All This and Bears Too

Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks, Wyoming - Sept 2008

It looked Shorter on the Map
The Grand Teton mountains of western Wyoming are part of the Rocky Mountains chain and famous for the way they abruptly rise up to jagged peaks with few foothills. Todd, Steph and I would be spending 6 days backpacking through their backcountry, starting at Cascade Canyon (the major canyon on the far right) and coming back down by Death Canyon (the canyon on the far left). The three major peaks in the middle are (from left to right) South Teton, Middle Teton and Grand Teton. The two smaller snow-covered peaks to the left of them are Static Peak and Buck Mountain.

Cascade Canyon
We began our trip with a ferry boat ride across Jenny Lake to the mouth of Cascade Canyon. The hike up Cascade Canyon to our first camp was relatively easy along a trail lined with trees, waterfalls, small grassy meadows and large jagged peaks.

The View from Hurricane Pass
Our first major challenge was the climb over 10,500 foot Hurricane Pass - so named for the heavy winds frequently encountered here. It was breezy, but not too bad. Just below the pass is Schoolroom Glacier whose run-off feeds a pretty turquoise-blue pond. Part of the trail can be seen in the lower left and the other side of the three Tetons fill the background.

The Alaska Basin
On the other side of Hurricane Pass, we dropped into pretty Alaska Basin where we would spend two nights. This is a remote valley of tumbled rocks and small scattered lakes.

Half-Moon, Half-Tree
In the evening, the sharp light often painted everything in shades of gold.

Moose on the Loose
During the afternoon of our 'down day', we were surprised by a mother and baby moose who wandered right past the edge of our camp and then spent the better part of an hour quietly grazing on the edge of a small pond a short distance away.

Wild flowers
Despite being late in the season, the slopes of the basin had some of the best patches of wildflowers that I have ever seen. Here thickets of wild Honeysuckle guard the route to Buck Mountain Pass.

Cold Night Approaching
After a day of nice weather, dark clouds began to roll in during the evening of our second night at Alaska Basin. This caused some concern since the next day would take us over the highest and most exposed section of the trail.

Buck Mountain Pass View
The next morning, we began the hard climb to Buck Mountain Pass and nearby Static Peak Divide which is at an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet. As we approached Buck Mountain Pass, waves of dark thunderstorms approached from the west and would shower us with a combination of freezing sleet and lightening bolts. Lightening storms are not something you want to see when hiking over a high exposed ridge named 'Static Peak'. During the worst of it, we would shelter behind boulders and then make a dash during the brief calm periods (note: at 11,000 feet elevation with a 40-pound pack, a 'dash' is what most people would call 'baby steps').

Hard Weather, High Country
Fortunately, we caught an extended break in the weather as we reached the highest sections of the trail just below Static Peak. Here the biggest hassle was gale force winds that would sometimes stop us dead in our tracks (a little scary when walking along steep slopes and sheer cliffs). After passing over the divide, we quickly made the 4,000 foot drop into the relative safety of Death Canyon (seen in the background).

Bear Moon
We pulled into camp at Phelps Lake feeling tired, damp and cold, but happy to be down out of the high country where the storms would likely dump snow and ice that night. At 6AM in the morning, I was awakened by Steph noisely rummaging through her backpack which was leaning on a rock about ten feet from our tents. I was about to go back to sleep, when I heard Steph and Todd wisphering from inside their tent. If they were inside their tent, than who was... Uh oh! Bear! We all started scrambling out of sleeping bags and reaching for our flashlights and cans of bear spray. Probably startled by the sound of us moving around in our tents, the bear quickly departed down the trail to the metal food storage 'bear box' a hundred yards away. Our food was safely locked inside, but we had left a couple of plasic water bottles sitting out and we could now hear the bear thrashing them about the woods in the dark (we never found one of them). The lesson: put EVERYTHING in the bear box.

Evening Tea at Bradley Lake
The weather cleared the following day and we had a very easy and pleasant hike along the front of the mountains to our final camp at Bradley Lake. This was one of the best backcountry campsites ever - nicely laid-out and ten feet from the shore of a beautiful lake which we had entirely to ourself that night.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Since famous Yellowstone National Park was so near, we decided to take a day after our hike to explore its geo-thermal wonders. We started with the waterfalls found in the 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone' near the north end of the park. Note the faint rainbow formed in the mist near the base of the falls.

Mammoth Hot Springs
Next stop was Mammoth Hot Springs where a series of mineral-filled seep springs have created massive and ever-changing deposits of colorful sediments along a steep hillside.

Desolation Walk
One of the most impressive features was Grand Prismatic Spring - a giant hot spring nearly 400 feet across. Water draining from the edges of the pool have created a wide plain of mineral deposits that must be crossed on a series of raised wooden walkways. Here steam from the pool silhouettes visitors walking along its edge.

Hot and Colorful
The bright colors around many hot springs are formed by species of thermophile ('heat loving') bacteria. Different bands of color are due to different heat zones which support different bacteria types. The geo-thermal features around Yellowstone host one of the most diverse collections of colorful and hardy bacteria found anywhere in the world outside of a gas station men's room.

Right On Time
No collection of Yellowstone pictures is complete without 'Old Faithful', the world's most famous geyser. Approximately every 90 minutes, the geyser sends up a hundred-foot stream of pressurized water for the enjoyment of the large crowds that gather around it. A century ago the geyser went off about every 60 minutes, but the interval has been pushed out in recent years due to budget cuts (just kidding).

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