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Posts Tagged ‘red tailed hawk’

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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I awoke suddenly.  I noticed all of my senses heightened and my body fully alert.  No thoughts crossed my mind.  I listened.  Munch, munch, munch.  I peered out my tent under my rain fly where I heard the sound of munching.  A large brownish black hoof stepped about three feet from my tent.  Then another.  Munch, munch, munch.  Bison.  Multiple bison.  Very close to my tent.

The bison seemed calm, so I stayed calm.  I laid there and listened, secretly hoping they would not accidentally step on my tent.  Maybe they just needed breakfast and breakfast happened to grow near the free campsite I occupied.  Munch, munch, munch.  I decided to look at the positive: at least I did not need to go to the bathroom first thing in the morning!  The bison munched and I listened.  Each time a hoof clomped down, I could feel the vibration in the ground.  My rain fly blends in fairly well with the pale grasses.  I hope they do not run into my tent.  Munch, munch, munch.

Eventually, after about half an hour of munching, the bison continued on their way.  From what I could gather, they munched their way north out of the small aspen grove.  I felt my body begin to relax as the munching grew fainter and I no longer felt the ground vibrate with their steps.

When I could hear them no longer, I got out of my tent cautiously and looked around.  I could not see any wildlife in the vicinity, so I began to make breakfast and a healthy amount of hot water for yerba mate.  I set up a chair in front of hippie TV, i.e. the Tetons, and sipped mate.  I had decided to camp in the national forest near Grand Teton National Park for two weeks to further enjoy the area and hopefully hike what I wanted to hike all year at grad school, but did not have the time to due to schoolwork.  To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed lazy mornings drinking mate and watching the clouds change just as much as hiking.

As I sat there with mate and a good book, I watched as the clouds changed shapes and colors.  The clouds and the mountains played peek-a-boo all morning long.  The best part about sitting quietly and watching: the wildlife became accustomed to my presence and began to play, eat, run, and fly right in front of me.

One of the ground squirrels taking a look around.

One of the ground squirrels taking a look around.

Three ground squirrels lived near my campsite.  Two seemed to have some sort of dominance over the third, but the third had sneaky tendencies.  While one of the first two ground squirrels stood guard from a prime fallen log, the other ground squirrel nibbled at the ground or stood on its hind legs and used its forelegs to pull down a wild grass three times its size to eat the seeds on the top.  The sneaky ground squirrel took every available opportunity to sneak toward the other two ground squirrels and then hop away.

A female mountain bluebird flew in and startled the ground squirrels.  All four froze, eying each other for a few moments.  Deciding they could all eat peacefully, they began ignoring each other and carrying on with their business in close proximity.

Half an hour later, I heard the clear call of a red tail hawk in the distance, but coming closer.  All three ground squirrels immediately dove into their holes and I searched the skies.  I heard the call several more times before I located the hawk flying in gracefully above the aspens.

The next night, the temperature dropped into the upper 30s and I fell asleep with my hat on planning on waking up early in the morning.  The moon shown so brightly, that I could see just fine inside my tent without a head lamp.  However, I did not plan on waking up around 2:30am.  Grunt.  Munch, munch, munch.  Grunt.  Instantly alert, I laid in my sleeping bag listening.  My body did not feel the ground vibrate, and the munching seemed faint, but apparent.  The sounds came from the direction of my feet, so the bison munched to the west.  After careful listening, I decided to poke my head out and see how far away the bison munched.  They peacefully munched and grunted down in the sagebrush, about fifty feet or so away from my tent.  After the previous morning, that distance seemed oddly comforting.  Laying awake, I listened and heard quite a variety of bison noises that I had never heard before, all variations of grunts.

Hippie TV

Hippie TV

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