It is always a struggle returning to the city after spending time in the mountains, regardless of the season or mountain range that we are in. Although, the sting is slightly more potent when returning from Jackson Hole/Alpine because of how much we love that area. There are so many trails to explore, and each time we leave, our minds race with ideas about what we want to do the next time we are there. This recent winter trip was certainly no exception. On the drive back to Aurora, we were already discussing our aspirations for next time.
Like the winter prior, I (Stella) pouted a bit about having to return home. Naturally, we pondered upon every single thing we could think of so that we wouldn’t have to return to work, and instead, lead a full-time outdoor lifestyle. Apparently, we came up short on that again because I am sitting at our dining room table writing this post, both of us frustrated after another day of stressful jobs. Alas, the lottery has yet to swing in our favor.
Prior to embarking on our adventures, we always have a specific itinerary. Sometimes things go as planned, while other times they do not. This was a trip where very little went as planned, and the primary reason was attributed to the cold front plaguing the area. Each day, we had delayed our treks until mid-afternoon when the temperature had at least warmed up to zero degrees. And on some of those days, the temperature was below zero with the wind chill. As a result, it significantly reduced the number of miles (and hours) that we desired to trek each day. Each time I stepped out of the Tahoe, I had to implore a great deal of self-talk to motivate myself to get moving.
Before heading to Jackson Hole, we made a pit stop at my parent’s ranch in Challis, Idaho. Surprisingly, there was no snow on the ground there and the weather was quite pleasant. After a few days of trying to teach my mom how to practice playing the guitar, eating a lot of food and playing cards/board games, we continued our journey to Wyoming. Please continue reading about our Jackson Hole and Alpine Winter Adventure!
Day 1 ~ We arrived in Grand Teton National Park around 1:00 p.m. and parked north of the Taggart Lake trailhead on Teton Park Road at the winter gate closure. The road is groomed regularly for classic and skate skiing, but everything was windblown that day, washing out the tracks. The plan for the day had been to ski as many miles as we could on Teton Park Road, something we had not yet done from Taggart Lake. I had about 10 miles in mind.
We quickly geared up, using our Madshus Panorama 78 skis, and headed north up the road. In many areas, the snow had a thick, crusty, wind-blown layer atop of it, so our skis punched down hard through the snow. Skiing or snowshoeing on this road is simple because it is level, making it an ideal spot for people of all ages and skill levels. After we had skied 2.25 miles, we saw that were heading into the eye of a storm so we promptly turned around.
Once back at the trailhead, we continued on the trail heading south toward Taggart Lake. We broke trail heading out to Taggart Lake for a short period of time, and would have continued our trek had the impending storm not deterred us. The short journey back to the Tahoe was a painful one, as the burn from the wind was beyond intolerable. Little did we know that would serve as the baseline for the upcoming days. We had only skied 5.5 miles, but we were anxious for hot meal and shower. I still recall how the water in the shower had stung my wind-burned face.
Day 2 ~ The plan had been to snowshoe to the top of Blacktail Butte, along US Highway 191. However, there was only a scant amount of snow cover on it, which is highly unusual for this time of year. We quickly changed plans and headed to Teton Pass. Teton Pass literally separates Victor, Idaho from Wilson, Wyoming and is a backcountry paradise for those looking to earn their turns. In the summer, it is a haven for hiking and mountain biking. There are three or four different parking areas for various trailheads along the pass. We chose to start our snowshoeing adventure at the Stateline Canyon Trailhead, near Trail Creek Campground.
This area can be used for snowshoeing; however, it is primarily used by backcountry alpine skiers. Please note that this trail is not for the casual snowshoer looking for a relaxing stroll. This is a high-risk avalanche area, and it is an arduous (steep) climb where you need to utilize specific climbing techniques to stay upright on your feet for going both up and down the trail.
We started our trek heading southwest into the canyon. The skin tracks had been freshly cut through the snow that day, so we did our best to remain out of those tracks whenever possible, which meant breaking trail through very deep snow. In some spots, the snow was up to my thighs. But staying out of the skin tracks is simply proper trail etiquette, so we are always glad to do it. And, you must remain vigilant of skiers coming down the trail because it is extremely narrow in some spots. They are going very fast and there is zero room for error.
The trail winds through the trees as you continue to climb higher and higher. The trees are very dense so you do not have a clear view of anything on the climb. We were the only people on snowshoes, and it was very clear why. Many people would not want to snowshoe in an area this steep, which is why backcountry alpine skiers love it.
We had made the turn towards Oliver Peak and continued the steep climb. We then decided not to continue any further as this had the classic signs of a terrain trap. Though the avalanche conditions were low for the day for traveling between 7500 and 9000 feet in elevation, we had an emergency rope and one avalanche shovel but we did not have beacons. Turning back around, the initial portion heading down the trail was tricky because it was so steep. But once we were past the area of concern, we flew back to the Tahoe, following in our wonderful tracks that we had so painstakingly made.
When we finished, the temperature was 7 degrees, with a wind chill of -5. For a brief moment, we thought about going over to one of the other trailheads to explore. But once we were seated in the Tahoe and the heat began blowing out of the vents, we quickly changed our minds. We snowshoed a total of 3.6 miles, with an elevation gain of 1066 feet. This was a blast!
Day 3 ~ The plan for the day had been to ski to Jenny Lake, which is roughly 20 miles from the Signal Mountain Trailhead. This would have been doable if we had started around 7/8:00 a.m. as planned. However, we arrived at the trailhead around 11:30 a.m. and the temperature was still below zero. Instead of starting our trek, we drove around the park for about 45 minutes. At 12:30 p.m. the temperature had warmed up to zero degrees so it was time to get moving. As we were gearing up, a coyote crossed the road about three hundred feet ahead of us.
Initially, we had donned our Madshus Panorama 78 skis, but realized that the tracks were freshly groomed and the classic tracks were pristine. We quickly changed out our skis and began our journey. During our second Jackson Hole trip last winter, we skied 10 miles on this trail, with hopes of completing the full trek to Jenny Lake this time around. However, because it was so cold, we skied the same distance as the time prior (10 miles), turning around at the exact same spot.
This is a very easy place to ski and snowshoe because the road is mostly flat. There are fantastic views in all directions. Once back at the Tahoe and taking off our gear, a fox casually approached us. It came right up to Larry, gave him a good look over and then continued on its way. Larry was able to catch some great pictures of the beautiful, furry animal.
Day 4 ~ Sadly, this was the most not-fun day of our trip, and it was entirely my fault. The plan had been to snowmobile all day along the Grey’s River Trail, starting out of the Alpine location of Jackson Hole Adventure Rentals. When I had reserved our snowmobiles, I did not pay close enough attention to the specific type of snowmobiles offered. I just wanted each of us to have our own machine, so I figured we didn’t need a two-seater. That being the case, I rented snowmobiles intended for just one rider.
When we arrived that morning to collect our snowmobiles, I looked at the ones I had reserved. I thought they looked a little different but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what seemed out of place. As the staff began explaining the machines to us, my heart sunk. Instead of renting ‘touring’ sleds, I had rented the ‘high performance/deep powder’ sleds. What’s the big deal? A lot!
First, the guy said that if we rode the machines below 50mph for too long, we risked overheating the motor. And when the motor overheats, you’re in trouble. Well, 50mph is really fast! There was no way that we were going to ride a snowmobile at 50mph, and certainly not for a whole day. As a result, our eyes had constantly been glued to the dashboard, watching the engine temperature since we were not riding at 50mph. Occasionally, we had to stop and pile snow on the metal platform behind the seat to help keep the engine cool.
Second, this machine is not designed to offer a casual riding experience. It was very difficult to steer/maneuver. It took all my upper body strength to keep it going straight, and I (not sure about Larry) was extremely paranoid the entire time about running into a tree or off the trail into the river. My entire body was strained riding the machine. Additionally, the thumb lever (throttle) extended far from the handlebar, and because I have very small hands, it was challenging for me to squeeze it. Plus, my thumb got so cold that I had to constantly stop and heat it up.
Third, because this snowmobile is not designed for leisurely strolls, it lacked comforts that the touring sleds possessed: windshield, heated seats, smooth ride, easy steering, etc. After riding for just a few hours, we decided to call it a day. We didn’t want to risk overheating the machines nor running into something. And, the rental facility did not offer helmets with visors/shields. Instead, you placed a pair of goggles over the helmet, which really sucked because it was freezing! I felt terrible about making such an uninformed decision, resulting in a waste of money. Lesson learned for next time.
On our way back to the trailhead, a moose was running down the road a short distance ahead us, before eventually jumping into the trees. (In the video below, the moose looks like a small speck). This was a little concerning because it had caused us to slow down significantly and wait for it to move further ahead. The entire time, our eyes diligently watched the engine temperature, hoping they would not overheat.
The Grey’s River Trail system is expansive, and allows for a variety of adventures via snowmobile, from a scenic trip along the Grey’s River to the Box Y Lodge & Guest Ranch. Or, one can venture off the beaten path in search of deep untouched powder.
Day 5 ~ The plan for the day had been to snowshoe in an area where we went hiking on our summer trip to Alpine, Wyoming. On that particular day, we had come across fresh bear scat (poop) on trail, so we had reversed course and headed back to the Tahoe very quickly. The trail is extremely dense with trees and berry bushes, and we certainly did not want to disturb a grizzly bear nestled with them, well hidden from our sight. In the winter, however, bears are hibernating, fortunately.
We parked the Tahoe at County Rd 021/Forest Rd 021. The trail leads to a 4H Camp, which was closed for the winter. We wandered around the area, making a loop before heading north following a creek or ditch. Breaking our own trail, we made a steady climb before heading to the east, below an unnamed peak.
Once we had trekked as far as we could up the side of the mountain, we followed our tracks backs down and broke trail, wandering in and around the trees, which eventually led us back to the Tahoe. We had only trekked 2.76 miles because it was so cold, but we gained 547 feet in elevation and had a great time!
Day 6 ~ The plan for the day had been open to either snowshoeing or skiing in the Alpine area. We picked out a spot to cross-country ski in Swan Valley, just past the Palisades Reservoir (on the Idaho side). For reasons I do not recall, we changed the plan and went to the Cache Creek Trailhead in Jackson. However, there was very little snow coverage in that area, and there was a fat tire mountain bike event making it overcrowded with bikers.
Changing plans yet again, we ended up back in Grand Teton National Park near the Death Canyon trailhead/winter gate closure. The plan was to ski on Moose Wilson Road, which takes you to the Granite Canyon trailhead. The round trip distance between the two trailheads is only 6 miles. The road has a lot of mild undulations, providing a great workout. This is a heavily trafficked recreational area in the winter for skiers, snowshoers and walkers. Parking might be a challenge at times.
Because the road is not groomed, it is a complete free-for-all. Normally, this is no big deal. But I was really frustrated with people who had no concept of trail etiquette; the ski tracks from skiers that morning were completely tore up by boots and snowshoes. The reason why this bothered me to the degree that it did was because the road is plenty wide, giving them tons of space to walk alongside of the ski tracks versus walking directly on them and ruining them. It is just plain rude. Plus, I think I was just having a bad day altogether.
Because the entire road was a disaster, we broke trail with our Madshus Panorama 78 skis and stayed off the road as much as possible. About a mile up, on the left side, you come across the entrance to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, originally knowns as JY Ranch, which once served as a family retreat. In 2001, Laurance S. Rockefeller donated the remaining parcel to Grand Teton National Park with the intent to deliver a spiritual and emotional connection to beauty of the land and the Teton Range.
This is an area where I would have liked to explore more that day, versus skiing on the road between the trailheads. It is a vast expanse of flat topography, with open and tree covered areas that extend as far as the eye could see. Beautiful views were available in every direction. I really enjoy going off the beaten path and wandering around wherever my feet take me. Instead, we made a big loop and joined back up with the road, continuing our journey to the Granite Canyon Trailhead.
During the trek back down, the temperature had dropped considerably. And by the time we had made it back to the Tahoe, all of the other cars were gone. We skied a total of 8 miles and were ready to snuggle in for the evening. Larry’s GPS program had stopped working at some point so we do not have a complete map of our trek for this day.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This was another fantastic trip to Jackson Hole/Alpine, even though we were unable to do as much as we had planned. There are endless places to explore on snowshoes and skis, and you are not limited to staying on a designated trail. Total miles trekked on this trip was just shy 30 miles, (planned miles: 50+).
In Jackson, we stayed at our favorite hotel, The Lexington. And in Alpine, we stayed in a gorgeous cabin at Flying Saddle Resort. If you are in either of these places, we highly recommend both of these lodging establishments. And for the best custard-filled donuts, be sure to make a stop at Broulim’s grocery store in Alpine.
Where is Base Camp @ Grand Lake headed next?
- March 11-13: Aspen (again)
- March 19-20: Grand Lake (again)
- March 26-27: Estes Park (?)
SOME OF THE GEAR USED: