Friday, February 10, 2012
Hiking in the Tetons: Table Mountain - the Ultimate Day Hike
On August 17th 2011 Kat, Lindsey, Emily, and I went on what has to be one of the best day hikes on the planet. It was the hike to the top of Table Mountain (also known locally as "Table Rock") in the Teton Mountain Range along the Wyoming-Idaho border.
OK, here's how to get there. Make your way to Driggs, ID, in the Teton Valley. Once there, turn east at the stop light onto Ski Hill Road. There is a sign at that intersection directing you toward Grand Targhee Ski Resort. Within just a couple of miles you will drive through Alta, Wyoming. Once you are through Alta, keep your eyes open for a road sign that indicates Teton Canyon Road. Turn right onto Teton Canyon Road. Teton Canyon Road is paved for only a short distance and the rest is dusty gravel. I advise you to take it slow and easy on this road, especially if there is other traffic; the dust can make visibility a challenge.
The image below shows the locations of Alta, WY, at the left edge, the Grand Targhee Ski Resort (middle top), the Teton Canyon Campground (where you can find the trail head to Table Mountain), and Table Mountain (right edge).
After continuing to drive for a few miles on the Teton Canyon Road you will pass the entrance to the Treasure Mountain BSA Camp. Then after a few more miles you will reach the Teton Canyon Campground north parking area. If you continue on you will reach the south parking area and the end of the road.
There are two trails to Table Mountain, one is called "Huckleberry" and the other one is called "Face". Huckleberry is longer, but has a more gradual grade, and is recommended for more casual hikers (this is the trail we took). The trail head for "Huckleberry" is clearly marked at the Teton Canyon Campground north parking area by the sign shown below. Here are (L-R) Lindsey, Kat, and Emily, at the Huckleberry trail head as we started our hike. As with any hike, be sure that you have good shoes, plenty of water, and take some food along as well. And, for this hike, it is highly recommended that you also take a light weight jacket to wear as you get started (it's usually cool in the mornings up there) as well as for the top of Table Mountain, because the wind can really blow, plus it's chilly up there, too! Oh, and just FYI, the trail head starts at about 7000 feet in elevation, and the top of Table Mountain is about 11,000 feet, so get ready to climb.
The trail head to other trail, "Face", can be found at the south parking area. Face is a shorter, but more rigorous trail. The trail head for Face, however, is not marked, and it is highly advisable that you go with someone who has done that trail before if you want to try it. From everything I've heard, if you take Face you will be huffing and puffing within a few hundred yards of the trail head because it heads right up the face of the mountain. Huckleberry is more forgiving than Face in that way. If you go up Face it is NOT recommended that you descend that same way. It is recommended that you descend on Huckleberry.
Huckleberry was one of the most beautiful trails I have ever been on. You are rewarded with incredibly scenic views almost from the moment you get onto the trail. This view, for example, was taken very shortly after we started hiking, looking back down the canyon.
Before too much longer you will pass a sign showing that you have entered the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area. Though this is a well known and popular trail you probably won't be crowded. On the day we did our hike we saw about 20 other people on the trail.
The trail takes you through beautiful meadows filled with wild flowers and stands of tall evergreen trees. We had a clear, sunny day, so the portions of the trail provided welcome shade. Oh, and make sure that you take bug spray and sun block - there were mosquitoes and horse/deer flies up there, but not enough to put a damper on things...
Huckleberry trail winds its way up the canyon toward Table Mountain, and along the way crisscrosses a stream 3-4 times. Last winter the snowfall was 2-3x normal, so we are still experiencing high run-off conditions, so fords where most years you can rock-hop across, this year we had to wade. On the way up we stopped, pulled off our shoes and socks, and waded on. The water was bitingly cold, since it's from snow melt, but it wasn't unbearable. At one crossing there was a log bridge. We were happy to see that!
As I mentioned before, the scenery, near and far, was fantastic. Here's Emily next to a small waterfall and massive granite outcrops.
Wooded walkways were even in place in areas where the ground was usually soggy! Nice!
By this time we were farther up the canyon and the trail had steeper sections, but the payoff in scenery was worth it.
We were soon in high alpine meadows covered with wild flowers.
And then Table Mountain came into view. We could not see the Grand Tetons from this spot though, because Table Mountain was blocking them. But the tip of Grand Teton peak slowly came into view as we hiked higher and higher. The end destination of the hike is the knob-shaped bulge at the center of the photo below - that's Table Mountain.
Here are Lindsey, Emily, and I with a shot taken on the approach to Table Mountain, looking back down the
canyon toward Driggs, Idaho. At this stage of the hike, and increased elevation, we found that we needed to stop more frequently for rest breaks.
One way to negotiate the last approach is to do what is called the dead man's walk...take ten steps and rest for a count of five steps, and continue. That's not exactly what we did, but we did stop and rest every 20-50 yards or so toward the end of the hike. Also at this stage of the hike you and your hiking partners need to watch each other for signs of altitude sickness - excessive weariness, nausea, overheating, etc. Even at 11,000 feet some people are susceptible, and there's no way to know who it might be.
Here is the final approach to the summit of Table Mountain. There is a rock field that you have to pass over, so take it easy and watch your footing; the last thing anyone wants at this stage of the hike is a sprained ankle or worse.
And here we are at the top! The last little bit takes a bit of climbing, but nothing technical. Just about everyone who summits rolls over on the flat top of Table Mountain, and lies there huffing and puffing for at least a few minutes. What a feeling!
We did it! Completing a hike like this can give you a personal sense of accomplishment, it's a major memory-maker, plus you just can't beat the view!
We were not speedy hikers. It took us 4.5 hours to complete the outbound 7-mile leg of the hike.
Once you are on top you feel like you are on the top of the world! Wow! It's like you can almost reach out and touch the Grand Teton, even though it's actually over 2 miles away.
There's really no way to convey the immense scope of the panoramic view from a place like this. Words truly fail to describe the immensity, majesty, raw ruggedness, and feeling of wildness you can get in a place like this. The best I could do was to generate a panoramic image from multiple photos taken from the top of Table Mountain. The right edge of the image is looking off toward the south, and the left edge is the view to the north, with the Grand Teton peak right in the center.
BTW - you need to wait until late in the summer to do this hike. The rest of the year the trail is snowed in and largely impassible. But when it's open, man! what a pay-off!
We ate lunch on the top of Table Mountain, surrounded by the top of the world scenery that you can seldom reach in a day hike. That's what makes this hike one not to be missed. My wife was right when she said that we can't live in this area and not do hikes like these.
We finally had to gather ourselves up, rise on our feet, and head back down the mountain. You'd be surprised, however, to find how much a bit of a rest, water, food, and the fact that you accomplished your goal can rejuvenate you. As I was on my way up I wondered at the smiles and spring in the steps of the people who passed us on their way down as we were on our way up. Now I know...your soul is filled, and your spirit is enlightened, and as a result you head down with a spring in your step.
One last thought - if you do this hike I know that you will be tempted to stop short of the summit - I was. But, hang in there and go all the way to the top. That's the only way you get the full benefit of this experience. If you don't you won't see the kind of panoramic views that I tried to share in this entry. Hang in there, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, rest when you need to, but keep going until you reach the top. That's where the magic is.
(Originally posted 8-23-2011)