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!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Backpacking Shoal Falls Loop - Day 1

Well, it's been over a year since my last post - time for another, right!?

My selfish side wants to keep this backpack trip a secret so that nobody spoils this amazing hike through the Gros Ventre Wilderness. But it was so awesome, I must share about Josh Stafford's and my BEST backpack trip EVER. What!? Nonsense. Insanity. Foolish. Impossible. Inconceivable. The Tetons are on the other side of the valley, surely the Gros Ventre mountains can't compare!
...
Ok, well... in many ways they can't. But they will surprise you how drop-dead gorgeous they can be. And I don't think you'll find better fishing in the Tetons. AND there's hardly any other people on this hike!

I'll let you decide for yourself if it really does compete with the Tetons. I think you'll find you agree with me, even though these photos don't do the landscape nearly enough justice.

I found this trip on backpacker magazine's website. You can find out all the directions and technical info there.

Josh getting his pack ready in the parking lot for Shoal Falls trailhead.

We started off on Friday, July 1st. Ran into a delay because of a road closure in Hoback Canyon, so we just fished the Hoback river until traffic cleared up. So we didn't actually start hiking until the bitter heat of the day around 1-2pm. Not the best of situations, but we made do.

Views really not too shabby right from the parking lot!
The trailhead in all its glory.
The bearded backpacking buddies :)
The trail was pretty easy going for the first bit, then gained a decent amount of altitude on switchbacks up a hill that we would later descend to Shoal Falls. This made for perfect sweating conditions due to our unfortunate timing to start hiking. You could definitely call it a great warm-up in multiple literal ways.

We passed a couple groups along this uphill section. Later one of these groups passed us again as we were headed downhill. I guess some people like to stress their joints rather than their muscles. :) We caught up to them again once it turned to uphill hiking.

Nice opening at the top of the switchbacks, looking towards a peak that I believe might be unnamed.
Have to include some flower shots for my mom! :)
There were fields of flowers everywhere along our backpacking loop - lots of different kinds!
I think my mom will want to hike this trail by the end of these photos.
I liked some of the simple, clean-looking forest areas. Tried to capture that here.
Another cool opening towards the mountains.
This was at the top of another rise after our first switchback hill. The view coming up to the top of this hill was spectacular! It's times like these where we like to start humming some of those "Fellowship of the Ring" tunes and envision us being part of an epic adventure of that sort.

I used Stafford as a backpacker model the whole trip. He really embraced the role I think. :)
More epic shots.
There was some pretty neat geology along the trail. I felt like this one deserved the black & white treatment to emphasize details in the rock.
More flower shots for my mom... ok, so maybe I take personal enjoyment in taking these photos too. :)
Shoal Falls! This is about 5-6 miles into the trail and is a great spot for camping! Especially if you don't want to be crazy like Stafford and me and hike ALL the way to Shoal Lake on Day 1, with a late start to boot.
Shoal Creek running below Shoal Falls running FAR below Shoal Lake. The FAR part is what we discovered soon after stopping here. :)
I need to pause the photo barrage here to make a quick comment. At the base of the falls here, Stafford talked to one of the groups we passed earlier which then passed us going down to this point. He asked them about how far Shoal Lake was from here, and which route to take (one of them had been through here before). He nonchalantly said something to the effect of, "yeah, you keep going on the trail and then it switchbacks up by the falls and it's not too far beyond the top of the falls!"
...
We wanted to have a little chat with him after we'd been hiking for a couple hours later. By "switchbacks" he actually meant "steep inclines that lead to more steep inclines that bend around a little bit but don't actually come close to a switchback AT ALL really." And by "not too far beyond the top of the falls" he really meant "it keeps going and going for a long time with lots of elevation gain and loss and gain and loss and gain." :) Maybe he'd never actually been there.

It's a good thing we are seasoned hikers who don't mind spending a little bit more time than originally thought, enjoying epic views like this:

Some pretty awesome geology features, don't you think!? Oh and flowers too.
Another black & white just to emphasize the geology details again. This is one of my favorite shots from the trip.
Wider shot to include some more features of the mountain. I love these black & white shots...
So. Many. Wildflowers. :)
Another angle at these rocks, with color.
So we hiked a ways up this sort of hanging canyon that led up to Shoal Lake. We followed the trail through lots of streams, and it seemed like sometimes the trails were built more for water to run through them than people.

We climbed up this trail to a point where we came to one of our brilliant decisions to ditch the trail and make our own way up to the lake. It seemed the trail was going in the wrong direction, so we figured maybe it was a trail to a different spot nearby and we had missed the main trail earlier. We still aren't sure and may never find out. But we've made a pact to never leave the trail again unless we are absolutely sure we are on the wrong trail. This has gotten us into trouble before, if you remember.

We traversed across the west side of this canyon for a ways until it got too steep, which caused us to go back down near the stream coming down from the lake far above. We eventually got back to a trail, and made our way through many false summits (we were ready to be done, and disappointed ourselves too many times by hyping up the next summit with "THIS IS IT"). When we finally reached the last summit, I knew there was no mistaking it this time.

Wow, what a view! Might as well just setup camp here, right? We did. :)
I think the lake has 5-6 waterfalls flowing down into it - spectacular! Beautiful cliffs surround it, and the view back down the canyon we hiked up is pretty amazing. We got there, setup camp, and ate dinner before sunset. So I had just enough time to get up the hill to take these shots down the canyon at sunset:

You can see our trail here that leads up to the lake.
Peak of sunset colors, loved the dark clouds!

Quite the day. Starting around 1-2pm, hiked around 10 miles (with I think 3-4 thousand feet elevation gain), setup camp, took sunset photos, joined Stafford for some late evening fly fishing... I'd call that a good day. The fishing was great! I probably caught 15-20 that first night, but that pales in comparison to Day 2.

But that'll have to wait for the next post... :)