Friday, August 28, 2015

Wyoming & Montana, Part Two: Backpacking in the Tetons

Warning: Long post! I visited Grand Teton National Park for the first time 18 years ago. On that trip, we probably only spent a few hours there in the morning, passing through on our way from Jackson to Yellowstone National Park. I remember being enchanted by the view from the shoreline of Jenny Lake and seeing moose for the first time. I really wanted to hike there, but we just didn't have the time for it, to say nothing of the time for a backpacking trip. When we started planning this year's trip, I was adamant that we would go backpacking in the Tetons.

We started our day at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. The rangers were helpful and nice, but they were dealing with people who arrived that morning and had no idea where they wanted to backpack or climb, nor which permits were still available.. So instead of a quick permit pickup, we had to wait in line for an hour behind a number of groups trying to plan multi-day backpacking trips on the fly. Like I said, though, the rangers were great. Since we reserved our permit ahead of time, once we got up there, they got us squared away quickly.

We started at Lupine Meadows. It is a popular trailhead, so we wound up adding close to 3/4 of a mile to our hike from the car to the actual trailhead. The trail started off fairly for about 1/2 a mile. Then the climbing started - gradually at first. The scenery couldn't be beat. The trail alternated passing through flower-filled meadows and cool, shady pine groves. We came around one corner and found a young adult black bear eating berries near the trail. We kept a respectful distance (along with a few other hikers) and watched it for several minutes.The trail got steeper as we climbed. As we got higher, I have to be honest and say that I was struggling with the altitude a bit. Between photos and breaks, it took us a long time to hike the five miles (and 3,000 feet of elevation gain) to Surprise Lake (elev. ~9,600 feet). We made it, though and it was definitely worth the work. Surprise Lake is stunningly beautiful. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area. 

The Tetons are grizzly country, so we set our cooking area up a good distance from our campsite. It was probably the camp kitchen with the best view that I've ever had (picture below).  We also carried bear spray and a bear canister. We had two cans of bear spray between the three of us, with the idea that at least two of us would always be together and there would be one canister per tent.. That turned out to work pretty well. As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, it took a little bit to get used to grabbing a canister before wandering off to use the bathroom in the woods or before getting out of the tent in the middle of the night. Fortunately, we never needed it.

The next morning, we got up and hiked the short quarter mile up to to Amphitheater Lake. Amphitheater Lake is actually, possibly more beautiful than Surprise Lake. Although this area is very popular with dayhikers, we got up there a couple of hours ahead of the crowds. We had the whole place to ourselves. There was no wind, so the surface of the lake was like perfect glass. We hiked up to a small ridge dividing Amphitheater Lake basin from the next basin north. Then we scrambled up Disappointment Peak as far as we felt comfortable without technical gear. We saw marmots, pikas, and all kinds of birds and wildflowers. At the end of our day of exploring, we soaked our feet in the cool water of the lake. It really was a perfect day.

That night, back at camp, we watched a helicopter rescue operation that turned out to be on Middle Teton (more on that here). Fortunately, we found out later that no one was seriously hurt. In the morning, we woke up to a thunderstorm down in the valley. We watched it pass through to our east just after sunrise. Fortunately, we didn't get wet. We had an easy hike down, followed by an excellent lunch in Jenny Lake Lodge.

It was just a spectacular hike. If I had the time, I could spend a month backpacking in the Tetons. The hiking was challenging, but doable and the scenery just can't be beat. I hope I get the chance to do a longer trip out there, maybe on the Idaho side of the Tetons. 

Day 1 Pictures:  
Looking up towards Mt. Owen from Lupine Meadows Trailhead.
Aconitum columbianum (Western Monkshood). This was growing in the wet areas on the lower parts of the trail.
This young adult black bear was hanging out near the trail eating berries.
Near Surprise Lake, we got a great view of Grand Teton (middle).
Mt. Owen over Surprise Lake
The camp kitchen with the world's best view. The shadow in the valley is that of Grand Teton.
Delta Lake and Mt. Owen near our camp kitchen. Again, best view from any kitchen. Ever.
Day 2: I got up around sunrise to find this view from our cooking spot.
Our campsite.
 Pedicularis racemosa (Sickletop Lousewort) near Surprise Lake
Amphitheater Lake and Disappointment Peak in the early morning light.
The trail along Amphitheater Lake
There is an American Pika in the middle of this photo (click to enlarge).
Cool moss on a dead tree.
Bootshot over Delta Lake and the valley below.
Gentiana calycosa (Mountain Bog Gentian).
Our friend and Michael above Amphitheater Lake.
Two marmots. These two pretty much ignored us as we passed on the trail. They were busy feeding on the plants in the meadow.
The view from our high point on Disappointment Peak. Amphitheater Lake is on the left. Surprise Lake is just visible to the left of the large rock outcrop. Below to the right, Bradley and Taggart Lakes are visible.
Another marmot near Amphitheater Lake. I didn't get photos of it, but a little bit later, we saw (and heard!) two marmots fighting over territory. They barked loudly at each other and had a pretty intense standoff. Eventually, some climbers walked through and interrupted it.
Soaking my feet in the lake.
Day 3 - Sunrise over the valley from our cooking spot.
A juvenile grouse on the hike down. We saw the entire grouse family.
Michael on the trail.
I think this is Clarks Nutcracker. 

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