Monday: Change of Plans
“Call me real quick. I just had something come up and may need to make an adjustment but not sure if you’re flexible enough to do it.”
The way the work week had been going, I half expected something to malfunction for the upcoming vacation.
“Maaaaan I’m so frickin’ pissed right now!”
It’s 1:50pm on Monday… we are supposed to be leaving for Wyoming Wednesday evening for 10 days… now… I found myself clocking out of work, rushing home to pack to leave immediately. My brother in law, Michael, was scheduled to take his AL State Trooper’s Captain Test on Wednesday, but due to the hurricanes on the horizon, it got pushed back to the following Wednesday.
“Aight man, give me a few minutes to get my shifts covered and we’ll make it work.”
I was packed but wasn’t packed. I had most of my gear laid out, but had intentions of having a night or 2 to get everything sorted and packed how I wanted before leaving. I basically packed like I would for the Smokies… grabbed a bunch of snacks, my camping gear and threw a bunch of clothes in the duffel bag.
I hauled up ass up to Cullman to my sister’s house, shoveled down some chicken fingers and loaded up the truck.
In no time, we were out of Alabama and passing through Nashville. I decided to crawl into the back of the truck to take the first nap a little after midnight. Since I didn’t think I’d be traveling across the country on a Monday night… I had gotten up at 4am to run so that I could have the already postponed birthday dinner Monday night with Kati.
Tuesday: 26hrs Straight Thru
At 2:30am we swapped and Michael conked out in the back. Ooooooof! The 2:30-6:30am sunrise shift was tougher than any 2:30-sunrise section of a 100 miler… but somehow I got it done!
We both perked up and caught our second wind when the sun came up but that was short lived as we started our trek across the lonely, boring abyss that is Nebraska. Blarg. Nebraska took forever!
We stopped for a few sandwiches and to stretch out the legs.
We eventually made it to Wyoming and made a quick stop at Walmart so that Michael could pick up a bear tag. The last 4 hours crept by. We were both starting to feel the drive and lack of sleep. We had wrestled with trying to decide if we should go ahead and make the trip up the mountain when we got to the trail head or just wait till the morning. We arrived just after sunset and decided to check out an old cabin at the beginning of Holmes Cave Trail.
The lack of sleep and tightness from driving 26hrs straight made the decision to head up the mountain in the morning pretty easy. Michael took the backseat and I laid my sleeping pad and curled up in my sleeping bag in the bed of the truck. The stars shined incredibly as I shut my eyes and drifted to sleep.
Wednesday: Camp Angle
“Sorry if the light woke you.”
I crawled out from under the tarp covering the truck bed and stretched. It was cooooooold. We were met with 27° temps as we loaded our packs and started up the mountain. We each had +50lb packs so we were slow moving up the trail in the dark. We followed Holmes Cave Trail for 3/4 of a mile before veering off on a semi-worn outfitters trail. It was a steep mile climb to get to our camp site below Angle Mountain. The sky started to lighten as we made our final push up to Dry Pond.
We arrived at Dry Pond, dropped our packs and searched for a place to pitch our tents. We found a nice little spot at 10,000ft tucked away in the trees. We climbed the hill above our site to hang our food and got a great view of the sun over the North Breccia Cliffs.
Since we were in the heart of grizzly country… we took extra precaution with our food and our tent site (a lil electric fence with some jingle bells) and made sure we kept bear spray and a pistol on us at all times around camp.
Once we got settled, Michael went scouting for hunting spots and I went exploring the surrounding mountains!
We were hunting in the Bridger-Teton National Forest but less than a mile away from the Bridger-Teton Wilderness area. Outside of Holmes Cave Trail that we came in on, there were no trails. It was more of a “choose your own adventure” type of area. I studied the area before coming and saw that there were a ton of nameless peaks so my intentions were simple: strap on a pack with enough calories to spend 4-5hrs exploring from the camp site and don’t get eaten by a grizzly.
I mostly followed the ridge lines tagging peaks.
When I decided I wanted to go hit another one, I’d just drop down in the valley and run in the open fields until I found an approach I wanted to take.
It was surreal being alone in the high country. It’s just vast, wild openness that is itching to be explored. I found it hard to comprehend that when I looked North, it was just wild national forest all the way to Yellowstone.
The lack of sleep and dehydration from the drive finally caught up to me. I was struggle busing during the final climb back up to camp but what an incredibly rewarding 5hrs of moving through the wilderness exploring and peak bagging.
After a quick nap, Michael came back from his evening hunt. We had a water source a half a mile or so from camp, but it would’ve taken forever to filter the amount of water we needed. So instead, I bounced down the 2 miles to the truck with an empty pack, loaded up 16 water bottles, a few beers and hiked back up under a hazy, blood red sun.
This kinda muling was half the reason I was here! If Michael were to kill a deer or bear, I was gonna make the multiple trips (if necessary) to help haul the meat off the mountain.
Thursday: What Up Holmes?
Michael had gotten up early again to hunt, but I kinda just slept in (6am) and watched the sun rise while enjoying breakfast. I packed my vest and left out from Camp Angle to explore the Holmes Cave area. I had connected another part of Holmes Cave Trail the previous day in order to link another off trail peak, but since it was the only actual trail in the area I thought it would be nice to atleast see what it was all about.
I came across 2 rugged looking ladies on horseback…
“You out here by yourself?”
“Yep. Just out exploring a bit.”
“Brave soul. What part of Wyoming are you from?”
“I’m not. I’m from Alabama.”
“ALABAMA?! You’re a long way from home son. Be careful out here. It’s grizzly country.”
Apparently… it’s grizzly country. Michael’s brother actually got charged by a grizzly up on Angle Mountain a few years ago when he was guiding a hunt! Thankfully I’d not seen a bear… had seen a good bit of bear poop… but no actual bear. I continued down Holmes and it eventually opened into a beautiful field with a steady stream running through the middle. I dipped my hands into the ice cold water and splashed the back of my neck and face. Other than a wet wipe whore bath, I hadn’t showered in 3 days.
The trail ended at the Cave. It was not too turrrble impressive… just a hole where water dove into the ground. I’m sure the Cave itself is cool, but on the surface it didn’t hold my attention. I followed a barely visible outfitters trail out past Holmes and climbed a short peak up above it. I soaked in the view of Simpson’s Peak and Smokestack Mountain.
After wondering around an alpine lake a bit, I went back down and reconnected with Holmes.
The North Breccia Cliffs is a staggering wall of rock that was constantly in our site. I thought it would be cool to climb em, but couldn’t find any beta on routes up. From Holmes, I ventured off trail to connect 2 peaks that appeared to be leading to a saddle that could potentially connect me to Breccia.
I climbed both and traversed the small spine on one of the no named peaks.
I cliffed out but saw where I could drop down to connect Breccia. Breccia looked like way more trouble (and probably out of my skill range) than it was worth and I didn’t pack enough calories to make the trek up. I hung out on the rocky spine a bit and soaked in the landscape before making my way off trail back towards Camp Angle.
I just still couldn’t get over the vastness that this place brings… its awe inspiring to say the least. I get the appeal and draw to this type of terrain.
Before wrapping up another 4hr outing and heading back to camp, I decided to dive down into the bowl Michael had been hunting and take a outfitters trail that overlooked our camp.
We ate dinner together then I tagged along on an evening hunt.
As you can tell from my backwards hat and $.99 sunglasses that had “I love dolphins” sketched in sharpie along the side that I found on the side of the road near the Pinhoti back in Alabama, I’m obviously a #pro hunter.
We didn’t see a single animal so we retired back to Camp Angle for some late night coffee.
Friday: Disappointment Peak
I think Michael’s alarm sounded at 4:30am, but I didn’t budge until 4:42am. The original trip itinerary had us leaving out on Wednesday the 16th and not returning until Saturday the 26th. We were gonna hunt for 5 days and then Michael got us a room at Togwatee Lodge for 3 nights so we could relax after 5 nights in the backcountry. During one of those days, I had planned to do the 39 mile Teton Crest Trail. Since it’s point to point, I figured it would be the perfect time to see it without having to find a shuttle. But alas, best laid plans right? Things change and we adapt. So instead of a 10-12hr run across the park, I needed something quicker but still exhilarating… Disappoint Peak.
Around 5am, we shared a cup of coffee, I packed some trash in my pack and I started the 2 mile descent back to the truck at the trailhead. 4 hunters on horseback were heading in for a morning hunt and gave me a confused look at the bottom.
“You coming down the mountain at this hour? Usually folks heading up!”
It was about a 30 minute drive to the GTNP from the trailhead in Bridger-Teton. When I finally got service an array of text messages came through. I spent the drive responding to a few and checking in on anything I’d missed, but it was nice being disconnected for a bit.
Typically, when you hit the long stretch of road, the Tetons become these towering entities in the skyline, but because of the wildfire haze, you could barely make out their silhouette. Thankfully it cleared up a bit when I got to Lupine Meadows.
The parking lot was already filling as I popped the tailgate down and started packing my vest. There was a healthy mix of people in lawn chairs listening to the elk bugle in the valley, hikers and those who look to be heading out to climb. I forced on a light jacket since it was hovering around 32° but knew it would only last a mile or so. I quickly warmed up by the time I hit the switchbacks.
I’d only been up this trail once before but felt like I knew it well. After 2 miles, I arrived at the Garnet Canyon / Amphitheater Lake junction.
A few years ago I had taken the trail up to Garnet Canyon and linked the Middle and South Teton when me and Beau had come out for the Rut 50k, but this time I took the trail towards the lakes. The first lake I came to was Surprise Lake (9540ft). The glassy water was breathtaking! It’s hard to believe the reflection!
After a few minutes at Surprise, I started up towards Amphitheater. Instead of going straight there, I ventured up the hill a bit and got a good look at the canyon, Disappointment Peak and the Grand before I ran down to Amphitheater Lake to bask in its splendor.
I knew the route I needed to take was to the left of the lake, but wanted to venture around the right side since I wouldn’t be back for a bit. I eventually made my way back down to the lake and started the steep climb up towards the Lake Ledges.
I couldn’t find much beta on the route for Disappointment, so I knew it may take some route finding. There was a lil chute where I could see places where it was obvious that roped climbers took. I started up and got to a move that was out of my comfort zone. I feel like if I was roped or not 15-20 feet up, I would’ve made an attempt on the slight launch, but being a mountain athlete has learned me a few things: (1) never fight the mountain, the mountain has nothing personal against you and treats everyone the same, (2) never be too prideful to turn back (3) light is fast, fast is safe, (4) someone is waiting for your safe return (5) don’t die.
Frustrated, or should I say… Disappointed (I’m hilarious I know)… I down climbed and reassessed. I found another route that seemed to grant access to the Lake Ledges.
I slowly picked my way up and around a few heart pounding exposed areas, but eventually made it to the small coulior. It flatted out a bit before the final push / scramble up to the 11,617 summit.
Hands down, Disappointment Peak has to be the BEST and most REWARDING view of the Teton range.
The Grand is right in your face and you get a panoramic view of Nez Perce, Cloudveil, South. Middle, Grand, Owen and Teewinot.
I spent a little time at the top feeling small and thankful before heading down the mountain.
Since I now knew the route, the trip down was quick and hiccup free. I got down from the summit to Amphitheater Lake in about 30 minutes and spent the next hour dodging hikers on the quick descent back to the truck. The mid morning crowds were so heavy, it felt like I was dodging folks on Alum Cave dropping down LeConte!
I got back to the car around noon and headed to find a place to chill for a few hours. Dornan’s Pizza didn’t open until 2p and I had promised Michael we’d have a delicious meal for our last night on the mountain.
“Dornan’s Pizza this is Gracie.”
“Hey Gracie! I want to place an order for a large pizza… preferably one that has the most meat on it.”
It was so dang hard not to sneak a piece, but I didn’t want to ruin our civilized, family dinner. I swung by a lil gas station to grab a six pack before loading up the pack and hiking the 2 miles back up to camp.
We sat around and swapped the days adventures over beer and pizza before retiring early to our tents.
Saturday: Down, Down, Down
Michael started getting his hunting gear prepared right at 5am, but I didn’t roll out of bed until closer to 6am. All I had to do today was have breakfast, drink some coffee and break down camp.
I hiked up to get our food bag and enjoyed a nice warm cup of coffee. The temps had been really nice. Typically, it would be 30s in the morning but by noon it was in the 60s. I spent most of my days comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt, but this morning was cold. The wind had picked up and it was overcast. I went back to start slowly breaking down camp but kept my tent up to have some reprieve from the cold wind.
Unfortunately, Michael came back empty handed but just in time… the snow was rolling in and it was already sleeting as we started breaking down camp.
We bid farewell to Camp Angle and started down the mountain for the final time.
It was raining and cold by the time we got the bottom. Michael’s brother Randy surprised us and got us a room at Lava Mountain Lodge. We sat down at the bar and had a big, thick cheeseburger and colbeer.
It felt damn good to take a hot shower after 5 days without one. We decided to head back towards Moran to see Michael’s brother and family before they set out on their hunt. They’d planned to elk hunt up on the same mountain as we did, but they were packing in horses. The whole hunting thing and culture is so fascinating and sooooo far from anything I’ve ever known. It was cool to get a glimpse into that world.
After we saw them off, we went down to Dubois for dinner with Brent (one of Michael’s hunting buddies from Texas) and his family before retiring back to the lodge.
Sunday: Back 2 Bama
We woke up before the sun to go scope out some property in Debois that Michael had been eying. For the record… I wouldn’t be upset if he got said property and I could spend a month or so out in the big mountains every summer…
We got a text from Randy while we were eating a delicious breakfast at Cowboy Cafe…
“White out snow last night. Had to beat snow off tent. Lightning popped all night.”
Looked like we got off the mountain at the right time!
Now I’m here… in Nebraska… watching dust devils sweep across the non mountainous terrain… debating whether or not we are gonna push through the night and try and tackle our 26hr Bama-Teton record.
Don’t get me wrong… it’s a vibe… but it’s not my vibe. If I lived in Nebraska… I’d probably just end up changing my name to Izach and leading a clan of deranged children…
I’m beyond thankful to have gotten the opportunity to go on this trip. Not only did I get to spend time in some of the most beautiful backcountry in America…
And visit one of the most awe-inspiring mountain ranges again…
I got to spend some quality time with an incredible human. I litrully can’t wait to do this again.
Till next time Wyoming… I’ll be thinking of your wild, remote spaces till we meet again.