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Last September I was able to take an incredible trip out to Wyoming, the first few days of which were backpacking a section of the Teton Crest Trail. The rest of the time was spent Plein Air landscape painting in the Wind River area. I had originally planned to spend four days in the mountains, but a dear friend and mentor passed away which delayed my trip. Rebooking the flight was not cheap, but I was needed and could not leave when I intended.
Planing the logistics of this trip was quite a lot of work. Of course I had to cover all the basics: research the trail, plan out mileages and possible routes, determine food rations, confirm regulations, etc. The more difficult details were finding out where to get stove fuel, a bear canister canister and bear spray, but the most problematic was securing transportation. I planned to rent a car, but that would only get me to one trail head, and I wanted to hike a large section of the trail. I was astonished to find there are no hiker shuttle services in Jackson Hole, and all the Taxi services wanted $60-$80 to get me the six miles from the Granite Canyon trailhead to the Moose Visitor Center. From Moose I could catch the Resort Shuttle to Jenny Lake. I finally ended up locating a taxi that would take me for $35.
I flew in on the last flight to Jackson, with a number of supplies yet to be picked up. I picked up my rental car and drove into town to get some stove fuel and final provisions, then headed up towards the Gros Ventre campground to get some sleep. I decided to take the Moose-Wilson road so that I could see the trailhead where I would leave my car, as well as get a definite driving time for the morning. In all my research, I hadn't noticed that the Moose-Wilson route is a dirt road. Oh well. It was a lovely ride made positively breathtaking by the nearly full moon, with bugling elk out in the mist. Even though it was quite late, I had to stop and get a photo of the moonlight valley.
Well, by the time I got to the campground, registered, and pitched camp it was about 12:30am. Ouch.
I was scheduled to meet the taxi at Granite Canyon trailhead by 6:45am, so it was a cold and early start for me. I quickly broke camp, made some oatmeal, and hit the road.
I made it to the Trailhead a little late, but the driver was quite nice, and didn't mind. We chatted while we drove up towards Moose and got along well. I asked how much it would be to just take me on up to Jenny Lake, and he said he could do it for another $20, which was only$ 8 more than the resort shuttle, so I agreed.
I arrived at Jenny Lake well in time to register, get my backcountry permits, bear canister, and spray, and catch the 8:30 water taxi. I had been careful to confirm beforehand that the first ferry would run at 8:30, thus my early start and effort to be there by 8am. Well, dear old Murphy was at work, as someone had decided the day before to switch over to the off-season hours. This meant the first run wouldn't head out til 10:30. Fortunately, there were so many people there expecting the early ferry that they relented and took us over at 9:30.
It was a much later start than I had wanted, but I was finally on the trail by 10:15am. I was hoping to make it over Hurricane Pass that day, but I was already getting doubtful of being able to make it that far due to my late start.
I head up the trail, and quickly come across evidence of powerful avalanches from the previous winter. I had not yet figured out a way to carry my camera at the ready, do it was stowed in my pack bonnet. This required that I stop and de-pack every time I wanted to take a photo.
I continued up the main Cascade Canyon, stopping every so often to take photos along the way. Unfortunately, I lost all the photos I took from this point until the next morning due to a glitch while transferring the photos to my computer. I didn't discover there were any missing until later, and only after I had overwritten the card.
I made it about 8-9 miles up the Canyon, turning up the South Fork and climbing within a mile or so of Hurricane Pass. At this point The day was going fast, and with only a few hours of acclimation the previous night, the elevation was kicking my butt by the time I hit 8.5k. So I choose a nice spot and pitched camp as the late afternoon showers set in.
Here was my modest camp at 9,200 ft.
What an amazing sight to greet you in the morning.
The wildflowers were absolutely amazing, especially these alpine Columbine.
I spent far too much time enjoying the morning and taking photographs, but it was just so beautiful I couldn't seem to help myself. I fixed some Breakfast, eventually broke camp, and got on the trail. I knew I had about 14 miles to cover that day if I was going to keep my schedule, which I was going to tough, but doable.
Less than 1/4 mile up the trail, I stopped to adjust my pack when I caught a dark movement out of the corner of my eye. This curious little guy, a yearling Black Bear (male, I think) was about 15 feet from me, peering around from behind a clump of conifers. He was clearly as surprised by me as I was him, and we just stood staring at each other for many moments. Though I was not frightened or particularly concerned at this point, my heart was pounding. He suddenly turned and ran up the canyon side about 100 yards, then slowed to a wandering pace before stopping on a large rock. He stood there looking back, sniffing the air.
Of course, my camera was stowed away in my pack. So as soon as he started running, I madly ditched the pack, retrieved my camera and started shooting. I was not nervous at all so far. After a minute or two, the young guy turned and began coming back. At t this point, however, I am thinking something along the lines of "Oh, #$&@ No!" But even though I knew this could go badly, I was still excited to see him closer. I just hoped I wouldn't see him TOO closely ;)
I made sure the Bear spray was ready, and waited to see what he was going to do next. He came back within 30ft or so, and stood behind these trees, peering back at me for a few minutes before running away again.
At this point I decide "Screw this, I am going to figure a way to carry my camera at the ready!" After a bit of experimentation, I determined that I could hook the camera strap underneath the pack bonnet, which allowed it to hang perfectly on my chest. It was a bit tight, but worked well.
I headed on up the trail, climbing steeply up the next big step and discovered there was one last section of camping area, and really wished I had pushed on a little higher before stopping last night.
As I rounded the next bend in the trail, I became very grateful I had my camera ready:
This large Wolverine ran right out onto the trail in front of me, up the trail, then darted off into the trees. I yanked the lens up and fired away, hoping to get something in focus, as the whole sighting lasted maybe ten seconds. I was speechless, and didn't really believe that I could have just seen what I though I just saw! I pulled up the photos and about did a little dance right there with a 55lb pack on :)
I really couldn't linger, as the sun was getting high, and I still had 13 miles to go, so I trudged on.
There were lots of Marmots, who let forth a shrill blasting whistle to announce my arrival before I even saw them. They really made me laugh, though, as they wandered around acting as if I wasn't there, until I stopped hiking and turned towards them, that is. Once I motioned towards them they would disappear in a flash of fur and dust!
I climbed the last step up before reaching the Headwall, Schoolroom Glacier, and the Pass.
There were little patches of jewels like this all along the way.
I finally climbed up the pass and beside the Glacier, with it's astounding moraine lake. It is very difficult to get a sense of scale in these photos: those walls of talus and scree are around 100 feet high, and the lake is nearly 400ft across.
I met this delightful couple in the pass, Barb and Steve (if I remember correctly).
It was so crazy beautiful! You really can't paint something like this because it is just too saccharin and perfect. In person, however, it is overwhelmingly real. The sweetness is tempered by an inescapable knowledge of how powerful it is and how remote in the wilderness you are.
I speed on and past Sunset Lake, which is quite lovely, but I didn't have time to linger.
The terrain takes another drop down into the rocky section where there are multiple tiny bodies of water, called the Basin Lakes.
I stopped here for a late lunch and to cool off. I had drunk the last of my water about 3/4 mile back, and was quite heated. The lake was truly crystal clear, with large trout swimming and jumping all around. I will definitely have to bring a fly rod back here someday.
Before eating I doffed my clothes (yes, all of them) and I took a quick swim. That water was powerfully cold. Manhood shriveling, skin searing, mind numbing cold. I swam out to the island and right back in short order! If I had been thinking, I would have taken some video of the insanity!
I drank lots of water and filled my camelbak before dressing and heading on. It was about 2:30, and I still had many miles of ground to cover between me and Marion Lake.
I made really good time crossing the rest of Alaska Basin, and start up the brutal Sheep Steps that climb Mount Meek Pass to 9600ft.
I met another friendly hiker as I ground my way up the pass
I quickly came upon a large snow field. Only three weeks earlier, all of the passes were still covered over with snow, and the Rangers required hikers to carry an ice axe and traction devices.
This is looking west out along the imposing Alaska Basin Shelf.
The marmots kept me entertained :) they would run and hide, but then slowly creep out onto rocks, clearly giving the impression they thought I couldn't see them. Crazy little buggers!
At this point I have made it up through the pass, and am looking back northeast at the peaks of South Teton and Grand Teton. It's about 5:45pm, and I know I am going to have to hike a couple hours in the moonlight to make it to Marion Lake.
So I press on south along the breathtaking Death Canyon Shelf.
Once again, the scale here is hard to grasp. The trees we are seeing are 75-100ft tall, and it is between 800 and 1000ft down from the shelf to the floor of the canyon.
The atmospheric depth of the Death Canyon Gulf was stunning in the waning light of the day.
Uh huh. I know.
There really aren't words.
The deep greens in contrast with magenta light on the rock was so compelling. The cloud back there didn't detract too much either ;)
I kept hiking on until the sun had set before I stopped for a rest. I found a stream of snow-melt as it fell down from higher elevations, so I filled up on water and changed my socks.
Now, my throat had been feeling sore for the last hour or so, but I had thought it was just induced by the cold thin air and heavy exertion. It was around this point that I began to realize it was not just the air, but that I was having some heartburn. I shrugged this off, as I have never had any problems with heartburn at all, and didn't think it was anything to worry about.
Over the next two miles, however, the burning became worse. I also had to urinate heavily, and noticed it was nearly perfectly clear in color. At this point I began to understand what was happening. Knowing that dehydration is a real risk when hiking at higher altitudes, I had been really forcing the liquids. I also naturally drink a lot when I am hiking strenuously. In an attempt to avoid dehydration, I had overhydrated. My body could not process the water fast enough, my blood was thin, and my stomach was staying filled with fluid and bile. Even without a tight backpack belt compressing my abdomen it would have been a problem, but that just made it far worse.
I still did not have the smallest concept of how severely the acid reflux could effect me. I decided I would power on through the discomfort until I made it to Marion lake, where I would fix dinner and get some rest. This was a really bad decision. I am fairly certain I would have been alright if I had stopped and made dinner then, either continuing afterword or just making camp.
I presses on into the night, hiking by moonlight. I turned my headlamp on, but only to let animals know I was coming, so I pointed it upwards so that it didn't effect my night vision. Even though my throat hurt, I enjoyed my lunar hiking immensely.
Just past Fox Creek Pass, I was waylayed for a while because the trail simply evaporated. I wasted at least 45min trying to locate the trail. It turned out glacial action obliterates the trail there every year, and evidence of it on the other side was almost impossible to see in the dark. I had less than two miles left to go, so I pressed on. Within the last mile, however, the burning became much worse. In an attempt to alleviate it, I stopped and very painfully ate a granola bar and some bread before continuing on.
At around 11:30 I proceeded on down the mountain side into the bowl around Marion lake . I made camp and fixed some food, which I tried to eat. This proved impossible, as my throat was badly burned with stomach acid by this point, and every attempt to swallow was excruciating. I tried to drink some instant cider, which resulted in such horrible pain that it took all of my will power not to scream. I then vomited, which expelled what proved to be about a quart or more of bile. I then succeeded in eating a half a piece of bread before going to bed. it was almost impossible to get to sleep, but eventually found a position that allowed me do dose fitfully.
The next morning I was greeted by this family of Moose who live there by the lake. I had actually "met" the bull the night before when I had stumbled down the mountain side in the moonlight. Daddy here DID NOT take kindly to my walking though his "house" a that hour. I got quite a fright when he came rumbling up out of the laurel thicket, thrashing his antlers and bellowing. I really wondered for a moment if my end was nigh. Death by moose: I guess I can think of less grand ways to die ;)
Fortunately he didn't know what to make of my flashlights pointed in his face, and I was able to hike backwards for about a hundred yards. He quit following me after that.
There were a couple other guys camped at the lake as well, and Papa Moose made sure to come visit and let us know this was HIS yard, not ours.
The golden morning light was enchanting.
Here two of my fellow hikers head off towards Fox Creek Pass. The thicket in the middle of the bowl was where I met the Bull the previous evening.
Fortunately, a couple other hikers had some antacids, which I ate two of, leaving the rest for later. I attempted to eat breakfast, but was only able to get half a piece of bread down, everything else was two painful. I had actually expelled another stomach full of bile when I first woke, which was none too pleasant.
So I packed up after forcing down some bread, and hit the trail
Almost as soon as I started hiking, the Bull made his way over to the trail, and would not let me pass. I am getting the distinct impression he REALLY doesn't like me. No apologies are heeded, so I must hike a couple hundred feet around him.
Only 1/2 a mile down the trail I am nearing the corner of the canyon, where the trail doglegs back 160 degrees, when I see this massive Black Bear coming up the trail. He kept looking up at me as he walked, in a very cool-as-a-cucumber manner, not changing his pace at all. There was a small bulge of the hillside that blocked the corner of the trail from sight, and he disappeared behind it. I figured he ran for it as soon as he was out of sight, but I also wondered if I was about to meet Ol' Smoky face to face :)
Sure enough, I was correct: he had booked it up the end of the canyon!
What a lovely valley.
This female Blue Grouse (Dusky Grouse) did not seem to be afraid of me, and would only scurry away when I came within a few feet. She repeated this multiple times, until finally scampering into a copse of trees.
Yep, still steep!
Just after this photo it started raining, so I had to put my camera away safe in my pack. I stopped a little way on up for a rest and to try to eat some more. I fixed some oatmeal, which I was able to eat, though it was painful. I also ate a nutri-grain bar and another antacid.
I make it out into the heath of Jackson Hole, and look back towards the imposing Granite Canyon that I just left.
The trail leads through open meadow, sage, and Aspen groves. I arrived back at the car tired and sore, but had the best backpacking trip of my life to date.
I was rewarded with this spectacular rainbow falling out of the sky. This is straight out of my camera, no adjustments or enhancement at all. It was actually a full double arch, but the photos of the whole thing weren't as impressive.
I continued my drive, and though I physically felt truly awful, I also had never felt better. I know it sounds nuts, but I think some of you understand what I mean.
This last one is of my up at Double Cabin on another morning, trying to finish up a painting.