Cowboys and Aliens In the American Elysium - Yellowstone, The Grand, The Wind Rivers
The Plume, Warbonnet, and Warrior 1, Cirque of the Towers by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Going to Wyoming from Seattle involves a time change: one hour minus 100 years. Here, things are made of logs, rocks, and whatever bits of steel the pioneers left on their way to Hollywood and Eugene, crudely TIG welded by a guy named Lindsay, but you’d best call him Buck.
Everything that happens here stays here but, like the surface of Mars, it remains indelibly etched upon the land for all eternity. If a front yard display of every machine International Harvester ever made is the statement you’re looking for, hire a Wyoman as your landscaper.
Sure, modernity has forced its way in – buffalo herds of Dodge Ram 6000s now roam the sage, and Wyoming’s rangers now hail more from Polaris than Texas, but the citified visitor quickly gets the sense that blood, splinters, dirt and shit are still very much a part of an average day in this country.
Despite Wyoming’s inherent remoteness, the state harbors two of the world’s most popular national parks. I was 16 the last time I backpacked in Yellowstone, and 21 when I was last stormed off the Grand Teton.
Colleen and I rocketed towards Yellowstone, through fires and antelope, past a gauntlet of “50,000 Silver Dollars” billboards and a ’49 International flatbed with “Just Say No To Meth!” painted on the door, with dreams of the American Serengeti, replete with herds of bison, elk, and moose being stalked by wolves and bear – the circle of life unfolding in all its bloody and timeless glory under clear blue Rocky Mountain skies.
West Mullan fire, MT by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
West Mullan Fire, MT by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Jump Up, Jump Up, and GET DOWN! Lima, MT by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
“Where can we see a moose?” I asked the ranger, while getting our backcountry permits.
“The Tetons” he replied. “We have plenty of bugs, though.”
We won a coveted spot on the shore of Shoshone Lake – which we soon found out was essentially the Okefenokee of Inner Mountain West. Wild Kingdom quickly devolved into Naked and Afraid – but the bugs proved as ornamental as they were voracious, which was good, because they were the only wildlife we saw – save some robins, one of whom I managed to accidentally kick off the trail.
"Come closer, little friend" Horsefly (Hybomitra lasiophthalma), Yellowstone NP by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Firehole River, Yellowstone NP by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Flame skimmer (Libellula saturata), Yellowstone NP by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Lone Star Geyser, Yellowstone NP by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Cleared for landing: White tail (Plathemis lydia), Yellowstone NP by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Our planned three nights out became one and we headed for the Tetons with its promise of moose and squirrel. Don’t get me wrong; we enjoyed our Yellowstone experience – the playful little geothermals which will one day destroy mankind were interesting – but Yellowstone is basically identical to the mosquito infested lodgepole hell of the Oregon Cascades…plus geysers.
We left our semi but probably not all that legal camp at a newish but then recently decommissioned camp site along the Snake River between, but maybe not, Yellowstone and Teton National Parks.
The minute we crossed into Grand Teton NP a herd of elk appeared. Then another. And another. OK, we were on to something.
Six pointer, Grand Teton NP by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Four pointer. Lima, MT by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Mt Moran, Grand Teton NP by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
After obtaining our free permits at Jenny Lake, we headed up for two nights in the absolutely stunning if oft frequented Garnet Canyon. WAY better than the windy col or depressing moraine, and well worth the extra morning hike when making a run at the Grand. The following morning we got an early start for the Upper Exum on the Grand and Colleen’s first sort of technical alpine climb in perfect weather.
Garnet Canyon Camp by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Packing for the Upper Exum, Garnet Canyon by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Climbers on the handline approach to the Grand Teton by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Starting the Upper Exum by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
The Upper Exum's Wall Street by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Somewhere on the Upper Exum by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
The Upper Exum is a huge choss pile scramble punctuated with a few feet of wonderfully solid quartzite cracks and these cool little schist nipples tailor made for fondling, but what scenery! All the upper pitches have cute little names but the only one I could identify for sure was the Friction Pitch, and only because a soloist ahead of me said “I think this is the Friction Pitch”. We bypassed the famous Y Pitch via another gully/crack to avoid a pile up and found ourselves on the summit ridge.
On top of the Grand Teton by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
As ‘world’s your oyster’ as the ascent route is, the descent route isn’t all that obvious. Colleen’s still a bit shy about exposed downclimbing, so we opted do the couple of single rope raps to the Upper Col and continue down the lower Owen Spalding. If you find yourself dancing on a sketchy rap stance above a deep, dark, rope eating chimney, you’re in the right place. If you’re anywhere near stainless public art piece that could be used to load a grain ship, you’re not. Go up, climber’s right, and back down to gain the shitty rap anchor your punk single rope ass so richly deserves.
Once at the Upper Col, it’s simply a matter of trending to skier’s right of the obvious rock buttress to follow one of several goat trails for several thousand feet of chossy, gravelly alpine goodness so familiar to the Northwestern latte sucker.
Handline approach to the Grand/Middle Teton col by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
I’ve wanted to go there for decades. After Yellowstone, I checked my expectations at the door.
I shouldn’t have.
An old dog teaches a young dog new tricks on the drive to the Big Sandy TH by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
STRUT: Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) with badass Shaka Zulu tat by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
When we emerged into the Cirque of the Towers I suspected I hadn’t survived the Grand after all and was wandering through the Elysium. Peeping ouzels and chortling robins greeted us to a welcoming carpet of bug free wildflowers interwoven with meandering streams and flat, environmentally responsible slabs. OK, we’d MAY have had a bit too much of the chronic at that point but JESUS, LOOK AT THE PHOTOS.
Leaving Big Sandy Lake for the Cirque of the Towers by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Star cluster and asteroids by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Pingora, from Jackass Pass by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Pingora's S Butt - final pitch by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Shark's Nose, Overhanging Tower, and Wolf's Head from Pingora by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Cirque camp 'swimming' hole. Ask your doctor if freezing your balls clean off is right for you. by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Mitchell Peak, Cirque of the Towers by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Moonset over Warrior 2, Cirque of the Towers by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Pika (Ochotona princeps), Cirque of the Towers by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Pingora from camp by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Climber descending Pingora by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Sunrays on Overhanging Tower by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
The weather was fickle and strange to this Earthling – clear night skies, full cloud deck by 10 am, followed by anything goes – lenticulars, sunshine, thunderheads, full overcast, wind, no wind, a light squall now and then. It took a little getting used to, but the camera loved it.
Our schedule was an easy one. We climbed the S Butt on Pingora, as you do, followed by the Overhanging Tower – a solo scramble for me as Colleen hung at the Overhanging/Wolf’s Head col nursing some delayed altitude related issues. The Wolf’s Head was scheduled for the following day, but she still wasn’t quite right, so we opted to recon the Deep Lake Basin instead. WOW. What a playground! The Haystack! The ‘going to the mailbox’ approaches! Those acres of flat slabs! I see a pack horse laden with gear in our future. And, as it turned out, it actually rained in earnest that afternoon.
Arrowhead Lake from Jackass Pass. Beyond: they Haystack, Steeple, East Temple, and Temple Peaks by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
The Steeple and East Temple Peak from Deep Lake by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Temple Peak. The second ascent of that pyramidal face awaits you. by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
The Winds are not without their difficulties. There is a lot of chossy approach nonsense, the climbs are a long way in, the range is a long drive from nowhere, the bugs can be bad (I hear), the weather is stream of consciousness.
Still, it may well be the range I’ve always dreamed of. Kind of like Idaho’s Sawtooths, only a lot bigger, and not quite as pink.
Please don’t quote me on that.
Sparkling jewelwing (Calopteryx dimidiata), Yellowstone NP by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Grand Teton summit cheeze by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Temple Peak, from North Lake by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
"Mr. Kaplan, your prescription is ready." Pinedale, WY by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
Must...Not...Trundle. Below the Grand/Middle Teton col by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
8109 Deep Lake Basin, WY 42042 by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr
If you believe this TR... by PatGallagherArt, on Flickr