Overloaded on the Uinta Highline Trail

I just got back from the Uinta Highline Trail.  This trail follows the spine of Utah’s Uinta Wilderness Area.  It traverses about 70 miles, and requires a bit over 15,000 feet of vertical gain (and corresponding vertical loss.)   The route pretty much stays above 10,000 feet altitude, with multiple 12,000+ foot passes.   Scenery and vistas are spectacular.

We hiked the trail from East to West, starting at the Chepeta Lake trailhead.  From where I live in the Salt Lake City suburbs, it’s a full 5 hour drive to the Chepeta trailhead, with the last couple hours on rough dirt roads.

My son dropped us off at the Chepeta Lake trailhead Sunday night and we hiked for about 15 minutes or so then camped near the trail.   Unlike what is shown on the the Trails Illustrated map we were using, the trail doesn’t actually head up to Chepeta Lake, but rather cuts pretty much due west from the trailhead.  Our camp the first night was at :  Lat 40.780972 Lon -110.023248   The trail runs right past this spot.

The next day, we made pretty good time.  Headed up over North Pole Pass, then down into the valley below.   We hiked until we were pretty tired, and made camp that night on the shores of the South Kidney Lake.   Sadly, the area around Kidney Lakes has been seriously trashed by horse packers and big groups.   It was difficult to find a decent camp spot that didn’t have big mounds of stinking horse dung, tons of horse packer trash and other signs of “high impact” users.   I fished a little bit in Kidney Lakes, but didn’t catch anything.

A view from the North side of Kidney Lakes

Sunset on Kidney Lakes

The next day was perhaps our hardest of the trip.  We left our camp at Kidney Lakes and hiked West up Painter Basin to Anderson Pass.

Painter Basin, headed toward Anderson Pass

By the time we got to Anderson Pass, we  were pretty tired, and the rocky trail and altitude (about 12,600 feet) really took their toll on us.   We had originally thought of taking off from Anderson Pass to climb King’s Peak (at 13,528 feet the highest point in Utah) but our fatigue and threatening weather convinced us to just keep on moving West along the trail rather than take a peak bagging detour.

Looking SouthWest from the top of Anderson Pass

We’d originally thought we might make it to Tungston Pass by the end of the day, but we figured that a camp in the Yellowstone Creek drainage was good enough.  We made camp in the midst of a thunderstorm, with rain, lightning, and other excitement.  Because of the haste to get our tents up, I somehow overlooked a football sized stone right in the center of my tent (that I didn’t discover until I went to sleep later that evening.)   Luckily, the thunderstorm was short lived, and we had time to relax.  I went fishing in Yellowstone Creek, but saw/caught no fish.  I also took advantage of a nice bath spot to get myself clean.    Camp site coordinates were:  Lat 40.767528 Lon -110.412318

Great bath spot in the Yellowstone Creek drainage.

It rained heavily that night for about 4 hours.   We woke up early and packed our wet tents and other gear and headed off again.  Tungsten Pass was easy, and Porcupine not so bad either.   We had lunch on the West side of Porcupine Pass and took advantage of the bright sunshine to dry our wet gear.

Drying Clothing on the West side of Porcupine Pass

After a nice rest, we made very good time along the easy trail that headed West along the wide open valley.  We made camp that night in a beautiful spot at Lambert Meadows. ( Lat 40.735502 Lon -110.589043   )

Lambert Meadows, High Uintas Wilderness

Having carried a bunch of fishing gear all this way without catching any fish at all, I was anxious to catch some fish.  So, I headed down the trail to where it met the Lake Fork River and did some fishing.   The river was full of brook trout.  As with most wild backcountry trout, they were very aggressive and not at all suspicious of my dry flies I was using.   I’d catch one about every 20 feet of wading or so.  None of them were big, but many were beautiful.

Lake Fork River Brook Trout, High Uintas Wilderness

The next day was one we had been dreading the whole trip.  We were going to tackle two big passes in one day.  The day began with Red Knob Pass, then we had to get over Dead Horse Pass.  From the maps, they both looked steep.

As it turned out, we managed to get over both passes and still had some energy left in the tank.  The weather was hot, but we’d had enough hiking that we were getting into a good rhythm and made good time.

Red Knob Pass, looking toward Dead Horse Pass. High Uintas Wilderness

 

Dead Horse Lake, High Uintas Wilderness

Dead Horse Pass was the steepest of the passes on the trip.  Approaching the pass, it was difficult to even see where the trail ran.  Once on the pass, however, it wasn’t too difficult (just steep.)

Scenery on Dead Horse Pass

After we got over both passes, we still had a surprising amount of energy.  After a short rest (and nap) at the base of Dead Horse Pass, we kept on going, and eventually made camp at the spot where the trail met up with Rock Creek, not too far from Rocky Sea Pass.    Rock Creek was also full of Uinta Brook Trout, and I had a fun time catching them.

Fishing Rock Creek, High Uintas Wilderness

Another thing the Rock Creek drainage was full of was cow manure.  Clearly, this area is used for cattle grazing.  I have to say that I’m not a big fan of cattle grazing in wilderness areas.  Seeing cattle damage and cow pies everywhere seems incompatible with wilderness.

Cow manure was prevalent. Cows and wilderness are not a good combination

At this point, we were within easy striking distance of the end of the trail.  It was Thursday night, and we were not scheduled to be picked up until Saturday at noon.   It seemed likely that we were going to be done with the trip quite a bit sooner than Saturday at noon.

The next day, we made short work of Rocky Sea Pass, the last pass on the trail.  It looked like we could reach the trail head by the early afternoon.   Luckily, I had my Delorme inReach with me, which allowed me to use satellites to send a text message to our wives asking to be picked up a day earlier than planned.  It worked out well, and we got picked up about 15 minutes after we reached the trailhead on mirror lake highway, next to Butterfly Lake.

At the end of the trail. Uintas Highline

We were tired but happy.  The trip had been a bit of a grind at times, but the scenery had been beautiful and we’d had excellent weather (and no mosquitoes.)    All in all, it was a terrific outing.

 

 A word on gear:  

In spite of the fact that I knew that this was a long hike with a lot of vertical, I somehow brought way too much stuff on the trip, and as a result I carried a pack that was significantly heavier than it should have been for a trip like this one.

I own a lot of really lightweight gear.  However, having a lot of lightweight gear doesn’t help reduce your pack weight if you bring too much of it, which is exactly what I did.  When packing for the trip, I thought, “fishing will be great up there.”  So, I added about 5 pounds of fishing gear (rod, reel, waders, wading shoes, tackle, even an extra fly box) to my gear pile.  Thinking about the scenic beauties I would see along the route convinced me to add another several pounds of camera gear (Olympus OMD camera with 3 lenses.)  Similarly, I tossed on extra food and brought the entire first aid/repair kit instead of just the essentials.  I didn’t coordinate group gear with my partner particularly well either.  As a result, we had duplicate water purification stuff, two tents, and other overlapping items.

I brought too much food too.  When I finished the trek, I still had over a pound of food left over.    My pack weighed about 40 pounds, and I estimate that if I had been a little more rational and careful, that I probably could have cut 10-15 pounds from that total.  When you’re doing 15k of vertical, a 25 pound pack is very different than a 40 pound pack.  It’s the difference between being tired and hammered at the end of the day and feeling good.

I should have known better than to carry so much extra stuff.  I know how to go ultra light.  I guess I just got confused and made some stupid decisions.  I forgot the primary purpose of the trip.  If I’m going on a casual backcountry fishing trip, there’s nothing wrong with carrying an extra 5 pounds of fishing gear.  (If the purpose is fishing, then it’s dumb not to bring enough gear to fish efficiently.)  Likewise, it often makes sense to bring a bunch of camera gear if you think that the photography opportunities will be terrific.

However, this trip involved hitting the trail every morning at 7:00 and hiking pretty much non-stop every day until 4:00 in the afternoon.  There was too much ground to cover to stop and fish or take long breaks for photography.  This trip was about covering distance and altitude.  A lighter pack would have been much better.    If I were doing this trail again, I’d ditch most of the fishing gear, and take only a Tenkara rod and minimal fishing gear with a total weight of less than 8 ounces.   Likewise, I’d leave the interchangeable lens camera system at home and just bring a single high-quality pocket camera such as my Lumix LX-5 or Canon S100.

To show just how much stuff I had, below is a list of things I brought.   Items in red are things I could have done without.

Clothing

Outdoor Research Sunrunner hat
Hoorag headband
Loki fleece balaclava
Heat resistant mechanics gloves
2 pair merino hiking socks
Scarpa trail running shoes
Marmot pre-cip rain jacket
Marmot pre-cip rain pants
REI Hiking pants with zip-off legs
2 pair dryluxe underwear
Fishing shirt
Midweight long john bottoms
Montbell Thermawrap jacket

Personal gear
Kaenon Polarized “Kore” Sunglasses
Petzl “Zipka” Headlamp
Suunto Vector Altimeter watch
Casio Commando Android cell phone
Toothbrush
Small tube of toothpaste
Diaper Wipes
Water purifier chemicals (Micropur tablets, 3 per day)
3 liter Platypus Hoser water container
Lighter
Titanium cup
Titanium spoon
Oricaso folding bowl
McHale Backpack
Sleeping bag (Marmot Hydrogen 30 degree down)
Exped Synmat UL sleeping pad.
Montbell inflatable pillow
Fizan hiking poles
Sun screen
Mosquito repellant
Sebenza folding knife
½ ounce bottle of camp soap
½ ounce bottle of hand sanitizer
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II shelter
12 Tent stakes
Sawyer Squeeze water filter
2 One gallon ziplocks (1 for fish, 1 for trash.) (didn’t need the one for fish.)
Fishing Gear
Columbia Drainmaker water/wading shoes
Tenkara rod and cloth bag (no case)
Tenkara fishing kit with tippet, floatant, etc.
Extra fly box with flies
Simms travel waders with wading belt
Titanium/carbon fiber net with magnetic tether
Fishing License
Uinta bamboo fly rod and reel
Frontier Pro water filter

Camera Gear  (should have brought a single pocket camera like the Lumix LX-5)
Olympus OMD camera
Olympus 9-18mm zoom
Panasonic 20mm prime lens
Olympus 45mm prime lens
Bag with extra battery, lens wipes, lens brush
Clik camera case

Group Gear (shared with one other person)

T-Tri Caldera Cone stove kit with Pot
14 oz alcohol fuel  (9 ounces would have been enough)
8 tinder tabs

Group Gear (shared among whole group)
Map
First aid/repair kit (brought too much stuff.)
Titanium wire grill (for cooking fish)
inReach satellite beacon

 Food

Monday: Breakfast: 2 packets Oatmeal (at car)
Lunch: Bagels, cream cheese; apple
Dinner: Brats, mustard, buns, hot cider

Tuesday: Breakfast: 2 packets Oatmeal
Lunch: Bagels, peanut butter, dried fruit.
Dinner: Freeze dried meal, hot cider

Wednesday: Breakfast: 2 packets Oatmeal
Lunch: smoked salmon, crackers; Dried apricots
Dinner: Freeze dried meal, hot cider

Thursday: Breakfast: 2 packets Oatmeal
Lunch: cheese; crackers; nutella
Dinner: Freeze dried meal, hot cider

Friday: Breakfast: 2 packets Oatmeal
Lunch: Fritos, bean dip; Dried coconut
Dinner: Freeze dried, hot cider

Saturday: Breakfast: 2 packets Oatmeal
Lunch: energy bars

Fish; pepper, BBQ seasoning; olive oil

Cascades Part 2: Forbidden Peak, East Ridge

After our success on Mount Baker’s snow and ice (see part 1 below,) I wanted to try my hand at a rock route. Chris originally thought that the Torment-Forbidden traverse would be a good objective, but the weather window looked a bit questionable, so we ultimately decided on a shorter objective.   We drove up the the Boston Basin trailhead in the North Cascades, and initially, things didn’t look too promising for climbing rock.  The peaks were coated with fresh snow, which made our rock objectives somewhat questionable.  However, after a brief discussion about changing our goal to a snow/ice route, we decided to go ahead and hike up to Boston Basin, and see if conditions would allow us to get up a rock route.

View from the Boston Basin trailhead parking lot. June 27, 2012

We hiked up to Boston Basin following a trail that started out easy, then gradually got fainter and steeper until we lost it altogether and spent the rest of the time either bushwhacking or (finally) on snow.  The weather was sunny and warm, and Chris was optimistic that the snow would melt off of the rock routes by tomorrow.  (I wasn’t so sure.)

We eventually made it up to our high camp in the center of the basin, giving us easy access to a number of the rock routes.  Our primary objective was the East Ridge on Forbidden Peak, but we were also prepared to go after other objectives if the weather and conditions didn’t favor an ascent of the East Ridge on Forbidden.

High camp in Boston Basin

As it turned out, the warm, clear weather held, and we woke up early the next morning to warm, clear skies.  Truth be told, it was a little too warm, and the approach up to the East Ridge was slow going through deep, mushy snow.  Finally, we got established on the ridge and got to climb.

Dawn light on Mount Johannesberg

Approaching the East Ridge of Forbidden Peak

Once we got to the ridge, the climbing was a lot of fun, however, a cold wind had kicked in, which had us climbing in our puffy jackets to stay warm.  The rock was generally very good, and the views were spectacular.

Chris on the East Ridge of Forbidden Peak

North Face of Mount Buckner from Forbidden's East Ridge

Summit in sight!

The weather continued to favor us, and we tagged the summit still under clear, warm skies.  However, as we descended the West Ridge, clouds slowly began building on the horizon.  Not too long after we reached the Torment/Forbidden col, the clouds had moved in, and it was starting to rain a bit.

On the West Ridge descent

After some rappels and downclimbing on lots of steep, loose, wet snow, we finally made it back down to our tracks on the relative safety of the moderate snow that lead to our camp site.  We butt-glissaded as much as possible to hasten our descent.  By the time we reached our camp, the weather had continued to deteriorate, and we’d given up any thoughts of spending another night in the Basin.  We stuffed our gear into our packs, and hiked out, under ever increasing rain.   On the way out, we followed some tracks of a large party that led us through a fair amount of bushwhacking.  I figured that no Cascades trip is complete without a bit of character building bushwhacking, so it was all part of the “full value” experience.

Bushwhacking on the hike out

By the time we reached the car, it was late, raining, and we were tired and hungry.  We opted for a rest day as I was both satisfied and burned out.   Chris drove home to Seattle, and I drove to Burlington, the closest spot with food (24 hour Burger King drive in.)

The weather window had now closed, and we faced a bleak, wet forecast for the next several days.  It was time for me to go home, so we called an end to our climbing, and I spent the next day and a half sleeping, eating and exploring Seattle and Vancouver.

The trip had been a great success.  I got to climb two classic climbs of the Pacific Northwest, and I couldn’t have been happier.   Chris was a great guide and a really nice guy to share a week of climbing with.  He has all of the qualities I want in a guide:  competence, patience, local knowledge, and a great sense of humor.  I would highly recommend him to anyone who is interested in climbing in the Pacific Northwest or the Sierras.   Chris’s home page.

I’m already dreaming about my next trip to the Cascades.  There are just so many amazing mountains and classic lines that I can’t quit now.

Seattle's Pike Place Market

Native American Wood Carver, Seattle

Sun Yat Sen Garden, Vancouver

Sun Yat Sen Garden, Vancouver

 

Cascades, Part 1: Mount Baker North Ridge

I had been looking forward to a trip to the Cascades for several months.  Plane tickets bought, plans made.  I’d been training, dreaming, putting together gear lists, etc.  However, as the time to go drew near, my friend I was going with told me that he wasn’t going to be able to go.  His work was not going to allow him to take his planned vacation.  He couldn’t afford to lose his job, so he was out of the picture.   I was pretty bummed, as I’d been looking forward to the trip for quite a while, and really didn’t want to miss it.  Ultimately, I decided to simply hire a guide and do the trip anyway.  It was going to cost me more money than going with a friend, but ultimately, I didn’t see any way to get it done otherwise.

I selected Pro Guiding Service as my guide service for the trip.  I chose them primarily because they are permitted for Mount Baker, and also because their cadre of guides is very experienced, with many of their guides holding full UIAGM certifications.   Ultimately, I was paired up with a guide named Chris Simmons, a great guy with whom I was going to spend a terrific week of climbing.  Initially, the weather looked not so good.  As the dates for my trip approached, I kept checking weather reports.  It looked pretty wet, a concern that was echoed in Chris’s last e-mail to me:  “Bring extra gloves and rain gear.”

I flew into Vancouver on Saturday, and met Chris in Bellingham Sunday morning.  It was raining off and on, but we decided to roll the dice and take a shot at climbing Mount Baker’s North Ridge, my primary objective for the trip.  We drove to the trail head and hiked up to the high camp on Baker in intermittent rain.   The mountain alternated between completely socked in by clouds, and occasional sun shine.  I had attempted to climb Mount Baker several years before, but had been turned back by rain and poor visibility.  I was hoping for better luck this time.

Baker's North Ridge under cloudy skies, June 24, 2012

Mount Baker "peaking" out from the clouds

We went to sleep with a light rain falling on our tent.  I didn’t have much hope for clear weather the next day, but figured anything was possible.   We awoke at 3:00, and Chris announced that he could see stars.  With much enthusiasm, we strapped on crampons and made our way across the glacier, walking across perfect neve snow under a cold, clear sky.

Approaching the North Ridge at dawn

We opted for the left side approach to the ridge, looping under the toe of the ridge and then working our way up the ridge’s left flank.  Getting to the ridge, we had to avoid some (rather intimidating) crevasses and seracs.  Chris chose a line that got us past these threatening obstacles, and we made it up onto the ridge proper.

Approaching the North Ridge

After we gained the ridge, we steadily worked our way upwards, following some old tracks in the snow where possible, until finally, we approached the dramatic ice cliff that guards the mountain’s upper slopes.

Approaching the ice cliff pitches on Baker's North Ridge

In preparation for this climbing trip, I had read numerous trip reports of people who had climbed the North Ridge.  All of the reports seemed to indicate that passing the ice cliff on the left was easier than bearing right.  Chris led the steep ice pitch on the left flank, and pulled around the ridge crest out of sight.  I could tell that the climbing eased up a bit on the other side of the ridge crest, as he was moving pretty fast once he got established on the other side.

Chris, leading up the ice cliff

I followed the pitch, and then we climbed up several steep pitches until the angle decreased a bit and it turned into a steady ascent up to the summit.  We took a few pictures on top, and then began the long slog down to our camp.

On top of Mount Baker

After that, it was a long, ugly, tedious slog back down the hill.  The snow had softened, so we were post holing much of the way.  Eventually, we made it back to our tent, where we hastily broke camp, packed up, and hoofed it down the mountain to our car.  After a great burger at a local diner, Chris drove home to Seattle, and I drove back to Bellingham.  We took the next day off to rest and reload.  I had breakfast at the Old Town Cafe, a wonderful, funky Bellingham restaurant, and then I explored Bellingham a bit.  Our next objective was going to be a rock route, so I changed out my clothing and gear a bit to get ready for rock climbing.

Breakfast (and live music) at the terrific Old Town Cafe, Bellingham

Bellingham City Center

 

To be continued . . .

Teton Crest Ski Tour

April 9-12

I just returned from a four day trip skiing along the Teton Crest trail.  We started the trip at Teton Pass at the base of Mount Glory, and 4 days later, came out Cascade Canyon.  It was one of the best ski trips I’ve ever been on.  Scenery was fantastic and we had perfect weather for the trip.

This was my fourth attempt on this route.  The first attempt, we never even got to the Tetons, as I rolled my car on I-80 in southern Wyoming in a storm.  The second attempt, my partner broke his ski binding 2 hours into the trip.  The third attempt, I ripped my ski binding out of my ski at the end of the first day.

After trying to get it done so many times, it was great to finally get to ski the whole route.  We had a great time.  After we left Mount Glory, we didn’t see anyone else the whole time. It ranks as one of my favorite backcountry experiences.

What follows is a brief summary of the route, along with some (hopefully) helpful information for anyone else who is interested in skiing this amazing route.

Right Click and “save link” to download a Google Earth Track of our trip.

Unfortunately, the road to Jenny Lake doesn’t open until May 1st, so you have to park at Taggart Lake.  This means that at the end of the trip you’ve got to hike from Jenny Lake to Taggart Lake.  Because we would be leaving our car at the Taggart Lake parking lot for 4 days, we stopped in at the Park Visitor’s Center (open at 9:00) to let them know we would be leaving the car in the Taggart parking lot for 4 days.

A note on regulations:  If you are going to sleep inside the Park boundaries, you need to get a backcountry permit from the Park, available at the Visitor’s Center.    We didn’t  plan on sleeping inside the Park, so we didn’t bother with a permit.  If you do get a permit, you may also be required to get a bear canister.  However, if you are going to sleep above 10,000 feet, a bear canister is not required.  It’s easy to find campsites outside of the park boundaries and/or above 10,000 feet, so I would recommend not carrying a bear canister.  No bear in its right might is going to be messing around in deep snow at high elevation, so it’s not worth carrying the extra weight.

We dropped our car at the Taggart Lake parking lot, and used a taxi to take us to Teton Pass, where the trip starts.  For the shuttle, we used Drop Horn Taxi.  They were great.  He arrived early, and charged us $85 to take the five of us from Taggart Lake parking lot to  Teton Pass.

From Teton Pass, it was a long grind up to the top of Mount Glory.  The snow was crusty and the angle steep, so we booted up a well-worn boot track instead of skinning.

At the top of Mount Glory

From the top of Mount Glory, we were treated to beautiful views.  After a brief rest, we took off, following the ridge crest curving around to the left.  The route generally follows the wilderness boundary north.  Generally, the easiest route stays just a bit back from the edge of the ridge.  Eventually, we dropped down off of the ridge for a long, open run to Phillips Pass.  We saw some snowmobile tracks here, but no snowmobiles.  The drop down to Phillips Pass was our first chance for some actual downhill skiing, and we enjoyed some turns in mashed-potato snow.

At Phillips Pass, we contoured down into the Moose Creek drainage.  We traded altitude for distance, slowly dropping down as we picked our way through trees, cliffs and gullies as we headed north up the drainage.   Eventually, we dropped all the way down to the East bank of  Moose Creek, and skinned our way up the gently sloping, open track.

Skinning North along Moose Creek

We’d already had a pretty long day, as we had left Salt Lake at 2:00 a.m. to get to Jackson that morning.  We were all pretty tired, so we decided to make camp at the top of the Moose Creek drainage.   We found a nice spot with easy access to the creek for water.  We spent a pleasant night.  It was calm, beautiful, and not too cold.

1st Night's Camp in the Moose Creek Drainage

Next morning began with a steep climb up and over the pass into Granite basin.  After getting up over the ridge, we more of less followed the summer trail along the gentle Middle Fork of Granite Basin, then into the steeper North Fork.  At the North Fork, part of our party dropped down North East into the drainage, while two of us contoured West up to the head of the drainage, which connected with two benches on the North side of the drainage, passing the frozen Marion Lake along the way.  We joined up just above Marion lake.

Looking down into the North Fork of Granite Creek from the North Bench

We stopped for lunch on a ridge line just before the drop down into the wide open plateau, with Spearhead Peak to the North East, and the Grand Teton looming to the North.  This broad expanse seemed more like a huge glacier in Alaska than something in the Western wilderness.  The vistas were simply breathtaking in every direction.  We kept heading North, passing below Spearhead peak, moving slowly closer to the Grand Teton, which loomed to the North.

Skinning up to Fox Creek Pass

Approaching Death Canyon Shelf

At the beginging of the Death Canyon Shelf, Spearhead Peak in the background

We finally pulled up onto the Death Canyon Shelf, and followed it for a while.  It was getting late in the day, so we decided to look for a camp site.  We found a beautiful sheltered spot on the Death Canyon Shelf.  We were treated to gorgeous evening light on the Grand Teton as the sun set.

Camp on the Death Canyon Shelf

The next day was probably the most difficult on the trip, primarily because of some route finding choices.  (Note that I’m not admitting that we got lost, just saying that we may have chosen a path that was not the easiest.)  At first, it was pretty straight forward, as we just followed the Death Canyon Shelf along to Mount Meek pass.   At this point, however, we were lured East by some skier tracks from a party that had passed this way some time earlier.   So, when we got to the ridge above Alaska Basin, we were too far East to see the Sheep Steps which lead down into Alaska Basin.  To the West of us, where the Sheep Steps should be, all we could see was a long line of cliffs, with no apparent way down.

The ski tracks that we had followed went East, off of a steep face dropping down toward Death Canyon, then contoured North under Buck Mountain toward Veiled Peak.  We decided to follow the tracks and cross Alaska Basin on benches along the Basin’s North side.  Dropping down off of the plateau was more exciting than I would have liked, as it involved skiing down a rather steep face with cliff bands below.  A fall here would have very unpleasant consequences.  I locked out the release on my bindings, and carefully skied down the face, following my friends’ tracks.

Dropping down into Alaska Basin

We contoured North East, then North West, following a high bench on the North side of Alaska Basin.  Eventually, we got to a point where we could see the South side of the basin clearly, and we saw the obvious weakness in the cliff bands that was the Sheep Steps, West of where we had been.  We then realized that if we’d just kept going West along the ridgeline, we’d have been able to drop down into the basin relatively easily rather than skiing the steep cliffy band we’d negotiated.

The climb up to Hurricane Pass was a long slog with some steep climbing to get up out of Alaska Basin.  We had a bit of urgency because our calm blue skies had been displaced with clouds and wind.  As we approached the pass, the sky was darkening, and we were keen to get over the pass and down into Cascade Canyon before the storm hit us.

Approaching Hurricane Pass

When we reached Hurricane Pass, the wind was blowing strong, giving us an incentive to get down off of the pass as quickly as possible.   However, the slope on the North side of the pass was pretty steep.  I didn’t measure it, but it felt like 50 degrees.  My friends disappeared over the edge one by one, and finally it was me (the worst skier of the group) who was left to descend the slope.  It took me a while to get up the courage to commit to the slope, but ultimately, when I finally decided to just ski it, it all went well.

With the weather changing for the worse, we made camp just below the pass.  We spent more  than usual care pitching the tents and making sure our camp was secure, as the winds were already rising.  That night, the winds blew heavily.  It started raining, then the rain turned to snow.  Between winds that were shaking our tent walls, and heavy snow that  kept collapsing the tent edges in on us, nobody got much sleep.   We woke up to a bit of a blizzard, with limited visibility and high winds.  We didn’t bother with breakfast.  We just threw our stuff in our packs and started skiing down the canyon.

Morning at Camp 3, Below Hurricane Pass

The skiing was fantastic.  Up until this point, we hadn’t really enjoyed any great skiing, but with 5 or 6 inches of fresh snow, the descent down the South Fork of Cascade Canyon was a lot of fun, with everyone swooping down the slopes, yelling with delight.  We alternated between skiing down the stream bed and staying just to the left of it.  Eventually, as we dropped down further, the stream bed became narrower, and we stayed left and higher up in the trees.  We must have been following the summer trail, because when we finally reached the junction with the main branch of Cascade Canyon, we ran right into the bridge across the creek.

In contrast to our quick ski descent down the steeper South Fork, the main Cascade Canyon was a gently sloped, slow slog out.  It took us longer than anyone thought it would to finally reach Jenny Lake at the mouth of Cascade Canyon.  Luckily, there was some pretty scenery for us to marvel at on the way out, including trees laden with fresh snow and Spanish moss.

Descending Cascade Canyon

By this point, I was pretty tired.  I’d skipped breakfast because of the nasty weather, and had only eaten an energy bar all day long.  The slow slog around Jenny Lake seemed to just go on and on without end.  When we finally reached the end of the skiing and got to the road, I was exhausted.  Because my feet were hurting, I took off my boots and made the hike from Jenny Lake to Taggert Lake in my socks.  It wasn’t ideal, but it felt so good to get my boots off of my blistered feet.

It felt amazing to finally see the parking lot with our car there.   We celebrated our trip with a dinner at Wendy’s and then drove home.

Celebration Dinner

After 4 days in my boots, I ended up with 13 blisters on my feet, including this one.

This trip was one of the best in my life.  It was a perfect combination of challenge, good friends, good conditions, and amazing scenery.

 

Here is a list of the gear I took on the trip.   At the beginning of the trip, my pack weighed 28 pounds, including 2.5 liters of water.

Teton Crest Ski Tour Gear
Clothing
Mammut All-Year base layer top
Craft boxer briefs with wind panel
REI Activestretch running pants
Black Diamond A/T gaiters
Marmot Pre-cip full zip pants
Mountain Hardwear Quasar pullover
Mountain Hardwear hooded Compressor jacket
Loki pile hat
Buff headband
Outdoor Research Sun Runner cap
2 pair Dahlgren ski socks
Dynafit “TLT-5P” boots
Rab phantom grip gloves
Outdoor Research Supercouloir gloves

Personal Gear
Kelty Cloud 60 liter backpack
Adidas Terrex Pro sunglasses
MSR Hydromedary 2.5 liter water bag
Mammut Lucido TX1 headlamp 4.9
Suunto Vector altimeter watch 2
Sunscreen in 1 oz squeeze bottle
Casio Commando Android cell phone
4 paper towels .7
Hand sanitizer (1/2 ounce)
Toothbrush/paste 1.6
Lighter
Olympus PEN E-P2 camera with 12mm, 20mm, 45mm in Mountainsmith Zoom-S case
Extra camera batteries, lens wipes

Ski Gear
Life Link probe ski poles with powder baskets and self arrest grips
DPS Wailer 99 skis (184cm) with Plum Guide bindings
Powder cords
Mammut Barryvox Avalanche beacon with new batteries
Ortovox Grizzly Folding shovel 21.4
G3 Ski skins
Velcro ski straps for securing skis to pack .8

Personal Camping Gear
Evernew Titanium cup
Titanium Spoon .3
NeoAir All Season sleeping pad
Montbell inflatable pillow
Marmot Helium 15degree sleeping bag with Granite Gear cuben fiber stuffsack
2 Person Group Gear:
Sylnylon pyramid tent with Black Diamond pole adaptor
MSR Reactor stove
Snowpeak titanium bowl
3 Fuel canisters (Should have only brought 2 of these)
Group Gear:
1st aid kit with firestarter, duct tape,
Lighters
Map
Compass
Purple wax, cork, and scraper
Skin Wax
inclinometer
Epoxy, steel wool
Brooks Range Multi Tool
Delorme inReach

Breakfasts
9 oatmeal

Lunches
6 energy gels
6 energy bars
3 packages of pepperoni
Baby Ruth candy bars
Cashews

Dinner
3 freeze dried dinners
6 hot drink mixes

1 gallon ziplock bag (for trash)