Hike on Dome Mountain

With a week till I leave Dawson and the temperature at a balmy -15 Celsius, I decided yesterday I would climb Dome Mountain one more time.

I’d climbed the Dome twice before. Once with Doug when we first arrived in the Yukon in late September. It was -10 degrees, sunny, and there was just enough snow to make the powerline trail treacherous. The second time was late October. That time I took the road, which was slick, and didn’t bring any snacks or water. An hour and a half in I decided to pack it in. But I memorized all the shortcuts…

This time I was prepared and had a plan. With a thermos of hot chocolate and snacks in my backpack, dressed in layers, with a lightweight hat/gloves for the way up (and heavy hat/gloves for the way down), I was determined to make it to the top.
I took the 9th Ave trail up to Crocus Bluff, then took the road to the first cut through (next to the creepy abandoned cabins). Somewhere around Pierre Berton Cr. two dogs joined me and escorted me all the way to the top, when they disappeared just as suddenly as they’d appeared.

It was snowing lightly the whole time – we’ve been getting a lot of snow here lately – and I realized how much had been accumulating as I made my way up the road. The first 1/3 was completely plowed. The middle section had about 2-3 inches on it. But when I got to the last leg, I wished I’d packed some snowshoes: there was at least half a foot of snow to trudge through.

I was determined, though, and even with hips and calves burning I made it. After a final sprint up the mound to the ice-encrusted bench, I drank my hot chocolate and surveyed my home for the past few months.
Then I started picking my way down the face of the hill toward the powerline trail. This time, however, it had enough fresh powder on it to cover all the sharp, stabby bits I’d been afraid of in September. So I let momentum take over from time to time, grabbed the bottom of my parka tight around my legs, and embraced the great Canadian winter pastime of bum-sledding!

Back on the 9th Ave trail I waved hello at the Parks Canada guys working on Robert Service’s cabin, opened the door to Berton House – my house these past three months – and smiled with satisfaction.
Then I had a nap for two hours.

A New Soul in Old Crow

On Wednesday, October 13th, after a day and a half to do laundry and regroup in Dawson, I repacked my bag and headed out. Destination: Old Crow, the Yukon’s only fly-in community.

Old Crow is not a hub of tourism. The group of us staying at Patti and Kenny’s Ch’oo Deenjik Accommodations was pretty indicative of those that come to the Yukon’s most northern community: there was me, a writer-researcher; Jeannie and Allen, early-childhood educators/entertainers from Whitehorse; and Joanne, who was in town teaching a session on videoconferencing.

I had never been to Old Crow before, but a quick look at Googlemaps convinced me I should probably bring some of my own grub. There was not going to be a Starbucks here! And while they do have a store in town, the cost of goods is so prohibitive (at least double the prices in southern centres, according to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) that I was very happy to ration my granola bars, soup, and other foodstuffs.

A hike in sub-zero temperatures is probably not the best idea when you’re on rations, but I felt very much out of my element when I first arrived in this remote community, and I often find going for a walk is a good way to settle in. So I left the warmth of the cabin and headed out past the end of the runway, and up a long, long road.
Along the way I passed all manner of cabins, signs, and animal tracks. This was my favourite, though – really brought me back to my grad school work at UBC, and the ongoing politics of contact relations. But the Yukon is a whole other context, and I’m learning by the seat of my pants… luckily I’ve been getting good guidance from the folks at the Vuntut Gwitchin FN (and hopefully soon the Tr’ondek Hwech’in FN here in Dawson).
A view from the top of Old Crow’s “end of the road.” You can see why the Vuntut Gwitchin call themselves the People of the Lakes. You can also see one of the most important waterways of the region, the Porcupine River snaking beyond. During my trip I heard stories of tens of thousands of animals from the Porcupine Caribou herd fording this river, but this year the herd has veered from its normal course and meat has been scarce.

Near the top of the road, though, I did come across a man who had just caught a straggler. We had a good chat and I was so impressed with how quickly he field-dressed and loaded the animal onto his ATV (which is the main mode of transpo in Old Crow aside from boats in summer and snowmobiles in winter). He did tell me, though, that a grizzly had been spotted in the area and I really shouldn’t be up there without a gun.

Good to know. And time to high-tail it down the hill before Mr. Grizzly got scent of all that caribou blood!
The next day the sunny, relatively warm ‘fall’ weather (by northern standards) turned cold. Very cold. The kitchen heater in the cabin struggled to pump warmth into the bedrooms and midway through the night I decided to abandon privacy and open my door. And pile on the extra blankets…

Noon on an overcast, fall day.
The quality of the light “up here” continues to fascinate me.
As does the artistry of hoar frost.

During breaks from research at the John Tizya cultural centre, I wandered around, watching the river as it gelled in the cold.

I’d heard stories about northern communities supporting Pepsi and Coke products almost single-handedly. Here is one load of drinks coming in on the Air North plane (No pop for me, though: a can at the store cost $4 from what I heard). Soon my Old Crow diet was done and I was on the plane bound for Inuvik, with a great appreciation for this lovely community, its history, and its hospitality.

I really hope I get back soon.

[for more photos, check out fellow blogger https://www.michaelsmeanderings.com/]

Jasper Photo Diary

Friday, September 10th:

Left Edmonton at 7:30am. Hit some construction on the Henday and missed my turn. After a short detour back on the road. Stop in Edson for Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwich combo.
Doug at trailhead. Used Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies hiking guide to choose Trip #123: Beaver, Summit and Jacques Lake. It had a very good shoulder-season rating, promised to be easy, and wasn’t too far away from where we’d be staying.
Me chilling at Beaver Lake after an easy 2km walk on a well-groomed trail. These boats were locked up, but apparently you can rent them and hang out on the lake.
A bird – a female Spruce Grouse, I think – Doug almost stepped on it was so well camouflaged. Could also throw it’s voice – we heard a call but thought it was up in the trees someplace!
Another few kilometers and we reached the First Summit Lake.

Judging by these animal prints (my guess is moose) we weren’t the first. Also saw quite a bit of bear scat on the trails but the only aggressive creature we encountered was an irate red squirrel.
After our hike we headed to our accommodations for the weekend – the rustic but luxurious Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (think of the most expensive log cabin you’ve ever stayed in). But, for those who read my last post, you’ll know I got the whole weekend romance package for $495 on Kijiji!
When we arrived at our Junior Lakeview Suite the wine and cheese welcome was on the table. And I have to say, the Mission HillSonora Ranch Cabernet Shiraz was just to my taste (I let Doug have some too)!
For dinner we headed into town to the Jasper Brewing Co. and I was a little disappointed by their beers. Doug got the sampler and we agreed that compared with Brewster’s, Granville Island, and many of the other microbreweries we’ve fallen in love with, they just didn’t measure up. The food was great, though, and Doug’s fish n’ chips were served in a bucket, which was awesome. My yam fries and salmon on ciabatta were pretty darn tasty too!
Saturday, September 11th:
Back into town for breakfast at the Bear’s Paw Bakery. We each had one of their world-famous sticky cinnamon buns and an Americano. Can’t wait to go back to try their muffins, and scones, and cookies, and…
Doug went off to play a rugby game in Edson and I went for a hike around Lac Beavert (aptly named for its pretty blue-green water) to wear off breakfast. Chatted with the other folks I encountered on the trail, including a European woman who was ‘shore support’ for her scuba-diving husband in lake, and lots of Brits.
Nearing home I crossed paths with another woman and said cheerfully, “Looks like we’re going to get some sun after all!” I guess my guttural Canadian English and Germanic looks threw her because she responded in a thick ‘Souf London’ accent: “It’s Guten Tag, itn’t it?” “Yah,” I said, and kept walking.
Doug got back in one piece and we went for our Fairmont dinner at the Moose’s Nook Northern Grill. Great service, amazing food, and with my kijiji deal the price was right. Appetizers: scallops with ancho pepper and caviar. Entrees: Beef Tenderloin with potato/lobster risotto and mushroom/asiago ravioli. But the desserts were the standouts: barrista sampler (espresso ice cream, mille feuille, and creme brulee), chocolate-dipped strawberries, and the caramelized banana martini (heaven!).
Sunday, September 12th:
The next morning we had our final part of the romance package: breakfast in our room. I never thought I’d be able to eat again after the night before, but when that brioche French toast arrived with vanilla-scented whipped cream and Saskatoon berry compote, I gave in. And Doug’s west-coast eggs benny (smoked salmon on a crab/chive/potato cake) wasn’t bad either!
We’d intended to do a hike on our way back Edmonton but it was pouring rain… so we made a beeline for home, picked up the dog, and had a nap.

Canyon Camping in Utah

We are in the home stretch of our time here in Wyoming. As we’ve done in other places we’ve lived (Vancouver, Montreal, the U.K) we’ve started making a ‘Gotta Do Before We Leave’ list. Top on Doug’s: a canyon hike in Utah.

So last Wednesday morning we jumped in the Element (“Ellie”) and the Mini and headed along the I-80 West. Before venturing into the wilderness, though, we made our requisite stops in Park City at the recycling center, outlet mall, and Red Rock Brewery for lunch. Then we dropped off the Mini south of Salt Lake City for its last round of repairs and continued down the I-15 toward the Canyonlands, stopping briefly in the town of Helper to get Tylenol and muscle ointment: it was a really strenuous shopping trip!
The sun was setting as we pulled into Green River, Utah which is basically a glorified truck stop of fast food restaurants and motels. We went middle-of-the-road and stayed at the Super 8, which was clean and backed onto sage flats – perfect for letting Riker run after being cooped up most of the day. While we mused aloud about GR, UT being like the evil twin city of our current hometown of Green River, Wyoming, we alas did not run into twisted version of ourselves and our friends there… maybe we’re the weird ones already!
We got a decent night’s sleep after Riker stopped growling at people in the hall and by 6 a.m. we were up and ready to continue south toward our destination of Arch Canyon near Blanding, Utah. First we had to stop at the McDonald’s in Moab to grease up for the trek, of course, and ogle the insane number of R.V. parks chock full of these portable homes. Shudder….
At 10:30 a.m. we were at the trailhead with our packs strapped to us – even Riker had one so he could carry his collapsible bowl, kibble, and treats!
I was really surprised at how sandy the trail was, and it was a heck of a workout keeping our balance and getting up the hills.
There was a lot more vegetation than I had expected as well, some of which – like the trembling aspens – were wearing their fall colours.
After a 9-mile hike with breaks for lunch and a quick snooze we arrived at the junction of Arch and Texas Canyons where there was the biggest, most groomed campsite ever. Plus there was a flaming red maple tree/bush which we took as a sign that us two Canucks and our American dog should set up camp there. We made dinner – freeze-dried Katmandu Curry – followed by a dessert of freeze-dried dark chocolate cheesecake. In the real world these probably wouldn’t taste amazing, but out there after all that huffing and puffing, it was gourmet!
Unfortunately our freeze-dried pancakes the next morning didn’t turn out quite so well. Okay, they failed miserably. Probably because we had nothing to grease the pan with and the heat didn’t distribute very evenly. After one attempt that scorched the pan, we dumped the rest of the batter behind a tree. Which, of course, Riker proceeded to lick up.
So I quickly made up some wraps with pb, honey, sunflower seeds and dried fruit, a recipe I’d found in Backpacker Magazine and we ate them while hiking further up Arch Canyon with minimal gear.
By 11am we were back at our campsite at Texas Flats and had stripped off most of our layers: while it was hovering near freezing at dawn, it gradually warmed up as the sun found its way into the canyon, reaching about 18 celsius. We ate our mac and cheese and started breaking camp when all these ATVs came roaring up the trail right to us. We counted at least ten ATVs – a whole family at least – and decided we’d try and stick to the riverbeds and side canyons (where they couldn’t follow) as much as possible.
A couple miles back toward the trailhead we deked off to a side canyon on the left in search of springs we’d seen noted in the hiking book. After stashing our backpacks, we hiked for an hour, clambering over boulders and learned an important lesson: grey rocks = solid; red rocks = crumbly sandstone you can break your neck stepping on. Or in Doug’s case, his bum.

In the end the mythical springs turned out to be trickles of water dripping off moss on these rocks. Not quite the impressive founts we had imagined. But, the water was cold and wet and after pumping it through a filter, boiling it, and dousing it with chemicals, we figured it was safe to drink and cook with. And we must have been right, because no one got dysentry on the trip (well, Riker had an interesting day after the pancake batter…).

That night we hiked to another well-groomed camping spot closer to the trailhead. It was a little trickier to navigate all the cacti, but other than Riker getting one ‘spike ball’ stuck in his paw (and then in mine when I tried to remove it) we managed. At day break on Saturday we packed up and headed back to Ellie – and just in time to avoid a veritable onslaught of ATV-ers there to celebrate the Columbus Day long weekend by laying siege to Ute territory.
We made it back to the ‘real’ Green River mostly in one piece, but thoroughly exhausted from exercise, the long drive, and Riker’s ‘watch-dogginess’ that began with the birds’ rustlings at 4:30am. Then on Sunday we rectified the pancake incident by eating the most delicious home-made blueberry-flax pancakes ever (a high-altitude recipe I’ve been tweaking since moving here a year ago). Monday we celebrated the controversial Columbus Day aka Canadian Thanksgiving aka El dia de la Raza the right way: by gorging on margaritas and fajitas at Don Pedro’s restaurant! Ole!
Now the camping gear is stowed until the spring, except for Riker’s backpack, which is not only practical but cements our reputation as the yuppiest family in good ol’ Green River.

Backpacking, Bubba’s BBQ, the Bunnery and one Sassy Moose

After our escape from misery Sunday afternoon, we checked into the Grand Targhee Ski resort, which was the perfect place to hang all our gear to dry, work our boots over with a hair dryer, do some laundry, and catch up on sleep. Never mind that the restaurant was closed Monday-Wednesday, the hot tub was on the fritz, and one of the beds had stained linens: it was warm and dry and we didn’t worry about mucking it up with our gear!

Sunday night, after awakening from our nap, we were like bears emerging from hibernation: hangry (def. angry because hungry). We drove 15 minutes to Driggs expecting to find a plethora of choices but instead found that this largely Mormon town had basically shut down Sunday evening. So we kept driving to Victor, another 10 minutes down the road. We stopped in at the Grand Teton Brewing Co. thinking there might be some pub grub, but they don’t serve food.
Back to Driggs we went, eventually finding Tony’s Pizza and Pasta, which was perfect. There was a salad, pizza, and pasta buffet for $10 and we ordered a “flight of beer” of seven sample-sized local beers (our faves were the hard-to-get GTBC Organic Au Naturale and Snake River Pale Ale). Then for dessert they had warm cinnamon buns. After committing carbicide (i.e. death by carbohydrates) we drifted sleepily back to the hotel and soon passed out.
The next day was our “townie” day, which started with a hearty breakfast and great coffee at the Milk Creek Grill in Driggs. Then we headed into Jackson for some people-watching, window shopping (too expensive and kitschy to do much else), and to find the world-renowned Bunnery. Since we’d had a late breakfast, we thought we’d skip on lunch and just subsist on a generous serving of their Very Berry Pie and Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake. Oh… my… God….

We drove to our next B&B; in a sugar coma, which might help explain why we couldn’t find it right away (well, that and the GPS coordinates were wrong and I forgot to bring the address). We finally found the Sassy Moose Inn, a lovely place with views of the Tetons. While we received an enthusiastic greeting by the owners’ black lab, Cher, the owners themselves were nowhere to be found. The building was unlocked, though, and we found our room, unloaded our stuff and gave the owner a call on his cell phone to let him know we’d arrived. It turned out their style is very hands off: the wife of the team came into the house to make breakfast the next morning and then they both promptly left, never checking in with us about our stay or saying goodbye (or refilling the coffee pot)! We’re pretty self-sufficient people, though, and made the most of the outdoor hot tub at dusk which had lots of buttons for Doug to push (and from which I saw my first shooting star)!

We were a little nervous heading out into the backcountry again (see previous post) but felt fortified after our two nights in real beds and the pound of meat from Bubba’s Bar-B-Que we’d ingested the night before. That, and the weather forecast looked much more promising.

We took the winding mountain pass from Jackson back over to Idaho and headed up to the Teton Canyon Campground just past Alta, WY where we parked at the Alaska Basin/Table Mountain trailhead in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. We piled on the sunscreen and bug dope, changed into our hiking boots, and started in on the trail at the same time as another couple in their early 60’s who live in Jackson and were out for the day. We hiked the first five (gradually ascending) miles with them, through beautiful meadows, exchanging travel stories/tips along the way. We even stopped and had our lunches together next to the river.

At around 5.5 miles up the trail we parted ways. They just had day packs and had to hike back before their food, water, and energy ran out. So we said goodbye and then Doug and I did our best tight-rope walker impression across this “bridge” before continuing up.

We’d read in the trail guide that it was at this point the hike started to get a little stiffer, and that proved true. By mile 6 we could really feel the weight in our packs and the sweat pouring down our backs. With the help of some snacks and stubbornness, we made it to the top of the Alaska Basin by around 4 p.m. (total elevation gain of 2,400 ft), but it took another 45 minutes of hunting for a campsite before we were satisfied that we had the ideal mix of solitude, breeze to keep the bugs at bay, and level ground.

We cleaned up, filled our reserves with filtered water from the nearby creek, and rested for a bit. Then we made our freeze-dried Caribbean beans and rice which we enjoyed with these mini bottles of Shiraz and an appetizer of jalapeno almonds.

The flies and mosquitoes were a nuisance in the Alaska Basin, even as late as August, likely because of the alpine lakes and the wet spring/early summer. But this time I was better prepared: head nets and lots of DEET (the wine didn’t hurt either)!
Alaska Basin at sunset
The next morning we got our breakfast and instant mocha mix together, then packed a bag with day supplies to tackle the climb to Hurricane Pass (another 1000 ft elevation gain, up to 10,500 ft). I’d read that this side trip was definitely worth the effort, but that if you could ditch your heavy gear first you’d probably enjoy it more. So up the steep switchbacks we went, then down into the valley that held beautiful Sunset Lake, then up again to Hurricane Pass and the Schoolroom Glacier. We passed a lot of other backpackers on the way, laden with gear since this is part of a popular trail back into Teton National Park, and they were very jealous of our light load.

Me near the top of Hurricane Pass, with Battleship Mountain to my left and Meek Mountain behind me (Doug carried the pack up).

Doug climbed down the loose rock to stand on Schoolroom Glacier. There are so many times on these hikes that you feel really, really small.

We didn’t see any ‘mega-fauna’ on this trip (i.e. no bears, moose, elk, etc) but lots of plump Marmots, whose little tails do a funny clockwise propeller motion when they run.

Unlike our hikes to Adobe Town and other desert locales, water was not an issue in the Alaska Basin. We had our trusty filtration system and emergency iodine drops. So we were good to go, dysentry and giarda-free!

This backcountry adventure was a two-night affair, so after doing the 5-mile trip to Hurricane Pass, we had a quick snooze and lunch and then packed up our gear to continue down the trail. Doug had told me we wouldn’t be doing much elevation gain, but that was false: we had some pretty stiff uphills over switchbacks for the first mile or two, but then it did level out once we had reached the top of the ridge, thus saving our marriage.

We popped “magic skittles” to fuel us (no, not pyschedelic drugs but actual skittles that I tried to imbue with magic properties to keep one foot moving in front of the other) and kept slogging forward through the sub-alpine meadows, a little blind to the beauty around us. While the meadows were gorgeous, they didn’t make for great campsites, so it took us quite a while to find someplace that might work. In the meantime, we’d had to load up on water because our GPS indicated our path diverged from any water source for quite some time. It’s always great to have to add an extra 8+ pounds to your pack near the end of a long, tiring day!

Doug did find a good spot where someone else had trampled the meadow, and I was so tired that I passed out for two hours before dinner. Then we ate our dinner, drank the last of our Shiraz, and passed out once again.

Our final morning, we awoke in great spirits, knowing that in a few short hours we would be back in Ellie on the road home to a shower. First, though, we were going to stop for burgers in Pinedale and Moose Mania ice cream at the general store in Farson along highway 191, otherwise known as the Jonah 500 because people drive it so fast.

First we had to tackle the Devil’s Staircase, though, which was pretty hard on the knees and a little nerve-wracking. We made it down in one piece and quickly walked the final two miles to the parking lot, passing lots of fresh-faced people just starting their hikes into this amazing spot, feeling pretty proud of ourselves.

The Luxury and the Misery

After Doug suffered through two gruelling weeks of being out at various rigs (we figured he slept at home 3 nights out of 14), I whisked him off on a trip to Jackson Hole in northwestern Wyoming and Teton Valley in eastern Idaho.

On Friday the 7th we headed up to Pinedale with a friend of ours, Andria, and her two dogs, Belle and Chase. It was a beautiful, sunny day and perfect for the day hike we had planned in the gorgeous Wind River Mountains (a range within the Rockies). After trying to figure out which trailhead to start from, we ended up on the Pole Creek Trail that leaves from Elkhart Park in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It’s a popular trail with day-trippers like us and backcountry campers, so we weren’t worried about bears, just about slipping in the poop left behind by the numerous Llamas being used as pack animals for campers.

After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch at this picturesque overlook. Andria was kind enough to share her gourmet lunch fixings like pine nut hummus, wasa crackers, and peaches. I had a generous hunk of white chocolate/lemon/mint bread from the farmer’s market that I contributed and we feasted like kings. Then we headed back to the trailhead where Andria embarked on her two hour drive back home with a Llama poo-covered dog (why do dogs enjoy rolling in excrement?) and Doug and I booted it north to the swanky mountain town of Jackson, where our B&B; awaited us.

Jackson is an incredibly expensive place to live and play, and July-August is peak season. Doug and I don’t mind paying a little extra for a special experience, but in a place like Jackson the Best Western costs you $230/night and the nicer places can run $400-$500/night. Luckily I’ve got some experience hunting up deals and found us the most amazing place to stay at a 40% discount because we squeezed into a one-night spot between reservations. I had high expectations for The Bentwood Inn after poring over the website and it did not disappoint.

We arrived at 5pm pretty grubby after our hike, but the co-manager, Peter, welcomed us warmly and gave us a quick tour of the Great Room (above), the breakfast area (home-baked chocolate chip cookies available 24/7), and showed us to our lovely room (below) complete with Scandinavian Inglenook bed, jetted tub, private balcony, and gas fireplace. After we cleaned up, we enjoyed their nightly wine (imported from the Republic of Georgia) and cheese (and fruit, and crackers…) in the Great Room while chatting with the other guests.

After some discussion about dinner options, we decided to go to the Snake River Brewing Co. in Jackson, which I’d heard had some great microbrews. It was packed full of outdoorsy-people but it didn’t take long for them to find us a table. By then we’d already grabbed a Zonker Stout (Doug) and a Hoback Hefeweizen (me). Then we had to decide what food would complement our ales. Doug picked a unique pizza: bbq sauce, grilled peaches, italian sausage, and goat cheese. Once he was able to shift his “pizza paradigm” he enjoyed it quite a bit. I had their award-winning buffalo chili and a chunk of corn bread. Delicious!

I could see Doug starting to come back to life after his exhausting stint in the field. After a 10-hour sleep in the cozy room and an incredible three-course breakfast replete with what I have dubbed Beavertail Coffeecake and a sundried tomato and goat cheese omelet, we were ready to head out into the wilderness and rough it for a couple of days.

First we had to decide where we were going. The original plan was to go to the Alaska Basin on the western edge of Grand Teton National Park for a one-nighter and then to Yellowstone National Park for a two nighter at the end of our trip, but I had glimpsed in the local newspaper that Yellowstone was in the midst of its busiest season in decades: 900,000 people in July alone. There was also major road construction going on that was causing long delays. We both agreed that we did not feel like dealing with those hassles during our relaxing getaway.
So we changed things up. We drove the mountain pass through to the Teton Valley – formerly known as Pierre’s Hole – on the Idaho side. Then we went north of Driggs along a one-lane dirt road into the Targhee-Caribou National Forest where we parked and embarked on what we hoped to be our first successful overnight backpacking trip to Green Lake.
The hike started well enough. We knew there was a good chance of rain and that it was going to be chilly in this alpine region, but we felt we were prepared. Lugging our bags up the steady incline was challenging, but we were well-rested, well-fed and in good spirits. We enjoyed the views, the beautiful alpine meadows, and chatted amiably with the sparse groups of folks we encountered.
Then the drizzle started. No problem, we though, just a scotch mist. Then it started coming down harder, turning the dirt path into a muddy stream and coating the wildflowers so that brushing up against them soaked our pants nearly up to our waists. Then the rain turned to freezing rain, then to hail, then to wet snow. By the time our three-hour, 2000-ft climb ended at Green Lake, I was so cold, wet and tired that I didn’t even bother to rock-hop across a stream: I just waded through it. My boots were soaked anyways!
We set up camp as quickly as possible in the cold rain, struggling because our fingers were numb. Then we ditched our wet clothes under the rainfly, towelled off as best we could and piled on whatever dry clothes we had before bundling into our sleeping bags. It was about 3pm but Doug passed out for two hours. I was too cold to sleep so tried my best to distract myself with M&Ms; and a book I’d brought along, Jenny of the Tetons.
It was an appropriate book, set in the 1870s in the Teton Mountains. And I felt silly about putting myself through potential hypothermia and privation on purpose when Jenny, Beaver Dick Leigh and their family had to deal with it for survival. In any event, I finished the book by the time Doug had woken up and the rain had abated. It was time to venture forth to make a fire and dinner but our boots were still soaked so Doug fashioned himself some ziplock booties and I wrapped my dry socks as best I could with tied-up garbage bag pieces and we gingerly put the boots back on.
Then we went in search of dry wood (quite the feat) to make a fire in an attempt to dry our clothes. The next step was to try and light it, but while our matches were waterproof the boxes (and strike pads) were not. After finally striking them successfully, then the toilet paper did not want to catch. In desperation, I started ripping non-essential pages from Jenny of the Tetons, which lit beautifully. I figured a Shoshone woman and a pioneer woman would both encourage the action. The fire didn’t manage to dry our clothes despite our best efforts, but its warmth and cheeriness dispelled some of our gloom. As did our freeze-dried Louisiana Red Beans and Rice with lots of hot sauce.
It started raining again during the night, water pooling on the rain fly and dripping into the tent. It was perhaps the coldest night I’ve ever spent, and the next morning we awoke to hail around the tent and a light coating of snow on the ridge above Green Lake. We broke camp as quickly as possible, scarfing a granola bar for breakfast. We knew that as soon as we got dressed and got out we would need to start moving to stay warm. I put on as many top layers as possible: t-shirt, hoodie, fleece, rain jacket. Our only dry bottoms were shorts, though, which in the end we decided might be better in the sodden meadows anyway.

We power-marched it back to the Element, fantasizing aloud about dry shoes, clothes, and the warm bed we’d be sleeping in that night at the Grand Targhee Ski Resort, but all the while trying not to kill ourselves in the muddy mess that had been the trail.

After catching our breath in Ellie, enjoying the feel of warmth and eating a lunch of jalapeno-cheddar bread, buffalo sausage, and chocolate pudding, we left the woods.
But the adventure was only half over…

Hiking southwestern Wyoming: Scott’s Bottom, buttes, and Wild Hairs in Butts

Since we got back from Colorado, Doug has been extremely busy with work (for those who were wondering, he passed his oral exams with flying colours) and I’ve settled into my new schedule of working on For the Love of Flying things in the morning and doing background research for my novel at the library in the afternoon.

Of course, life can’t be all work and no play! The weather’s been hot and sunny for the most part, so I make sure I get Riker out for his ‘big exercise’ first thing in the morning. Three times a week that means going for a jog around the neighbourhood, dodging the inevitable stray dogs and unsupervised children. The other mornings I take him on more off-road adventures and there are certainly oodles of off-road places nearby when you live in southwestern Wyoming.
One of our regular walking spots (and a popular place with other walkers and bikers) is down at Scott’s Bottom/FMC Park. With the rainy spring, the vegetation is in overdrive down there and thistles (like the one in this photo that a bee is trying to gather pollen from) grow as tall as a person. Just this morning I was down there and spotted at least five mule deer. Luckily Riker couldn’t see them over the abundant field grasses and wild flowers!
With a very Wyoming logic, the Scott’s Bottom nature preserve abutts (if you’ll pardon the pun) the archery and shooting ranges. If you continue on past there, however, there’s an access road that takes you to acres and acres of open scrubland. Doug and I headed over there with Riker last week on one of his rare days off. The circle of life is in plain view in this sometimes harsh landscape.
Last Tuesday I, in the local parlance, woke up with a wild hair/hare up my butt to do some hill climbing. So I packed my day bag, “borrowed” Doug’s sunglasses, and drove down to Scott’s Bottom. There, I took a side path (which might just be the dry bed of an intermittent stream) and followed the game trail to the left. It was still pretty early, but the sun was warm, and I was certainly feeling the exertion as I crested one hill. Then I looked up and saw this butte (above) and decided to try and climb it.
Luckily in this butte’s case, there was a back way up, so I picked my way along the trails the pronghorn antelopes and mule deer had made, observing the occasional scat from coyote and other animals as I tried not to look down.

What a view from the top, though! Riker and I paused for a drink and to watch the hawk that was circling (likely hunting the swallows and field mice we saw) heard it give three of those otherworldly cries that always awe me. When we turned around to start picking our way back down, I noticed a buck antelope that was keeping an eye on us. Then he started moving away, and I saw that he was standing guard over a group of at least five female antelope (his fall harem), making coughing noises to warn them of potential danger (i.e. me).

They don’t have anything to worry about from Riker and me, though, since they can reach speeds of almost 100km/h for several minutes (they evolved in North America when there were prehistoric cheetahs hunting them). Me, I’m happy putting one foot in front of another to explore the area while keeping my butt in shape!

Colorado, When Can I See You Again?

On Monday, July 13th, Doug had to go to Denver for two days of oral exams to move from the training/apprenticeship stage of his job to full-fledged Field Engineer status. The company would have paid for his flights, but we got the go-ahead to drive there instead (only 5 hours) and so set off around noon from Green River, WY on the I-80 eastbound and then headed south at Laramie for the more scenic drive down to Denver through Fort Collins.

The company had us (and the other candidates) set up in the downtown Sheraton, smack dab on the 16th Street Mall, an open-air pedestrian mall that stretches for over a mile. We were on the 16th floor (lucky number?) with this incredible view of the downtown core and the Rockies beyond. Our first day in town, Doug had a full day of interviews so after we had breakfast at the Delectable Egg I went for some much-needed pampering at the Body Massage Wellness Spa a few blocks from the hotel, then grabbed some lunch at Cook’s Fresh Market, a gourmet deli/grocery store, before heading out to my hair appointment (more pampering!) at Shear Productions. Then I walked the 16th Street Mall from one end to another, stopping in at some of the stores for some air conditioning and big city fashion.
Doug had told me he was to have dinner with the company people, so I took myself to Earl’s upstairs patio for mojitos, food, and people watching. Soon afterwards, though, Doug called me to let me know his group were headed my way, so I saved tables and got to meet some of the other folks.
The next morning Doug had his final round of chats and a wrap-up session, so I decided to hit the streets while it was still cool for some exploring. Right around the corner from the hotel are most of Denver’s museums, art galleries, and civic buildings. They weren’t open yet, though, so I didn’t make it inside but I fully plan to check out the Colorado History Museum, Denver Public Library, the Molly Brown House Museum, and the haunted Brown Palace Hotel on my next trip to Denver.
I did make it to one museum, though, the Black American West Museum, about a 30-minute walk from the hotel. It’s off the beaten tourist track in the Five Points neighbourhood, often called the “Harlem of the West” because of its proliferation of jazz clubs in the 1920s-1940s where Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington played before integrated audiences. Now it’s got a more hispanic flavour, but the museum is a testament to the neighbourhood’s, Denver’s and the West’s Black past. It’s housed in the former residence of Dr. Justina Ford and gives a great overview not only of Denver’s first Black doctor, but also Buffalo Soldiers, Black cowboys and settlers in the West, and the utopian Black colony of Dearfield, Colorado. This is an area of history not often taught and my knowledge is sorely lacking. My visit was very enjoyable and I picked up a copy of Charlene Porter’s historic novel, Boldfaced Lies, about race relations, the KKK, and identity in Colorado which I can’t wait to read.
That afternoon Doug slept while I enjoyed the roof-top pool and then we headed out for dinner at Ling & Louie’s, where the spring rolls are divine and they serve up cool twists on classic cocktails like the Ginger Cooler (sake, ginger beer, lemon and lime and crushed mint). After walking off our considerable dinner by heading over to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in trendy LoDo (Lower Downtown), we went for dessert at The Cheesecake Factory where they have 20+ different kinds of cheesecake on the menu. Yum!!
The next morning, our final foodie stop was for breakfast at Sam’s No. 3 restaurant, which has been around since the 1920s. If you’re ever in Denver, you need to stop here: their early-bird (before 10am) specials are around $4 and you will get enough food to last you to lunch and beyond! Then we packed our stuff into the Mini and got on the I-70 west for a four-hour drive through the Rocky Mountains past all those ritzy ski areas of Golden, Vail, and Aspen and into the wine and fruit-growing region of The Palisades, just east of Grand Junction. There we bought a couple of the juiciest peaches ever from a road-side vendor, and sampled wines at the Grand River winery.
By this time, it was 5 p.m. and the car’s thermometer said it was 38 degrees celsius. The original plan was to go to the Colorado National Monument and hike into a primitive camping spot. We were melting standing still, though, so there was no way we were going to load up our packs and head to a lower elevation with higher temps. So we decided to wing it and jumped back in the car, headed north toward Rangely and agreed that when the temperature dropped under 30 degrees we’d start looking for a place to camp (it’s mostly public lands up the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway).
This happened around 6:30pm at Douglas Pass, where the elevation was about 8,000 feet. After climbing a gravel road switchback, we stopped the Mini by a clearing where we startled a mule deer. We walked 10-minutes down to the spot and set up camp right over where the deer had been bedded down.

The view from our tent – and no bugs either!
Colorado is known for its microbrews (not just Coors anymore!) and so we picked up a mixed case of Denver-based Great Divide beers in Grand Junction, which just happened to still be cold when we set up camp. Nothing goes better with freeze-dried curry than a good beer!
Friday morning, after sleeping under a blanket of stars (well, a lot of tossing and turning for me. Were there bears here? I couldn’t remember!) we continued north to Irish Canyon – named for the three Irishmen who robbed a saloon and stopped at this location to consume part of the take – for a little hike. We didn’t go for long, though, as it was high noon and the sun was beating down on us!

Doug, doing his best Spiderman impersonation in Irish Canyon, decided to climb up a sheer rockface and hide from me. As every hiker knows, though, it’s always harder to get down than it is to get up. Don’t worry, I guided him to safety….
After Irish Canyon we drove to Browns Park, a nearby wildlife refuge along the Green River near the borders of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. It also has a one-vehicle swing bridge which Doug thought was pretty cool (and so had to drive over).
Then we headed home through Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, with a quick stop in Manila, Utah for sandwich fixings and an ice cream treat. Now Doug’s back at work for the next two weeks and I’m settling into a post-book/new project schedule. But Colorado, you and I will definitely meet again….

Desert Escape

After our aborted Adobe Town camping trip, we had an extra day to fill before Doug went back to work. I had read that there were some pretty interesting sites nearby and suggested we do a picnic dinner and evening hike at the White Mountain Petroglyphs, Boar’s Tusk, and Killpecker Sand Dunes this past Monday.

The site of the White Mountain Petroglyphs is an easy 1/4 mile walk up from a dirt road a mere 1/2 hour’s drive from our house. The sandstone formation juts out of the high desert sage country. As Doug said, if this site were in Europe somewhere there’d probably be vendors all around and you’d have to pay for parking, to use the restrooms, and to access the site. Here in Wyoming, we were the only ones around for miles and miles…

There are many carvings along the walls, but it’s very hard for my untrained eye to tell what was put there 200+ years ago and what was carved in more recently by vandals. Except for the person who dated their 2005 carving – that made it pretty easy. And I’m pretty sure the Plains peoples didn’t write Jake loves Jenny.

From there, we drove another few miles along the dirt roads to the Killpecker Sand Dunes, an incredible Sahara-esque locale smack dab in southwestern Wyoming. It was pretty hard to resist walking around gasping “water, water” and here Doug does his best impression of being lost for days in the desert. What a ham!

I had a real laugh when I found this little plastic army man stuck at the top of one of the immense sand dunes. Someone has a good sense of humour! Here he’s ready to ambush the enemy from behind a ‘tree’ – little does he know the monster’s behind him!!!

As we were driving away from the sand dunes the sun set near Boar’s Tusk, what’s left of an ancient volcano and a religious site for local native groups. I plan to head back to hike to the site – the Element simply couldn’t handle the rough track.

As dusk settled on the plain, pronghorn antelopes came out in droves to feed by the side of the road. Most quickly ran away, their white bottoms flashing, but these two young bucks were quite intrigued by us (or had possibly been hand-fed from vehicles in the past).

Adobe Town

Yesterday morning, Doug and I and Riker headed out in Ellie for Adobe Town, an amazing geological formation in the Red Desert about a two-hour drive south-east from our house. Armed with GPS maps, our camping gear, and about 5 gallons of water the plan once we exited the I-80 was to take the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roads and then take the jeep track as far as we could along Skull Creek Rim.

In our research, we had read that any rain could turn the roads into impassible quagmires. May and early June were among the wettest on record here and even though it’s been mostly sunny the past few weeks, we have had some wicked afternoon thunderstorms. This meant there were some puddles and some mud. For the most part I managed to keep us going, but partway up the jeep track we got stuck and Doug had to do some pushing. He got us out, though, and we parked in a nearby dry spot and decided to start our hike a little earlier than expected.

Strapping on our 20-lb packs (complete with tent, canister stove, sleeping bags and pads, water and food) we headed out over the sage brush grassland, wondering if Adobe Town actually existed or if we were already lost. You see, it’s an ancient river basin, so when you’re driving or hiking along the high plateau you can’t see it until you’re almost upon it.

I came upon this skull-shaped rock when we took a break about an hour into our hike. Maybe it’s why the area is called Skull Creek Rim?

Below is a greater short-horned lizard that gave away its position when Doug walked over it. Adobe Town is a proposed wilderness area in Wyoming and one of the reasons for this is its abundance of wildlife. We saw wild horses, pronghorn antelope, and heard a multitude of songbirds (that quickly went quiet when a large bird of prey circled overhead). Apparently there are lots of other species hiding out there as well but were smart enough to hide from the scorching sun.

Not so for us. Our original plan had us stopping for a couple of hours at midday in a shady spot or in the tent, but we were swarmed by great hordes of biting midges every time the wind died down. So there was no rest for us or we would succumb to madness. After hiking about 6 km we were at the half-way mark to our proposed camp site at East Fork Point. With rain clouds threatening to the southwest and no relief from the midges in sight, we decided to call the trip and head back to our vehicle.
This 13-km (8 mile) power march from 10:30am to 3:30 p.m. (i.e. hottest and sunniest part of the day) was exhausting and we were disappointed at our second bug-infested trip in what is supposed to be one of the least buggy States in the union. If we had known we wouldn’t be overnighting it, we also could have drastically reduced the amount of weight we carried on our hike.

Doug made it back out through the mud but these cows threatened to block our way (there are still a couple of active ranches in the area but oil and natural gas companies are rapidly encroaching). By dinnertime we were back home, sunburned, sore, and midge-bitten but still confident that someday we will combine a hike and camping trip in one!
p.s. Doug and I subscribe to Backpacker magazine and they did a great feature last September on Adobe Town. Click here for the article.
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.