Thursday, June 28 – Grand Teton National Park
We took our time leaving Dubois, with stops at the post office and the outdoor store. Margo, the owner of the outdoor store, is nice and very helpful. We filled in our final CDT gap, the half mile between Togwottee Pass and the picnic area where we were dropped off last year. We didn’t do that small section on Tuesday. We thought it would be easier to get a ride at the Pass because there was a good pull-out there. If we’d known how long it would take to get a ride, we would have walked the ½ mile in both directions, but we were optimists and kept thinking the next car would pick us up. The picnic area is less hitchhiker-friendly. Today that didn’t matter since we just did a key exchange, each of us walking in a different direction. I was lucky, I got the downhill.
Eventually we headed west through the road construction to Teton National Park. Smoke from three fires obscured the peaks, but they were still beautiful. We did a drive past Jackson and Jenny Lake, then spent a long time at the Backcountry Office setting up a backcountry trip in the Park. There is still snow at some of the passes and an ice axe is recommended, so we are doing a shorter version of the Teton Crest Trail that avoids the worst areas on each end. It should be nice. Otherwise Teton National Park was a bit of a disappointment. It’s too crowded, smoky and we saw no wildlife. We did see one deer on the highway, but nothing in the park. We made a brief trip to Jackson to shop for food for the next few days and to check out the town. It’s a busy place.
We got a site at a campground a few miles out of town. It’s huge and not next to the lake, so there were vacant spaces. Jenny Lake was full when we passed by there.
Friday, June 29 – 3 ½ miles in Grand Teton NP
We spent all morning on the phone, dealing with making reservations for our Great Divide Trail hike in two weeks, including a last minute rush to town so we could e-mail our itinerary to the Lake Louise Information Center. Because we need to reserve only certain campsites in the national parks but not the ones in the national forests, it was a bit confusing for all concerned. Jasper was a separate call, and took a long time, but ultimately we got exactly what we wanted. I’m a bit concerned because of the mileage. I wanted to take it easy with low mileage days, following the guidebook’s recommended two month schedule, but that means carrying heavy packs with a lot of food. So we decided to go a little faster and shorten the time between resupplies. As it is, we have one ten-day section. It’s really hard to carry that much food. Hanging it away from the bears will really be interesting. Still, I feel good that this very important step is completed. I find it so hard to believe it’s almost July already. Where did June go?
By the time we finished that, it was too late for a long hike, so we drove north to Colter Bay to check it out. They have showers and laundry, which we’ll need after our backpacking trip. Then we stopped at busy String Lake where we did a short hike around the lake. There were a lot of folks swimming in the cold water and others attempting to fish. We spotted a herd of 25 or more elk on the far side, invisible until we were right above them. Earlier we had seen a large herd of bison sleeping out on the Elk Refuge grasslands. Neither group was close enough for pictures, but I was happy to see some wildlife. The mountains were a little clearer today, but smoke still wreathed the peaks. Even so, we took lots of pictures of the Teton Range.
The campground is likely to be full tonight. Fourth of July weekend is nigh.
Saturday, June 30 – 10 miles in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP
The Tetons are a gorgeous place to hike, with steep jagged snowy peaks and lots of wildlife and wildflowers. The only problem is the crowds. There were a lot of people walking around Jenny Lake, where we started our hike, and even more who took the boat across the lake and walked the short distance to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. It was like walking in the city during rush hour. Lots of people continued the gentle climb up Cascade Canyon to the Forks, where the trail heads up two forks of the creek: one leads over the Paintbrush Divide and the other over Hurricane Pass. Even past there we saw people: a group of kids doing a 22 mile dayhike, a runner and several backpackers.
Still the hike was beautiful, with many waterfalls off the snowfields, a clear cascading stream and a steep-sided narrow valley. We’re hiking behind the peaks we photographed yesterday-- Grand Teton, etc. We saw one and a half moose: a bull sleeping in the shade and a cow’s hind end. (Her head was hidden in the willows.) Rodents were abundant: marmots, a pica, several chipmunks and red squirrels and a little ground squirrel. On the way to the trailhead I spotted three osprey soaring overhead.
Camping in Grand Teton NP is a bit different: you reserve a zone and within that zone there are a dozen or more campsites within a two or three mile stretch that you can choose from when you reach them. It gives the park control of how many people are in each section, but gives the hiker some freedom to choose a nice campsite. It's similar to the system in Bandelier, though with fewer forbidden areas, I think. South Fork of Cascade has bearboxes near several of the sites, so we went about 2/3 of the way up and found a nice hidden site near a box. Mosquitoes and flies are abundant. We were warned by some backpackers heading out about the bugs. Snow is still melting and it’s hot – prime time for skeeters. Other than that, it’s peaceful.
Because of the camping restriction, we had a short day. Nice. Lots of groups passed our campsite while we were cooking dinner down by the bearbox. It’s probably a good thing we stopped early. The upper campsites are likely to be filled. We were entertained by a couple of marmots and then a buck that passed nearby.
The first half of the hike along Cascade Creek was nearly flat. The last few miles were all climbing. The trail is nice though, with good switchbacks and many footbridges over streams. It’s a tourist path, for sure.
June 1 – 14 miles to Death Canyon
It was a beautiful day, hiking though more gorgeous country. I kept thinking, “This reminds me of Glacier; no, the Bob; no, Colorado.” There were snow-streaked peaks, green meadows, lush wildflowers of all kinds, lots of water off the snowfields, and dramatic rocky cliffs and peaks.
We started with a good climb to the upper cirque, where there were grand views of the three Tetons, then we continued climbing another mile and a half to Hurricane Pass. Gorgeous! We dropped down into Alaska Basin, past aquamarine Sunset Lake, then climbed 2 ½ miles up to Meeks Pass. A long hike along the Death Canyon Shelf followed, with tall sheer cliffs that reminded me of the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, then we headed down, down, down flower-filled Death Canyon. It was all incredibly beautiful. I loved the flowers: columbine, lupine, yellow and orange paintbrush, forget-me-nots, phacelia, lungwort, balsamroot, etc. Up high there were tiny alpine flowers, lower down lush green meadows. Summer in the Rockies is a sight to behold.
Mid-afternoon, as we took a water break up on Death Canyon Shelf, I spotted movement in a green meadow across the valley. We got out the monocular and were happy to see a very large brown bear. We can’t be sure it was a grizzly, but it looked like one. The only problem was that the trail we were following passes below the meadow where he was digging. You can be sure we stayed alert, even though chances were that the bear was busy eating and wouldn’t drop down for a while. Even so, we passed up the campsites at the upper end of the valley. They were just too close to the bear. The only other wildlife we saw were marmots and picas. One marmot crossed in front of us carrying a baby marmot in her mouth. Another came within 10 feet of us as we sat at a break. He was a bold one. We ran into some backpackers who had gotten a lot of gear chewed on the previous night by marmots, including a pack, hiking sticks, a shirt and a hat.
There were several snow patches we had to cross and a couple we went around. Jim fell and hurt his knee at one of those. Mostly the snow was soft enough it was easy to walk on, but not so soft we were postholing. A week from now, most of the snow will be gone.
The trail was busy again. I counted 44 backpackers and then we met a big group around 4:30 headed up with at least five miles to go to their zone. Ouch. They’ll be late.
July 2: 16 miles in GTNP – camp at Colter Bay Campground
We ended up with neighbors at the group campsite last night. Not the large group that was supposed to be there -- they didn’t make it that far. We saw them ½ mile downstream this morning. A family took the group site even though there were only five hikers. They were quiet enough, so I didn’t care. They were quieter than whatever it was that crashed through the trees or whatever it was that started chewing in the middle of the night. (Not our packs or boots, fortunately.) I didn’t sleep well, but it wasn’t our human neighbor’s fault.
We descended along a cascading stream in a narrow canyon for several miles to Phelps Lake. It was a pretty creek. Then we headed off on the Valley Trail for 10 miles. The Valley Trail doesn’t actually stay in the valley; instead it hugs the mountains, wandering up hill and down dale past a couple more lakes, Taggart and Bradley. All three lakes were a beautiful deep blue-green. Phelps and Taggart had mountains reflected in the water. We passed below the three Teton Peaks, beautiful jagged spires.
We barely missed seeing two different bears on the Lupine Meadows Trail. One crossed the parking lot a minute or two before we got there. The other was seen a couple of miles up shortly before we arrived at the junction. A woman in the parking lot had seen both. We did see a young bull moose about 50 feet away from the trailhead. There were lots of dayhikers near the lakes, but there was also some nice woods walking where we had the trail to ourselves for an hour at a time. It was a very nice hike, but long and very hot. Fortunately, water was abundant.
We finished our loop at Jenny Lake about 4:00 and drove north to Colter Bay, where we were able to get a campsite, a hot shower, and a good dinner at the Chuckwagon Restaurant. The campground is huge – 350 spaces – so they assigned us a space, but all in all it isn’t bad. There are lots of trees to provide an illusion of privacy.
July 3 – 1 ½ miles – Tetons to Yellowstone NP to Bozeman
We enjoyed a long driving day, playing tourist in Yellowstone. Since we’ve been there several times, we took slightly different routes through the Park: along Yellowstone Lake, out to Artists Point with its beautiful view of the Falls on the Yellowstone River, to the thermal areas at Norris and Big Thumb and Mammoth. It is always interesting to watch how the forest is slowly regenerating from the fires of 1988. The trees are 4-8 feet tall and growing back lushly. Each time we go through Yellowstone, the saplings get bigger. Still, evidence of the devastation is everywhere.
It was a beautiful drive, with lots of wildlife along the way. There were several herds of bison, elk, a couple of bucks, a little weasel that ran across the road and a coyote that ran straight toward our car on the road. There were also white pelicans and a bald eagle. I especially enjoyed the waterfalls, the green meadows and the colorful thermal pools.
We drove north out of the park along the Yellowstone River, with the Absaroka Mountains on one side and the Gallatins on the other. There were green fields with cows, sheep and horses with beautiful mountains all around. Nice!
We reached Bozeman in time to do some serious grocery shopping for our Canadian hike. It was expensive and a bit overwhelming buying all our food for the maildrops and the first week on the trail, but it had to be done. The fun part will be repackaging and packing it all.