Thursday, August 11, 2016

Backpacking Shoal Falls Loop - Day 3

I decided to sleep in the first morning we were at Shoal Lake, so on this morning I was determined to get some sunrise photos while I could. I'd say it was well worth it!

Alpenglow down the canyon from our campsite area.
Sun finally lighting up the top of the mountains across Shoal Lake. Taken from the outlet of the lake, where the best fishing was.

On our final day of the trip, we decided -- very reluctantly -- not to fish. Let me tell you, it was very difficult to walk by the lake's outlet and see all the fish through the clear water and watch them rise to the surface everywhere. But we were ready to head home, so we began our ascent out of the canyon to the other side of the trail loop.

After reaching the top of the switchbacks on the other side of the lake, we were greeted by wide-open vistas of rolling hills with cliffs and mountains surrounding the area. Hiking over rock and through streams with wildflowers everywhere was an awesome experience. There was no trail, only cairns and my map to guide our way.

Wildflowers were crowded along the streams running down the valley.
Stafford taking the lead as I stopped frequently for photos. :)
Panorama of the amazing landscape we hiked through.
Pretty cool cliffs like this in the area. Kinda similar to "hoodoos" in Bryce Canyon NP.
Hiking through streams was a common occurrence on this trip.
Stream with cliffs in the background.
Slightly epic shot of Stafford hiking up this hill with Black Peak looming above.
More wildflowers!
Lupines with Black Peak in the background.
Another epic shot of Stafford with Black Peak in background.
Sign that sorta points back to the right where Shoal Lake is.
After a decent amount of hiking around the top of this valley area on our way to the western side of the loop, we reached the top of a divide and had quite the spectacular 360-degree view. And could actually see the Tetons a bit in the far distance.

Panorama looking northwest, Tetons can be seen in far background in the middle.
We were considering climbing this mountain (Antoinette Peak) on this day, but decided against the extra effort.
Looking back towards the cliffs seen in the right of the panorama above.
Just about all downhill from here -- very painful downhill at times.
Hard to complain about views like this.
Both sides of this loop have amazing views, but we strongly believe this side was better to hike down than up.
Cool little marsh/pond with flowers throughout.
And that's the last photo of the trip!

The rest of the hike down actually got quite steep and loose at times. Some stretches would have been killer to hike up with heavy packs! Another reason we like going up the other side of the loop. We made pretty good time with a couple snack breaks. We passed by a large group from AWLS (American Wilderness Leadership School) who were doing a day hike up this side of the loop. The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful and we picked up the pace to get it over with. Extended downhill hiking is not too fun on the joints.

We were glad to reach the parking lot, though I think we each would have loved staying at Shoal Lake for at least a few more days. We were greatly blessed by the short time we had!

Hope you enjoyed these few blogs, and hope they encourage you to get out and explore this area! It's so worth it, even to choose over the Tetons! It definitely taught me to not overlook "lesser" mountain ranges around here; they all have their own beauty.

One final note:
ALL photos were taken with a Canon G12 compact digital camera. This camera has been on the shelf for a long time because the screen had broken, but I considered it for this trip and got it working again! I absolutely love using it for trips like this. The tilt screen makes it easy to compose fun angles on the fly as you're hiking. The quality still doesn't compare to my DSLR system if you look at details closely, but did you notice that? One of my best photos was taken with this camera and turned out great on print! I'm looking into better ways to carry my DSLR on hikes like this, because the main reason I like the G12 better on hikes is because it's so easily accessible (mounted on my backpack strap in front of me). The weight and size is a factor too, so I may continue to use the G12. Now with all the mirrorless cameras out there, there are many great options for a compact camera that takes DSLR-quality photos. I may eventually upgrade my G12, but for now -- I'd say it still works fine!

Thanks for reading! Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Backpacking Shoal Falls Loop - Day 2

Read about Day 1 here.

Our campsite overlooking Shoal Lake and its many waterfalls.

It's such a refreshing feeling to fall asleep to the sound of waterfalls roaring in the distance after a long day's trek. Nature's white-noise just can't be beat. It's also hard to beat waking up to the sun shining down on you and hearing the birds echo their morning songs; if only we could enjoy God's beautiful creation away from civilization more often. Life seems much less complicated and far more enjoyable when you slow down to take notice of the works that the Lord has made and dwell upon His goodness.

Our fly fishing rods ready to go from the night before.

Stafford and I slept in a bit past the part where the sun starts shining down on you. But we felt much better than we thought we would after the long trek to our campsite by the lake. We decided to start off by attempting a peak on our west side and potentially dropping over the ridge to McLeod Lake to meet Tim who had planned to possibly visit us there that day.

Some flowers on our scramble up the sub-peak. Shoal Lake below.

So we began our climb up the western slope to a sort of sub-peak of Corner Peak. It was fairly easy going until we started climbing up very loose and sometimes narrow scree/dirt. We reached a point where there weren't too many options but to go up and over some large boulders in the middle of a steep ridge, and Stafford decided to turn back. He waited as I carefully (good word choice for my mom reading this) scrambled to the top of these boulders just to see if the rest of the climb would be doable. I read the final ascent long and hard, and it did look potentially sketchy yet doable. But I decided it wasn't worth the risk, especially if I would be doing it alone.

So we turned back and decided to try the eastern slopes of the bowl we were in. We looked at our map and thought it'd be a pretty sweet view from the saddle next to Steamboat Peak. Turns out we were quite right! The views were absolutely stunning; we were able to see all the way to the Red Hills off the Gros Ventre Road on the other side of the high country.

Little pool trapped in the slopes east of Shoal Lake. Some great looking cliffs in the background.
Red Hills near Gros Ventre Road in the lower left distance. This is the view from the saddle next to Steamboat Peak.
Pretty great cliffs no matter where you looked!
Full panorama view from the saddle. Amazing 180-degree view.
My backpacker model gazing off into the distance.
And now gazing to the left.
:O GASP! The photographer snuck in this photo!!! Haha, photo credits to Josh Stafford. :)
Does this shot make you want to be the hiker? :)
Spectacular view back down to the valley we started in.
Flowers up here were just too good to pass up a few shots.
Some great lupines in the foreground looking back north.
My mom will love me for these. :)
Stopping for an extended break to enjoy the views.
Seen enough flowers yet? :)

After enjoying the views for a while, we started hiking back down towards Shoal Lake. We took the northeastern loop around and came down the trail we would hike out the next day. The waterfalls were spectacular and it was quite the view looking down the canyon we hiked up the day before.

Looking south on our way back down to Shoal Lake.
Hiker in his alpine glory!
We really couldn't get over these stunning views!
Black Peak looming in the distance.
More great views from the north side of the Shoal Lake "bowl". This is where we would hike out the next day, but for now we were just turning back south to hike down to the lake.
A little glacier lake that feeds one of the many waterfalls running down to Shoal Lake (which would be over the edge and down a ways in this photo). This is looking back south from the previous picture.
Had to check it out of course.
Here's a shot from the outlet of that little glacier lake and the start of the waterfall, leading down to Shoal Lake below.
Hiking down the trail to Shoal Lake alongside some more waterfalls. Once again, this is the trail we would hike back up the next day on our way out the loop trail.
Cool look at the waterfall leading into the lake, with a waterfall on the other side as well. Top center is the little sub-peak we attempted earlier.

After returning to our campsite, we began the fishing frenzy of our lifetime. In a span of 3.5 hours, we caught over 100 (we didn't try counting) cutthroat and golden trout between the two of us. It felt like we were cheating somehow, it was so easy to catch these trout ranging from 4in-15in. We took full advantage and had a blast working our way around the entire lake. The primary fly of choice was a nymph, though dry flies worked ok too. This was definitely the best day of fishing I've ever had!

Stafford trying out my Tenkara fly rod.
This is near the outlet of the lake - lots of great rocks, perfect spot for fish! We were very productive in this area.

We decided not to keep any and thus didn't bring a fry pan with us. After dinner that night, I went to capture sunset from a spot in the middle of a waterfall we crossed as we were working our way around the lake fishing. It turned out to be a great spot for it!

Right in the middle of the waterfall! There were a bunch of boulders that made it possible to cross to the other side. Steamboat Peak is the mountain lit up on the top left. We went to the saddle in between it and the peak on the right for the spectacular views earlier.
Vertical shot to get more of the waterfall in the frame, leading up to Steamboat Peak.

After that I joined Stafford and went back to fishing a little bit and caught some more just because we could.

We caught some really pretty Golden Trout!

By this time we already knew it was the best backpack trip we'd ever taken. The unique, rugged landscapes we explored and the unbelievable fly fishing success combined for an unbeatable experience. This caused us to start dreaming of trying to beat it someday with each of our "top 3" travel vacations we want to do together.

Pretty cool to think about how much enjoyment can be experienced from just a tiny speck of land on the earth - there's so much more out there!

That's all for now, stay tuned for Day 3!