Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner to Monahan Creek- Day 1

Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner to Monahan Creek

Total Mileage- 6.24 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 2673 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 2391 feet

Wrangell-St. Elias. That’s enough to get your heart pumping and your blood rushing. Just the name of it. And all it takes is a little bit of research to realize that this behemoth of a National Park is everything you imagined it would be- towering mountains, braided rivers, pulverizing glaciers, and the most unadulterated peace and beauty you have ever seen in your life.

If you need more convincing that this, this trip isn’t for you.

With a four-hour time difference between Alaska and Indiana, we were ready bright and early, but it seemed as if our morning took forever. We had everything strapped up and ready to go hours before we were to meet up with Wrangell Mountain Air for a shuttle over to the airfield. Once the shuttle arrived at the main office of Wrangell Mountain Air, which is on the main dirt road in McCarthy, it only took us about 25 minutes to get to the airfield. We unloaded the packs and took them over to the bush plane, the DeHavilland Beaver (aka The Beaver). We gave the pilot our bear spray and he duct taped them to the wing of the plane, so we didn’t have any crazy mishaps during the flight, and then threw our packs in to be secured for our fifty mile ride to Bremner.

Despite the blue skies at take off, the weather quickly changed as we got into the mountains. I’m not sure what the weather is like in Bremner typically, but it seemed like it’s own little weather systems consisting of continual gray clouds and a misty rain. That is what we experienced once we landed, into the next morning, and even as we looked back in that direction on subsequent days. Being that there are no trails in Wrangell-St. Elias, all trekking would be done with the assistance of USGS Topo Maps (Bering Gl. D6, D7 and McCarthy A6, A7) to serve as a guide as to our route and direction. In preparation this trip we purchased Falcon Guides Hiking Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias book that details the Seven Pass Route from Iceberg Lake to Bremner, but as I mentioned in the last post, we decided to do the route backwards. We decided to go the opposite direction after talking to some locals several months in advance and then determining that we wanted the “most epic” portion of our hike to be at the very end. This choice made the book a little more difficult to understand because it was written going the other direction. Nonetheless, if you decide to do this route… I would recommend the way we did it because of the views. The one thing I can tell you about this route, you are not going to find much information about it, which makes this trip a little more epic in my opinion. You truly have to do it on your own.


Our goal for the day is to head in a southerly route and hit a shoulder to the southeast. It’s really easy to spot, if you are paying attention, but if you miss the turn you will go out of your way to get around this small range. The initial portion of this route from Bremner is easy hiking with low scrub and brush with the occasional boulder field. For the most part we avoided walking through the boulders by staying on the outer edges, but we did have an occasional short stomp through the rocks. This area is just a warm-up to what is coming later in the trip with car size boulders for miles, but for today it is an easy trek for the first two miles when we hit our cut through.

As we ascended our route began to take a northeastern turn, all of which was really great trekking terrain. Compared to our prior experience in Denali, there were very few obstacles thus far in Wrangell. Of course, later in the trip there would be significant alders to contend with but for this first day we welcomed the easy route. The colors, even on this mostly overcast day, were nothing short of spectacular. The air was clean and crisp and we took it all in with every breath. This is everything you imagine Alaskan backpacking to be and more.

The final push for Day 1 would drop down into a valley through which Monahan Creek runs. Being that we really couldn’t plan camping spots in advance, our plan was to hike about six miles each day and then look for a flat area close to fresh water and hopefully a decent (or great) view. The only way we were going to get anything close to a flat spot close to fresh water was to drop all the way down to the valley floor and look for a spot among the alders. While we were still relatively high up, we eyeballed some areas that seemed to open up in the bush. We determined that the darker green areas were high bush and the lighter area were flatter areas with little bush. We just didn’t know how much the difference would be until we got down to it. After working our way through the maze of alder, we ultimately made it to the spot we had scouted. It wasn’t as ideal as we had hoped, as it was still a little more brushy than we would have like, but after looking around for a few minutes we landed a nice spot to through up the tents.

Our trek on Day 2 will take us from Monahan Creek area to our first view of the stunning Bremner Glacier, which we will cross on Day 3.

 

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Preparing for a Wrangell-St. Elias Backpacking Trip

The average person has never heard of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in southeast Alaska, even though it is six times larger than Yellowstone National Park, sizing in at a mere 13 million acres. The sheer size of Wrangell-St. Elias makes it the largest national park in the United States and one of the most prized backpacking bucket list adventures in the world.

Preparing to backpack Wrangell-St. Elias can be daunting. The size, the remoteness, the logistics, and the unknown may be too much for a backpacker who is ready to take it up a level in epic backpacking. But let me assure you that, outside of the logistics of planning this multi-day adventure being a bit challenging, you can do a Wrangell trip with the right mindset going into it.

MINDSET

I feel like we had a bit of an advantage, having backpacked for a week in the backcountry of Denali a few years prior. Even though they were relatively different trips, we knew that Alaska could throw any and every challenge and obstacle at you throughout the week. Leading up to this trip I just kept saying, “Backpacking Alaska is 90% mental and 10% everything else.” It may be a little exaggerated, but trust me, you will do yourself a huge favor if you go in with the mindset that there will be times when you will be cold, wet, tired, sore, and frustrated (of course, everyone at different degrees), but you get the point. Go into Wrangell-St. Elias with the right mindset. This is the best advice anyone can give you. If you expect a difficult trip with obstacles, you have already taken a huge step.

LOGISTICS

Before you do anything else, go to the website of Wrangell Mountain Air. They offer a variety of services, but for our purposes, they fly backpackers into the Wrangell backcountry and drop them off at their specified drop point and then pick them up at their agreed upon end destination. Their website not only describes the different backcountry routes, it shows the areas where they have landing strips for the bush plane.  In essence, you will be backpacking from one landing zone to the next landing zone. You choose the route you will take and the number of days you are planning, just make sure you are at your pickup point on time.  After reading the description and discussing how many days we would be able spend in the backcountry, we chose the Seven Pass Route, which is listed as a trip from Iceberg to Bremner. After a bit of additional research, we decided to travel the opposite direction from Bremner to Iceberg. Once you agree upon the particular route you are going to take, I would suggest calling Wrangell Mountain Air and getting on the books for those dates, as it seems the activity in that area has been picking up over the last couple of years. It is an easy phone call. Just give them your info, your dates, and a 50% deposit and you are set. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park does not require any fees or permits. Yes, I know, that is amazing! But it’s true. All you have to worry about is getting there!

We flew into Anchorage, which was easy, but the real question is how to get to McCarthy, Alaska. It is a seven hour drive with the last hour or two on gravel road. I can tell you that after researching all of the options for getting to that area, the most flexible and cost-effective method is to just rent a vehicle, if you are cool with driving for seven hours. You will need to make sure that you rent an SUV with some heavy duty tires and a spare. I wouldn’t really anticipate any problems on the drive, as the roads (including the gravel) were actually pretty good. We didn’t have any situations over the seven hours in which we felt as if our tires would be compromised in any way. There are other ways of getting to the McCarthy area, but we found this to be the method that fit us the best. You may need to check with the rental company to make sure you can drive the vehicle on gravel roads, but we didn’t have any trouble getting a rental from National Car Rental.

We arrived into McCarthy one day before our trip was to start, which meant that we needed to have overnight accommodations. I highly, highly, highly recommend McCarthy Bed and Breakfast. We loved this place so much, we stayed another night after we finished the trip. This husband and wife team have a variety of little cabins that he built himself. For the four of us, we stayed in a two room, four bed cabin. The location was perfect, as well, as it was a ten minute walk to where we would be picked up by Wrangell Mountain Air the next day. Additionally, the bed and breakfast has an AMAZING breakfast consisting of homemade muffins (try the blueberry muffins!!!), greek yogurt, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, granola, cereal, good coffee, etc. It was the PERFECT pre-backpacking breakfast. All four of us highly recommend this B & B.

McCarthy is a very, very, very small community, consisting of no more than 50-70 people depending on the time of year. It is a simple, single dirt street with a variety of businesses lining the street. We recommend eating at a restaurant called Potato. I think we ate there two or three times. Make sure you order the Rosemary Garlic Fries!

The last logistical element that you need to consider is fuel canisters and bear spray. Being that you can not fly with either on commercial airlines, you will need to figure out how to secure them once in Alaska. To be honest, this was the hardest logistical task for us. We arrived in Anchorage and secured the rental vehicle about three hours before the REI in Anchorage opened and we did not want to waste time waiting for it to open. If you arrive in Anchorage during normal business hours, you can just go to REI. If you end up in a situation like us, you will need to do one of two things. Either order online ahead of time or buy the stuff in McCarthy. BUT I need to tell you that I would not wait until you arrive in McCarthy to but these items. I called a couple of the stores a couple of months in advance and they told me that they did not have fuel canisters or bear spray. But when we got to McCarthy one of the stores did have them. BUT I would NOT depend on them having what you need. Did I mention how small McCarthy is? If I understood correctly, the only have a supply plane bring in goods twice a week… and it isn’t guaranteed that they will have specifically what you need.

We ended up ordering both items online, which was tricky as well.  The ONLY online retailer who would ship fuel canisters and bear spray was walmart.com. Other online retailers would not ship combustible items to Alaska (maybe because they would have to be flown?).  Anyway, we asked Wrangell Mountain Air if we could have the items shipped to them and they agreed. The items arrived there about a month before. It worked perfectly.

GEAR

If you are planning for this trip to Wrangell-St. Elias, you should already be well-versed in how to pack for a trip with variable weather conditions, so I won’t go through the entire list. Here are a few things that you may just want to consider. If your trip, like ours, involves glacier crossings, you may want to consider getting some Katoolah micro-spikes. We did not end up using them, but I also slip one time and bruised up my ribs, so it is up to you. The glacier we crossed was non-technical so it didn’t involve any technical gear. If you are close to needing a new pair of boots, I would recommend going ahead getting new boots in advance and breaking them in before this trip. I had about 600 miles on my boots and the lugs were not as grippy as I would have liked for this trip. The terrain is tough and you really need to have a pair of boots that are dialed in and up to the challenge. Once we finished our trip, I retired my boots and bought some new ones. I can’t think of anything else that really stood out from a gear perspective. Maybe just make sure you have some lightweight dry bags in your pack with a dry pair of socks and thermal layer. If you get cold and everything else is weight, at least you will have some dry, warm gear. We also took an emergency satellite beacon that would check the weather, mark our route online for family, and text out if we needed to communicate. That came in handy for our trip, but more on that in a later post.

Those are the biggies, I think. If you have specific questions, just comment below and I will answer them the best I can. You will not regret this trip. It was definitely one of the top trips we have ever taken.

Here is the details and review of each day from Bremner to Iceberg Lake.

Day 1- Bremner to Monahan Creek

Brandon

Awakening to All That is Good

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It was an early fourth morning at Hance Creek, one of the few lush, vibrant ecosystems in the heart of the dry, arid, and unforgiving Grand Canyon. We had been on the trail-less Escalante Route the three previous days, hugging the mighty Colorado River in complete isolation, far from the usual touristy stops along the south rim and well beyond the maintained and frequented hiker trails that ascend and descend in and out of the canyon. We were in the rarely travelled backcountry of the Grand Canyon.

Our last ascent from Hance Creek would take us up a couple thousand feet to the visually stunning Horseshoe Mesa and then another thousand or so feet to our end destination at Grandview Point.

As we broke camp and steadily trekked toward the base of Horseshoe Mesa, there was a palpable and shared sense of excitement and trepidation. Excitement that we were conquering…

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Reblog: All Creation Sings

Hey lovers of the outdoors!

I wrote a new post on my other blog entitled All Creation Sings.  I recount a specific moment in Alaska when summiting Mt. Eielson when I saw Denali for the first time.  It is a faith post, so if that’s not your thing you may choose to disregard… but I thought you each would identify with the emotions that I share in the post.

Btw… I am heading to Wrangell St. Elias NP in Alaska at the beginning of August for a week in the wilderness.  New trip reports will be coming then.

Peace…

Brandon

Wyoming: Wind River Range- Titcomb Lakes to Trails End Campground- Day 4

Wyoming: Wind River Range- Titcomb Lakes to Trail’s End Campground

Total Mileage- 14.00 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 2125 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 3334 feet

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Our fourth and final day in the Wind River Range area of Wyoming would take us from Titcomb Lakes to Trail’s End Campground.  The previous day threw a monkey wrench into our plans, as we were planning to hit Bonney Pass and take The High Route north for several days.  An expected snowfall would have made our attempt too risky so we opted to exit through Titcomb Basin to Trail’s End Campground.  While this was a massive downer, our trek through the basin was amazing.  The views were nothing less than spectacular.  The big decision that we had for this day was whether we were going to hit the full 14 miles to get out- or – do one more night.  At this point it was really a decision based on how everyone was feeling.

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This 14-mile trek would add up to some significant elevation changes, both ascending and descending.  To be honest, I was a little surprised that we gained over 2000 feet, but we had not game-planned this route and really did not know what to expect.  Surprisingly, the only reason we had a map for this trail is that on the previous day when we decided to not tackle Bonney we ran into some speed packers who let us take some pictures of their map.  I suppose had we not had their map as a reference we would have still made the same trail out, but their map gave us an approximate mileage and an approximate end destination.  But for the time being, we saw a beach and a lake.  And that ALWAYS means a polar plunge.  No joke, the water temperature was in the 40’s.

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To give you a bit of an idea about this 14-mile hike, about the first half of it (the portion coming from Titcomb Lakes) is amazing.  The entire time I was hiking I thought that it would be a great stretch to hike and camp with my kids on another trip.  Camping at Titcomb Lakes was nothing short of stunning and the views of lakes/mountains was really special.  However, the final half of the hike is not pretty at all.  It is mainly a wide multi-use trail that descends among the trees making for a long, repetitive seven miles.  That was the unfortunate part of this last portion- if you wanted to hike to Titcomb Basin and hit the lakes… it would take a really long and suffocating initial hike to get there.  Needless to say, I didn’t take a lot of pictures the last seven miles.

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We popped out of the woods and into the parking lot close to Trail’s End Campground.  We were not intending to camp there, but were looking to hitchhike back to Pinedale for the night.  Our vehicle was still at the Green River Lake parking lot.  The unfortunate part of ending our hike at Trail’s End Campground without a vehicle was that this road was sparsely traveled… and the people who actual did drive by were… surprise, surprise… coming back to camp for the evening and NOT going to Pinedale.  We had a couple of people stop, but they were unwilling to drive us into town.  Cell coverage was terrible and extremely spotty, but one of the guys was able to text his wife and ask her to get a shuttle set up for us.  Unfortunately, communication between us and the shuttle service completely broke down and they said that the earliest they could get us (even if they wanted to) was 11pm.  This was strange because we were only a 30-minute drive from them.  We think they were unclear on where we actually were.  To our complete dismay, we were planning to camp in the parking lot, but then… all of a sudden… a truck slowly turned on to our road.  With three of our guys working at the corporate headquarters of Cummins Engine Company in Columbus, Indiana… they were surprised and blown away that the driver of the truck not only had a Cummins engine in his truck… he was wearing a Cummins baseball cap.  The stars aligned.  As it turned out, the man, his wife, and daughter came up to that area to release balloons in remeberance of the daughter’s husband who had passed away a year from that date.  They had just finished when they decided to just crusie around and look at the views before they went back to Pinedale.  They very kindly loaded five guys, five packs into the covered bed of the truck and we were off to Pinedale.  There are still some amazing people in this world and we were fortunate to have crossed paths with them.

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Wyoming: Wind River Range- Peak Lake to Titcomb Lakes- Day 3

Wyoming: Wind River Range- Peak Lake to Titcomb Lakes

Total Mileage- 7.42 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 2165 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 2205 feet

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At 2am into our third day there was a sound as if someone was taking their hands and hitting our 2-man tent violently.  We awakened perplexed as to what the sound could be.  We were not underneath of trees.  It sounded more violent than wind.  I looked out the window and saw massive amounts of snow falling from the sky.  Our three season tent (not winter) was beginning to sag from the weight and accumulation of snow.  We knocked it off from inside.  We were not expecting snow.  Sure there is always a chance, especially at higher altitudes, but we thought we had another couple of weeks before this area would see snow.  For a moment I was a bit nervous about our situation.  I didn’t know how much snow would accumulate and knew that both routes forward and backward would be completely treacherous and dangerous if the snow was too deep.  The boulder field was a difficult traverse without snow and ice. And going forward off-trail to hit two passes in one day in the 12,000-13,000 range would be even more difficult.  We stayed awake until it stopped snowing after about 30 minutes.  We reached out through the tent vestibule and noticed that it was only about four or five inches.  That’s doable.  We put our heads down to go back to sleep, but heard a lot of commotion and saw a lot of headlamp movement coming from the other three-man tent.  We thought they were just acting silly because of the snow.  We went back to sleep.

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It was really cold the next morning and there wasn’t much urgency getting out into it.  There are many difficult things about backpacking, but I would say that the most difficult for me is unzipping my warm and cozy sleeping bag and getting out of it when the temps are freezing.  Maybe you already do this, but I usually grab the clothes I will be putting on and stick them in my sleeping bag with me to warm up before dressing.  Anyway, we got up retrieved our bear cans for breakfast.  As we all began to circle up, we heard what all of the commotion was about the previous night from the other tent.  The other tent began to sag significantly from the weight of the snow.  The three guys woke up and began to knock it off.  Sometime during the activity Patrick began to feel nauseous, likely from a mild bit of altitude sickness, and tried to open the tent but struggled with zipper.  Before they knew it he had thrown up in the tent on his sleeping bag.  That is the commotion that we heard.  He stepped out into the frigid 20-degree air with accumulating (only wearing his boxers) on to clean off his sleeping bag.  With him still feeling under the weather at breakfast and the fact that our route was now covered in ice and snow… we had to figure out a plan.  This particular day was supposed to be our biggest day with two passes, one of which was the steep Bonney Pass that would take us into The High Route.  With the weather at higher elevations now unpredictable, we were concerned that if we punched up to 13,000 feet we could put ourselves into a situation in which we could not get out.  Ever cautious and conservative in our planning, we already knew that hitting The High Route (the crown jewel of our hike) was not likely to happen.  But we had one immediate decision- do we backtrack to get out or do we at least hit the first pass and then evaluate our situation?  We decided that backtracking was way too precarious through the now icy boulderfield.  With 40 pounds on our backs we did not need to snap a leg.  We were going to press forward and make the pass between Twin Peaks and Winifred Peaks, which was about a 1600 foot climb, and then descend the steep and broken rock that runs parallel to Twins Glacier.

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Even without a trail and with accumulated snow, the first mile was really pretty easy.  It was the next two and a half miles that would really slow us down.  As you can see from the map at the very top of this post, the route for this day was mostly green.  It was only our ascent and descent to and from the pass that was in the red, or was significantly slower.  The hardest part on either side of the pass was our footing.  Without a trail we were obviously making our own route.  With each step up we had to make sure that the rocks under our feet were not loose or wobbly, because we could not see the rocks.  This was a painstaking process, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  It just took time.

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We were sucking wind going up to 12,200.  Because we thought that the previous days would gradually acclimate us, we didn’t take any Diamox for this trip to speed the process.  While we had gradually increased our elevation over the previous days, these Indiana boys live at 650 feet above sea level.  Once we hit the pass I didn’t take any pictures going down Knapsack.  It was too steep and treacherous.  We heavily relied on our trekking poles for stability.  I think I fell a couple of times due to loose rocks.  It was certainly more difficult going down than going up.  So the next pictures you see are at the bottom of Knapsack where we had to make a decision about our route.  Would we try to hit Bonney or take an alternate route?

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We stopped for lunch to put together a plan.  The most unfortunate part was that we were already into the early afternoon, which meant that a Bonney Pass attempt likely would not be wise for the time it would take.  Another factor that weighed heavily was the possibility of more intense inclement weather at 13,000, if we went ahead and hit The High Route.  The last thing that any of us wanted was to get into a situation in which the weather worsened at higher elevations and necessitated a rescue.  Maybe that wasn’t likely, but we don’t know the area that well.  We actually thought the snow window may have opened a couple weeks after our trip, but it didn’t.  So who knew what we may have been getting ourselves in to.  The third factor was that one of the guys was still not feeling well.  That made our decision really quite easy.  With Bonney Pass looking really gnarly, steep, and slick, the unpredictable weather at higher elevations, and a person possibly suffering from mild altitude sickness… we decided to take a twenty mile exit through Titcomb Basin and out.  Of course this was disheartening because it wasn’t our original plan, but it was the wise decision.

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Our plan was to get to the second of two Titcomb Lakes and set up camp.  The weather, as we dropped elevation, was magnificent.  While we initially believed that Titcomb Basin would be a sorry consolation prize, it ended up being one of the most glorious and beautiful places we have ever hiked.  It was certainly no consolation prize.

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The day ended with a super sweet spot to camp with unbelievable 360-degree views.  As unpredictably as the day started, it ended as one of the most memorable and one of the most majestic.  Our next day would take us out of Titcomb Basin… over an hour away from our vehicle… which means that the adventure is really only just beginning.

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Wyoming: Wind River Range- Three Forks Park to Peak Lake- Day 2

Wyoming: Wind River Range- Three Forks Park to Peak Lake

Total Mileage- 9.3 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 3917 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 1383 feet

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On Day 2 we would be hiking from Three Forks Park to the Peak Lake Area, which would take us just over 9.3 miles for the day and close to 4000 feet of elevation gain.  This trek is a fairly gradual ascent with the last couple of miles, as we head eastward off-trail, being significantly more slow going.  This early September morning was overcast and cool and it would stay that way the entire day with intermittent frozen precipitation.  I say “frozen” because what we experienced was not ice, sleet, or snow.  It was frozen rice-sized precipitation that was chewy before it melted in my mouth.  It was surreal, but more on that later.

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From Three Forks Park the Highline Trail begins a gentle climb, still hugging the Green River, initially enveloped in pine but then opening up to some beautiful autumn colors.  At about 8400 feet the Highline begins to switchback southwest about 800 feet to Clark Creek, which is an easy cross.  Around the Trail Creek Park area some 11,000 foot unnamed peaks begin to pop up on either side, making for some amazing views.

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It has been a gradual climb up to this point and relatively uneventful. I can’t say the same thing for the second half of this day.  Beginning at Vista Pass, the sky darkened and began to rain and thunder as we trailed into the high country.  We stopped long enough to pull out our raincoats and then proceeded.  But the thunder intensified and the rain turned to soft ice pellets.  It was a strange precipitation. It was the size of rice and when I put it in my mouth… was chewy before it melted.  I have to be honest and say that I have never felt so close to thunder in my life.  I could actually feel it when it would rumble.  We knew that we needed to take shelter immediately.  Fortunately we were close to a boulder field which yielded a nice “cave” for us to duck into until the storm subsided.  After about twenty minutes holed up we were in the clear to begin a very tiring trek through the boulder field up to Cube Rock Pass and Dale Lake.

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Dale Lake sits at about 10,700 feet above sea level and is directly west of Peak Lake.  There are some decent spots to camp west of Peak Lake, but our plan was to circle northward around Peak and camp in the basin just east of the lake.  As we looked at our route around Peak Lake, we could not immediately make out the trail, but as we got closer it was apparent that the trail actually hugged the lake tightly en route to the basin.  I should say that the precipitation did not let up.  In fact, we were still getting pelted by the rice-sized ice.  To be honest, I was ready for the storm to blow over… and it eventually did as we found a spot to set up camp.

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We set up camp in the basin just east of Peak Lake in a really, really sweet spot.  Directly to our east we could see the first pass we would tackle the next morning in Knapsack Col.  The sun broke through just before supper.  We had some magnificent views all around and some really great spots to sit among the broken boulders. As the day closed out we knew that the next day was going to be our most challenging in terms of elevation and going off-trail.  We were going to hit Knapsack early the next morning and then tackle Bonney Pass as our entrance into The High Route.  Little did we know that our plan would change so dramatically in the middle of the night.

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Day Three would take us over Knapsack and down passed Twins Glacier to make some tough decisions about how we were going to proceed with the remaining planned hike.  The elements were going to be a huge factor (and game changer) for this trip.

Wyoming: Wind River Range- Green River Lake to Three Forks Park- Day 1

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Wyoming: Wind River Range- Green River Lake to Three Forks Park

Total Mileage- 10.74 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 2033 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 2004 feet

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Let’s start out with the fact that we had to alter our trip on Day 3 because we were unable to hit Bonney Pass due to ice and snow.  I will discuss this more on the Day 3 post, but if you are looking for a loop route that hits a significant portion of the Sierra High Route, you won’t find it here.  We took the conservative options and readjusted our route, opting not to test Mother Nature.  I believe that we attempted this route a week too late, as we started Day 1 on September 3.  Typically the first heavy snowfall doesn’t hit until the middle of the month.

Day 1 was beautiful as we approached Green River Lakes parking lot.  It was everything we hoped it would be- mid-60 degree weather with no bugs, blue skies, white puffy clouds.  We believed that the first week of September would be the sweet spot with no bugs, cool days/cold nights, and little to no snow.  We typically anchor our trips to Labor Day so we save a vacation day, however starting on this particular weekend meant more human activity than we really wanted.  We always hope for complete solitude, but everyone was no doubt trying to get in their last trip before the snow.  In retrospect, we should have considered the last week of August.  Had we done that we likely would have eliminated some of the people traffic and avoided the first big snow of the season.

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Our goal for Day 1 was to hit Three Forks Park (10.7 miles), which is a really nice, open basin area with plenty of camping opportunities at the confluence of Green River, Wells Creek, and Clark Creek.  As we left the Green River parking lot there were spectacular views of Square Top Mountain.  There are a couple of trail options from the parking lot.  We opted for Lakeside Trail that hugged the west side of the first lake.  There is also a trail on the east side of the lake that is a more direct route.  The east side trail is Highline Trail, also labeled Continental Divide Trail.  Either trail works.  If you take Lakeside Trail there is an eastward cut-across after the first lake that takes you over to Highline Trail.  While we had amazing views on Lakeside Trail, I would probably recommend taking the eastward trail simply because it is more direct and you may get better views of Square Top.

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After the eastward cut-across, we took a quick snack break.  We were at about the 3.5 mile mark.  The next three miles were relatively flat (a few ups and downs) with great views of Flattop Mountain and the second Green Lake.  The waters are an absolutely stunning Caribbean blue in which you can actually see fish swimming.  Later on the trip we stripped down and jumped in one of the lakes (more on that later), but the water temps in early September were in the 40’s.  Nice and shockingly cold.  The trail was well-established and visible worn for easy backpacking.
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The final three miles to Three Forks Park were a gradual ascent.  Overall, this was a very leisurely and beautiful 10.7 miles.  We averaged just under 2mph and it took us a little over six hours.  We could have very easily gone faster, but we took our time and enjoyed the views.  Three Forks Park is a really nice, open meadowy area with many camping options.  The only downside was that there were quite a few people camping in the area.  There were a couple of backpacking groups and then another group with horses, big tents, and a dog.  All in all it wasn’t too bad and didn’t distract us too much, but there is always this yearning to just get away from crowds and have complete solitude.  Again, this was a holiday weekend so we had to expect this.  Also, the popularity of the area has really grown over the years with more exposure and people talking about it.

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Day Two will take us south and then eastward just passed Peak Lake where we had our most unpredictable night.

Arizona: Grand Canyon- South Kaibab Trail- South Rim to Cedar Ridge

South Kaibab Trail- South Rim to Cedar Ridge

Total Mileage- 3.8 miles

Total Elevation Gain- 1307 feet

Total Elevation Loss- 1307 feet

Grand Canyon- South Kaibab RouteSouth Kaibab Trail

In the last three years I have been to the Grand Canyon four times and hiked each time I have been there.

The most extensive hike was the famed Escalante Route, a 33-mile backcountry bucket list trip that we did over 3 nights and four days, in 2014.  I have also been able to swing up to the Grand Canyon each of the last three years as I finished some house building missions in Mexico.

Last year my oldest daughter and I hiked from Grandview Point to Horseshoe Mesa and back, which was also the last leg of the Escalante Route trek.

This year as we left Mexico my two daughter along with three other adults and three kids made our way to Grand Canyon National Park to do a day hike from the South Rim along South Kaibab Trail down 1300 feet to Cedar Grove and then back out.

Being that this particular group ranged in age from 8 to 42 and also had a variety of strength, stamina, and hiking experience, we pretty much allotted five hours for the trek. While I started the GPS at the very beginning of the South Kaibab Trail, we parked at the Visitor’s Center and walked to the trailhead which was about 2.5 miles one way on the Greenway Trail. By the end of our time we had hiked about eight miles total (5 from Visitor Center to South Kaibab Trailhead and back and then Trailhead to Cedar Grove and back). If you want to take a nice stroll along the south rim I would suggest parking at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and following the Greenway Trail to the trailhead. It has really nice views and provides a leisurely walk over paved trail. Of course I always recommend going beyond the rim. Rim shots are nice but there is nothing like jumping into the canyon.

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The late March weather was perfect. At the rim it was about 55 degrees F and only got up to just above 60 degrees at Cedar Ridge. The skies were crystal clear and magnificent blue. With us being between 7200 feet and 5900 feet, the UV radiation levels were higher than what we are accustomed to in Indiana. I have read reports that indicate for every 3000 feet of elevation change there is a little over 10% gain in UV radiation. That put us at about 20% more than what we are used to and, as a result, several of us ended up with red ears, noses, and faces. Note to self, remember the sunscreen next time. img_0548

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The trail itself is fine and powdery with a lot of wear.  Compared to Grandview Trail, South Kaibab is significantly more friendly to the casual hiker and for younger kids.  This trail should be no problem for younger kids or older adults, just have a pace that works for you, take plenty of breaks, and drink plenty of water.  Also, if you attempt any trail in the Grand Canyon, please understand that in the summer months the temperatures can be sweltering.  You can expect that for every 1000 feet you descend, the temperature will increase about 5 degree F.  Make sure you take plenty of water with you, but don’t be tempted to drink the majority of it on the way down because you will need it more on the way up.

When weighing whether we should hike South Kaibab or Bright Angel we decided that, while Bright Angel was a bit more shaded, South Kaibab had better views.  It was a great trade-off because we started early enough that our entire trek down the switchbacks was in the shade.  Even at that, I still recommend using some sunscreen.  The two most notable spots on South Kaibab is Ooh-Aah Point and Cedar Ridge.  The hike one-way to Ooh-Aah point and Cedar Ridge is 0.9 miles and 1.5 miles, respectively.

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Ooh-Aah Point is the point along South Kaibab where you get your first wide view of the canyon and it is spectacular.  It certainly beats the views from the road.  Even if you have no intention on going further into the canyon, it would be worth your while to at least hike down to this point for the view.

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Cedar Ridge, for me, is a point along Kaibab where I feel like you are starting to get into the heart of the canyon.  The most prominent landmark feature in this area is O’Neill Butte.  After taking restroom breaks we hiked to a wonder point where we sat down for about 45 minutes and had a snack and a great view of the Butte.  There were quite a few people in the Cedar Ridge area, as this is a relatively easy hike for casual and day hikers, but most of the day hikers, it seemed, stayed closer to the restrooms and Cedar Ridge signage, which allowed us to have a bit more solitude while taking in the view.   If you had a late start or if you are hiking in the summer, an attempt to the river and back out is not advised.  The Cedar Ridge area also has toilet facilities.

The hike out for us went extraordinarily well.  We averaged 1.7 mph on our way down, and a shocking 1.9 mph on the way out.  The kids completely rocked it!  With that being said, don’t plan on the hike out being easy.  If you are a beginner or casual hiker, I would plan twice as much time for coming out as I had for going in.  So if it took you 1.5 hours to get to Cedar Ridge, I would plan 3 hours to get out.  This is a really, really liberal number… but I really think you should take it seriously.  Understand that you will be between 5900 and 7200 feet above sea level and the oxygen level is about a quarter less than at sea level.  You will be out of breath hiking out and you will stop frequently to catch your breath and take a water break.  But listen, it is worth it!  You get a chance to hike INTO THE GRAND CANYON!  And 99% of people NEVER take the opportunity to do that.  So embrace it and enjoy it!