Bagging on Bradley - July 21st, 2013Note: Once again this TR is likely overly lengthy and overly saturated with pictures. If you look at one section skip down to Doubletop...that remote and remarkable peaks ranks as one of the most uniquely spectacular places that I've ever been, and words can't come close to describing that peak and range, but I hope the pictures scratch the surface.
I had been working hard trying to find a go-to drink for a nightcap, having slowly made the post-college transition from beers to liquor and red wine. I still prefer a Jack & Diet as an off-the-bat order requiring little thought, but with its caffeine the J&D is more of a party drink than something to calm me down before bed. On a night such as this when I checked in to a cheap motel in Alpine Wyoming already well behind on sleep and well exhausted after a fifteen mile hike of Mt. Fitzpatrick the last thing I needed was to go full rave mode. Instead I walked up to the little saloon down the road from the motel, knowing that ordering a wine or a fancy schmancy cocktail (like a pineapple upside down cake martini), which I would order without shame when with friends, or back east, was out of the question in these rough cowboy everyone be carryin' honky-tonk bars.
My buddy had gotten me to try an old-fashioned on the past month’s trip to Vegas, and I had acquired a taste for it, the drink having just the right kick while being strong enough to force me to take it slowly and enjoy in small sips (rather than chugging it down like I’m apt to do with beer or other more refreshing cocktails such as a Tom Collins), and I spent the summer ordering the drink, which involves a lengthy muddling process, in various hole in the wall bars out west, curious to see how it would turn out and watching with some bemusement as the bartenders had to dust off their recipe books and make the drink one step and instruction at a time (and lest you think me too much of a jerk, I always made sure I tip extra for a more difficult drink). It’s a hit or miss process, more often the latter, but the old and weathered bartender in Alpine actually did a pretty good job, and I returned rested and buzzed to the motel.
Bradley Mountain was my goal for Sunday, and apart from Greg’s beta I didn’t have a lot of information on this Wyoming P2K. Access is from the Greys River Road as it leaves Alpine; Greg had approached the peak along its direct south face and had described a nightmarish ascent featuring endless and tortuous bushwhacking, but mentioned that on his way down he had managed to follow a decent trail all the way back down to the road. The trick was finding the trail from below; Greg said his best advice was to aim for a high meadow at 7,700 feet below a southeast flank of the peak, and that the trail would be easy to find from there. I tried my best to scout Google Earth to reach that point, trying to decide upon the best, seemingly brush free way to ascent the south east ridges from the main road and, lacking a GPS, trying to figure out the best way to locate my intended starting point in real life.
I did some scouting while driving down the Greys River Road into Alpine the day before, so I had a decent idea of where I wanted to park as I headed out of town on Sunday morning. It was somewhat hot and humid by the time I started trudging through the dirt and grass covered lower slopes of the peak; it was steep work but the brush wasn’t bad, and I passed through maybe half a dozen herd paths, following them when convenient and leaving when they led in the wrong direction.
Eventually I reached a higher grassy area which I judged to be the meadow Greg had referenced, having already found one of the trails branching into the meadow by then. The ascent got steeper afterwards, and I though it was actually tougher to follow this trail once located. It ascended steeply up some knolls that you see along the lower ramparts of the hike, and I lost it several times in some wooded and brushy areas where deadfall obscured the route. In general I eventually realized that when in doubt the trail curves left, but not knowing that then I had to trudge through one bad section of loose dirt.
The trail eventually hits the left side of the ridge through a pleasantly shaded area. Unfortunately here is where you see for the first time the true summit of Bradley, a discouraging distance away. I had some minor difficulties following the trail the rest of the way to the summit but there were no major difficulties.
The views were good, interesting, but far from the fireflames hotness that I had been accustomed to in the last few weeks. Haze was certainly a factor, obscuring peaks and ranges further away and even diminishing the quality of nearby peaks like Stewart to the south, which had been far prettier earlier in the morning and lower along the ascent. The Wyoming Range stretching down the Greys River was, unfortunately, mere shadows, and my still yet unfulfilled dream to see the Tetons from a nearby summit was only slightly requited by the vague outline of the Grand barely discernible behind the Snake Rivers. Like the Wyoming Range, the early morning had yield some halfway reasonable views of the Gros Ventres earlier in the morning, but now all I could make out were outlines.
It’s an interesting feeling on Bradley too, different from standing atop your typical P2K’s that loom over all its neighbors. Being the Napoleon that it is, despite its topography prominence Bradley is immediately overshadowed by the higher peaks in Stewart to the south and Ferry to the north.
I took in the views and headed down, able to follow the trail down for the most part without incident back to the road, maybe a quarter mile east or so of where I parked.
I returned to town needing a does of caffeine but alas all of Alpine was practically closed early on Sunday, even the little coffee shop that I had enjoyed earlier that same morning. Coffee would have to wait until during the drive back, where I finally found a nice little cafe doubling as a chocolate shop in Afton.
Rounding Cape Horn - July 27th, 2013The next week was once more slated for Idaho. The weather was iffy for Saturday with good chances of TStorms but better for Sunday, and with the longer drive I decided for an easier ascent of Cape Horn Mountain, a P2K at the southern end of the Central Salmon River Range.
The weather was inconsistent, clear in Utah, a downpour when I left the interstate towards Hailey and Ketchum, and clear once more by the time I entered the mountains. I ventured for the first time up ID-21 north of Sun Valley, enjoying the views of the Smokies and Boulders and then gasping audibly as the highway descended into a small, cozy valley sitting below the massive and dramatic rise of the Sawtooth Range. The valley was cold, chilly, only in the 30’s in the early morning, and an eerie mist hovered over the plains lining the Salmon River. The views were straight out of a postcard and I stayed mesmerized as I drove past the mountains and Stanley towards the Cape Horn trailhead.
The hike started out in clouds and shade and the trail circled around gently before hitting a side ridge of the main massif. Here it traversed through a burn area where the deadfall through a few sections was pretty bad, but the rest of the trail up to the main ridge was pretty easy, with some shaded areas.
Some of the best views of the day came early in the day, before the temperatures rose and with it the haze from nearby forest fires. The views were especially dramatic to the south, with the Sawtooths looking as sharp as their name suggests and Castle Peak once more looming impressively behind many flanks of lower summits in the White Clouds. Midway through the hike the trail passes the Lola Lakes junction, with good views of the lakes and cliffs below.
The main trail heads downhill towards the lake here, and the rest of the way to the summit is a mix of goat trails and cross country hiking, though of the very easy variety.
I made my way through some interestingly colorful terrain for the rest of the hike, skipping the southern false summit to reach the northern true summit, then tagging the false summit on the way back.
Haze had all but obscured the White Clouds by now, but the views of the vastness of the Salmon River Range in every direction from the west to north to east made up for it. The weather seemed to hold up down in the Sawtooths, defying the 30-40% chance of thunderstorms, and in hindsight I probably should have gone for Thompson this day instead, especially in light of what would happen the next day. Oh well, shoulda coulda woulda.
The descent was as mild as the ascent, and I drove all the way back to Hailey, which was the closest place I could find a reasonably priced (and still vacant) motel room close to the mountains. I had myself quite a night, drank a shitload in town, and woke Sunday morning still tired from the night before.
Wrong Way on Ryan - July 28th, 2013It would be nice to blame this fatigue for my failings on the mountain later on in the day, and perhaps I would’ve scrutinized the route descriptions a little more had I been operating with a clearer head. Ryan Peak in the Boulders was my goal, and while I familiarized myself one last time on the SP route description I focused on only one aspect of the beta, the part about the trail leaving the north end of the parking lot, and skimmed much of the rest, temporarily forgetting to note the trail name or the fact that the first quarter mile or so involved a steep ascent.
So the North Fork of the Wood River Trail left the east side of the parking lot, and the West Fork Wood River Trail left the north side. The SP description says to take the North Fork from the north end of the lot, and since that was the part of the description I had keyed in on I followed the trail north only to see it disappearing shortly along the creek. I fumbled around back and forth for quite a bit before finding the trail further north, thinking I was on the right path while all the while traversing further and further away from Ryan.
Eventually I made it to a high basin where the trail disappeared. I looked for a trail leading up to the saddle of West Pass, but obviously I was nowhere near the basin and the pass I was supposed to be. I meandered around for quite a bit, trying to figure out what I did wrong, which junction I missed, etc, wandering up and down the basin, eventually backtracking half a mile along the trail before returning once again to the basin. Thoroughly confused and still thinking that I was in the same ballpark as Ryan, I decided to say fuck it and just ascended the pretty steep slope on my right, figuring that once I had a good vantage point of the area above treeline I could regain my bearings towards where Ryan Peak was.
The ascent sucked, I was already exhausted from my routefinding efforts, and just before I made it to the top of the ridge I found that I had cell phone reception once more. Using the cell phone GPS I discovered my routefinding errors and the fact that Ryan wasn’t just a merely short route correction away, but lay miles away on an entirely different ridge across an entire fucking valley.
I made it to a small cairned bump along the ridge, later discovered to be an unranked summit boasting an elevation of all of 10,183, took pictures of the admittedly impressive summits around me (including Ryan and Kent), and headed down dejected and filled with rage at a precious and now increasingly rare summer day wasted. The rage accompanied me on the drive home and well into the next week, but this failure to get Ryan sowed seeds of self doubt, especially considering that my next target would be the very remote and rarely visited Doubletop Peak in the Gros Ventres, a prospect that I was increasingly apprehensive about as the weekend approached.
A Shot of Doubletop - August 3rd, 2013Rage brought me full circle from a year ago. I had climbed Baird with Greg in the Snake River Range on a Saturday, and was driving to Big Piney where I planned to climb Wyoming Peak Sunday. Along the drive I recognized the peaks of the Gros Ventre Range for the first time, a range that had long fascinated me by its exotic remoteness. It was late in the summer, a week before Labor Day, and rage filled my heart as I gazed at these beautiful peaks in the evening twilight, realizing that the season was growing short and I would not have a chance to visit the range for at least another year.
Well, almost another year had passed, and less than a week after my failure in the Boulders my salivation at a chance at Doubletop were interspersed with worries that I wouldn’t find the route, that I’d get lost, that I’d get attacked by a grizzly hiking 22 remote miles by myself, that after Ryan my