Beartooth High Route

Beartooth High Route

While hiking on the Continental Divide Trail in 2015, Andy and I caught wind of the Beartooth Range in Southern Montana.  Admittedly, I had heard very little of the range, and knew next to nothing about it.  However, after a bit of research, we found ourselves hitching out to Cooke City from Lamar Valley.

Below are the highlights of the route:

  • Main Beartooth High Route Loop – roughly 66 Miles
  • Approximately 48 Miles Off Trail
  • 8 named Peaks (two optional side trips from loop)
  • Highest Summit in Montana (Granite Peak, Optional 1.5 mile side trip)
  • 33 Named Lakes

The Beartooth Mountains sit above the North East section of the popular Yellowstone National Park. The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and spans 944,000 acres of Montana and Wyoming. Being in a designated wilderness area, the Beartooth Mountains are protected from development, leaving them untamed, remote, and scenic.  Since the area is designated wilderness, there are also very few developed trails, when compared to national parks.

The range is pretty well confined between Cooke City and Red Lodge.  There are several trailheads that allow a hiker access in and out of the range.  There’s also a popular North/South trail called ‘the beaten path’.  It’s a wonderful 24 mile hike from East Rosebud Lake (West of Red Lodge) south to Cooke City.  This trail cuts the Beartooth High Route in half, and also provides alternative options depending on the amount of time a hiker has to spend in the range.  If so inclined, a hiker could hike one half of the Beartooth High Route loop, and return to their car via The Beaten Path, skipping the second half of the High Route.  I believe this is a huge positive, and gives people options to do half on trail, half off trail if time or weather get in the way of completing a full loop.

Route Planning and Development

Neither Andy nor I are from Montana.  We hadn’t spent extensive time in the Beartooth Mountains, and we by no means claim to be experts on the mountain range.  There may be other wild, and scenic areas that this route misses.  That said, having hiked this route, I can tell you it is absolutely stunning.  The high country in the Beartooth Wilderness is unlike any I’ve seen.  It is a series of high plateaus and glaciated valleys.  There are jagged peaks and amazingly large headwalls. Yet there is also an easily accessible off trail high country that is begging to be explored and enjoyed.

I have seen many routes become logistically challenging.  The Beartooth High Route is not, nor should it ever become logistically challenging.  It is a loop hike, and can easily be shortened by using the beaten path if need be.  This allows maximum freedom based on time and weather.  While planning the route, Andy and I wanted a challenge, often times taking more technical drainages, ascending Granite Peak, and summiting sub summits to mix things up.  The high route has plenty to offer in this regard if you desire.  It also has easier paths, as described below, which can keep the route to below a class 3 rating.

 

 

Maps:

You must have a detailed map of the area for an excursion such as this.  Do not rely solely on GPS or GAIA.  Have a paper map, even if just for backup. Andy and I used paper maps exclusively in our trips to the Beartooth Mountains, marking our routes in pen. The best map I have found of the range, and the one we used, can be found here: http://www.beartoothpublishing.com/product/beartooth-mountains/

The Outline of the Beartooth High Route can be found with the following link: http://caltopo.com/m/0LLB

Legend:

  • Red – Beartooth High Route Loop
  • Blue – Connector Trails from TH
  • Green – Side excursions to Summits (optional)
  • Orange – The Beaten Path

Here is the Map Set in PDF Format to download and print: beartooth-high-route-map-set

I am still in the process of developing a narrative to go with the map set.  That will come in the next month as I have time.

Trailheads:

There are two trailheads that are directly on the loop.  The first is the East Rosebud Trailhead, on the northern part of the loop. This is a good option that will put you right on the trail. It is also the trailhead for the beaten path.  These two features make this the most logical trailhead to use if you intend to do the full loop without adding miles.

The second trailhead is the camp Senia trailhead near Silver Run Plateau.  This trailhead is on the East side of the loop, not far from East Rosebud, and just a short distance from Red Lodge.

There are also two trailheads in the south that can be used, however both require long approaches to the main loop.  Despite adding miles, my suggestion is to use one of these approaches to the loop.  In my opinion, the most scenic part of the Beartooth range is the southern section of the loop.  By starting at Island Lake Trailhead in the Southeast, you’ll be able to explore much more of that southern section, adding many lakes and peaks to your time in the Beartooths.  If you have the time, consider adding on this very scenic stretch!

 

Final Thoughts:

I hope you go and enjoy the Beartooth Mountains.  It’s an empty range outside of the beaten path.  You can find days of high alpine solitude on this route. I encourage you to make it your own. Get off the trails, get into the high country, and experience the solitude and scenery that only the tallest mountains in Montana can offer!

Photos to get you totally pumped for the Beartooth Mountains:

13906756_10207556811779429_3203607713496029607_n

Views like this cannot be found on the trails. Get off the ‘beaten path’, and enjoy the mountain range from its lofty peaks!

13912871_10207556806659301_5291690263987107502_n

Getting below the trees before a storm hits.

13921151_10207556808699352_8703687144619350345_n

“Yeah, it’s totally stable…”

13932721_10207556806419295_8002172269984289625_n

Typical views of giant granite cliffs. Rather than see them below on the trails, get up top and enjoy the 360 views from the high peaks. This view looks back to Granite Peak.

13937799_10207556807779329_7881791813240009184_o

Views of Fossil Lake. And Andy.

13958071_10207556809419370_3452407456555837269_o

Many drainages such as this are easily navigated. Though the miles are slower without a groomed trail, it’s much more rewarding!

13958246_10207556809699377_8743106252779446582_o

A typical off trail view.

13962913_10207556808739353_6671010087228536319_o

High on the BeHR.

13962931_10207556804259241_4216282189477379327_o

Rain Shorts… Rorts.

13975302_10207556809659376_1433411067045250101_o

Wind sweeps across another beautiful lake.

13975396_10207556810459396_8226772763613468918_o

Handy Andy getting in some climbing on the route. This is avoidable.

13975404_10207556811739428_3303485661700181355_o

Handy Andy and Twinky at the finish of the Route. Can’t say enough good things about the Beartooth Mountains.

13987374_10207556807299317_5502331600558079155_o

On the ascent to Dewey Peak. Granite Peak is the highpoint in the distance, which we had summitted the day prior.

13988092_10207556810859406_1848025789062265632_o

Views Southwest to Yellowstone. The terrain below holds all of the precious lakes and drainage’s.

13988094_10207556804219240_8705115684784648677_o

Camp at Lower Arrow Lake. The Spires in the distance. Andy eating hard Ramen below. If you’re like me, these pictures will get you excited to get out into this empty range!

13988114_10207556810739403_6303321094382407408_o

More BeHR views.

13995535_10207556808099337_6609164784321489474_o

Reflections. Water is plentiful on the BeHR. The entire range is littered with spectacular lakes.

14046006_10207556805499272_1845924439920289078_n

Lots of Goats in the Beartooth Mountains. This guy wouldn’t leave us alone all night. he even laid down just 10 feet from my tarp for a long time after dark. He also posed for this picture with the sunset. Thank you, GOAT.

14053732_10207556805019260_4586925651255005185_o

Views looking south from Granite peak. All of this terrain is covered in the BeHR

14053808_10207556807739328_8002037776665494577_o

There are endless opportunities to drop the trekking poles and climb some rocks on this route. It is always avoidable, however if it is withing your skill and comfort level, I suggest the more interesting routes! This little climb of about 20 feet helped us avoid climbing around this wall.

14054523_10207556806179289_7435696843432212458_o

Handy Andy on the summit of Granite Peak. You can see the high plateau of Mount Rosebud, Dewey Peak, and Summit Peak to the right of Andy.

14055115_10207556805059261_1541014884853957900_n

Still a lot of ice and snow in mid August.

14066245_10207556806819305_3519519520070647476_o

Andy up high on Summit Peak. The views on this route are unreal. Don’t be afraid to get up high!

14066315_10207556808779354_6533147131211948652_o

One of the many beautiful, open lakes on the BeHR. It’s easy walking up on the high plateaus and open drainage’s.

Catching up

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog.  It’s been a wild year, and blogging took a back seat for a bit.  But I’m back, feeling the creative energy to put out some fun stuff.  To catch up on the year…

  • I tried the Superior Hiking Trail, attempting to do it in 6 days.  I did 112 miles in the first two days, and on day three, my right knee started to hurt, and I quit.  It was a fun time, and I learned many good lessons.
  • I started a new job Sept 20th of last year, almost a full year ago.
  • My good friend Guthrie and I moved to Golden, and roomed together.  Guthrie likes Golden a lot more than Austin.  You may remember Guthrie from the PCT, where we met and became good friends!
  • I fell in love (awww) with Grace, got engaged in February, and got married in July. I couldn’t be more in love!
  • I did a bunch more adult things.
  • In terms of outdoor persuits, I refocused on my passion for climbing.  I enrolled in mountaineering school this past winter, and had classes 3 days a week for 3 months, including full day weekends.  I learned a lot about winter travel and technical ascents.
  • I got into AT (All Terrain) Skiing, or Backcountry skiing as it’s often called, and skied several large peaks this past year
  • I finished the Colorado 14ers, highlighted by the Little Bear to Blanca Traverse, and the Maroon Bells Traverse.
  • I focused mostly on the Colorado Centennials, or the 100 highest peaks in Colorado.  Currently I’m at 75, and hope to finish that by the end of 2017.
  • I had a Honeymoon in Canada, backpacking and climbing.  It was amazing.
  • I’ve also done some backpacking.  A bit this winter with Dirtmonger, Handy Andy, and Guthrie.
  • Handy Andy and I went back to Montana and did some more in the Beartooths, putting together a route we are calling the Beartooth High Route.
  • I saw my first death in the mountains, on the Beartooth High Route just below Granite Peak.  Also this year, A good friend had his partner fall and die on the maroon bells traverse, just two days before I did it.  Both incidents have been scary and eye opening.  Be careful in the mountains.  Both unfortunate events have made me focus on safety.

I’m finishing up my write up on the Beartooth High Route, and will post a somewhat detailed guide, with complete map set, in the coming days.  I’m really excited about this route.  The beartooth mountains are amazing!

I have posted most of my adventures on instagram. You can find those here:

https://www.instagram.com/shattuck311/

Here are some additional pictures from Mine and Grace’s Honeymoon in August…

Hope you’ve all been well, and stay tuned for a full report on the Beartooth High Route, 2 years in the making!

Twinkle

Setting My Sights on the Superior Trail

Since finishing the CDT, I have shifted focus, climbing local peaks and setting my sights on the Superior Trail.  It’s been a trail I have wanted to hike for many years.  I grew up in Michigan, and I’ve spent a ton of time on the coast of Lake Superior.  It is hands down the most beautiful body of water I have ever seen.  It is the third largest fresh water lake in the world by volume, and the largest by surface area. It is also the gem of the Great Lakes, and that cannot be debated.  Anyone who has seen all five Great Lakes will agree, it is named Superior for a reason!

On a hike at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore back in 2010. Lake Superior - Go there!

On a hike at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore back in 2010. Lake Superior – Go there!

I’ve spent much time on Lake Superior, both in the summer and winter.  I love Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by Munising, Michigan.  I would rank that hiking on the same level as that in any mountain range I’ve been in.  Large cliffs dropping directly into the clearest water I’ve seen.  Waterfalls dropping above overhanging cliffs right into the chilly waters.  It’s a magical place.  That is what attracted me to the Superior Trail.  I’ve never been to Minnesota, and those who know me well, will laugh that I’m going there.  I jokingly ‘hate’ on Minnesota all the time, just to pester my friends (specifically Scudz, who I hike the AT with).  ‘It’s the Mid West, how could it be at all cool or interesting there?’, and ‘Might as well live in Ohio too! Yeah, that would be great!’.  Kidding aside, I bet both those states have a lot of nice things going on.  No, never mind, Ohio has nothing nice going on😉

Lake Superior - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI

Lake Superior – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI


Beautiful!

Beautiful!

So, I’m heading back to Lake Superior, and hiking the trail that follows Lake Superiors western shores for roughly 306 miles in Minnesota.  But I don’t have much time budgeted to hike there, so I’m going to have to speed hike this.  As I thought about this more, I looked more closely at the Fastest Known Time for this trail, and Handy Andy surely got in my head, telling me I needed to try this.  So, that is what I am going to do – attempt to hike the 306 miles in under 6 days.

Fastest Known Times (FKT’s) are becoming a huge thing in the hiking and Ultra Running communities. Most recently, Scott Jurek set the Fastest Known Time (supported) on the Appalachian Trail.

There are two types of FKT’s for long trails.  The first is the supported FKT.  In this, the hiker gets aid along the way.  Scott Jurek had a full support crew feeding him, massaging him, and making sure he had everything he needed to go as fast as he could, and never have to leave the trail. He carried none of his equipment, most normally carrying just water and a few snacks while hiking.

The second type is an unsupported FKT.  In this, the hiker has no support crew, and carries all of their own gear.  There are many rules as to how to stay unsupported, including never having a pacer, hiking on your own, and not accepting any aid.  This is the route I will take with the Superior Trail.  I’ll be going unsupported, and unassisted, meaning I will carry everything (all 6 days worth) of food and gear from the very start.  This will allow me to not have to resupply or get off trail ever.

I hiked with Handy Andy half of the summer, and the two of us talked a lot about how to go about an FKT.  Handy Andy set the FKT on the John Muir Trail, hiking the 220 miles in just 3 days and 10 hours.  That is unbelievable, and he broke a record that stood for 5 years, on one of the most sought after FKT’s in the US.  He taught me a lot, and I have a pretty good plan on how to approach this trail.

It’s an exciting thing for me to try.  I’ve never done back to back 50 mile days.  There is so much unknown in all of what I hope to do.  I could easily fall flat on my face and fail with this, just as I did with Nolan’s 14.  But that’s exciting, to know that failure is more likely than not considering I’ve had no history of doing anything like this.  Either way, it will be a good learning experience.  And most importantly, it will bring me to a beautiful place that I’ve wanted to see for some time, giving me an opportunity to see it all in the time I have. Killian Jornet, the worlds fastest mountain runner, recently spoke that the FKT attempts are just an excuse to visit these beautiful destinations.  I believe that this is especially the case for this hike.  The highlight is hiking the Superior Trail, which I have heard wonderful things about.  The FKT attempt is just the way I plan on experiencing the trail, and the excuse to get out there in the time that I have🙂

Here is how I plan to approach this FKT attempt.  It takes a lot of planning to execute a speed hike.  Much more so than your average thru hike.  Andy said that nearly half the battle is being properly planned.  It’s a good thing I enjoy planning for hikes!

First off, I set a plan to average 52 miles a day. I have packed my food into 25 mile bags, containing roughly 2,500+ calories each.  I have 12 of these bags.  Each day, I plan to split the day into two 25-27 mile stretches.  I will have my fanny pack, and side water bottle pockets stuffed with all of the food I need for 25 miles.  This will allow me to hike without interruption (save getting water) for 25 miles straight.  I then plan to break for 40-60 minutes, get a cat nap, organize my food for the next 25 miles, and then get back moving.

I have also dialed in my gear.  Below is a list of the essentials and everything I will be bringing and wearing:

Shoes: Altra Olympus 1.5 size 11

Maximist trail running shoes. Shoes are one of, if not the most important part of an FKT.  Your feet are going to hurt, but you want to minimize the pain. I used the Olympus for my 63 mile ultra in Zion, and for the beginning of the CDT where I knew I would be pushing bigger miles, and I love them.  They keep my feet happy in big miles with maximum cushion and plenty of room for my feet swelling.

Backpack: Gossamer Gear Murmur, no hip belts – 8.8 ounces

Lightest pack on the market.  I will not have hip belts, and I will have water bottle holders made by Handy Andy on the shoulder straps for easy access.  It likely will be uncomfortable for the first few days, as I’ll have too much weight in it, but the last few days it will be great. Looking forward to using this!

The Murmer and Fanny Pack Combo. A real gem.

The Murmer and Fanny Pack Combo. A real gem.

Sleeping Bag / Quilt – Enlightened Equipment enigma prototype 950fd and7D fabric 40 degree quilt  – 9.35 ounces

This bag from Enlightened Equipment is just beautiful!  Using their lightest 7D fabric combined with their 950 fill down, they got this quilt as light as possible! I’ve been using Enlightened Equipment bags for the past year, and they have far out performed any bags or quilts I have used prior (and I have used many).  Their bags breathe well, are true to their warmth rating, and they skip the frills to bring the weight down. I saw more of these bags on the CDT than any other.  That’s coming from the most experienced hikers, and speaks wonders to their reputation within the community. I’m really excited to use this customized bag for this trip!

This is the actual Quilt. Only slightly over 9 ounces. Can't beat that!!

This is the actual Quilt. Only slightly over 9 ounces. Can’t beat that!!


This is what the quilt looks like. Really looking forward to getting out there with it!

This is what the quilt looks like. Really looking forward to getting out there with it!

Sleeping Pad – Gossamer Gear inflatable ultralight (air Beam) torso length – 7.5 ounces coupled with the 1/8′ sit light pad – 2.0 ounces

Lightest air mattress I could find.  I use the 1/8′ sit light pad under the air mattress for added warmth, along with using it as the frame in the Murmur.

Tarp – Gossamer Gear Q Twinn – 8.5 ounces with stakes.

I’m going to check the weather forecast before I leave.  If there is only slight rain in the forecast, I will not bring the tarp.  Game time decision.

Q Twinn in New Mexico

Q Twinn in New Mexico

Ground Sheet – Gossamer Gear Polycro Ground Sheet – 1.6 ounces

Could work as a tarp in a pinch if there is no wind.

Outside of the essentials listed above, I will be taking GG trekking poles, Patagonia R1 hoody top, thermal bottoms, fleece hat and gloves, GG rain Umbrella, one pair of Darn Tough Socks, sunglasses, my trusty (goofy) hat, two battery chargers for my phone (I’ll be relying on it for an alarm and photos), my iPhone 6, SPOT device for tracking (needed for proof of FKT), 10 wet wipes, a roll of TP, the Deuce of Spades trowel, Ice Breakers wool T-shirt, North Face running shorts, and Montbell wind pants and top.

I’ll be starting out Thursday morning, and you can follow along with my progress via Handy Andy’s SPOT device he’s loaning me: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0qO0Xsi5zHECFXQAoVq7bLyqXUysx4GV1

CDT – Gear Review

I’ve done this before with my PCT/AT Gear list, but as always, I was trying new things on the CDT much of the time, faced much different weather, and learned what worked really well for me, and also what didn’t work well at all.

I’ll start with the essentials and work my way down:

Backpack: Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 Superlight Backpack, Weight – Roughly 14oz after modifications.

I used the updated 2015 version of this pack and loved it. I modified it by cutting the hip belts and a few other holds that I was not using.  This pack carries a heavier load comfortably for me, including having my snowshoes and snow gear on it with several days of food.  It also has a higher capacity at 2,200 c.I. The pack has the perfect blend of ultralight and durability for a long trek.  After several thousand miles on the pack and many summits where it got abused, it still looks like new, and carries like it (still very comfortable).  It’s the best pack I’ve ever used, hands down, and I’ll continue using it on any overnight hikes and summits where I’ll be needing layers.

Quilt: Enlightened Equipment Enigma – Short, Slim, 0 Degree.  21 ounces

For the CDT I upgraded from my 20 degree Zpacks quilt to the EE Enigma 0 Degree, at a cost of just 5 ounces I gained a 20 degree rating, and man am I glad I did that.  The CDT is cold nearly year round.  Montana was actually the warmest that I travelled through, and the only time I felt the 0 degree was overkill.  I’m also a cold sleeper – I think Handy Andy was just fine in his 20 degree EE quilt.  This quilt is so good though.  It breathes well, and I joked that the 0 stood for the number of nights I slept cold, which is on point.  Several times I was able to cowboy camp (no tent/tarp, just sleeping on the ground), as Andy and others had to set up their tents for the added warmth. Since I love cowboy camping and seeing the stars, this was a big plus for me.  If you’re doing the CDT, expect nights to be cold the entire time.  What worked on the PCT likely wont be warm enough on the CDT.  Upgrading to a warmer bag is smart, and Enlightened Equipment makes beautiful, functional quilts at a very reasonable price. The next quilt I get will definitely be another Enlightened Equipment, they’re just great!

Tarp: Gossamer Gear Q-twin Cuben Tarp – 7 ounces, (8.5 with steaks).

This is a cuben, A-frame style Tarp.  I used it the entire way.  for the weight, this is the best tarp I have used.  Last year, I used a home made Ray Way Tarp, and I loved it.  However, this is a very similar tarp, but half the weight.  Most nights I used the Polycro ground cloth that Gossamer Gear Sells, but further north, where there were bugs and much more rain, I began to use the Mountain Laurel Designs Big bivy, which was roughly 5 ounces.  I don’t think they sell it any longer.  But the tarp and bug bivy combo was very nice!

Sleeping PadNeo Air Xlite torso length – 8 ounces

This is the same pad I used last year, the same one that was ripped by a bear in Shenandoah NP.  It made most of the triple crown with me, likely logging over 6k miles.  It leaks a bit throughout the night, and I have recently upgraded.  But it was a boss, and got me through so many miles!

Other than that, my gear was mostly similar to that of the previous year, outside of one big thing – Rain Gear.  The CDT rains like none other; it was an every day thing.  I used the OR helios 2 rain jacket.  It was terrible.  It was good for about a day or two, and then was pretty useless after.  Handy Andy’s frogg toggs worked better.  I also had a pair of Montbell Rain Pants, which were excellent.  If I were to go back and do it again, knowing what I know now, I would have gotten a Montbell rain jacket that is Gore-tex, such as this one.

If you have any specific questions on the above, or other items I used, please do not hesitate to leave a question in the comment!

Cheers,

Twinkle

CDT Reflections

My CDT hike is done.  It’s over.  I’m back home in Denver figuring out my plans for the next month and a half, and reminiscing of the good times on the trail.  I feel like the trail, for me, was broken into three sections.

The first section was New Mexico.  I was jazzed up, so excited to break away from the computer screen and just be outside.  It didn’t matter what I was doing, as long as I was out there.  There were sections that were some of the most beautiful hiking I have done.  I enjoyed the boot heel of New Mexico (the first 120 or so miles) immensely.  It was vast, open, and exactly what you would expect a high desert landscape to be.  The views were insane – they stretched for miles, with nothing but flat open desert between mountains far distances away.  I felt alone, saw no one for several days.  I saw more rattlesnakes on the trail than hikers.  I also was crushing big miles in the beginning, something that later became comical as I ended up mowing through New Mexico only to take time off when I got to Colorado, due to late snow storms in the high country.

One of my favorite Landscapes, in the boot heel of New Mexico.

One of my favorite Landscapes, in the boot heel of New Mexico.

In New Mexico, I also got to hike with my life long friend, Badger.  That was such a highlight to my trip, to have a friend be able to join me for two weeks, getting a full taste of a thru hike.  We had a blast together, his knees felt strong (thank goodness), and we got to see some of the most beautiful desert landscapes, including the Cabazon Peak/Deadman Peaks areas just south of Cuba.  Another landscape I adored due to the openness.

Then there’s Colorado, where I did most of this by myself.  I went through the snow on snowshoes, I climbed twelve summits over 14k feet, and I fought through so many cold rains.  I attempted the Nolan’s 14 route, and failed on that.  I really pushed my limits, which was fun.  I also sensed myself needing more than just a trail to walk to stay stimulated.  I needed more, be it pushing large mile days, or pushing myself by getting off trail or getting up high on peaks.  I’m not sure why this happened, I think possibly just walking on trails I felt as though I wasn’t learning as much as I had previously.  Maybe I was plateauing in what I could learn from a skills perspective in that regard, and my mind took me other places.

IMG_2709

High Alpine scenery in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

Then I met up with Andy, which brings me to what I view as the third and final leg of the trip. I’ve never hiked with anyone like Andy.  I consider myself a strong hiker.  No superstar, but I can climb fast, I have good stamina, and I can churn out big days consecutively.  But Andy, the dudes on a whole other level.  On our first full day, we faced some of the hardest terrain.  Steep ups and downs, and we busted out just shy of 40 miles.  The next day, we did it all over again.  And again and again until we reached south pass city, at the gateway of the winds.  We were happy to be there, finally another highlight.  My mind was becoming a bit jaded.  Colorado hiking was exciting, the views were immense, and then we went to some pretty boring landscape for hundreds of miles.  The hiking was easy, and some people LOVE easy hiking, easy outweighs beauty for many.  At times its nice, but man, when the only challenge is fighting boredom, it gets old after a day or two.  I wanted mountains, challenging climbs, and new amazing scenery.  Andy was getting in the same mind set. I described the rest in the previous post, and described how we totally changed up our hike, did things that excited us and challenged us, and in turn didn’t complete a traditional ‘thruhike’ of the CDT.

IMG_3617

Climbing the Grand was a true highlight of the trip

More High Alpine awesomeness that I had so much trouble walking past.

More High Alpine awesomeness that I had so much trouble walking past.

So what now?  Well I started by climbing Capital peak on the first day I was back home in Denver.  It’s regarded as the hardest 14er in the state.  I did that with my 2 mountaineering buddies Dan and Brandon.  Here’s a few photos from this:

The Knife's Edge on Capital.  Not a 'hiking' knife edge that is a wide footpath, but an actual corner of the rock.  Do not fall here ;)

The Knife’s Edge on Capital. Not a ‘hiking’ knife edge that is a wide footpath, but an actual corner of the rock. Do not fall here😉

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

We took the ridge proper to the summit.  A pretty long, exposed ridge, low class 5.

We took the ridge proper to the summit. A pretty long, exposed ridge, low class 5.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

Here’s a video of the knifes edge from my friends:

Now, I head out East!

The Bob, Glacier on fire, and a Re-Route to the Canadian Rockies

As I mentioned in my previous post, Andy and I decided to become ‘highlight hikers’ through Montana, hitting sections no where near the CDT, and some sections of the CDT.  One section we didn’t want to miss was the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  We had heard many good things, especially about the Chinese Wall.

Going Northbound on the CDT, the trail takes you under the Chinese wall for nine miles. After a mile or two, we saw a goat path and a weakness in the wall.  We decided to go for it, as we already were getting tired of just walking under it. On mountains, not under and around.  With a few easy moves we were on the top of the wall, and were greeted with amazing views into the swan mountains and beyond.  The rocks were beautiful, and staying on the walls ridge was really a lot of fun.

Had to throw in this picture. Andy sewing my shorts. Thanks Handy Andy, you're a real pal!

Had to throw in this picture. Andy sewing my shorts. Thanks Handy Andy, you’re a real pal!

Some of the climbing to get up to the wall. I think this makes it look a bit harder than it actually was. It's pretty easy to get up to.

Some of the climbing to get up to the wall. I think this makes it look a bit harder than it actually was. It’s pretty easy to get up to.

Some views on the wall. In my opinion, much more interesting than being underneath it!

Some views on the wall. In my opinion, much more interesting than being underneath it!

The Chinese Wall

The Chinese Wall

Hiker Meng on the Wall

Hiker Meng on the Wall

On the wall

On the wall

Dean Lake

Dean Lake

Dean Lake

Dean Lake

After the Chinese Wall, we reached Dean Lake, which was really quite spectacular, with Pentagon Peak above.  After this, the trail took us down several valleys and kept us low, in the woods.  We were sad, so we smashed some ~40 mile days to get to Glacier National Park.  However, on our way out of the Bob, we passed two backcountry rangers.  We told them where we had come from, and they informed us that those areas were now closing up as several fires were springing up in those areas.  We were not surprised, as the previous day or two had been increasingly smoky.  We didn’t attempt any peaks as it was so smoky and hazy that it hurt your lungs going up.  The rangers seemed skeptical of where we came from, and I can see why, it got really, really nasty.  To the point where you could hardly see the mountains you were under.  They told us the fires in Glacier were unfortunately getting worse, bigger, and more of them. Shoot!

We hustled to glacier, and realized we could barely see anything in there.  At the backcountry office we were told that we would not be able to hike through the park, nearly all of the trails were closed.  Awesome.  We could hike the road to one of the border patrol areas. Nope, if we’re not connecting a footpath, theres no way we’re doing roads.  So we went with plan B, and rented a car for 5 days and headed up to the Canadian Rockies. A terrible option, I know.  But it was either that or sit on our hands in a fire…

I could go on, and on, and on about the Canadian Rockies.  I’ve heard from so many people that they’re the most beautiful mountains in North America. That’s all opinion, but still, they must be nice.  And hot damn, were they ever!  Rather than rattle off about them, I’ll simply tell you what we did, and let the pictures do the talking.

Day 1. Tourists to Upper Falls, Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise.  Drive to Wilson Creek Trailhead in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Day 2. Hike into Mount Assiniboine Lodge, circle lake Magog, socialize with others in the area

Day 3. Climb Nub Mountain, Circle around the large Assiniboine Cluster back to our car, completing the Mount Assiniboine Circuit

Day 4. Climb Mount Temple above Moraine Lake. Hang out with Hiker trash friends who live in Banff and graciously take us in for a night.  We ride Tandems bikes, get ice cream, and learn much about the area.

Day 5. Drive home

Pictures:

Morning Mist.  Lake Magog and Mt. Assiniboine

Morning Mist. Lake Magog and Mt. Assiniboine

Reflections of Assiniboine in Lake Magog

Reflections of Assiniboine in Lake Magog

A beautiful lake on the Assiniboine Circuit.

A beautiful lake on the Assiniboine Circuit.

More mountains and beautiful Valleys on the Assiniboine Circuit

More mountains and beautiful Valleys on the Assiniboine Circuit

Assiniboine Circuit

Assiniboine Circuit

Sunburst Lake

Sunburst Lake

Climbing the Nub, views back of Sunburst & Magog Lakes, and Assiniboine

Climbing the Nub, views back of Sunburst & Magog Lakes, and Assiniboine

Andy got this photo of me with Mt. Assiniboine on Sunburst Lake

Andy got this photo of me with Mt. Assiniboine on Sunburst Lake

Wildflowers, Lake Magog, Assiniboine

Wildflowers, Lake Magog, Assiniboine

Handy Andy in the morning with Lake Magog and Assiniboine

Handy Andy in the morning with Lake Magog and Assiniboine

Standing tall on the way down from Nub Peak.  This view was my favorite of the entire trip.  I couldn't help but feel so lucky to be here.

Standing tall on the way down from Nub Peak. This view was my favorite of the entire trip. I couldn’t help but feel so lucky to be here.

On the way up Temple Peak.

On the way up Temple Peak.

On the way up Temple Peak.

On the way up Temple Peak.

On the way up Temple Peak.

On the way up Temple Peak.

Yeah, we rode this around town :)

Yeah, we rode this around town🙂

Huge shout out to Keith, Leslie and Jan.  We had such a blast in Banff with Y'all!

Huge shout out to Keith, Leslie and Jan. We had such a blast in Banff with Y’all!

Andy on the way up Mount Temple

Andy on the way up Mount Temple

The nice cliffs on Mount Temple.  Moraine Lake Below

The nice cliffs on Mount Temple. Moraine Lake Below

Moraine Lake from Mount Temple

Moraine Lake from Mount Temple

Andy going down Mount Temple

Andy going down Mount Temple

Buds

Buds

Best Buds!

Best Buds!

Andy on the way up Mount Temple

Andy on the way up Mount Temple

Being a creep in the tunnel.  We don't look, or smell, like normal tourists

Being a creep in the tunnel. We don’t look, or smell, like normal tourists

Castle Peaks

Castle Peaks

Lower Falls

Lower Falls

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Lake Louise.

Lake Louise.

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

The Beartooth Mountains, Montana – A hidden Gem!

The Wind River Range, the Teton Crest Trail, Climbing the Grand.  It was all so epic, so beautiful, such a highlight.  Andy and I were on a high after climbing the Grand.  It was our most exciting day on trail, no doubt.  I loved it, felt challenged, felt like I was learning, and doing something that really got me jazzed.  I could tell Andy felt the same way.

“Dude, I don’t know if I can go back to walking in the woods on forest service roads…” I said to him.

“There’s no way.” he responded

And so it was, our time of staying ‘true to the thru’ was done.  We both decided to drop the connected footpath from Mexico to Canada.  There were mixed emotions with this.  I felt liberated, free from doing something that no longer inspired me, and no longer challenged me like it used to (outside of the challenge of doing something you weren’t invested in any longer). On the other hand, I had a feeling that I was quitting something that I initially had set my mind to do.  But, things change and your inspiration changes, and walking true Continental Divide Trail needed to take a back seat while I explored new mountains and areas.  It’s just what I wanted to do.

Now, that’s not to say the CDT in Montana and Idaho are boring and not worth doing.  That is NOT the case by any means. I have never hiked that section of trail, so I have no way of knowing. Many people love that section, find it beautiful, and I’m sure its extremely rewarding.  It also connects a footpath, and shows persistence.  That’s awesome.  However, it did not excite me.  The pictures I saw didn’t excite me, and most of all, the thought of hiking below mountains for another month sounded really, really hard.  Emotionally and mentally, I was done walking beneath them, or walking in a forest with no views. I was done putting my head down to plow through sections that weren’t as pretty as others. I wanted to be up high climbing peaks, doing my own routes, and seeing ‘highlight’ areas that interested me.  Yeah, I dropped the badassery of being a true ‘thru hiker’ to become, as John Z dubbed it, a ‘highlight hiker’.  He’s pretty spot on with that.

“So, where to first?” I asked Handy Andy.

“Yellowstone.  Rafiki said really good things about the Gallatin Mountains as well.” he responded.

So the two of us did some research, and came up with a plan.  We would hike much of the Greater Yellowstone Arc.  We would do the Bechler River Trail, do Lamar Valley, and do much of the northern section of the park.  Now, I’m going to be a complete hiking snob here.  Please don’t get offended, as this is all just my opinion.  Yellowstone was a complete letdown.  Maybe it was the fact that we had just finished the most beautiful hiking of the trip in the Wind River Range and the Tetons.  Maybe it was the expectation that we were going to only get highlights like that the rest of the way. Or maybe it’s the fact that we both love mountains the most, and frankly, Yellowstone is lacking in that regard.  However, there were some really cool highlights, like seeing a large Grizzly Bear approach us and get within 30 feet of us.  That was neat.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1613.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1613.

Yellowstones Geothermal activity in Mammoth Hot Springs.

Yellowstones Geothermal activity in Mammoth Hot Springs.

Constant Grizzly Tracks in Yellowsone. Constantly letting you know that you're not the top of the food chain out here. I really enjoyed the wild feel of that.

Constant Grizzly Tracks in Yellowsone. Constantly letting you know that you’re not the top of the food chain out here. I really enjoyed the wild feel of that.

A great grey owl. This bird was almost three feet tall. It's the largest owl in the world by length. I spotted it far away and wondered what it was, so I went across the valley and got pretty close before he flew away. This was the highlight, even above seeing a grizzly, for me in Yellowstone. What a beautiful animal!

A great grey owl. This bird was almost three feet tall. It’s the largest owl in the world by length. I spotted it far away and wondered what it was, so I went across the valley and got pretty close before he flew away. This was the highlight, even above seeing a grizzly, for me in Yellowstone. What a beautiful animal!

One of the falls on the Bechler River Trail

One of the falls on the Bechler River Trail

I wanted to stay here all day.

I wanted to stay here all day.

Handy Andy chills in the warm pools where the hot springs water mixes with the icy river. It was a perfect Bath!

Handy Andy chills in the warm pools where the hot springs water mixes with the icy river. It was a perfect Bath!

Extremophile in Yellowstone caused by the geothermal waters.

Extremophile in Yellowstone caused by the geothermal waters.

The rare Hawaiian Buffalo!

The rare Hawaiian Buffalo!

This was a beautiful section of Lamar Valley. Reminded me of the photo's I've seen of Alaska.

This was a beautiful section of Lamar Valley. Reminded me of the photo’s I’ve seen of Alaska.

Whoa there Grizz!

Whoa there Grizz!

So, after some unspectacular hiking in the Park, we hitched to Cooke City, Montana, just 4 miles outside of the park in southern Montana.  We planned to hike the ‘beaten path’ trail, per Dirtmongers recommendation.  This trail is 26 miles, so we planned to loop it with a mix of trail and off trail hiking.

Now, I have never heard of the Beartooth Mountains.  Maybe it’s more well known that I lead on.  But for me, it was totally new and unheard of.  I didn’t know what to expect, outside of a few Jackson locals who raved about it, and Rafiki giving it his good word.  So Andy and I set out for a several day jaunt to see what this relatively small mountain range had to offer.

Within the first 10 miles, we realized we made the right decision.  Large granite walls reflected in lake after lake.  There was so much water, everywhere. As we made our way further and up in elevation, we noticed the jagged edges of the mountains.  Granite Peak lies in this range, the tallest mountain in all of Montana at just under 13k feet.  It’s widely considered, along with Gannet Peak, the hardest non-glaciated state high point.  These mountains are no joke!  But, unlike other granite ranges that I’ve visited, many of these wild cliffs sprung up to huge plateaus that cliffed out on both ends.

Reflections up high in the Beartooth Mountains

Reflections up high in the Beartooth Mountains

Pink Indian Paintbrush

Pink Indian Paintbrush

Handy Andy

Handy Andy

Rainbow Lake

Rainbow Lake

Handy Andy walks on the 'beaten path' trail. I highly recommend this trail!

Handy Andy walks on the ‘beaten path’ trail. I highly recommend this trail!

After rising up and over the pass, we were greeted with icy turquois glaciated lakes and a huge granite cliff canyon down to east rosebud lake.  Andy and I were SO impressed with this area.  At every turn we were greeted with a new, even more epic view.

Walking alongside Rainbow Lake

Walking alongside Rainbow Lake

The epic canyon down to Rosebud Lake.

The epic canyon down to Rosebud Lake.

Just one of many stunning areas on the beaten path.

Just one of many stunning areas on the beaten path.

Off trail, making our own way.

Off trail, making our own way.

The beautiful Crow Lake

The beautiful Crow Lake

From Here, Handy Andy and I decided to make our own route, connecting several trail and areas by going off trail and over unnamed passes and peaks.  The highlight was a summit of Silver Run Peak, a nice easy plateau to roam around boulder hopping around to wherever we pleased.  We planned to also hit white tail mountain, but the weather forced us to abandon that one.

IMG_3741

The Beartooth mountains are SO good!

The Beartooth mountains are SO good!

Serious relief right there

Serious relief right there

On a large Plateau over 11k feet in the beartooths

On a large Plateau over 11k feet in the beartooths

IMG_3757

Just another gorgeous pass. You can see the large plateau across the deep valley.

Just another gorgeous pass. You can see the large plateau across the deep valley.

On top of Silver Run Mountain in the Beartooth Mountains of Southern Montana. Go here. Explore. Become a part of the mountains, even if just for a brief moment. It'll stay with you forever.

On top of Silver Run Mountain in the Beartooth Mountains of Southern Montana. Go here. Explore. Become a part of the mountains, even if just for a brief moment. It’ll stay with you forever.

Exploring plateaus. Can you spot me?

Exploring plateaus. Can you spot me?

Off trail in the Beartooths ith Handy Andy.

Off trail in the Beartooths ith Handy Andy.

Ahhh!!!

Ahhh!!!

Getting after it in the Beartooths!

Getting after it in the Beartooths!

After all of our adventuring, we headed into Red Lodge, Montana.  This town had hands down the best gear / outdoor store I’ve seen on all of the long trails.  There were experienced guides, all of the maps you could ever need, and a wealth of knowledge from their employees.  I purchased several high detail maps of the area.  I’m coming back here, soon, and I plan to put together a gnarly route through the mountains so that I can see everything I want to see.  There was just so much here, jam packed in these mountains.  I talked with a local guide who lives in Red Lodge in the summer guiding and working at the gear store, and in Nepal in the winter guiding on the tallest peaks on the planet.  I picked his brain about routes, mountains, and areas to make sure I hit, and he gave me a lot of good info.

“There’s a reason I spend half my time here as opposed to all in Nepal.” He told me.  “It’s the best kept secret in the lower 48.”

I told him of my plan to blog about it, and my plan to make my own route through the area.

“I hope no one reads your blog.” he responded, with a sly grin.

The Beartooth Mountains.  Don’t just take my word, or rely on my pictures of the endless beauty here.  Take a week off and go see it for yourself!

Our journey up, over, and around the Grand Tetons

When Grace and I got out of the Winds, we took a day to play tourists and rest after what were some very big hiking days for someone who isn’t a thru-hiker. We rode the tram at Jackson hole ski resort, we visited Mormon row, and went to see the buffalo. We had planned to meet handy Andy, and our friend we had been hiking with, Rafiki, and then restart the trail from there. I wasn’t to pleased with this route, especially after seeing the Tetons. I wanted to hike here. I wanted to continue the highlight reel. I didn’t want to go back to forest service roads in the woods. 

 Not a bad view to wake up to. Miss this southern belle.   
Mmormon Row. Tourists, we are. 

    The Tetons, with the Grand in the middle. 
I got a text in the evening from Handy Andy, “we’re coming to Jackson. We’re doing the Teton Crest Trail.”  I was pumped, so excited! 

We headed to McDonald’s, Rafiki, Andy and I, and I said my goodbyes to Grace. The woman who drove us here, Nancy, gave us the number of her boyfriend, John, who used to work for a guiding company in town. He has hiked the Teton crest trail several times and could give us some good beta. Before we have the chance to organize and call, he’s over at McDonald’s giving us all of the details we need to head out. He invited us to their house for dinner, we can’t say no. How nice is that? 

At dinner, John grilled several steaks, and Rafiki, Andy and I give an ultralight gear show to Nancy. She’s interested in the PCT, and very interested in how we have such small packs. Us hikers laugh as we set up our tarps and show off our sleeping systems and packs. Just prior, we were laughing at ourselves for comparing hiking poles, deciding which ones were best. Mine were the lightest. I win. They didn’t agree. We ended up just laughing hard at the situation. Three grown men in Jackson debating the merits of weight to feature ratio for trekking poles. There’s something comically off about that. We’re aware. 

  The ultralight OR show😉 photo from Nancy. 

As we mingle over dinner, we talk more and more about the Grand. The highest Teton, at 13,770 feet. John is a wealth of knowledge on it, and he tells us everything we need to know. It’s a technical climb, ropes required, and it’s likely to get iced over that night wth a big storm coming through. The more we talk, the more I want to climb it, and the less likely it seems that it will work out. It would take a lot of good fortune. 

Just before dark, John drives us out to Teton Pass. A large storm is rolling in, so the three of us set up camp not far from the trailhead. Soon after, it starts raining… Hard!

We wake up to a frozen ice layer on our shelters. I pack up my icy things and we take off. The first 5 or so miles of the trail are very uncomfortable. The trail up to the crest is extremely overgrown, and all the plants are coated in ice.  It cuts up our legs, leaving blood and ice slowly making their way to our feet, which are completely frozen. After much cursing, we make it out of that mess and to the pass, to the TCT. 

Trail, finally! We hike several more miles before reaching an open field with enough sunshine to dry our gear. We yard sale, the cold wind blowing dry our gear. The surrounding peaks are dusted with snow and surround us in this bed of vibrant flowers. It’s a pretty magical sight, and we decide it was worth the uncomfortable climb. 

 

right where we dried our gear. The flowers were that good!

  

endless flowers and dusted peaks

  

Columbine and other flowers on the teton crst trail

 
After drying out we head up to Marion lake, a beautiful alpine lake. Rafiki has hiked the trail before, and tells us that after Marion lake, it’s constant highlights. And he isn’t kidding! 

 

marion lake

  

the teton uprise containig the south, middle, and The Grand as viewed from the TCT

  

rafiki about to get his fish on as andy and i watch. we had a nice fish feast in the winds thet Rafiki caught with his tenkara rod

  

epic goodness on the teton crest trail

 
We hike many more miles, getting amazing views of the Tetons from the southwest, along with Death canyon, and death canyon shelf, which the TCT traverses. We hike in wonder, pointing out cool geological features and nice lighting in different places. It’s just beautiful. Thank goodness we did this. How could you hike so close and not want to see this?! Tetons!!!

We end the day at sunset lake in the Alaska basin. This area is technically out of the national park, and as such we do not need backcountry permits. It’s a nice, easy 22 mile day, yet it took us all day! It was too beautiful to crush through. Too many places to stop in wonder. 

We sit on a shelf overlooking the lake and death canyon shelf. I turn on the boom box from my fanny pack, and we rock out to some Miley Cyrus and old raggae tunes. We talk about life, rafikis life. He used to be in a punk rock band, had hair half way down his back, and at one point had pink hair. Andy and I can’t stop laughing. It’s so different from what we would ever expect, and he has pictures to prove it. They’re pure gold. We all set up cowboy camp on the rocky outcropping above the lake. What a wonderful day!

 

sunset lake from our nice perch

  

sunrise on sunset lake from mthe comfort of my quilt🙂

  

the south, middle, and grand cast their shadows on the surrounding rocks

 
The next morning we rise late and get headed to hurricane pass. The views of the Tetons ever so grand. We pass by schoolroom glacier,  and a nice morain lake soon we’re headed down cascade canyon, and we run into several other campers for the first time in the day. 

Andy and I round a corner, and he abruptly stops. 

“Bear.” He says quietly, “Cubs!”

We see two cubs wrestling around before the momma bear scurries them away after spotting us. We round the corner after then, being very careful to give them enough room. We watch them wrestle some more on the trail before disappearing into the woods. They’re so fluffy, so small, so cute! 

 

though not great, this is the best shot i got of the cubs on the trail

  

above Cascade Canyon

  

Rafiki at hurricane pass

  

school room glacier and the lake below. Tetons front and center🙂

 
We see a bull moose up north cascade canyon, and the three of us take a break at lake solitude, with epic views of The Grand. It’s so beautiful here! 

The three of us get to pint brush divide after a few thousand feet of climbing, and Andy and I decide to climb the nearest peak. We say by to Rafiki, as he’s trying to get back to the CDT today, and we are in no rush. The time with him was great! Andy and I get to the summit, amazing views of the grand, and come to find out that john has put our names on the message board as looking for a climbing partner with a rope to do the grand tomorrow. Someone has already contacted him interested. John has harnesses for us, and other gear we’ll need. Everything but a rope. He plans to climb with us as well! 

On top of all of this, John reserved us bunks at the climbers ranch below the grand. How epic is that? A stranger, literally going above and beyond to help make the grand more than just a pipe dream for us hikers. Andy and I are SO excited. We had come to the conclusion that the grand just liked wasn’t going to happen this time around, with such little planning on our part. But John, John helped us out! 

We race down paintbrush canyon, with its beautiful lakes and grand view of the valley below. What a great day! 

 

resting near lake solitude

  

Andy and the Grand

  

andy calls me flower boy

  

Rafiki and the Grand. I just love the look of that mountain!

  

The Grand as viewed mear Paintbrush Divide

 
We meet Brian at the string lakes trailhead. He’s 28, from Boulder Colorado, and he’s 5’7″ and 140 pounds. We’re basically the same person. He’s an avid climber, super nice guy, and he’s game to give the Grand a go with us tomorrow. We meet John for Pizza in Moose, and set a plan for the following day. We’ll wake up at 2am, and be hiking by 3. We’ll take just one rope, which Andy will carry up. I will carry up all of the other gear. It’s the only way Andy and I can be helpful / by acting as Sherpas for john and Brian, though they still insist on carrying their own thermals and some gear. 

And you, Brian and I head back to the climbers ranch, get a solid 3 hours of sleep, and meet john at the trailhead at 3am. 

It’s 7,500 feet of gain from the trailhead to the summit. That’s a lot. Add in that it’s technical for a few thousand of those feet, and you’re in for a long day!

We hike by headlamp above treeline, and before we know I, we’re at the lower saddle where many groups are camped, including the exum mountain guides. From here, it’s a class three scramble to the upper saddle. It’s fun, challenging, and goes by fairly quickly. 

 

alpenglow on the mountains as we climb to the lower saddle

  

nice big glacier on the middle teton, viewed on the way to the lower saddle

  

climbing to the lower saddle

  

  

the upper saddle in the middle above from the lower saddle

  

almost to the upper saddle, lookin back at the lower saddle and the middle teton

  

handy andy on the climb to the upper saddle


Once we get to thrower saddle we rope up and traverse the belly roll, a section of exposed, 2,000 foot drop that you traverse across. Though not technically difficult, if you slip and fall, you’re dead. Ahh, back climbing  it feels so good, to be exposed and have to really focus on what you’re doing. Often times I get bored of just walking. I need something to excite me, to stimulate me. Climbing sure does that! 

just abiut to start the belly roll. exposure doesnt scare me!!! Ok, yeah, it actually does. just got to dial it back🙂

andy entering the belly roll. thats a long ways down!

NERDZ

brian, our fearless leader

just before the belly roll

john, with cascade canyon behind hik. it was so cold and shaded on our route up

After the belly roll, it’s a series of chimneys, or narrow, vertical rock bands. They’re icy from a few nights prior, and it makes the footholds and hand holds interesting. Some sections get w bit tricky due to the ice and exposure, but we take our tike, and no one falls at all. Brian does a wonder duo job leading U.S. Up the mountain, and John cleans up his tools in the back. Andy and I just climb. We’re the n00bs here. 

After several weird moves we make it to the summit. It’s warm, very little wind, and after a few minutes we have it all to ourselves.  It’s beautiful out here. The relief is much more dramatic than the mountains in Colorado. Huge lakes all around. 

We dis it’s, we safely climbed the grand thanks to John and Brian. After an hour or so we descend down down down to the car. It takes a series of rappelling, long scrambling, and then miles of trail walking back to the car. 

the second rapell down to the upper saddle

rapelling down the Grand

so happy to be here!

feeling on too of the world. Absolute highlight of the trip so far!

looking south feom the summit

Jenny lake below

view east from the summit

nice views


To cap off the night, we met up with the East family in Jackson after getting down. The east family trail Angeles us just north of the smokey mountains in North Carolina on the Appalachian trail last year. They’re spending a week exploring Yellowstone and the Tetons as a family. Larry and nancy are just amazing peso ole and they get their three children outside so much. It’s amazing, and I aspire to be just like that when I have children of my own. 

 

Brian, myself and Andy with the East children who were about to go hike the teton crest trail

 
    

It was such an amazing few days in grand Teton national park. The best time of the trip, coupled with the winds. I need to give big thanks to Nancy, john, Brian, and nancy and Larry east for making this such an incredible visit! Y’all made this possible, so thank you!!!

After finishing the grand, Andy and I decided to look into the CDT a little bit more. With all this epic trail and mountains, wefelt as though we couldn’t handle anymore road walking. We looked at the route through yellowstone, no real highlights besides the touristy old faithful. I had heard so much about the Lamar valley and bechler canyon. Electric peak! I wanted to hit those. Not just stroll through and see the forested sections of the park. Andy felt the same way. So we have decided to make the CDT our own experience. We’re doing our miles in yellowstone, up in the beartooths mountains, and in the gallatin range. Many could look down on this, say it’s not the divide it’s cheating. But I want to see highlights, I want to climb peak season, and see gnarly mountain ranges. Not that the CDT in Montana and Idaho doesn’t do this, but it has too much in between to excite us at this point. So we’re doing our own routes, not because we’re better, or above i, but because it’s what will excite us and keep us focused and having a good time. Already we saw a grizzly in Yellowstone. How neat is that?!  

 

goodbye, tetons!

  

Grizzly in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone

 

The Mighty Wyoming

I met up with Handy Andy near Grand Lake, Colorado. We planned to hike to Canada together. We had both been solo hiking, doing large sections of the trail completely solo, and doing many alternate routes to switch things up. I had met Andy back on the PCT. He was passing the group I was with, hiking the trail in 90 days. Pretty amazing for a first thru hike. He went on to set the fastest known time (FKT) on the John Muir Trail, hiking 220 miles in 3 days and 10 hours. The boy can hike. I thought I could hike, until I tried keeping up with him for more than a few days. Not only is he a an extremely strong hiker, he is so fine tuned. He mixes malto while walking. He purifies his water while walking. He checks maps and navigates while walking. He texts his girlfriend while walking. The dude has an internal motor stronger than any I’ve seen. He needs no time off. He wants no time off. And I signed on to chase him all around these mountains, trying my best to keep up! 

It’s been a great challenge for me. To start, we were waking up at 4:30 am every morning and getting at least 20 in before noon, regardless of the difficulty of the trail. We consistently were pulling 35-40 miles a day through Colorado and into central Wyoming. It was fun, I was keeping up. A lot of these areas were boring, or maybe not the most scenic is a better way to put it. So we smashed through. Which was awesome. Then we hit the wind River range. 

The mighty winds. I had heard from my good friend cactus in Denver that the winds were his favorite range. He went on and on about how jagged the peaks were, and how remote the valleys are. This was months ago, in the winter, and I had mostly forgotten about what he had said before I entered. After a week or so of monotonous miles in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming, this place totally woke us up. 

Out of the great divide basin, the winds rise steeply. Andy and I dialed back the miles and began hitting side peaks and sinking around a lot with off trail climbs and lakes we wanted to see. It was like a breath of fresh air to be back in epic mountains, having freedom to climb peaks, explore hidden lakes, and get off trail a bit here and there. It was exciting. The miles were still pretty easy too, so we were able to see a lot! 

My girlfriend Grace came too, which was fantastic. Though not an experienced backpacker, she did w 25 mile day including knapsack col. I was super impressed! Here are some photo highlights from these sections: 

 Sunset in the basin. This was a beautiful night :)  
  Handy Andy at sunset in the basin  
It was like this for about 150 miles. 

  Andy in the great divide basin.   
 They make another appearance!

 Handy Mandy in the Zirkel Wilderness. There was still lots of snow.   
Malarkey, myself and handy Andy enter Wyoming!

  badgers! We saw badgers!!  
Sunrise on forest service road 311. 

   
    
  A nice big moose in grand lake, Colorado. We saw 16 moose in one day here. I’ve now seen 38 on this trip! So many moose! 
And here are the winds! 

   
    
    
    
 Handy Andy hikes in the winds. Somewhere south of the cirque of the towers

 

   

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

If you made it this far, you can see that the winds were beautiful. Hands down, my favorite mountain range I’ve travelled through to date. Just beautiful!  

Testing out the Gossamer Gear Pilgrim Backpack

It has been a long time since I last blogged. Currently, I’m sitting in Yellowstone, nearly to Montana. Unlike last year, where I cruised easy miles and took many zeros, I’ve been pushing myself consistently every day out here. I’ve been hiking with handy Andy, and we’re determined to do and see as much as possible in the time we have; climbing side peaks, exploring canyons, mountains, and many areas the CDT misses. We’ve been pushing over 30 every day, much times well over that, and I get into bed every night completely exhausted. As such, I haven’t had neither the time, nor the creative energy to blog. Instead, I have focused all of my energy on the present, and making the most of this adventure. But trust me, I’ll catch up once I’m off trail! 

That being said, I recently got a chance to try out Gossamer Gears newest backpack, the 36 liter, roll top Pilgrim. I used it for over 250 miles, and really loved the functionality of the backpack. 

  Handy Andy tries the Gossamer Gear Pilgrim for a few miles to see what he thinks of it. He loved it, and said he wished he he it in 2014 on the PCT, as his gear would have been perfect for it as he was transitioning to a frameless backpack. 
The Pilgrim is a bit different than the other backpacks in Gossamer Gears lineup in that it features a roll top, much the same as the Murmur, rather than their over the top design on the kumo, gorilla, and mariposa backpacks. I really enjoyed this function, as it allowed me to pack a bit larger load than I’m used to using in the Kumo and pack the load down tighter. 

Another function of the Pilgrim that was noticeably different was the fixed hip belts with pockets. This is a unique design for a frameless backpack. Initially, I was skeptical, as I normally backpack without hipbelts using the Kumo, another frameless backpack. However, after taking out a large load with four days of food and three liters of water, I began to really appreciate the stability and load carrying capabilities that the hipbelts offer. Although I prefer not having hipbelts, I often times out of town wish I had hipbelts to help distribute the heavy load more evenly.  The hip belts are well cushioned, and have nice, large pockets to hold phones, snacks, maps, and anything else you may need while on the move. 

  The Pilgrim makes an appearance near Island lake in the Wind River Range, wth an especially cute model to show it off. 

One of the features that I really enjoyed is the large back mesh pocket. More than any pack I have had before, this mesh pocket is both durable and very, very large. I was able to fit all of my food for a day, my rain gear (a must have on the CDT) and maps, funnel, toiletry bag and more all in that pocket. This allowed me to never have to dig into my bag during the day, which saved me much time on the trail. 

More than anything, I loved the comfort of the backpack. Wether I had a larger load with food and water for the great divide basin in southern Wyoming or I had very little food or water going into towns, the backpack carried it comfortably between the hipbelts, wide shoulder straps, and the sitlite pad that not only pads your back but acts as a sort of frame. 

After using the Pilgrim for 250 miles, I came away very impressed. If you are considering going frameless, yet want a backpack that can still handle a heavier load comfortably for the first day out of town, this is the perfect pack to help you transition to this more ultralight style. I will surely be using this pack for further backpacking trips, summit hikes, and even day hikes where I may need to bring big coats. It’s a well designed, comfortable, do it all backpack. 

  The Pilgrim, with drying socks and a full outer mesh pocket high in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.