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Posts Tagged ‘Elk’

My alarm went off at 3:30am.  I hit snooze.  The moon, however, had other plans.  Bright and full, it felt like someone stood above my tent with a head lamp.  My alarm went off at 3:40am.  This time I got up, stumbling out of my tent and filled a bowl with granola and almond milk.  As I munched, I pondered the map again.  I wandered over to the area in the dirt where a local rancher sketched another map in the dirt.  He wandered over around 8pm on a four wheeler with two dogs running behind.  I politely declined his offer of firewood telling him I planned to wake up early and hike up Sleeping Indian.  The locals all refer to the mountain as Sleeping Indian because from a lateral view, you can see a naturally carved headdress, a nose, then arms folded over the chest, then the belly down to the knees.  On a map, the summit says “Sheep Mountain” instead due to the amount of bighorn sheep in the area.  He told me to ignore the trail head and hike right next to his fence.  He mentioned that a lot of people get lost and end up hiking up East Minor Creek instead of the ridge.  His map, sketched into the dirt told me not to take the first left or the second left, but the third.

As I finished my granola, I switched the batteries in my headlamp.  While the moon helped significantly, I still would need the headlamp for the dense conifer areas.  Throwing my pack on, I walked over to the fence and began following it at 4am.  Knowing a bear had become too accustomed to humans at a nearby lake, I scanned my surroundings extra carefully.  I found the first left the rancher told me not to take.  That one, I could have figured out having not crossed two creeks yet.

The trail went into a dense conifer section with the fence a little further away and met up with the forest service trail.  Crrrrruuuuunch! EYEBALLS.  I froze, hand on my bear spray.  I watched the eyeballs and the eyeballs watched me, glaring in the light of my headlamp.  It sounded like a deer and the eyeballs were about the height of a deer.  We watched each other for another minute, then I slowly began to pass it.  Not something I felt like thinking about at 4:15 in the morning, but now I felt fully awake.

I hiked on and started to hike down toward the riparian area around East Minor Creek.  I paused noting the loudness of the creek, the thick willows, and the Gros Ventre mud.  The loud creek could muffle the sound of wildlife and the willows could obscure wildlife, not to mention that the riparian areas usually have the most wildlife.  Now, Gros Ventre mud has a mind of its own.  It has the power to stick to your feet like nothing else I have ever encountered.

I proceeded slowly, one hand holding my hiking poles and the other on my bear spray.  No eyeballs.  A log conveniently laid across the creek just like the old rancher said on his map drawn in the dirt.  The trail went up and over a tiny ridge.  On one of the switchbacks, a trail shot off to the left again like the rancher had said.  I figured if people get lost, they probably took that trail because East Minor Creek had two braids.

I continued and plunged down into the second riparian area around West Minor Creek.  The vegetation seemed thicker around this creek and I hiked slowly.  The Gros Ventre Mud became thicker and mushier.  After the creek, the trail showed no human footprints — only ungulate footprints (moose, elk, deer).  Great.  Still no more eyeballs.

I went upward again and crossed a very small creek.  I still saw no human footprints.  Then right around where I thought the junction should take off, the trail forked.  No signs.  I decided to follow the one that I thought would go to the lake for a few minutes to make sure I needed to go the opposite way.  When I saw the swamp and the mud became even thicker, I knew to go back and take the other fork.  On the way back, fifteen feet from the fork on the Grizzly Lake side, I saw two signs bolted to a tree.

From the fork, the trail went steeply upward along a very slim ridge.  I felt better in the thick conifers away from the water.  At least there, I could hear better.  About three quarters of a mile up, I crossed into the Gros Ventre Wilderness.  Not long after, I found a viewpoint where I could see the nose of Sleeping Indian as well as the sunrise to the east.  I sat down and watched the sunrise while eating a good old cliff bar.  My watch said I had climbed about 1000 feet already – only 3200 vertical feet to go!

I continued down the trail and the ridge slowly became wider and wider.  The conifers began to give way to large meadows covered in wildflowers: Indian Paintbrush, Harebells, Brown-Eyed Susans, Canadian Thistles, and so many more.  I could tell that water flowed down the trail because it indented in the middle.  Meadow after meadow, I finally made my way up to the pyramid shaped cairn marking the descent to Blue Minor Lake.  I stopped there and ate quite a large helping of cashews while I examined the map.  The trail stopped at the lake, but one of our faculty at TSS had provided me with beta on how to proceed from exactly where I sat.

“Don’t go down to the lake” he said, “just continue to follow that ridge and you’ll find a climber’s trail that goes up to the knees of Sleeping Indian.  From the knees, you can make your way up to the belly, then onto the arms.  You probably do not want to go adventuring on the nose; its very unstable scree and messy over there.”

Blue Minor Lake

Blue Minor Lake

The lake shown a brilliant blue and I could see the arms of Sleeping Indian above it. I saw no climber’s trail from there, but went where I thought I would put a trail to follow the ridge back up.  Low and behold, about two minutes later, I saw three rocks stacked up and a rough climber’s trail.  How convenient!

As the wildflowers increased, I watched the lake.  Then, I heard the very distinct sound of a red-tailed hawk.  Stopping, I searched the skies above, only to find it gliding below me, its orange-red tail glistening in the sun.  I have never stood above a red tail hawk before and took in every minute of it.

Soon, I hit the end of the ridge I walked and went onto the knees of Sleeping Indian where I heard something else I did not expect: running water!  A divot in the long ridge that made up the body of the Sleeping Indian had a stream in it!  Some pink snow fed the stream.  I just had 1,200 more vertical feet!

The climber’s trail seemed to end there.  I picked a path with the most rocks to walk on and made my way toward the arms.  Here and there a cairn would pop up with about 20 feet of something resembling a trail, but then they always ended.  I had a clear sight line to the arms, so I just proceeded up there.

The arms of the Sleeping Indian reminded me of a lot of peaks in Colorado.  The end inevitably became much steeper and some sort of path cut through the talus and winded its way up to the summit.  The last push!

Summit photo toward the Tetons in my Teva Sandals!

Summit photo toward the Tetons in my Teva Sandals!

Reaching the top, I had sweeping views of the Gros Ventres, the Tetons, the Jackson Hole valley, Jackson peak, Mt. Leidy, and so much more.  I dutifully took lots of pictures and scarfed up a bagel with peanut butter and honey.  At only 10:30am, I had already hiked 11 miles and 4,200 ft of elevation.  Not too shabby!

After a solid break on top, I reversed the route.  I ran into a father daughter team who had camped at Blue Minor Lake the night before and went up to the summit in the morning.  Other than that, I ran into no one until I got down toward West Minor Creek.  There, a group of five people with large packs passed me.

“Did you go up Sleeping Indian?” one asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “It’s amazing!”

“In a day?” another asked.

“Yeah…” I said.  After all, my watch only read 3pm.

“You know,” one started also looking at her watch, “Most people do it as an overnight backpack via this route.”

“Huh.  It was a good long day,” I said as we finished passing each other.

View from the summit of Sleeping Indian toward the Gros Ventres

View from the summit of Sleeping Indian toward the Gros Ventres

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Since we had gone straight day after day of long hauls from Timberline Lodge, we decided to take a half day out of White Pass, partly because Dead Animal cooked us such a huge breakfast that we had to lay back down to digest it.  We lounged about, trying to find more things to pack and repack and more and more things to eat.  A thru-hiker always has room to eat food to avoid carrying it.

Eventually, Dead kicked us out of his campsite on Leech Lake and we set off uphill through an amazing amount of horse shit probably due to the close proximity of a horse campground and Mt. Rainier.  Only half an hour in, we found Caveman and Slosher sitting on their packs.  They told us their sad tale of having to bypass the Mt. Adams fire that had choked our lungs and dried out our noses.  The hitch was not easy on a road seldom used and took them all the way into Portland, then it involved a train and a bus.  They had spent an entire zero day in transit around the fire and had to miss Goat Rocks because they could not get to the dirt road that Dead Animal had found Hop-a-long and me on.

After we caught up, we all plugged on up and over the long slog of a hill.  Hop-a-long had gotten ahead of me and managed to stop exactly when I wanted a break too and there we found none other than Snow Turtle and Agassi! We had not seen them since Ashland and had followed their footprints for just over 500 miles.  Some of that time we knew we were only hours behind them, their footprints so fresh and clear.

We all pressed on after getting some delicious swampy lake water.  Of course, just after we bothered to treat it and headed out, an unmarked stream surged by under a broken bridge.  The trail would mock us for getting crappy water when better water ran not too far down the path.

Eventually, we surged downhill toward the Bumping River Ford.  The name really said it all and when Hop-a-long and I looked at it, we only found a rather difficult rock hop and log shimmy that had a nice sketchy area right in the middle.  At that point, my stomach took over and I waded right through the icy water hoping my sandals would not freeze overnight.  Hop took the route of gyrations and managed to maneuver it well enough to stay dry.

Great campsites laid right off the trail.  We picked our spots and settled in for the night listening to the water soothe us to sleep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy sandals definitely did not dry by the morning, but they did not freeze.  I saw this as a positive start to the day.  I had packed up a little before Hop-a-long and set off to a nice morning climb of 2,000 feet to the top of a beautiful ridge where the trail danced around the boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park.

On the climb, I began hearing the strangest noises which I had never heard before.  Pausing to listen, a great big bull elk with gigantic antlers ran away from me about 40 yards ahead with his harem of female elks.  Then I remembered Agassi and Snow Turtle telling me it was elk mating season and to stay away from the bull elks.

Their mating call had guttural grunt sounds followed immediately by a high-pitched whistle sound.  You could certainly hear it for quite a long way, I will give them that.

Hop-a-long caught me at the top of the climb gazing at Mt. Rainier through more smoke.  We passed two side trails closed for forest fires as we meandered down the other side of the ridge.  The smoke hovered around the base of Rainier giving it the illusion of floating on top of the land.

Dead Animal had said he would meet us at road 471 if it was open around lunch time and we pushed to get there, motivated by our stomachs.  A few miles out, he came hiking toward us with good old PBRs.  They don’t give that blue ribbon to just any beer!  It hit the spot.

The three of us passed Dewey Lake which reflected it’s surroundings like a mirror with its glass-like surface.  Before long, we were at the parking lot and cutting up peppers and onions to saute on the Colman stove Dead had in the car.  We began eating as much as possible again while Snow Turtle and Agassi joined us.

After a long break, we climbed anew.  The higher we went, the less people we saw.  Just how we like it.  Hop-a-long and I took a breather by yet another Sheep Lake and looked at our sleeping options for the night.  Much too early to stop, the next guaranteed campsite was 8.5 miles further and we seemed to contour ridges the whole way there intersecting many other side trails coming up from the valleys below.

We decided to take our chances and try to camp in whatever saddle we hit around dark o’clock.   The trail stayed high and exposed with sheer drops down to the valley.  Maybe only a foot wide, we kept our eyes ahead and followed the lines of the hills where the trail took us.  Hop-a-long stopped in a saddle and we scoped it out.  We found two spots, but nothing ideal.  The sun had set and dark rolled in blanketing the contours.

Cooking and chatting, we watched a forest fire on the ridge directly across from us and the last helicopter dump water on it before night.  When the stars came out, the fire shone brighter and we saw whole trees flare up brightening the area so well we could see the contents of the valley between the flames and our camp spot for the night.

The morning took us up and down contouring and contourin,g finding a path high in the hills.  At the marked campsite that we did not reach the night before, we found Scout, a thru-hiker neither of us had met before and he joined us.  We all hiked together and chatted when the trail did not climb steeply until we hit Urich Camp.

A snowmobile cabin, we went inside and sat on benches which was a nice comfort and change of pace.  It had one of few PCT trail

Plaque outside of the cabin

Plaque outside of the cabin

logs and we all read the whole thing, writing our own notes at the end.  We still took long middle of the day breaks left over from breaking the desert heat at the beginning of the trail.

When we eventually cruised on, we passed many small logging roads, snowmobile trails, and a large burned area.  The dead trees still stood tall, but brilliant, bright green and red underbrush had gotten a solid foot hold.

Then, up in the distance, we saw a bright blue Neon and saw Dead parked on the side of a larger, well-kept logging road.  He gave us giant apples, the size of two fists put together and beer.  He took it as a challenge that Tahoe’s 76 year old friend was going to figure out the logging roads, so he did too.

We decided to have him slackpack us a few more miles to the last logging road he could get to and we’d find a campsite out of something.  When we finally got moving on that plan, we watched the weather start to turn and the smell of rain filled our noses.

As we crossed through the mess the logging companies left, we watched the fog and drizzle come up over the ridge from the west and plunge off the other side into the valley to the east.  It surged with such intensity that I thought the fog would reach all the way down to the stream below, but it disappeared into thin air not long over the ridge.

We found tolerable campsites off the side of the road where we were not getting too wet.  On the plus side of the rain, it cleared the smoke out of the air which sent all of us into coughing fits occasionally.  It gave us a few days respite.  However, my motivation decreases dramatically in the rain.

Small burned area

Small burned area

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