Good Ol’ Fashioned Bushwacking

The muscle cramp in my leg has finally gone away and the cut on Doug’s cheek is slowly healing, but the wonderful memories of our 5-days snowshoeing trip will live on…

On the last day of the last year we drove 4 hours from Green River, WY to the Jackson Hole area. Of course we had to stop en route at the Wind River Brewing Co. in Pinedale where Doug had to sample their darkest brews to figure out which one we should take to go in a growler. After we gorged ourselves on their famous reuben and bison burger – and incredible fries – we decided on the Out of Order Porter but were equally impressed with the Buckin’ Bitter. The sips I had of the others were pretty darn good too!

So as I said, after Doug handed me the keys to Ellie (hiccup!), we continued toward the Jackson Hole area where we loaded up on groceries at Jackson Whole Grocer. Then we drove northeast past the Elk Refuge to Kelly, WY where we exchanged money for keys to our cabin on Slide Lake.

The Budge family operate a group of cabins on this lake, called Slide Lake because of the massive landslide that formed it in 1925. On May 18, 1927, however, after heavy rains and snow melt, the natural dam burst and the town of Kelly was largely swept away. Six people also died. According to the cabin’s caretaker, Art, a man everyone dismissed as a ‘mad trapper’ had warned the town of this impending doom. Hard to know which prophets to believe, eh?

While we didn’t experience that kind of massive natural occurrence, the roads on the way in were pretty icy and I managed to slide off into a tree at about 10 miles per hour. The good news is no one was hurt, Ellie is fine other than a small catch in the passenger door when it’s opened, and if we’d been stuck we’d have had food for a week, sleeping bags, and could have sent Riker out for help with a note tucked into his collar. Also, at that exact moment a couple of other cars happened upon us and a good samaritan from Utah helped to push us back on the road while his wife stood there snapping photos. Thanks, lady!
When we first arrived we were afraid we wouldn’t have enough snow for our snowshoeing plans, but mother nature quickly obliged with three solid days of light powder. The lake was frozen enough to support us (and the annoying skidoos that buzzed up and down it) and there was plenty of backcountry to explore. So we did. Where no skidoo dared follow.
The first couple of days we took it easy, getting used to snowshoeing again after a couple of years off. I swear there are muscles you only use while engaging in this particular sport! By Sunday, our last full day there, we were ready for a major expedition. Loading up our packs with chicken soup, hot chocolate and lots of snacks for us and the dog, we headed out.
As you can see, we also headed up. Way up. According to Doug’s GPS we climbed 1,553 feet in loose powder. If you’ve never done it before, think of dragging 10-lb ball-and-chains up a surface where you slide back with every step you take. Pretty exhausting! But with our make-shift walking sticks in hand (we pillaged them from the dead wood lying around) and frequent breaks we made it up to a gorgeous view of the snow-capped Tetons shrouded in clouds.
We kept going up for a while after this because the GPS indicated the summit was “only” about another 900ft elevation gain over a 1/3 of a mile. What it failed to indicate, though, was that this route went straight through a multitude of downed trees = major tripping hazards when your feet are the size of large baking dishes. So we decided we’d reached our own personal summit and found a log to perch on while we slurped down our soup.
I’ve always found going down is more dangerous than going up. After all, you’re more tired and generally a little giddy with the climb. In this case, there were times when it was really fun to let loose and go tromping down the hill with great, loping steps. Then there were times when there were lots of trees in the way or a stream to tumble into…
Of course the last bit was the trickiest, with close underbrush and downed trees. At the very end I just took off my snowshoes and tossed them down the hill ahead of me, picking my way down in my boots. The last 8-foot drop to the access road was a doosy, but I managed to shimmy partway down a tree and then swing myself off a large branch in true bushwacking style.
After our four-hour expedition we were all pretty pooped. Doug decided to take a catnap on the lake while I figured out the best way to hurl myself down the steep bank to join him. Then back to the warm cabin, a hot shower, a cup of tea, and a cozy couch.

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…
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.