Monday, November 30

Moonlight Falls - Eastern Sierra Nevada Mts

Like all classic weekend trips into the Sierras, this one started in the car well before dawn on Saturday. Connecting onto the 395 north from the 14 we were finally getting somewhere. After a quick breakfast, backcountry permits were obtained from a very quirky ranger & we were off towards our trailhead.

With two days to explore we opted to check out Moonlight Falls in the upper portion of the Sabrina Basin. Gearing up near the trailhead, with one downfall, there is no overnight parking near the actual start. So moving the car back a ways down the road... we began our actual start.

Around the lake was very nice, with the climb beginning more in earnest on the other side. Slowly through well cut switchbacks we climbed to really nice views above Lake Sabrina. The granite was exceptionally abundant it seemed in this area with large slabs that allowed for great viewing (resting!) platforms.

After some time we made it up to Blue Lake. Crossing the outlet stream the views open up very nicely along the northern perimeter. We stopped for a break & couldn't stop smiling with all the wonderful landscape around. Gathering our things we left many of the day hikers behind & headed for Dingleberry Lake. 

The trail wound up & around several hillsides & through massive boulders fields. Some really neat shelf systems. Near the next lake the trail drops down off the granite ridges & follows close to Dingleberry. We roamed the area for a camp spot & found one after the long river crossing. 

We still had a few miles to the waterfall, but that would be for the morning. Relaxing & taking in the sunset are the normal evening backpacking activities & we do them well. Dinner was made followed with a long session of filtering water under the pink & purple clouds.

The next morning we set out with small day packs & cameras to get up close & personal with some cold flowing water. Within an hour or so of hiking the trail crosses into the upper portions of Sabrina Basin & the mountains just get bigger & bigger. The open landscape is surrounded by granite spires everywhere. Far in the distance we can see the waterfall from the trail. 

We start cross country to the falls & are there in no time. A smooth sheet of water flows over the second tier, while a short burst of the creek splashes over the top of the first tier. We both walk around taking photos from all sides & even climbed up onto the top portion. Really quite bigger from up above I felt. 

It was a bit before noon & there was some clouds beginning to fill upper reaches of the canyon. Nothing too threatening at the moment, but building into some precipitation. We made our way back down to our camp near Dingleberry with ease. 

Without much haste we packed out things & enjoyed the last bit of time before walking back down to the car. The large rock granite sections from the previous day were just as impressive to me on our second trip through. Near the end of the trail we could feel the drops of rain starting to lightly fall from the sky.

A bit of thunder could be heard in the high country as we enjoyed a cold beer from the trunk of the car. Another fantastic trip into the Sierra with a new basin explored. Would highly recommend this as a perfect short trip into the Mountains. There is so much more to see in the Sabrina area, with a great access trail, it'll most certainly be a return trip.

Sunday, October 18

Grand Teton Ntl. Park - Backpacking, Cliff Jumps, Thunderstorms & more

Fair warning, this story will be many more photos than words. The beauty, the dynamic landscape & the ridiculous amount of it was mind-boggling. The sunset photo below was just getting gas after crossing the state line into Wyoming. Carlos & I were on our way to hike & explore Teton National Park.

Leaving Los Angeles at the beginning of Fourth of July weekend we had many days to make our own. Stopping the first night outside Las Vegas to stay with a great hiking friend Randy. The following day was consumed with driving, podcasting, & taking to the internet for higher education about the places we were passing through. Thirteen hours later we arrived to Signal Mountain Campground & a welcoming old friend from my time in San Diego.

A large majority of the success of this trip is owed to an old friend of mine, Tim Anderson, who works for the trails department in Tetons National Park. After living in the area for many years his knowledge & hospitality was without question the kindest & most thankful part of the trip. Cheers!

We spent our first day in the Tetons doing some classic tourist standards. But, these are the classics for a reason. Taking scenic loops & stopping for all the signed info got us into the right mindset before hitting the backcountry portion. Took a drive out for BBQ & picked up our permits, then headed for Mormon Row. A well graded dirt road that travels near a Mormon settled farm area dating from the early 1900's. Wonderful views in this area for little effort.

We spent Fourth of July with a great number of the Teton Trail Crew at one of their homes. A BBQ that overlooked the whole valley with the Tetons as the backdrop. Fireworks from the lake in the distance. Wonderful people & great conversation about all the other parks they had done trail work in. That night at Tim's cabin we got our things ready for the next four days of backcountry hiking. Our plan was to hike the Teton Crest Trail, originally starting from Hwy 22 & connecting to the main trail proper. Taking the advice of Tim, starting at Granite Canyon & experiencing that approach would out weight the original idea. Without question, this was the right choice.

Not only was Granite Canyon the right choice, I took more photos in that area than any other on the trial. The wildflowers were the best I had ever seen in my entire life. Without exaggeration. We saw a large moose in this canyon as well. The trail climbs steadily, but never without difficulty. However, within two hours of hiking is started to rain on us. We had about 9 miles of hiking to do. 

The previous eight days before our trip it hadn't rained in the Tetons & had seen temps in the eighties & nineties. So bring on the rain. At the upper reaches of Granite the trail climbs fairly steep for a bit, but the views open up to distract from all that business. The rain had held off for the late afternoon. 

After setting up at one of the many "tent platforms" near Marion Lake we filtered water & spent some time checking out the area. Wonderful views out the backside of the camp. A few others showed up from different directions to stay the night. Around 8pm is when the rain began to fall. Very heavily. Not long after that the first of four thunder & lighting storms began. This would continue for the next thirteen hours, into the next morning. What a show for our first night in the Tetons!

A side note about tent platforms, tents & rain. As a Californian I am not accustomed to this concept of a designated compact dirt raised platform, that are bordered by logs. I totally get the idea & it's saving the fragile environment around the lake, all things great. But, within the very first twenty minute of torrential downpour these become a bath tub of disaster for gear. Taking Carlos' broken trekking pole I got out & started digging some outlet funnels at the corners of the logs to relived the water. The camp next to us was also at odds. All those years digging sandcastles & tunnels growing up in San Diego paid off, the water broke through in a muddy mess & we stayed more less dry the rest of the twelve hours of the storm. Lastly, I still swear by Big Anges tents. This particular shelter never let a drop in after thirteen hours & has been through countless storms in the Sierras. Owned it four years now. On this particular (and most) trips we leave the inner net part behind & only use the ground tart with the outer rain fly shell. Light & super strong.

The next morning we more or less just chose the least rainy moment to leave camp & head towards Death Canyon Shelf. Crossing our first pass the views became ever more spectacular. We truly were in the Teton backcountry now. Hiking above tree line with views in all directions, even down to Idaho on one side. There were still small snow fields in places, but nothing of concern. Many years ago an article about Death Canyon Shelf is what originally drew me to the idea of hiking the Teton Crest Trail & now I was only a few miles from checking it off the list! Letting the photos do the work I'll just say the three miles along this hanging cliff were some of the best hiking I've done. The rolling trail has views down fair reaching canyons, with water flowing underfoot & underground at times. We even were treated to a mother moose & her baby eating just off the trail in the distance. And the wildflowers, the hundreds of thousands of wildflowers!! Best hiking ever.

We reached the far end of the shelf & sat down among-st the bugs. There was always bugs & mosquitoes on this trip, nothing that ever seemed overwhelming though, but definitely constant. We also didn't bring any bug spray. More by choice, something about it never seems to sit well with either Carlos or I. Our goal for the night was Alaska Basin & the few miles dropping into the area were par for the course, absolutely outstanding! Fortunately too, this area has different camping regulations, so we were able to choose a site anywhere we wanted. 

This evening in Alaska Basin was a great time. We got to fly Carlos' ultralight kite & there was a full rainbow framing Buck Mountain Pass. Not until later than evening had my small stomach problem become more present. Most of the day I could only snack as opposed to really eat a fully meal. This night was much the same. The next morning I wasn't able to keep my breakfast down, if you know what I mean. After a few looks at the map we opted for what still would be some fantastic hiking, but use a different canyon to exit. Also we had this trail as a recommendation from the get go as a side trip, so win win in an unfortunate situation. We were heading to Static Peak Divide. This is where much larger snow fields needed to be crossed, nothing of real danger, just lots of effort.

After reaching the apex onto Buck Mountain Pass we got a real good look at what lay ahead. A lot more snow heading to a very rocky cliffed trail. So what do you do in this situation, go fly a kite. It was very gusty on the pass so we relaxed for a bit & then continued on. Slow & steady across large sections of snow. Now with more of a steep incline to the snow, it seemed like only one other person had been up here lately & had come from the other direction based on the few tracks we saw.

Taking the last few switch backs onto Static Peak divide were a magnificent feat of trail engineering. Blasted thousands of feet above Death Canyon these small rocks shelves held brave hikers. We now had our first look back into the valley that held original civilization. We were a tad below 11,000 feet now & had almost four thousand feet of downhill hiking to do now. 

Dropping constantly we had great looks back at Buck Mountain Pass & Death Canyon Shelf from days previous. Along our exit we had several people to stop & chat with, many thinking we were carrying much less than was required for nights in the backcountry. Eventually we met two woman who offered us a ride to our car (because of our early exit we weren't close). They have lived in Jackson all their lives & their father was the first doctor in the area, couldn't have asked for better story tellers.

That evening we relaxed & slept well on Tim's cabin floor. The next day my stomach was feeling on the mend, the elevation must have gotten to me, but was all fine now. Carlos & I set out to do some kayaking on Jackson Lake. Beers in hand, we had a wonderful time getting as far as we could out into the lake. A thunder storm echoed on the other side of the lake, covering the Grand. Truly an experience like none I have had before. 

That evening we headed to this hot spring that Tim had mentioned months before on the phone to me that I knew had to be checked off. Just outside of Yellowstone, we hiked in a bit over a mile, then across am indiscriminate field of wildflowers right next to the Snake River. Sure enough, a large warm pool dropped into another large warm pool with steam rising in the closing sunset light. Views across the Snake River to the Tetons in the far distance. Paradise on earth! We stayed until the last light was gone & hiked back to the cars by headlamp, incredibly satisfied with the time we had spent in Wyoming so far.

The next day brought a mix of all things local. The three of is went to see one of the new visitor centers. The facilities everywhere in Teton National Park are outstanding. From here we hiked out along the eastern side of Phelps Lake to another place Tim recommended, a local jump rock. Along the way he showed us one of the only gravestones that was located in the park proper. A longtime homesteader that gave his land to the park with the conditions of living out his life & being buried there. It's quite hidden & beautiful. On further down the trail we met a large deer head to head, then came to our goal. Tim had been here before & took the lead & made it look easy. Although I love a good thrill, and cliff/rock jumps are on my list, but not very high. However, this was in Wyoming, with the Tetons there & we came so far. Bonzaiiiii! Felt amazing. 

After hiking back along Phelps Lake, we headed to downtown Jackson Hole for some food & tourist nick-knacks. Carlos rode a giant Metal moose sculpture! We made our way to Signal Mountain on some back roads that Tim had in mind that afforded great views of the Tetons. Passing some multi-million dollar estates too. To finish out the night we headed to the Signal Mountain overlook for sunset. Our plan for the next morning was a 5am wake up & on the trail by 6am to do the roughly 20 mile Paintbrush Divide Loop, thus completing a large portion of Teton Crest Trail we had missed & hiking an entire extra canyon & lake front.

On track in the morning the three of us made our way up through prime bear country & into the base of Paintbrush Canyon. It was such an enjoyable experience to finally hike with Tim. We had known each other through skateboarding from more than a decade ago & now we shared a deep love for the mountains. The stories he shared & the facts that we learned about the whole area was outstanding.

As we gained elevation towards Holly Lake the true alpine terrain began to take over with full force. Surrounded now by granite peaks on all side we had made if much closer to the Divide in great time. It was only about 8:30am & we were about to have tackled almost 4,000ft of elevation gain before 10am. The last mile or so up to Paintbrush Divide was some of the more precarious & steady hiking in some very steep snow fields. Good steps had laid the way, but we could see many people's steps trying other approaches. 

Climbing the last few switchbacks leads to the grandest view across a broad plateau punctuated with massive granite peaks. We had made it to Paintbrush Divide. Looking far down into Cascade Canyon & infamous Solitude Lake. At this point we had done something like eight miles (if memory serves me). We dropped very quickly along a very rocky trail, my eyes struggled to take in the view & also not twist my ankle. Within a mile of the lake rain began to fall more & more steadily. Pulling out the hard shells the hiking was still magnificent. 

Arriving for lunch at Lake Solitude felt amazing. Just the month before this place had been on the cover of the magazine that spurred this trip so many years before. Sitting in the shelter of the pines with rain coming down was extremely peaceful. Leaving the lake the rain intensified & we had many many miles of down canyon hiking to do & we made the best of it. The views were still far reaching & the conversation was good. We hit the junction to head further down Cascade Canyon & pressed on. Large waterfalls & rivers emerged on the cliff sides far above that were gorgeous. The name of the river lead to be true with huge tumbling cascades culminating in one of the parks classic waterfall boat trips at the base of the canyon. 

Tim took us on a last side trip to see some trail construction their team was doing along a very popular section. Large bags of rocks flown in & huge amounts of labor to create these steadfast trails for all to enjoy. We had a mile or so left to round Jenny Lake back to our car at the other trail head. Along this section I saw my first birds nests that was totally carved & cut into a tree. Living in the hallow tree we could hear the little babies. A bit further down the trail Tim pointed out an Osprey nest high in the tree that had some baby birds in it as well. Back at the car & ready for a beer we completed another life-list hike I had always had scribbled on a notepad.

The next morning we packed my Camry & said our good-byes. The times we had in Wyoming were memorable beyond belief. It certainly won't be the last. We headed back through some fantastic wilderness on our drive & saw some crazy weather. 

Stopping this time in Utah at another friend's house for the last night on the trip, thank you Jessica! We went to a great local dinner & then had awesome ice cream/yogurt. The next day we explored Brigham Young's home & toured one of the original Mormon temples. Lastly we had to see some desert landscape & drove out to explore a few areas just outside of town. One more chance to fly a kite on this epic trip!