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Posts Tagged ‘Basin’

In an attempt to keep our crop of bug bites going from weekend to weekend, Amy and I made plans to head up into the Gros Ventre Wilderness Southeast of Jackson, to a destination called Shoal Falls. The drive out there is a little longer than the drive to the park, and the last 10 miles was on a crappy, pot-holed dirt road, so it felt a lot more like backpacking in Washington.

Not knowing anyone who had been to this destination before, we resorted to following some directions downloaded from Trails.com, which turned out to be the biggest letdown of the entire trip. They did, however, get us to the parking circle without too much difficulty, and even there the views were gorgeous.

The Parking Circle
From the Parking Circle

After gathering our stuff, we considered our options. According to our map and directions, the trail for this trip apparently meets again with the parking lot after a 12 mile loop, with Shoal Falls being at the furthest point from us. Given that information, “we” thought that it wouldn’t really matter which side of the loop we started from, so we picked what looked like the long side and started up the path. Now, the people that I’ve spoken to who are familiar with the trail network in the Gros Ventre Wilderness have all basically said the same thing: it’s a mess. Right off the bat, it was tough to decide which sign pointed where, as there were more trails than arrows and designated paths than were indicated on the sign. No worries though, we had our uber-accurate trails.com directions to help us out!

After some discussion, we settled on one path and started up it. Only a few minutes in, I noticed a birds nest just above eye level in a tree right off the trail. I couldn’t see inside of it, but I could reach my camera over the top to take a shot!

Robin Chicks

A few minutes further along, we spotted a small and rather naive buck along the side of the trail. He seemed pretty accustomed to human presence.

Small Buck

The trail winds through the forest along the side of Swift Creek — and in case anyone out there ever uses the trails.com directions, their map indicates that the trail is on the incorrect side of said creek. Just fyi.

Swift Creek

After maybe a mile or so, the trail meets with the creek, and seems to just disappear. We blundered along the overgrown bank for a minute or two before coming to the conclusion that there’s no WAY this is still a trail. Arriving back where the trail and the creek met, I noticed some logs that before looked like they had just fallen across the stream — not so. Three 7″ diameter logs were the makeshift bridge. Happy to have found that the trail continued on the other side of the creek, we continued on. …until a few feet later, the trail hit an unsigned junction. Without any real clue which way to go, we gambled on the left side and kept walking.

At about that time, this trail gets tough. It pitches up pretty steeply and doesn’t quit until you’re up the entire valley and through a couple of snowy basins.

The View Down The Canyon
pano2

The first basin (above) was a welcome relief, because you get to walk along flat ground for the first time in hours. Amy made an off-handed quip about maybe just wanting to camp here instead of pushing on to our destination. Little did we know…

Above that basin, we entered a giant cirque that was still filled with snow. We had already been dealing with patches of it covering the trail in places, but here the trail became totally lost.

Upper Swift Creek Basin

The upper basin area was absolutely vast — I imagine it was formed by glaciers many years ago, judging by its immense size. It’s hard to really understand the magnitude of these kinds of areas from pictures alone — they can’t really convey depth in a meaningful way, so I will say right now that the shot I’ve provided sucks. For a scale reference though (Washington folks), it was like standing in the bottom of the Columbia River Gorge.

swiftCreek-1-3

By now, a few things were obvious: first, the trails.com trip distance estimation was totally incorrect. We had come in at least 4 miles, and judging by the provided map, were only 1/3 of the way through the trip to Shoal Falls (not even the whole loop). Second, it was completely impossible to know where the trail went – by now it was covered under several feet of snow with no indication that it even existed! Begrudgingly, we both agreed that we had been outmatched by the snow and let down by our directions, so the best idea would be to head back down to the basin we saw before. On our way back down the trail, we were treated to some views we hadn’t noticed on the way up!

pano1

All told, our “consolation prize” campsite wasn’t a bad spot at all. We set up the tent right next to the stream, and I built a fire pit out of some big loose rocks that had been washed downhill in the creek’s last flood cycle.

The sun started setting and soon our little valley was in the shadow of Antoinette Peak, but the sun illuminated Corner Peak behind us for a lot longer. Our tent and fire pit are visible in this picture if you look closely!

swiftCreekHDR

As we watched the sun retreat along Corner Peak, we built a fire in our new fire pit. Big trees here, I might add.

swiftCreek-1-2

As it got dark, a myriad of photo opportunities presented themselves.

Firepit
Moonlit Antoinette Peak
Our campfire and Antoinette Peak in the light of the moon.

We weren’t quite able to hold out until the moon rose over the Corner Mountain massif, but a few minutes after we crawled into our tent, the eerily bright glow washed over us. We turned in and had a relatively comfortable night sleep, considering that our tent was pitched on a pretty awful mixture of dirt, peat gravel and washed rock!

Since we did this trip as an overnight, we spent most of the morning hopping around the immediate area taking pictures before we packed up and headed back down the trail.

Campsite in the Basin
Fireside Setup

Swift Creek

Amy by Swift Creek

Morning Butter Cup

The trail back down to the truck was one giant descent down the steep, rocky trail we had climbed the day before. By our calculations, it took us only about half as long to make the journey – 4 hours up, 2 hours down. There was a falls we had noticed on the way up, but we knew it wasn’t our destination so we didn’t bother to stop and take photos. On the way back down though…

Swift Creek Falls

In all, the trip was a successful failure. I won’t ever bother with trail directions from trails.com again; this was too miserable a failure to overlook. I’ll also not expect the path to be visable on North-facing slopes above 9,000 ft. until later in the year — probably much later. We’ll also probably take the short way to our destination around any subsequent loop trails. But in all, we had a good trip and enjoyed some striking vistas. At the very least, it was a good way to be introduced to the Gros Ventres.

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After our pathetic showing the week before, we watched the weather (sunny and 70+ all week), and, expecting much of the snow to have melted, we headed back to Mount Daniel. Boy, were we surprised.

Not by the condition of the road, though – that’s still absolute rubbish.

It was much warmer this time around, so we stopped at Squaw lake for a second to cool off. Dragonflies darted around at the water’s edge.

Hover

Something smelled like ass on the trail most of the way up, and we finally caught sight of the culprits. Turns out it wasn’t ass after all, it was Equus.

Trail Company

We hit the meadows on the top of the ridge leading to Cathedral Rock and the pass – what a beautiful sight.

Cathedral

After the pass we headed down the Peggy’s Pond trail. Again. Third time this year, actually. It’s getting easier for Amy, but it’s still tricky in places.

Trail to Peggy's

The trail to the pond passes the remains of an old four-sided building. I have looked around online but haven’t been able to track down any information about the history of the site, other than someone called it “Peggy’s Cabin.” Odd that the old girl’s cabin is actually closer to the shitty little puddle we camped at before than it is to the actual pond…

Peggy's Cabin

Well anyways, we meandered our way to the ACTUAL pond this time and set up shop right at the water’s edge. It was smooth as glass while Amy pumped some drinking water.

h2o

Before the sun completely went down, we popped over into the Hyas Creek Basin to have a look at our prize – the summit of Mount Daniel.

The Summit

We called it a night, determined to get an early start in the morning. Our route took us up through the Hyas Creek Basin, up the moraine valley and the to base of the Hyas Creek Glacier.

In the valley.

Criss-cross

From there, it turned northwest and climbed up several steep sections of talus and scree before we reached an upper shoulder area.

The Valley

Looking Back

Our guidebook said from here we should cross on to the North side and continue onto top of the Daniel Glacier, but that didn’t look like a good idea.

Terminus

We decided to descend until we could find a traverse route heading southwest under the East peak, which led us to a snowfield.

Scramble

Traverse

Once we pointed ourselves North again we climbed to the top of the ridge and it was just a quick scramble to the summit.

Last Gasp.

Marker

That was cool, but we knew we weren’t on the real summit – it was still West of us, past the middle summit, across the “plateau.”

Summit Plateau

So we retraced our steps to the edge of the ridge and pointed ourselves down some immensely steep scree at what looked like a climber’s path. Horror (for Amy) ensued, but we reached the path and all was well. I’d be hung if I posted pictures of the terror in her eyes, so we’ll skip that.

The footpath across the summit plateau was crude, but it got the job done.

Amy under the Middle Summit.

Once we reached the foot of the West Summit, a quick scramble was all it took to get to the top, where I found the summit registry.

Summit Register

With a sense of occasion, we popped a teeny bottle of champagne that I’d carted up in my backpack. We had Mountain House macaroni and cheese for lunch (Mmmm… ) and washed it down with some bubbly before we got back to the task at hand: pictures.

W Summit

Alpine Lakes

W Summit.

The wind was picking up as time went on, so we paused for the mandatory summit shot and headed back down.

All Smiles

Our route-finding back down into the moraine valley and Hyas Creek basin left something to be desired, let just say. First up was our icy glissade down the upper part of what used to be Hyas Glacier. Would have been nice to have an ice axe for that…

Glassade

Below that, we were nearly cliffed out several times. Should have stuck with the original route – it would have saved us at least an hour. Won’t say who chose this route…

Hyas Cliffs

It was an awesome trip, and a spectacular way to end the summer of backpacking, in case we don’t get the chance to go again before we move to Jackson, WY.

Reflection

(Route Guide and Topo Map)
Daniel Routes

All photos at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/41681734@N04/sets/72157622397043670/

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