Striving for Squaretop Mountain, Wind River Range, WY – Part 1: Green River Lakes to Porcupine Pass (7-13-17 & 7-14-17)

Days 6 & 7 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Wind River Range, Wyoming & Select Peaks in Montana

The morning after Lupe’s return from her successful 4 day journey to Wind River Peak (13,192 ft.) was a lazy one.  The Carolina Dog had certainly earned a rest day!  SPHP picked up some fried chicken and a salad at Safeway in Lander.  Lupe took a couple of easy walks down by the Middle Popo Agie River across from Lander City Park.

By 11:00 AM, it was plenty hot out.  McDonald’s had ice cream cones on sale for 50 cents.  Even cheapskate SPHP was willing to spring for that!  Lupe got lessons in how to eat an ice cream cone.  By watching SPHP’s example, she became quite proficient at it.  It turns out Carolina Dogs are naturals at eating ice cream cones!

Enjoying a 50 cent McDonald’s ice cream cone in Lander, Wyoming. Lupe caught onto the whole ice cream cone concept in a flash!

Lupe’s next peakbagging objective, Squaretop Mountain (11,695 ft.), was clear over on the other side of the Wind River Range at the far NW entrance to Green River Lakes.  It would take all afternoon to drive over there, so right after the ice cream cones vanished, Lupe and SPHP left Lander and hit the road.

On her grand summer of 2015 Dingo Vacation, Lupe had spent a day reconnoitering Squaretop Mountain.  SPHP has an old book called Wind River Trails by Finis Mitchell, who spent most of his life running a fishing camp in the Wind River Range near the Big Sandy entrance.  In it, Mitchell describes a route up Squaretop Mountain from the E leaving the Highline Trail near Beaver Park.

Mitchell wrote that his route up Squaretop Mountain was “not difficult”.  He had taken scouting groups, and even a 4 year old child up this way once, yet Lupe had arrived at Beaver Park in late August 2015 only to see towering cliffs.  The topo map showed 3,500 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile.  No doubt Mitchell knew what he was talking about, but Lupe’s reconnaissance left SPHP desiring a more detailed route description than Finis had provided in Wind River Trails.

On the way back to Green River Lakes, Lupe had met Chad, a friendly forest ranger.  Did Chad know of a route up Squaretop?  Chad said he’d been to the top of Squaretop himself.  He said Mitchell’s route was hard to find since some of the landmarks in his route description (burnt areas) had changed.  SPHP asked if there wasn’t a feasible route from the W via Porcupine Pass?  Chad confirmed there was one, but it was longer, and he didn’t know the details.

Now, almost two years later, Lupe was on her way to Green River Lakes hoping to find that route from Porcupine Pass to Squaretop Mountain!  Hopes were high, bolstered by her success in reaching the summit of Wind River Peak.

The last part of the road to Green River Lakes, which used to be rough, was greatly improved.  It was still dusty and washboardy, but wasn’t nearly as stony as in 2015.  Gophers were abundant, and frequently dashed across the road as the G6 approached.  Lupe was enthusiastic about the gophers, and barked frantically at them as she sped by.

Lupe arrived at the trailhead near Lower Green River Lake at 5:00 PM.  Loop and SPHP were both anxious to go down to the lake to get a good look at gorgeous Squaretop Mountain again.

Lupe arrives at Lower Green River Lake for the first time in nearly 2 years. Her beautiful peakbagging objective, Squaretop Mountain (Center), is in sight beyond the lake. Photo looks SSE.

Lower Green River Lake and Squaretop Mountain were every bit as lovely as Lupe and SPHP remembered.  Of all the mountains in the Wind River Range, Finis Mitchell had chosen Squaretop for the cover of his book Wind River Trails.

Lupe wading in Lower Green River Lake. Photo looks SSE.

Lupe and SPHP both went wading in Lower Green River Lake.  The mosquitoes were bad, though, and eventually put an end to the fun.  Lupe then went down to the Highline Trail bridge where the Green River exits the lake.  A sign said that the bridge over Clear Creek (near the opposite end of Lower Green River Lake) was out due to flooding.

Lupe on the Highline Trail bridge over the Green River close to where it exits Lower Green River Lake. The Green River was running high, and a sign said the bridge over Clear Creek near the opposite end of the lake was out due to flooding. Photo looks NNW.

The Green River was running high, full of water from bank to bank.  Having just seen how full the creeks were, and how much snow still existed in the high country near Wind River Peak, Lupe wasn’t surprised.  With the bridge over Clear Creek out, Lupe wouldn’t be able to take the Highline Trail (No. 94) to Porcupine Pass tomorrow.  Fortunately, an alternate route exists.  Lupe could still take the Lakeside Trail (No. 144).

Even though Lower Green River Lake is at 7,961 feet elevation, the evening was hot.  The mosquitoes were bad.  Lupe and SPHP ended up staying in the G6, periodically running the AC to keep cool.  While SPHP caught up the journal, Lupe watched gophers.  Every now and then, she just had to be let out to bark at squirrels, or sniff at a gopher hole.

The next morning it was time for action!  Lupe and SPHP went down to Lower Green River Lake again to admire Squaretop Mountain (11,695 ft.) before setting out for Porcupine Pass.  (8:44 AM, 7-14-17, 66°F).

Lupe at Lower Green River Lake the morning of 7-14-17 ready to set out for Porcupine Pass, and eventually Squaretop Mountain (Center). Photo looks SSE.
Squaretop Mountain from Lower Green River Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming. Photo looks SSE.

After a good look at her magnificent objective, Lupe followed the Lakeside Trail S along the W side of Lower Green River Lake.  Despite it’s name, the Lakeside Trail is seldom down by the shore.  Most of the time the trail stayed in the forest 50 to 150 feet above the lake.  Only once in a while did Lupe come to an opening with a good view of the lake and mountains beyond.

Heading S on the Lakeside Trail on the W side of Lower Green River Lake. Despite its name, most of the time the Lakeside Trail is 50 to 150 feet above the shoreline. Flat Top Mountain (11,823 ft.) is in the distance on the L. Photo looks ESE.

Lupe was less than halfway along Lower Green River Lake, when a backpacker approached from the opposite direction.  He turned out to be quite an interesting fellow.  Radek Hecsko was 48 years old, and from the Czech Republic.  He billed himself as “Czech Mix”.

Lupe meets “Czech Mix” on the Lakeside Trail. Czech Mix was hiking the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada.

Czech Mix was hiking the entire 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada!  He had started on May 2 in New Mexico, and hoped to reach the Canadian border by mid-September.  In 2015, he had previously hiked the entire 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail, which also goes all the way from Mexico to Canada.

Czech Mix jokingly called the Continental Divide Trail the “IPA Trail”.  He said he typically hikes 30 miles per day, though not in the most rugged territory, and does take occasional rest days.  Depending on the kindness of strangers, he hitchhikes to towns whenever possible to resupply.  On the trail he often goes hungry, but in towns he packs in the calories feasting on hamburgers, coffee and IPA’s.

Czech Mix said he might eventually take on the 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail to complete the “Triple Crown”, a feat very few people have ever accomplished.  He hadn’t really decided yet, though.  It was another massive undertaking.  For now he was staying concentrated on enjoying and completing the Continental Divide Trail.  Completing the CDT would be a rare accomplishment in itself, since it was the longest of the 3 trails and by far the least traveled.

After petting Lupe, and a nice chat with SPHP, Czech Mix pressed on.

Well, that Czech Mix was mighty impressive, Loopster!  Can you imagine tackling a 3,000+ mile long trail through high mountains like that?  It’s just plain heroic!

Oh, are we gonna do that?

I’ve no doubt you could, Loop, but I’m not up for it.  Completing any one of those trails is a gigantic endeavor!  I’ll be happy, if we can just make it to Squaretop Mountain.

Oh, I’m sticking with you, SPHP.  I’ll be happy if we can find some squirrels!

Flat Top Mountain (11,823 ft.) (L) and White Rock (11,284 ft.) (R) from the Lakeside Trail. Lower Green River Lake in the foreground. Photo looks SE.

Lupe continued meeting people along the Lakeside Trail.  They came strung out in small groups, but were all members of a youth group that had been camped at Twin Lakes.  The group leaders were all concerned about an 18 year old, who had wandered off on his own and never showed up at camp last night.  Their anxiety was only increased by the knowledge that his father was an attorney.

Two miles from where she’d started, Lupe reached the end of Lower Green River Lake.  Another 0.25 mile brought her to a trail junction.  Loop turned R on the Porcupine Trail (No. 137).  She would be gaining elevation nearly all the way to Porcupine Pass, a good 6 or 7 miles away as the trail goes.

Sign at the trail junction S of Lower Green River Lake. Lupe would take the trail to Porcupine Pass.
Lupe about to hit the Porcupine Trail seen beyond her. Photo looks S.

The Porcupine Trail didn’t begin climbing immediately, however.  For almost another 0.25 mile it remained level until Loop reached Porcupine Creek.  No bridge!  Another ford.  Lovely!  Lupe had forded a lot of big streams on her way to Wind River Peak, but SPHP had been hoping for a bridge here.  No such luck.

Less than 0.25 mile S of the trail junction, Lupe arrives at Porcupine Creek. SPHP had been hoping for a bridge. No such luck.

Actually, that wasn’t entirely true.  Upstream of the ford, a log extended over the creek.  A thin cable, which could be easily grabbed for support, was stretched high above it.  The log’s circumference wasn’t all that large, however, especially toward the far end.  Lupe couldn’t grab the cable, and might easily fall.  It was a drop of several feet into Porcupine Creek.  This makeshift bridge wasn’t going to do.

The near side of the ford was shallow, slow-moving water.  The far side was deeper, and a great volume of water seemed to be racing by.  What bothered SPHP far more than the ford itself, however, was what was right below it.  Only 20 feet below the ford, Porcupine Creek made a sharp bend.  This bend was clogged with sunken logs, branches and other debris.  The water was over Lupe’s head.  If she got swept downstream, she would be pinned with great force against the debris.

Czech Mix hadn’t come this way.  The entire youth group had, however.  No one had mentioned any problems crossing Porcupine Creek.  SPHP didn’t like the setup, but decided to carry Lupe across.

The bottom where the creek was deepest was stony.  Fortunately, perhaps due to traffic on the trail, the stones weren’t very slippery.  Porcupine Creek turned out to be only knee deep, but SPHP still had a hard time maintaining balance on the uneven bottom against the force of the swift current.  The Carolina Dog was glad to be let gently back down on solid ground again, when SPHP managed to struggle across safely.

The Porcupine Trail now began to climb aggressively, switchbacking SW up a steep forested slope.  Partway up, Lupe could hear Porcupine Falls somewhere off in the woods to the N, but she never saw it.  After gaining 800 feet of elevation, the trail gradually started leveling off.  Eventually Porcupine Creek came back into view.

After gaining more than 800 feet of elevation from the ford, Porcupine Creek came back into view again as the trail leveled out. Photo looks W.

Shortly after leveling out, the trail turned NW and forded Porcupine Creek again.  It could be seen continuing up a hillside beyond the far bank.  Thinking that was just the way to Twin Lakes, SPHP skipped the turn, and led Lupe SW beyond a trail junction staying on the SE side of Porcupine Creek.

The trail Lupe was on soon disappeared in a bog.  SPHP was puzzled when it couldn’t be found again on the other side.  Where had it gone?  No matter.  Lupe and SPHP continued onward, bushwhacking through the forest up hilly terrain.

After more than 0.25 mile, Lupe did find the Porcupine Trail again!  Belatedly, SPHP suddenly realized the trail to Twin Lakes hadn’t branched off until the Porcupine Trail had crossed over to the W side of the creek.  To stay on the trail, Lupe should have taken the ford that SPHP had her skip.

Oh, well.  No harm done.  Lupe had managed to bushwhack her way through, and it was actually better this way when the creek was so high.  The American Dingo’s bushwhacking had avoided 2 stream fords in the process.  Puppy, ho!  Onward!

Lupe finds the Porcupine Trail again. Although the day had started out mostly sunny, by now the sky was clouding up. Photo looks SW.

The trail was in great condition where Lupe found it.  It headed SW up a huge valley.  Porcupine Creek was often in view flowing through wide green meadows.  The trail almost always stayed out in the open, but gradually deteriorated, becoming muddy and passing through bogs in some places.   Lupe had wonderful views of rugged mountains towering over the far side of the valley.

Porcupine Creek flows down a wide valley of green meadows. Lofty peaks towered above both sides of the valley. Photo looks SW.

More than 0.5 mile from where Lupe had picked up the trail again, Porcupine Creek turned W to go around a small forested hill.  This was an especially nice spot, and seemed like a good place to take a break.  Lupe left the main trail to follow a short side spur down to the stream.  Wildflowers grew in abundance.  Lupe laid down for a rest.  Mosquitoes were a nuisance for the first time today, but they weren’t too bad.

Lupe pauses for a rest near Porcupine Creek. Photo looks W.
Wildflowers were abundant, although bright red ones like these were far less common.

After a pleasant break, Lupe and SPHP continued on.  The Porcupine Trail climbed the small forested hill, but soon exited the forest again.  For a while the trail was wet and boggy.  However, the valley eventually narrowed.  The trail became rockier, steeper, and re-entered the forest.  Up ahead were mountains with more snow on them than the scattered patches seen up to this point.

Beyond the small forested hill, the trail went back out into the open again. For a while it stayed wet and boggy. Meanwhile, the mountains up ahead were looking snowier. Photo looks S.
As the Porcupine Creek valley narrowed, the trail dried out and became rockier. Lupe started gaining elevation more rapidly. Photo looks S.
Lower down Porcupine Creek had been a gentle meandering stream, but now it was mostly whitewater as it tumbled over increasingly rocky terrain. Photo looks S.
Looking W across the Porcupine Creek valley.

After a long march, the Porcupine Trail finally emerged from the forest again.  It approached Porcupine Creek, closely following the E bank.  As Lupe continued S, the trail disappeared straight into a huge snowbank.  Efforts to pick up the trail on the far side of the snowbank failed.  Sigh.  What now?

Lupe had been making good progress toward the upper end of the long valley.  Ahead was another stretch of forest, but it couldn’t be too much farther to open ground again.  There seemed to be no choice, but to resume bushwhacking and see where it led.  The American Dingo climbed back into the forest.

The forest was denser here than where Lupe had bushwhacked before.  It wasn’t too hard to get around, though.  Loopster soon came to two substantial tributaries of Porcupine Creek in quick succession.  They were wild, whitewater streams that plunged W down from mountains on the E side of the valley.

Bushwhacking through the forest again, Lupe came to two substantial tributaries of Porcupine Creek in quick succession.

Fortunately neither tributary was so large that Lupe couldn’t find a safe place to ford them in short order.  Looper hadn’t gotten too far beyond the second stream when she reached the end of the forest.  She started crossing a meadow, and came across the Porcupine Trail yet again.

SPHP didn’t realize it at the time, but the trail had once again crossed over to the W side of Porcupine Creek for a short distance before returning to the E side.  So what?  Lupe’s bushwhacking had avoided another 2 fordings.  She was close to the end of the valley now.  Porcupine Pass was less than a mile away!  The trail went SE, heading straight for it.

Back on the Porcupine Trail again. Lupe is getting close to Porcupine Pass (Center), now less than a mile away. Photo looks SE.

The trail became progressively steeper and steeper.  Soon Lupe was on switchbacks.  The forest began to thin out.  The trees became stunted.  When Lupe reached treeline, Porcupine Pass was in view.  It was nothing like SPHP expected.

Porcupine Pass is at 10,700 feet elevation.  Yet due solely to its name, SPHP had always thought of it as being forested.  Thought of it as a place one might find porcupines – not that finding a porcupine was a good idea.  An encounter with one might end very badly for Lupe.

No worries, though, on that score!  Only scattered trees remained in view ahead.  None at all were up on the high saddle which appeared to be Porcupine Pass.  Lupe was still hundreds of feet below the pass.  A very long, steep snowbank led up to the top.  Egads!

Above tree line, Lupe’s first really good look at Porcupine Pass (L) was nothing like SPHP expected. Photo looks S.

Lupe continued up the trail, now hidden beneath snow, until she got close to the steep final slope leading up to Porcupine Pass.  Here she left the trail, and traveled E climbing a rocky hill.  She got up high enough for a good look around at the terrain in most directions.

Still hundreds of feet below Porcupine Pass, but not far from it, Lupe had this grand view of the Porcupine Creek valley she had just traveled up. Photo looks NNW.
Looking W. The Jim Creek Trail, which Lupe had bypassed while bushwhacking, is somewhere on the green slope on the opposite side of the valley.

The view to the E was the critical one.  It was decision time.  SPHP had originally planned for Lupe to go all the way on up to Porcupine Pass.  From there she would head E tomorrow for New Benchmark (11,850 ft.) and Peak 11,820 on her way to Squaretop Mountain (11,625 ft.).

However, an alternate route skipping New Benchmark entirely might be possible by continuing E from here without ever going all the way up to Porcupine Pass.  The topo map seemed to suggest this might be an easier route.

SPHP hesitated.  The view to the E was not all that reassuring.  Going E didn’t look clearly possible or impossible for Lupe.  There was a lot of rough, rocky ground.  Half a mile away or more was a wall of rock.  From here, SPHP couldn’t see enough detail to tell for certain if Loop might be able to skirt it to the S, or not.

Looking E from below Porcupine Pass. Lupe could skip Porcupine Pass and New Benchmark going this way, but it looked like a lot of rough terrain. Could she even get past the wall of rock seen on the N (L) bypassing it to the S (R)?
Another look E with more help from the telephoto lens.

A significantly longer, but perhaps less rugged option was also in sight to the NE.  That route all depended on whether Lupe could manage to get up on a big ridge at the end of a valley.  She probably could, but she’d have to travel quite a distance to find out for sure.

Another alternate route was in sight. Maybe Lupe could travel up the distant upper valley seen L of Center and climb up on the big ridge at the end? Once on the ridge, she could head SE bypassing both New Benchmark and Peak 11820. That might work, but certainly seemed to be the long way around. Photo looks NE.

Maybe all of the routes would work?  Maybe none of them would.  The decision on which way to go was an important one, perhaps critical if Lupe was going to have any success in reaching Squaretop Mountain.  Yet the right thing to do wasn’t at all clear.  Lupe could only try one approach.  SPHP wasn’t carrying enough supplies for any more than that.

Only short sections of the trail switchbacking 400 feet up the steep slope to Porcupine Pass were visible.  The vast majority of the trail was buried beneath a long steep snowfield.  However, a lane of snow-free ground existed E of the trail.  It was very steep, but Lupe could climb that slope easily enough.  SPHP could probably manage it, too.

In the end, SPHP decided to stick with the original plan.  Lupe began the climb up to Porcupine Pass.

Lupe on the final steep slope leading to Porcupine Pass. Photo looks S. And up!

It was a good thing the slope wasn’t any steeper, or SPHP wouldn’t have made it.  There were places where there was nothing firm to hang onto.  Traction wasn’t always good.  Yet it wasn’t long before Loop and SPHP were safely up at Porcupine Pass.  The views were impressive!

Loop arrives at Porcupine Pass! She had an impressive view of the long Porcupine Creek valley (R) she had traveled up to get here. Photo looks NNW.
The Dodge Creek valley from Porcupine Pass. Photo looks SSE.

Porcupine Pass was beautiful, but barren.  It felt cold, remote and forlorn.  Lupe hadn’t seen anyone since leaving the Lakeside Trail many miles ago.  It had been a long day.  For hours during the afternoon there had been dark clouds off to the NW, but now that it was evening, the sky had partially cleared.  There were still clouds around, but they didn’t look threatening.

Congratulations, Loopster!  This is it.  Porcupine Pass.  You made it!

We’re staying here?

Yeah, for tonight.  I’ll set up your tiny house in a minute.  Want to climb that hill to the W for a look around, once it’s up?  It’s Porcupine Pass Peak (10,890 ft.).  Won’t take long.

Can we do it in the morning, SPHP?  I’m hungry, and ready for a snooze.  Mosquitoes are bugging me even up here.  I’d sort of like to get in the tiny house, and call it a day.

Sure, we can do that.  I’d wish for a breeze to blow the bloodsuckers away, but its probably not a good idea.

Why not?

I have a feeling Porcupine Pass would be an absolute hurricane if the wind came up.  We’re lucky it’s a calm evening, even if we have to put up with some bad bugs.  Anyway, you’re right.  Tomorrow’s our big push for Squaretop Mountain.  We may as well eat and rest up for it as much as possible.  Just getting to New Benchmark (11,850 ft.) might be an ordeal, and Squaretop is miles beyond it.

Are we going to have problems?

Dunno.  Maybe.  New Benchmark looks far more challenging than I’d expected.   However, once we’re beyond it, you’ll have gained all the elevation you need to, and the terrain ought to be a lot easier.  It better be, if we’re ever going to make it to Squaretop.  We’ll see, though.  One thing is for certain, tomorrow will be another long day.

Whatever.  What’s for dinner?

For you, Alpo and Cliff bar.

Oh, that doesn’t sound bad at all!  Hurry up and get the tiny house assembled, would you?  I’m famished!

On it!

Lupe at Porcupine Pass, with her fully assembled tiny house in the background. Photo looks SSE.
View to the E toward New Benchmark (R) from Porcupine Pass. Tomorrow Lupe would have to go over New Benchmark and miles beyond it, if she hoped to get to Squaretop Mountain.

Related Links:

Striving for Squaretop Mountain,Wind River Range, WY – Part 2: New Benchmark – Victory & Defeat! (7-15-17)

Green River Lakes, Squaretop Mountain & the Highline Trail to Beaver Park, Wind River Range, WY (8-30-15)

Want more Lupe adventures?  Choose from Lupe’s 2017 Wind River Range in Wyoming & Select Peaks in Montana Adventure IndexDingo Vacations Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index.  Or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures.

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