Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Geezers on Albright Peak

We needed a few hundred thousand dollars...to finish the little film we started a year ago in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jenny had arranged for a fund-raiser at a friend's home, and we had agreed to meet and help her raise the money.

I had driven down the Alaska Highway in a large moving van two weeks before. My son Thor had offered me a car to drive the short 806 miles from Portland to attend the event. The Tetons seemed so close, so I hopped in the car and blasted cross-country, being somewhat amazed that the distance seemed quite a bit further than I had remembered it two years ago.

Ted had proposed a short hike up Death Canyon, an ominous choice for "The Geezers", and possibly a climb to the top of Static Peak. But at 7:00 am. We rebelled. At our age, 8:00 am mirrored reality a bit closer. My niece, Liz, called to say she had seen my Facebook note that I was in Jackson Hole; she would join us. When I reached the parking lot, Irene and Dan were waiting, packs on the back. Irene is one of the great climbers from my youth, having put up the most beautiful climb in the Tetons in 1957: "Irene's Arete." She is still full of energy! One by one the entourage trickled in: Rick in a Honda Odyssey; Ted, Holly, and Jenny in the Prius. I could hear the engine and the screeching of tires on the gravel; Liz driving the truck slid in with Allen and Ammon.

Irene and Dan, nattily attired, led off up the trail. She knew exactly where to turn off the main trail up Stewart Draw and the old horse trail that would lead us directly to the Static Divide. Soon the trail disappeared, but Irene and Dan held forth. I, coming from sea level, was panting like a chicken that is too hot. There was no trail, but Irene navigated from bush to rock, over the creek, and seemed to know every step of the way.

Irene leads Rick and Dan through the vertical bushes

The day warmed and the sun beat on my neck. I had presciently worn shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, an entirely different uniform than I would have been seen in in the '60's, due to climate change. It is no more apparent than in the high mountains and the arctic, the two areas I've inhabited all my adult life.

Upward through the rocks on a bear trail

Voila! Static Peak popped up over the western horizon. The final push to the divide led through a beautiful meadow filled with daisies, lupine, and wild geraniums. I had promised Liz that I was only going on a 4-hour hike, so she could confidently tell Allen to pick her up a few hours later. I had lied. It was now noon, and the group was divided about going up Albright Peak to the east, or Static Peak to the west. We had lunch at the saddle, took a hundred photos, dithered and talked.

Dan, Irene, Rick, Ralph, Holly, Ted, Jenny

Irene and Dan headed for Static Peak; the rest of us went up Albright, a new summit for all but 'Yours Truly'. The cliff face to the north was awesome, and the route ran right along the edge. A slip would have dire consequences, so everyone watched their footing as I coached and cajoled the crowd. The summit was beautiful, vistas in every direction: Yellowstone to the north, Jackson Hole below to the east, Driggs, Idaho, to the west. The Grand Teton loomed behind the group. But, just a month before, 17 people had been caught in a lightning storm on the Grand, and an all-day rescue effort by the park service had made national headlines. A huge thunderhead seemed to appear almost suddenly overhead. We skedaddled down the ridge.

The summit:
Rick, Ammon, Ralph
Jenny, Holly, Ted, Liz

At the summit we discussed the merits of descending directly down the "trail" we had ascended, or going the long 8-mile trail down the west side of the Static Divide into Death Canyon. What the hell; go the scenic route down into the canyon. I was so far beyond the 4-hour mark I had Liz call her friend and apologize. Down, down, down. What had taken a few hours to ascend now turned into another 4-hour march, albeit through incredible country. Switchback after switchback down a trail built into the steep mountainside 1920, still beautiful, still strong.

Liz & Ammon on the Static Divide trail: seven miles to go!

We finally arrived at the parking lot about 3:30 in the afternoon. We reunited at 'Dornan's' in Moose for the chuckwagon dinner. No one else showed up for a long time, so I had dinner with Dick and Barb Barker, listened to the Hootenanny, and waited for "The Geezers". Beer on tap was excellent; I had a pint of my favorite, the IPA. And, as is only right, we seniors closed the bar!

Monday, August 23, 2010

In the Tetons with Wister

He’s not Owen Wister, author of “The Virginian”, but a fine dog. And not even my dog; I’m just his buddy. He is Amy’s darling.

Each year I have visited Jackson Hole to climb mountains, hike, and visit old friends. My friends Forrest and Amy have been my hosts at their home in Teton Village. Whenever I show up Wister is my hiking companion. The old hound is fourteen years old, graying at the muzzle, part Black Lab, Greyhound, and Border Collie. Wister even has his own Facebook page: ‘Wister the uber-mountain-mutt’. Photos show Wister atop dozens of Wyoming peaks, including over 50 peaks in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, including six ascents of Gannett Peak, the highest mountain in Wyoming.

Our favorite jaunt is Mount Taylor: drive over Teton Pass, down the west side to the Coal Creek parking lot and hike up the Wilderness trail. So, when Forrest and Amy felt their 3-day 3-peak marathon tour of the Wind Rivers last weekend might be too much for the old guy, Wister and I hopped into the Subaru and headed for Teton Pass. But first an unannounced visit to Dick, my fine friend in Wilson, Wyoming. Dick and I started climbing mountains together, and his father, Rich, was our mentor. Fortunately my surprise visit prevented him from cleaning the house or mowing the lawn. We walked up to his deck and started in on the coffee; Wister made friends with the three other big dogs in the yard. After a short while our friend B.J. drove in and joined the coffee klatch. We hadn’t seen each other in years and reminisced about a kayaking trip we took in the old Ford Econoline 35 years ago when the dogs rolled in something terribly dead outside of Las Vegas. Soon Peter and Diana arrived; Dick now had no chance of working. After serious discussion and plans for dinner, I left the group and headed over Teton Pass.

Ralph, Peter, B.J., and Dick with cell phones

The Senior Geezers in Wilson, WY

The trail up Coal Creek towards Mount Taylor passes into the Jedediah Smith Wilderness area steeply up through Douglas fir, lodgepole pines, and blue spruce, cutting across meadows of wildflowers and bushes in full bloom.

Coal Creek

About 2 1/2 miles up, the trail crosses the Coal Creek, and since Wister has done this hike a number of times, at least three with me, he knows it’s time to cool off and rehydrate.

Wister in the brook. Time to cool off!

The meadow is expansive and covered in sticky geraniums, daisies, arnica, and other flowers. Hundreds of tiny blue butterflies fluttered above the mud of the stream.

The brilliant blue butterflies next to the water

Wister cooled his belly, lapped up the water and regrouped for the final push to the summit.

Wister gets a drink

The trail goes up at an aggressive angle, and the heat cooked us quickly. I started to sweat and Wister panted. Half-way up, Wister found a snowbank in the old rock glacier where a chunk if ice had formerly melted out leaving a huge depression that fills with winter snow and doesn’t melt till fall, if ever.

Wister finds snow

He looked at me, waiting till I stopped, then he splayed out on the snow to cool off his under belly. I’m sure he had done this hundreds of times, and he wanted to know that I knew that this stop was the protocol.

And wants to nap in the heat of the day

When I sat down to take a drink, Wister took it as an indication that he could take a short nap on the cool bed. I hated to wake him...


So, I took the camera and walked a few feet to take photos of the brilliant display of wildflowers in bloom. It had been a cool summer with lots of precipitation, and the blossoms were at their peak, even at 10,000 feet.

Wild Geraniums

Geraniums, columbines, whole meadows of buttercups, lupine, asters, arnica, daisies, yarrow, Indian paintbrush (both brilliant red and yellow varieties).

Onward and upward through the flowers and boulders.

Even though it was the heat of the day, we were of a mindset, “the summit or die!”

Entire meadows were in full bloom.

The trail wandered through the glacial cirques, then switchbacked up the hillside through spruce and pine trees. Near the top we stopped in the shade of an ancient whitebark pine, likely 500 years old, twisted by the wind, cold, and sun. Wister loved the shade and plopped down in the cool flowers and bushes while I grabbed a drink of water from the bottle in my pack. I tried to dribble some on my companion’s tongue, but he seemed not to care.

Wister nestles into the bushes under a tree to escape the heat...I follow.

The whitebark pines have been under attack by a pine-bark beetle for many years now, and some of these giants on the ridgetops likely are over 1,000 years old. Now they are dead or dying. The Park Service and Forest Service have attached little pouches to some to the trees to attract the beetles so they will not bore a hole and lay the eggs which turn into the larvae that girdle the tree bark and kill the whole tree.

Dead Whitebark Pine trees, killed by the pine bark beetle.

Up, up, up to the summit! We reached the final ridge where only a half mile and a few hundred feet separated us from the summit. I looked down through the bands of sandstone, grass, limestone, and other strata. These old sedimentary layers cap the mighty granite pluton of the Teton granite underneath. Taylor Mountain is the furthest south peak in the Teton Range.

Looking at the summit; the banded sedimentary layers below.

Even along the summit ridge the wildflowers were superb: gentians, sky pilots, arnica, buttercups, lupine, geraniums...

The blue ‘Explorers Gentian’ sits between sandstone slabs on the summit.

Wister knew the summit, lay down and enjoyed the moment. I scanned the horizon in every direction. The Grand, Middle, and South Tetons, Buck Mountain, and Mount Wister loomed to the north.

Wister makes the summit for the umteenth time. The Grand Teton twenty five miles in the background.

Pierre’s Hole to the West. Jackson Hole to the East. A huge jet airport reminded me that this was not the wilderness of 100 years ago. Even the wilderness of my youth. Now multi-million dollar homes filled every grove and overlook the river banks, filling former hay pastures and fields.

The view of Teton Valley from the top

After a brief stay on the summit we were both ready to find some water. Wister knew the routine and headed down leading the way. He seemed to feel I knew what I was doing and let me set the pace. Once more into the drink, cooling off the belly and loading up on the stream water for the final descent. Now, off to dinner at Dick’s. I hope he got that place cleaned up!

Good buddies!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Biking the Columbia Gorge

“Dad, you and Cathy should go bike from Hood River to The Dalles”, Thor said. I had driven down the Alaska Highway with Cathy in her ‘Jumbo JH’ U-Haul Moving van from Anchorage to Portland and was enjoying the warm sun and fine weather. I keep a vintage handmade Italian road bike made by Ciocc at Thor’s house, so I don’t need to transport it every time I head south. So Cathy and I drove to Hood River and headed east on old Highway 30 above the town towards Mosier. The old road is closed to all but foot and bike traffic and has been newly resurfaced, so it’s a dream on a road bike. The first section rises steeply, and the day was hot. Below us the Columbia river runs west to its mouth at the Pacific. I thought of Lewis and Clark in the region, over 200 years ago.

The Columbia River below

Cathy is in fine shape and pulled ahead. I’d been dormant for a month, and my thermostat has been set to ‘winter for the past 10 months, so I suffered mightily pulling the first couple of miles uphill in the hot sun. Cathy muttered something about ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen...’


The old road sits high on the hillside. Constructed in the 1920’s, it is a marvel of engineering and landscape architecture, coming from an era when aesthetics and form meant as much as utility and function. The sidewalls and overlook terraces of the road were built by hand with local stone mortared into place. The road follows natural contours and weaves through the countryside; little scenic pullouts provide a view of the Columbia Gorge and surrounding landforms: The great Cascade volcanoes, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams to the north, and Mount Hood to the south.

Yours Truly with the vintage Ciocc bike: sew-up tires, downtube shifters, pink paint job!

It is a popular venue with the local cyclists. Hood river has become a thriving artistic and resort community. Brewpubs and fine restaurants dot the street where Patagonia, bike stores, and sailboard shops predominate. Real estate is pricey. I asked Thor what all the seemingly idle young folks did for money. “Parents”, he answered.

The bike trail and overlook, a popular place

After five miles, the road is open to cars, but since it doesn’t go anyplace, few were seen until we coasted downhill to Mosier, a sleepy little burg with a couple of shops. We decided to push uphill another six miles to Rowena Crest where the overlook was said to be excellent. The wind was in our back and we made good time.

Looking upriver from the Rowena Crest

At the Crest we had another decision to make: turn around in the heat of the day and head for a cool lunch somewhere, or take the Tour de France-like hairpin turns down 2 1/2 miles to Rowena just to say we did it. The architect of the road built the grades to no more than 5% and the turning radius that would allow a semi-truck to negotiate them. We couldn’t resist. How would we face our kids if we didn’t do the Rowena Loops. Down we rocketed. I worried about a bulge in one tire, so I applied the brakes on the turns. Cathy did not! We exceeded the speed limit, usually difficult on a bike, but could not resist. At the bottom we simply turned around and started the long pedal back uphill. We almost did it a second time.

The Rowena Loops

Now we were heading back west into the wind. The hot air pounded hard into our faces and dried the sweat instantly, leaving a salt crust on our skin. We even pedaled downhill, otherwise the wind would stop the bike. At Mosier we stopped at the only shop: it sold ice cream and Porsche cars. I’m always interested in these little businesses that say things like, ‘Tanning Salon and Gun Store’. We needed water desperately, so we ordered a mocha milk shake, and although it tasted great, it sat like a bag of marbles in my stomach. A glass of water would have been better. The woman filled our bottles for the rest of the ride. I was intrigued by the Porsche shop filled with memorabilia from years gone by. What a cool place!

Ice Cream and Porsche store in Rowena

Only six miles to go till beer and pizza at the Double Mountain brewery in Hood River. They make the best pizza, and the IPA is killer! As we sat at the sidewalk table, the waitress made conversation and asked her if she were local. ‘Yes, I’ve been here four years’, probably an old timer by resort town standards. At the neighboring table a loud drunk talked about how Memphis was so great and how Oregon sucked. I almost suggested he return, but the pleasure of the day prevented any unpleasantness. It was so fine we will likely do it again!