Memories of a Fun Trip with Mike C!

Turn back the clock to August 2011. I was recently unemployed and couldn’t decide between hiking the CDT from Glacier to Yellowstone or spending a few weeks in the beautiful lake country of Northern Michigan where my girlfriend was stationed for the summer so I decided to pick a little bit of both before putting my nose to the grindstone to find another job.

I found an airline ticket out of Salt Lake City back to Michigan and planned my trip south from Bozeman. I planned to do a couple things between here and there in order to appease my hiking desires prior to spending quality time on Lake Michigan. I signed up for a Continental Divide Trail Alliance (read my Sep. 2011 trip report) volunteer trail building session in the Lionhead area of Gallatin National Forest. We spent a few days digging tread, re-building a failing culvert, and trimming overhead vegetation during the day and eating excellent grub and enjoying cold ones in the evening. I highly recommend a CDT or other volunteer project as it gets you to some beautiful country and gives you the opportunity to give back to the organizations that maintain the trails we know and love.

Conveniently located between my volunteering session outside of Yellowstone and the airport I was making my way toward in Salt Lake City is a sleepy little burg on the quiet Western front of the Tetons – Driggs, ID. Infamous “lighten up” NOLS instructor, graphic artist, and all around good guy Mike Clelland spends his days here and I pinged him on my way down to see if he’d be into an ultralight 24 hour jaunt up into the hills outside his home. I arrived in the afternoon and we threw together some grub and gear and drove a short little distance to one of Mike’s favorite trailheads just up the road from his house.



Mike and I instructed a few sessions of the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School together in ’09 and I hadn’t seen him much since, nor gone camping with him. What a great time it was practicing what we preached purely for the enjoyment of the sport we loved. We packed really light with no shelters as the weather up near the Teton Crest was expected to be precip-free. We connected a couple trails together with a little off-trail jaunt with some of the finest craggy views the lower 48 has to offer. Our super light sleeping bags were enough to keep us warm until just a bit before dawn so we awoke from our sleep atop a large expanse of rock long before the sun crept up over the Grand Teton and high tailed it back down to the valley. Mike to get back to his freelance work and me to hit the road to SLC.



Michigan ended up being a total blast and a few years later I made that gal I was visiting my wife – so a trip there was well worth it!

Fifty Miles on the Pitchstone Plateau and along the Bechler River


A trip in the Bechler region of Yellowstone National Park has been on my bucket list for years.  I secured a permit encompassing a vast chunk of the SW corner of the park.  My itinerary was to traverse the Pitchstone Plateau, then head westward to the Bechler River Valley, following it northward to my end point in the Old Faithful geyser basin.  This would allow me to experience three vastly different ecosystems, camping one night in each.


I experienced beautiful moonrises, glorious sunrises, sunny afternoons, a seemingly endless thirty-six hours of continuous rain, mile after mile of both grassy savannah walking as well as mud and bog walking, a spectacular soak in one of the best backcountry hotsprings known to humankind, and hours of solo introspection and enjoyment.  The journey through this section of YNP is well worth a visit for someone looking to walk an all-trail route that has just enough an element of navigation and route finding challenge to keep things interesting but is still moderate enough to allow your thoughts to wander without consequence.


The route crosses numerous springs, streams, and rivers so water consumption planning is simple.  I inquired locally and with respected and trusted individuals regarding the fishing potential and fly choices.  I cast my line into three separate stream/river systems, each containing different species and although my luck and skill (lack of?) didn’t pan out, the joy and meditative qualities of tenkara fishing made the extra six ounces of gear well worth it.


Logistically the trip worked out exceptionally.  I left my car at the Pitchstone trailhead, hiked the loop, and grabbed an instantaneous hitchhike with an off duty park employee all the way back to my car at trip’s end.  Bike shuttling along the busy park roads is an option as well but would require planning a morning start to allow for the extra hours needed.  Hitchhiking can be a gamble but in this instance paid off exceptionally.


I decided to photograph the journey through wide shots of the landscape, trying to capture the essence of the different spaces I visited.  From the wide open, grassy savannah of the Pitchstone Plateau, to the woody and wet valleys of Mountain Ash Creek, to the boggy, misty and steamy Bechler River Valley, all zones had a unique character that was constantly bringing a smile to my face.

















Backcountry Forays along Ketchum, Idaho’s Titus Ridge

Ketchum, Idaho is a small, swanky town that is home to Sun Valley Ski Resort. Many of the skiers here are rich fashionistas that never leave the smoothness of the groomed runs and comfort of the ski lifts. There are definitely some badasses that live there also however and for those willing to head only a few miles out their own backdoor a nearly endless sea of peaks and ridges awaits.

Ketchum lies comfortably nestled  in a pocket formed by the Challis and Sawtooth National Forests of Idaho with State Highway 75 the artery supplying fresh tourist dollars and backcountry dirtbags alike to the town.  Mike and I are of the latter category although we did buy some groceries, burgers, and beer while we visited.  The highway passes through downtown and heads North into the National Forest.  On it’s way it switchbacks up and over Titus Ridge, topping out on what is called the Galena Summit at 8700′ (2652 m).  A road that goes to nearly 9,000 feet simply screams, “Come ski me!”

Sam skinning along Titus Ridge away from Galena Summit
The views of the peaks along the drive north from Ketchum are peppered with skin tracks and descent lines but the quantity of terrain combined with the lack of users means plenty of freshies lie in wait for the motivated (and even the not-so-motivated) backcountry skiier or splitboarder.  Driving to Galena Summit and skinning from the trailhead for even just 30 minutes will provide you with enough snow and hillside for a dozen turns through myriad terrain types ranging from steep rocky chutes to open bowls to tight trees.
Usage may be low but I’m a powder snob and let’s face it, I like to walk so after our first day of checking out the zone immediately adjacent to the highway it was time to top out at our previous days high point and then continue onward into the next bowl.  It was here that we found a true backcountry destination consisting of a big face with lots of options from couloirs to spines to gladed trees.  
Our destination for day two and three.
This is the kind of face I like to ride.  I’m relatively conservative in my choice of terrain not so much because I’m held back by my abilities but because I’m held back by my confidence.  It was good riding with my friend Loid whom I don’t ride with often (he lives in Ketchum) because he pushed me a little outside my comfort zone, got my adrenaline rushing, and reminded me that I am a pretty good snowboarder.  
We sessioned the face in the photo above on day two, following it up with a repeat of our exit line from day one.  I wasn’t ready to be done so upon arriving back in town I stayed suited up in my ski gear and set my splitboard to walking my way to the top of Sun Valley Ski Resort. This made for another seven miles of walking another few thousand vertical feet.  The views from the top were delightful but I was tired and cold so I took no photos to share with you my blog readers.  
Day three Loid was required to be at work selling ski and snowboard gear but Mike and I were amped to get a half day in before the drive back to Montana.  We opted to head to the same zone as day two and considered hiking farther out to yet another peak.  It would have been nice to hit another face but time was of the essence as many hours of driving were in front of us.  We filed it away for future plans and proceeded to kill a line parallel to the previous day.  
A face filed away for next time we visit
The riding was spectacular all three days.  We were successful in finding snow of superb quality on North-facing aspects and in all stability tests we performed we could not get an extended column to break (I managed to pound one column to a 45 count before my hand started hurting).  The company of Loid who I don’t see all that often as well as Mike with whom I share an apartment was great.  To put it simply this is the kind of out of town trip that will stick in my memory for a long time to come.