Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Quiet. Not before a storm

I haven't posted anything here since I did my post hike discussion several months ago.  To be honest with you, I'm not very motivated because I'm not going on a backpacking trip this year.  I've got too much other competing claims on my vacation—the family reunion I got roped into for my wife's side of the family for spring break (which I enjoyed more than I thought, although much of that was because the family reunion was relatively short and we got to go do a lot of our own stuff otherwise on this trip.  I also got a wicked bad cold and felt so sick that I thought I'd come down with strep throat.)  Then we've got a super-long trip to Hawaii coming up soon, and I've got to go support the stake high adventure—both because my wife is too anxious about my youngest son's Type I diabetes and his management thereof to let him go if I don't, but also because the stake is running high adventure this year, and I'm a counselor in the stake YM's organization.

And then, I'm also spending a few days here and there at other things, like the day I'll be at girls' camp, and stuff like that.  My vacation evaporated without leaving me any room for a backpacking trip.  I came really close to canceling my participation in the family reunion trip to make room for it, but I ended up not.  I've also threatened to see if I can pull something together in the desert for either Thanksgiving or Christmas break, although that will be very unpopular at home.  Actually, Christmas is a no-go because my oldest son and his (still new) wife will be coming over from Rexburg, and he's been missing us and home and feeling nostalgic in general, so I want to be there for him.

What does that mean for 2019, then?  We've got a family trip to Florida planned to see the new Star Wars Galaxy's Edge attraction (although if Star Wars movies don't stop sucking so hard soon, my enthusiasm for this will plummet.  I'm already pretty "meh" about DisneyWorld in general compared to where I was ten years ago.)  A good friend of mine has really stepped up his efforts to get an Isle Royale backpacking trip scheduled—which now, even my wife is threatening to maybe come on!  I'm a little guarded about this; although I think it'd be great if she was into backpacking, she does have a pretty gimpy knee, and I don't know that this means she'll start liking it.  For that matter, as terrible as it sounds, I don't know that I want her going on my backpacking trips with me.  I see a lot of her as it is, naturally, since she's my wife.  And as an introvert (who can admittedly run a pretty convincing extrovert subroutine on demand—for a while, anyway) who sometimes just needs some alone time to recharge, I've come to enjoy the solo trips in part because they're solo trips.  This Isle Royale trip may turn into a big deal; the friend who's trying to get us to go will probably also bring his wife, some of his kids, maybe his son-in-law, and it wouldn't even shock me to find out that he's ended up inviting more people by the time we get that far.

Not only that, I'm a fan of the American west in particular, and although a quiet little island national park in the middle of Lake Superior sounds nice, it's not really the kind of destination that I think of when I think of backpacking.

I've also got two and maybe all three of my brothers threatening to come along on my next backpacking trip out west, which would be fun, but also means that I'd have to work with them on an itinerary that might be tricky timingwise as it is.  So, I'm giving some consideration to holding on to enough vacation to do something here in 2019 too, but I don't know what it would be.  The one brother who's most wanting to come along is talking about the Teton Crest Trail, which is also something I'd love to do.  He's also, however, talking about some Southwest destinations, as he lives in the Phoenix area.  That opens up a different season of possibilities in Arizona, southern Utah, and even New Mexico, western Colorado or southern California.

Factory Butte near Capital Reef National Park in southern Utah, a potential October or November destination.
So, my plans are too up in the air for me to have too much to discuss, hence the quiet on the blog.  No "regular" hiking trip in 2018, and although I've got some fun outdoorsy things planned, they aren't the same kinds of things that I normally do, nor are they likely to "scratch the same itch" so to speak.  2019 is, so far, looking like the Isle Royale is the most certain to happen, with another western trip high on my priorities, but requiring a big of work to make sure it happens.

In another four years, Young Desdichado #1 will be in his late mid-twenties, four years married, probably out of school and likely with a toddler or baby (or even more than one) in tow.  Young Girl Desdichado #2 will be mid-twenties, hopefully closing in on marriage and/or a career or some kind of settled future, and therefore not a source of immediate worry.  Young Desdichado #3 will be wrapping up or having just wrapped up his mission and going off to college, probably in Rexburg too, and Young Desdichado #4 will have just left on his mission too.

That might be a good time for me to take a sabbatical from work, if I can afford it and figure out the Byzantine paperwork required, and do something big and dramatic like hike the Arizona Trail, or something like that for 6 weeks or however long it takes.  I can probably do half of that with vacation, and only take a month-long sabbatical.  Heck, if that works out well, I might want to think, a couple years or so further down the line, about the PCT or CDT even.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

New Patagonian National Parks

Big news in the National Parks front from Chile.  Quoting a few selections from the Forbes article on the subject:
The Tompkins Foundation [donation] of one million acres will help form a network of 17 national parks along Patagonia that spans most of Chile. This donation will aid efforts in "rewilding" Patagonia, an effort to roll back decades of development and deforestation. The Chilean government agreed to pledge an additional 10 million acres under Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. This expansion will create five brand new national parks and add acreage to other parks, creating what is called the "Route of Parks" running North-South along Chile. The total 11 million acres of protected national park land is larger than Denmark and three times larger than Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks in the US combined. 
The expanded parks are anticipated to aid in Chile's ecotourism, generating an estimated $270 million per year in revenue and providing over 40,000 jobs to locals. The new protected areas include a diverse collection of ecosystems from deserts to volcanoes to rainforests. With this addition of national park acreage Chile climbs the ranks in countries with the highest percentage of protected land, comparable in percentage to Costa Rica.
It remains to be seen (at least by me; I couldn't find anything anywhere) exactly what these parks will be, what their maps will be, what services and infrastructure they will offer, etc.

But most likely, it will increase the ability of hikers to go and visit them.  And heck; there may well be a Patagonian Andes traverse someday that allows thru-hikers to cross from one to another to another.

EDIT: I should note that the comparison to Yellowstone is, of course, flawed and kind of silly.  Yellowstone is a national park, of course, but it doesn't exist in isolation.  In fact, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) which includes both Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park is also surrounded by national forests and federally designated Wilderness Areas, which are more restrictive (although they sometimes overlap) than national parks anyway.  The total GYE protected land area is 12 million acres, compared to the Chilean total of 11 million.

So the comparison to Yellowstone is—while technically correct—actually so woefully obtuse as to possibly be deliberately dishonest.  Certainly the comparison should have the opposite conclusion as the writers make.  Whether that is because of the writer's ignorance of the rest of the protected areas in the GYE, or if it's being deliberately omitted to create a Narrative is unclear.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Post hike discussion

A few things I learned (some of them I should have learned a while ago, but I stubbornly refused to until this year) from my trip to the West Elks.

First: I love being in the mountains.  I love the solitude. This means that I need to make some effort getting out there, and it's not reasonable that I'm talking really about day trips.  In spite of that, I've found that I don't really love the "walk all day every day" routine that I've often planned.  In fact, it's a big mistake to plan those kinds of itineraries in general.  Even if I were in better shape than I am, I still wouldn't enjoy it as much as I thought in the past that I would.  This is supposed to be mostly relaxing, and planning a week-long death march doesn't really accomplish that very well.

Secondly; I'm not in very good shape.  I meant to exercise all summer, develop some hamstring strength and endurance in particular, etc. and I never really got around to doing it consistently, in part because summer has been so crazy, and in part because I wasn't sufficiently motivated to find ways to work around the craziness (which I could have, had I really wanted to enough.)  Fixing this problem will go a fair bit of the way towards fixing the first—if I were in better shape, I could walk farther and more days without being sick of it.  It might even help me sleep better, for that matter.  This is probably the number one thing that I need to take away; hiking is a lot harder if you're out of shape.  (sad face)  But like I said, even if I were in better shape, I think that I don't like as much walking and camping as all of that; that's just the cost of the other stuff that I do like about hiking as a hobby.  So I need to stick with itineraries that are more about getting somewhere cool, setting up a "base camp" and not moving for a couple of days, except by packless exploration and whatnot.  Come to think of it, that's how we did my favorite high adventures (like the one in the San Juans.)

Third, and that last phrase reminds me, although I've done my "old man high adventures" in the Uintas and have had my eyes on Wyoming in particular, I'd kinda forgotten that my first (and best) Rockies love was always Colorado.  The San Juans trip that I did as a teenager, lots of driving along I-70 as a kid, a (sadly, way too short) family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, etc.—Colorado's got it all, and one of the biggest things about it that really works is that it's fairly easy to get to places.  In recent years, this was a subconscious turn-off—like the notion that being 15-20 miles away from a decent sized town or road is some kind of impediment to solitude or something (it's not.)  I don't need to get further away from civilization, and in fact the situation in Colorado where getting from civilization to the wilderness is relatively painless (most of the time) is desirable.  

Fourth, I need to have good back-up plans.  When my first day was harder and more exhausting than I thought it was going to be, and my second and third days were only looking to be worse, it was not good that I was kinda committed; my only options were to bail and just turn around, taking a couple of days to backtrack, or push forward (not really feasible, in this case) because my route was one that required commitment and didn't have a lot of good back-up exigencies.  When I did try to make a back up plan (backtrack, and then set up along Mill Creek and do day trips up the valley from there) I hadn't done sufficient research, and was unable to find the trail head.  (super sad face)  The part of the route that I most wanted to see; the Castles and Mill Creek, had to end up getting cut.  Not cool.  Now, I really enjoyed the Beckwith Pass trail and the aspen groves along the Cliff Creek trail before I turned around—but it wasn't the highest priority part of the trip, it was just the part where I was meaning to start and end my extended 50 mile figure eight loop.  As it turned out, it was all that I actually did.  Had I planned on getting to Mill Creek from the get-go, I would have seen the part of the trip that I most wanted to see, and would in fact have possibly only done that when I realized that I need to scale back my overly ambitious plan partway through the trip.  Now I'll have to go back and try it again some other year.

Fifth, My initial thought was to go this week, instead of last week, to try and hit peak fall color.  I changed to accommodate, in part, some stuff my wife wanted help with here at home, but I also was seduced by some peak fall color predictor that I saw.  The fact is, peak fall color is hard to predict.  While some areas nearby in Colorado were probably at peak fall color, the very specific area in which I hiked was probably two weeks away, which you can see in some of the pictures below.  Of course, the flip-side of this was that I had great, summer-like weather rather than cool and rainy (or even light, early snowy) weather, which I could have and halfway expected.  This is probably a good thing.  It can be hard to stay sufficiently warm in the mountains, even during the summer.

Sixth, for some reason, I expected hunting season to be the same as it is here in my low elevation home area.  In other words, I thought I was early enough not to see hunters.  Turns out, I saw one couple day-hiking at the beginning of my trip, I saw one backpacker coming out as I was going in, and other than that I saw nothing but hunters.  In fact, there were quite a few more of them than I expected to see.  Not saying that I didn't get the solitude that I wanted, but I never really felt like I was alone out there, because I had passed several outfitter-style camps, and several guys leading packhorses both in and out.  Now, this is all fine—in most respects, I tend to feel more comfortable with hunters than with granola-type hippy backpackers, but I suspect that without it being hunting season, I would have seen less than half as many people as I actually did, and the feeling of solitude would have been greatly increased.

Seventh, my experiences in the Uintas made me somewhat cavalier about water sources, but either because the West Elks or drier, or because it was later in the year and streams were more dried up waiting for the new snows, I should have paid more attention to water and filled up every chance I got.  I actually ran out the first day, and didn't find any water until the next morning.

These aspens are not peak fall color.  Not even close.  They're still my favorite tree, though.

The Lost Lake Slough; a rather hopping campground which serves as a de facto base area for the Beckwith Pass.  That's actually East Beckwith right in front of the lake, and the backpacker parking area is a quarter mile or so to the rear of where I was standing when I took this.

This was on the way in to the trailhead.  The Elks really are an amazing series of ranges.

"The Dyke", a formation across the valley from the West Elks Wilderness,.

East Beckwith Peak from the pass (or near the pass.  I can't remember exactly where I was when I snapped this.)

The aspens actually seemed more autumnal near the Dyke.

The "sea of mountains" view looking north from Beckwith Pass.  Most of my best pictures are from the pass area.

I didn't catch the name of this peak, actually.

The Ruby Range

Another angle of East Beckwith

Monday, September 11, 2017

West Elks it is

Well... I'm officially "falling" on my back-up plan.  One week from right now, I should be a few hours into the trail, but I discovered—by serendipitous accident—that bear canisters are required for Maroon Bells hikers.  I don't have one.

So, my options are:
  • Ignore the rule and go anyway.  Risk getting fined, or having my food ransacked.  Unlike many other little misdemeanor statutes like speeding tickets, etc. hiking stuff is usually not passed to be a revenue generator; it's only passed because there actually is a need for what they're requesting.  This is a bad option.
  • Order one and hope that it arrives in time.  I can't find bear canisters at any store here in Michigan.  Nobody has them.  I've actually checked in the past. With less than a week to go, this is a bad option.
  • Buy one in Colorado.  This is a bad option for two reasons—it will cost me time that I need to use to hike, and I don't know how (or even if) it will fit in my pack.  Making this literally a last second thing seems like a terrible idea.
  • Go to my West Elks backup plan, hang my food like normal, and do Maroon Bells later with some friends or my brothers.  
So, of those options, the obvious one is obvious, right?  Here's my backup route; a nearly 50 mile double loop.  I'll probably reverse the order of the lower (second) loop actually, and go through the Mill Creek canyon east to west rather than the reverse.  By that point, I'll be two days out into a 4-5 day trip.  My tentative plans are to stop for night one near those two lakes just before Castle Pass but after the switchbacks on to the forested bench (it's about 11½ miles into the hike).  Second night tentative plan would be, with a reversed loop, to make it just barely into the Wilderness boundary of the Mill Creek canyon, and tackle Mill Creek and Storm Pass in the morning.  This leg of the second loop has very little climbing, so it should be good for relatively big miles, but I don't want to be in too big of a hurry.  If I don't end up making it all the way to the Mill Creek trailhead area, that's OK too.

The third day, in this plan, would be the one where I want to most take my time and enjoy.  Stopping and enjoying the sites, sitting and looking at spires of breccia surrounded by golden, quaking aspens.  Maybe I'll get lucky and see the herd of elk that seems to be spotted frequently in Mill Creek.  Anyway, I'd go over Storm Pass, stop and look at the Castles, maybe go summit West Elk Peak without my backpack (if I feel like it) and then camp somewhere in the South Castle Creek drainage.  Maybe by those two kidney shaped lakes.  Then, I can make my way back towards the car, spend another night somewhere near Swampy Pass, maybe, and then go to the car.  If I get there early enough, I can do something else; go check out the Beckwith Bench, or go see the Maroon Bells before leaving town, etc.  If it turns out I have even more time than I expect or think I'll have, I can make a quick trip to nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which I haven't seen since I was a teenager.  Maybe even a tweenager.  I don't remember.  It's been a long time, and I'll be very close.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

West Elks

I'm getting quite close to my trip, and I had a bit of a set-back.  Or maybe that's not really the right word for it—my friend and hiking companion had to bow out just recently.  My original plan had been to go to the Wind Rivers in August.  I changed it to the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop, in part to accommodate him.  So, when he bowed out, my first thought was... can I go back to my original plan?

I think the answer there has to be no; it's too soon; today is already August 1st.

But it is causing me to second guess.  As much as the 4-passer looks great, it's also very popular, and I'm afraid of the crowds.  Probably once you get past Maroon Lake itself, it's not so bad, but the leaf season, especially on the weekends, is crazy.  According to everything I've read, anyway.  Also; the Four Pass Loop has quite a bit of elevation gain, and honestly—I didn't do nearly as good a job getting in shape as I'd hoped to.  With my friend hiking with me to push me, I'd probably have been fine, but I'm second-guessing if I want to do a loop that's so difficult now.  With the Four Pass Loop, I gain nearly 3,000 feet in under five miles right off the bat... ouch!  Then I drop and regain again another 1,600 over the next five miles, and then drop and regain again another 2,100 feet over the next seven miles.  Then I finally stay relatively high for a little while before dropping back to my starting point, but the next elevation gain on this loop is over 7,500 feet.  I have to admit; I'm a little intimidated by that!

So, I have another loop that I've come up with nearby in the West Elks, near the Castles (I'd still do my Castles spur too) that is about the same mileage, but only about half the elevation gain—mostly because the trailhead starts a bit higher, leaving less that needs to be done by foot.  But also because it just doesn't go quite as high.  The four pass loop has four passes over 12,000 feet, after all.

So, I've now got a slightly less intense alternative.  I'm considering it, because I'm worried that I'm over-confident in my ability to really do the four passes without being miserably out of breath and with my legs feeling like jelly.

(Maybe I should quit typing now and go take a walk, by the way.)

So I don't know yet what I'll do.  I mean, heck—I can decide at literally the last minute if I want to.  They're really close together, after all.  But I like the fact that I have options.  Although maybe it's not a good thing, as it encourages me to not push myself.  I do have plenty of time to tackle the Four Pass Loop, after all.  At only 25 miles long, I could do as little as averaging five miles a day and still be fine.  Not that I want to be that slow.  On the other hand, if I'm really fast, I could do both loops, in theory.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Complete Teton Crest

After reading about the Teton High Adventure, or whatever title you're using to describe it (I prefer to use the Complete Teton Crest Trail) I decided that it simply had to be mapped in Caltopo.  So... here it is.

Although what the guy who's write-up I read had for mileage was 80, I can't figure it, unless he did a lot of off-track wandering.  I actually have my start in the south at a slightly more distant trailhead; Coal Creek rather than Phillips Canyon (although it might be more actual miles by a small amount—it looks like Phillips Canyon actually backtracks to the south a bit before joining the actual Teton Crest Trail 008) yet I only get 73 miles.  I kind of agreed with his perspective; bushwhacking a good 5-6 miles through relatively thickly treed forest to find Lake of the Woods sounds miserable, especially if it's late in the day, so turning to the West and walking a few miles out to the Boone Creek trailhead seems like a reasonable alternative, even if it does take you off the "crest-line" for a time right at the very end.

On the other hand, I've seen youtube video that suggests that walking along the crest between Table Mountain and Dry Ridge Mountain is certainly doable (although you might have to duck into the basins to make camp, or if there's a storm brewing) and I can not only cut 9 miles off of the 73 mile total, but stay on the crest and see the classic Teton crest scenery—from a better vantage point, even—by following the blue shortcut.  The only downsides—you are up on a somewhat exposed ridge, and there's no trail, so you're bushwhacking across scree and alpine tundra a lot.

After wandering around for a bit, the 008 reappears in the north, although it's no longer called the Teton Crest Trail, that is effectively what it really is.

I've put tentative nights on the map as little tents.  These are very tentative, but I've done a few things on purpose.  1) Tried to keep reasonable distances between them so no day is too long.  I didn't do a great job near the end where my days are 14 and 13 miles long, respectively, but if I need to, I'm sure I can add an extra night in there somewhere and shorten those up.  2) Along those lines, I might want to move night #3 southwards just a bit and chop about a mile and half off of day 3 and add it to day 4.  Both days are when I'm doing the most off-trail walking, so they may be more difficult.  3) I only have one night that's actually within the park boundaries (night #2 on Death Canyon Shelf) which means—permits become a bit of a non-issue, because I only need one!  Granted, I'm cutting it awfully close by spending some of these nights literally just barely over the line in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness to avoid needing a permit.  But it looks like it's doable.

Other than the 2nd day, where you're on the heart of the "classic" Teton Crest Trail (most people cut off the southern portion, take the tram up Rendezvous Mountain, then bail at the "end" at Paintbrush Divide, if not sooner, and head down to Jenny Lake) it should really avoid the crowds.  Taking the trail instead of the short-cut probably adds the equivalent of another day (9 miles!) and the scenery is a bit less dramatic, because you have smaller mountains obscuring the views of the main Teton peaks.  But, there's a certain comfort to being on the trail, if you need to, and if weather forecasts look bad, that might be a necessity to avoid the risk of lightning strikes while spending long hours on exposed ridges.  And from all accounts, it is still strikingly beautiful even if it's less "classic".

It's curious that it's a Teton Range hike, but it really avoids to an exceptional degree, spending too much time actually in Grand Teton National Park itself—you cross the park boundary early on Day 2, spend night #2 in the park, and about halfway through day #3, you leave it, or at least walk right along the border of the park and the neighboring wilderness area in the national forest instead.  In fact, reviewing this itinerary, it's kind of amazing how much it skirts the park boundary all throughout, and spends much more time in the Jedediah Wilderness than in the park itself.  It almost seems sneaky.

The itinerary looks something like this, then:
  • After arranging somehow to have a car at the northern end (some Uber or Lyft driver in Jackson, maybe?  Do I know anyone who lives there? The Bitters?), you get to the Coal Creek trailhead and start hiking.  Don't take too long with the cars—this day is not insignificant.  It's 9½ miles and quite a bit of elevation gain, so unless you're already warmed up by having walked a lot the last few days before starting, and are elevation acclimated, it'll probably be a relatively hard day just getting used to things.  You also have a bit of a climb at the very end, leaving the main trail to head off to the higher benches and Moose Lake, although not that bad.  From your campsite, the ridgeline to your north will be the park boundary, so it's literally within shouting distance, if not quite rock-throwing distance.
  • For the second day, you immediately tackle some switchbacks and enter the park, and then shortly reach the Middle Fork Cut-off junction, where the "easy version" of the Teton Crest Trail hikers will join you, coming off of Rendezvous Mountain.  Stop at Marion Lake for lunch and then keep going to Death Canyon Shelf.  I stuck the little campsite icon in the middle of Death Canyon shelf, but in reality, I think you could camp anywhere along that big bench and probably do equally well.  Looking for a bit of solitude should be the major goal, I suppose.  I have this day as a relatively short 7½ miles, but it depends on exactly where you stop—you could flex it by about a mile or so on either side of that.  As an aside, if the day is as short as all that, Fossil Mountain looming over the southern end of Death Canyon Shelf would be a fun destination to hike to after taking your packs off and setting up mid-afternoon on the shelf.  That beautiful picture I posted yesterday was taken from Fossil Mountain, apparently, at around sunset.  See if you can recreate the shot!  The approach seems a little steep, but there may be an interesting thing here; if you can get up to Fossil Mountain, or at least to the southeast slopes of it before entering the shelf proper, you should be able to find easy access to the upper bench of Death Canyon Shelf and no doubt considerably more solitude.  It would be possible, although maybe not highly desirable, to spend the night again somewhere between Fossil Mountain and Point 10,062, just outside park boundaries, therefore completely getting rid of any need at all for any backcountry permits along this route.  Wow.  But you don't get to camp on Death Canyon Shelf, which is too bad, as it's uniformly rated as one of the very best backcountry campsites in the entire US.  Although—to be fair, you sure are awfully close to it (only a few hundred yards, really) and if you're spending most of that time asleep anyway, well, maybe that's OK.
  • I have marked 12½ miles for day 3, but I think it's probably worth it to bring the campsite down about a 1½ mile south, so it's really more like 11 miles (assuming a campsite in the middle of Death Canyon Shelf.  That flatish spot above Petersen Glacier seems like the obvious choice, although a possible descent to the South Leigh Lakes area if needed isn't out of the question.)  This assumes travel along the blue short-cut line, obviously—otherwise, I'll be spending a night somewhere out there in the westward bight of the red line, and throwing all of my other nights off, because who knows where I'll be at the end of each day.  My concern, as noted above, is the prolonged exposure to above tree-line ridges if the weather gets bad and if it's going to take longer than I think doing all this off-trail rambling—especially as this is one of the longer days in terms of miles, and the going might be a bit rough, high, and with plenty of up and down.
  • Day 4 isn't very long—only 7½ miles, just to the north of Dead Horse Pass (a popular name in the Rockies—there's two Dead Horse Passes in the Uintas alone) but I could go farther and stay at either the Hidden Corral Basin or the Camp Lake area, and cut some miles off of day 5.  In fact... that seems extremely sensible to do.  Unless I'm really beat after doing all that off-trail scree route-finding the last two days.
  • If I do go longer on Day 4, then Day 5 will not be a grueling 14 miles long after all, and maybe I can even camp just a bit further north than the Grizzly Creek headwaters area—a somewhat ominous or exciting name, depending on your perspective.  Setting up camp somewhere on the flanks of Survey Peak just outside the park again would be a great alternative which buys me maybe a couple of miles off of the last day.
  • The final day, day 6, is also long (unless I cut some miles off, as described above)—13 miles, but at the end of it, I'm at my car at the Boone Creek trailhead and heading into a hotel or something in Jackson for dinner in a restaurant, a shower, and a night in bed before heading home.
I'm excited as this is actually a quite doable hike in 6 days, with an average distance/day of only about 10½-11 miles.  It also requires only one permit, or if you're clever about the Death Canyon shelf area, not even that.  Curiously, although Grand Teton National Park requires  bear canisters for all backcountry campers, the neighboring Jedediah Smith Wilderness regulations say that hanging is equally OK.  I may want to invest in a bear canister anyway, because honestly, at the end of a long day of hiking, setting up camp is already tiresome; hanging your food—especially if you're close to the treeline—may well be a hassle I'm not interested in.

I think it's entirely possible that this just jumped to the very top of my summer 2018 destinations list.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Teton Crest Trail

I'm excited by a prospect that was pointed out to me; that a government shutdown without the petty Obama in office might well mean that the offices of the national parks are closed but the gates left open.  This is just a long-shot what-if scenario right now, but if suddenly I find that I can go hike Grand Teton National Park without needing to get the hard-to-get permits because there's nobody there to disburse them or to check them either one, you can bet I'd bump my Maroon Bells plans in a jiffy and find a way to rearrange my schedule to go hike an extended Teton Crest Trail as quickly as possible.  Sometime in August would probably be ideal for a weather and conditions perspective, but my hiking companion this year already told me August is off for him, which is why I've been looking at September/October.

On the other hand, he works for the federal government too.  Maybe he'd suddenly free up, if his position is deemed "non-essential."

Here's my caltopo for the Teton Crest Trail (expanded) itinerary.  One thing that I've noticed is that my days are quite short.  They're sorta based on the traditional stopping points, so when I'm doing my northern extension, for example, I'm doing longer marches, because I'm finding my own spots.  Ideally, if the weather holds up and allows uninterrupted hiking days, I'll do something more like 7-11 miles a day, which means that Night #2 (Marion Lake) and Night #4 (Alaska Basin) might be skipped altogether, making this a 5 night (6 day) trip.  In other ways, that seems a real shame, and do I really want to rush my trip?  I dunno, but on the other hand, do I really want to do a 7 night 8 day trip?  That's fairly long.  I may not be able to get that much time off work, especially if I need four days of driving to get to and from the Tetons anyway.  Of course, if I'm not worried about permits, all of this is a bit of a moot point anyway, right?

I think, therefore, that my ideal itinerary would be to miss those two stops, and have the following rough outline.
  • Leave work early on Friday.  Drive as far as I can that night, and Saturday.  Get to Jackson Hole on Saturday night.
  • If I can find a very early church service on Sunday morning, I'll go to Sacrament meeting, otherwise, I'll just start hiking on Sunday morning at the trailhead noted.  Hike about 7½ miles to Moose Lake, where I spend the night.  
  • On Monday, hike another 7 to 7½ or so miles to somewhere in the middle of Death Canyon Shelf to spend the night again.
  • After another 6 miles or so on Tuesday, at Hurricane Pass, ditch the official Teton Crest Trail, and after a little less than 2 miles, make camp at the trail terminus for that trail that goes up to Table Mountain.  I've seen a Youtube video of a guy hiking this ridge, so I know it's not terribly difficult, even though there's no trail, and there's not much in the way of exposure.  Should be doable.  Could be a windy and dry campsite, which means getting water when I can, but hey—no mosquitoes that way, right?
  • On Wednesday, another 4-5 miles or so cross country will take me to the shadow of Little's Peak, overlooking Lake Solitude, and the official trail below.  I've seen the same guy camp up here, and this looks relatively easy and safe to hike, although with a fair bit of up and down.  This is kind of a short day miles-wise, but I might appreciate that given that it's a few days in and there's lots of up and down.  Might need to recover a bit before embarking on what is possibly the most challenging leg the next two days.
  • Thursday is a rather high, cross country day where I anticipate going about 8 miles or so, to the remote Lake 9610, unofficially called Ortenburger Lake.
  • Friday is the longest (but probably among the easiest) days; I log a good 12 miles, but after a quick jaunt downhill, it's all flat, and gets me back to the main Jenny Lake and visitor center area.
  • This gives me Saturday and Sunday both to get back home, so I manage to contain the entire trip with only taking a 5-day work-week off.  Although I'll probably be pretty beat on Monday morning.
Unresolved major issue: this is a point to point hike.  How do I get my car from the trailhead where I'm dropped off to the trailhead where I come back off the trail?  Will some of the commercial shuttle services be running?  Can I talk some relatives in Utah into driving a few hours to come move my car if not?  Can I hitchhike on Friday evening from the Jenny Lake area back to the trailhead, especially if the park is technically not open?  This is, admittedly, a pretty big deal.  I can probably get an Uber or Lyft driver from Jackson in a pinch, right?...

The Wigwams (left foreground) and the classic Tetons (center background) at sunset.
Also; bear canisters?  I mean, nobody will check if I have one, but nobody will be in the offices to give me one either.  I'll either have to buy one myself, or do without.  The latter isn't a great option, because bears are active all through this area, which is why regulations require them; these actually aren't dumb regulations (for once) these are regulations with a pretty good purpose.  I wonder if I could rent one from REI or something?

Anyway, the whole thing is probably a pipe dream, because the conditions that would need to exist to make it make sense for me to drop everything with relatively short notice and go hike the Teton Crest Trail permit-less are unlikely to actually happen.  And sadly, if it does, it'll probably be in September, when it's a moot point, because it's not that hard getting permits in September relatively speaking, and the weather is iffy for doing the hike then anyway.  But, a guy can dream, right?

UPDATE: Wow, an even bigger expanded Teton Crest Trail hike.  The real whole thing.  But he did it way too fast for my taste.  80 miles in four days?  Nah, in terrain like this, that's at least a full 7-day week.