Monday, July 2, 2012

Grand Tetons Day 2 - June 8, 2012

Much of the walk heads westward into Cascade Canyon. Gazing across the rushing Cascade Creek you see snow clad mountains like these.
We got an early start today hoping to catch as early a ferry across Jenny Lake as we reasonably could. After a very mediocre breakfast at the hotel we drove out to the ferry dock arriving a little after 038:30. To our chagrin we learned that the boats did not start running until 09:00 and so we could either wait 25 minutes or start walking around Jenny Lake adding a good 2 miles to our planned hike. Dad wasn't too keen on this idea so we waited with everyone else. A little before 09:00 a largre group lead by a park ranger showed up. These were the folks we thought would have caught the 08:30 boat but obviously since the boats don't start that early they were catching, like us, the earliest one they could. That sizeable group was going to do a hike to Inspiration Point (about a mile). Our plan we to hike to the fork that joins the Cascade Canyon Trail to the Death Canyon Shelf trail (about 5 miles one way). The boat ride across the lake went quickly and suurprisingly quietly. I know these boats are gas-powered but the engines are remarkably quiet. I think that is a very nice touch given that the ferries ply this crossing dozens of times each day.
It was partly cloudy and at the moment we began our hike, call it 09:10, maybe it was a tad cooler than yesterday. But we had no worries about the weather. We began the steady climb to the roaring Cascade Creek on well made very wide trail. The climb is steady and the footing excellent as you make your way to the base of the waterfall. It is a big wterfall and from the best vantage point you will catch a bit of spray and a chill wind as you try to snap the necessary photos. After leaving the waterfall you begin to climb more steeply and the trail becomes somewhat more rocky underfoot. It is a steady climb and soon you pop out on a ledge that affords you a fine view of Jenny Lake below. People can be forgiven for thinking that this first view is Inspiration Point. But the trail keeps ascending and the rocks grow a bit more intense. If you are prone to vertigo this is not going to be a path you will cheerish even though it is wide and the rocks are stable. You hike up switchbacks and after a mile you reach the top and a chipmunk infested flatter area that is, in fact, Inspiration Point. The view of Jenny Lake is quite nice though it really wasn't photogenic given the light. You get a fine sense of the size of Jenny Lake.
Of course, this was only the first mile of the hike. We had about four to go. We had heard from the folks at the ferry that patches of snow crossed the trail but they were easily navigable. The snow it would turn out first appeared within perhaps a third of a mile of departing Inspiration Point. The first patch, a couple dozen yards wide, was soft and white except where people had been walking upon it. There it was rotten and slippery. Little puddles marked the edges of the snow patches and I expect I am not the only one who got his feet a bit wet. I think crossing the patches without poles to aid balance would have been a chore but they were not really treacherous. Most of the patches would appear within the first mile or so after leaving Inspiration Point as we walked thorugh pine forest with the roar of Cascade Creek in our ears.

The few patches of snow never took long to cross. Even the widest was probably just a couple dozen yards across - maybe a bit more. These patches were clustered not that far beyond a inspiration Point probably at about 7,300 feet. I figure they're holding on because they were surrounded by dense evergreen forest.
In time our trail would enter a slightly more rocky bit; a section full of low-contrast rocks designed to trip me up but probably not bother anyone with normal vision. That section really marks what I think of as Cascade Canyon. With the roaring stream (OK, not always frothing with whitewater, sometimes it was wide gentle and deep green) on our left we slowly worked our way into the canyon. The views of the snow-clad mountains to our left with high cirrus clouds zipping by was really quite nice. But that was nothing comapred to the wildlife we spied. Mom saw a small yellow and black bird (and another yellow and red), Dad seemed to be a landing spot for many butterflies, and we all got to see moose and black bear.
I think the large animal sightings probably all happened along a stretch of the stream around the the 2 to 2.5 mile mark. First we saw a lone moose off by the river edge on the near side; rather close to us if you ask me. Then just before entering a stand of pines we spotted a mother moose and her calf on the far side of the river I believe. Finally a black bear on our side of the river but down by the water was spotted by Mom and Dad and maybe glimpsed by me. Mom also saw another bear earlier and we saw two more moose on the return journey (maybe the same adults, but they count as sightings). So those animal sightings were a real treat for everyone.

YouTube Video

I know it is tough to see but we saw a couple moose on the far side of the water.

Somewhere around the 3.5 mile mark we hit our first blowdown. It was a massive affair requiring us to detour off the trail down to the left. Within a half mile or so we had to negotiate 3 more blowdowns of significant size. I guess trail maintenance crews have not gotten this far yet. At about 12:15 we came to a bridge where two fast flowing streams merge and decided that this was as good as any place to stop and have lunch before turning back. we were probably within a third of a mile of the offidical fork but we were fine with what we had done (call it about 7.5km or 4.7 miles). By now it was well into the 70s and we figured since it took us about 3 hours to get here it would take a similar amount of time to get back. At 12:40 we shouldered our packs and began the gentle descent back.
It is a pretty easy walk most of the time. For those of you not bothered by low-contrast rocks it is an easy walk the entire time. As we walked we started to encounter people heading up-canyon. Up until this point we had only seen a handful of folks after leaving Inspiration Point. In the space of a couple miles we easily saw a dozen heading the other way. As we closed in on Inspiration Point that number rose considerably. It felt like a highway of foot traffic especially within the last couple of miles of the hike. Hordes of people were climbing the rocky ascending trail to the point. A smaller portion of them would continue on into Cascade Canyon. If you plan to do this hike I strongly suggest starting early to avoid the throngs as best as you can.
I knew I would not relish the descent from Inspiration Point. At the top it is rocky and so I slow down considerably. Even after the worst of the rocks fade, after about 8 minutes and a handful of switchbacks, it is still slower going for me. I guessed it would take close on 40 minutes and that is what it took. Maybe a couple minutes could have been shaved off if I had not had to pause to let so many other people pass in either direction but that is just a small difference. We arrived at the now quite crowded dock at 15:30. The first boat to fetch people filled up just before we could board so we had to wait a few more minutes for the next one which filled up completely too. I reckon that is the typical state of the boats in the afternoon. Ten minutes later we were all walking back to our cars in the parking lot. All tolled we hiked about 15km (9.4 miles) with a total ascent of somewhere around 400 meters I think (call it 1,200 feet) a good bit of which surely happens in the climb up to Inspiration Point. Our feet are all a bit tired but we are also quite happy we did this hike.
NOTE: the two yellow flowers we saw the first day were Arrowleaf Balsamroot and Heartleafed Arnica. The ladyslippers may have been a fairyslipper.

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