Red Castle vs Cirque of the Towers vs Titcomb

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WasatchWill

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Ok all you Uinta and Wind River veterans...my wife and I are gearing up to head out for a 4 day trip at the end of the month in part to celebrate my birthday (her idea!). It will run Saturday through Tuesday, with the potential to drive up to camp near whatever trailhead we use on Friday evening. She was hoping to surprise me with a trip back up to Kings Peak (even though I've tagged it twice). It didn't take much for me to crack this idea of hers though and since she hasn't been anywhere near Kings Peak and that whole central area of the Uintas, I'm thinking it was as much of an idea for herself as it was for me. :lol:

Anyways...since that egg was now cracked, I told her I'd be happy to lead her up to Kings Peak and that we should make a loop out of it and throw in Red Castle as well since I've yet to see it from its front side myself. So that's what we've been planning on all summer. The route I have in mind would start at China Meadow, swing over into Henry Fork, camp along the upper edges of the basin on day 1, go up to Gunsight Pass, take the shortcut up to Anderson Pass, tag Kings, drop down the Highline into Yellowstone, take another shortcut off trail over to Smith Fork Pass if weather permits and camp the second night around East Red Castle. From there, we'd likely move camp a mile or two around the other side of Red Castle seek out a campsite somewhere hidden in the trees between Red Castle and Lower Red Castle Lakes. Given such a short distance with this move, the idea here would be to spend the rest of the day enjoying some leisure time: fishing, relaxing around camp, and maybe a run up to tag Wilson Peak, or at least the pass above Upper Red Castle Lake to enjoy the view down the Oweep drainage and across to Porcupine Pass. Then head back down to China Meadow and return home on day 4. Altogether, it'd be about 33ish miles of trail hiking with pack, plus exploration wandering and any peak bagging.

This is roughly a route I've had on my list of to-dos for several years now but it has been put off in favor of other trips while at other times, it has simply just fallen through after planning to do it with some other friends.

Here is a map I have drawn up for that route:
Click here to view on CalTopo
But NOW I've recently come up with another potential route that checks off another area (Cirque of the Towers) on my list of places I'd like to see in person, along with another area very close by that just went up on my list after recently seeing some pics of it and doing some detective work to unearth its location (Cathedral Lakes). So, altogether, this route is of comparable distance but in the Winds, measuring out to be roughly 36 to 37 miles or so. The route starts out at Big Sandy and we'd probably camp a night near Big Sandy Lake given the travel time to the trailhead. We'd then move over Jackass Pass early the next morning and drop down into Cirque of the Towers and move on down to Lizard Head Meadows. From there, we'd probably look to keep going down the North Fork Popo Agie until we hit a drainage to the north that we could hopefully scramble up and navigate off trail through High Meadow by Cliff Lake and then on over the Cathedral Lakes for the 2nd night. Hopefully weather would be fair that day, but even so, most of that off trail navigation would keep us in the trees which may make navigation and travel much more time consuming. If that worked out well, we'd camp at Cathedral Lakes, then pick up early the next morning and make our way off trail again up a drainage south of the stream between Cathedral and Upper Cathedral Lakes and up onto a ridge where we'd go cross country above tree line across to the west until we joined up with the LIzard Head Trail, following that back down to Lizard Head Meadows and up into Cirque of the Towers. There we'd look for spot to camp for the final night, then back out to Big Sandy and home on the 4th day.

Here's that map:
Click here to view on CalTopo
I'd love to take on this second one, but I also question if it'd be worth twice the time in driving and twice the gas to do it as it would to do the first choice. 3 hours vs almost 6 hours. Also, not only does it cover a few more miles and requires some significant off trail route finding and navigation through terrain I'm not familiar with at all and may end up being more than we can chew in the allotted time and my wife may not appreciate that very much. Again, I do have it set up to hopefully avoid the typical afternoon storms through the more exposed sections. I'm told there is a way that goes from North Fork Popo Agie over to Cathedral Lakes described in a book about off-trail routes in the Winds by Nancy Pallister that goes through High Meadow and all that, so what I laid down on my map is what looked like made the most sense, topographically. The route we'd take up and out of Cathedral to gain the Lizard Head Trail is what I believe to be what's described in a write up on the area on the RootsRated website.

Now...given these two options, I might as well throw in a third and final choice we could make. Back to the Winds, despite its popularity and crowds, much like Red Castle and the Towers, I'd also love to see Titcomb Basin and all around there in person. To throw in some adventure, we could make a lollipop loop out of that as well and circle around to take on Knapsack Col, and potentially take on Fremont Peak as well depending on time, weather, and energy levels on the route I have drawn up for this choice:
Click here to view on CalTopo

All three routes will take us in and out and through areas with some big crowds and some without, so that aspect is a toss up, I think.

So...here are some questions I have concerning of these three choices:

Kings/Red Castle:
  • If we were to drive up on Friday evening, how likely is it that all available campsites near the China Meadow trailhead, both in the established campgrounds and the dispersed sites, from Stateline on down, will all be occupied on a Friday night the week before Labor Day weekend? I may even try to set up a platform allowing us to sleep in my 4Runner before that weekend arrives.
Towers/Cathedral Lakes:
  • Can any of you Wind River vets tell me if this route looks good and viable or might it be too much of a gamble against wanting to have a good dose of leisure time in the afternoons/evenings?
  • Same as above, ff we were to drive up on a Friday evening, where would be best area to find an available spot to camp, in tent or in car?
  • I know there've been issues in the past with bears raiding camps in the Cirque due to poor food management among the crowds there. From what I was able to just look up, it also appears that the entire Wind River range is now considered grizzly range with sightings even south of Lander. Would it be worth it for me to finally get an Ursack or bear can if we were to make a trip into the Winds? In the high basins of the Uintas, I tend to just put all the scented stuff into an odor-resistant plastic bag, then inside of a stuff sack style bag and hang it properly when I can, but otherwise, I can often only hang it off a low lying limb or stub and have never had issues with animals large or small this way. But I'm not so confident this would work just as well out in the Winds now, with the ever expanding and growing grizzly population now in process of filling out the range, never-mind any nuisance black bears.
Tticomb:
  • Again, if we were to make the drive up on a Friday evening...any good places to look for an available spot to camp in the vicinity of Pinedale and Elkhart Park?
For any of you who have experience in all three of these areas, which route would you choose and why? I'm just curious. I think my wife and I will continue leaning on the first route given the lesser travel time and better potential for some extended leisure/relaxation time, and the fact that the route will still feature a lot of new stuff, not just for my wife but for myself as well. Still...answers to my questions on the ladder areas along with any other advice would also be great for future considerations and perhaps, maybe we can even be convinced on one of the latter options after all.
 

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Perry

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Either way it’s going to be a great birthday Will!

On the China Meadows entrance. Stateline has quite a few sites so I would think you would have a good chance of snagging one. Worst case you two can always head down the trail a ways to find something for the night.
 

WasatchWill

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Either way it’s going to be a great birthday Will!

On the China Meadows entrance. Stateline has quite a few sites so I would think you would have a good chance of snagging one. Worst case you two can always head down the trail a ways to find something for the night.
I do have spot in mind to look a couple miles up trail if it came to that. Hopefully the parking situation at the trailhead itself won't be all that chaotic.
 

Perry

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There is also Bridger Lake CG although mostly reserved. You could check on the way by.
 

Jackson

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  • Same as above, ff we were to drive up on a Friday evening, where would be best area to find an available spot to camp, in tent or in car?
  • I know there've been issues in the past with bears raiding camps in the Cirque due to poor food management among the crowds there. From what I was able to just look up, it also appears that the entire Wind River range is now considered grizzly range with sightings even south of Lander. Would it be worth it for me to finally get an Ursack or bear can if we were to make a trip into the Winds? In the high basins of the Uintas, I tend to just put all the scented stuff into an odor-resistant plastic bag, then inside of a stuff sack style bag and hang it properly when I can, but otherwise, I can often only hang it off a low lying limb or stub and have never had issues with animals large or small this way. But I'm not so confident this would work just as well out in the Winds now, with the ever expanding and growing grizzly population now in process of filling out the range, never-mind any nuisance black bears
Lots of places to pull off and throw up a tent all along the road to Big Sandy TH. There are a couple roads that shoot off from the road to the TH and I've camped off of those before. Just look out for cow crap!

I'd maybe use it as a reason to get an Ursack, but I'd never opt to use a bear canister unless I had to. Bulky, heavy, and they never fit all my food unless it's a one or two night outing. Maybe I suck at packing though.

Most bear problems in the Cirque area are with black bears, also. I've always hung my food and just generally avoided the problem areas, like the Cirque and Big Sandy Lake. They had posted about two incidents at Big Sandy Lake when I was there a few weeks ago.

Definitely carry bear spray though. Best to be prepared!
 

b.stark

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Personally, of the winds loops you posted I'd do the latter. Have you been to the titcomb basin before? Its sure worth seeing, and it's a strong vexation to me that I haven't been through peak lake and knapsack col yet. The upper titcomb is not that crowded. Also, if you dont do Fremont peak, it is definitely worth it if you hike up to Indian pass. Indian basin is very cool and again not as crowded as island lake and the lower titcomb.

On the first winds route you posted, that off trail section going up to cathedral lakes looks like a slog to me. I'll defer to others with more direct knowledge of the spot but it looks tough unless there's a use trail that goes through some of the more timbered areas. I just know I've never really enjoyed off trail bushwhacking I've done in the winds. Pretty slow going unless there is some kind of use trail. You could of course do a classic loop over washakie or hailey pass, lizard head plateau, and jackass pass if you prefer to see the cirque. Esp via washakie should go fine in 4 days.

As jackson said, lots of camping on the way to big sandy. I always stay in a hotel before going in at Elkhart, guess I'm soft that way. There is a campground at elkhart park.
 

b.stark

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I do usually use ursacks in the winds now, though last summer I did forget to take one. Always try to keep a clean camp in regard to scents and hang food well as possible. Bear spray is a good idea. I have not personally seen a bear in the winds yet. Saw black bear tracks on hailey pass a couple summers back. Lots of bear scat on the east side in the untrailed lands past the alpine lakes basin back in 2013. Not sure if that was brown or black bear scat.
 

RyanP

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I would personally save the Winds for when you have an extra day, or for when you can at least push it really hard and crank out long days if you only have four. It takes quite a bit of driving and fairly boring hiking before you get to the really good stuff (from either Elkhart th or big Sandy TH), so I personally think five days is the minimum to make it worth it compared to other, closer destinations. That's just impatient me though; I tend to value the journey more than the destination. Also, I don't know what your wife's level is, but isn't knapsack col kind of tough? Oh, and ursacks are sooo much nicer than canisters.
 

Hiker Seth

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I'll refer you to this thread for your Cathedral beta. I may still wind up there but it won't be the direct gully from the top of the plateau. Everything I've read makes it seem like a major grind. I'll be in that area the last week of the month.

Looking at your route up that ridge by Upper Cathedral lake, I'm not sure that it goes.

Like others said, Ursack is the way to go.

Titcomb/Island lake is fantastic. Last year I started at Cook Lakes, over Wall Pass to Island/Indian basin, poked my head in to the mouth of Titcomb, then over Indian Pass to Alpine Lakes/Golden Lakes, the out at Boulder lake due to injury. This year I'm sort of picking up where I left off but my route is flexible.

I always stay at a hotel the night before and after s long fly trip, but I'm soft as a grape, so there's that.
 
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Artemus

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I haven't looked at your routes in detail but can assure you that all three are ultrahigh quality and are are required items on your must-do list. I wouldn't sweat the approach car camping issue too much. You can pretty much find a just off the road or trail spot to throw a tarp down to get a few hours sleep before an early start and each place is only a 3-5 hour drive so you can always drive to the trailhead in the early a.m. and start walking in the morning. Once you decide a route I will try and PM you some car camps I have used in the past.
 

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Artemus

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Seconding and thirding on the Ursack idea. I use it exclusively in bear country where containers are not required. In fact I now use it on every trip in the backcountry - desert, mountain, flatland since it is convenient and easy to hang and I have to have a food bag anyway. On the subject of bear problem areas like the Circus, my habit is to not camp at established sites at all. You never know what other garbage or food items others have left and it is likely that the local Ursos will be checking these nightly for something to eat. They are hungry after all. So I camp well away from them and the trail in general and then practice maintaining a pristine camp and cook and hang my food well away from my tent.
 

Bob

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I'd go anywhere in the winds except the Cirque or Titcomb.... Unless you're just traveling thru... A nice loop from Torrey thru Bomber lk milehigh lk and Ross lk.. some route finding but piece of cake
 

Ross

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When I did Titcomb about 3 years ago, the rangers rented out bear canisters. I think it was free or a few dollars and a deposit. At Cirque we just hung. Lots of trees with high limbs. I came across a moose just before first light as I headed from my tent round the lake for photos


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

WasatchWill

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I would personally save the Winds for when you have an extra day, or for when you can at least push it really hard and crank out long days if you only have four. It takes quite a bit of driving and fairly boring hiking before you get to the really good stuff (from either Elkhart th or big Sandy TH), so I personally think five days is the minimum to make it worth it compared to other, closer destinations. That's just impatient me though; I tend to value the journey more than the destination. Also, I don't know what your wife's level is, but isn't knapsack col kind of tough? Oh, and ursacks are sooo much nicer than canisters.
Yep...I'm running with the same thoughts. I don't want to push my wife too hard, and either route in the Winds would probably be more aggressive than she'd appreciate at this point in time. I'm also aiming to spend a whole week doing some variation of the bulk of one of the couple high routes guys like Allen and Skurka have put out there and would get to see a lot of these spots then anyway. That wouldn't be for another year or two when I can round up a few people fit enough to do it with me and get logistics worked out for it. I'd want more time to get more in shape for such an endeavor myself too, plus time to refine my system a bit more to shave off a bit more weight.

I'll refer you to this thread for your Cathedral beta. I may still wind up there but it won't be the direct gully from the top of the plateau. Everything I've read makes it seem like a major grind. I'll be in that area the last week of the month.

Looking at your route up that ridge by Upper Cathedral lake, I'm not sure that it goes.

Like others said, Ursack is the way to go.

Titcomb/Island lake is fantastic. Last year I started at Cook Lakes, over Wall Pass to Island/Indian basin, poked my head in to the mouth of Titcomb, then over Indian Pass to Alpine Lakes/Golden Lakes, the out at Boulder lake due to injury. This year I'm sort of picking up where I left off but my route is flexible.

I always stay at a hotel the night before and after s long fly trip, but I'm soft as a grape, so there's that.
You could be right about the ridge south of Upper Cathedral and it would definitely be a big gamble. It's took look hairy through there, especially around peak 12490...but according to this little write up on a route through there, it sounds like there's a line that goes, only that lady would have paid for tribal permit to start at Dickinson Park, and did loop counter clockwise herself, but went up through Adams Pass and around north sides of Bears Ears and Cheuvenet and then came down to Cathedral Lakes by peak 12490 off LH Plateau. So yeah...worst case scenario would be end up having to come back the same way going in or if that turned out to have been too much effort, to swing out to the east, and then back down to Popo Agie North Fork to come back up to the Cirque. But yeah...would be gambling with some incredibly long days the more I look and think it over. And I agree, an Ursack definitely sounds like the way to go. Probably put that on my Christmas list this year if I don't end up with one sooner.

I haven't looked at your routes in detail but can assure you that all three are ultrahigh quality and are are required items on your must-do list. I wouldn't sweat the approach car camping issue too much. You can pretty much find a just off the road or trail spot to throw a tarp down to get a few hours sleep before an early start and each place is only a 3-5 hour drive so you can always drive to the trailhead in the early a.m. and start walking in the morning. Once you decide a route I will try and PM you some car camps I have used in the past.
I'm thinking we'll still end up keeping to the original plan. I've put off that route enough now that I want to get that monkey off my back, no matter how special the Winds are as well. I will also get to do some fishing on that one whereas I probably wouldn't pay for a non-resident license and pack any fishing gear for either of the Winds routes because of the gamble it would be with some of that terrain and the real potential of being on the trail for longer durations each day than I'd hope for. The Red Castle loop just seems to offer good potential for a nice balance between getting some high views, beautiful landmarks to see, lots of waterfalls and lakes to enjoy, and some leisure time for fishing and what not throughout. Will put those Winds routes back in my back pocket and plan those for another year if I don't end up connecting much of them with some variation of a high route over the course of a week as I hope to do at some point when I can get the logistics to work out, some good company on board (if not my wife), and get in better shape for the more aggressive scrambling on those high ridges.
 

LarryBoy

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A bit more philosophical take: every major off-trail route I've ever failed (more tan I care to count), has been for lack of time. So if you're looking to do some off-trail exploration bit are up against the clock, you're already off on the wrong foot. I'd save the Cathedral route for when you have an extra day when/if something doesn't go according to plan.
 

WasatchWill

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A bit more philosophical take: every major off-trail route I've ever failed (more tan I care to count), has been for lack of time. So if you're looking to do some off-trail exploration bit are up against the clock, you're already off on the wrong foot. I'd save the Cathedral route for when you have an extra day when/if something doesn't go according to plan.
For sure. Best to maintain my wife's trust. She already knows better than anyone how horrible I am at keeping to time estimates. :lol:
 

Hiker Seth

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Yep...I'm running with the same thoughts. I don't want to push my wife too hard, and either route in the Winds would probably be more aggressive than she'd appreciate at this point in time. I'm also aiming to spend a whole week doing some variation of the bulk of one of the couple high routes guys like Allen and Skurka have put out there and would get to see a lot of these spots then anyway. That wouldn't be for another year or two when I can round up a few people fit enough to do it with me and get logistics worked out for it. I'd want more time to get more in shape for such an endeavor myself too, plus time to refine my system a bit more to shave off a bit more weight.



You could be right about the ridge south of Upper Cathedral and it would definitely be a big gamble. It's took look hairy through there, especially around peak 12490...but according to this little write up on a route through there, it sounds like there's a line that goes, only that lady would have paid for tribal permit to start at Dickinson Park, and did loop counter clockwise herself, but went up through Adams Pass and around north sides of Bears Ears and Cheuvenet and then came down to Cathedral Lakes by peak 12490 off LH Plateau. So yeah...worst case scenario would be end up having to come back the same way going in or if that turned out to have been too much effort, to swing out to the east, and then back down to Popo Agie North Fork to come back up to the Cirque. But yeah...would be gambling with some incredibly long days the more I look and think it over. And I agree, an Ursack definitely sounds like the way to go. Probably put that on my Christmas list this year if I don't end up with one sooner.



I'm thinking we'll still end up keeping to the original plan. I've put off that route enough now that I want to get that monkey off my back, no matter how special the Winds are as well. I will also get to do some fishing on that one whereas I probably wouldn't pay for a non-resident license and pack any fishing gear for either of the Winds routes because of the gamble it would be with some of that terrain and the real potential of being on the trail for longer durations each day than I'd hope for. The Red Castle loop just seems to offer good potential for a nice balance between getting some high views, beautiful landmarks to see, lots of waterfalls and lakes to enjoy, and some leisure time for fishing and what not throughout. Will put those Winds routes back in my back pocket and plan those for another year if I don't end up connecting much of them with some variation of a high route over the course of a week as I hope to do at some point when I can get the logistics to work out, some good company on board (if not my wife), and get in better shape for the more aggressive scrambling on those high ridges.
That article you linked is for Cathedral lake in Colorado.
 

Artemus

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I'm thinking we'll still end up keeping to the original plan.
Unfortunately, I have only camped near the China Meadows trailhead so have no secret spot to share for that one. The advice you got that you can simply walk a few hundred yards from the car - up the trail or away from the trailhead - if the camping near the trailhead is all taken is the same advice I would have. Good luck.
 
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On that Cirque - LizardHead - Cathedral route. There are about 3 routes I am aware of from Lizard Head plateau down into Cathedral/Cooks basins. I don't think your route is one of those, but that's not saying it can't be done. I know of a few people who go through that valley just north of Cathedral, passing south below Mt. Chauvenet, and intersecting with Lizard Head right about where Valentine Lake trail comes up. You can probably figure it out on your map pretty easily. But it is a mess, and I would end up divorced if I took my wife through there. Both other people whom I know who've gone that way really hated it.

Your dashed purple line (to the south of your intended route) is, I think, closer to one of those routes more commonly taken.

YMMV, but I think all those are easier to find going down, into Cathedral/Cooks, rather than going up out.

Maybe a 4th, I think Nancy P (or someone super-familiar with Winds offtrail) mentions one route coming down into Mendarrin but I think that one was described as a mess, and if it was "not recommended" for her, I definitely wouldn't try it.

It's a shame that area is not more easily linked in with Cirque / LizardHead / SouthFork Lakes areas, because Cathedral/Cooks is a magnificent area. I certainly sympathize with your rationale for trying to tie it into a loop there. I have wanted to do the same, but I know what amount of off-trail is going to make my wife hate me, and I couldn't pull that one off.
 

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