So I’ve resolved to quit doing this half-baked trip report stuff. The stream-of-consciousness lists of memories don’t really do justice to the experience for anyone who reads it, other than myself. It’s embarrassing to be so lazy about something I feel so passionate about, so there you go – no more laundry-list trip reports.
That said, please bear with me as I try to extract a readable report from my saved laundry-list notes on hike up Table Mountain this last August. I do wish that I’d have sat down and really put this together when my emotions were still as fresh and personally poignant as the day we got back, but this will have to do.
We’d been looking forward to this trip for some time. My brother-in-law Boone had suggested a hike with the oldest kids as a kind of ‘end of summer’ adventure, and so we put a date down and called it good. The cousins Ian and Bailey were excited, although Ian was honestly a little intimidated. His biggest hike to date had been Little Si, a round trip excursion of around 5 miles, and he wasn’t interested in climbing any huge mountains quite yet. We assured him we’d just be going to look at the big mountains and that this would be nothing more than a long walk up a steep hill.
I managed to escape from Tuesday’s work responsibilities and spent that Monday evening packing and cleaning out the Camelbaks. A little big of everything went into the trusty CiloGear pack, including a wide variety of kid-friendly snacks and enticements. Bed came later than I’d wanted, but that’s usually the drill on these kind of nights.
The day started around five, when I dropped Ian into his clothes and carried him upstairs, still slightly asleep. He was smiling though, so who knows how far gone he still was. Boone and Bailey showed up about quarter after, and we threw our two packs in and headed north out of Star Valley. The sun was still low behind the Salt River range and left the sky black and lit only by the last of the night’s stars. Our first stop of the day was at the gas station in Alpine where we picked up some breakfast pizza and OJ. As we drove north through the twists and turns of Highway 89 past the Palisades Reservoir, the hint of sunrise continued to grow and shift the color of the horizon from black to deep purples and blues and soon, the familiar glows of a proper Wyoming sunrise.
From the flats of Idaho farmland near Driggs and Alta, the familiar tips of the Teton range caught the first rays of sun and made us all comment on how fortunate we were to be awake and in such a place to see the sun rise like that.
The road turned east at Alta, and we headed into the foothills. Winding up the road into the canyon, we were distracted by both the sudden views of the familiar Teton range, only reversed – as well as the free range cattle and missed our initial turn off. We stopped for a few hazy photos of our intended summit and then pulled off onto the poorly marked dirt road heading up Teton Canyon.
The trail head for Table mountain is actually a two-fer. The trail that is on most maps is a bit back before the end of the road, while the steeper, more manly trail starts behind the privy at the end of the road. Packs were pulled and four bottles of root beer were stashed in the river, and we were off. Don’t get confused and start heading down towards the Alaska Basin like we did… Nothing good will come of it, except possibly for some misnomered mushrooms and a few patches of bear fur. Luckily both Boone and I can read a map, so we actually did that and figured out that East does not equal South and were able to retrace our steps before going too far down the wrong path. The sign to the actual west ridge trail is kind of intimidating – but the kids were still smiling at this point so we took the prerequisite before picture and started up.
The trail was pretty steep and rocky – lots of slippy-slidey stuff and looseness. Ian was a bit like a new deer at first, all wobbly ankles and still unsure of his footing. He slipped once, but recovered quickly and kept motoring up. The first mile does head pretty much straight up, but does offer some really nice view of the canyon to the South and the aforementioned Alaska basin. The flowers were still in bloom in places, and only thickened up as we climbed. We soon reached our first real break spot, which offerered a spectacular view into the canyon, surrounded by aspen and waist-high fireweed and indian paintbrush. The kids were both interested in trying out some lemon-lime flavored Gu, but quickly handed it back to me and decided to stick with their Swedish Fish.
As the trail continued up, we passed through more and more aspen as well as some broad, green meadows. We tried to keep kind of quiet in case of elk or moose, but didn’t see anything. Ian was still plugging along, although by this time I had his pack attached to mine in an effort to keep his spirits up and his legs still churning. Still only a couple of miles at the most at this point, the time-tested techniques of hiking with children came into play pretty early. The idea is to keep a conversation happening that allows their focus to be trained on something other than their legs. We started with some jokes, which went over pretty well, and moved quickly into brainteasers, although they were a bit over the kids heads. I gave in and told them the answer, (turn one switch on for a few minutes, then turn it off, and flip one of the others), but they were unimpressed.
As we pressed on Ian and I started thinking about potential storylines for Episode 7 of Star Wars, and over the next few miles managed to come up with complete characters, plotlines, locations, and costumes. Mr. Lucas, please keep your eyes peeled for the manila envelope from Wyoming in the mail.
The trail soon started to leave the treeline, (but not before sharing with us a few of nature’s PG-13 oddities) and we came out onto a high meadow full of wildflowers and a small stream. The horizon offered only a peek of the Grand Teton, but a wider, more panoramic view was ours as we crested the top of the meadow and moved out onto the long, narrow ridge plateau below the actual summit of Table Mountain. Boone and Bailey waited for Ian and I up on the left-hand side of the ridge and we stopped to take in the amazing view of the bowl below the summit. The ruggedness of the landscape and the sheer size of the view was breathtaking. We were all kind of dragging at this point, with still more than a mile to go and around 1000 feet still to climb.
Turning from the view and coming back down to the trail I saw across the top of the ridge a couple of large dark shapes moving through the trees. Stopping for a second, they soon registered as Mother and Baby Moose and we spent a few minutes watching them graze and move through the brush. We could easily see the path to the summit now as it crossed the mix of talus and meadow and flowers and some kind of shale gravel combination. Boone and Bailey were pretty far ahead of us now, but kindly stopped and offered shouts of encouragement as we would get nearer to their resting spot. Ian was actually pretty quiet now, except for spurts of genius about our new Star Wars movie or to say ‘thanks’ for another of my offered orange slices. We’d stop every hundred feet or so to just lean over and breath deeply (we were rockin’ it at over 10,000 feet at this point) and to let our legs catch up with our heart rate. I explained to Ian about second winds and that for him to have come this far on a trail this rough was a pretty exceptional feat for an 8-year-old. He’d smile and I held his hand as we kept up along the trail.
We again reached Boone and Bailey and stayed pretty close to them for the rest of the ascent. The trail was now steeper again and on pretty loose rock, and our steps were definitely more labored and slow. The summit seemed very close, but it took some considerable time to finish crossing the long slope leading to the base of the summit scramble. The final stretch up to the top was a class II bit of hands-on climbing, with a lot of loose rubble but a definite trail that led up and around and through a narrow chute before reaching the top.
Ian was at the head of the line, while I stayed right behind him to give a bit of confidence. He pulled himself up through the chute and out onto the summit, and I followed right after. The surge of emotion that hit me when we both reached the top was like nothing I’d experienced on a mountain before. The combination of being there with my oldest son and the view that had just smacked us between the eyes was overwhelming, and we hugged and just grinned like fools. My heart still in my throat, I told him how proud I was and how much I loved him, and we greeted Boone and Bailey with high-fives.
The wind wasn’t too bad, so we sat up near the highest point we could find to get some much-needed food and rest. We barely looked at what we were eating. The panorama all around us was unlike any vista I’d ever seen. The Grand Teton was so close, and all the familiar satellite peaks and canyons were spread out to the east, while the canyons and farmlands and ridges we’d just climbed finished off the view. We spent the next hour or so eating and taking photos, and chatting with the few other hikers that topped out after us.
Deciding it was time to go was easy – the wind had started to pick up some and we knew that for as long as it had taken us to get up there, it was going to be a long walk back down. We’d decided to take the regular trail back down, which split off from our ascent trail up near the shale-laden ridge we’d just climbed. A good-sized cairn marked the split, and after a mostly-uneventful decent from the summit (a few spills and scraped knees) and some more hand-holding over the uneven trail, we started back down. We stopped and took a small detour to the last remaining strip of snow on the edge of the canyon to take in the view and a few more photos. One memorable potty-break later, we were on the new trail, which led us across the rim of the canyon, with a long, steep drop-off to our right down into the green depths below. Ian’s footsteps were a bit more sure, but it was still a little unsettling to see my son walk along such an exposed path. Reaching the far corner, the trail then switchbacks down across the face, through waist-high flowers and scrub, and starts heading back west following a gentle stream.
We were pretty tired at this point. The kids were still trucking, but there was definite fatigue happening, so we took it kind of slow for a bit as the trail started winding down through thickening brush and leaving the high meadows below the ridge. I was still holding on to Ian’s hand, even though his footsteps continued to be more stable, there was a lot of loose stuff and he felt more secure hanging on from time to time. The flowers continued to amaze as we descended. It seemed as though we’d timed our hike just right to catch the greatest range of blooming wildflowers from the trail head almost to the summit.
The trail kept heading down into the treeline and eventually smoothed out, but not before making us cross the North Fork of Teton Creek a handful of times. Ian managed to put both feet in the drink, and with the number of miles we still had to go I was grateful I’d brought a pair of dry socks. They weren’t his size, but rather a pair of merino liners, size 12. They were just the ticket for his tired little legs. For some reason his energy level at this point just shot through the roof and he was instantly in the front of our little line and bouncing and jumping off of rocks in the trail, his feet now quite comfortable and his steps much more confident than earlier in the day. His second wind was encouraging, as we started to realize that at the rate we were going we’d be wrapping up in the dark. The trail was definitely heading downhill, but just not as steep as we might have liked to get us back to the car.
The trail seemed to be taking much longer than we’d hoped, but it was a much more established and well-maintained route than our ascent. Still, both Boone and I were feeling slightly uneasy with the fact that we were still in this narrow valley and traveling through high scrub and grasses at feeding time. The sun had now passed below the rim of the canyon walls and the dusk made us all pick up our pace a bit. Out of good old-fashioned paranoia and the heebie-jeebies I picked up and hung on to a good sized rock for a solid mile or so. Boone later said he’d felt the same sense of urgency, even though we never saw anything.
Our hearts soon lightened as we saw the main road towards the trailhead below us, and we started to hurry again. Bailey and Boone were below us a bit, and cheered up to us when they reached the sign at the trail’s end. Twelve miles, twelve hours. I was definitely impressed with both Ian and Bailey. This was more of a hike that either Boone or I had anticipated, and the fact that both kids took on the challenge, and not only succeeded, but did so without complaining or whining was pretty dang cool. We couldn’t stop smiling at this point, just so absolutely pleased with the kids and how much fun the day was. As we walked back to the car down the gravel road, I jumped down over the side of the bridge and retrieved the now super-chilled bottles of celebration root beer. Another 20 yards back to the car, and then after some shoe-loosening and clothes-changing, we were on the road back to Star Valley.
We stopped in Driggs to find some food, but with the late hour we didn’t see anything open. Pulling into the Broulim’s parking lot, Boone rolled down his window and asked the local:
“Hi – do you know of any drive-through that’s open right now?”
“…uh, no. Food.”
“Ah, yeah – I think there’s a Burger King up on the north end of town…”
And so off to BK we go. A few nuggets into his meal, Ian goes down for the count. The drive home went by pretty quickly, and it was a good feeling carrying my son into the house after a day in the hills. He kind of woke up as Amy opened the door, and just about collapsed as I put him down, so back up he went and I dropped him into bed. I dragged the packs inside from the porch, jumped in the shower and promptly fell asleep.
This was honestly one of the most exhausting days I’d ever had in mountains, as well as one of the most memorable. I learned a lot about hiking with kids, and plan on doing these kinds of trips a bit more frequently. Ian’s confidence really grew a lot as well. To be that young and to know what your legs are capable of is an empowering bit of knowledge, and I think he’ll have fond memories of this day as well. To have been able to share a hike like this with Ian was a very rewarding experience, one that was only made better by the fact that it was a Tuesday and I should have been working…
Alll photos here: http://flickr.com/photos/untickalock/sets/72157607140832328/