Saturday, January 30, 2010

Excursion Article: Breaking trail to Taggart Lake by snowshoe in Grand Teton National Park

Caption: Finding new vistas is easy when you make your own trail. AmberLynn Wilcox comes up on a unique view of the Tetons on her way to Taggart Lake.

Breaking trail to Taggart breaks the familiarity
By Mark Wilcox

Excursion: Snowshoeing to Taggart Lake
Length: Two to three hours roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Route: Wherever the heck you want to go

Speeding and sliding down the steep hill with my bright orange snowshoes leading the charge, I laughed as I noticed how much snow I was flicking onto and over my back with the hind end of my snowshoes. A chunky shower of snow sprayed on and around me until I made it to flat ground.

With a grin, I turned around and watched my wife’s progress down the slippery slope. Instead of the hazardous full-speed sprint I had opted for, she took a slightly more cautious route: sliding down on her backside to act as a snowplow for a small portion of the hill.

Though it is one of the last legs on the trip to Taggart Lake, hauling down the last hillside before reaching the parking lot flats is always my favorite part. Its kind of a hybrid between skiing, the 100 meter dash and, of course, snowshoeing. You almost float down on each step on a fluffy cushion of snow. Leaning back on your heels gives the ski-like experience of bouncing through the powder, never finding the real base.

Which is why I opt to run that portion.

However, running the whole trip in your snowshoes would step up the excursion’s difficulty from “Easy” to “Are you insane?” The hills around Taggart, especially the one closest to the parking lot, are not ones any sane person would decide to run up, at least not in enormous snowshoes and four feet of snow. That’s not to say it can’t be done.

The beauty of snowshoeing is that trails don’t matter. I repeat: trails do not matter. Yep, you can chart a trail literally anywhere you dang well please. This makes a simple trip to Taggart Lake a lot more interesting. Even having done this trip numerous times, I always come out on a portion of the lake I’m not quite expecting. And picking your way up hills, through trees and over logs is infinitely more interesting than the tired trail to Taggart. It’s amazing how different everything feels just a hundred yards from the main trail.

And the snow blanketing everything gives newness to the place as well. There’s nothing quite like traipsing through an undisturbed forest boasting a fresh layer of icing. The peace, quiet and sheer solitude of it makes the steady scrunching of snowshoes compressing powder that much more noticeable. And anyone that has gone snowshoeing can attest: that’s not a bad thing.
The young forest around Taggart is particularly fun to navigate. The juvenile trees sprang from the fertile ashes of the 1984 Cottonwood Creek Blaze. The thick new forest reclaimed the terrain more thickly than the original forest, creating a dense maze of saplings to wander through. Small corridors open up through the trees, which can then be followed until the next corridor branches off. Occasionally, you might even find yourself doubling back to find a route that doesn’t require you to knock so much snow off overhead branches to move through the pine boughs. Snow falling down your neck is never pleasant.

Going straight over the hills toward Taggart is liberating and beautiful, affording views and sights unseen by most. From time to time you cross the tracks of other snowshoers, whether they are human or hare. But it’s always more fun to make your own path.

The lake itself is beautiful all layered in snow and ice. A vast field of white capped with my mountains: the Tetons. The bridge across the outlet is always a destination while visiting the lake in winter. The shallow water underneath the snow-stacked bridge opens up almost year-round to the warm, yet freezing colors of algae on the rocks and logs beneath the surface. The intricate shapes created by the interaction between, ice, rock and water almost make you forget the Tetons are right over there.

In short, the easiest way to get a unique hike to Taggart is to make your own trail. However, if you’ve never been to Taggart Lake or have a nasty sense of direction, you’d better stick to the well-worn trail to avoid calling out Search and Rescue.

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