Archive | June 2013

Two National Parks, Two Different Experiences: Days 8, 9, and 10: Yellowstone & the Tetons

[Guest Post] I’m Jenny – the first to crash join the road trip! I met Janna a few years ago when we studied abroad on the Galapagos Islands. When I heard that Janna was embarking on a two-month excursion out west, and I found myself with a break in between jobs, I couldn’t help but ask to tag along. With the stipulation that I write a blog post and protect the group from bears, Janna, Tania, and Sarah happily accepted me.

I live in Washington D.C. and work on public lands and wildlife issues, so it was particularly exciting for me to join up with the road trip in Wyoming to spend a few days in two of our most famous National Parks, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

After securing a backcountry permit for the Tetons (more on that later), we spent day 8 in Yellowstone. Now, there are numerous ways to enjoy our public lands – one great thing about National Parks in particular is that they are extremely accessible and well maintained. Hop in your car, cruise down the paved road in the park, pop out at the overlooks, and you have yourself a National Park experience! Due to the limited time we had to see Yellowstone, we decided to go for the drive through tour.

First stop: Old Faithful – after patiently waiting with hundreds of other park goers, a lunch of weird combinations of peanut butter, carrots, and tortillas, and an unsuccessful attempt to start the wave in the crowd, we watched the famous geyser erupt. A similar experience may be found by watching this youtube video: Old Faithful Geyser Erupts, Yellowstone National Park

Second Stop: We then cruised to a geyser basin in the park – where we were able to see multiple hydrothermal features including hot springs. After searching for and failing to obtain a parking lot, we opted to park the car down the road and hike half a mile (which proved to be easier and more enjoyable than driving in Yellowstone).

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Last Stop: A sweet waterfall!

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Despite having seen multiple wildlife species in Yellowstone – including bison, elk, swans, and pronghorn, after a day in the crowded park, we were more than ready for a backcountry trip in the Tetons. After a storm, beautiful rainbow, and to Janna’s delight, a field full of ponies, we found a campground in the nearby Bridger-Teton National Forest and called it a night.

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Days 9 and 10 were spent backpacking in the Tetons. We obtained a backcountry permit, prepped ourselves with bear spray and a bear box to keep any grizzlies away, loaded our backpacks, and set off to Jenny Lake (coincidence?) to a trailhead that would take us up Cascade Canyon to a campsite nestled in the heart of the mountains with a spectacular view of the Grand Teton.

We watched marmots shuffle over the terrain and ate a delicious family style freeze dried supper of Mountain House chili mac & cheese and beef stew before watching the sun cast majestic light on the Grand Teton. One of my favorite things about backpacking is seeing how the light changes a landscape when the sun sets – the Tetons did not disappoint!

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We woke up on day 10 and hiked up to a high alpine lake called Solitude Lake without our backpacks. Although it is the end of June and the temperature was warm, the lake was covered in ice and we had to trek through a half mile of snow to reach the edge….in our sports bras. The lake was breathtaking – we even saw some trout swimming below an ice-free portion.

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We hiked back to our campsite and picked up our packs for the descent out of the canyon. Now, all this time, I was holding the bear spray close at hand, but we hadn’t spotted any wildlife other than a deer and marmots. However, on the hike down, much to our excitement and fear, a fellow we passed warned us of a bear and cub about half a mile ahead of us near the trail. We proceeded to be as loud as possible – Janna even went into multiple renditions of camp grace songs. We heightened our efforts when someone told us the bear was just 200 yards away – we passed, looked for the bear….and never saw it. A woman then told us a moose was just ahead of us on the trail and even showed us a picture she took on her camera. We were more excited to see a moose than a bear of course, so we hurried ahead…and never saw it.

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We learned we are superb at scaring off wildlife. As we approached the parking lot and end of the approximately 17 mile-backpacking trip, we breathed a sigh of relief as we thought we were in the clear from wildlife attacks. Little did we know, a few steps ahead, an innocent looking sage grouse would turn on us as we got too close to her and her chicks crossing the trail. Luckily we escaped and reached the Subaru unharmed.

You may ask what clothes one brings on a backpacking trip. Well, to keep your load light on a short trip like we did, you only need clothes for hiking, warm clothes for nighttime, and a change of socks to keep your feet dry. You know you’re an outsider when you happen to be the only person in the group not wearing the same shirt…or, as Janna would say, I just wasn’t ‘tealing’ it. Either way, at least no one thought I was a girl scout.

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As you can imagine, when we got out of the backcountry, we could have used a shower. Unfortunately, our campsite didn’t offer such amenities, but it did offer a lake, which we jumped in prior to building a fire and eating enough s’mores to refuel ourselves for many days ahead.

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There are worse places…

There are worse places…

…to be lost.

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…to be hailed on.

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…to have car trouble.

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We’ll miss you Wyoming!

Day 7: Blackhawks win!

We awoke early enough to avoid the sprinklers in Lander City Park. After a delicious breakfast and trip to the local outdoor store for directions, we headed out to Wild Iris for a day of climbing.

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The wall was crowded for a Monday and in between climbs we chatted with a huge group from Idaho, a couple from Boston (Bruin’s fans), and a family from Pennsylvania. Even with the masses, we managed to get on some classic routes including; Chicks with Ticks (5.8), Annie Get your Drill (5.9+), and La Vaca (5.8). After a mental pep talk, I managed to lead three climbs on the day while Sara and Janna led all four.

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We tapped out early on our fifth consecutive day of climbing and returned to camp for some amazing trail pizzas. After a brief yoga session, we headed to Lander Bar so I could catch the Hawks game. The beer from Lander City Brewing was phenomenal and a perfect compliment to a exciting third period which ended with the Stanley Cup returning to Chicago.

I restrained myself to an abbreviated celebration as the only apparent Chicago fan at the bar, but we treated ourselves to ice cream for the second night in a row instead. Once the ice cream settled, we returned to camp exhausted and ready to continue on West in the morning.

Rock Climbing for Beginners by a Beginner

Here’s a post for our family and friends who may be confused about some of our climbing jargon…

You may not have expected this but rock climbing is exactly what is sounds like, a sport in which you climb rocks. While scaling vertical walls with your fingertips might appear to be the most intimidating aspect, understanding the jargon can be just as complex. Thus, an introduction to rock climbing terminology.

1. To belay

This verb represents the action of using an ATC attached to your climbing harness and the rope to catch the climber when they fall. An easy skill to learn, but difficult to master.

2. Top rope vs lead climbing

When top roping a climb the rope is run through anchors at the apex of the climb, so the distance when you fall is minimal. As you advance in climbing, you begin lead climbing, were you clip quick draws to bolts anchored into the wall. This distance you fall with this climb is increased, know as a whipper. At the top of the climb, they build an anchor and are safely belayed down to earth.

3. Single vs multi-pitch

Sometimes being one rope length off the ground doesn’t cut it and that’s when you go multi-pitching. Multi-pitching is what it sounds like, doing multiple routes in a row to get higher off the ground. Once the initial climber reaches the top, they belay the second climber from the anchors of the climb. After the second climber arrives and is secured, the first climber starts up the wall again. In this way, you can ascend as high as the rock will take you.

4. The grading system… 5.8, 5.9+, 5.10a, 5.10b…..?

These numbers should confuse you, because what starts as a simple difficulty grading system with ascending numbers gets muddled quickly. The easiest climbs start at 5.5, 5.6, and 5.7. As you move into moderate difficulty, they have added a plus/minus system to further delineate difficulty. 5.8-, 5.8+, etc. Once you achieve 5.10, this is no longer enough complexity and the ratings change to include the alphabet. 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, and 5.10d. Why they chose to stop at d is a mystery I am not particularly invested in solving.

Now an attempt at visual representation by an aspiring artist…

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Day 6: The small things

The three of us were feeling psyched for the upcoming day. We had a plan and we had gotten an early start. As we drove away from the house where we had been staying, we crossed over a cattle grate and made a turn. Soon after the turn, the front tire of the car began making a metal on metal screeching noise that made our ears want to bleed. Just a half mile down the road and our day was brought to a halt.

A sheriff pulled over and diagnosed the problem as worn down brake pads and reminded us that it was Sunday and that we would have trouble finding a place that was open. One woman drove by with her kids on their way to church, she stopped, called her husband and sent him to come help us. He helped us decide that it probably wasn’t the brake pads and that driving on the car wasn’t a good idea. He also let us pet his dogs for a little bit to brighten up our mood.

Thanks to Janna’s AAA plus membership we were able to get a tow 30 miles to a town. As they pulled the car into the shop, the screeching noise was so bad that people waiting inside starting turning their heads. “That’s my car,” I proudly joked.

Luckily, they were able to solve the problem. A tiny rock, smaller than a penny, was found jammed in the brake system. It’s amazing how such a small piece of rock could stop a car from operating properly. However, we were very thankful nothing serious was wrong with the car.

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Although we had been set back 4 hours we realized we could still get back to the climbing area and still accomplish the climbs we wanted to do that day. We were luckily enough to climb on two super classic routes in the area. Ice Plant Zebra (5.9) climbs a nice corner into a crack where you can jam and lay back to the anchors.

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Then we climbed Insane Clown Posse, 5.10b, a long slightly overhanging climb. The holds we’re abundant but the length and tilt of the wall left me barely able to grip anything by the time i reached the anchors.

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We all agreed that Ten Sleep is legit and well worth future visits once we are in Colorado. We then drove to our next climbing destination and witnessed a beautiful Wyoming sunset while we were driving by lake tucked in between two mountain ranges. We also had our first weak moment where we opted for Taco Bell for dinner, in a way, we were proud of ourselves for resisting Doritos locos tacos and chicken quesadillas for as long as we had.

Day 5: What the hail!

We got an early start today, confidently reviewing our “digital guidebook” we created by taking a few snapshots in a phone of the real Ten Sleep Canyon book. After a brief dispute concerning which pullout was #6 and driving up and down the road 4 times, it was reassuring to see a friendly couple from Boulder, CO pull up and confirm our location.

A short, steep hike brought us to the “circus wall” and a 5.8 warm-up route called “Lucky Bozo”. Tania had her first-ever true lead-climb on this one! Go Tania! (we’ll explain rock climbing & its terminology soon).

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As we were setting up the rope and Sara was prepping to lead a 5.10c, “Step This Way”, the sky started to darken in our little canyon and thunder threatened in the distance. We figured we might as well go for it and Sara was halfway up the route, just below the crux (hardest/trickiest part of a route) when the storm hit us. The temperature plummeted and the clouds catapulted hail at us. Sara hunkered in to a little notch in the wall and Tania soon lowered her down to safety out of the crazy summer hail storm. Meanwhile, I ran around collecting gear, stashing packs, and hunting down rain jackets. There were a few frenzied minutes but soon we were all safely eating jerky and cheez-its beneath an overhang to wait out the storm.

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It was then that I figured, “what better time to write some blog posts than when it’s raining, less than 50 degrees, and we’re huddled beside a giant wall of rock?” So I thumbed some paragraphs out on my phone while Tania and Sara watched rocks dry.

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The other groups at the crag fled during or just after the storm, but we stuck it out and managed to find some dry routes. Back home, we mostly climb the polished granite domes in NC or the nuttal sandstone in WV, so it’s interesting to be on the sharp Dolomite (maybe, that’s unconfirmed) out here. Climbing has a lot to do with balance and trusting the grip of your hands and shoes on the rock, so it’s nice to have a few days to adapt to this particular type.

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We wrapped up our day by making our first grocery store stop of our trip. Almost every type of vegetable ended up in our basket and we made a huge stir-fry dinner to celebrate surviving a hailstorm, finding the right path (1st try!) to go climbing, and our last cozy night in Buffalo, WY.

Day 4: what are the odds?

    The plan was to climb all day in ten sleep canyon, Wyoming. We came prepared with printed directions from mountainproject.com and we followed them precisely. 1.5 hours of hiking with full packs later (50/50 oops #1), we discovered through trial and error that there are, in fact, 2 ten sleep creek crossings.

    Undeterred, we ate a bunch of peanut butter at a gorgeous alpine lake to fuel up and set off again to find the right path.

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    Reassured by a bunch of climber’s cars at the pullout, we shouldered our packs and headed through the gate (50/50 oops #2) onto the “well developed” path. An hour of steep alpine hiking later, we turned right (50/50 oops #3) at the base of the massive expanse of cliff wall.

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    Keep in mind that sections of cliff wall and individual routes are each named and thoroughly documented in area-specific guide books. We didn’t have one for Ten Sleep since we’re just here for a few days. So, we did as our papers described and continued to hike past the first chunk of wall and onto the next one (50/50 oops #4). When everything continued to look absurdly hard, we started to get a bit discouraged. Finally, we found some other climbers who had a guide book and learned how far away we were from our original objective.

    Turns out, there was a different path at the base of the mountain that we should have taken. So, we backpacked the length of the entire crag known as “Mondo Beyondo” and we were quite warm (read: exhausted) when we reached our warm-up route at 4:30pm.

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    Fortunately, our motto of the day was well established by now, “No worries, it’s the longest day of the year!” And it turns out that the climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon is incredible! The rock is totally different than anything we’ve been on before, and the views are breathtaking. We all loved the 2nd route we did, a 5.10b classic that had a fantastic, exposed finish that made me happy I’m no longer afraid of heights.

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    We finished up the day by hiking the more efficient trail back to the car, an incredible sunset by the Bighorns, and a hot, delicious dinner of rice and beans by the brook.

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    Sometimes, 50/50 choices don’t turn out in your favor. But, if you have good company and great views, things can never be too bad. Also, it was a great day for the summer solstice. We used every one of those extra hours!