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Backpacking in the Grand Tetons

Backpacking in the Grand Tetons

In late August of 2015 we went to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park for a backpacking and camping trip. We flew into Jackson Hole and returned via Cody. For the backpacking trip, we took the aerial tram at Jackson Hole and hiked to Marion Lake via the Middle Forks trail and returned by the Lower Granite Canyon trail staying 5 nights. One of the photographic challenges of such a backpacking trip is to ensure that there is enough battery power for the camera since there’s nowhere to charge up. We then camped at the Gros Ventre campsite in the Tetons for a few nights before driving up to Yellowstone for two nights. Wildlife viewing was most productive after the backpacking trip, especially along the Moose Wilson road and Moose Junction where the huckleberries were in season.

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This trip also had a neuro component. Before our backpacking trip I attended a meeting at a dude ranch near Cody WY at the Rimrock Ranch. I’ve appended a few pictures from this meeting at the end, rather than at the beginning.

Jackson Hole

The town is, as you might expect, very touristy but it has a few notable sights. One of my favorites is the art gallery of Tom Mangelsen, one of the premier wildlife photographers in the world. In the winter the National Elk Refuge is interesting to visit if there isn’t a blizzard out since the elk spend the winters in the valley. On this trip we simply used it as a base to take the aerial tram up the mountain.

The elk antler gate in Jackson Hole

The elk antler gate in Jackson Hole

Street scene in Jackson Hole

Street scene in Jackson Hole

Marion Lake backpacking trip

We took the aerial tram from Jackson Hole to the top and hiked to the Middle Forks campsite. The next day we hiked to Marion Lake where we stayed for 3 nights. One day we took a day hike to the Death Canyon Shelf. Along the way we met a couple who had camped next to us at Marion Lake and chatted with them for quite a while on the trail. Noel and Sandy are from Perth, Western Australia. We had such a nice time chatting that an hour went by without notice, which is not something one does generally when trying to complete a hike. They are serious campers. They were in the US for Noel to compete in the National Orienteering Championships for which he is a top flight competitor. They said that they had also gone to the Gibb River area in Northern Australia except they did it by orienteering with their kids, hiking the whole time without a car and never crossing a road! Having done this trip with a safari guide we were really impressed!

On many of our trips we have run into strangers that we strike up a short friendship with. Often you find they are like minded so of course that is a good basis for a friendship, albeit a short one. Of course, it’s also a great way to trade information about the area, like where to look out for bears.

We returned via the Lower Granite Canyon trail spending one night en route. The wildlife viewing was a bit disappointing: no bears, elk or moose though we saw very recent evidence of bear and heard stories from other hikers of sightings. Instead we saw many marmots, pika, and deer. We also had great luck on the weather..

Hiking to Middle Forks

Hiking to Middle Forks

Industrious Pika getting ready for winter

Industrious Pika getting ready for winter

Pika

Pika

Evening visitor to campsite

Evening visitor to campsite

Early morning moon set

Early morning moon set

Marion Lake

Marion Lake

Fearless and friendly marmot

Fearless and friendly marmot

Our camp at Marion Lake

Our camp at Marion Lake

Panoramic view of Marion Lake

Panoramic view of Marion Lake

Along the Death Canyon shelf

Along the Death Canyon shelf

Taking a break with Noel and Sandy

Taking a break with Noel and Sandy

Death Canyon Shelf

Death Canyon Shelf

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Leaving Marion Lake

Leaving Marion Lake

Fresh signs of bear

Fresh signs of bear

On the Granite Canyon trail

On the Granite Canyon trail

Gros Ventre campground

After returning to Jackson from the backpacking trip, we set up camp in the Gros Ventre campground where it is reputed to be a good place to see wildlife, especially moose. Indeed we saw moose on several occasions, in one case a mother sow and calf wandered into the campground in the morning. For next few days we wandered around the Grand Tetons park searching for wildlife. The Moose Junction road turned out to be an excellent place to see bears eating on huckleberry plants as they were apparently in season.

Young bull moose sparring

Young bull moose sparring

Bull moose

Bull moose

These two bull moose seem to be practicing, not really seriously competing.

Why did the bear cross the road?

Why did the bear cross the road?

The definitive evidence for the question posed in the title

Foraging for berries

Foraging for berries

Grand Tetons tableau

Grand Tetons tableau

Storm in the distance

Storm in the distance

Cunningham cabin with Tetons in the background.

Cunningham cabin with Tetons in the background.

Looking out the window

Looking out the window

Moose junction

Moose junction

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Waiting for the facilities in the morning

Waiting for the facilities in the morning

Moose sow and cub

Moose sow and cub

A kiss for Mom

A kiss for Mom

Three bears in an aspen tree, the mother bear is in the middle with cubs above and below her. We came upon these bears during a brief rainstorm. It is thought that the mother bear had the cubs in a tree to protect them from a male bear in the area.

Three bears in an aspen tree, the mother bear is in the middle with cubs above and below her. We came upon these bears during a brief rainstorm. It is thought that the mother bear had the cubs in a tree to protect them from a male bear in the area.

Bear cub high up in an aspen tree

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Old farmhouse with a nice view. Apparently this cabin was used as the setting for an old cowboy movie “Shane”.

Old farmhouse with a nice view. Apparently this cabin was used as the setting for an old cowboy movie “Shane”.

Panorama of the Grand Tetons

Panorama of the Grand Tetons

Yellowstone National Park

We only spent a few days in Yellowstone, mainly to drive up to Cody for our return flight. We visited Mammoth Hot Springs, GrandCanyon of the Yellowstone and the Lamar Valley. The Lamar Valley is a good place to see wildlife. There is a very active community of wolf watchers, people who come out at daybreak and dusk when the wolves wander out from their dens. The Lamar Valley pack is a favorite one to follow. As you drive along the roadway, watch for parking lots with lots of cars at the appointed times. I’ve seen up to 50 people all armed with telephoto cameras, telescopes, binoculars and even audio recording equipment to document which wolves were seen and when.

Daybreak at Norris campground on a frosty morning. Temperature was 24 def F this morning

Daybreak at Norris campground on a frosty morning. Temperature was 24 def F this morning

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

Lower Falls and rainbow

Lower Falls and rainbow

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Lower Falls

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Lower Falls

Pronghorn antelope

Pronghorn antelope

Pronghorn antelope in Lamar Valley

Pronghorn antelope in Lamar Valley

A wolf at a distance in Lamar Valley

A wolf at a distance in Lamar Valley

Rimrock Ranch

A nice place for a nest

A nice place for a nest

Before our backpacking trip I attended a scientific meeting at the Rimrock Ranch near Cody, WY which was meeting for the 11th time, usually biennially (every other year). These dude ranches are fantastic venues for serious and focused meetings. There are usually about 20 participants, changing a bit from year to year. Despite what you might think, the meetings consist of intense scientific discussions with a bit of time for relaxation. We usually meet for 3+ hours before noon, take a 3 hour break after lunch, convene again for 1.5 hours before dinner and then have a 3 hour evening session after dinner. After the evening session there is usually a spirited pool or ping pong competition in the game room for bragging rights. In the afternoon break there is opportunity to take a horseback ride in the mountains, or fly fishing in the trout streams nearby. All in all, it is an exhausting but satisfying schedule. Newcomers often comment that it is the best scientific meeting they have ever attended.

Posing at the top of the ride

Posing at the top of the ride

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The bison has the last word on any controversy

The bison has the last word on any controversy

On the way to breakfast from the cabin

On the way to breakfast from the cabin

Cutthroat trout on a fly

Cutthroat trout on a fly

The obligatory group picture

The obligatory group picture

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Northern Spain

Northern Spain