Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Yellowstone Miles to Teton Highs

Needless to say, my adrenaline was notably elevated by the events of my second day in Yellowstone this year. I've had dozens of meetings with bears, mostly of the black variety, over the years, but two closely timed backcountry grizzly encounters really made me feel alive. Some may quip "lucky to be alive." I've already received some criticism for my solo hikes. And those remarks were precisely why I hesitated to tell that normal-for-me story.

I do not forgo accelerating my car onto a ridiculous stretch of local roadway known as the Lloyd Expressway, which comes with intersections, traffic lights, and construction barrels, just because I might encounter one of the many inattentive or otherwise dangerous drivers who cause daily wrecks (those are not accidents). Nor will I reconsider venturing onto a trail in a national park because I might run into a creature who resides higher on the food chain. Though there is inherent danger associated with almost every aspect of life, I believe that life should not be controlled or limited by fear.

That being stated, I have to admit that "death by bear maul" is not high on my preferred cause of death list. Oh, you don't have one of those? You should put some thought into it and see if it alters your behavior.

So, the story continues. With all of the road reconstruction behind me, I steered the ct200 around the Grand Loop that day, stopping frequently at trailheads. The hikes were short, between two and seven miles, but they added up to dozens of miles over a variety of landscapes all over the park. I walked alone several more times. Some sights were congested due to the summertime onslaught of auto propelled visitors like me and also due to those tourists, mostly foreign, who move about in tour buses. (How do they fit thousands of camera and iPad pointing people into each of those white buses?)

That day ended with a sunset hike and a meal at Old Faithful. Given my ease with sleeping on the ground, I must confess that the rustic Old Faithful Inn lures me in. A morning walk along the boardwalks of the Upper Geyser Basin provided another opportunity to stop and meditate in a tranquil environment. Then it was off to the Tetons with only one stop at the newly enlarged West Thumb Geyser Basin which lies next to Yellowstone Lake. What a visual treat to include in any Yellowstone visit. On a side note, I saw/heard a man break his ankle in the West Thumb parking lot when he stepped on the lip of a huge pothole. (Reread paragraph two now)

An hour after leaving Yellowstone I arrived at Grand Teton National Park. First stop - Blacktail Butte. This climb was wrought with reminiscence as I had scrambled up the steep nose of the butte with my sons back in 2004 on a whim. Blacktail Butte contains several rock faces that local climbers use to practice moves and guides use to teach and test moves. There was a makeshift scree and tree root slope up to the top where climbing anchors were (and still are) bolted in. A multi-switchback trail has been built up to that point now. The direct route is blocked, so I took the trail. That butte offers a view of the Jackson Hole valley and the Teton Range. The photos tell that story. Confession time. I loaded the AK with a water bottle and Hefe because the drive had left me parched. I have an affinity for a well made Hefe, but they seldom taste that good. Is that what Anton and Buzz really had in mind for this vest?

After catching the NBA playoff game at the Snake River Brewery I turned in early for a climb of the 13,770 -ft Grand Teton. I had heard about, and could clearly see, the snow on the summit dome, so I knew that reaching the summit was a long shot. Still, I had an urge to climb. My 2006 July 4th summit with friends and guides left a solid imprint on my mind, so I knew that I was in for a mighty fine walk.

I followed the Owen Spaulding route until, as expected, I reached heavy snow in the area above the Upper Saddle where I could see before close approach that the feature called the Belly Crawl, a ledge of 18-24 inches with an exposure to a 2000 foot fall, was impassable. It had already been treacherous going back and forth from stone to snow with (and without) micro spikes on shoes. The down climb was, well, exhilarating. See, I didn't supply the gnarly details to get people worked up. I topped out at just under 13,000 feet according to the Polar V800 (great review here). Close, but this wasn't washers.

Well, I will add that another Life Goal was achieved when I glasaded down from the Lower Saddle. Basically, glasading is sliding down a snow covered slope or sledding without a sled. It can be performed in sitting or standing positions (I sat) and an ice axe is used for stopping purposes. The guides did not let us do that on their watch (sounds like me, the teacher, taking fun out of an adventure), so I had only watched others do it back in 2006. I thought about filming my slide, but I could not get the camera rigged securely onto me. Trust me, it was better than any roller coaster I've been on. The soft snow enhanced the safety on the edge of the meadow at the bottom.

Three hikes/jogs, one that evening and two the next day, allowed me to explore new to me trails and canyons. Storm clouds formed above the peaks each afternoon before unleashing sporadic heavy rain up high and then in the valley. All three hikes involved showers for me. Perhaps those mountains had a message for me.

Half of the last day was spent taking care of business: uploading pics at the Cowboy Coffee Co., restocking food (coffee!!), oil change, and making new friends. In case you missed this message last year, I've been experimenting with what I call Smile Application. The evidence I have collected clearly shows that approaching people with a broad smile and offering a hearty "Hello" will brighten everyone's day and open hearts and minds to good conversation. Its like an invisible gaseous mind control elixir or one of those mysterious attractive field forces. Give it a go:)

The time spent at Yellowstone and the Tetons may seem redundant on the surface, but I chose to engage in new activities and explore new territory throughout my visit. Furthermore, I felt like I finally gained proper knowledge about how to manouver efficiently in both parks. I hope to someday make it back, because there are more summits in the Tetons and many square miles of territory to explore in Yellowstone. And then there are those items left on the Life List.

As usual, here are a few of the scenes from my adventure. Are you planning yours yet? ST

Yellowstone National Park

I did not create it, but I added to it. Bunsen Peak Cairn
A toaste to Robert Bunsen
Several miles of construction on the Grand Loop

Grand Teton National Park

Within 30 minutes I paused while climbing through those wispy clouds on
my way up the Grand Teton (middle) via the Lower Saddle left of the peak
Phelps Lake in Death Canyon
Death Canyon hike
Granite Canyon hike
Sunset walk around Jenny Lake to Inspiration Point
This curiosity lasted for several minutes

First glimpse of the Grand entering Garnet Canyon

Looking down from Blacktail Butte (see the ct200?)
Also check out that new stretch of bike path!
Narrowly escaped a few hail storms

And this little piggy went . . .
and kicked another stone.
The cabin from the move Shane is in Jackson Hole!
Yes, I was named after the main character.
Trails and life - obstacles and choices along the way


  1. Amazing pics! I am jealous of your sense of adventure!

  2. Thanks! The road is open to all and it doesn't need to be expensive to see priceless treasures.