Teton Crest Revisited

I’ve been on the Teton Crest dozens of times. I’ve trekked along, and astride it, on several backpacking expeditions.

And I still experienced a bunch of firsts on this last traverse, in September/October of 2010.

Here are my most memorable:

  1. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire time, except the little one you see in the photo, which was transient at best. Raingear and shelter felt really heavy on this trek, but the shelter did come in handy for part of our crew: they liked that it provided some shade from the full moon.
  2. Every member of my six-man trekking crew was new. I hadn’t spent a night with any one of them before. I thoroughly enjoyed the company of everyone. Especially later in the trip, where the camaraderie and social compatibility evolved into something that was magical, if only for a few days.
  3. I found unique and profound satisfaction from the natural world on each of the seven days we spent on the Crest, from a silent forested camp on a bench high above a tiny creek to the drama of wide open alpenglow in Alaska basin, this trek was overstimulating with natural beauty that reflected something more awesome than what I’m able to understand.

I’m drawn to the Tetons because of their majesty, sure, but their allure is deeper. There’s something about the intimacy you develop when you really get to know a place. I’ve been trekking in the Tetons since the 1980s and its hydrologic spine – the Teton Crest – it has the ability to take you places, if you’re willing to follow it.

I even have fond memories of the gear I took on this walk.

I remember very clearly the feeling of cozy warmth while wearing my insulating hoody and pants, inside my quilt and ultralight bivy, while sleeping out under the stars on windless, still, starry nights.

I fell in love with the sound of our inverted gas canister stove roaring its way to boiling a 4L pot of water for coffee before the sun even had a chance to blanket the potato fields to the west or start waking up the frozen dew on the tundra grass.

And I recall (with glee!) hopping up a mile-long talus field on my way to Table Mountain’s summit via a SE route with a simple white pack on my back that was free from the doodads, objects of catalog lists, deadweights, snaggers, brainthieves, and other distractions, because I’d willfully cut them off myself for the sole purpose of achieving aesthetic beauty in my rucksack!

But my favorite gear on this trek was the same piece of gear that was my favorite gear on my last harrowing, wet, bushwhack through the Beartooth Range in August: my shoes. Eight ounces of bliss on each foot – ballet slippers in both form and function. And they proved, once again, that “hard mountain trekking” and “ultralight footwear” is a marriage destined for glory if you just give it a chance.

My Favorite Gear From the Teton Traverse, September 26-October 2, 2010

  • Backpacking Light Cocoon UL Hoody, 9 oz
  • Backpacking Light Cocoon UL Pant, 7 oz
  • Backpacking Light UL 240 Quilt, 23 oz
  • Backpacking Light Vapr Bivy, 6 oz
  • Backpacking Light TorsoLite Sleeping Pad, 8 oz
  • Cilo Gear NWD 45L Worksack, Hacked Up, 36 oz
  • Inov-8 X-Talon 212 Shoes, 16 oz
  • Primus ETA Spider Canister Stove in Inverted Mode, 7 oz + a $20 4-L Aluminum Cookpot, 13 oz (Group Cook Kit)
  • Kinesys Sunscreen Stick and Native Dash SS Sunglasses

Acknowledgments: Pat Starich, Doug Ide, Damien Tougas, Eric Petritz, John Butler – a trekking crew of superb dimension.

Gear, Wild Places

Handrailing Along the Teton Crest

Handrails are substantial geographic features that can be used for navigation.

You might follow a stream, or a fence line, or a ridge. These are all types of handrails.

My two favorite wilderness handrails are both about “a 5 days’ walk” in length: The Wulik River in the Alaskan Arctic, and the Teton Crest in Wyoming.

The Teton Crest is about 45 miles from end to end as the crow flies from the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road to Highway 22 at Teton Pass. Most routes between these two points will travel about 65 miles if trails are mostly followed, like the Petzoldt High Route, which is not really a high route because it’s almost all on trails that travel benches well below the crest and makes forays into valleys that don’t feel so high. Don’t fret too much, though, because it’s still a good, and scenic, route, and suitable for intermediate trekkers who can navigate the trailless Class 2-ish section between Table Mountain and Hurricane Pass. The rest of the route is easy, except for the steep climb at Dead Horse Pass if the weather is hot.

I’ve traversed a variety of routes parallel to the Crest on both foot and ski, but haven’t done a walking trek there since 2002, when I went in via Leigh Canyon with Glen Van Peski and Alan Dixon. We came out at Death Canyon after attempting a pure route along the crest with helmets that didn’t go because the rock was too rotten. It was still really fun.

My last full walking traverse without helmets and intentionally scary parts was in 2001.

I went in at Glade Creek with Glen, Todd Foster, Don “Photon” Johnston, Ken Knight, Jim Walke, and Don Ladigin. John O’Mahoney, Ron “Caboose” Richards, and Steve Nelson went in via Hidden Corral Basin.

Here’s how it all shook out.

Ken and Don exited somewhere up in the NW end of the range, I think it was via Hidden Corral Basin. Todd made over a few of the big passes and came out somewhere in the vicinity of Teton Canyon, also on the West side, after getting all bloodied up bushwhacking his way out. Todd, Ken, and Don had long cab rides back to Jackson Hole.

Glen, Photon, Jim, and I met John O, Caboose, and Steve somewhere South of Red Mountain for a night, where I got a seed husk stuck in my throat and had to extract it myself after John O’s failed attempt to do so with a Snow Peak Titanium Spork. I then gave John O, Caboose, and Steve good data – GPS waypoints – to help them navigate from Green Lakes Basin over Littles Peak and along the Crest to Hurricane Pass, where the rest of were going to meet them, but they never turned on their GPS, got disoriented, and exited much later than the rest of us via a nighttime walk out of Cascade Canyon after a harrowing descent from the Crest and a bit of wandering up in the complex terrain up there.

I don’t recall how Jim, John O, Caboose, and Steve got back to Jackson but by now I’m betting that the cabbies are picking up on all this – there just aren’t that many in Jackson.

I split from Glen, Photon, and Jim for a night while I snuck down Cascade Canyon to get some sunset photos of the west faces of the Tetons, then rejoined them at Hurricane Pass.

Jim left us early because of a bad knee, and he was going to opt for the ride down the Gondola at Rendezvous Mountain, save for the fact that he missed the last day of Big Red by 24 hours. It was closed for the season. So he enjoyed the banging descent down the ski hill road.

Glen, Photon, and I finally made it to Phillips Pass and down to Highway 22 to seal the deal on the whole traverse of the Crest.

Let’s review the stats.

  • Nine people started in two different locations, ended in five different locations, and collectively completed five different routes.

This wasn’t really the intention.

So next week, I’m headed back to the Crest to attempt an expedition style (no, that doesn’t mean heavy, or with porters, or with resupplies, etc.) traverse in a more pure sort of form.

Our expedition objective goes like this:

To complete a N->S traverse of the Teton Range from the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road to Highway 22 along the Teton Crest (hydrologic divide), in the following style:

  • start and finish points will be at the intersection of the Crest with each road;
  • the route will follow the true Crest (hydrologic divide between the Snake and Teton River Basins) as much possible while following Class I or II terrain (i.e., terrain that DOES NOT require the use of hands for propulsion, safety helmets, and an emergency belay rope);
  • maps will be in the form of terrain maps with no marked manmade features;
  • style will be in the form of a group expedition where the group travels and camps together and shares duties and gear related to shelter, morning and evening cooking/meals, bear bagging, and other gear as needed.

I’m really excited about this trek, and the maps are pure, and beautiful. I think the trek will have a Shackleton-esque / Meriwether Lewisy type feel to it, and I think it will be hard.

I made custom maps for this trek and removed anything manmade, except a handful of place names. There are no trails, no roads, no land boundaries (although we know that GTNP is on the East side of the Crest, mostly), no benchmarks, no elevation data, no campsites, no bear poles/boxes, no coordinate grid.

Just a pure, unadultered, topographic interpretation of the terrain, with a few place names thrown in for landmarks.

Here’s a tiny crop of our 29″ x 54″ map:

The map alone promises that this will be an adventure.

There will be six of us in the party (Damien, Doug, John, Pat, Eric, and me), and I’ll take a camera.

You can follow us via SPOT or Twitter via Satellite phone between Sunday, September 26 and Saturday, October 2.

Hallowed Aspen

Sigma DP2, f/8 1/40 sec.

With Halloween coming up, I thought it might be neat to share this possessed aspen tree. It stands sentinel on the east slope of the Tetons at the shore of Jackson Lake. With so many photographers in the Tetons, and so many postcards, I’ve been trying to find more unique subjects to photograph on my recent trips there, that still capture the flavor of the mountains, which in this photo, are set in the background.

One thing I am dismayed about with digital photography is the lack of dimensionality to photographs. You can almost tell, nowadays, whether a photo was taken with a digital camera or not. They’re flat, electronic-looking (define that! but you know what I mean, right?), and they lack the plasticity of a good film photograph.

Camera sensor and lens combinations that shoot like film are rare. Of the compacts, few combinations seem to be able to deliver film like images anymore. Notable in my own experience, are the Sigma DP1/DP2 and the Olympus E-P1 or Panasonic GF1 with a Leica M-mount or Voigtlander lens. This shot was captured with the Sigma DP2, with the aperture closed down pretty good (f/8) so Mt. Moran in the distance would not lose its most recognizable outline and glacial features.

I hope to bring this rather subjective quality into my upcoming reviews of the Olympus E-P1 and the Panasonic GF1, to be published at BPL this fall, and focus a little less on the pixel peeping so regarded as authoritarian by other camera review sites.