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Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 3

DAY 3: LOWER CASCADE FALLS TO MONARCH LAKE TRAILHEAD

It was another 4.5 miles back to the trailhead where we took those first steps. The hike out was easy with its gradual downhill. It was especially easy to do with our lighter packs and full spirits, at least that's how I felt. I am always nourished by the wilderness...all the unspoken sacred moments: the moonlight sparkling in the creek, the moments of aw and silence, the mesmerizing moments staring at unique dance of flames. 

We had another oatmeal and coffee breakfast, packed up and headed back to the cars. As we got closer to the trailhead, we saw more and more day hikers sprinkled on the trail. It reminded me how special it was that we got to steep ourselves in the wilderness for three days, like we had become a cup of wilderness tea.

 All fed, packed and cleaned up. I believe our goal as backpackers is to leave the wilderness in better condition than how we found it.

All fed, packed and cleaned up. I believe our goal as backpackers is to leave the wilderness in better condition than how we found it.

 Nancy. Aww... sweet girl. 

Nancy. Aww... sweet girl. 

 There is something so beautiful about a group of women backpacking together. It's one of my favorite sites in the wilderness.

There is something so beautiful about a group of women backpacking together. It's one of my favorite sites in the wilderness.

 Thank you Indian Peaks Wilderness. You've left quite the impression. 

Thank you Indian Peaks Wilderness. You've left quite the impression. 

If you missed Day 2 photos, they're waiting for you here. Enjoy!

xo

Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 2

DAY 2: LOWER CASCADE FALLS TO CRATER LAKE BACK TO LOWER CASCADE FALLS

I woke up early and spent the first hour or so soaking in the quiet holy presence of a morning in the wilderness. There is nothing quite like that kind of peace and solitude. It was frigid, so I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and sat for a while sipping a cup of hot coffee. Simple things. 

Eventually, everyone started hatching from their tents and we nourished ourselves with homemade oatmeal and coffee.

 Sun finally cresting over into our campsite. 

Sun finally cresting over into our campsite. 

 Everyone still sleeping...

Everyone still sleeping...

 Coffee with milk + sugar and homemade oatmeal

Coffee with milk + sugar and homemade oatmeal

We decided to stay at our campsite for another night instead of migrating at Crater Lake, so we left what we could and started our day hike at 11am (*gulp*). A bit late of a start, but things just take longer with more people, naturally. The hike was breathtaking and I said the word "gorgeous" a bajillion times. I meant it every time! 

 A gorgeous  pee-rag sighting  in the wild! (Disclosure: I gave each of the ladies a pee-rag to try on this trip. They loved it!)

A gorgeous pee-rag sighting in the wild! (Disclosure: I gave each of the ladies a pee-rag to try on this trip. They loved it!)

 There was so much to stop and look at. The views were spectacular! 

There was so much to stop and look at. The views were spectacular! 

 So refreshing and rejuvenating!

So refreshing and rejuvenating!

 Silliness ensues. 

Silliness ensues. 

 Hike hike hike.

Hike hike hike.

 Small bridge crossing en route to Mirror Lake. 

Small bridge crossing en route to Mirror Lake. 

 WOW. Gorgeous.

WOW. Gorgeous.

 We finally arrived at Crater Lake and hopped on this rock to enjoy some time before heading back to camp.

We finally arrived at Crater Lake and hopped on this rock to enjoy some time before heading back to camp.

 Hiking back to camp.

Hiking back to camp.

 Yes. These are the moments. 

Yes. These are the moments. 

#100daysofwilderness / Day 29 / Overnight the Sweeney Creek Trail

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Sometimes the best adventures are ones that come up spontaneously. On Sunday morning, we (my husband Samuel and our friend Vlad) decided to go on a quick overnighter in the Bitterroot Mountains. The Bitterroots are just south of Missoula and they're not well known to most people outside of Montana, but they're absolutely spectacular. You could probably explore them for a lifetime and still be enamored by their presence.

We went to the Sweeney Creek Trailhead, located about 45 minutes away from our home. The dirt road was bumpy but still doable even in a sedan (although we were in a large truck with big wheels and big everythings). The drive up gave me a huge expansive view of the Bitterroot valley, which was wow number one (of 1,843). 

We had most of our food and snacks on hand because of a recent snack splurge, and because PB&J sandwiches are my go-to for quick eats on the trail. The only thing I did stop to buy was a Good To-Go meal because that's been on my radar to try. (Side note: If you're looking for a quality meal, the Thai Curry was delicious! I can't wait to try their other flavors.) In fact, it was so good I didn't even get a picture because we were so focused on eating it. That's the nice thing about having all your gear; you can simply pack it up and go.

As a beginner, backpacking might feel like a huge event where you plan for weeks or months. It's going to feel like this big expedition. And it is. Those feelings are awesome and they should be savored. 

As you get more experience, it will feel easier and more like a lifestyle. The "wows" will still be with you, but it won't feel as daunting or unknown. You will develop a system, preferences, and style.

Anyway, I want to acknowledge that if you don't have all your gear, it would've been challenging to go on a spontaneous trip. If you don't have all your backpacking gear and you're reading this...your day will come. I'm determined to make this site more clear to help fill that gap. But back to the story. 

Going away for just one night can feel rejuvenating without feeling like you have to commit a ton of time. It's a great way to test out your gear, try new things, and maybe take nice luxuries. This time, I splurged and took my swell bottle with whole milk so I could have fresh cold milk with my coffee. OMG, it was so nice. (I wouldn't take that bottle on a longer trip, but I definitely wanted to endure the extra weight for this trip.)

I thought the hike one way was about 6 miles, but the GPS is telling us 7.5. Well, it doesn't matter really. It was a wonderful hike, definitely harder than I had expected. This is a case of not studying the topo map and the grade hard enough. I sort of got a sense of it without really looking, so got my but kicked when we started climbing climbing climbing. Lesson to be learned: Set your expectations. If you think a trip's going to be "eh, pretty easy," be warned that it may not. Know thy map; know thy self. 

 Photo Credit: Samuel Mandell

Regardless of the hike being tougher, what energized me along the way were the spectacular views. I can't put it into words, but there were a lot of "wows" along the way. This is the effect of nature. We're silenced as in stand in awe, the moment asking us to just be present. These moments are rare these days aren't they?

Our other hurdle was the amount of snow we encountered near the end of the hike. The higher we got up in elevation, the more it felt like we were transported back into those winter days. Frozen lakes, snow, and dropping temps. The beauty of this circumstance is that we're presented with an opportunity to learn, adapt and overcome. Each time we can do this, we realize more and more how capable we are. 

Not a shabby place to fill up our water bottles.

We even found some morel mushrooms on the trail!

HIKE SPECS

THE WAY IN
Distance: 7.5 miles
Ascent: 2612ft
Descent: 1181ft

THE WAY OUT
Distance: 7.5 miles
Ascent: 1138ft
Descent: 2523ft (Ouch! My knees took a beating during all this downhill.)

ELEVATION MAP

DIRECTIONS

  • Check out the map here.
    1. From Missoula, take the Bitterroot Hwy (93) to Sweeney Creek Loop and turn (R)
    2. Veer (R) at Sweeney Creek Trail (1315) and drive up for 6 miles to the trailhead
    3. Park and the trailhead is obvious; it's the only one

WHAT TO TAKE

  • Check out my gear checklist here.  
  • It turned out to be pretty cold at night, dipping into the freezing temps. I was glad to have my warm down puffy jacket, long johns, and wool base layer.

THE CONCERN FACTOR FOR May 24-25, 2015

  • Bears: Didn't see any
  • Moose: None that we could see
  • Mosquitos: I think I saw one
  • Ticks: I got two on my back, one crawling and one grabbing on but its head wasn't in yet.
  • Water: Plenty of streams and eventually lakes
  • Creepy men: Didn't see any. Actually, there were a number of people on day hikes and many of them were women.
  • Elevation gain/loss: The descent can be tough on the knees. Be aware. 

This backpacking trip has a huge payoff for such a short distance. The views, the flowers, the diversity of terrain.....I highly recommend it to anyone interested in having a somewhat challenging (but very doable) overnighter near Missoula. 

Itinerary / Teton Crest Trail Photo Gallery

So what's an itinerary without the pictures? I hope this helps you get a sense of where we went. 

Itinerary / Teton Crest Trail Itinerary

Have you heard of the Tetons in Wyoming? If you haven't, they're crazy famous and rightfully so. They are EPIC. I'll let this picture speak for itself. Tomorrow, I'll post a gallery of images from this hike. 

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The Tetons are often photographed from the frontside (photo on right), which is magnificent and highly accessible to visitors. The photo above, however, was taken from the backside standing as close as you're going to get of the Tetons. Let's just say, we were right up in their business.

All that to say, the Teton Crest Trail should not be missed. It's one of my favs! Here's everything you need to know to get yourself on that trail.

Overview
The day before we started the trek, we picked up our first-come, first serve permit at the ranger station and stayed at a hostel in Teton Village. The following morning, we started our trek straight from the hostel. The route we took was one-way, point A to B. We cut out the first few miles of climbing by taking a tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. (Side note: I had heard that first climb wasn't entirely worth it, so we happily skipped it based on that recommendation. Plus, the tram was super fun!) We started from the south end of the trail and ended north at Jenny Lake, five days later. We then took a bus from Jenny Lake into the town of Jackson Hole to eat celebratory pizza and chicken wings. From there, we took another city bus back to Teton Village where our car was parked. There are variations to everything we did, but this was my approach to an affordable and challenging but not crazy backpacking trip.

Permits
(1) Apply for a permit between January and May 15th OR
(2) Show up to a visitor center and get a first-come first-serve permit the day before
$25/permit for the group for the entire trip
TIP: Show up as early as possible the day before, to get the best pick

Itinerary

  • Day 0: Go to Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center to pick up a permit; stayed in Teton Village to be at the trail head the next morning
  • Day 1: Rendezvous Mountain (End of tram ride) to Marion Lake (~6 miles) - When you get off the tram, first stop and use the bathroom at the little cafe up there. Then head left to the ridge line toward the service road. Follow the trail makers toward Marion Lake. You might get a little confused because it's not marked "Teton Crest Trail." Walk away from the tram.
  • Day 2: Marion Lake to Hurricane Pass (~10 miles) - Strenuous day of climbing two passes. People typically stay at Sunset Lake to make this an eight mile day, but I wanted to see sunset and sunrise at the pass (see pic above), so we took on two passes that day. 
  • Day 3: Hurricane Pass to Holly Lake (~10 miles) - You'll hike down down down down and then up up up up. Solitude Lake is gorgeous and worth stopping at before your uphill trek up to Paintbrush Divide.
  • Day 4: Holly Lake to Leigh Lake Site #13 (~6.5 miles) - Mostly all downhill. You'll see many day-hikers going in the opposite direction. When you get to the bridge, don't cross. Keep going north to Leigh Lake. The trail isn't super duper clearly marked, but clear enough. Trust it because campsite #13 is EPIC. It's a white sand beach, completely private with two established tent sites and a fire pit. I would highly recommend it.
  • Day 5: Leigh Lake Site #13 to Jenny Lake Visitor Center (~5 miles) - Wake up early and watch the sunrise. If you're there in the fall, the elk's prehistoric bugling is a sound like no other. You will feel transported into another world. The hike to Jenny Lake Visitor Center is beautiful with not a lot of elevation gain or loss. You'll see more day-hikers and cars along this hike because there's such great access to see the Tetons from the front. You will definitely appreciate that just two days ago, you were standing behind them. It's a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and gratitude. 

*Note: There are other options for how to hike this trail. I personally loved this approach because I felt like we saved the "best" for last.

Total Miles (~37.5 miles)
*Note: I did not use a GPS device, so this is my best estimate for what we hiked

Recommended Map
Trails Illustrated Grand Teton Nation Park Map

When to go
July could be buggy and still be pretty snowy. Check with the rangers for trail conditions.
August could be pretty buggy, but bursting with wildflowers (recommended).
September has little to no mosquitos, but most of the wildflowers are gone; weather can be fickle (recommended).
October has high risk of very unpredictable weather.

Difficulty level
It was a fairly challenging hike. Climbing up the passes were somewhat lengthy and difficult, however there were also portions that felt easy. If you're prepared mentally to do a fair amount of uphill hiking, you'll be fine. The endless amazing views will energize you to keep going.

Weather
It's impossible to predict weather, but when I went in mid-September it was supposed to be 50s-60s during the day and drop down to the 10s-20s in the evenings. It actually turned out to be 32 degrees when we got off the tram, with some snowfall. It snowed lightly all day and stayed in the low 30s. That night, it dipped down into the single digits. We were VERY COLD. Each subsequent day was warmer, but that unexpected cold snap was pretty harsh. Definitely call the ranger station to get the most up-to-date info to plan your clothing appropriately. Be prepared for anything to happen in the backcountry! Weather is always unpredictable.

How to get to the trailhead
Use your favorite maps app to get to Teton Village. Make sure to find a parking spot that's okay to be parked at for a few days. (In the fall (low-season), we parked near The Hostel, since we were paying customers.) From there, we walked to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram ticket window to pick up our prepaid tickets, and hopped on one at 9am. It will take you straight up to Rendezvous Mountain where you'll begin.

Tram info
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Book online or buy tickets at the window.
Tip: It's $5 cheaper to buy your ticket online and pick it up at the window.
Open 9am-5pm
15 minute ride up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain with awesome views of the valley. 

Cheapest accommodation in Teton Village
The Hostel 
High Season - Winter & Summer ($34-$40/night for shared bunk room)
Low Season - Fall & Spring ($20-$28/night for shared bunk room)
*Tip: Since there were three of us, we got a private bunk so we could sprawl all our gear and food and distribute accordingly. We ended up paying $38/person for one night for the private bunk room.

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Shuttle back to car
Alltrans Park Shuttle
$14/one way from Jenny Lake Visitor Center to Home Ranch Parking Lot in Jackson
~1 hour ride
307-733-3135

START Bus back to Teton Village
~22 minute bus ride for $3 one way
Catch the red or green bus at Pearl and Glenwood.
The bus stop has old school auditorium seating.
Check schedule here
Check STARTBus website for latest fee info

Post-trip eats recommendation
Pinky G's Pizzeria
We had a delicious pizza, chicken wings, salad, soda and beer to celebrate when we got into Jackson. It was reasonably priced, delicious, and very filling!

Get the most up-to-date info here about Grand Teton National Park
http://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/index.htm

Ranger station contact 
Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center
8am-5pm
(307)-739-3399

Most convenient airport
Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), Wyoming

Do you have any questions? I'd be happy to share what I learned.