822 Purchase
It didn’t take a nutrition expert to see that my meals contained mostly carbohydrates. There was next to no fat and very little protein present in my food. Although I always carry vitamin supplements, I believe it was the lack of adequate protein that took a toll on me. This was painfully evident as I climbed up to the basin.
The last mile or so traverses and switchbacks steeply to a ridge above the basin. It was also here that the wind really began to pick up. Every step would result in clouds of dust whipping up in front of me. At several points the wind was so strong it almost knocked me over, even with a full pack! Finally, at the top of the ridge, I looked down into the rocky basin. As if to hurry me on, an especially strong gust pushed me forward and down to my goal.
Indian Basin Wildflowers Wind River Range #66912 Purchase
Camping in Indian Basin
There was about 100′ to descend from the ridge and I immediately scouted the terrain for a suitable campsite, preferably sheltered from the wind. Towards the bottom near a lake outlet, I came across several beautiful fields of wildflowers. They certainly looked out of place in such a barren environment, but they would make great subject matter for photos.
Indian Basin contains three main lakes and several small tarns, guarded over by Fremont, Jackson, and Harrower peaks. As a testament to past glacial activity, the bedrock of the entire basin exhibits extensive scouring and polishing by glaciers. It was easy to envision the entire basin buried under a massive glacier spilling into Island Lake below.
Just above the largest lake, I found a good campsite sheltered from the wind by a granite wall. Throughout the day I saw a few climbing parties setting up a basecamp on the opposite side of the lake. Late in the day a couple arrived and began to search for a good site. It was apparent that they were fatigued from the hike and constant wind. I guessed that from the fact that they set up their tent in the first available level spot, which unfortunately offered no shelter from the wind. It looked like their tent would not survive the night.
Indian Basin Wildflowers Wind River Range #66893 Purchase
Poor Light and Hi-Tech Discoveries
There were some promising-looking clouds earlier in the day, but they vanished by evening. The result was an empty sky with little to no chance of good light during the golden hour. However, I dutifully went out and did my best to take some photos. Of course, the fields of wildflowers I saw earlier were my prime subject matter. With landscape photography opportunities limited, recreation photography filled its place. Once again I used the campsite and myself as stock photo subject matter.
The next day I took to wandering around the basin to look for more subject matter. Unfortunately throughout the day and evening lighting conditions were still pretty bland. While scouting around on a high granite knoll I came across an unlikely piece of trash. At first, I thought it was some sort of packaging, but it turned out to be a solar charger.
Indian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66863 Purchase
Either the charger fell out of someone’s pack or was forgotten. Whatever the reason it was sitting there for at least one full year. The exterior was weather-beaten and fading. Also, some of the wires had evidence of small critters chewing on them. I took it back to camp and hooked it up to my iPhone to see if it still worked. Using a bandaid to tape the chewed wires worked, but just barely.
The next morning it was time to leave. I only had enough supplies left for one last night at Island Lake before the hike out. My one regret while staying at Indian Basin was that I didn’t attempt to hike up to Indian Pass. At the time I was tiring from a long trip and bummed at the lack of good light for pictures. So I foolishly decided to blow it off. Sitting here now writing this post I’m kicking myself for not checking out the pass.
Alpenglow over Indian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66949 Purchase
Last Night at Island Lake and Hiking Out
Hiking out of Indian Basin I came across one of the climbing parties I saw a few days earlier. They had attempted to reach the summit of Fremont Peak, which sits at 13,745′. The main route to the summit is a long steep hike followed by a scramble, although there are also other technical routes. I spoke with the leader of the party and was informed that extremely high winds and cold turned back them back short of their goal.
Arriving at Island Lake I once again opted to set up my last camp on the granite knoll above the lake. I spent the rest of the day watching the activity at the camps below. It was a bit sad that several days ago I just arrived here at the start of the trip, and now it was nearly over. As a fitting finale, I set up my tripod for a last panoramic shot of the scene. This time I would do a night shot with the Milky Way over the Continental Divide.
Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy over Island Lake #66970 Purchase
The next day it was time to pack up for the long hike out. It went fast and easy, my pack was much lighter since most of my fuel and food was used up. After recognizing my nutrition problem the other day I planned accordingly. I saved the food packets with the highest amount of protein ingredients for dinner and breakfast. It must have worked since the hike out was a snap.
With spirits high from a wonderfully successful trip I made my way down the trail, but not before one last gaze on Island Lake and the great peaks. Of course, it was lots of fun stopping along the trail to chat with hikers and climbers just beginning their adventure.
Rewards of a Backpacking Adventure
When I arrived back at my truck at the trailhead I had a quick tailgate shower and put on some clean clothes. My next stop was the Wind River Brewing Company, where I enjoyed a big burger and a tall cold glass of IPA. Then I did something I had never done in my past 35 years of photography trips, I checked into a motel to enjoy a hot shower and soft bed!
The next day was spent driving to the trailhead of my final Wind River Range backpacking destination, Green River Lakes.
Indian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66825 Purchase
If You Go to Indian Basin
Distance from Island Lake: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: about 300′ from Island Lake into the basin
Red Tape: As of 2019, no permits are needed
Totals for my nine-day trip including side trips and photo scouting
Distance: 44 miles
The Elkhart Park Trailhead is located at the end of Skyline Drive, an excellent paved road 15 miles east of Pinedale. About a mile before the road ends there is a viewpoint with dramatic views of the range and the gorge below. Adjacent to the trailhead there is a small campground. The few good sites here are almost always taken.
Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in mid-August. Also, be prepared for dramatic weather changes. I had great weather on my trip but the wind was brutal for several days.
The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to go for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!
Island Lake Wind River Range #66371 Purchase
Leave No Trace
And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!
To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!
Seven Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Photo Gear Used On This Trip
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release
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And check out these other Wind River posts!
Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range
Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range
Island Lake Wind River Range
Titcomb Basin Wind River Range
Green River lakes Wind River Range
Central Wind River Range Backpacking
Pyramid and Shadow Lakes Wind River Range
Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy over Indian Basin #66970 Purchase
Indian Basin Wind River Range