Thursday, October 20, 2016

Shoal Falls Loop

My wife has actually suggested that I fly to my next backpacking trip, rent a car, and go that way rather than drive out.  I'm surprised, because this will no doubt be more expensive (and as the CFO of the house, the budget is kinda "her thing").  This is still early, and I don't know if it's going to be serious or not.  I'm on the fence.  I don't want to spend more money, even if it is "her job" to find it in the budget, it's mostly "my job" to make the money, and I'd kinda like to spend it somewhere else, I think.  Plus, I don't care about putting more miles on my car; it's over five years old and just rolled over 100,000 miles a week or two ago anyway.  But... if I do that, it buys me a couple more days.  If I could fly out Friday afternoon or evening, leaving work a little early, but not so early that I need to spend more vacation time, I could potentially hike the Saturday and Sunday that I would have been driving there, and still get back early enough to save a vacation day on the tail end.  Four days of driving is a big deal, and while I like a good road trip as much as the next guy, I admit that I wouldn't mind collapsing four days of travel just to get to my backpacking area of choice down to maybe a day of hanging out in airports, on planes, getting a rental car, and driving just a few hours from airports to trailheads.

What would I do with an extra two or three days or so?  Well—the easy answer is that I can do the same trip and just spend less time away from home doing it, which is always an answer.  But, maybe I can slip in another small trip to somewhere else that I'd really like to see in the area too.  One option is the Shoal Falls Loop; a route that's more or less detailed in Backpacker Magazine and elsewhere, but at the same time, for anyone who knows anything about the area, it is pretty obvious.  It hits the highest scenic high points of the Gros Ventre Wilderness in two simple days; or three if you take your time, or otherwise take a side-trip or two.  While I admit that there are other places in the Gros Ventre that I'd like to see other that what this loop shows (Brewster Lake, the Six Lakes area, etc.) this is often considered a major scenic high point of the entire Jackson Hole area.  And, of course, the big advantage is that it's short.  And another advantage is that hardly anyone goes there.  Compared to the Tetons or the Winds, it's empty.  (The Winds can be empty when you get away from Cirque of the Towers and Titcomb Basin too, of course...)

I've whipped up a Caltopo for this trip that includes the entire loop as a single route, including a couple miles or so of an exploration of nearby Deer Ridge that offers tremendous views of the area and comes highly recommended.  I've marked three potential campsites, but Campsite #2 at Shoal Lake is the one I'm most likely to want to do.  Unless Deer Ridge ends up taking more time than I think.

I've also added a spur hike to Brewster Lake; a potential day hike if I set up camp at Shoal Lake and stay there two nights.  I doubt I'd do this, but it's worth noting as an option anyway.  If I do, it makes it much more likely that I'd be "done" with the Gros Ventres for some time; why go back when I've seen all of the must-dos and I have so many other places still to explore in the West?

Here's a few images I've found online here and there.

Doubletop Peak from Deer Ridge.  Doubletop is the range high point.
Palmer Peak from Deer Ridge
High pond on the route
Shoal Lake
Black Peak with summer wild flowers

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