Ski Mountaineering on Mt Ritter

Mt Ritter has been on my list of peaks to ski for a really long time and as soon as I found out about the Ritter Range tour offered by Sierra Mountain Guides, this trip has been on my bucket list. I had signed up for this in October of last year and have been looking forward to it for a really long time but since we did the Sawtooth’s traverse which is less technical and demanding the dates kept on moving for this.

The conditions didn’t allow for a 6 day trip as originally planned so we shortened it to a 4 day trip with Mt Ritter being the primary objective. Howie warned me that it would be a schlep and we would have to carry regular hiking boots since the snow levels were relatively high so he gave me option of rescheduling for next year or waiting till road to Agnew meadows was plowed all the way. I didn’t want to delay this trip any further so I was ok with hauling all the gear so it was finally on.

Instead of leaving on Saturday we decided to leave on Sunday for better weather and it worked out great. Friday was a really long and stressful day at work and I didn’t get to Mammoth until 2am on Saturday. I received text from Howie on Sat that there would be one more person joining us which I didn’t mind and the trip would cost little less which is always nice.

I headed over to Stellar brews on Sunday morning and I met Abe who was going to join us and he was using a split board which was going to be interesting. We sorted out the gear and by the time Howie got permits etc it was already around 9.30 am when we got going from Main Lodge. They had started plowing the road to Minaret Vista so that slowed us down and getting to Agnew meadows we had to take off our skis on few occasions. This was a sign of things to come.

Heading towards Minaret Vista

We got to Agnew meadows and soon enough after some skinning it was time to put our skis away, there was no snow. We hiked all the way to Shadow lake in our hiking shoes. It was pretty slow going and we were afraid that we might not be able to make it to Ediza lake in time to set up camp. After we stashed our hiking shoes, it started pouring and to top it off the snow wasn’t consistent. I think we must have taken off our skis at least 20-30 times by the time we got to Ediza lake.

Carrying all the gear

Camp at Lake Ediza with Mt Ritter in background.

We managed to make it to Ediza lake at around 6 pm, it wasn’t ideal by any means and it mean’t that we had to change our original plans a bit. We decided to go for a small easy warm up tour the next day and then attempt Ritter on Tuesday.

Next day we woke up to clear skies and It was great. I thought we would sleep in little longer but that wasn’t the case and after breakfast we were ready to head out at around 8.30 am and explore the area near by. We decided to head towards Ritter pass and then ski around that area. The views from the pass were really awesome, we decided to put on our crampons and practice using them.

Day tour around Ritter Pass

Looking back at our tracks.

We got some good turns in and were back at camp at around 1.30 pm. It was time to dry out all of our wet stuff and rest up for the long day ahead. The plan was to wake up at 3.30am and get going around 5am and we successfully managed to do that. If we got late to the summit it wasn’t a major concern because of the snowpack stability but we also wanted to pack camp at Ediza lake and start heading down the same day so that the last day would be a shorter hike out.

We started skinning at around 5.15 am and soon enough after an hour sun hit us, I couldn’t help myself and stopped constantly to take pics. At our first break we were going to switch to boot crampons and rope up. I wasn’t comfortable being roped up and specially being at the end which meant that I had to manage slack for Abe who was in middle. I am pretty comfortable using my crampons and confident in my technique so I asked Howie if I could un tie from the rope and follow their steps. He agreed to let me do that and I felt lot better.

Sunrise on Mt Ritter

Banner and Ritter peaks sunrise.

We booted for couple of hours until we reach the cirque, skinning would have been faster in certain places but it would have been difficult for Abe so we decided to keep on using our crampons. We put on our skis soon after and then after another hour we reached the last steep section which would lead us to the summit slope. I thought that after booting up this last steep section we would start skinning the summit slope but that wasn’t the case. I went along with it but after the while snow started getting sticking to my crampons and I was getting little frustrated with the progress I was making.

Steep section before final summit slope

I asked Howie if I could skin the final summit slope by myself and he felt confident in my abilities to do so and didn’t mind it. As Howie and Abe were booting up the final slope, I was taking my sweet time skinning up. I was trying to not to set a steep track but I think it was little bit on the steeper side but I was really happy about the fact that I could skin up this slope by myself and even managed to do throw in some kick turns on firm snow.

We managed to reach the summit at around 11.30 am and it was a wonderful feeling. The views were better than what I had imagined, I was surprised to be able to see half dome in the background and all the high sierra peaks in the distance. It was truly breathtaking. There was no wind at top and it was so peaceful, wish I could have taken a nap but it was time to start descending.

Half Dome from Summit of Mt Ritter

Mammoth Mountain from Summit

The snow was in great condition and it was corn skiing at its finest. I felt in great control and really let it loose. It was the first time that I let it rip in the backcountry and just open up my skiing so to say. It was such an adrenaline rush and a high which I don’t remember feeling often, something I can’t really describe in words. I totally felt on top of the world and really enjoyed the way I was skiing more than anything else. Simply amazing from my perspective and totally worth everything. All those Ski lessons, Mammoth trips everything, so so worth it for this great feeling. I was pumped up beyond belief and felt like I could do anything.

We got back to camp at around 1pm and decided the start heading towards Shadow Lake at around 3pm so that we could get easy start on the final day and it wouldn’t be a long day. Getting to Shadow lake was less frustrating since we didn’t have to take off our skis often and there was no rain. We found a pretty good campsite by running water and decided to call it a day at around 5.30pm. It had been a long day and I was expecting to doze off right away after dinner but we chit chatted for little longer and I wasn’t in bed until 8pm.

Reflections in Shadow Lake

Next day we woke up at around 6.30 am and got moving at around 8 am. We didn’t even put on our ski boots and used our hiking boots all the way to Agnew meadows. Skinning up the road from Agnew meadows to Minaret Vista wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be and we managed to get there in under hour and half. They had started plowing both sides of the road from Mammoth Main lodge to Minaret vista so it made for some interesting skiing. We got to Main lodge at around 2pm and then decided to head over to the Mammoth brewery for some beer and food to celebrate a successful trip.

I throughly enjoyed this trip and to be able to Ski Mt Ritter in such great conditions was a wonderful experience, little bummed out that didn’t chance to explore the Minarets but I am going to save the 6 day tour for future and it is still on my list. Between the Sawtooth’s and this trip, I have gained lot of backcountry experience and learned so many new things, reinforced previously acquired skills, and overall have become better in being able to handle myself in mountains.

Link to complete album

Skiing the Sawtooth’s – a four day traverse with Sierra Mountain Guides

Last year I wanted to do more backcountry skiing but my injury and a low snow year dashed those hopes quickly but this year I was determined to get more backcountry exposure so I signed up for Sawtooth’s Traverse with SMG. Nicolas signed up with me to make the tour a certainty and we ended up being 3 people with Howie and Mark guiding.

We met up Friday evening in Bishop at SMG office to go over the gear and the logistics. It was snowing and another storm system was predicted so we discussed alternate plans if the avalanche danger got too high. We were going to meet at Bridgeport ranger station at 8am, get our permits, and then start from Twin Lakes. I spent the night in Mammoth and after early breakfast at Stellar Brews, I was off. My trip could have easily ended when I slipped on ice outside the cafe but luckily it wasn’t too bad.

I gave myself extra half hour since I wasn’t sure on how sketchy the drive will be because of the storm but luckily the roads were clear and I was at ranger station by 7.30am. We split up the gear, weighed our packs, and headed over to twin lakes. I had put in extra effort to reduce the weight of my pack and it paid off, it weighed 33 lbs with all the food and gear which was well within my expected range of 30-35 lbs for a trip like this.

We started off at around 9.30 am and even with fresh snow on the ground it was not worth putting our skis on so we had to carry them for a while. Crossing the Robinson Creek was challenging and after some bush whacking, climbing through some sketchy terrain we were into the canyon and could start skinning up. It wasn’t until noon that we got chance to put on our skis. There was a skin track that we saw and we didn’t quite follow it because it was too steep for our liking. I still got to practice some kick turns and learn from Howie on how to do them efficiently and not to mention it was interesting to see how he was setting up the skin track.

Crossing Robinson Creek

After 3 hours of more skinning we finally got to our camp site under the Hulk. Hulk is a big granite wall which has lots of climbing routes and I certainly hope to climb one of them. We found a cool spot for our camp and by the time we got established with the camp it was around 4pm so it wasn’t worth it to check out some of the ski lines around the Hulk. I was feeling good but wasn’t in mood to go skin up and ski, I didn’t mind waiting for us to put on our skis.

Incredible Hulk

Our Camp

We were planning to get an early start in the morning so it was soon time for bed at around 7.30 pm. I was hoping to do some night photography on this trip but the moonrise wasn’t until 9pm so for it to appear it would be around 11-12 and I certainly wasn’t planning to stay awake for so long.

Woke up at around 5am and we were ready to climb our objective Eocene Peak (11,569′) and then drop into the Blacksmith creek drainage to establish camp. It started off as a bluebird day but as we were climbing the clouds started to roll in. We were able to skin up for the most part but after a while we roped up and put on our crampons on. It was more of a precaution rather than necessity and around noon we were on top of Eocene peak and it was very windy.

It was now time to put on our skis for the first time and enjoy some fresh turns. The snow wasn’t firm and it made for some really good skiing. We wanted to find a sheltered spot to set up camp but in the end it didn’t matter since the wind changed directions. We were well established in our camp by 2 pm so now it was time to go check out some of the couloirs nearby and get some more skiing in.

First Turns of the Trip

I didn’t hydrate too well so was having a slight headache but I decided to go and get some turns in. I didn’t take my camera with me to avoid carrying extra weight and of course as we started skinning up, I regretted that decision. It was snowing little bit and quite windy so we had to access the conditions accordingly and couple of times we crossed across the slope one person at a time. Booting up the couloir it was knee deep snow and when we got to the top, I was little nervous. It was my first time skiing a consistent 45-50 degree slope in knee deep powder but I was so glad that I did it.

As we were approaching camp, the wind really picked up and it was almost whiteout conditions. We stashed all the gear and had a tough decision to make, whether to boil water for our food outside or in the tent. I didn’t really want to do any cooking inside since we would have to ventilate the tent really well and with the wind it would have mean’t that there would have been an inch of snow inside it. I put on all the layers and braved the weather to boil water for dinner and soon it was time for bed.

Bad Weather

The wind didn’t relent in the morning and Guillaume did the boiling of water this time for breakfast. We were ready by 7.30 to head for Hawk’s head notch and descend into Avalanche lake drainage. The climb to the notch didn’t seem too intimidating and soon enough after an hour we were at the notch. The descend required some careful skiing but we didn’t have to bust out the ropes but now it was time to climb to cleaver col which seemed really daunting.

Skiing Hawk’s Head Notch

Our goal, Cleaver Col to the top left. Looking from Avalanche Lake

We ascended a small gully to the right and it took a while, It was awesome to see Howie lay down the skin track with series of kick turns required, it definitely helped me improve my technique and I was definitely getting better at them. We took a break in middle of the gully and then after another hour or so reached Cleaver col. It was still overcast conditions but it seemed like it was slowly clearing up too. We had to lower our backpacks on the other side of the col while Mark belayed us down. We down climbed about 10-15 ft to get to the snow and start our traverse towards Horse Creek drainage.

Looking Down the Gully

It took some tricky traversing and route finding to get to our campsite and we were well established by 4pm. We scoped out the lines on Matterhorn and it seemed like east couloir had some rocks and there might be some more buried so Ski dreams seemed to be better option. None of us were interested in going for the summit but we decided to get an early start anyway so that we could possibly do couple of laps. We were planning to carry our day packs since we would return and then break the camp.

Sunrise over Matterhorn Peak

I was having some difficulty with cold and congestion in my chest so was hoping for a late start so that the sun would come out and that is exactly what happened. We didn’t going until 7.30 am and by that time sun was beaming on us.The snow once again seemed in great condition and it was knee deep when we started booting up the couloir. This time I was really feeling the congestion and no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t able to get my breathing in control as I ascended the couloir one step at a time. I made it to the top eventually but would have liked to keep my breathing under control.

Once again it was quite windy at the top but there wasn’t any wind loading and as we skied down everyone had huge smiles on our faces. It was a great run to the bottom and it is the reason we go through all this trouble and suffering if you may see it that way :). It was a perfect finish for our trip.

Our lines on Ski Dreams, Matterhorn Peak

We packed the camp and now it was time to head back, last time when I was here I had a 45lbs backpack so skiing down the Tributary chute wasn’t an option for me. I just didn’t feel confident but this time I was determined to change that. The snow was lot wet and heavy which made for some interesting skiing but I did ski this chute with 30lbs backpack and I was really happy about it. We knew the snow wasn’t going to last for a long time so after some adventure skiing it was time to carry our skis out for the last leg which took about an hour. We had lunch and some brews at the Mono Village restaurant and it was time to head back home.

Skiing Tributary Chute

Hike Back Out

It was an awesome trip and I learned a lot about backcountry skiing in general something I will carry with me going forward. I made a small image map of out trip from goole earth.

Map of our trip, Click for larger version

Finally to end, here is an awesome video of the trip edited by Howie.

Sawtooths Traverse April 2016 from Sierra Mountain Guides on Vimeo.

Photo of the Month: Skiing East Greely at Alta

My Ski season has ended because of an injury but I got some really good days of skiing in this year, this was one of those days at Alta. I didn’t take my camera with me on the slopes a lot but on a sunny day I had to take it with me.

Robert was kind enough to model for me and I decided to take this shot while shooting in the sun which is not generally considered a good idea but I wanted to give it a try. In the end I was really happy with this shot.

Skiing at Alta

Shot with Canon 5D MKIII with 24-105L, f/16, 1/640s , ISO 160.

Relatively Minor Injury and taking calculated risks.

A couple of weeks have passed since I broke my leg and I can’t help but think that my injury is relatively minor.

I did undergo a surgery but it was straight forward and I didn’t have any cast on my leg. Yesterday after a follow up visit to my orthopedic surgeon, who is awesome chill person and a skier who has gone through similar injury of his own, the staples came off and I could bear some weight on my right leg. He gave me some exercises to do and my complete recovery timeline would be around 4 months which is not bad considering I broke something, underwent surgery, It could have easily been lot worse and I have seen it happen.

It hasn’t been easy couple of weeks by any means, there isn’t a single day where I don’t think about how it happened and what could I have done to prevent it, if anything. I can’t help but blame myself about messing with the DIN though my injury could still have happened without it, I would never know. I had to cancel couple of backcountry and ski mountaineering trips which I was looking forward to for a long time, along with some other personal stuff and it was painful to do so.

It makes me sad to take look at my right leg, I am surprised by amount on muscle atrophy in two weeks but at least I can start working towards building them back so early on instead of having to wait another few weeks.

Atrophy in Right Leg

Overall, I am really optimistic about my recovery timeline which is about 4 months and motivated to put in the effort required to do so. It certainly won’t be a walk in the park but in the grand scheme of things I certainly consider myself lucky. I am already entertaining the idea of being able to ski in May but it is too early to say if it will be possible.

This brings me to the second half of the blog post, taking risks or rather calculated risks. I have always had discussions with different people about it and its interesting how everyone perceives it differently. After my accident the first response from my mom was “ok so you are not going to Ski again right, you have had enough fun”. Sorry to disappoint you mom but my parents know me and I doubt they expect me to stop, it was more spur of moment reaction.

I wouldn’t have been so much into outdoor sports if it wasn’t for their encouragement while I was growing up. I have been hiking since I was a kid, skipped a month of school in 10th grade to go hiking in Himalayas and 10th grade is very important in India. I have been in a nasty bus accident on way to Pindari glacier in May 1995, the bus got stuck on a tree which prevented it from going all the way into a ravine. Luckily I escaped with only scratches in this one but remember it very vividly.

Bus Accident

I always get asked and specially now it will get worse, Isn’t it is risky to keep doing all these sports? My usual response is Yes of course it is but you drive right? I don’t know about statistics on driving injuries/accidents but I consider it to be equally risky and not many people think about it. We are in control of few tons of steel and we drive it at crazy speeds not to mention there are others around us doing the same.

Takings risks is a very personal thing and it all depends on what you are comfortable with. I won’t hesitate to swim with sharks or ski a steep chute in right conditions but riding a bike on LA freeways is out of my comfort zone, that is not going to happen.

I have been skiing only for 6 years and my first season at Mammoth I didn’t even go to the top since I knew I couldn’t have skied down in one piece, my first day was spent only on one chair lift which is a beginner chair. I have taken it quite easy and have slowly pushed my limits as I have progressed in my skiing.

Steep and Deep Camp at Jackson Hole this year was one of the ways I wanted to push myself. I was thinking about how I would ski Corbet’s couloir, mentally preparing myself about the turns I will have to make after dropping in, visualizing them but after taking one look at it, I knew it would be stupid to attempt it. I wasn’t ready to take the risk, at least not this year. Yep, I do intend to go back to Jackson Hole and take the camp again. :)

The scariest run that we did during the camp was probably the Alta 2 chute, one left turn was between two trees and then had to make immediate right turn to avoid the rock. I nervously held on the tree as I dropped in which was a mistake but I made it out and that felt like certainly pushing myself.

Looking back at my accident, I attribute it to my own mistake. I had to make a easy right over a whoop, wave like feature in snow, but for whatever reason I didn’t follow the earlier tracks and the snow where my tip got caught was rock hard or it might even have been a rock.

Sometimes shit just happens and nothing you can do about it, doesn’t matter if you are skiing, rock climbing, driving or for that matter even walking. Of course at the same time there is a fine line between pushing the limit versus being totally stupid and I hope never to cross it.

Mistakes, Injuries and moving on.

Ever since I started skiing 6 years ago, I have always dreaded getting injured. For some reason I felt that it was bound to happen to me, I rather not have it happen, but the thought of getting seriously injured has always been in back of my head.

Specially since I started getting better at skiing and pushing myself from time to time, I somehow felt it was a matter of when and not if, I was going to get injured. Of course, I didn’t want it to happen but I have always been trying to mentally prepare myself for it as such. I know there are people who have been skiing for decades without any serious injury but for whatever reason I always felt that wasn’t going to be case with me.

It was the final day of Steep and Deep camp at Jackson Hole and we were going in the backcountry. We did one run which was great and now it was time for the second one. We hiked to top of 4 Pines and It looked like we were going to get some nice powder turns.

I had to make a fast right turn over a whoop and as I got into the turn, I didn’t follow the earlier tracks for some reason and my ski tip got caught in the snow. I fell forward and immediately knew that I had broken my foot. It happened all of sudden, I didn’t know how to react, there was nothing I could do about it.

All the goals for the season were destroyed in that moment, I had planned some special things which were going to be cancelled, my life was going to be in disarray and possibly never the same but it definitely took a while for me to process all that.

Since we were in the backcountry, it took Ski patrol around 45 mins to get to my location and then another 45 mins or so to get me out of there. It wasn’t easy for the patrol to get me out of there and I really appreciate their effort.

Once back at the clinic, they did primary assessment and took the X-rays. I had broken my Tibia in couple of places and it was a butterfly break. I had to go the hospital in town where the orthopedic doctor would see me and they wheeled me there in an ambulance.

Surgery seemed to be my best option for a quick and full recovery, without it I would be in cast for 12 weeks and chances were that the bone wouldn’t heal 100%. It all went pretty quick from there, I was knocked out with general anesthesia and woke up in a boot around my leg.

The break

The fix

Its been little over 48 hours since I had my surgery and I am not sure why I am writing this but It feels nice to get it all out. Its a cathartic experience while writing this post.

I mentioned earlier that I was mentally preparing myself for an injury but nothing could have prepared me. I am truly humbled and grateful for all the support that I have received from my friends and family. I am really lucky to have a support system around me which will help me overcome this difficult phase of my life. Its going to be long 6-8 weeks before I can bear full weight on my right leg and crutches are going to be my best friend.

Looking back at the accident, I can’t help but think about that one moment but at the same time I believe its entirely my fault for putting myself in this situation. It sucks but I can’t do anything about it now and its something I have come to terms with. I messed with my ski bindings while trying to adjust the DIN setting and I think because of that the ski didn’t release when it got stuck in the snow.

I learned my lesson the hard way which is going to be emotionally, mentally, physically and financially draining but at the end of the day, this entire experience is only going to make me stronger and I can’t wait to hit the slopes next season.

Photo of the Month: Tamarack Lodge reflection over Twin Lakes, Mammoth Lakes, California

This year I spent Christmas and New Year’s at Mammoth and I felt it appropriate to have one of my favorite photos from there as photo of the month. This was one of the first shots I took while trying out night photography.

I had a hard time getting the manual focus right but in the end, I ended up putting the camera in auto focus with the focus point set at the lake and since it was a full moon night it worked.

Tamarack Lodge over twin lakes, Mammoth Lakes, California

Shot using Canon T1i with 18-55mm kit lens at 28mm, f/8, 138s exposure. Click here to buy a print of this photograph.

Photo of the Month: Backlit Chromodoris macfarlandi

I wanted to try out something different so I decided to play with back lighting a bit and I hadn’t tried shooting the Canon MP-E 65mm at 4.x magnification so a day of diving in Palos Verdes sounded like a perfect opportunity for it.

I was going to focus on shooting Skeleton shrimps mainly but the conditions were too surgy and this Chromodoris macfarlandi was in perfect position. I could have easily gotten a black background since it was way up on top but as mentioned I wanted to play with back lighting.

Backlit Chromodoris macfarlandi

Taken with Canon 5D MKIII with MP-E 65mm lens at 4.x magnification. f/16, 1/100th , ISO 320.

I would have been happier with a better composition with the entire nudibranch in frame but with the surge it was really hard and I didn’t even think about it. In the end, I am really happy with this shot and the detail I was able to get on the rhinophore.

Photo of the Month: Diaulula sandiegensis, San Diego dorid laying eggs

I haven’t been blogging as much as I would like to so decided this will be a good way to blog and share my pictures at the same time.

Dive Site: Coral Garden, Anacapa Island, California

This was the last dive of 2 day trip on Peace Dive boat chartered by Bluewater Photo for the 2014 Socal Shootout. I have done this dive couple of years ago as part of 2012 shootout so I remember it well since its easy to navigate.

Its more like a wall dive with lot of Gorgonians and Sea fans to see in the 70-90 ft range and last time I found a few Tritonia festivas so I was using my Canon 100mm lens.

Couple of minutes into the dive, I came across this beautiful dorid laying eggs and figured it would be perfect for a behavior shot. It won 1st Prize in Behavior Category.

Diaulula sandiegensis, San Diego dorid laying eggs at Anacapa Island, California

Shot with Canon EOS 5D Mark III, canon 100mm macro 2.8l lens in a Sea and Sea housing with 2 Sea and Sea YS 110a strobes. ISO 160, F/16 and 1/125th Shutter.

Backpacking North Fork Trail via Cascade Canyon

If you would like to read my entire Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park road trip blog, here is the link.

Since the snow this year was crazy I carried all mountaineering gear including my shovel. My pack easily weighed around 45-50lbs. I started at around 9.45 not a super early start by any means but the hike was going to be around 9 miles so I figured I would be fine.

The initial half hour was devoid of any snow but then it started showing up, I had to be really careful about not post holing but once in a while I did sink up to my knees. So it was really slow going, I didn’t take the higher hidden falls trail and after couple of hours I was at the hidden falls. From here the trail goes into the canyon and so far following it wasn’t a problem.

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake from Inspiration Point

I got to inspiration point and beyond it there was no obvious sign of the trail. I got little worried but then looking around I saw footsteps going into the canyon so I followed them. It was tricky following them but I knew the general direction I was headed into so wasn’t worried.

Some Footsteps

At one time I did think of turning back but the canyon was really narrow and it has a stream flowing so as long as I stayed to the right of it I would be fine. Soon enough it seemed that the footsteps I was following were leading up a couloir so I decided to make my own path.

I had the entire trail programmed into my Garmin Fenix but the trail was entire loop and I needed to start it from first point so it was kind of useless.

After an hour or so I thought to myself the worst case scenario would be that I would have to camp somewhere in middle and since there was snow everywhere it wouldn’t matter but I was seeing signs of trail here and there so I carried on. It also helped that the stream was there so I could not go far from the trail in this narrow canyon. There was a reason I decided to hike this in such conditions the navigation was relatively straightforward. There was a trail underneath all the snow and I was never far from it.

Keeping the stream to left

As I got deeper into canyon it started to get wider and I was slowly getting unsure of the trail. My GPS was now showing the way points that I had saved but the scale was not enough for me to use them but luckily for me I came across very obvious set of tracks and so I decided to follow them.

These set of tracks led me over a bridge and to a cabin, later I found that this bridge indicated start of north fork trail but then I had no clue about the south fork.

Bridge

The cabin seemed deserted although I had no interest in finding out whether it was occupied or not. The tracks stopped little further away from the cabin and at this point again I had no idea where I was. Seemed like I was on the north fork trail but in that case where would the south fork be and how do I get there or my second night of camping.

I decided to continue further north and it seemed like I had definitely hiked lot more than I should have to be in the camping zone. It was around 5 at this time so I better established campsite before the weather got worse it certainly didn’t seem like improving.

I wanted to camp at spot which would give me great views of the Tetons but it was little exposed and I didn’t think the weather would cooperate for some night photography so I decided to head back and camp at a similar spot which was lower and protected. If I wanted to do some night photography I had to hike for 2 minutes and I would get some nice views.

View of Tetons

The smart ass in me decided to make a platform for the tent and started to dig it out but it seemed another n exercise in futility so that plan was quickly abandoned and I used that for kitchen and pitched the tent at other spot which was somewhat level. I did dig a hole for the vestibule so taking off and putting my boots would be convenient.

I had to hurry and make dinner quickly since the weather was turning for the worse and sure enough as I finished dinner it started raining with some hail. I got back into the tent and called it a night.

Even though I wasn’t expecting any bears given the conditions I made sure that I kept food and all the smelly things outside. I thought about staying at this site for the second night instead of going to south fork but I wasn’t sure if weather would be good and if I had to do cooking inside my vestibule because of that I didn’t want to attract any bears. Small chance but why take it.

All night long I could hear raindrops along with some crackling sound which couldn’t quite figure out. I somehow got decent sleep and it wasn’t surprising since I was spent.

Next day morning I was hoping for clear blue skies and it seemed like for change my wish would be granted and I thought about staying another night here to see if conditions improved. I really wanted to take that shot of Tetons in glow of sunset.

It didn’t seem worth the gamble so I decided to pack it up and head back.

Heading back was lot easier since I had my own footsteps to follow but again there were times when I managed to loose them. I wanted to take mg own time hiking out but the weather was starting to get worse again there was little bit of snow and the canyon was starting to get socked in and if I didn’t hurry I was going to be in white out conditions. It felt like the mountain was asking me to gtfo and as I was leaving there was a white dense fog behind me.

Cloud cover moving in.

I had ski tracks to follow now but they didn’t lead me to inspiration point and they led me north side of jenny lake which wasn’t right so I decided to make my own tracks since I knew the direction in which I was supposed to go and soon enough I reached jenny lake dock which was nice and I chilled there for a bit. A Fox came by to say hello but I think he was more interested in the squirrel than me. He didn’t linger long enough for a photo opportunity either.

Relaxing at Jenny Lake Dock

I continued on some footsteps around the lake but soon came to a dead end and if I wanted to get back on trail I had to cross a log bridge which wasn’t in good shape so I went back to finding the right trail which didn’t take that long. It was now a matter of getting back to the car, which wouldn’t be for another couple of hours. Along the way I met with lot more folks, which was surprising since I just met one person on the way in.

Tricky Bridge

I was in hurry to get back to the campground so that I could grab a campsite before it got full and I was there by 2 pm or so. I was planning on staying there for couple of days and then spend another two at Yellowstone. I really wanted to camp at amphitheater lake but after this backpacking experience I decided that it wasn’t the best idea.

I would love to come back and do the entire Teton Crest trail and i am seriously considering doing in Mid September this year. Though I have to say some company would be great, If you are interested hit me up.

Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks Road Trip Report

One of my goals this ski season was to go to Jackson hole but that didn’t happen and after that when an Alaska ski mountaineering trip wasn’t feasible, I felt the need to get out and take a break.

A visit to Grand Tetons sounded like perfect gateway and when I found out about Teton crest trail the trip was on.

I booked my flights to Salt Lake city and from there the plan was to drive out to Tetons. I planed out the entire hike and had a day or two to visit Yellowstone but the entire trip didn’t go to according to plan.

I knew that this year Tetons had received crazy amount of snow, 2nd highest on record, so couple of weeks prior to my trip I called the ranger station and asked about it. They told me there was lots of snow and hiking over the passes wasn’t a good idea. Since I was by myself I gave up on the idea of hiking the trail.

I still wanted to do some backpacking and then suddenly a brilliant idea hit me. Why not drive all the way from LA so I could lug all my gear including skis. I contacted couple of guiding companies and they only offered private 1 on 1, which was pricey, but I kept that option open.

Packed and Ready

So now that I was set on driving I decided to leave early Friday from work around noon so that I could beat la traffic but unfortunately its LA so I was faced with traffic. I had forgotten to pack my windbreaker and since thunderstorms were predicted I didn’t want to take a chance. I remembered about it only 20 minutes into the drive so it was worth it going back for it and it delayed me an hour.

I hadn’t planned on where I was going to spend the night, all I knew that I wanted to be as close to Tetons as possible since I wanted to get there early enough to grab a campsite and get my backcountry permit for next day.

I wasn’t planning on driving through the night so I decided to spent night at Fillmore rest stop. I asked the nightly rate for Bestwestern but 80 seemed too pricey so I ended up sleeping in my car.

Next day morning woke up at 7 and started the drive. After regular stops along the way and enjoying the scenery I reached Grand Tetons at around 4pm. My initial plan was to get permit for north fork on cascade canyon trail but the south fork was right there so I got permit for two nights. I also wanted to get permit for Sunrise Lake but the ranger suggested that the route was tough and it wouldn’t be a wise idea with all the snow

I decided not to get the permit for now since I could always come back and get it. I wanted to get to jenny lake campground and grab a site before it was full. I managed to get one and after establishing the site and eating diner at around 6 I thought that I could easily crash and be done for the day.

I managed to go to bed but after n hour half of sleep I was wide-awake. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep until mid night now and I heard the guys in the next camp talk about how clear the weather was. So I got up and decided to drive around for some night photography. Unfortunately I wasn’t impressed by any of the shots.

It rained at night and next day morning it was quite cloudy. I was unsure about my plans to go and do the backpack so I decided to talk to the rangers about the weather. My main fear was whiteout conditions on the trail but ranger said that there was 20% chance of snow and the weather has been like this for few days and it should clear up later in the day.

I said f**k it, I will take my chances and so I wrapped up the camp and after purchasing bear spray I headed out into cascade canyon and plan was to camp on the north fork trail go to lake solitude and then the next day go to south fork trail and possibly try to go over the pass into Alaska basin. Now that I think about it I can’t help but laugh at the futility of my ambitious plan.

This backpacking hike deserves its own blog post so here it is. Backpacking North Fork Trail

I went to the visitor center to inform the ranger about my change in plans and I asked them what would have happened if I stayed another night at north fork instead of south fork and the ranger said that it would have been fine given that it was still early in the season. It’s just that during peak times they ask folks in the backcountry to stick to their itinerary. I came back to camp and decided that it won’t be a bad idea to have pizza and beer instead of my pre cooked meal so I went to Dornans but they had some event there so I had to drop that idea.

My plan for the next day was to take it easy and do some other hikes in the park.

I woke up from sleep early around 7am but then I remembered that I was on vacation so there was no reason for me to get ready so early and I went back to bed. I was up around 9 and then after enjoying my tea and breakfast I headed over to Spring Lake.

My plan was to do a loop around the lake which was about 4 miles and I was expecting that the trail would be similar to the one on the Jenny Lake loop so finding it wouldn’t be a issue but I was so wrong. I got to the trailhead and pulled in next to a skier. I chatted with him for a bit and he was out skiing alone, only if I had known about him earlier. He took the Ski mountaineering clinic with Exum guides and was staying in Jackson for a month. I didn’t find out about this Ski mountaineering clinic earlier otherwise I would have tried for it.

For some reason I decided not to wear my gaiters, which turned out to be a big mistake, more on that later. Initially the trail was easy to find but then after 10 minutes I saw a group of 3 on a hill, I followed their tracks and caught up to them but they were lost too. They wanted to hike into the palisade canyon, part of the trail for that was common with the one I wanted to follow. I consulted the map and it was obvious that the trail went around the lake and they still hadn’t crossed it so I didn’t follow them and decided to go along my own path. I let them know about it and it wasn’t until 15 minutes I saw them follow me.

I took a break hoping that they would soon catch up to me and then lead the path so I could easily follow in their footsteps but watching them cross the snow it soon became apparent to me that they had no idea what they were doing. They caught up to me and I advised them not to go ahead with their plan of hiking into the palisade canyon, they seemed to agree and retreated. I was left to myself and for a moment I thought that maybe I should retreat too but I had my mind set on doing the loop around the lake and I pushed on. During this break I removed some snow from my shoes and not wearing gaiters was starting to bite me in the ass.

As mentioned earlier I thought that finding the trail would be easier but turned out that I was wrong. From the map it seemed that the trail took me higher and away from the lake but I didn’t want to do that, staying closer to the shores of the lake seemed like a better idea to me so I could easily make my own trail. So with that in mind I went through the woods and after a while came across bear footprints, oh fun. I had forgotten to carry my bear spray so I panicked a little and seemed like I was following the tracks of the bear.

Making my own trail

I tried to remain calm and moved away from the tracks while banging my poles at the same time to make some noise. The last thing I wanted to do is to startle a bear without any bear spray. I hurried and tried to get to an open area to find some resemblance of trail but there was none so I stuck to my original plan of staying along the borders of the lake. As I continued along I came across what seemed like marshes and I really wanted to turn around at this point since I was for sure way too far from the trail but then turning back meant that I had to go through the bear tracks and I didn’t feel like it.

Got some nice views from Marshes

It seemed that there was a way through the marshes so I carried on trying to find the bridge, which would let me cross the lake and complete the loop. As soon as I got into an area with lot of trees I started banging my poles and make some noise. I was post holing once in a while but luckily for me it wasn’t too annoying. After almost hour and half and crossing around 5-6 small streams through the marshes I finally got to the bridge and it was a huge relief.

The Bridge

After another extended break I carried on and this time luckily I had tracks to follow and they led me right way. I was post-holing lot more on this part of the trail and at this point I was really frustrated and wanted the hike to be over so that I could get out of the snow but I still had over a mile to hike. I carried on and all of sudden came across an area where the snow was different and there was a layer of ice underneath. I had to be really cautious and tried not to posthole but unfortunately my left leg went in and there was a surge of ice cold water into my shoes. It was so annoying but I didn’t have a choice and after another half hour I finally made it back to the car. As soon as I got there I immediately changed out of my shoes. It had started to rain and I wanted to get out of the parking lot and go on the scenic route but a French couple wanted ride back to Jenny Lake since they didn’t have necessary stuff to hike in the rain. My car was fully packed so I couldn’t give ride to both of them so one of them came with me and I dropped her at their car at Jenny lake.

My plans for the scenic drive were abandoned so I decided to do the Taggart Lake hike, which was about 3.5 miles RT and for sure seemed to be free of snow. I decided to go to windy point, have lunch while enjoying the view from there and dry my shoes at the same time. It was very relaxing and finally I got to see clear view of the Grand Tetons. I put on a fresh pair of socks and started Taggart Lake hike but 10 minutes into it I realized that I forgot my camera so I had to go back to get it.

Clear View of Grand Teton

It was a nice hike and was great to be on trail devoid of any snow. Since there was no cloud over the Grand Tetons I was hoping to take some reflection shots when I got to the lake. There was some snow on the trail as I got closer to the lake but I had faced worse throughout so this was piece of cake. As I reached the lake it was disappointing to see that the lake was still frozen, there went my idea of taking some reflection shots.

Frozen Taggart Lake

There were some really dark clouds moving in and I didn’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm even though I had all my gear with me. I decided to really hurry and almost started running on the way out, sure enough I hiked little over 1.5 miles in under 45 minutes. As soon as I got to the car it started pouring and I was so happy that I had made it back just in time. I went back to Dornan’s and decided to have pizza and beer, which was great. By the time I was done with it the storm passed by and I went back to the campground.

The Manager of campground, Suzy had invited everyone to her site for campfire so headed over there and met all the folks, which had their own stories to share. There were couple of guys backcountry skiing and I thought about joining them for their tour tomorrow. I didn’t want to impose and if some random person would ask me to join a tour it would be awkward so I didn’t bother. One of the guys there from New Zealand was hitch hiking across the states and had already got over 100 rides.

We stayed there till quiet hours talking about stuff and then it was time for bed. My plan was to spend 2 nights at Yellowstone and I thought that it would be little too much but it turned out that it was less.

I hadn’t booked any campsites in Yellowstone so my main priority was to secure a campsite but at the same time I wanted to take it easy not hurry up and get going. I left grand Tetons around 10.30 and reached Yellowstone entrance at around 1pm. I thought about going further up inside the park but decided against it and went to Madison where I managed to get campsite for two days.

It was now time to explore Yellowstone, I decided to drive north to Mammoth area and cover that. Mammoth hot springs was really awesome, the geysers and springs have some really interesting colors to them. After spending couple of hours there and taking lots of picture I drove east to Tower Falls.

Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs

One of my Favorite pictures of the trip

On the way to the falls I came across an Elk, Pronghorn Deer and a Black bear. The place where the bear was foraging was quite busy so I didn’t stop to take pictures. I wasn’t too impressed by Tower falls and unfortunately the road to Canyon area from there was closed so I ended up driving back the same way.

Elk

I ate dinner at Mammoth but once I got to campsite I was hungry again so I made dinner before bed. My plan was to explore the rest of the park tomorrow. I wanted to get up early and get going as soon as possible since it seemed like there was lot to explore and I wasn’t wrong.

Next day I got going by 8.30 and first headed over to Norris Geyser Basin area which was nice but nothing spectacular, only if Steamboat Geyser would have erupted. It was time to go over to the Canyon area but there were quite a few trails in the area that were closed which was disappointing.

I went to the lower falls lookout and then when I went to Grand view lookout I learned about Osprey nests in the area so I started looking for them but wasn’t able to find any. I headed over to the south rim and over there the views of Lower Falls were really nice. I came across a pair of photographers who seemed to find an Osprey nest on the North side of the canyon but they weren’t sure if there were any birds in the nest. I thought to myself that I could get a closer look at the nest from the North side now that I knew exactly where to look, so I went back to the north side and sure enough there was the nest.

Osprey Nest

I saw two birds in the nest though I couldn’t make out if there were any eggs. I saw one of them take off for hunting I presume, it was an awesome sight to see. Now the only thing left on my wish list was to see a Grizzly bear and my wish was granted as I drove out to West Basin Geyser area. There was a Grizzly foraging in the meadows and a huge crowd had gathered to watch it. He was about 100 ft. away or so and it seemed like he wanted to come closer and cross the road but maybe was intimidated by the number of people.

Grizzly Bear

My Yellowstone mammal wish list was complete and I was super happy. I headed over to the West Basin Geyser area and some of the springs were really colorful, there was one in particular where I wasn’t happy with the pictures I took because of the angle of the sun. I thought about returning next day but I didn’t. Now the only thing left was Old Faithful area.

As soon as I got to Old Faithful there was a crowd of people gathered so I found a good spot and set up my camera. The geyser didn’t erupt for another half an hour but when it did, it surely put on a show. I then went around checking out the area and I hadn’t realized that there would be so much to look at. There were couple of Bison just relaxing in the basin area and they let us get really close to them. I didn’t try my luck and maintained my distance however there was a guy with his tripod who only few feet away from it. I had my camera on them since I was certain that the Bison was going to charge but luckily for everyone it just crossed the walkway and carried on.

Old Faithful

Bison close to people

No Harm done but could have been Ugly

I moved to other part of the basin and sure enough one of the geysers where I was earlier erupted, I didn’t get chance to catch it up close. It seemed like I wasn’t going to be able cover the entire area since it was getting pretty late and I was hungry too. So I went around for a bit taking pictures and then waited around Castle Geyser in hope that it would erupt. It had already erupted twice in the day so I didn’t linger for long and then after having Dinner at the cafe it was time to head back to camp.

Castle Geyser

My plan next day was to visit couple of more Geyser areas and then drive back to Jackson and spend the night there. I wanted to do some photography passing through the towns and Bear Lake, which I planned to do it on Saturday. I was hoping to reach LA on Sunday night after some gambling in Vegas but as with this trip nothing worked according to the plan.

I thought about spending another night at Yellowstone but seemed like getting a campsite would be a problem and it was started to get crowded so I wanted to get away from it. I wrapped up my campsite and visited Midway Geyser Basin, which was awesome, specially the chromatic pool. It was awesome to see the different colored mist rising from the pool. I then went over to Black Sand basin, which was going to be my final stop in the park, and I would be on my way.

Chromatic Pool

As I got there, in the distance I saw what seemed like Osprey hunting some birds, I tried to switch to my zoom lens but it flew away before I could. After going around the basin area, I decided to wait for a bit to see if the Osprey came back and sure enough it did. I thought it would go for the birds but they were nowhere to be seen so the Osprey was over the river. I wanted to move closer to it but as I was moving the Osprey made a dive for it and plucked out a fish. It was once in a lifetime experience and it circled over us for few minutes with fish still in its claw and then flew away. I was completely thrilled and it felt so good to see the hunt in action.

Osprey with Fish

Osprey Flyover

On the way to Grand Tetons there was a brief stop over to watch a Mama Grizzly bear with two cubs but they were way to far from road so I didn’t linger for long. I got back to Jackson around 3pm and thought that it didn’t make sense spending the night there so I carried on and thought maybe Logan might be a better option. As I got to Logan it seemed that I could go further and I ended up spending the night at Fillmore in my car, which was the same place as way up. Saturday I stopped over in Vegas to play some poker and then reached LA Saturday night.

Mama Grizzly and cubs

It was an awesome trip even though it didn’t go according to plan. I wanted to backpack Teton Crest trail but couldn’t and enjoyed Yellowstone more which was going to be an after thought on this trip. I took over 600 pictures on this trip, most of them were in Yellowstone and it took me better part of Saturday and Sunday to process them all.

Next time I go to Yellowstone I want to spend at least a week photographing everything and regarding Teton Crest Trail I am considering of going back in Mid September and hiking it.

1 person, 2 national parks, 6 state lines, 9 days , 12+ mammal species, 25+ miles of hiking, 600+ pictures, 2400+ miles and a lifetime of memories. Road trips are so much fun.

The trip pictures can be viewed and bought at http://www.desidiverphotography.com/Hiking/Yellowstone-Road-Trip/