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M Trip Report: 2010 Teton Crest Expedition

by Pat Starich, Eric Petriz, Damien Tougas, and Douglas Ide

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Article Summary:

With our water dwindling to near nothing, this was hardly an appropriate question. We were into the third day of our trek, and we hadn't encountered a wet creek or pond since the previous day. No luck finding any running water as we climbed above 8,000 feet either. Now, with our water running out, we had to decide to climb to a snow field or descend to a lower elevation and find a creek. We decided to climb, but never reached the snow.

Our crew included John, Ryan, Eric, Damien, Pat, and Doug. Each brought their own unique set of backcountry skills. The trek had started with a dribble of emails circulating among our handful of UL enthusiasts about six weeks before we took our first step into the Wyoming wild. It would develop into a flood of electronic communications, culminating with a teleconference less than a week before our crew decided to convene in Jackson Hole to hike the Teton Crest.

After working through the series of planning modules, reviewing participant input, and discussing possible routes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, we settled on hiking the hydrologic divide separating Grand Teton National Park from the adjacent Jedediah Smith Wilderness; from Grassy Lake to the north to Teton Pass to the south.

Viewing the Teton Range in Google Earth revealed a compelling image of rugged peaks, glaciers, tarn lakes, and forests. The mountainous terrain beckoned us to embark on what promised to be one of the most scenic backcountry hikes in North America. The expedition would deliver more than amazing vistas. It would challenge us physically and mentally and reward us with the brilliant spectacle of nature that continually lures hikers back to the wild.

The first three days of the trek made us very, very thirsty. Searching for the creeks, lakes, and ponds appearing on our map led to an endless string of dry disappointments and muddy wallows. We were resigned to harvesting frozen precipitation. So we climbed toward that snow field on the third day with our nearly empty water bottles and Platys and stumbled upon a needle in a haystack. Ryan spotted a small stream threading its way from the base of the snow field through a rocky meadow and, after a short distance, disappearing into the earth. It was not just water, it was a welcome source of optimism.

By late summer, the porous sedimentary rocks that lap onto the back of the Tetons absorb nearly all of the rain that falls on the northern and western flanks of the range. The water is drawn deep into the earth until it reaches the impermeable granite and gneiss that core the range. The sedimentary aquifers then carry the water along the basement rock surface and down slope to lower elevations where it emerges as springs. During the early part of our trek, this simple hydrologic phenomenon often stymied efforts to find water on our high route.

Not knowing where or when water would appear again, we elected to cook dinner at that small creek mid-day to provide some flexibility for camping in a dry spot later that evening. In an hour we had filled our bottles and were carrying a bounty of water toward Moose Basin Divide.

ARTICLE OUTLINE

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