Monthly Archives: September 2013

Grand Tetons

Driving into the Grand Tetons there was a general consensus in the air that we needed a big dose of high adventure.  We pulled up to the back country permit office and were blessed to meet our favorite park ranger ever.  She was like everyone’s adored grandmother, so sweet and encouraging.  We explained that we have a one year old, a 7 year old and an 11 year old and we want to go on a four day trip.  Prior to arriving we had been recommended a variety of different hikes that were (similar to the 3 Bears) too easy, too short, or entirely too boring.  Most people do that.  The majority of people will give you the experience light recommendation.  But this sweet little ranger knew exactly what we needed.

From the permit office we headed down to the String Lakes trailhead with 3 large bear canisters, 2 bear sprays and permit in hand for a 4 day 3 night trip up Paintbrush Canyon over the 10,800 foot Paintbrush Divide and down the very scenic Cascade Canyon, a 4,200 foot climb and descent over 20 miles of sub-alpine and alpine wonderland.  The pass was almost the exact same height as Mt Baker, the big mountain that sits over our home town which helped make our mission relevant and enticing to the boys.

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As we packed the car the mood in the air was electric, literally.  Deep rumbling accompanied the darkening clouds forming over the Tetons as we attacked the mammoth job of packing our packs for the trip.  We did a great job of not talking about the weather.  We simply saddled packs and mozzied onward and upward to greet the storm.  The kids did an amazing job of hiking fast through the open meadow land while the lightening storm was wreaking havoc.  Finally as the thickest of it was above our heads and the hail was storming down, we stopped to huddle up and soak in the fullness of this big crazy adventure.

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The hiking somehow happened harmoniously, mostly.  Jacob had a full pack including a loaded bear canister of food, a big boy now for sure.  Joseph had a ridiculously large amount of stuff including an extra satchel thrown over his shoulder.  Michelle had a full backpack……and Ila on shoulders, front or back depending.  Elias carried a cute little pack with the trowel in one side pocket and water bottle in the other.  Together we greeted the hike as a desired challenge after a mellow visit to Yellowstone.

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Our camp on day one was worth writing home about overlooking the deep valley below. Although Michelle expected to see a Grizzly or Black Bear around every tree, we were bear free. We cooked above camp on a rocky ledge and arranged the food canisters lodged among large boulders. The kids played and scurried like Pikas among the rocks.  On the second day we had a leisurely mile and half hike or so up canyon and there we found Paradise.  The rest of this day was spent frolicking and lollygagging around in Alpine meadows and lakes.  It’s a tough job but that’s why alpine meadows exist.

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That night was weird though.  I (Joseph) kept dreaming about ghosts and finally woke up to the tent smelling like smoke.  I went outside and couldn’t see the outline of the peaks that surrounded camp anymore and ashes were flying around everywhere.  I became very concerned and after some thought based on past experiences mostly in the North Cascades decided that the smoke had moved in from the big fires in east central Idaho and went back to bed.  The previous summer during the month of July I experienced the worst forest fire haze ever.  It turned out that during the month of July 2012 there weren’t any forest fires in the region but rather the haze was moving in from Siberia due to the worst forest fires Siberia had ever had on record.  Now back to our tent in the Tetons, I woke up later to the smell of fresh air again and allowed myself to fall back into a deep sleep.

The next day we awoke to crisp clear skies – no hint of smoke – with the intention of heading over Paintbrush Pass.  The hike up to the pass was challenging, but you couldn’t tell if you were just watching us.  The Anderson family was on a mission and we were bound to it.  The last bit was steep and well, steeper with glacial scree and ice.  This is where Ila had decided she didn’t want to be held anymore so Michelle got to wrestle this little and strong bundle as she negotiated the most precarious and dangerous part of the hike.  This is extreme child rearing ladies and gentlemen.

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Arriving at the pass was very gratifying for me.  I am always in these alpine environments.  Up high, big views, feeling healthy but something is always missing:  Jacob, Elias, Ila and Michelle.  Frankly that’s all I really want.  Why not go to the best places with your favorite people?  A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to have Jacob along for an ascent of the Becky Route on Liberty Bell Mountain, which is one of our super classic alpine climbs back home.  What a blast that was.  Now I had everyone, even my little girl.  Everyone was buzzing with giddy accomplishment. We ate ridiculous amounts of protein via tuna, bars and jerky. The boys couldn’t get enough calories down. We concluded the alpine feast and continued onward and downward.

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We trucked down to Lake Solitude, laid around for awhile in the very comfortable grass, watched Ila do her Ila show, then moved down canyon to another unique and lovely camp with cascading water flat rocks to rest on and a mini wilderness to explore.

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The last day was huge.  It was an 8.5 miles mostly downhill/cross country hike and a big push for Mr. E.  Several times on this last day we spotted moose which was a thrill for the whole family.  We also watched an Osprey mama feeding her large Osprey babies in a very big nest only 45 feet or so above us.  Then chug, chug, chug, chug, chug allllll the way to the car.  There the kids basked in the shade as the grownups did the crazy task of blending our backpack lives back into our car lives.  “Mission Accomplished!” as our 43rd president would say.

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From here we rolled on to the ranger station where the kids finished up the remainder of their Teton’s Junior Ranger Packets.  We also acknowledged the boys great backpacking efforts with a wolf journal for Jacob (the super storyteller – I think he told Elias stories for about 18 miles of the hike) and a tracking book for Elias (the scientist/tracker/thing finder).

Hopping into the car blasting east we had a very pretty drive up and over Togwotee pass, which is the Southern end of the Absoraka Mountains.  Then down into the strange arid landscapes of North Central Wyoming.  We found Jacob a promised hamburger in Riverton and by 11pm we made it to a very nice camp on the Banks of Boison Lake.

Good Night.

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Yellowstone

Bozeman has been an important place in the past for us as it was there over 12 years ago when we found out that we were going to have our first child, Jacob.  It was then that Michelle and I enjoyed a winter visit down to Yellowstone with our Bozeman friends and were lucky enough to see a wolf pack not too far off the road with a fresh winter kill.  It was a wild, wild scene extenuated by the whiteness of winter, the reality of life in the wild hit hard with the red blood of the elk coloring the entire wolf camp.  The landscape so cold and wild I felt almost embarrassed to be an observer. Our friends are no longer there but the idea of visiting for a bit was enticing.  In practice we found that resupplying and moving on as quickly and efficiently as possible was by far the best thing to do for our motley little crew.

With full rations we headed south through Galletin Canyon to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  Yellowstone is the first National Park in the world.  At 3,468 square miles it is a huge land area and with just about all large Rocky Mountain animals present and heavily protected or even re-introduced it has become the top animal viewing National Park or the “Serengeti” of North America.    This area was originally set aside because of the geysers and massive hot springs spread all over the park.  The park averages 7,000 – 8,000 foot elevation and holds the most geyser and hot spring activity in the world and is in fact now considered the worlds largest super-volcano.  Some geologists believe that it is in fact due for an eruption at any time that could destroy almost all life in North America.  IMG_0315

We pulled into the west entrance of Yellowstone around 7 in the evening.  After a few miles of driving we ran into the first of the classic Yellowstone animal viewing car scene with a traffic jam of people franticly stopping in the middle of the road and getting out with giant cameras to photograph the unnaturally tame Elk heard bimbling about.  This brought me back to another memory of Yellowstone. When I was about 18 or so I was traveling through Yellowstone with a group of friends when uncontrollable sulphuric belches and farts billowed from me as we were entering the park in a jam packed Astro Van.  Eventually I had to hop out and my quickly on setting Giardia took a tight hold of my facilities and there I was on the side of the road in Yellowstone……Gone Wild.  The cars piled up to take pictures of the man loosing it from both ends.

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Onward to our campsite we were jammed into the tightest most expensive camp of our journey to date which was odd compared to the amount of wild area surrounded the campground.  We quickly set up and off we were to the spectacular upper Madison River meandering just out of camp.  Fishing rods in hand we decompressed on the river for the rest of the evening.  The next day we packed up and headed down the road towards the south end of Yellowstone Lake.  The section of road between was within the great Caldera which is the center of hot spring and geyser activity in the park.  Our son Elias, the naturalist/scientist of the family was beside himself running along the boardwalks that trailed the hot spots, oozing mudpots colored rust, golden, greens and blue from iron blue, spouting steam and water geysers.

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The following day we headed into the valleys to the North of Yellowstone Lake where we had a blast.  As we drove through the herds of Buffalo the memories of my first visit to Yellowstone came flooding in.  I was 16 the first time that I ever saw the Rocky Mountains.  A family road trip brought us clear up to Fargo North Dakota to join up with my Aunt and Uncle and cousins.  We drove across the Plains via Billings and drove in through the Bear Tooth Mountains.  I had spent time in the Alps which did not prepare me for this level of Wildness. Driving up over the highest continual road in the states and into Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is living proof of our countries great ability to maintain and preserve the mountains (even in modern consumptive America) allowing nature to continue to exist and flourish on some sort of modern compromise.

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On this day as we drove north with my family I cast aside all personal embarrassments about nature as a source of entertainment and jumped in full heartedly.  The Bison did not disappoint and the kids were psyched!  They were everywhere and we had so much fun.  There were ample opportunities to create a strong learning environment about the animals the history and the landscape. While in Yellowstone, we took well advantage of quite a few “adventure schooling” opportunities including the evening presentations by resident rangers on many park subjects on Wolves, Bear and Moose.  The boys participated in the Junior Ranger Program and earned their 3rd or 4th badge of the trip.

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The evening before leaving we were soaking in a quiet evening on Yellowstone Lake each child happily doing their thing.  Jacob fishing, Elias making sand castles and Ila…..playing in the pools adjacent to the Lake.  Later when we got back to camp we found a leach on Ila’s foot.  With further inspection we experienced a panic when we found many more on her body.  I immediately went to the visitor’s center and they sent me a few serious looking emergency dispatch rangers who (thankfully) confirmed that the leaches were harmless and to not worry.  Alas it was time for us to leave Yellowstone and move south to our next adventure in the Tetons….

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Climb On

Driving out of Glacier National Park one immediately enters the vast expanse of prairie that’s owned by the Black Feet Native Tribe.  We learned about the Black Feet and other Nations at the Plains Indians Museum in Browning, MT a low key museum full of original artifacts, clothing and stories. The drive onward was important as it was the first time that the kids ever saw the Great Plains. The first time I (Joseph) drove through the Plains was driving from East to West where the subtle changes from flat Midwest woodlands to Great Plains vastness occurs over hundreds of miles.  Here, where the two landscapes collide, may well be one of the most spectacular transitions of scenery on Earth.

We moved on to Great Falls to visit the Lewis and Clark museum and replenish our reserves before we continued south to a highly recommended rock climbing area just east of Butte Montana called Spire Rock. This area is comprised of a cluster of granite domes and blocks in the mountainous regions east of the Continental Divide.  It sits at about five thousand feet elevation and is completely undeveloped.  There are networks of National Forest roads that wind around the area and you can set up and camp where ever you want.  The forest consisted of some of the Fir species we recognized from further north but there was a well defined increase in Rocky Mountain species found clear down to Arizona, including Pinyon Pine, Juniper, and of course Sage.  There was sage everywhere and it smelled delightful.

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Over the next four days, we relaxed into the landscape rising to the new day with strong coffee, stretching and yoga.  The kids joined as they chose.  By mid day we meandered to the rock outcroppings and enjoyed clean granite crack climbing.

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Spire rock is notable as it was Ila’s debut to rock climbing. She eagerly donned her full body harness and asked to go “up up”.  She smiled and hung out on the rock about 4-12 feet off the ground at which time she signaled that she was ready to lower.

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She easily transitioned to napping as we walked back to camp which allowed for the rest of us to work on lessons, different projects and relaxing.  At some point we’d start prepping dinner and eat.  Each evening ended with tickle fights, wrestling, song circle of kid’s songs and different variations on the family pile ups until it was just too dark to see.  This is what we did everyday and frankly if the choice was all mine this is what I would do every day for the rest of my life.

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Alas, laundry needed to be done, food and water were running short and we were eager for more adventure so we packed up camp and headed on.  From here the plan had changed though.  Previously we saw ourselves spending several days in the Bozeman area but realized that a succinct resupply of food, used books, knitting needles and ice cream was in order and then off to Yellowstone…

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Glacier

As we drove in to Glacier we had our sites set on Avalanche camp which is nestled in the deep valleys of the Cedar and Hemlock forests.  These forests were a spitting image of the mountains at our own home of the Mt Baker region.  Everything just a little smaller and no tree moss really to speak of.  Above you could catch glimpses of towering peaks which reached 4 thousand feet above.  The peaks were calling so we didn’t want to call it a day yet but set up camp and headed up to the famous Going to the Sun Road.

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With its high point at Logan pass (6,600 some odd feet) Glacier was spectacular.  I need to point out that tourists were swarming like flies on camel snot but that’s OK.  Logan pass is above tree line and although peaks are very sharp and jagged as well as valleys tend to drop steeply for thousand of feet, the rolling meadowy landscape that wrapped itself around surrounding peaks was good medicine for the whole family.   From Logan pass we hiked up to a higher pass above and caught a view of Hidden Lake…See photo.  The Logan Pass hike included many mountain goats, mamas, kids and papas with horns only steps away from the trail. Elias made friends with the Columbian Ground squirrels that scurried across the trail.

The walk felt really great for everyone.  There was a bit of excitement in the air as this was really the first time we had hiked on the trip and the scenery was spectacular on quite an unreal scale.

Camping at Avalanche Creek, the following day we hiked as a family up to Avalanche lake.  Good fun and spectacular but the feel of being at Disney world had it’s day so we packed up to see what we could find on the east side of the mountains.

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We then traveled to the east side of the park to camp at Two Medicine Campground, a quieter and more remote spot in the south east corner of Glacier. We immediately noticed the stark change in vegetation as we traveled over the divide and welcomed the new flora. Something really amazing about the forests here is you have four different ecosystems that rarely meet coming together in the mountain range:  From the west  the most eastern stands of the North West forests push their way up to just shy of the Continental divide.  As big and magical as these thick forests are they are also thick and it’s not as easy to see all the big and awesome terrain above.  Once you’re just shy of tree line and rolling over from the east side, the Northern Rockies and Southern Rockies forests meet and mingle cascading down the eastern slopes.  Pushing in from the lower sections of the east side of the range is the Steppe or the “Prairie” creating a very pretty mosaic of grasslands and forests which also lends itself to the big scenic views of giant alpine peaks literally rising right out of the Great Plains.  In some places the grasses of the prairie seem to have no distinct boarder or perhaps only hinted by some small stands of Aspen forests.

Inspired by the magnificent views at Logan pass and from the Going to the Sun road, with bear spray in hand, we attempted to get backcountry camping permits but where sold out.  Instead we settled on day hikes and based out of Two Medicine campground.  This place was stunning.  The camp was located on a picture perfect lake and mountains towered on all sides.  Easy living.

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The next day we hiked around the North Shore of Two Medicine Lake with the bulkiness of Sleeping Wolf Mountain looming over four thousand feet above.  Once we were beyond the 3 mile long lake we continued up one of the valleys to the stunning Upper Two Medicine Lake.  Here we hung out for quite some time, swimming, sunbathing, skipping rocks and sunbathing some more.  On the way down we wrapped around the south side of the lower lake and found patches of the best huckleberries ever.  Finally back at camp we clocked in as a total of 12 mile loop. The kids were incredible. We discovered the deliciousness of thimble berries which are different from the ones in the Cascades and the variation of blue berries and huckleberries on the trail.

Overall visiting Glacier was great but it was in the Two Medicine region that things felt magical.  Everything was so crisp and refreshing and there was a wildness that we finally found.  As we spent several days enjoying in soaking it in, the bug to keep exploring was constantly buzzing and the laundry started to stack so we packed it up and moved on.

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