It was the first time visiting Jedediah Smith Wilderness, Grand Teton National Park’s western neighbor, for Nick S., Mandy, and myself. Not the most talked about wilderness area in the region, so we didn’t have a ton of beta to go on. Just a topo and couple of inspiring Google images of an area named Alaska Basin. Instead of the normal night-before departure, we decided to hit the road Friday morning at 6am. A fluid, traffic-free glide up I-15 had us rolling into the charming hamlet of Driggs, ID before 10am. The Grand loomed overhead through the viscous haze that has so far plagued the West this summer, adding an air of mystery to the anticipation.
Alaska Basin–birthplace of Teton Creek. From Driggs it was only a 15 minute drive up a well-maintained gravel road to the trailhead and Teton Campground. And from Teton Campground, we’d follow the watery umbilical to it’s source–an upwards amble of approximately 2500′ in 7.5 miles. Every mile tread on a perfectly sculpted and maintained trail, every breath of air becoming more pure with every foot of elevation gained.
By the time we set up our camp on a rocky pedestal in the midst of the sublime tapestry of Alaska Basin’s aquatic splendor, the light was already turning eerily magical. We had just enough time to whip together a quick dinner and race over to a higher segment of the creek that we had yet to explore. Without many clouds in the sky, we hoped we’d at least find some cascades. We got lucky.
Teton Creek and Buck Mountain:
If I would have been patient and stayed with this shot for another 5 minutes or so, a mother black bear and her two cubs would have sauntered through the frame. But in my frantic state of trying to shoot absolutely everything, my camera was unfortunately turned in the opposite direction. It’s slightly forgivable, however, for Ursa americana would give us plenty of entertainment over the next two days.
To the West, where the concentrated haze suddenly burst into flames:
From one of Alaska Basin’s small tarns:
One of the primary reasons I fell in love with Alaska Basin is that it’s one helluva basecamp. Three passes lie within 3 miles. The plan was to hike up to Buck Mountain Pass to grab the sunrise on Saturday morning. Knowing that Nick wanted to sleep in a little and just shoot around camp in the morning, I pried a little extra hard to encourage Mandy to make the pre-dawn trip with me. Not only because I love her company, but also because I had a little something up my sleeve. More on that in ten seconds.
Looking southwest at Peak 11094:
Looking north at Buck Mountain and Static Peak:
It was here on Buck Mountain Pass that, after weeks of endless anticipation and excessive nail biting, that one of those monumental, unforgettable, and metamorphic life-moments finally came exploding into fruition: I decided to pop the question to my lovely girlfriend. Honestly, I went a little bit numb due to the nerves, and have little to no recall of what faux-poetic gibberish eventually fumbled it’s way out of my mouth. But what is known, is that I asked.
It is also known that she said Yes.
Things came storming back into a hyper-crystallized focus right at that exact moment. I swear I heard fireworks. I was overwhelmed with joy.
After immediately banishing the name Buck Mountain Pass and reclassifying our high mountain saddle of romance with the new title of “Proposal Pass”, we took pictures:
After descending to camp on rubber legs and breaking the news to Nick, we lounged around a bit. Consumed a little more coffee, inhaled the morning sweetness at camp, and decided that we needed a nap. Mandy and I in our tent, Nick on his sleeping pad under a lodgepole pine. I had just barely fell asleep when I heard a loud, purposeful clapping. I immediately knew who was doing it, and why. I poked my head slowly out of the tent, and spotted Nick about 25 feet away from me with a very serious look on his face, looking down into the gulley between us. It was another bear. This one alone, casually strolling right between us. Thankfully, he wasn’t very interested in us; it just so happened that we were stationed in the middle of his arboreal squirrel den network that he evidently raids for pine cones on a daily basis. This was the only decent shot I got of him, as he strolled away.
Newly electrified by our encounter with a fellow omnivore, we set off for Hurricane Pass, where epic Tetonic views would be had by all.
On the road to Hurricane Pass:
First glimpse of The Grand.
Hurricane Pass Panorama. Tetons, baby.
Last light on the Grand and Middle, from Hurricane Pass:
Smoke vapor sunset, Hurricane Pass:
After an uneventful yet whiskey-laden three-mile stumble back to camp in the dark, I vowed that I would set upon the third pass of Alaska Basin the following morning: Mt. Meeks Pass. But as fate would have it, I felt the weight of one million bottles of bourbon on my head when the alarm sounded. I’m sleeping this one off. And I’m (unknowingly) sleeping this one off through the most haze-less and most perfectly cloud-spotted sky we’ve had by far this entire weekend. I was able to pull my act together finally and get over to Teton Creek again for this shot. I’m still kicking myself though. I’ll get you eventually, Mt. Meeks Pass.
But sometimes misfortune masks itself as fortune. If I would’ve made it up to the pass, I probably wouldn’t have made it down in time back to camp to find Dave the Bear stumbling through again. And this time, in a more photogenic manner:
The following will answer any questions on whether or not bears actually do practice yoga:
He had a routine: climb the lodgepole, raid the squirrel dens, throw the pine cones down to the ground, descend and eat said pine nuts, and go back up again. It was incredible, watching this for maybe an hour:
About one mile from the trailhead we bumped into a ranger who asked all kinds of questions. Of course, the bear came up. Apparently this little guy is a “problem” bear, due to his frequent interactions with poorly placed human food. Hence, the two ear tags he was donning. A bear will acquire one per “strike”. Three strikes, yer out. I didn’t want to ask him what a third strike meant. I suspect the worst. Which, if true, I find agonizingly maddening and saddening. A bear will be a bear will be a bear. Nature. Food. Survival. Bottom Line. As we walked away from the ranger, it came to me that I should have asked him if it would not actually make more sense to “tag” the people who irresponsibly mismanage their food in the wilderness. Doesn’t that seem more logical? After all, it’s the bear’s home, and we’re just visitors. Why punish them for our own mistakes?
Anyhow, we were determined to not let the reality of the equation cast a dark light on our trip. It is what it is, I suppose.
Alaska Basin. A place for Wanderers. A place for Romantics.
Highly, highly recommended.