As idyllic as the upper basin of Tourist Creek is, we have discovered all the more reason why it will forever remain a special place to us.
The very remote entrance from the top is protected by an approach requiring travel over crevassed glaciers and descent of a gully choked with snow, talus, and unstable scree.
But the entrance from the bottom – and our exit today – isn’t for the faint of heart either.
I awoke this morning at 8:15 AM – it felt good to sleep in a little after logging nearly 10k of elevation gain over the last few days. The lake was calm, the eastern sun had begun to kiss the peak faces visible out my tent window, and a few of the early risers were cooking breakfast on the granite slab jutting out into the lake – our kitchen peninsula.
I unzipped my tent door, reached out to fire up the Jetboil, and within 2 minutes had a cup of hot coffee in my hands. Drinking coffee on a crisp mountain morning while I remain in my sleeping bag is one of my cornerstone joys of mountain travel!
We lounged around this morning with no sense of urgency. After all, it was all downhill from here! We finally broke camp “sometime” before 11 AM, and started waltzing our way down grassy benches and granite slabs en route to our evening destination: “somewhere” down in the Green River valley, 2,500 feet of elevation below.
We immediately encountered a few route finding challenges that were time consuming to negotiate with a group but neither dramatic nor complicated. Eventually arriving at the upper basin’s final tarn at 10,090′, near which we saw our first trees in 9 days, we took a long break for lunch, to refill water bottles, and prepare for the day’s crux: a talus and scree descent to the Green River.
At this point, Tourist Creek exits its upper basin underneath a gorge choked with giant talus boulders. We held our elevation contour on a long traverse at the base of a thousand-foot cliff, in order to avoid the bottom of the gorge which would certainly provide more drama than staying above it.
During the mid-afternoon, a lightning storm straddling the Green River valley and positioned right above us pinned us down. As we watched bolts of lightning strike the peaks adjacent to us, thunder boomed and echoed through the valley. Some of us found sheltered perches underneath the overhanging cliff face and the rest of us hid in talus caves.
After enough time to start feeling chilled, and with confidence that the thunderstorm had passed above us, we continued our cautious traverse in the rain across slick talus at around 9,900′ until we reached the top of the infamous Tourist Creek Scree Field – fifteen hundred vertical feet of mountain junk collected over years of cliff decay.
We reached the bottom of the field at the top of a stand of aspens in the early evening, and entered the bush in hopes of discovering a secret but unmaintained path that led another two miles to Beaver Meadows.
This “bush” consisted of a maze of deadfall, deciduous plants soaked by rain, hidden bogs that sucked your shoes down, and other various inconveniences that promised soaking wet clothes, a little bit of bloodletting, and no shortage of emotional challenge.
We took a break in the late evening (around our usual dinner time) along one meandering finger of Tourist Creek beneath a glacial remnant the size of a small apartment complex, and weighed our options: “cross” the Green River (probably a swim in its 40-something degree glacial melt) and find the maintained trail on the other side, or keep searching for the secret path that we had not yet found, and trek our way towards Beaver Meadows.
We chose the latter option, shortly found the path, promptly lost it, and repeated the cycle for the next hour and a half until finally exiting the bush and reaching the highway of the Green River Trail. Other than a short stint of trail between Indian Basin and Titcomb Basin, this is the first trail we have walked since our second day. It felt good to make miles!
And so we walked – well into the night – and finally stopped for dinner and camp at a secluded spot on the west shore of the Green River beneath the east face of Squaretop Mountain. Another long trekking day – 11 hours – brings us closer to our final destination, Green River Lakes, where we’ll go in the morning.
(No photo tonite, sat reception is poor as we are camped next to the mammoth Squaretop Mountain which provides too much space shade.)