The Journey Begins
We start early in the morning sun at the Lupine Meadows parking lot. Excitement is high before starting out on a trek of roughly 6 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain to reach our campsite.
We pass some local wildlife on the way up the trail. Some other hikers ask "I wonder what he's doing out here?"
"Looks like he's having a snack," I reply as he munches on some leaves.
Admiring the View
I pause our progress to check on how my father is doing and comment that the trail so far is not much different than in New England
"We could be on Mount Monadnock if not for the view," he replies.
The Black Stripe
The black stripe up Middle Teton looms around the corner as the trail takes on a new harsher character.
"Aim for the stripe until we hit The Meadows," I advise.
At this point the trail is a line of dirt and loose rock etched in the side of steeply angled scree, occasionally glued together by plant life, not wider than your shoulders.
After we pass through a small boulder field we reach...
Roughly 5 miles up trail at an elevation of approximately 9,300 feet.
A beautiful place to pause for lunch, though the horseflies were a bit trying on my patience. The bug spray was left behind purposely, less to carry and we would not need it further up the mountain.
Our stop in The Meadows caused us to temporarily leave the established trail to our campsite. Rather than backtrack we climbed up the scree to just below the waterfall and carefully (avoiding the delicate vegetation) cut across the stream at the base to rejoin the trail off to the right.
We then hike up a half-mile of switchbacks and a section I refer to as "The Black Stair" to find ourselves at:
Elevation: roughly 9,700 feet
Our campsite was amazing, stunning views all around and fresh mountain spring water 100 yards form our tent. I believe Father was most enamored of the cave we sat in whilst taking this picture which provided a wonderful wind break and conveniently radiated heat back at us when cooking breakfast and dinner.
This marmot was found snacking on some trash left behind by a previous group of campers (a piece of spaghetti can be seen above the nose). They are fearless creatures who will come for any food left unattended. After taking a few pictures we retrieved the package of spaghetti and a Snickers bar wrapper to pack out later.
As the sun sets on our campsite the shadow of the mountain range can be seen falling across the fields below us.
The next morning the ridge casts its shadow on the mountain above us as we work upwards towards our goal.
More switchbacks lead over a ridge as we head towards The Moraine camping area at 10,800 feet above sea level.
The morning sun glows in a combination of mists and the smoke of the wildfires burning in the lands below.
After crossing through the boulder field and passing The Moraine camping area we come finally to the hand rope leading up to the Lower Saddle.
Above we find some vibrant flowers growing in mossy puffballs.
The Lower Saddle
Elevation: 11,600 feet
From here we will head up the ridge on the left to the Black Dike where our path veers off to the right across several gullies to the Lower Exum Ridge.
If you look closely where the sun light and shadow meet on the ridge crest you can see the small orange speck that is a climber making his way down from an early morning ascent of the Owen-Spalding route to the summit.
My father works his way up the treacherous red scree filling the second gully as we approach the beginning of the technical rock climbing of our summit attempt.
Unfortunately we would run short on time and be unable to make the summit on this trip. We turned back as the sun began to set and hiked back down to our campsite in the black of night with only our headlamps and the stars above our heads.
As always it serves as inspiration and education for our next attempt.
As we leave on the third day we pause to look back at the beauty of this place. We plan to return next year and attempt the summit again from a higher campsite.
With sore knees and happy hearts we trek back towards the start of our journey.
We leave wiser than we came, taking with us the memories of adventure and inspiration for the future.
The trail always seems longer and harder on the way back.
Perhaps it is the wear of days of sustained effort, perhaps it is the knowledge that this beauty is being left behind for times unknown.
A baby chipmunk pauses at the bottom of the trail and bids us farewell until next time.