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.
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.
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!