Sunday, August 19, 2018

Backpacking the Sawtooths

I feel like I've been hiking a lot this summer. Between early season charges up Mts Wire/Grandeur some memorable days hiking up the coast from the Alsek to Yakutat, the DuMor pack raft trip, and post-snow steep hikes in the Wasatch I've probably done more hiking than running or riding.  And even though the pack rafts are a revolution in hiking to rivers, it's still on the heavy side, so when Ash suggested a quick "fastpack" (New School for "backpack") in the Sawtooths sans any other gear I was pretty keen.  And the Sawtooths are quite appealing for multi-day trips; they are small enough to be doable for 4 days, but most of the potential loops are just far enough that doing them as an unsupported run is a bit daunting, but driving the upper Salmon valley and ogling at that jaggedy horizon makes diving into the heart of them quite appealing.  I did get a taste of it last summer when Ash and I did one of her old-time favorites as a run - the 20 mile Alice/Toxaway/Pettit lake loop - and it was definitely enough to pique my interest.  So when Ash organized a mid-August 80th birthday party for her dad in Ketchum:
Ash with Uncle Jim (left) and Big Al 
 everything came together well for us to do a bit of pre-function adventuring.

Looking at a map, the most obvious loop to "get into the meat" (Ash's favorite mountain term) is the terrain to the east of Redfish lake, and this also offered up a handful of scramble-up peaks en route.  So we marched off from the summertime melee at the Redfish lake lodge and.....within a mile missed our first turn and carried on up Fishhook creek instead of going up the adjacent ridge, which was soon rectified by a steep bushwack up to the ridge that heads up towards Mt Williams and the Williams Yurt.  Near the latter we ditched our packs and blasted up Mt Thompson, which is (by a tiny bit) the highest peak in the Sawtooths.
Thompson is the block in the distance.  
Some good packless scrambling by a coupla beautiful lakes and a sawtoothy ridgeline
Between Mts Thompson and Williams is a high pass, and the most common route is to circle around the back (north) side of Thompson and then up the southwest side.  We hadn't seen anyone, until we saw these folks, who decided to do a short cut:

One of the two women in the middle of the slope is trying to talk the other into continuing on up.  It wasn't super steep and as the pic indicates there's a pretty good runout, but the combination of the potential for a good ride and the bumbly scree fest above just to "save time" seemed weird, and they were so sketched and blown by the time we saw them on our way back down that I doubt they made it.  I'm not sure why people head out for a day in the mountains and then try to figure out ways to shortcut their routes?

The top was as glorious as expected:

Mt Williams.  A few years ago a few of us skied out of the Williams yurt and skied some of those runs off the mid-mountain flank down to the lake.  Glorious skiing....when it's stable.  
We ended the day at Marshall Lake:

The other side of Williams peak, also home to great skiing
where Ash proudly became a new member of the Team Tyvek:
Team Dork?
The next day we saw this Salt Laker trotting down the trail:

And we correctly guessed that he was one of those "every monthers" (I'm sure they have a better name for it); he's on his 46th consecutive ski month.  He had run up to Goat Lake the day prior and seen a skiable line.  Later I saw the "line" and it was....a bit lean and I guessed it to be about 400 vertical, but good on him for an excuse for consistent adventures!

The Joey factor had remained pretty low so far, but then we got to Sawtooth Lake, which is not only ridiculously beautiful, is also only 5 miles from a trailhead (a different one than we started at) so we found our fellow recreators en masse:
But we ditched our packs and hiked up the adjacent Alpine Peak
that again offered up some nice views from on high:
We decided to leave our packs for half a day and do a trail run:
 to Observation Peak, which looms high above the Payette drainage, then re-loaded and headed down into the more-remote Baron Creek drainage, leaving our day hikers behind.
We dropped deeply into the Baron Creek drainage  via the North Fork and camped:
We are so cool!  BTW - it's really hard to find a suite that's smaller than an XL....that said, this suit was only $7...and seems to be better than my DuMor suit.  
before turning up the main fork on long grind that got more and more dramatic:

pointing our her route for the next trip!

 towards the sublime Baron Lakes
practicing my Jesus walking
I gave up; it was too refreshing
And up and over Baron Pass
Baron Lakes

some fun scrambling at the pass
And down the drainage past the Elephant's Perch to finish at Redfish Lake and a zippy boat ride back to the wilds of the Redfish resort. 

As Ash pointed out, the Sawtooths are every bit as rugged and beautiful as the Tetons, but even though they are popular, the crowds are a tiny fraction of the big national park to the east. 

The last 10 or so years has seen a lot of the outdoor industry vendors lightening up and compacting their products to the point where by the end - when we were about out of food - we were basically carrying the equivalent of a daily ski pack.  It lends itself to far more energetic hiking, and eliminates the need for burly boots or extra shoes.  That said, some old schoolers insist on slogging around with way too much shit:
Note the shoes that he should be wearing....he's carrying.  
For reference, here's our pretty modest loop; probably 50 mi?

We spent the next coupla days mountain biking; sometimes riding:
and sometimes not:

Boundary Creek is a good addition to "The Places I like to carry my bike"  
When we got to Ketchum and connected with the Patterson Clan we found out that young Sam Patterson - all of 4'11" and 80 pounds of blue steel - was true mountain kid, and he was super keen to hike up 12,000 foot Hyndman Peak.  I was pretty reluctant to take anyone's kid out without their parents (we can barely be trusted to dog sit), but when we went out for a "practice" hike - 8 miles with a couple-thousand feet of vert - he not only raged both up and down the trail but did so barefoot!  So he was worthy of a bigger outing.  So off we went.
Ash with her little shadow.

Getting Sam up high, where he belongs!
 The summit will have to wait for another day, but the Team Stoke was high regardless

Thanks to Sam for being a hard charging pard, and of course thanks to Ash for putting together a great party for Big Al and the rest of the family and for thinking up yet another fun adventure.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Pack Rafting the DuMor

Even though I had just returned from a great pack raft trip to AK, it doesn't take too many days in sizzlin' Salt Lake in July to get a quick yen to head back north and into the mountains.  So Brother Paul, Drew Hardesty of Utah Avalanche Center fame, and renowned Mountain Girl Zinnia Wilson headed for the Jackson area to do the DuMor.

My first pack raft trip was the River of Return some years ago, and that great loop trip was generally conceived by the pack raft luminary Forrest McCarthy. So when he later spearheaded another fun trip in the Teton Wilderness between the Teton Valley and Yellowstone national park with some friends of ours who all gave it a few thumbs up we knew that it would also be a good trip.  Forrest has a penchant for giving his trips names, and this one he called the DuMor, which I thought was a clever way to combine the three hike/three river journey he cooked up that starts in the general vicinity of the little town of Dubois and ends near the equally little "town" of Moran, but it turns out that there's also an area called Dunoir, which is the name of a creek and glacier in the Absaroka mountains that stretch from the Teton Valley 150 miles up through and past Yellowstone. Touche' Forrest, for the doble entendre'.....

Our trip began by picking up Ross at the Buffalo Fork work station.  Ross is an old compatriot of Zinnia, and Zin has a special connection to this part of the world since she spent 12 summers doing trail work in the area that we were about to enter.  There are nearly 500 miles of trails in the Teton Wilderness, and even thought they are used far less frequently than those in the Teton range or the nearby Wind Rivers, but trails they are and they need to be maintained (a lot of use in the huntin' season) so Zin was a critical part in keeping those trails up. 

As we were packing up at the trailhead a heavily-laden Subaru came bouncing into the lot and out jumped....five pack rafters!  The DuMor probably gets done once or twice a year, and all of a sudden there were nine of us getting ready to do it. 
Our crew ready to go, team B shortly behind.
This wasn't quite coincidental; we had been talking to Jeffrey Creamer about trying to get together for a trip and had actually planned on connecting for this one until both our crews expanded and we agreed that it would be best to be in our respective parties.  Jeff has been on an impressive tear for the last couple of years pack rafting the West; a youtube search of him has a ton of great trips that he's shot and put to music. 

There was another commercial hiking trip (supported by horse packers) and the first creek crossing of lots of pack rafters and lots of hikers wasn't quite the wilderness experience we were all expecting:
but soon enough we were on our lonesome

There's a blight affecting the White Firs, and its devastating that area, and there's overlap with the pine bark beetle too
There was a bit of blowdown, but it was a fraction of what we experienced last year on the River of Return
Zin happily mowing into her biohazard lunch, and it was only day 1! 
We camped at Shoshone Pass, which was an easy half day from the trailhead and had water (sort of unusual for a pass) and walked down the drainage of the South Fork of the Shoshone river til we saw floatable water
and then actually walked a bit farther, because downstream of this meadow the river cuts into a dramatic and steep gorge, and it didn't seem worth rigging and de-rigging to paddle through a meadow and then portage for a mile.  And even after that it was still a bit on the bony side, with a little wood:
but with nice views

But finally we got to some good looking whitewater:
Paul peering in
And we started getting some good face shots

The whitewater was worthy; really high quality class 3+

Until it got a bit gnarly:
Zin pointing out the line on this spicy number.  Even if there were no logs this would still be a bit of a non-starter rapid.  There's an easy to get but quite small eddy to catch just above this.  High water might make it a bit more diecy?  
More fun whitewater

it's a testament to both the Alpacka boats and Drew and Zin's gumption that this section went well.  Drew has rowed a lot, but mostly on medium/big water, and Zin has canoed some whitewater, but neither had paddled anything like this before.  Drew has a steely mind that does a lot of risk-calculating and analysis that is stronger than innate fear, and Zin just charges.  And the Alpacka boats have such amazing primary stability that they really reward people who will let the boats do their thing. 

After a couple of half days of paddling we got to our takeout spot;

It started to rain a bit, so I had an opportunity to bust out my new secret weapon:
Tyvek Boy!
Our mission was to head up Fall Creek to leave the SF Shoshone.   The hike starts with a bang:

to a welcome rest at a nice overlook

the gorge downstream undoubtedly has some good whitewater as well. 
The climb went on for about 5000 feet total, in not many miles.  With full packs - and only haven eaten down a coupla days' worth of food it was arduous. 
But nice:
with a challenging stream crossing
it plunged big just out of sight
As we went up, the flora got pretty:
And the fauna got interesting:
I've never really known what porcupines do besides waddle around; now - thanks to Zin's knowledge - I know that they also strip trees....
Big doggie:
As always for me, plenty of wolf sign, but no sighting....
Zin spotted this bear print on a log that he/she stepped on to get over (even bears don't want to trip over a log!)

As we got up higher, we needed a cool mountain guide to show us the way:
so cool
But actually we didn't even go that way because it looked too burly! But our route was fine:

The flowers were amazing
and even prompted me to break out into song:

Finally we reached the pass that was well over 11k, where a chilly breeze gave me a chance to bust out my secret weapon again:
And downward into our next drainage we went
this was a mountain goat highway!  they must be very social and walk all in a line to catch up on their goat gossip.  

as we descended into the drainage we had to get a bit extreme in the pack part of pack rafting
Paul making it look.....easy?  
And after a pretty grueling day of descending into the creek bottom only to ascend far out of it to bypass a gorge, we arrived at the confluence of Bruin Creek and Thorofare Creek
the confluence is up against the trees

Now that we were in Zin's hood, she became the map master:
There was just barely enough water to float a boat

and sometimes  -as it braided - not even that much
but the slow pace enabled us to appreciate even the rocks on the bottom
Thoroughfare Creek is a tributary of the upper Yellowstone (which, at 692 miles, is the longest free flowing river in the US outside of AK), and on the banks of the Yellowstone is the Hawk's Rest ranger cabin, which supposedly the mostest remotest place in the lower 48, which is a function of farthest from a road.  But that didn't stop the FS from making a nice cabin near a nice bridge over the Yellowstone
A very nice porch.  And Drew  - as a Teton ranger with a cabin in Lupine Meadows - knows nice porches!  
A long, somewhat tedious day hiking out of the very shallow Yellowstone drainage, albeit with nice views towards the Buffalo Fork:
was punctuated by this spot:
this little creek splits, with one fork heading for the Atlantic and one for the Pacific.  Tho it's probably more likely that the waters are going to Montana wheat and Idaho spuds, but whatever. 
We got down to a meandering meadow that maybe had enough water to float, but again it ended in a steep gorge so we walked it and found a great camp there.  I finally got to see some Wild Life
And we returned to floatable water to start paddling again
As we were rigging a few pack rafters came through the meadow, and being the small community it is, we had some connections with them
And on down the Buffalo Fork we went.  Paul and I had done the BF a couple of years ago with the New England Pack Rafting Team, but since then a big landslide had come down and created what was probably the stoutest rapid on the trip:

And the rain at the takeout gave me a chance to bust out my secret weapon
I am cooking up a blawg post about this, but my experiment in clothing options made me start to think that the $13, 6 oz tyvek suit blows the Gore stuff away on several different levels.  That said, one needs to be able to withstand the huge guffaws from fellow adventurers:
huh?  what's wrong with my suit?!!?
Thanks again to Forrest McCarthy for coming up with a great loop and a great name and for providing plenty of just-enough beta, and most importantly thanks to brother Paul, Zin, and Drew for being solid pards on a pretty challenging trip to a pretty remote zone.