Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wyoming Trail Journal, 7/27-7/31/2015

Wyoming Trail Journal 2015
Grand Teton National Park

Monday July 27

Well, that could have gone better.

The good news, no one died. And no frostbite. was dicey for a while.

The day started perfectly. We left the Jackson Lodge after a quick breakfast and made our way to Jenny Lake where we met our Alltrans shuttle. A bumpy backroads drive later, we were deposited at the Coal Creek Trailhead.

Weather was perfect, and we (GQ, Radiance, Joe, and myself) started our climb in the coolish mountain air. We heated up quickly, and in no time were sucking wind as we made the 3000 foot vertical climb to the first pass of the Teton Crest Trail. Life at 33 feet does little to prepare one to perform well at 9000.

But we made it, in good time. The weather was perfect. We descended, had a long lunch, then started our next mountain pass run.

Here things began to get unpleasant. A light rain began. Not so bad by itself - but it came with a cold front and howling winds. Temps dropped to 40F in no time. Soaked, we plowed ahead.

We were tired, getting close to hypothermia, but didn't see a reason we couldn't make it up and over the next pass and to our camp at Middle Fork.

Then it started snowing.

Normally not an issue, but we were all already soaked - and temps now freezing suddenly made things serious.

By the time we approached the pass, it was snowing it's ass off. Joe cried, "Fuck, Snow!" as I caught up to him. I wanted to look for a place shelter and wait out the storm - really we should have stopped long ago. But the other side had to be just minutes away, right?

The trail was slick with freezing mud, and our feet were frozen from multiple creek crossings.

Slogging through brush had as all drenched. My right hand was useless, bright red and starting to swell - signs that frostbite was soon to follow. The left was operational, if barely.

Genevieve was exhausted and certainly hypothermic, but determined to go on. Tough girl!
Joe's hand and toes were freezing, but he carried on with cheerful determination.

The worst news came from Jimmy, his feet and lower legs were numb. He was freaked out, and that freaked me out.

Trail runners weren't meant for this shit.

A couple hundred feet down from what we thought was the pass, I waved to Joe and we all retreated to a small clump of trees. Jimmy and Genevieve were in the worst shape, so while I setup shelter Joe got to work on boiling water. Radiance's tarp was pressed into service as a ground cloth and she and GQ bundled up.

An hour later, things were less grim. We were more or less out of hypothermia danger, and the sun was even out! Frikking birds were singing. You just can't make this stuff up. We broke camp and got back to our climb.

But we weren't out of the woods yet (sorry for the pun). In our haste to not die we had gotten horribly off-route. When we got to the top, we found ourselves at Moose Lake!

NOT where we wanted to be.

After trying for an hour to find the trail, our delirious minds gave up and we made camp not wanted to waste the last of daylight. It hailed on us while we setup of course. Bah!

We think we have a fix on our trail at last from our vantage point here, and with luck we'll get back on course in the morning. Right now it's raining again, and sometimes hailing. And we have had enough for one day.

The extra loop through Death Canyon is probably off the table. With our luck so far that's probably not someplace we should really go anyway...

Tuesday July 28th

A pack of Famous Amos cookies and a Ritter chocolate bar for dinner left my stomach growling most of the night, but the shortage of water made cooking not an option.

Gratefully however, this day was a vast improvement!

We awoke to a coating of hail and snow, which solved our water problem for breakfast. Temps overnight were in the mid 20s - which stretched my 40 deg gear to its limit. All in all, not a bad night though, and my head was much more clear. I even got in some fun sunrise pics.

After breakfast we broke camp and departed camp "Quadruple Deuce" (I'll leave the details of the naming to your imagination). Checking our location with my phone's GPS revealed we had a lot of backtracking to do. We decided on a shortcut - sidehill bushwacking to the valley floor. 30 minutes of making sweet love to some brush and much cursing later, we made it to the trail, sopping wet from the snow laden saplings. Bonus: we discovered a bear bedroom on the way.

We topped off on water, then at long last found the trail to Middle/South Fork. We knocked out the climb, and were rewarded by open, flower-filled meadows surrounded by snow capped mountains. Awesome.

We treated our calorie-starved bodies to hot lunch at the next trail intersection. After eating, we compared our frost-burned legs. The first people since we had started appeared, a few runners and many backpackers.

Refueled, we made the climb to Marion Lake - what a slog! My energy was tapped out despite the hearty lunch. A marmot posed for a portrait along the way. After a long photo op with the blue high altitude lake, we finished the climb to Fox Creek Pass under clear blue skies and strong winds.

A short additional climb brought us to Death Canyon Shelf where we made camp after locating a water source (puddle).

I got a view of the site where I bivouac'd several years ago just short of Fox Creek Pass after foul weather stopped us (literally) cold.

We enjoyed the incredible views with dinner, and watched a herd/gang/bunch of marmots chase a ferret out of their territory. Then Jimmy and I spent some time collecting photos.

Hoping for some star shots tonight if the moon isn't too bright - full moon tomorrow. Totally fouling things up.

Brain and body wiped, off to my hammock which I sandwiched between two huge boulders.

Wednesday July 29th

Safely at camp, we are fed and overlooking Sunset Lake. The day was perfect!

Last night I got up to get some star shots - the moon was absurdly bright so not a ton of success. But the bright lunar spotlight did make an interesting shot of The Grand. While I fiddled with my camera I was stalked by a huge bat. Guess he thought I was the biggest marmot ever.

We were up and off this morning from the shelf after some sunrise shots - the first of many this day. The views just got better and better as we climbed, then descended into Alaska Basin. The terrain was massive and ever changing.

We had a long lunch at Mirror Lake (now Radiance Lake as she dove off a rock for a swim!). Instead of heading straight for camp (which would have ended our day at 1pm) we took the long way around, climbing to 10,500 feet on the Alaska Basin Shelf trail. What views! This set a personal high for all but GQ. I had to stop every few minutes to take more pictures - but I actually felt good today at this elevation, which surprised me.

Next was the gorgeous descent to our aforementioned camp. GQ has had a brutal headache which we hope isn't altitude related. But he's doing better after a leisurely afternoon and dinner - we've been here since 4pm soaking up the scenery and chatting away. Many revealing conversations tonight! - the kind you only get after many days on the trail together. These guys are a lot of fun.

Sitting around awaiting sunset now. The wind has dropped off and the temperature isn't bad, maybe 50-60 degrees. Tomorrow could be tough. Only 12 miles planned but we'll have to tackle Paintbrush Divide.

Monday August 3rd

Thursday (July 30th) was the best of days, and the worst. As I write this, I’m back home having cut the trip short. GB, Radiance, and “F, S” (as Joe will henceforth be known) are carrying on in Yellowstone without me.

From what I can tell from Jimmy’s spot pings, they are doing well and grinding out 70ish miles of our planned route starting near Old Faithful and ending by Yellowstone Lake. They are now enroute to their day 3 camp along the southern edge of Yellowstone Lake, and should finish up with roughly a 24 mile day.

But backing up to our fourth day in the Tetons - it truly was a spectacular day. Easily in contention for the best day of backpacking I’ve ever had.

We had a leisurely breaking of camp. I tried to get a few sunrise pics, but discovered my tripod head screw had come loose,and I didn’t have anything to tighten it with - damn! Warm breakfast was made, and we generally just took our time - but eventually we started the 1,000 foot plus climb to Hurricane Pass.

Finally, I think we all were starting to adjust to the higher altitude, and made short work of the climb, catching up to many backpackers that had left Sunset Lake before us. Once we crested the pass, we were greeted by Jurrasic World. A prehistoric-looking vista was before us, complete with a glacier that was draining into a blue-green pool surrounded by gravel. We were mesmerized for quite some time by this mind-blowingly beautiful scene.

The amazing views weren’t over this day. We descended with the Grand itself looming over us the rest of the day. Once down to below 8000 feet, we turned north towards Paintbrush canyon, and began climbing once again. We stopped for a lengthy lunch break next to an idyllic stream to refuel and cool off. Then it was back to the climb.

At 9000 feet, we reached the (not so) Solitude Lake. Throngs of people were about taking in this picturesque spot. We had a snack break, cooled off once again, and examined to steep switch-back up to Paintbrush divide. This would be a biggest climb of the trip.

At the top of Hurricane Pass, a ranger had told us this side was the “easy climb”. Yeah, that was total BS. For future travellers, don’t believe what people say - coming from the South is the hard way. The other side might be steeper, but it’s barely for half a mile. Before that you have a gentle climb for miles. On our side, it was Grand Canyon-esque climb-time - except with less oxygen.

We started off, one by one. Genevieve quickly developed stomach cramps, but electrolytes and water soon had her feeling better, and we continued on. I eventually caught up to Jimmy, and we got some shots of the Grand framed perfectly by the canyon walls. Then we ground on.

I got to the top a little behind Joe, who crushed the climb as usual (otherwise known as f*#&ing that mountain! - Joe got a lot of trail names this trip). We stopped short of the sign marking the top of the pass for the others to catch up so we could finish together.

We took time for a group shot before heading down the other side. We could see a large group ahead of us taking their sweet time. The trail was rocky and full of loose gravel which didn’t lend itself to a fast pace. But we avoided setting off any rock slides and soon caught up to the other group as they contended with a snow-pack traverse.

We crossed that without dying, and in just a view minutes found ourselves a lovely campsite surrounded on three sides by canyon. Temps were quite warm, and a few marmots (and even a ptarmigan!) bounded through camp.

After dinner (and scouting for cat-hole locations), Jimmy happened to turn on his phone. We could see Jackson Lake clearly, and somehow actually had a 4G signal - go figure.

He received a panicked text for me from Joan - my boy Riker was terribly sick. She wasn’t sure he would make it through the night. After getting through the initial attack of denial, I immediately made the decision to get on a plane the next day. We were all extremely disappointed I would miss Yellowstone.

After a sleepless night, we made the quick and easy descent to Jenny Lake. On the way, a mid-sized black bear crossed our path! He disappeared into the brush before I could get my telephoto ready - but it was very cool. He continued on the hunt for the red-berries scattered throughout the canyon.

We crossed a couple groups of trail-workers that were endeavoring to repair sections wiped out by a recent flash flood. They were putting in some serious work! We finished out the hot day below inspiration point on the banks of Jenny Lake, where we caught a ferry ride back to civilization. The crowds of sandal wearing tourists were a major shock to our senses after a week in the bush.

We raided the visitor center for snacks. My celebratory meal consisted of a massive hot dog, chased with a Klondike bar.

Before long I was changed and packed, and on my way home after sad good-byes with the team. I couldn’t have asked for a better, or more fun group to backpack with. Jimmy, as always, is a solid and awesome friend to tackle the back-country with. Joe's constant positive attitude in the face of adversity kept us driving forward. And the appropriately named Radiance wore a never ending smile that brightened the entire trip.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Riker (Feb 2007 - Aug 2nd, 2015)

Riker (Feb 2007 - Aug 2nd, 2015)

Yesterday, I made the impossible, but necessary decision to lay Riker to rest.  While away in Wyoming, his troublesome kidneys finally quit on him.  I was lucky that he hung around in time for me to fly back and get time with him.  It was even more difficult as his spirit was still strong, and he wanted nothing more than to chase balls all day as usual.

I don’t usually write things of a personal nature here, but I’ve found myself reflecting on all he brought to my life.  I’ve managed not to bawl uncontrollably like a little girl today by thinking of his  hilarious antics, and looking through the gazillions of pictures I have of him.

A prime example, he spent the last 8 years trying to bring down the rope swing in the backyard!  This epic struggle went on and on, day after day - with neither Riker nor the maple tree giving an inch.  A bard or poet is needed to document this heroic battle - I lack the skill.

He had other mortal enemies: plastic bags, wheels, anything with a motor.  Something as simple as vacuuming or running the dryer would send him into a fit of madness.

When I rescued Riker from a border-collie shelter (he was known as “Bear” back then), he was almost completely feral.  Unused to people or dogs (other than his siblings), he had anxiety attacks often.  During the drive back from the mountains of PA, I nearly lost him during a bathroom break when he had a freak-out.  Somehow I managed to coax him back into the Saturn.  We were just minutes away from home when I received my first present as a new dog dad - a big nasty dump in the back seat!

But who could be mad at this face?

The next years were spent in (sometimes nerve-wracking) attempts at socializing him with people and dogs.  The adoption center had told me he would never be able to be around dogs or small children.  Uh-huh.  Clearly they didn’t comprehend the level of my stubbornness.

I can guarantee if I had told his foster parents Riker would one day befriend a mouthy orange tabby named Karma, they would have laughed me back to my car.

Aside from his insanity (which slowly tempered over the years), he was the perfect dog.  Smart.  Crazy smart.  I remember reading training books that would suggest repeating a given trick 30-40 times a day until it stuck.  Most things Riker would have down in 3 repetitions, total. This made it tough when I adopted my second dog (Nala) and starting training.  She was also incredibly smart - but more willful by a factor of 10!

Riker and Nala would be side by side for the rest of his life.

Some of his other antics, fights with inanimate objects!

He would also lose his mind when it was time to go outside.  I needed only to put on my running shoes to send him to levels of excitement never before seen.  He would often do 360 spins in the front yard, unable to contain himself!  Nala would always lose patience at these outbursts.

Once of his greatest accomplishments was no doubt taking someone who was afraid of big dogs, and completely winning over her heart.

To this day, Joan is the only person to meet my dogs for the first time who didn't get the 5 minute barking welcome!

I could fill this blog with literally thousands of pics.  Riker was infinitely photo-genetic, if you could get him to hold still!

The 'border-collie stare'.

I guess one of the hardest things about losing him (other then the suddenness of his passing) was having him from a puppy of a few months old till now.  Not only that, he was part of the catalyst for my life change - when I started saying no to constant work and yes to new life experiences.  He was a major part of what got my out of the slump following my brother’s passing.  Being responsible for a fragile little ball of fur was forever life changing - even more so then my late cat Thunder (who was all attitude and independence).  For he first years of his life, Riker was never more then inches away.

I think that concludes today's therapy session, though I'll no doubt think of his other antics to write about.  Nala, of course, is dealing with his loss in her own way.  Starting with planting herself firmly on top of his grave.

We're trying not to let her mope to much.  Being showered with singular attention is no replacement for losing her 'big' brother.