Day 44-47: Grand Teton National Park, WY (9/16-9/19)

 

Of all the backpacking trips we’ve done over the years this was our longest and most adventurous backpacking trip ever!  This is a long trip report, but it covers 4 days of some exciting backpacking through 40 miles of the Teton Range.

Day 1

Rendezvous Peak to South Fork Granite Camping Zone (~4.9 miles)

We waved goodbye to Katharine’s family as they drove away to the airport, then with our fully loaded packs we walked through Teton Village to the aerial tram.

 

We gladly took the ski lift, which lifted us up 4,139 feet in elevation to Rendezvous Peak (10,450 feet).  We stood at the top of the tram and watched the paragliders circling to the valley below.   After a short rest to catch our breath from the rapid elevation change we hit the trail toward our first campsite.

 

 

Our first day was pretty easy so we took our time, but to be honest, the hike from Rendezvous Peak to the South fork Granite campground wasn’t too impressive, at least not after everything we’d been seeing for the past month or so.  We spent most of the time switchbacking up and over small ridge lines with scattered trees without many overlook viewpoints.  But the campsite we settled at in the late afternoon was idyllic, looking over a small valley with a beautiful meandering stream.

 

The week before our backpacking trip it had been partly cloudy and rainy in the valley, and the peaks of the Tetons were clouded most of the time, but there was no snow.  Although the forecast looked promising for our backpacking trip, already on the first afternoon, the clouds did not. Two hours after we reached our campsite, the clouds moved in and it abruptly started hailing!  It was small pea size hail, but it lasted for 30 minutes, leaving a white layer of dip-and-dots on the ground.

 

 

Luckily the storm ended as quickly as it came, and after it passed, the lingering clouds were illuminated by the setting sun turning brilliant yellows and oranges.

 Looking South

Looking West into the Sunset

After a hearty meal of freeze dried Mountain House we went to sleep for an early start the next morning. At some point in the middle of the night, we were woken up by lightning flashing overhead and thunder echoing off the mountains.  We are no strangers to thunderstorms, but we had never experienced a thunderstorm like this while backpacking.  With our eyes closed we were still blinded by the flashes of lightning and could barely start a countdown before the sky exploded with thunder so loud we couldn’t hear each other swearing in shock.  There was one specific moment where the flash and the boom were instantaneous and you could feel the thunder in your chest.  After 30 minutes we started to get a little bit used to it and forced ourselves to sleep with the tent glowing from lighting, thunder rumbling, and rain/hail pitter-pattering on the rainfly.

Day 2

South Fork Granite Camping Zone to Sunset Lake (~10.5 miles)

The next day we woke up to beautiful views of the valley with blue skies and puffy white clouds. We were glad to see the storm had moved on, which let us dry off our rain fly in the morning sun before we packed up and started hiking for the day.

 Looking back toward our campsite

As we headed toward Marion Lake, the clouds to our south turned gray and were rapidly approaching.  We reached Marion Lake by briskly hiking the last quarter mile with a curtain of rain chasing us.  We took refuge in some trees and put on rain pants, jackets, and pack covers.  We had gotten fishing licenses for our trip so that we could fish in a few of the lakes, and Marion lake was one of the few opportunities so we couldn’t pass it up. In the pouring rain we tied a fly on our Tenkara fly rod, and Katharine stood on the bank and casted the fly on to the dancing lake surface.


After about 10 minutes, the rain turned to hail and we decided it was going to be impossible for the fish to see the fly while the surface of the water was being pelted with ice, so we packed it up and continued on the trail.

After 3 miles of hiking we reached Fox Creek Pass and another storm cell was approaching behind us from the south.  A young couple came up fast behind us and said they weren’t prepared for the weather so they were headed down Death Canyon.  We silently agreed since the guy had only a ripped trash bag on his backpack for rain protection and he was wearing shorts.

Death Canyon

Between storms we could see the Teton peaks across the Death Canyon Shelf.  It was an amazing view, but the realization that we had to hike 7+ more miles, and it was already 2:00 PM was a bit daunting.

The Tetons

We passed and were passed by several more groups of backpackers, but they were all setting up camp on the Death Canyon Shelf. So as we continued toward the Alaska Basin, we were all alone with no one visible in front of or behind us for miles.  The wind picked up and we started pointing out sheltered landmarks as goals to reach and duck behind to get out of the wind and rain.  After many small breaks and Clif bars we reached the Sheep Steps that descend into the Alaska Basin around 4:30 PM with 3 miles to go.

 Sheep Steps

We quickly navigated the Sheep Step switchbacks since the rock wall sheltered us from the wind.  The Alaska Basin was drastically different terrain than the Death Canyon Shelf above.  The ground was mainly rock that had been smoothed over by rain or other flowing water.  Occasionally there was a shallow lake with a few trees around the edges.  We took shelter behind some rocks as we watched the waves of rain being blown across the landscape.


Alaska Basin Lakes

The original plan was to camp in the basin, but we had a couple hours of daylight and we had a little more gas in the tank.  If we could climb up 500′ and another 1.5 miles, we would reach Sunset Lake.  This would help us tomorrow and as a bonus, we would be near a lake with trout for some possible morning fishing.  (The Alaska Basin lakes are so small/shallow that they often freeze completely in the winters, so the fish can’t survive.)  During a break between storms we looked at the clouds to predict if we would be setting our tent up in the rain.

 

The wind had shifted to west to east and we found ourselves flanked by two rain clouds.  We thought we might be lucky enough to hike 1.5 miles and setup our camp as the clouds pass us on either side.

Looking back down the Alaska Basin

 

We hiked up the short switchbacks as the sun started setting. We could just see the sun breaking through the low clouds as we reached the saddle overlooking Sunset Lake.  We could see 5 or 6 colorful tents setup in the trees around the lake. The weather was cooperating, so we took about 10 minutes trying to find a flat spot for our tent overlooking the lake, but finally decided most of the suitable sites were closer to the lake, and even if we were closer to other backpackers, it would be better to be on flat ground.

 Approaching Storm from the West

We looked up and noticed the wind had shifted and the dark clouds were now headed west to east, straight towards us!  It was clear that this storm wasn’t going to wait for us to find the perfect campsite, so we rushed down the hill toward the lake hoping we could get there in time and cursing ourselves for wasting so many precious minutes earlier. Just as we found a spot that seemed flat enough and dropped our packs to unpack our tent, the sky opened up…

Of course this rain was the worst we had experienced all day.  It was that fat rain that can soak your shirt in just 10 seconds.  It was combined with a strong cold wind that blew our tent and rain fly around as we tried to set it up.  The wind was so loud we could barely hear each other yelling just a few feet away. Luckily we’ve set this tent up many times and we know what we each have to do to get it done efficiently. Our tent is designed so that you can set up the footprint, poles, and rain fly, and then set up the tent itself under the protection of the rain fly. When the sales guy at REI showed us this months ago, it sounded like a good idea, but we had no idea how important it was going to be for us. With the rain falling and the wind blowing so hard, it definitely wasn’t easy to get it all set up, but we managed to do it quickly and keep things relatively dry, so we considered it a success. Then again, if only we had gotten there 10 minutes earlier, we could have set it up in dry weather. Oh well, live and learn! Before we knew it, we were sitting in our dry tent looking at each other thinking, ‘what are we doing here?!’

It was dark by the time the rain had slowed so Nathan huddled under some trees outside the tent to cook our dinner.  Lightning lit up the valley around us and thunder rumbled echoing off the mountains.  It must have rained 1/2″+ in an hour and we could see puddles of water forming around our tent a couple inches deep.  Although our tent is designed like a bathtub and shouldn’t allow water in through the bottom, we were still concerned about making sure our sleeping bags stayed dry through the night.  We ate our hot dinner quickly and tried to get to sleep knowing tomorrow was another long day and the weather was uncertain.

 

Day 3

Sunset Lake to North Fork Cascade Camping Zone (~9.0 miles)

Through the night we could hear the rain hitting the tent and flashes of lightning blinding our eyes through our eyelids.  It was hard to sleep with spontaneous cracks of thunder overhead and the thought of impending flooding in the tent.  We didn’t think the thunder could be louder than the first night, but we were wrong… this storm was pretty epic. Nathan woke up at 2:00 AM to check the tent and could see the rain had stopped, and was replaced by hail.  There was about a 1/2″ of solid hail building around our tent.  The good thing was the tent wasn’t going to flood, but when was the hail going to stop?

Nathan, as usual an early riser, woke up at sunrise and discovered the hail had turned to heavy wet snow at some point and the tent was now an igloo!

 

 Our Igloo

Outside the tent everything was a winter wonderland, covered in a few inches of snow and the skies were covered in dark clouds.  As he started taking photos of our igloo a group of concerned campers approached him and asked, “what’s your plan?”  Nathan was so excited by the snow he was caught off guard by their seriousness.  The other groups were concerned that the weather wasn’t looking any better and the trail was covered in snow, making it difficult to follow and easy to slip and fall, especially on steep inclines. We all had planned to continue on the Crest trail over Hurricane Pass, but the pass was almost 1,000′ above our camp, and a group that had done it the day before said it was extremely windy with steep drop offs on either side. After 15 minutes of discussion about alternative exit routes, one group decided to head back to Death Canyon and exit there because they knew the trail, but it was going to be a very long hike, probably requiring another night at high elevation. Another group was from Georgia and didn’t have much experience with alpine backpacking, especially in bad weather, so they decided to take the most direct exit route, which was the trail along the South Fork of Teton Creek to the Idaho side of the Tetons. This did seem to be the easiest exit, but would require a long and expensive taxi ride from Idaho around the Tetons back to their car on the Wyoming side.

 Small Group headed out to Idaho

We took a little longer packing up our camp and found our hands and feet wet and numb with no place to unthaw, which was concerning. We realized that this was one of those situations that could turn into a disaster story “how to survive in the Tetons” found in some backpacker magazine.  We really wanted to continue on our route as planned and finish the rest of the Crest Trail, but we also didn’t want to become a survival story, so we methodically went through the risks and how prepared we were for these new weather conditions.  We had a lot of warm clothes and our sleeping bags were still dry, and we had even brought our MicroSpikes which would help us keep our traction in snow/ice.  But because of our wet and extremely cold hands and feet, the continuing bad weather, the low visibility and dense clouds, and the unknown of the trail covered in snow, we decided it was probably smartest to follow the other group out to Idaho.  We climbed up the hill to the saddle overlooking the Alaska Basin and we could see that just below the clouds there was green!  The snow line was only a thousand feet in elevation below us.  This gave us some hope that we could make it over Hurricane Pass and drop low enough to get to warmer temperatures pretty quickly, and we knew we could camp at a lower elevation that night.  We also found the 10 minute hike up the hill had completely warmed our feet and hands, which was very encouraging even though our boots were still pretty wet.  We re-evaluated our situation and gear and decided to turn back toward Hurricane Pass and continue our adventure as planned!

It was a tough 1,000 feet gain and long mile to Hurricane Pass, but it wasn’t as bad as we had expected. The trail was mostly visible and there were two hikers who had left an hour or so ahead of us, so we could see their footprints most of the time. In some sections, the wind had drifted snow over the trail, but we would quickly pick it up again. Soon we we were just about 100 feet below the pass and feeling good. But once we cleared the tree line and reached the saddle of the pass, we were completely unprotected from the wind and the conditions changed drastically. The wind was blowing so hard, it felt like it was blowing us around, and we had to yell at the top of our voices just to hear each other.  With the falling snow, blowing snow, and fog/clouds hanging over us, we found ourselves in near white-out conditions.  You can faintly see the Hurricane Pass sign just 50 feet ahead.

 Whiteout conditions as we approached Hurricane Pass

We don’t have a lot of photos going over the pass because we had packed our cameras to protect them from the weather, so we were just using our iPhones (which also required removing our gloves). In any case, there wasn’t much to see besides snow.

Hurricane Pass lived up to its name!  The wind coming through the area is focused by the surrounding mountains through this tiny pass/saddle.  This was the strongest wind either of us had experienced.  There was no way to stand up straight, so we used our micro spikes on our boots to dig into the snow and rock and our trekking poles extended out at a 30 degree angle propping our bodies against the handles.  We shuffled sideways with our backs to the wind just a few feet at a time.  The wind was also carrying small pieces of snow and ice scratching our exposed faces.  We tried to time our movements between gusts of wind and would have to yell GO! even though we were standing just a couple feet from each other.  At one point even the yelling wasn’t enough and we just had to point and go.  The wind was so strong at one point that we even considered crawling to get through the most narrow part of the trail, but with the sharp rocks, it didn’t feel any better and would just have gotten us wet.

It took 10 minutes or so to traverse just 30 feet and get over the pass.  We thought the by getting on the other side of the pass we would be protected by the western wind, but we were just slammed by the eastern wind.  Small twisters of snow and ice formed at the saddle leaving no safe direction protected from the wind.  We shuffled down the trail on the other side of the pass, finding ourselves often in one foot deep snow drifts.  It was hard to make out the snow filled switchbacks, but after descending 200′ the wind calmed down and we were able to rest and laugh about our newest accomplishment.

 

 

If there hadn’t been a snow storm, we would have realized we were standing at the foot of the three main Teton peaks (South, Middle, and Grand Teton) and the view from Hurricane Pass would have been amazing (like this).  These peaks extended about 2-3k feet above where we stood at 10,200′.  Unfortunately we hiked several miles along side the peaks without seeing them at all through the cloud cover.

Looking toward South Teton

 

 

The decent down along the South Fork of Cascade Canyon was long and arduous since we had to watch our footing with the ice, snow, and wet rocks, but our MicroSpikes helped to keep us from slipping too much. Finally around 1:30 PM we reached snow line at about 8,750′ and were able to increase our pace. It was still probably 40 degrees, but it was nice not to traverse through ice and snow.  We were also pleasantly surprised to find a bull moose resting in the willows.  Nathan had carried his 70-300mm L telephoto lens this entire time in case of a situation like this.  Finally carrying an extra 2.3 pounds paid off!

 

We were exhausted when we reached the trail split for the North Fork of Cascade Canyon after hiking just over 6 miles and dropping ~2,500 feet from Hurricane Pass. We had another 3 miles and 1,000 feet of gain to reach the northern most campsite in the North Fork Cascade camping zone.  It was a tough climb, but the clouds cleared just long enough for us to get a couple shots of the Tetons.

Tetons Hidden in the Clouds

We didn’t see any other backpackers staying in the North Fork Cascade Canyon camping zone that night.  We just saw a few day hikers returning to Jenny Lake and a backpacker who had just come over Paintbrush Divide and was not happy with the surprise snow and cold temperatures. He was headed down to lower elevation for warmer temperatures.  We set up camp, ate dinner and noticed the temperatures were dropping even faster than last night.  We were about 500 feet lower than the night before and were right around our estimated snow line, but our thermometer read 30 degrees as soon as the sun set.  We were glad this would be our last night sleeping below freezing.  We were wishing we had our snow covered tent from last night to help insulate us from the rapid dropping temperatures. We learned to be careful what we wish for…

Day 4

North Fork Cascade Camping Zone to String Lake Trailhead (~11 miles)

Nathan woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and found the tent covered in snow again!  We got our ‘wish’- a 1″ thick blanket of fresh powder covered the landscape and was still falling.  After shaking off our tent in the morning we took some tent photos which makes a nice landscape comparison to the evening before.

 

 

Katharine’s expressions show the evolution of our emotions in the cold early morning hours.

Way Too Cold, So Many Miles to Go, but We’re on Vacation!

We had a hot breakfast and packed up camp for our long exit day.

 

This day was special because the first part of our route was the hike up to Lake Solitude, a place we had visited 3 years earlier with Katharine’s family just after our engagement.  It was there that Katharine decided we would hike the Teton Crest Trail at some point!

Lake Solitude August 20, 2010

Katharine’s Parents at Lake Solitude (2010)

Lake solitude was a few hundred feet higher than where we camped and we could tell the snow was getting deeper the higher we went.  We arrived at a much different scene than we did 3 years ago.  A fog had set in and hid the small islands and surrounding mountains.

Katharine’s Return (September 19, 2013)

 

Three years earlier we had watched hungry trout rising, trying to eating anything that landed on the surface of the water, but we didn’t bring our rods.  This time we were prepared and spent the next hour catching several nice sized trout from the shore.  We did catch and release since we didn’t have the time to clean, cook and eat trout for lunch that day. It was nice to successfully make use of our fishing gear we lugged the whole way!

 

 

 

It was hard to pack up our gear and start the hike up the long switchbacks to Paintbrush Divide (10,720′), 1,700 feet above Lake Solitude, but time was passing and we had a lot of miles ahead of us.

You can just see a thin line (trail) climbing from left to right at a slight slope.

By the time we left Lake Solitude the clouds had cleared giving us spectacular views of the canyons below.

 Looking Toward Grand Teton

 Looking Northwest Toward Mink Lake

Being on the south facing canyon side with clear skies, the sun began melting the snow up to Lake Solitude.  We generated so much heat climbing the divide we stripped down to our t-shirts as we hiked through 6 inch deep snow.

 

Once we crested the ridge we were met by the brisk wind from the north and we bundled back up in our down jackets.  The view from the Paintbrush Divide is incredible since you can see down multiple canyons and lakes.

 

 

Mt Woodring

The drifts were deep on the northeast side of the divide, and we found ourselves post-holing sometimes past our knees.  The trail became hard to see at times and a couple rockslides had taken out part of the trail completely.  We bounded down the mountain like astronauts on the moon since the snow reduced the impact on our feet and we took exaggerated steps to clear the high snow.

 

The trail was pretty empty and we had hiked over the pass and down the steep switchbacks before we saw another person.  We did however see footprints in the snow which had turned back including some messages written in the snow exclaiming it was too cold to go any further.  We chuckled since we had been camping in the snow for the last 2 nights and were glad to be on the homestretch of our trip.  We found it to be quite the accomplishment to be the first people over the pass that day, and it was fun to trailblazer through fresh powder for miles and miles.

 

Snow would naturally roll down the mountain creating softball size snowballs

Soon we found ourselves in clear meadows with just a dusting of snow.

 

There was a slight overlook above Holly Lake, but being late afternoon and 4 more miles to go we raced on taking little photos or breaks.

Leigh Lake

Near the end of the trail, Katharine did spot a elk cow in the forest, and we could hear the bull bugling nearby, but we were tired and it was getting late, so we didn’t stay any longer to catch a glimpse of the bull in rut.

String Lake Trailhead (we don’t look too bad for living in the backcountry for 4 days!)

We finished by hiking around String Lake and back to our car at the trailhead where we had left it four days ago.  The 4 days, ~35 miles, freezing nights, rain, hail, snow, wind, and countless times we chose to continue when others didn’t made this one of the most memorable backpacking adventures we have ever had. Still, we’re thinking we’d like to do it again in mid August, hopefully when the flowers are blooming and there is less chance of snow!

 

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 47
  • Nights in a tent: 25
  • Miles driven: 5189
  • Miles hiked: 163
  • Hours spent below freezing (32F): 28
  • Fish caught: 8
  • Photos taken: 8,457
  • Grizzly bears seen: 0

 

By Katharine

We have finished with our Epic Trip! We made it home late on Friday night (10/11) and have been settling in to our new life rather than updating our blog and finishing up trip reports. But finally we are getting back into it, so here’s a write up on a few days of hiking in the Tetons with my family back in early September. There are still a lot of Epic Trip posts to come after this… Teton Crest Trail, Yellowstone NP, Great Basin NP, Zion Narrows, Grand Canyon, Balloon Fiesta, Jack Daniels Distillery, and more! So stay tuned 🙂

Day 40-43: Grand Teton National Park, WY (9/12-9/15)

Nathan took a break from the Epic Trip to visit his ill grandmother in San Diego while I stayed in the Tetons with my family. While the guys did another day of fishing, the girls did a nice hike around String Lake with baby Will (the cutest nephew a girl could ask for) in tow.

Alex was a champ carrying Will the whole way.

 

Will seemed to enjoy the ride, taking a nap at the beginning and then smiling the rest of the way.

 

 

Another afternoon we all hiked about halfway around Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls.

The whole family made it together, with rainbow colored backpacks!

As we were having lunch at Hidden Falls, it started raining pretty hard, so we hurried to the boat dock and took the boat back to the trailhead. It cut the afternoon a little short, but we managed to avoid getting soaked, so we considered it a win. It was a great day in the Tetons and great to get the whole family out!

 

 

Day 32: Stuart- Glacier National Park, MT (9/4-9/5)

Written from Nathan’s Perspective

As we posted earlier, we spent 3 nights and 2 days in Glacier National Park. Our trip report ended with the perfect day, but we left out what happened on the last night.  This is a story that we will always remember and will always bring a smile to our faces and a shiver to our shoulders.

10:20 PM The milky-way is spectacular spanning the night sky from one mountain range to another.  We arrive at our tent and I quickly start to unload my camera gear, backpack and tripod.  I set up my camera in the meadow nearby, pointing up at the stars for a time lapse photography session.

10:30 PM I return to the car and sit in the driver seat sorting through our memory cards.  Suddenly there is a scurrying sound.  It was odd how close it sounded, I wondered if there could be something under the car? I look under the car but there was nothing so I return to the driver seat.  Soon enough I hear the scurrying again, so I look behind my seat and see my camera backpack. Oh no, I thought, maybe a mouse jumped in my backpack while I was setting up my camera.  I quickly grab my backpack and lay it on the picnic table.  I stand there staring at it with my headlamp waiting for the scurrying sound to return.  Katharine returns from the bathroom and I explain what I thought was going on. I gingerly open my pack, stepping back and waiting for a mouse to climb out.  After staring at my backpack without any movement I thought I must be crazy and ask Katharine to sit in the car and listen for odd noises.

10:35PM She walks to the car and opens the passenger door. AHHHH!! She let out the loudest scream I’ve ever heard her make.  I turn and see a small field mouse on our passenger seat.  I looked at Katharine with her hands over her mouth and then around the pitch black and silent campground.  Not one flashlight, tent zipper, or voice, no one was concerned.  Amazing how a blood curdling scream from a woman in the middle of the night in grizzly bear country didn’t get one bit of interest or concern from the fellow campers. Katharine was actually glad though, she was pretty embarrassed to have screamed so loudly over a little mouse.

10:40 PM We stand in shock as we watch the mouse explore our car.  We were helpless watching him effortlessly scurry from driver seat over backpacks, gear, and clothes to the back windshield.  Our evening just got complicated.  Tomorrow we have a 10 hour drive to Grand Teton.  We can’t do that safely with a mouse in the car, so we have to get rid of it… but how?

10:35 PM We decide he might just be looking for a way out, so we open the back hatch.  The mouse ran to the edge of the car, but retreated after seconds of looking outside.  Of course that would have been too easy; we needed another idea.  We peered through the windows with our headlamps watching him stuff his cheeks with dropped nuts and Clif bar crumbs under the seat.

10:50 PM We decide we needed to remove his food supply. We agree that we needed visual confirmation that the critter had left the car so Katharine watches the open door for any escaping rodents while I nervously unload the gear behind our seats and begin removing wrappers.  I cautiously reach for wrappers half under the seats in fear of a mouse biting my fingers.  After all the food and crumbs were removed we stand back again waiting for a disappointed hungry mouse to jump out of our car.  Instead the chubby cheeked mouse continued to run around the car without attempting to escape.

11:15 PM We name the mouse Stuart, after Stuart Little.

11:30 PM We need a more aggressive plan so we decide to reduce his hiding spots by emptying the car.  Again I nervously removed our bags, bins and clothing hoping a mouse wouldn’t crawl up my arm.  Soon the car was barren, and cleaner than before the trip.  We stood watching the open hatch and waiting for him to voluntarily leave.  Again he ran to the back bumper, but wouldn’t jump.  A neighboring camper walked by looking puzzled as we stood in the dark amongst our stuff staring at an empty car.  “There’s a mouse in our car”, we told him.  He replied, “yeah I had one in my sleeping bag last night.” We can’t decide which would be worse.  He then headed back to his tent.

11:55 PM We are two engineers staring at an empty car held hostage by a simple field mouse.  We are tired, frustrated, but not defeated.  Maybe he’s afraid to jump we thought, let’s build a ramp.  We lean a duffle bag from the ground to the back bumper and waited again.  The mouse ran to the edge, but wouldn’t take the easy exit.  Instead a second mouse raced from the darkness to the foot of the bag.  No! We lunge forward, scaring the second mouse back into the darkness.  We quickly remove the bag.

12:05 AM We notice Stuart would spend a few seconds at the edge of the bumper, so what if we gave him a little nudge?  I stood near the brake light holding an extended trekking pole.  He ran to the edge and I slowly lowered the pole behind him and in one swift move my nudge turned into a bat swinging for the fences. I miscalculated that the ski-pole-like disk would raise the pole a half an inch from the floor allowing the mouse to play limbo under my swiping trekking pole.  He made a quick second loop toward the bumper and in frustration I turned the pole into a skewer, jabbing the pointed end towards the pest but obviously missing him.

12:30 AM It’s been two hours and we are depressed, how could this be happening to us?  Fatigue is setting in and we can’t think straight.  I chase him around the car trying to scare him toward an open door, but there were too many hiding spots for a mouse.

12:40 AM We change tactics in desperation – no more Mr. Nice Guy, it’s on! I pull out a canister of Cutter’s bug spray.  Katharine watches the back hatch as I spray the noxious gas under the seats.  The fumes make me cough and back away from the car.  There is no way he can survive in the DEET fog, he has to leave now.  We wait, but there is no more scurrying, no more mocking appearances, maybe he’s gone, maybe he’s dead…

1:00 AM We’re about to give up the fight for the night when suddenly a mouse appears on the roof of our car under our roof box.  “You have to be kidding me!” I exclaim.  I immediately maced the little pest with the bug spray.  He ran down our windshield and disappeared between the windshield wipers and the hood of our car.  I pop the hood and look around the engine and realize the search is impossible.

1:05 AM We give up. There isn’t any sign of the mouse, but we realize he can probably come and go as he pleases through the engine and dashboard.  Who knows, maybe there is more than one.  This is a losing battle and we are defeated.  We load our gear back into the car verifying everything is sealed and zipped.  We turn off the time lapse photography of stars that had been running the whole time and put the camera away. Our final move is placing a small cashew crumb in the center of the diver seat floor mat.  If the nut is gone in the morning, we’ll know he’s still here.

7:00 AM I wake up eager to check for the nut on the floor mat.  It’s gone! So, the war isn’t over.  We empty the car again preparing for another assault.  With the light of day and a fresh mind I decided to make some new weapons from aspen branches.  I used my knife to whittle a thin flexible rod that can reach the small hiding spots under the seats.  I also cut a branch that resembles a broom hopefully more effective than the trekking pole at sweeping Stuart out of the car.

7:15 AM I crouch down resting my head on the floor mat looking under the seats.  My anger and frustration overpowers any fear of the mouse darting out and attacking my face.  I use the aspen branch to systematically clear every nook and cranny.  I listen for the scurrying, but there is just silence.  We stare at the empty car and our gear.  Then it dawns on me if he won’t leave maybe we could trap him.  We whittle a small branch and prop up a bucket upside down.  We then removed my shoe laces and created a rope and tied it to the branch.  With a quick jerk the bucket falls a couple inches.  This totally would have worked last night when he was active, but now he’s gone silent.  Maybe he’s gone, or maybe he’s asleep in the dashboard.

7:30 AM We have a long drive ahead of us and couldn’t waste anymore time battling the mouse.  We had to do the unthinkable; drive 10 hours with the potential of a mouse surprising us on the road by running up our legs or appearing on our shoulder.

8:00 AM The car was loaded and we were ready to hit the road.  Of course we had 5 miles of bumpy gravel roads to start the nightmare drive.  Maybe the jarring will wake him up causing him to make an appearance, which might be better now than on the interstate.  We make it to the pavement with no mouse.

12:00 PM We stop at a Wal-Mart and buy 8 mouse traps.  We bait and arm 4 wooden death traps and take a break for lunch.  Later we returned to the car.  Nothing, the peanut butter is untouched, no Stuart.  Maybe he’s still asleep.  We still had hours ahead of us so we bravely headed south.

7:00 PM It started getting dark and we had another hour left of driving.  Would Stuart wake up and be active in the dark?  Every once in a while we felt a phantom tail or tickle on our legs.  It was the most suspenseful 10 hour drive we had ever made.  We arrived in Jackson Hole, WY and reset the traps throughout the car and collapsed in our motel room.

5:00 AM We have an early flight to Chicago.  I check the traps again, nothing.  My confidence that Stuart was gone grew and I knew he wouldn’t be able to ignore the peanut butter if he was still in the car.  We left the traps armed in the car over the weekend just in case, but after several days they remained untouched.

The Stuart chapter was over.  Finally we could get into our current home, our car, without hesitation.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 39
  • Mice in the car: 1 (that we know of)

We are currently backpacking in the Havasupai Indian Reservation (near Grand Canyon) which luckily is not affected by the government shutdown. We were fortunate to finish our Grand Canyon Rim to Rim backpack before the shutdown, and we are hoping the parks will be open by Sunday so that we can finish the rest of the trip as planned!

Day 37-39: Grand Teton National Park, WY (9/9-9/11)

We spent over a week in the Tetons since it’s one of our favorite parks and Katharine’s family and close family friends met us there.  This trip report only covers the wildlife we saw during our trip and some fishing on the Snake River.  There will be a couple more posts to come.

Grand Teton is one our favorite parks because it’s where we got engaged just over three years ago, but there’s a lot to like, especially all the wildlife.  In the mornings and evenings we would drive the park roads and keep an eye out for elk, moose, or bears.  This year we saw all three and then some.

 

 

 

 

 

Katharine’s dad and brother are avid fly fishermen and will jump at the idea of spending time in Jackson Hole.  We were lucky to join them on a float trip down the South Fork of the Snake river.  We started early in the morning catching fish in the river mist.

 

 

 

 

We spent so much time focused on the river and our flies drifting downstream that we often would forget to look up at the beautiful surroundings.  Osprey and Bald Eagles stalked the trout below, and every once in a while we’d see a bird flying off with a catch.

 

 

Nathan even got a chance at the oars while our guide started up the motor.

 

 Trout Fishing Pirates

After fishing we stopped at our guide’s house and were impressed by the domestic turkey and all the chickens.

 

There was one feisty rooster that didn’t like the looks of one of the guides hats.  Eventually the hat won and the rooster was caught.

 

 

Wildlife photography and fly fishing in the Grand Tetons… it doesn’t get much better than that!

 

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 39
  • Miles driven: 5189
  • Fish caught: 3
  • Pronghorn Antelope: Numerous
  • Bison: Numerous
  • Elk: Some
  • Moose: 4
  • Bears:1

 

Day 33-35: Chicago, IL (9/6-9/8)

 

After Glacier NP, we drove to Jackson, WY to park our car and fly to Chicago. Katharine’s good friends from Kenyon, Kathryn & Joe, were getting married and we couldn’t miss the wedding!

We arrived on Friday morning and got to spend the day with Katharine’s friend from study abroad in Munich, Melissa. We had a great time just hanging out in the city, eating excellent sushi, and enjoying some delicious wine that Melissa selected. We also appreciated having a friend’s place to stay Friday night after the Rehearsal dinner!

 

The wedding was on Saturday in a beautiful chapel in downtown Chicago. Then we headed to the Ravenswood district to the Architectural Artifacts for the reception. The Architectural Artifacts was a really great venue with tons of interesting items for sale, most out of our price range, but it was such a cool collection. We had a lot of fun exploring while the wedding party took photos during cocktail hour.

 

Great guestbook idea

 

 

 

 

 

The reception was really fun with lots of dancing and a chance to catch up with some old friends from Kenyon.

 

It was great to see old friends and well worth the side trip!

 

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 35
  • Number of airplanes used on our road trip: 2

 

We’ve been busy backpacking, which hasn’t allowed us to edit many photos or write up our trip reports… so we’re about a month behind now! We’re hoping to crank out a couple more trip reports before our last backpacking trip in Havasupai!

 

Day 30-32: Glacier National Park, MT (9/2-9/4)

Glacier National Park was one of the bigger parks that we haven’t been to, and we had high expectations.  Everyone we know that has been there has raved about the beautiful landscapes and abundant wildlife, so we were excited to check it out for ourselves.

We only really had two days to explore the park so we decided to day hike the Highline Trail (11.8 miles) along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road one day and the trail to Grinnell Glacier (11 miles) the other. Without the park shuttle running after 9/2, the Highline trail becomes more difficult to do as a through hike… it requires hitch-hiking!  Encouraged by park rangers that it’s totally legal and common, we gathered our gear, made a sign, and successfully and safely hitchhiked from ‘the Loop’ to the trailhead at Logan Pass.  This was a first for both of us, and we felt a bit silly holding a sign and smiling at empty cars as they passed by without stopping.  But after only 10 or so cars passed by, one pulled over and two nice climbers picked us up.  They said they had never picked up hitch hikers before, but we looked pretty harmless.  I’m sure we did with our well maintained hiking gear and smiling faces.  They also seemed pretty harmless as they moved the two kid’s car seats to the trunk of their SUV.  It was a short ride and before we knew it we were at the trailhead.

Of course as soon as we began hiking it started to rain, but we were prepared with rain jackets and pack covers, so a little rain wasn’t going to stop us.  After the first couple miles the rain turned to a drizzle and pretty much stopped, but the dreary gray clouds remained.

 

 

We were quickly distracted once we spotted a small heard of bighorn sheep grazing on the hillside.  Nathan tried to climb the hill but the steep grade, loose gravel, and the sheep’s ability to quickly climb prevented him from getting any worthwhile photos.  Later we saw a kid (baby mountain goat) and its nanny (mother) also grazing on another hillside.  We stopped and watched the little one gallop across the loose rocks as it tried to keep up with its mom.

 

We were really excited to finally see mountain goats and bighorn sheep (especially rams), but we weren’t close enough to fully capture the moment with our cameras.  We continued hiking though the mountains and enjoyed the trail despite the clouds.

 

Once we reached the Granite Park Chalet and we knew the views of the valleys and open hillsides were over and it was just a matter of hiking back down to the car.

 

After driving the Going-To-The-Sun Road toward the east we started searching for a campground.  Usually Katharine has every campground and hotel booked, but after Labor Day, the campgrounds in Glacier become first-come first-serve.  This style of campsite reservation doesn’t work well for us since we spend the days hiking and we only return to the campground to sleep.  We circled all the major campgrounds and they were completely full.

Luckily there was a primitive campground a bit farther from the main part of the park. Since it required driving a few miles on a dirt road and didn’t have running water, we figured it wouldn’t be too popular. Sure enough, there were several sites available when we arrived. Plus, the drive on the dirt road through a cattle and horse pasture was beautiful in the sunset.

 

The campsite was just our style; small, quiet, and had a great view of the mountains.

 

The next morning we headed to the Many Glacier area to hike to Grinnell Glacier. Finally we had a sunny day, but we quickly found the hike had little to no shade.  The first couple miles of trail traveled along side a few lakes, but then quickly climbed to various rocky shelves as it approached the glacier.

 

Suddenly we came to a small crowd fixed on a ram bighorn sheep only 30 yards away.  Nathan and another photographer climbed up the rocks to get a little closer.

You could see the sheep panting in the hot sun, but it continued to forage for food.

While Nathan was taking pictures Katharine was talking to hikers returning from the glacier who said there were more sheep closer to the trail around the corner.  We quickly ditched the other photographer and headed up the trail.  As the other hikers claimed, these sheep were much closer and more active!

 

 

These sheep weren’t too afraid of people as they jumped from ledge to ledge above the trail.  Some hikers were unaware of the sheep until they looked up at which point they usually gasped as they fumbled for their camera.

 

After we took 50+ photos of the sheep we decided to finish the last mile of the hike and check out the glacier, the real focus of the hike.

Grinnell Glacier

 

It was early afternoon and the sun was beating down on us so we thought we would dip our hot feet in the cold glacier melt water. It felt great for the first second until the freezing water felt like needles in your feet.  It took minutes to warm our feet up after just seconds in the water.  Sadly it took several tries to get this photo.

 

It was getting late in the afternoon and we still had 5.5 miles to hike out, and we had forgotten to eat lunch with all the sheep chaos.  We hiked just a short while until we reached a small rest area along the trail which has some rustic benches to sit and eat lunch.  After 5 minutes we were interrupted by three sheep passing through to reach a creek.

 

This of course led to more photos and less eating.  Amazingly these sheep approached us even closer than the ones before, forcing us to retreat because we felt uncomfortable.  It was a bighorn sheep extravaganza!

 

Finally feeling like we had enough sheep photos and noticing the sun getting lower in the sky, we started hiking quickly back to the trailhead.  Of course with the day cooling off, more sheep appeared and it became more of a herding activity than hiking.

 

Katharine and one ram startled each other as she came around a tree that it was eating.  Both of them jumped back and paused for a Katharine-Sheep showdown stare.  We slowly backed up and the ram did also until we had reached a safe distance.

 

Check out the sheep in the background

We enjoyed the rest of the hike down paying more attention to the flowers, rocks, and incredible glacier carved valleys.

Glacier park lived up to the hype with the incredible landscapes, flowers, and animals.  We couldn’t have been happier after two 10+ mile hikes in two days.

We couldn’t include all the photos in the trip report so check out more in the gallery below.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 32
  • Nights in a tent: 22
  • Miles driven: 4563
  • Miles hiked: 133
  • Bighorn sheep photographed: 18
  • Photographs of bighorn sheep: 312
  • Mountain goats: 15

Day 27-29: Seattle, WA (8/30-9/1)

While in Washington we also visited Nathan’s grandparents and his parents, who flew up from San Diego.  We met up with everyone at the Space Needle for lunch with a unique view of the city.  We celebrated Nathan (30 yrs), his dad (60 yrs) and his grandpa’s (80 yrs) birthdays this year. The ice cream dessert was in a dry ice bowl, which caught a lot of attention.

 

 

The skies were clear and the dinning area rotated several times during the lunch giving us a 360 view of the city.  After lunch we headed to the sky deck to take some photos.  We recommend the package deal of the lunch and sky deck tickets – it was well worth it.

 

 

The next day we visited the Pike’s Place Market, where we watched the famous fish throw.

 

We also had fish and chips at Ivar’s seafood bar, which in our opinion has the most unorganized ordering system in which you just yell out your order from the crowd and some how it all works out.  It’s not our style, but we got our food without any issue so we can’t complain too much.  We ate outside and watched kids feed the seagulls and when we say kids we are also including Nathan’s parents.

 

 

Nathan’s mom wasn’t so keen on the idea after the seagull took the french fry.

We also visited the first Starbucks, various craft booths, and the gum wall.

 

It is more of a gum alley than just a wall

The next morning we got up early to go salmon fishing in the Puget Sound.

Photo taken by Nathan’s Mom (family of artists)

When we got there the first impression of the boat was a little worrisome, but after a couple of hours we were anchored and casting our fishing lines over the rail.

 

Nathan was the only one to catch a salmon…but it was a little too small to keep.

 

Katharine caught the biggest fish, a rockfish, but we couldn’t keep it either.

 

We did catch a ton of flounder though, which the deckhand filleted and grilled with cheese while we motored back.  It was surprisingly pretty good, but then again what isn’t with cheese on top!

 

Although we didn’t catch any salmon it was fun spending time with Nathan’s family and listening to the endless jokes, banter, and stories.

That night, we had a nice dinner with Nathan’s grandma and got to share some photos of our epic trip so far.  It was fun to re-live the trip memories and realize all the places we’ve been so far.

It was a great visit with family and fun to see the city, but we were also eager to get back to the national parks and camping.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 29
  • Nights in a tent: 19
  • Miles driven: 3826
  • Seagulls fed: 2
  • Salmon caught: 1
  • Flounder caught: 10+

We are currently preparing to start the Teton Crest trail (4 day backpacking trip) tomorrow! Here’s a look back at the last NP we visited in Washington.

Epic Trip Days 25-26: North Cascades National Park (8/28 – 8/29)

North Cascades National Park is the most remote national park in Washington near the Canadian border and we definitely noticed that it was less crowded. We enjoyed the beautiful drive out to the park, even stopping at a roadside farm stand for fresh berries and ice cream. Once we got to the park, the weather was pretty overcast but luckily not raining too much. We stopped at the visitor center, which was perhaps the best we’ve seen so far. The exhibits were great and the rangers were particularly helpful.

After the visitor center, we drove the scenic drive through the park on Rt 20. The mountains were definitely impressive despite the cloud cover, and the glacial lakes were a beautiful teal blue-green.

 

By the time we made it all the way to the Washington Pass at the far eastern end of the park, it was late afternoon. But we decided we still had time for a 4.2 mile hike to Blue Lake, which the rangers said often has mountain goats in the area. For the majority of the hike we were sheltered from the rain sprinkles by the lush forest, which also created great habitat for some unique mushrooms.

 

As the clouds parted, we reached the lake, which was really beautiful. Katharine took photos of the scenery while Nathan tried to capture the small fish rising (rather unsuccessfully unfortunately).

 

By the time we finished the hike, it was almost dark so we drove directly to our campsite on the western side of the park. We arrived after dark (as usual) and set up camp and ate a quick dinner before the rain really started. We had selected the campground (Fishcreek) because it is close to the trailhead for the hike to Sahale Arm glacier, which we intended to do as a long day hike the next day. However, around 2 am it started raining very steadily and when we awoke early in the morning, it was still pouring. We decided to go back to sleep and try to wait it out, but by 7 or 8 it was still raining. We packed up camp and drove to the trailhead to see if the weather was any better there, but no luck. We watched a few couples and groups start the hike (with varying degrees of preparedness and rain gear) but the clouds were dense and the hike would have been a long one (12 miles) so we decided instead to head back to Seattle and use the day to take care of laundry, errands, and other chores.  We later found out the immense amount of rain had cause a mudslide shutting down route 20, which we had driven the day before.  This summer the highway has been closed a few times to clear mudslides.

We definitely want to return to this park sometime in the future. Something about the mountains and lakes really intrigued us, and despite the gray weather, this might have been our favorite park in Washington.

 

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 26
  • Nights in a tent: 19
  • Night camping in the rain: 3
  • Miles driven: 3513
  • Miles hiked: 110
  • National Parks: 8
  • Mountain Goats: 0

We’re back in Jackson Hole spending sometime exploring the valley with Katharine’s family.

 

Epic Trip Day 22-24: Olympic National Park (8/25-8/27)

 

After our 3 days in Rainier, we stayed in a hotel in Hoquiam, WA near the southwestern entrance of Olympic National Park. We were glad to have a shower and chance to reorganize our gear and packs for backpacking. Olympic National Park is pretty large spanning several different climate zones so we planned to visit the Hoh rainforest as a day hike, then backpack Shi Shi Beach in the far NW corner, then head into the mountains (Grand Valley) near Hurricane Ridge.

The rainforest was mossy and incredibly lush as expected.  The moss and other air plants covered the trees and ground.

 

There were many rows of trees with exposed roots due to a fallen tree which then became a nurse tree providing nutrients for the next generation of trees.

 

After our day hike we drove to Shi Shi beach trailhead.  The trailhead is located in the Makah Reservation and there isn’t any official overnight parking provided by the park service so you have to pay a family to park in their front yard.  The hike into Shi Shi beach is a muddy 2 mile long trail weaving through a dense forest.

 

The hike through the mud is slow and dirty, but once you emerge from the forest and onto the sandy beach the view is well worth the hike.

 

We took off our boots and cooled our feet off in the surf.

 

 

We enjoyed our last unimpeded sunset over the pacific ocean.

Once the stars came out we took some awesome star/sunset photos with our tent on the beach.  It was a coordinated effort with Katharine painting the inside of the tent with a headlamp while Nathan adjusted the camera settings.

24mm, f/4, ISO 400, 30 seconds [Click to enlarge and see the stars]

The next morning we hiked a mile down the beach to Point of Arches.  It was a long walk down the beach, and we started to doubt our secluded camping location but as we approached the Point and saw how many people were camping in the area, we decided the solitude was worth the long walk.  We spent an hour exploring the rocks and tide pools.

 

We then packed up camp, hiked 2 miles back through the mud and then drove inland to the Grand Valley trailhead to start our next backpack.  As we opened the doors to get our packs, it was quickly apparent that we were not at the beach anymore.  It was raining, windy and in the low 40’s. We had gotten a later start from Shi Shi and the drive took longer than we expected, so it was late in the afternoon and we still had about 5 miles of hiking to reach our campsite.  It started raining harder as we finalized organizing our packs and we realized that we were not really all that prepared for backpacking in the rain (mentally or gear-wise). Given that it was 42 degrees and quite late in the day, we decided it wasn’t the right situation to try rainy backpacking for the first time, so we instead drove down the mountain to a warmer and dryer car camping site.

The next day we did our intended backpacking trip as a 10 mile day hike.  When we started the hike the weather was still miserable and the treeless ridge line left us exposed in the cold wind.

 

After a couple miles we felt confident about our decision to forgo the backpack.  The gray clouds hiding the Olympic Mts and the lack of marmots and other animals made the valley seem a bit desolate and unfriendly even when we reached the lakes at the bottom.

 

We saw hundreds of marmot holes, many in the middle of the trail, but not one marmot! We did see a couple deer and this intriguing looking frog.

 

As we headed back up out of the valley, it had warmed up quite a bit, even allowing us to wear t-shirts. The hike back up felt tougher than we expected, but gave us a sense of accomplishment. As we reached the top and looked down at Badger Valley, we definitely saw the potential of the area and hoped we’d have another chance to see it in better weather conditions.

 

 

 

 

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 24
  • Nights in a tent: 18
  • Miles driven: 3357
  • Miles hiked: 106
  • National Parks: 7
  • Nights camping in the rain: 2

 

We are currently in the Chicago O’Hare airport on our way back to Jackson Hole, WY after spending the weekend here to celebrate Katharine’s friends’ wedding. We had a great time in Chicago, but we are excited to get back to the mountains!

 

Epic Trip Day 19-21: Mt. Rainier National Park (8/22-8/24)

We spent about a week in the Seattle/Washington area using Katharine’s cousins Tom and Amy as a home base to explore the three national parks. Our first mini trip was to Mt. Rainier, and Tom and Amy joined us for a few days of day hiking and camping in the park. After almost a month of hiking on our own, it was fun to have some new hiking buddies and people to chat with along the way.

 

Mt. Rainier – Sunrise Area

We started in the northern Sunrise area of the park and Tom and Amy helped us pick a really nice loop trail to do. We had somewhat cloudy weather but were lucky enough to see the mountain for a decent portion of the hike.

 

 

We were also lucky enough to avoid getting rained on despite the ‘doomsday’ clouds rolling in.

 

 

We were often distracted and slowed down along the trail by marmots and pika… Nathan and Tom both had their telephoto lenses and creeped up on the mountain rodents to capture their cute faces.  The marmots were lazy and seemed to enjoy being photographed while pika were very timid and were hard to see amongst the rocks (but easy to hear).

 

Hoary Marmot

 

Pika

After the 7 mile hike, we realized we needed gas so we headed to the nearest town to fill up and had dinner at a dive bar. While we were gassing up, we saw our first elk of the trip… after spending days in Redwoods trying to see them, we got to see elk on the lawn of a motel across the street… not exactly the most wild experience, but it’s still always fun.

 

 

The next day we drove to the Paradise area of the park, which is the most popular for good reason. We did another loop hike and saw an amazing display of wildflowers.

 

The meadows were filled with marmots, including some babies, eating as many flowers as they could while others napped on rocks.

 

 

 

As we climbed a bit higher to Panorama point, the weather got very cloudy and foggy, so we didn’t actually see Mt. Rainier at all that day. But the marmot-palooza definitely kept us entertained!

On our third day we did a hike along a stream with several very impressive waterfalls. The trail description hadn’t really emphasized them, so it was a pleasant surprise.

 

 

 

Just as we reached the top of the climb and came out into the open in the meadow, Mt. Rainier was peaking through the clouds with a brief spot of blue sky. Within five minutes though, a new batch of clouds rolled in and completely covered it for the rest of the afternoon.

 

 

It turned out to be a great hike with enough of a climb that we felt like we really earned our view of the mountain. When we got back to the trailhead Tom and Amy headed back to Seattle and started driving towards Olympic NP.

 

Mt. Rainier NP is understandably centered around and focused on the mountain, but since the weather didn’t fully cooperate, we were more impressed by the flowers and wildlife. John Muir also visited Rainier, and his most famous quotation was actually about the flowers, not the mountain itself. So we’d definitely love to return and get a chance to hike (or snowshoe) around when the mountain is backed by blue skies.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 21
  • Nights in a tent: 16
  • Miles driven: 2630
  • Miles hiked: 91
  • National Parks: 6

« Older entries § Newer entries »