Setting the record straight with my buddyYes, I confidently drove us way up the wrong access road the first night. Yes, I didn't screw the top on your Camelbak bladder back on quite right and it leaked all inside your pack. And yes, I didn't scrape the blood vessels out from under the spines of those beautiful trout you caught, so that when we poached them, the water looked like we were preparing squid in ink -- Cuban style. And, yes, I did tell you that I had searched thoroughly for your bug juice before you retraced your steps for an hour or two looking in the snow field for the precious canister that was still resting peacefully in my Rogue Camelbak. Christ, yes, I even dragged us to a place for dinner on our first night back in civilization where you could not even buy a beer. But don't forget, I was right about the pressurization of airline cabins. 8,000 feet -- not 10,000 feet. So there!
The PlanWe had a plan of trying to do most of the Garfield Rim route designed by ZeeJay, with a side trip to King's Peak and some lazy fishing days. After all, we had seven days, and ZeeJay had designed it as a three-day trip. We would start Saturday evening from the Center Park Trailhead, etc., etc. ZeeJay noted that none of the climbing was harder than 2+ class with maybe a few class 3 moves, but she neglected to mention that the trip as a whole is a grade V trip, using the system of David Rose. Actually, probably more strenuous than that. ZeeJay's route is extremely grueling. At least for reasonably fit men in their late 50s. I did a 600K brevet with the DC Randonneurs in Virginia this year, but the Garfield Rim trip requires another whole magnitude of exertion.
Buddy and me.
Day 1Air Alaska jettisoned my buddy's gear from the connecting flight from Boise to Salt Lake, so we had to wait around 4 hours for the next flight to catch up with us. Steamed us, but we used the time to good advantage, hitting the REI in Salt Lake City for gas, lighters, and various sundries that you can't fly on airplanes anymore. Plus we got an extra 0.375 L bottle of cheap hooch (0.66 pints), which turned out later to be critical for very unexpected reasons.
Finally, we hit the open road! Park City, Heber, Duchesne, Mountain Home. It was dark by the time we left Yellowstone Road and headed up what I thought was Hells Canyon Road. Found a nice spot and camped for the night next to the jeep. The next day, we discovered that we were instead on Forest Service Route 196, which heads up to the trailhead the slow way over Flea Flat and Bear Park. Trust me, the marking is not great, and the entrance for 196 is only a 100 yards or so before the entrance to Hell's Canyon Road. Anyway, the good news is that there is great car camping all along 196 and that it eventually joins up with Hells Canyon Road near Mill Spring. So, no harm, no foul! Don't try it though without good clearance. The road was pretty rough in spots.
Day 2Went up Trail #59 Destination for the day was Swasey Hole. Pretty tough day with full packs of 6 or 7 miles. One major pass to cross above 11,000 feet. Saw where ZeeJay would have left the pass to stay on the basin rim. Looked feasible. Just no water up there and totally exposed to the elements. At over 12,000 feet with no trees or even bushes to shelter us, we did not relish the idea of camping up there and did not think we could make her suggestion of Drift Lake in a single day. Found good camping. Nice first night on the trail.
Day 3My buddy looked longingly at Spider Lake and Five Point Lake, but we resolutely held to our plan to head up high so as to be a good position to get up on the rim the next day. Finally got up to Superior Lake to discover that it was a muddy mess as part of the restoration process that follows breaking the dam that used to elevate the lake level. Explored around Little Superior Lake, but the trees are scattered and small in this area (~11,300 feet), so there is little way to hang a tarp or food sacks. Then a nasty storm hit with hail, thunder, lightning, and driving rain. Amazing how fast we got cold. We had just about given up on finding a suitable spot and were resigned to heading back to Five Point Lake, but we did finally find a lovely spot with just enough small tree cover, soft ground for tents, and spectacular views of the Garfield Basin below us.
Now back to the story of the cheap hooch bottle. We had two water purifying systems with us. One was a squeeze/suck bag filter operation; the other was a pump. The night before, my buddy had burst the bag attached to the first system. Some sort of cheap bag. Good that he was using it when it failed, because it was his and he is kind of particular (!) about abuse of his equipment. We tried attaching the top of the squeeze/suck filter to his platypus bag, but no luck. The only thing that we could find to attach to the filter was the the 0.375 litre bottle of Lord Calvert's Canadian Whiskey. It was plastic and could be squeezed to good effect. So we transferred the precious water of life to another container, and pressed the hooch bottle into water purification duty.
Day 4With daypacks, finally got up on the Garfield Rim between Stone Mountain and South Porcuine Mountain.. If we were nanny goats like Zeejay, we would have climbed South Porcupine, Porcupine, Wilson, and East Wilson, all in day, before dropping back to camp along the scree chutes between Wilson and East Wilson. As it was, we found it more pleasant to just climb South Porcupine. As one approaches it from the saddle between it and Stone Mountain, it looks very forbidding, but just as Zeejay said, there turns out to be a very easy route to the top once you get close.
Our plan had been to go over Tungsten Pass the next day with full gear to set up a new base camp in the high Yellowstone Basin, so as to well positioned for a climb up King's Peak via Anderson Pass. However, my friend's heart was not into this plan at all. He prefers camping just below the tree line and doesn't care at all about summiting. So we decided that I would do a solo climb the next day, we would stay an extra night where we were, and then spend the last two nights near Bluebell Lake. Only problem was that we were 8.5 miles by trail from Anderson Pass, and we were not even close to the trail.
Day 5I got up around 12:30 AM. Started walking a little before 1. Took me a long time to find the trail in the dark. I was so happy to finally find it and so sad to lose it again. The trails up there are very difficult to follow at night when they cross boggy areas or hard meadows. In the boggy areas, all the hikers step on the rocks, so there is no wear on the turf. And in the hard meadows, well, there is not much turf to be worn. (If you look at the GPS file closely, you will see my hapless wanderings SW of Tungsten Pass. In daylight, everything is much clearer!)
Finally, about 2 I picked up the trail again a little southwest of Tungsten Lake, and vowed not to lose it again.
It was magical crossing the high Yellowstone Basin by night. Periodically, I would switch my headlamp off, and just try to soak in the night sky. The Milky Way was clear and strong. My mother's favorite constellation of Cassiopeia was nicely visible. Mountains on three sides blacking out the stars in jagged patterns. I heard distant coyotes a couple of times. A few night birds. Saw some green deer eyes reflecting back at me at one stop. For the most part, it was so so quiet. The loudest noise would be the rush of blood in my ears. Then the wind would pick up for no apparent reason and blow like crazy for a while, only to abate into stillness again.
I got to the base of Anderson Pass around 4 AM. Looking up at it, it was hard to believe that the trail would really make it all the way up. There are some nasty cliffs directly under the pass, and very steep valley walls leading up to it. But those path designers were both crafty and determined. Somehow, the path does make it up. I would say it was not passable to horses or mules, but I suppose donkeys and llamas could make it easily. There was one spot that was washed out, where I had to reassure myself that it was well within my capability. Certainly, falling would be fatal.
Got to the pass about 6. Stopped for a snack, when I noticed a skinny old dude coming up the trail toward me with a dog leashed to his belt buckle. We exchanged greetings and then he asked me if I minded a personal question. I said no, and so he asked, " Are you God?" I brushed my beard with pleasure and allowed as how he must like it. The fellow's name was Bill and his dog's name was Toby. The dog had a face like a Lhasa Apso, but the body of a small pit bull. In addition to the collar and leash, the dog had a lift harness around its chest. If Toby thought the next rock was too high for him, he would patiently wait for Bill to give a boost up. If Bill thought Toby could make it, he would say, "Jump," and then Toby would jump. Amazing duo. Not the kind of dog you would expect a fellow like Bill to be traveling with, but Bill reported losing a dear sister to cancer and her remanding Toby to his care before her death.
I noted to myself that Bill was traveling very light with apparently only water for himself in a Rogue CamelBak. So I asked him how he managed water to Toby. Bill slyly remarked that," I thought you would ask me that. I spit in his mouth. He hates it." I laughed appreciatelively in admiration of his ingenuity, but I was still having some trouble imagining how this would work. Sure enough, later on, I was witness. He would take a long swig from his Camelback, grab Toby's jaws, one in each hand, force his mouth open, shoot a long stream of water down Toby's throat, and then hold the jaws closed until Toby swallowed. Toby shook his head vigorously when free and made funny noises, but there was clearly a very special bond between the two.
We made it to the top a little after 8, took some pictures and then headed back.
Man was I tired when I made it back to camp about 4 PM. It was 18 miles with about 6500 feet of cumulative elevation gain.
When I got back, my buddy was nowhere to be seen. I had taken the Lord Calvert filtration system with me, while he had the pump. Unluckily for him, the pump died that day as he was exploring for campsites below the treeline. So he had gotten very thirsty and gone in search of snow to melt. Lucky for me! He came back with a bladder full of snow to cool my blistered feet. Sweet.
Day 6Moved our base camp down to between Bluebell and Spider Lakes. Lovely place. My buddy caught two lovely trout which I cleaned properly and we cooked wrapped in foil on park. Really tasty.
Day 7Climbed up to the western rim of Garfield Basin from north of Drift Lake, reversing the suggested route of Zeejay's. Would have been tough descending with full pack as she did, but for us it was an easy climb with great views. Martian landscape on the ridgeline. Approaching storms forced us down too quickly. Sun came out by the time we got back to Drift Lake. Lazy pleasant conversations as we enjoyed the warm sun and cool lake.
More trout that evening, but no clean foil left. Cooked them surrounded by soaked dead pine bark over low smoky fire. Orgasmic trout!