For an invigorating week in August, 2007, a crew from Wilkes County hiked all over Grand Teton National Park. Our host and trip leader was Jim Smoak. Also along were Chuck Forester, Jerry Moore, Bob Laney, John Willardson and Bob Boettger.
We stayed at Jim and Luci Smoak’s cabin in Jackson Hole, WY, located on the eastern bank of the Snake River. They live in a private enclave adjacent to the Grand Teton National Park with some other residents that you may have heard of. One neighbor is Yvon Chouinard, the owner of Patagonia Company; another neighbor is the owner of Forbes Magazine. While we were there, Vice President Dick Cheney came for a vacation at his cabin and Alan Greenspan conducted an economic summit meeting of world leaders, both just a few miles away.
Also visiting with us while we were at the Smoak's place were Pat and Dan Bumgarner. They swung through north west Wyoming on their way home driving to and from Alaska.
We hiked most days in the Park and the Gros Ventre Wilderness. And I really mean hiking. We had several day trips over 12 miles and over 10,000 feet. One day Jim strung together a day hike that covered String Lake, Paintbrush Canyon, Paintbrush Divide, Lake Solitude, Cascade Canyon and Jenny Lake. For most persons, that would be a two or three day backpacking trip. My feet, ankles and legs were sore for a week afterwards. Despite having done several 50 Milers in my Boy Scout days, this trip was probably the most I have hiked in a week in my life. It was certainly the most altitude I had gone up and down. The week total was somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 miles and 20,000 feet altitude gained and lost.
We also fished several times in the Snake River, which passes through Jim’s property. There were lots of pretty cutthroat and brown trout. This is big water. I have never fished such heavy current before, except one time a few years ago on the Green River in south west Wyoming, but the Snake is clearer and cleaner…and has fewer mosquitoes.
The first day we took a relatively casual six mile loop hike around Jenny Lake with no altitude gain. This trip was a warm up and a taste of things to come.
The next day we rode the Jackson Hole Ski Resort gondola to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, at 10,500 feet, and hiked down the west side of the mountain. We came out Granite Canyon to the Jackson Hole Valley floor. The daily total was 12 miles and 4,000 feet altitude loss. The scenery was stunning. From the peak we could see the broad plain of the Jackson Hole floor. All around were many mountains larger than anything east of the Mississippi River.
We spotted beaucoup wildlife, like elk, mule deer, black bear scat and paw prints, antelope, moose (very close – about 20 feet away), eagle, hawk, owl, black squirrel, pikas making grass hay, marmots, chipmunks eating nuts, raven, osprey, trout and buffalo.
The third day we hiked the Amphitheater Lake Trail. It was a 10 miles round trip with a 3,000 feet climb topping out at 10,000 feet. The total altitude gain and loss was 6,000 feet. The trail ended in a cirque with two adjacent lakes fed by glacial melt water and in sight of patches of permanent snow. The cirque was encircled by the mighty spires of the Grand Teton, Disappointment Peak and Teewinot Peak. From there were several unofficial (non-maintained) trails up the peaks taken by rock climbers. This is a true alpine experience without the climbing ropes and crampons.
Then we took a rest day, when some of us fished the Snake River - Jim, Jerry and me. The main channel was too much for me and I did not know how to fish it. I had better luck on the small side channels, which wound through fallen trees, cut banks and dense brush. The best way to get to the good holes was to walk across the creeks over logs downed by beavers. I caught and released maybe 10 medium size brook trout.
At the beginning of one of the hikes, I learned something about the local flora. I had to stop beside the trail to “do number two” and pulled up some nearby grass for toilet paper. After grabbing several handfuls, I felt a sharp stinging in my fingers and saw blood dripping across my palm. That particular kind of grass has some kind of razor sharp blades growing among its roots. Who knew? Well, I do, now.
The fifth day we started at String Lake and hiked Paintbrush Canyon. It is named for the beautiful Indian paintbrush flowers growing wild there. At the higher altitudes were plenty of marmots and pikas. Jerry and I did a 10 mile, 2,000 feet altitude gain, out and back trip, topping out at 9,000 feet. The other hikers were joined by our former Wilkesboro St. Paul’s Episcopal Church minster Ken Asel. They kept going over Paintbrush Divide, by Lake Solitude, down Cascade Canyon and out at Jenny Lake, for a total of 16 miles and 4,000 feet altitude gain (total 8,000 feet gain and loss). Near the top of the divide, the longer hikers had to cross a snow field with great exposure. I slip of the boot meant a steep slide down hundreds of feet to likely injury among the rocks.
The next day was another rest day for fishing in the Snake River. To get to smaller water I hiked away from the main trails and crossed some channels on logs to fish the smaller holes. I used only spinners on a small spinning rod and reel. It was great fishing – I caught about 8 cutthroat and brown trout. The biggest fish was about 12 inches. Nearby were some fish carcasses that had been eaten by eagles or osprey.
Day seven was a long hike on an unnamed trail across Jackson Hole valley to the east in the Gros Ventre Range. There were great views of the Tetons to the west, the Gros Ventre River Valley to the east, the Lavender Hills to the north and the Wind River Range to the south.
We all owed Jim a big thank you for our extraordinary introduction to the breadth of the Grand Teton National Park. There is little chance that we could have gotten such a broad, deep and quick introduction to so much back country territory without his leadership. We traveled trails at the north end of the Park, the center, the south end, the lakes and across the valley in the Gros Ventre range. We went high on the mountains, low on the rivers and long into the backcountry. It was a great adventure.