Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Table Mountain: A Grand View of the Tetons

The last leg of my week long 40th birthday road trip brought me to Wyoming.  I have been to many mountain ranges in the US but never to the Tetons.  I knew ahead of time that snow would be an issue in the area.  Although I would have preferred a backpacking trip in the Tetons, I was happy finding a mountain that was climbable in a day with views of the range.  After a little research, I found my destination, Table Mountain.

Table Mountain actually lies within the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and is part of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.  The mountain is the boundary for the National Forest and Grand Teton National Park.

I arrived in Alta, Wyoming on the evening of May 27th.  I reached the North Teton trailhead where I made my home for the night.  Apparently the gate to access the area just opened for the season the previous day.

The Tetons on the drive in with Table Mtn barely
noticible in front of the Grand

Since it was still light, I checked out the signage in the area and wanted to see how the beginning of the trails looked.  There were a few spots of snow still and I wanted to see if it was snowy along the trail in the forest.

At the trailhead

There are two trails that lead to Table Mountain.  The first is Trail 024 (Huckleberry Trail) and the other is Trail 029 (Face Trail).  Trail 024 is more gradual while Trail 029 is much more direct.  Both trails meet below the summit.  I was interested in the West Face Trail which is actually about .1 miles down the road at another parking area.  Both trails would require travel over snow most their routes.  I'd rather travel a more direct, shorter distance over the snow, especially if the sun makes conditions slushy.  The trail is somewhat hidden behind a toilet building.  A sign at the beginning of the trail indicates that it's not maintained and very steep- not recommended.  There was a large blowdown blocking the trail near the beginning but no snow.  It was good to know that I had at least some snowfree travel since this route featured 4100 feet of elevation gain in less than 4 miles.

As I was checking out the start of the trail, a guy in his early 20s came stumbling down the trail looking worn out.  He was wearing jeans that were soaked from the knees down.  He had no pack of any kind nor did he carry any water or other drink.  He was wearing steel tip boots with the steel showing through worn leather.  He wore a short sleeve shirt and carried no jacket.  In his hand was a tablet computer.  A small hand gun barely managed to not fall out of his front jean pocket.

I asked him how far he went.  He climbed up to the top of Table Mountain.  He had the pictures on his table to prove it.  It was a pretty nice day and he reached the summit, but he was obviously unprepared for the climb and out of his element.  There were some clouds and I hit rain further north in the mountains.  An unexpected turn in the weather, even just a soaking rain, could have been a problem since he was in all cotton with no extra clothes.  I talked to him a few minutes, asking him about the conditions since he hiked to the summit.  He said it was a pretty straightforward and easy to follow route, even with snow most of the way.  He was a local guy from Idaho Falls that wanted to hike Table Mountain (apparently he has before).  He was nice enough.  I'm guessing he doesn't hike too often.  Hopefully he prepares a little more on future endeavors.  If nothing else, he left tracks in the snow marking the way.

Later in the evening I began chatting with another hiker spending the night at the trailhead.  This was James Putnam from Salt Lake City.  He has climbed Table Mountain before.  He was out for a Memorial Day weekend get away.  We chatted for a while and deciding we would make the climb together.  While we were talking, a moose emerged from the woods and ambled across a clearing in front of the parking lot before heading back into the woods.

I woke up just before 6AM and had a quick bite to eat before beginning the last hike of my 30s.  By 630 I began hiking with James.  The trail climbs fairly steeply on a series of loose switchbacks through the forest.  I think we traveled a little over a mile before we hit the first patch of snow.  The snow was pretty much consistent from that point on.

Entering the wilderness

Early views in early sunshine

Treasure Mountain

Although there was no visible trail, the route is pretty straightforward.  Generally we followed a ridge uphill.  A steep drop into a ravine to our right worked as pretty good landmark to keep on route.  My unprepared buddy from yesterday left tracks in the snow as well that seemed to stay on route.  Once we were on the snow, we were in a less dense forest and we could get occasional views to our right and behind us.

Snow in aspens

View south

Our route brought us to a clearing in the trees at steep slope.  By now, I put on my snowshoes.  I could have probably used microspikes as well at this point since the snow was pretty firm.  This steep pitch featured the most elevation gain of the route.  I made my way with the snowshoes without any problems.  If the slope was any steeper, I may have switched to crampons.  There were plenty of footprints that featured long stretches of sliding on this slope from my steel toed friend's descent.

Heading up the slope
Looking down the steep slope toward Treasure Mountain



View south across the slope

From the top of the steep pitch, the route climbed more gradually. The majority of the elevation gain was in the first two miles. We traveled a short stretch through a tree lined meadow that was covered with snow.  After passing through the trees, we reached the open tundra above treeline and the views were endless.  Occasionally there is a brief peek at the top of the Grand Teton but it is mostly hidden behind our destination, Table Mountain.  Even with the Grand and its immediate neighbors hidden, the views from the long tundra walk are worthwhile on their own.

Footprints from my steel toed friend

View  north 

Continuing through snowy meadows

Good look at the open meadow

Sneak peek at the Grand Teton

View south from the tundra

A good look at the vastness of the tundra

The remainder of the route featured very gradual elevation gain until reaching the summit block of Table Mountain.  Although it was not identifiable in the heavy snow, we eventually passed the junction of Trail 024.  Large cornices and steep snow pitches would have made Trail 024 a dangerous route.  Climbing out of the North Fork Teton Creek drainage to gain the tundra would have been difficult and risky at best.  The temperature was fairly warm and I would not have trusted the cornices.

A look back

A look at the cornices

Although not steep, the route climbs a little more aggressively the final stretch before the summit block.  It was in this final stretch we saw something  running across the snow.  It appeared to be a marten.  Because it was running away, I never could get a picture.  We soon reached the base of the summit block and I took off my snowshoes.

Table Mountain's summit

The Tetons peeking out

I think this is Middle Teton

A look south over the vast tundra

Getting close to the summit

These are our footprints on the way down

The summit block of Table Mountain is the toughest part of the climb.  Gaining the summit required scrambling over a mix of rock, scree, and snow.  Since much of it is wind scoured, the snow was often not too deep.  It was not uncommon to step in the snow, only to have it slide out beneath in the buried scree.  Although not too difficult, picking a line required a little patience.  The scrambling up the summit block is short over quickly however.

A look across the summit block

Nice views south scrambling across the rock and snow

Once the scrambling is over, you reach the summit.  Immediately your hard work is rewarded with an "in your face" view of the Grand Teton and its immediate neighbors.  At this point, there is nothing between you and the Grand.  It's about 2 miles away with no obstructions.  Table Mountain stand at 11,106'.  The Grand towers another 2600 feet higher at 13,770'.

The Grand Teton surrounded by Mt Owen and Middle Teton


My summit shot

Even without the Grand Teton right there, the views are pretty impressive.  The entire range of the Tetons is quite jagged, making for an impressive skyline.  The views are pretty far reaching with several snow covered ranges visible into Wyoming, Idaho, and I believe southern Montana.

View north

Looking back down at the approach

Another look north

I think this is looking toward Mt Moran
I think Buck Mtn/Static Mtn area



Looking south over Hurricane Pass

Once again we saw something running across the snow below the summit.  This time I took a photo.  I was able to magnify the photo and confirm it was a marten.  Unfortunately the magnified photo was quite blurry so this is the best photo I have.

Distant marten

We enjoyed the scenery and had a bit to eat before heading back down. It was surprisingly warm and barely any wind.  Once again, a little precaution was necessary on the downclimb of the summit block.  Once off the summit, travel was fast heading downhill.  The scenery is still quite impressive on the return to the valley,

Hiking back down just below the summit

One last look back at Table Mtn

Notice the cliffs that ring most mountains

If anyone can name these peaks to the south, leave a comment

It's hard to tell but this snow melt area is 6 feet deep

The snow softened as the day warmed.  Even with snowshoes, the snow was getting a little sloppy.  When we reached the steep pitch, the crampons on the snowshoes were ineffective.  I was able to use the snowshoes as skis on the steep slope.  Because of the slushiness I never gained too much speed and could pretty much stop when I wanted.  James boot skid quite effectively.  We made it to the trailhead pretty quickly.  We didn't see another group the entire outing.

Near the top of the steep slope

Table Mountain is a spectacular climb for those that enjoy big mountain views.  It may be a difficult for the casual hiker.  The Face Trail is less than 8 miles roundtrip but gains over 4000 vertical feet to over 11,000'.  The less steep Huckleberry Trail adds an extra 2 miles each way.  For the seasoned hiker, the trip shouldn't be too difficult, even with the snow.  According to James, when the snow is melted,  there is quite a display of flowers in the meadows.  Since Table Mountain is not accessed through the National Park, there is no fee or permits required and there are less people.

Looking north from Table Mtn

Plenty of rugged peaks


I have hiked all over the US and the jagged mountains of the Tetons are among the most impressive I have seen.  I highly recommend the area to those that enjoy mountain travel. I've seen tons of photos of the Grand and the other high Tetons but they are even more amazing up close.  I live in Colorado in the jagged Sangre de Cristo Range, another fault block range that's quite impressive.  The Sangres are my playground and I am still blown away by the Tetons.  I know I said this about most of the places on this road trip, but I plan on revisiting the Tetons again.  Next time, I would like to visit when it's less snowy and explore more of the backcountry on a backpacking trip.

Another look at the Grand

Closeup of the Grand as the sun shifted

After leaving the Table Mountain area, I headed south through Wyoming.  I never saw so many pronghorns (antelope).  Once I got out of the mountains and into sage country, there was a small herd of pronghorns every couple miles.  By the time I reached Craig, Colorado, I must have seen well over 100 pronghorns- no exaggeration.  I arrived back at my house in Colorado around 130AM just in time for the start of my birthday.  I was a day ahead of schedule and Puma was pleasantly surprised to see me.

Pronghorn including a nice buck

More pronghorn

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