Looking back to the divide, we could now see the contact between the Flathead Sandstone and the Precambrian gneisses. The contact was at the point on the divide where the west ridge of the South Teton began its inexorable ascent to the summit ridge of that 12,516' peak - sandstone to our left (west) and gneisses to our right (east). The contact was not, however, the unconformable stratigraphic contact that is present throughout most of the Rocky Mountain region. Rather, the contact was a steep reverse fault inclined to the east, with the east side up and the west side down. And the sandstone on the downthrown side of the fault was bent in a great fault-drag fold, from its gradual westward tilt, so typical of the sedimentary rocks on the western slopes of the Teton Range, to a very steep incline to the west. This is the Buck Mountain Fault which extends from Buck Mountain, near to us on the south, in a northward direction through the heart of the Teton Range. Uplift along this fault gives the central peaks of the range their great elevation. Great compressional forces at the western edge of the Late Cretaceous and Paleocene North American continent, generated by collision of two great plates of the earth's crust, were translated into uplift throughout the area of today's Rocky Mountains, resulting in the building of this great mountain chain which forms the backbone of the continental United States, and, indeed, all of the Americas.
Rather than explore around Kit Lake, which now lay immediately to our east, we made our way across boulder fields and bouldery grassy slopes to the low bedrock ridge which lay above and to the northwest of Snowdrift Lake. Arriving on the ridge, we had a great view across and down the length of Snowdrift Lake to our exit from the cirque at the head of Avalanche Canyon. We knew that below the mouth of the lake and the lip of this hanging cirque lay the precipitous headwall above Lake Taminah which occupies the second step in the canyon. We had reconnoitered this headwall and the potential downward route as we peered up Avalanche Canyon a couple of days earlier, during our hike to Taggart and Bradley Lakes. We took many pictures from this spot, then hurried along the northern shore of the lake toward its mouth.
The level of the lake was quite low - perhaps by three feet or so, as determined by the normal water line etched by weathering in the talus along the shore. Even at low water, however, it was impossible to traverse the southern shore of the lake, because steep talus fields extended downward to the water's edge from the north face of Mount Wister and Veiled Peak. We chose to hike directly along the northern lake shore, because traversing farther to the north would have required serious boulder hopping and crossing several ridges of talus about 50 feet in relief. Besides, we wanted to enjoy this remote lake up close. The lakeshore traverse was a little tricky in places, requiring us to do some boulder hopping to avoid getting wet, and to scrunch down low to get under the branches of small trees which in places were growing in small clusters on steep slopes right down to the water's edge. Soon we arrived at the eastern outlet of Snowdrift Lake. The outlet was a braided network of wide rivulets separated by low glacially polished streamlined glacial ridges. And adjacent to the outlet was a small grove of stunted evergreens which provided some shelter from the cold wind which was blowing about 30 mph with higher velocity gusts from the upper end of the lake, across the cold water, and down the canyon. By this time it had started to drizzle a bit, and we were happy for this shelter on the leeward side of the trees.
In fact, I suggested to Jim that we might want to pitch camp here, as there was a flat piece of ground in the sheltered area. This suggestion was motivated by several things. First of all, I was tired and was looking forward to a rest. Secondly, I was apprehensive about finding our way down the steep headwall below Snowdrift Lake and above Lake Taminah. And third, I was cold and wet, wet and cold. But Jim pointed out that it was only 2 pm, and it would be more uncomfortable to pitch camp and sit around in the tent until nightfall than it would be to climb down to Lake Taminah and look for a campsite. Also, descending to Taminah would put us in a better position for completing the hike the following day through trailless Avalanche Canyon. At this point in our deliberations, I happened to glance at the ground and, to my surprise, found a dime in the thin soil. Ah-ha, another omen...good luck would be with us, so we determined to descend.
Snowdrift Lake lies at an elevation of 10,006', while Lake Taminah is at 9,055'. The headwall we were about to descend was nearly 1,000' high. It was important that we find an easy route down, because the rocks were wet from the rain, and we were not prepared for technical rock climbing. Bonney's guidebook, Ortenberger's guidebook, and the Sierra Club guidebook all suggested that the best route down from Snowdrift Lake is to stay to the north side of the headwall. So we began to explore this option. As we ventured out of the low stand of trees and walked to the lip of the cirque where the drainage from the lake began to cascade down the headwall, we were treated to some spectacular views of the u-shaped glacial trough of Avalanche Canyon. Framed between large boulders at our vantage point, the trough looked awesome indeed. We took pictures, then worked our way northward to fine the best route down.
After a false start marked with some indecision, we scrambled up a grassy boulder field to move even farther north before beginning our downward descent. This proved to be the key to our route, and we soon were able to see down a steep talus field which flanked the headwall on the north side. We carefully picked our way downward through this talus field toward Lake Taminah. More folded gneisses greeted my eyes as I watched the placement of each step than I care to remember. And the talus field went on forever! When we finally reached the bottom of the slope, we still had a long way to hike across huge blocks of talus to reach the east end of Lake Taminah where a grove of evergreens about 30' tall promised some shelter for our camp.
As we began the
hike from the west end of the lake, we passed by the famous "Bivouac Boulder"
which the climbing guides suggest will sleep 6 people dry and in comfort. This
boulder lies in a "meadow" which, we discovered, is nothing more than a part of
the talus field that has a few patches of grass growing amongst the huge
boulders. And "Bivouac Boulder? The ground beneath it was wet with puddles,
and if 6 people could sleep comfortably there, they must be Lilliputian. We
took a picture of the site, then moved on.
The talus field was immense, and had many high ridges and furrows oriented perpendicular to our path, so that our hike was up and down. I was tiring of the hike and of my load, and began to grow careless in picking my way through the rocks, so that I would slip and lose my footing every so often. Finally, having worked my way ahead of Jim in my eagerness to have the hike done with for the day, I was too fatigued to go on, and sat down in a grove of trees in a trough amidst the talus to rest. Jim soon arrived and we talked about how glad we were to be down past the headwall, and about how eager we were to pitch camp, eat and rest at the end of a long day. With that those thoughts in mind, we took off once again with renewed vigor, and soon reached the eastern outlet of Taminah. We entered the grove of trees above and to the north of the outlet, and found a wonderful level site for our tent, sheltered from the western wind.
We pitched the tent, then Jim made ready to cook dinner while I went to the outlet of the lake to purify water for the evening meal and the next day's descent to the floor of Jackson's Hole. We dined on beef Stroganoff, drank lemonade, and snacked on jerky and cheese and granola bars. As the overcast sky was still spitting some drizzle, we decided to clean up the site, hang our food in a tree, and go to bed. We were in our sleeping bags by 6, and studied maps for about an hour, talking about the next day's descent across another headwall down which Shoshoko Falls made their precipitous descent. After making plans for the next day, it didn't take us long to fall asleep, for we were tired from the physical exertion and the concern about finding our route down the headwall that now loomed above us in our dreams. And what would tomorrow's descent bring? From our earlier study of Avalanche Canyon from the floor of Jackson's Hole, this headwall seemed even more difficult to negotiate than the one above us.
Take Avalanche Canyon Hike part 1
Take Avalanche Canyon Hike part 3
More photos from Avalanche Canyon Hike by J.R. Meyers
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