Monday, January 12, 2009

Excursion Article Series 10.11.08: Taggart and Bradley Lake loop makes good winter escape

Caption: This was taken on a snowshoe trip into Taggart several years ago. The water half frozen is stunning.

Excursion: Taggart and Bradley Lake Loop
Length: 2 to 3 hours
Distance: 5.1 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Directions: Head into Grand Teton National Park from south entrance. Drive to first major parking area on the left and follow well-established trail toward mountains.

This hike grew up with me. Either that or I grew up with it. All I know is that I used to be taller than it. Now it’s twice my height.

What I’m referring to is the forest around the Taggart Lake area. In 1985, the Beaver Creek fire swept through the forest east of Taggart Lake, creating an ideal climate for new growth. My artist father once did a painting of the fire that actually won him his first major art award in 1986, which he felt opened the floodgates for his career. So Taggart Lake has always meant a lot to our family.

As such, we have logged at least one hike into the lake per year for as long as I can remember. Back when I was taller than the forest, I remember cruising up the trail and lying in wait behind boulders and trees to “scare” my parents. I still question whether they were actually frightened when I jumped out from particularly good hiding spots and roared like a Lucky-Charm-fed lion. (Answer: no. With the benefit of hindsight I’m sure they were just humoring my tiny spastic self. They probably even knew where my hiding spots were before I ever leapt out of them.)

Anyway, I always found it hard to come up with good hiding spots in the area the fire swept through because I was taller than all the trees. Diminutive, tender saplings spread out around the trail with hints of the charred remnants underneath. Even at my own tender age I understood I would be sighted way too soon hiding behind such little trees.

Nowadays, very few people probably even realize they are walking right through a new-growth forest. Most of the trees in the fire-swept area near the lake now stand between 15 and 20 feet tall. And I thought I was doing well at 6 foot 5.

The last remnants of the fire are a few burnt logs that managed to keep their upright nature and stand as sentinels near the lake. What has never changed about this simple day hike is the amazing beauty at Taggart and Bradley.

My preferred method of travel is to head right at the first junction on the trail, which curves you up around the butte and across the creek. Following that up the hill, another junction awaits. The choices: Bradley or Taggart. I recommend heading first to Bradley Lake farther up the hill and circling back to Taggart and its young forest.

Bradley Lake often has waters so still you can see your reflection in them. Perhaps more important, you can see a good chunk of the Teton Range reflected. With fall creeping behind us quickly, both the air and the water have a crisp chill. In the air, the chill’s inviting. In the water, it’s a little much.

In fact, when I last did this hike, my wife and I made it a contest to see who could crunch through more icy mud puddles. If there’s any moisture on the trails, watch the downhill sections – they can be slippery. I found myself sliding down a couple blocks of ice disguised as muddy trails.

After Bradley, head back where you came from and then take the alternative route toward Taggart. Make sure and take a moment to look up Avalanche Canyon and check out Mt. Wister and the season’s last remnants of Shoshoko Falls coming out of Lake Taminah. The view is always worth a pause on this trail.

Reaching Taggart Lake, I recommend eating lunch on the narrow bridge that crosses the outlet at the southern end of the lake.

Though not as exciting as some hikes in the park, Taggart and Bradley are accessible throughout the winter and can be reached quickly and easily. And that alone makes it worth the winter trip.

Caption: Fresh snow on the lake and ice makes a winter wonderland worth playing in. I love Taggart in the winter.

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