At the end of June, we spent a couple weeks relaxing and enjoying life on our sailboat before taking off again to get married. Yup, on July 19th we tied the knot! We had a great time celebrating with our closest friends and family and then spent a week visiting with friends and chilling out in Central Oregon. But, a week after our wedding we were ready to hit the road again!
We celebrated a week of marriage with an ascent of Three Fingered Jack near Sisters, Oregon. We climbed the South Ridge Route. While only rated at a 5.2R, we were glad to have rope and some gear for protection as there some very exposed sections.
We definitely made this climb harder than it needed to be. In classic Gabe and Melissa fashion, we failed to fully do our homework and tried to follow a trip report claiming the climbers trail was about 3 1/2 miles up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). So at about 3 1/2 miles we veered off the PCT on what we assumed to be a climbers a trail. Turns out it was not the climbers trail and we ended up going up and over the hill just south of Three Fingered Jack. If we had read the Mountain Project page, we would of known the climbers trail was about 5 miles in. FYI, the climbers trail is clearly and obviously marked and you can see the trail leading up to the south ridge from the PCT!
Eventually we gained the south ridge and scrambled our way to an exposed section of ridge line known as “The Crawl.” You follow a narrow ledge with a section of overhanging rock above you. There is minimal protection here, but you may come across an old piton.
After some simul-scrambling we reached the crux of the climb, a 5.2/5.3 chimney. Melissa rocked this section, and was greeted at the summit by a wild orgy of flying ants. For unknown reasons, bugs like to have their crazy sex parties at very tip top of mountains… We understand.
You must traverse a narrow and exposed section to reach the true summit. We took turns belaying each other over to the true summit and it was reminiscent of “Ancient Art,” you can read about our climb of Ancient Art in our “Utah” blog.
On August 1st we made our way to Joseph, Oregon to help out on Gabe’s uncle’s organic farm. Farming is hard, but rewarding work! During the week we hand weeded, push-hoed, and harvested beets. Uncle Pat makes weekly visits to Portland, Oregon to sell organic vegetables to restaurants and participates in Portland’s Saturday Market. But like many small family farms, they are struggling financially…. you can learn more and help support the farm by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/gcwjd3js.
Joseph, Oregon is also the gateway to the beautiful Wallowa Mountains. After helping out on the farm for a few days, we made our way back into the Wallowas (You can read about our winter trip HERE). Our main objective was Cusick Mountain, probably the most remote 9,000 foot peak in Oregon. We hiked in the East Fork Wallowa River Trail, hiked over Tenderfoot Pass, and camped at the head of the N. fork of the Imnaha River. That evening and early morning we were treated to a couple of pretty fierce thunderstorms. However, the next day was beautiful. We hiked up to Polaris Pass, and then followed the Imnaha Divide, climbing over N. Imnaha Peak and Sentinel Peak (both 9000 foot peaks), before dropping down to Honeymoon Basin at the base of Cukick Mountain. Here we ditched our camping gear and headed up the northeast ridge of Cusick. It was a fun hike/scramble that mainly followed goat trails. The crux was a short exposed section on looser rock where the NE ridge meets the N ridge. The views from the summit were spectacular, some of the best in mountain range.
The Descent back to camp was quick, and we spent the rest of the sunny relaxing in the peace and quiet of our remote sanctuary. This was one of those rare special days where we didn’t see a single other human for over 24 hours. The next day, on our way back out via the Imnaha Divide, we made our way out to the summit of Peak 9180, which Melissa renamed Menstruation Mountain! We decided to drop down the west side from Polaris Pass and hiked out the West Fork of the Wallowa River, making for a 16 mile day.
On 8/9 we left Joseph and made our way to Boise, Idaho to meet our good friend Alex. That evening we camped along Highway 21 outside of Lowman. The next day we made our way to Redfish Lake to climb at Elephant’s Perch in the Sawtooth Mountains. We paid to take the water taxi across Redfish Lake (saving us an additional 5 miles of hiking for only $10) and hiked to the base of Elephant’s Perch. Mountain Project says it’s a 3 mile hike, but watch out for that last mile, it is steep and if you are hauling a bunch of climbing gear it feels a lot longer to get to the Saddleback Lakes that sit at the base this big, beautiful piece of granite.
We decided to climb the Mountaineer’s Route (5.9 grade III), mostly because we weren’t really feeling ready for our original plan, AstroElephant (5.10b grade IV). This would be our first big climb since Gabe hurt his elbow back in Yosemite (You can read HERE). But we rocked this climb and had the superstar Mr.Alex Fancypants to lead the crux pitches.
After topping out we followed the chossey gully on the south side of the mountain back down to the lakes. The descent route was easy to follow, but the rappel anchors at the end were less obvious. We started to set up a rappel from a little tree on the skier’s left of the gulley, but then we spotted the shiny new bolted rappel anchor on the skiers right of the gulley. A single 60m rope was just barely long enough for this rappel.
We hiked back to redfish lake on 8/12, caught the water taxi back across, and drove up the road a little bit to Cove Hotsprings to treat ourselves to a soak and a couple beers. It’s a nice little spot where hot spring water flows into the Salmon River along HWY 75. That evening we boondocked out on Basin Road, close to Cove Hotsprings. On 8/13 we said our farewells to Alex and made our way to our next destination, The Tetons.
That evening we were able to find a popular boondocking spot off of Antelope Flats Rd, just outside the boundary of Teton National Park. In the morning we made our way into the park to get backcountry camping permits for climbing The Grand Teton. Our original plan was to camp at the Lower Saddle and climb the Direct Exum Ridge. However, we were told that route finding can be particularly difficult, especially if you haven’t been up there before. So we decided to just climb the Upper Exum Ridge.
On 8/15 we made our way up to the lower saddle and set up camp. It is about a 7 mile hike with 5,000 ft of elevation gain. We were lucky with the weather, and enjoyed a calm night of camping. While at camp we were able to scope out the entirety of Direct Exum Ridge and were a little disappointed we didn’t bring gear for this route… oh well, gives us an objective for next time!
The next day we got an early start and made our way up the climber trail from the saddle, past the “The Needle”, and following the first part of the Owen-Spalding. We almost went too high, but luckily we caught our mistake and traversed over to Wall Street without having to downclimb much. We roped up at the end of Wall Street and Gabe lead the short exposed traverse to the base of the 2nd pitch, the Golden Staircase. Lots of knobs here make for enjoyable climbing, but not much in the way of protection.
After Melissa led the Golden Staircase, we simul-climbed our way up the Wind Tunnel. At the top of the Wind Tunnel we veered a little too far west, and Melissa unknowingly ended up leading the last pitch of the West Face of Exum (5.8), which spit us out halfway up the “V” pitch.
Gabe led to the top of the V pitch where Melissa led us up the ridge crest, were we continued to simul-climb our way up the ridge. We reached the final obstacle of the climb near the top of the ridge where Gabe protected a bouldery move and took us to the summit. We were surprised to see it was only 11 am when we reached the summit, the climb only took us 4 hours. It was very fun climb that we playfully categorized as adventure scrambling. After a snack and some summit selfies we made our way down the Owen-Spradling route. The descent required two rappels and lots of scrambling back down to our tent at the saddle. We foolishly had left our sandwiches in our tent and found that the marmots had broken in and ate our lunch! We should of known better than to leave tasty treats in our tent, the marmots here have mastered the art of tent burglary. It wasn’t until we had packed up and headed down that we noticed the food box for climbers to stash their goods.
That evening we started the drive to Yellowstone NP, and stayed at the Forest Service Campground on FR30504 just outside the park. In the morning we headed to a ranger station to pick up a backcountry camping permit for Heart Lake for the following day. Most people who visit National Parks never go more than a mile from their car, which is sad for them but nice for us! The backcountry in Yellowstone is awesome. The sites are reserved individually and we picked a nice private spot located in at the southern cove of Heart Lake. After getting our permit, we had the rest of the day to check out the iconic sites of the driving tour of Yellowstone National Park.
That evening we found free camping off of Grassy Lake Road, just south of the south entrance of Yellowstone. The next day (8/18) we hiked out to Heart Lake. We picked a secluded sport and had to hike about 10 miles to get to it, but it was well worth it! Our hike was rewarded with a large Great Gray Owl, remote fumeroles and hotsprings, and we even had our first close-up encounter with a grizzly bear. Luckily he mosied on up a hill and we didn’t have any problems with him. That evening we were treated to quite the downpour that included a little hail, and some exciting lighting bolts! Luckily, it didn’t last long.
The next day we hiked out, and drove through parts of the Yellowstone Park we missed. On our way out of the park we stopped where the Boiling River meets Yellowstone River, it’s the only spot where people are allowed to get in and enjoy the hotsprings. We didn’t stick around too long because of all the people, but it was fun to see. That evening we camped in a National Forest campground off of HWY 89 just before Tom Miner Creek Road in Montana.
On 8/20 we made our war to Glacier National Park. We stopped in Helena for lunch, because we were craving fried chicken, and found an awesome little place called Suds. If you find yourself wanting fried chicken in Helena, MT Suds is the place to go! That night we camped in a National Forest campground off of HWY2 just south of the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park. This campground is right next to the railroad and extremely loud, if we weren’t so tired we would of tried harder to find a quieter spot.
We spent the next day relaxing at Lower Two Medicine lake and camped at a much quieter primitive National Park campground called Cut Bank. We highly recommend camping here if you are on a budget.
On 8/22 we secured a backcountry camping permit for Upper Two Medicine Lake for the following day, and then hiked out the Grinnell Lake Trail up to the Grinnell Glacier area. This was an awesome hike. There was a lot of bear activity though, and we had another close encounter with a grizzly. We were hiking up the trail when we moved to the side to let a large group of people pass who were heading down. The first couple people warned us of a bear, but by the 10th person we realized that the bear was right behind them. And we mean literally! Melissa got sucked into the group of people, but not before she saw this large grizzly bear round the corner not more than 15 feet behind the last person in line… which ended up being Gabe! We were so surprised that this grizzly was following such a large group of people down the trail, but she cut up the hillside shortly after rounding the corner. Gabe kept an eye (really an ear) on her and called Melissa back. We think a lot of the other hikers called it a day and headed down, but some continued on as it was apparent the grizzly was heading up the hill and away from the trail.
Further up the hill we heard rumors of another black bear sow and cub, but we never saw them on the trail. We also had to walk around a large bighorn sheep grazing in the trail.
Eventually we made it to the end of the trail and were treated to beautiful views of Grinnell Glacier. We found a nice spot near the glacier and chilled our beers in the ice cold lake while we ate lunch. After chilling out for a bit, we decided to hike up to the top of an adjacent mountain.
We made the mistake of giving up our camp spot at the primitive NP campground, and by the time we got back from the hike there weren’t any available spots. So we quietly set up our tent at a nearby trailhead and hoped we wouldn’t be bothered. Luckily we were only harassed with laughter in the morning by some other campers.
On 8/23 we hiked up to Upper Two Medicine Lake and found a secluded spot on the shore of the lake, which also happened to be near near some huckleberry bushes, so we spent some time picking and filling a bag. YUM. We spent the evening relaxing and taking in the views.
On 8/24 we hiked out and drove through Glacier NP on the Going-to-the-Sun road. There is so much to see, and we are looking forward to coming back! That evening we found a beautiful spot along the N. fork of the Flathead river and we camped nearby along McGinnis Creek Road (NF 803).
On 8/25 we made our way to Hotsprings, MT. We really wanted to find a nice place to soak and this seemed to be the closest spot. Usually we prefer undeveloped hotspring areas, but we LOVED the Symes Hotel. It was built in the 1930’s and hasn’t changed much! It may be a little run down, but it is affordable and has a lot of character! Definitely worth checking out.
The next day we made our way to Leavenworth to check out the Enchantments and climb Prusik Peak. We don’t know if you have noticed, but there are a lot of people in the lower 48! And a lot of people want to get outside and enjoy the outdoors which is great and all, but in order to keep beautiful places like the Enchantments pristine, there is a cap on the number of backcountry camping permits available. Luckily, they hold a few for “walk-ins” on a lottery basis. So on 8/26 we woke up early and made our way to the ranger station so we could put our name in the drawing…There were quite a few people there, and Melissa wasn’t expecting Gabe’s name to be one of the lucky one’s drawn… BUT IT WAS! And we got the backcountry permit for Colchuck Lake.
We felt so lucky to score backcountry permits! It is only about a 4 mile hike to Colchuck Lake, so we had plenty of time to pack up and hike in. We found a nice spot along the lake to camp at the base of Aasgard Pass.
In the morning we started up Aasgard Pass which rises 1900′ in less than a mile. But the hiking is pretty easy once you are at the top. We followed a trail of Cairns to an eventual junction in the trail and headed up towards Prusik Saddle. Once at the top of the saddle, you follow the ridge to the base of the West Ridge route. We weren’t the first here and we had a cup of coffee while we waited for a party of two to start up the route. While we waited, another group of two showed up… And a then a group of three. Good thing we got an early start!
The West Ridge was fun and quick climb, but it takes awhile to get to, especially if you are starting from the car (The party ahead of us started at 2 am and the party behind us at 3 am from the Colchuck Lake trailhead). While it is rated 5.7 there is a 5.8 crack variation (Melissa led) and if it starts getting too hard you are doing something unnecessary.
The rappel down was pretty straight forward, though with a 60m rope you do have to scramble a little bit between two of the rappels. We hiked back out the way we came and made it to the car just before dark. We drove through the cascades into the night and set up camp at one of our favorite boondocking spots on the west side of the range, Boulder Creek. The next day, 8/28, we made it back to Bellingham, and the roadtrip was officially at its end…