September 9th – Buck Mountain

– Bring a lot of food and water
– Take some pictures
– Listen to an audiobook
– Walk a long, long way

     This was my strategy as I woke up and drove back to the Teton National Forest this morning. I suppose it would be more accurate to call it an outline. A very rough outline. Looking back, it probably could have been improved if I had figured out specific details (especially about where I was walking). But if I took the time to work all of that out, maybe I would have chickened out and not gone on the hike. And then I would have missed my favorite adventure of this trip so far. Here’s the story of how it turned out.

     I did bring a lot of food. Two ham and cheese bagelwiches, two cliff bars, two servings of protein powder, one snack-sized bag of trail mix, half a bag of baby carrots, and five bottles of water. Yes, I put all of that in my backpack. It was heavy and made me sweat disgustingly (although that may have happened even if I hadn’t been wearing the backpack). It was well worth it all though when I was able to satisfy my hunger and thirst with the treasures I carried.

     I took some pictures. Quite a few pictures – over a hundred, for the second day in a row. Yesterday it was easy to sort through the photos. Some were interesting and most weren’t. The interesting ones went into my post for the day and the others will be forgotten. Today it’s harder. The mountains, trees, animals, and clouds were incredible from every angle. A hundred pictures are too many to post though, so I picked my favorite-favorites and had to leave the rest (my just-normal-favorites) behind on my SD card.

     I listened to an audiobook. I borrowed A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain from the online library I use. I started it on my drive to the trailhead and finished it about three-quarters of the way through my hike. Eventually, I’ll write my thoughts about it on the “Books” page that is linked on the sidebar of this site. There’s already more than enough to write about today without adding in a book summary.

     I did walk a long, long way – and I did a lot more climbing than I expected to. Last night, I decided to start my hike at the Taggart Lake Trailhead and see how far I could go. It looked like the trail went in a big circle around the Teton Range. I thought it would be cool to see the mountains from the every angle, and that’s what I expected to do. It turned out that the trail goes over the top of the mountains, not around, and that the full loop is at least a forty-mile trip. By the time I figured that out, I was already over six miles into the hike and I really didn’t want to turn back. I decided to keep going until prudence absolutely insisted that I turn back. Before I talk about that though, I should probably go back to the beginning.

     The hike started out well. After walking for a solitary forty-five minutes, I met a friendly squirrel – at least I think he was a squirrel. Maybe Sam, the official wildlife expert on this site, can double check that for me. Anyway, the squirrel (as I will call him for now) seemed quite excited to see me with my camera and he posed perfectly for a picture. I think he was embarrassed after I took it though because he started to hide his face behind the branch he was sitting on.

     The path was well kept for the most part. There were a few places though where I had to push my way through fresh undergrowth that hadn’t yet been trimmed back.

     The grass and vegetation stayed with me for the first three miles. Then I was moved onto a hardpacked dirt path which led in a long, gradual slope to this view of Phelps Lake. From here the trail went into downhill switchbacks. I enjoyed the easy walk down and I hoped I wouldn’t have to walk back up.

     The hardpacked dirt continued and I started to ascend again. I got a great side view of the mountain range.

     At this point, I started to figure out that I was headed right toward the middle of the mountains, not the back. The trail began to climb more steeply and stones appeared in the pathway, sometimes as steps and sometimes only managing to get in the way. A series of tiny waterfalls ran roughly parallel to the trail and sometimes came close enough for me to walk onto them.

     Eventually the I reached a clear pool of water that fed the waterfalls. Once I passed that, I entered a dense forest that ushered me to the base of what turned out to be a four-mile path of endless switchbacks. This was by far the worst part of the hike. So far, I had gone about ten miles in a little over three hours. This four-mile stretch took another three hours all by itself.

     In the picture on the left, you can see the narrow path that led upward. If you look carefully at the picture on the right, you’ll see the flowers and grass in the foreground with everything else in the background. The only thing in between was a steep slope with some shrubbery growing on it. I didn’t think that falling off the side of the path would be very fun so I did my best to avoid it.


     Those switchbacks seemed to last forever. I did my best to keep moving up, then I’d rest for a few minutes. I felt wimpy when I needed to rest every hundred steps, but I knew I was still making progress. At last, I made it. Not to the top, but to a ridge that was almost flat. I looked behind me and saw this beautiful view.

      I kept going up, but I knew it was getting too late in the day for me to even hope that I could finish the loop. I knew that it would be beyond stupid to try. I would most likely get stuck on the peak of a mountain all night in thirty-degree weather and then I’d be discovered by a mother bear who would think I was a popsicle and carry me away to her den where she would share me with her hungry cubs.

     Before giving in and taking the wise course back down the mountain, I went a little further up the trail to see what I would miss when I turned around. I saw the peak of Buck Mountain, about a thousand feet higher up. I climbed toward it until the switchbacks started again. Then I took a couple more pictures of the heavenly mountain panorama I had walked so far to see and started back down the mountain.

     The trip down didn’t seem too long at first. The switchbacks only took an hour and a half to get through. And on my way down, I was cheered on by another friendly rodent. This looks like a chipmunk to me, but I’ll need to call on Sam again before I know for sure.

     The reality of this hike set in on me as I made my way back through the forest and down the rocky steps next to the waterfalls. Getting to the top of the mountain had been difficult. But now I had to go back and retrace every step I had taken. It was much easier going down, but by this point, I had walked twenty miles already today.

     I told myself that when I arrived back at Phelps Lake, I would take a break and enjoy the last bagelwich that I had been saving to eat sometime during the return trip. I made it back to the lake and happily stretched out on the rocks and roots shown in the picture below and to the left. I had a clear view of the lake from here, similar to the picture I took as  I passed Phelps lake on my way up the mountain.

     From my cozy perch, I watched the sun make its way toward the horizon. I didn’t want to be stuck out in the dark forest alone, so I got back on my tired legs and continued my return trip.

     To take my mind off of my tired legs, I decided to knock out the two hundred pushups I still needed to do in Wyoming. I stopped every ten minutes over the next several miles, to do a set of twenty pushups, then got up and started walking again.

     The sun went down while I was still walking and when it eventually got dark, I used my phone’s flashlight to make sure I stayed on the path. Soon after dark, I reached the Taggart Lake Trailhead. I still had to walk a quarter mile to the parking lot, and I managed to finish off the long walk with my new trademarked move – wandering around in circles while trying to figure out which way to go.

     I did eventually get myself pointed the right way and made it safely to my car around 9:30 PM. I climbed stiffly into my car and checked my watch to see how many miles I had put on my feet today. It showed twenty-nine point seven miles. I really wished that I could have hit thirty, but my legs wanted nothing to do with me after what I had already put them through.

     I drove back to my campsite and walked around in circles some more as I got myself ready for bed. When I lay down in my sleeping bag, my watch told me I hit exactly thirty miles for the day. That was a great way to go to sleep.

5 thoughts on “September 9th – Buck Mountain

  1. Great photography. I hope you aren’t completely depressed after reading A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court.
    Pict no.1 is probably a Western Gray Squirrel. Pict no.2 might be a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel.

  2. Your technical writing skill adds unity, clarity and emphasis to your prose. The photography is stunning. The contrasts of the small animals to the large panoramas of space makes me think of Stanley Kubrick. Your activities hiking, physical pushups, eating,and your determination to finish the thirty miles makes for excellent reading. Your writing has what the French would say Raison d’etre. Good work!

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