Monday, January 12, 2009

Excursion Article Series 08.02.08: Grizzly Lake: Leeches Lurk in Lake Shallows

Caption: My wife AmberLynn strolls along Grizzly Lake's shoreline. The lake has the smoothest, deepest mud I think I've ever felt lining it's shallows. Take one step too far and you're mucking your way out, possibly without shoes. AmberLynn wants people to know she's pregnant in this picture - hence the small pooch.

Excursion: Grizzly Lake
Length: Half a day
Distance: 4.5 miles one way
Difficulty: Mild/moderate
Directions: Park across from Red Hills Campground on Gros Ventre Road and head up dirt road to southeast. Trail spurs off of road a little way in.

The first couple miles on the trail to Grizzly Lake are to me a three-dimensional representation of governmental bureaucracy. As the crow flies, this hike would be half as long.

The trail starts out as a road leading in the wrong direction. Then a small sign points you off the road onto a narrow trail. The trail at first heads vaguely in the right direction before it starts zig-zagging around private ranchlands (see where I’m going with this?) Soon you start following a creek uphill. Crossing the creek, you head to the steepest part of the hill and switchback up it to the top of a ridge. The trail then follows the ridgeline all the way down to the next creek bottom, where you rinse and repeat. The infuriatingly placed switchbacks ensure you get as many ups and downs as the rides at Teton County Fair.

In short, the trail has more loopholes than trying to get an American Embassy placed in a Communist nation.

At least the destination is gorgeous. It looks like something you might see in Yellowstone – the forest gives way to clay-like mud that craters into a small lake. The shoreline disappears at a steep and steady rate into the water. If the lake were somehow frozen and inverted, I imagine Jackson Hole would have its very own ice pyramid.

The lake actually might be classifiable as a large pond. Soft mud surrounds the lake and clogs its shallows. The first time I went to Grizzly, my friends and I scouted around the lake to find a place to jump into the water without having to wade through knee-deep water and hip-deep mud. We finally found a place on the north shore where gravel coated the first few feet of mud so we didn’t sink as far into the quicksand/mud. From there, you can make a dive for deeper waters. Leeches lurk in the lake’s shallows, so be on the lookout if you decide to swim.

The water is surprisingly warm and smooth, a wonderful swimming hole. The unique mud and warm water, coupled with the fact there is little to no fresh water streaming into the lake make me wonder if it is spring fed.

Despite the relative lack of a fresh supply of water, the fishing is obviously good at Grizzly Lake. Occasionally an unlucky hovering dragonfly gets Hoovered into the lake by a lucky fish.
Unfortunately, wildlife doesn’t seem as abundant as the name of the lake implies. I’ve been to Grizzly Lake three times and never seen one dang bear. The first time I went, I did watch a bull moose sprint through the underbrush – an impressive sight that makes you recognize the need for those spindly legs. The second time all I saw were some cows. The third time I got to watch several blue herons swoop around some highland marshes.

But mostly all you notice is the wickedly tenacious mosquitoes and horseflies. Even with healthy doses of quality bug spray, by the time we made it home my 10-month old son looked like he had a nasty bout of chicken pox. Between the bugs and the thought of the unbearable trail back, we decided to take a shorter route to return to the car. Suffice it to say that it involved an overgrown trail in the opposite direction that I was acquainted with from former trips. We also had to wade across the shallows of the Gros Ventre River – not a recommended route. After our river crossing, we still had the minor problem of being miles away from our car on a nearly deserted dirt road with legions of bugs harassing us while night fell. My wife wrapped our son up in blankets to keep him away from the mosquitoes and sent me off to fetch the car ASAP.

With my family’s safety and comfort in mind, I made quick friends with the family in the first truck that passed me on the road. They graciously gave me a ride back to my car after I explained the situation.

Amazing how easy it is to make friends around here.

Caption: On the way out from the lake, the light was gorgeous on these tall weeds. AmberLynn's still pregnant in this shot.

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