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.