Last summer we hiked with Powder River's uncle Dean near Independence Pass in CO. This summer we convinced Dean once again to strap 25 pounds on his back and hoof it over some mountains. Dean and Beth (Powder River's cousin), like to hike the 14,000 footers of CO but they do so with small day packs. Our short trip in the Weminiche Wilderness was Beth's first time backpacking. We found her a pack on Craigslist for $30 and she borrowed one of our down bags. Hopefully Beth will keep backpacking in her native CO mountains so we can live vicariously through her experiences :)
We drove on the infamous Million Dollar Highway to Cunningham Gulch trailhead near Silverton, CO. Powder River was excited for me to experience this highway. He drove on it at the end of his Colorado Trail thru-hike in 2010 (much to his mother's shagrin- she was forced to ride over it as a passenger). If you have a fear of heights or visions of plummeting to your death inside a rolling car down a steep slope, we cannot recommend this road. If you however, like living on the edge- you will really enjoy this ride. The trailhead is a hub for ATVs. In fact, on our drive back down to Silverton at the end of our hike, we joined the ATV rush hour, and filed in to a stream of them heading down the mountain. Silverton is a really neat tiny mountain town. We wondered what it's like for the community in the winter, the town must be very hard to access! Then again, maybe everyone drives snowmobiles! We enjoyed watching the old narrow track steam train pull into the middle of town. You can ride it to Durango and back for $100.
Back to the Weminuche Wilderness Hike: We hiked to the Highland Mary Lakes from the Cunningham Gulch Trailhead. Here's a great website that covers some of the hikes in the area, if you are planning your own trip: http://www.coloradoswildareas.com/weminuche-wilderness/. We gave our Nat Geo trail map to Dean at the end of the hik (with hopes he would continue to use it) so my memory is a little shakey as I write about specific place names.
Powder River was most excited to show me a view of the Grenadier Range, his favorite part of his thru-hike of the Colorado Trail in 2010. Check out his blog about this area here. Yes... it was truly amazing. Now that I am back in Baltimore, looking at these photos, I can hardly believe that we were up there in that heaven.
We ran into a couple of thru-hikers (one on the C.T. and one on the C.D.T.). They are easy to spot, one because we used to be them, and two; they typically have smallish backpacks and don't want to stop and talk for very long. Thru-hikers on these trails need to make 20+ miles everyday if they are to finish in one season. Amazing feat at such high elevation. I suppose their lungs have adjusted- mine certainly hadn't! Which sadly cut our trip a bit short. We were both feeling the nausea and headaches. This feeling made me want to cry: it was such a stunning place and I felt really crappy. So it is in God's country. You must take the time to walk in this place so that you can adjust to being there to cover more ground. His ways truly are mysterious, as is His AWEsome nature.
My first hiking trip "Out West" with Powder River was in 2012 in the Bighorn Mountains. And it was the most incredible scenery I think I've ever seen- untouched high alpine lakes, waterfalls, open meadows of wild flowers with nearby marmots chirping "this is my home." He took me to the Cloud Peak Wilderness. And as he says, (Wyoming-raised as he is), there are very few real wilderness areas on the East Coast. He often points out that when we enter a wilderness area on the Appalachian Trail, there are typically paved roads running through. Not so in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. The dirt road just to get to the trailhead is a very bouncy, hour long drive in a high-clearance, preferably 4 wheel drive vehicle. No ATVs are allowed onto the trails in the most serene areas which lead to Cloud Peak, a 13,000+ foot mammoth of grey rock.
Our hike this year, once again with Powder's dad, was to Emerald Lake. This was Cooper's second time in Cloud Peak, and boy did he enjoy it! The constant chirping of picas and marmots really kept him busy and gave us some fun photo opportunities! (No picas or marmots were harmed in the creation of these photos, or during the hike.)
From Coffeen Park trailhead, the hike to Emerald Lake is relatively easy - a gradual uphill hike over fairly smooth, somewhat root and rock free trail. It is only 6 miles to the lake and the hike could be a day trip, but we enjoy camping out. We had great weather and enjoyed the peak of the wild flower bloom.
There were several stream crossings. On about the second one, my foot slipped into the water on a deceivingly slippery rock. For the next stream, I just decided to walk through with submerged feet. Mesh trail running shoes are great for this reason. By the next morning, my shoes and socks were completely dry, just in time to walk through the same streams again as we neared the truck.
It's great to hike with Gary, Powder's dad. He is always positive, even through some of the less fun parts. And we did have some mishaps on our trip! A flat tire on the way up, killer mosquitos, he fell on a rock and had some stomach issues. Yet he constantly smiled. God's joy is so present in his spirit. This has also helped him to run the Sheridan hospital lab for the past 40 years! Keep smiling, Gary!
Once we broke tree line, after about 4.5 miles, we were greeted by some majestic meadows surrounded by rises of granite all around and a stream running through. We climbed the last 250 feet up and over Edelman Pass and were meet with this heavenly scene: the sinking sun was drenching the rock speckled grass all around Emerald Lake. The mountains around the lake make it seem as if you are on the top of the world, and just over the edge would be only air and clouds. It is the kind of "room" I want to live in! We walked a bit around the lake and found a perfect spot to pitch the tents, complete with a flat boulder the height of a table to make dinner on. Dehydrated teriyaki chicken and rice never tasted so good!
Please note: dogs are NOT allowed in the backcountry of Teton National Park. Sadly, Cooper did not join us for this hike. Instead, he enjoyed the joys of life as a suburban dog in Sheridan, WY with his Grandma and Grandpa.
The Teton Crest Trail is a very popular small 40 mile thru-hike. It is considered to be on a par with the John Muir Trail in AWEsomeness and since it is a 6th of the length of the JMT, we can consider it to be the most spectacular hike for its length in the US. The Grand Teton National Park regulates how many backpackers can be on the trail by requiring that you reserve a specific campsite for each night you will be out. Only one third of the limited campsites can be reserved in advanced through their website. We chose to get up at 5:30am and stand in line for two hours the day before our trip to get our permits. We were first in the ever growing line. It is probable that some of the folks who also got to the Visitors' Center before the doors opened at 8am, did not get the campsites they wanted. The ranger advised us to not finish out through Paintbrush Canyon because the snowy trail in that section would require crampons and ice axes. So instead, our thru-hike was cut short by 8 miles and we exited via Cascade Canyon at Jenny Lake. We claimed the following campsites "by a hair:" night one- Middle/South Fork of Granite Canyon; night two- Death Canyon Shelf; night three- South Fork Cascade. It is possible to backpack this trail without permits because there are two National Forest sections that you can camp in that do not require reservations. It is best to hike North, so that you can see the majestic Grand popping up over the smaller mountains as you progress.
We hiked with our friends "Teeny" and Dana. I met Teeny on our A.T. sobo thru-hike in 2011. She and I were hiking partners for the last 800 miles of the South on our way to Springer Mountain. Her boyfriend is working at the Old Faithful clinic in Yellowstone this summer and was able to take a few days off to meet us. Teeny is an incredible athlete. I owe part of my success in completing the A.T. to her. Her constant, powerful drive also helped to keep me driven- through the snow, bitter cold and pain we experienced off and on during the last stretch of the 2,181 mile hike.
We began our Teton Crest Trail hike from highway 22, west of Jackson Hole Resort. Some hikers choose to use the resort's tram for $30 per person. We're cheap and like the extra sweat factor of climbing up from the parking lot :).
When we arrived at our first night's campsite, we were somewhat surprised to find several groups already set-up, as if they had already been there for hours (they probably had). We found a bare dirt spot on the other side of the stream from everyone, later to be challenged by some tired, grumpy boy scouts who claimed we were "in their group site." That didn't go over great because they were accusatory and we knew the "group site" was a mile back, according to the map. It's a wonder the scouts didn't scout out a site, but instead just followed our tip on walking a few paces up the hill from us to find another flat spot we had seen. Turns out there was a post 15o yards away from our spot that vaguely referenced a "group site" in our vicinity. It would help everyone if the Park Service made this crystal clear, for the sake of keeping grumpy boy scouts at bay.
We ended up changing our plan and only spent two nights in the woods. We arrived at Death Canyon Shelf camping area around 2pm and decided to continue hiking to camp in Alaska Basin instead. No permits are needed there, so besides taking our reserved sites from someone else in the permit line, we did not break any rules. We were so glad we camped there, it was just incredible. The next day, we hoofed it up and over Hurricane Pass and all the way down Cascade Canyon to Jenny Lake. We saw many groups of people around the Teton Crest Trail/Cascade Canyon Trail junction. Pretty impressive to find so many people about 7 miles from the parking lot! They all would have walked 14 miles that day, whereas we did about 12 and saw more incredible views by a factor of 10. Our final day was filled with ice-melt waterfalls, lovely flora and shade by the Grand. Once we got to Inspiration Point at the far end of Jenny Lake, we decided to take the shuttle boat (!) across for a one way price of $8/per person. There were so many people on the two mile stretch of trail to the parking lot. We didn't want to dodge them with our poles and heavy packs and didn't want our stench to interfere with their "serenity," so the shuttle boat ride with 70's mustache dude Captain Dave was perfect. We finished off our caloric-depleting day with a really delicious dinner at the Q Roadhouse in Moose.
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