Thursday, September 7, 2006

Teton Backside

Yellowstone National Park shares its southern boundary with Grand Teton National Park. Despite their close geographic proximity, the landscape could not be any different. Where Yellowstone is relatively flat with thermal features, Grand Teton is all about mountains. Rising to the west from the valley floor of Jackson Hole, the peaks stand like an impenetrable wall. Only the most skilled mountaineers can stand on the tops of the peaks, the most prominent being Mt. Moran (12,605') and the Grand Teton (13,370'). Most visitors choose to gaze at them in the morning light from the valley floor. For us, however, we had been anticipating all summer to do a multi-day hike along the Teton Crest Trail, which traverses 40 miles along the backside of the peaks.

The trail goes in a linear north-south direction. This required some logistical support from Mom and Dad. We would leave our truck at the northern trailhead, which would be our exit point. We would then load all four of us and our backpacks in Mom and Dad’s van, and drive south through Jackson and up Teton Pass to the southern trailhead. Dad was a bit hesitant about this scheme – besides the illegality of two unsecured passengers in the back, it required getting up before the sun to get an early start. We bribed them by going to dinner at Dornan’s Chuckwagon BBQ in Moose, Wyoming the night before. We ate outdoors on picnic tables with the enormity of the Tetons as a backdrop. Food was served from dutch ovens over hot coals – mashed red potatoes, beans, carrots, biscuits, and stew. All washed down with a cold draft beer. Another motive of this feast was to celebrate Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary on August 31.

Thunderstorms overnight soaked our tent, so the plans for an early start was somewhat thwarted. We spent an hour spreading wet nylon on the ground to dry in the parking lot as we readied our packs. We then piled in the van, and made the drive to the other trailhead. Teton Pass has grades of 10 percent in places, and the van labored slowly with the added weight of passengers and gear. We said our good-byes to my parents, and started hiking by 10:30 am.

The Teton Crest Trail follows the tilted sedimentary beds uplifted during the mountain building of the range. When you view the Tetons from the valley floor to the east you see only the granitic rocks underneath. We were on the gentler western slope, and the trail followed “benches” of the more resistant sedimentary layers. Much of the trail was at about 9,000 feet elevation, so the wildflowers were still plentiful and the meadows lush. The top photo is from the morning of our second day, looking down on Marion Lake with cliffs of limestone in the background.

Days 2 and 3 were long ones, 14 and 12 miles respectively. We crossed several passes, two of significance. The first was Hurricane Pass at the end of Day 2 – the view looking northeast from this pass is shown in the second photo. From here the backside of the trio of peaks – the Grand Teton, Middle Teton, and South Teton – are in full view. The glacier at this pass has also receded significantly – note the turquoise lake in the foreground, and the moraines left behind by the melting ice.

The second pass on Day 3 was Paintbrush Divide, the view from which is shown in the third photo. The wind was howling when we were there – gusts of probably 50 miles per hour exacerbated by a high-profile backpack kept me from walking a straight line. It was difficult to hold the camera still, but fortunately the pictures came out in focus. From this pass we could see Mt Moran, the massive peak on the left of the photo.

Our last day was just less than 5 miles, so we were out before noon. We were able to shower, do laundry, and check our email before reuniting with Mom and Dad for our final night of camping together. Mom and Dad will be taking a much more leisurely pace home. We have to break out of the “not-more-than-60-miles-per-day” philosophy we have lived all summer and drive south to look for winter housing in Mammoth and other commitments in Southern California. Our last night together was cold – it dropped to the high 20’s. Fall comes early in the north, so I suspect Mom and Dad will be accelerating to warmer latitudes soon, too.

Posted using wi-fi provided by Mammoth Lakes Public Library, California
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