GET OUT: Out and up on the Old Pass Road
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – OK, this isn’t the world’s most exciting or challenging hike. Since I’ve had to drag along a 15-and-a-half-year-old dog, none of my outings are those of ball-buster distances or life-threatening adventure. And, this time of year, there’s slim pickings anyway on places to go that aren’t under winter closure or still too snowy to access.
So on to Old Pass Road (OPR) it is, for this old man and lady dog. During the winter and well into most April’s, OPR is still serving as the outlet to Glory gunners who pick up Phillips Connector and head out to waiting vehicles at the OPR trailhead.
Old Pass Road continues to ski out fairly well for this user group, so if you head up on foot, especially with dogs, try to get aside when you see one of the bombers headed down.
I like to hit Old Pass Road at least once or twice a winter. Cache Creek gets old and the dike even older. Come spring, once the road begins melting out enough to discourage skiers and riders, you’ll have this old Teton highway all to yourself.
Certainly the best time to hike OPR and the extensive trail system that spiders off it is the fall. The foliage is magnificent up here and Crater Lake is finally warm enough for a quick cooling off skinny dip. Fall also gives hikers a chance to meander about the newly-improved History Trail that runs parallel to OPR. This trail was fully restored by an ArrowCorps5-led initiative in 2008 of thousands of Boy Scouts nationwide. Later, in 2010, the Wyoming Business Council funded follow-up work that now makes hiking the old route thoroughly enjoyable.
Starting along the historic trail you’ll notice fairly soon an old discarded tractor. I always wondered who the heck would have been trying to work a 12 percent grade field way up here. Turns out the tractor once powered an old tow rope through the 1940s and ’50s. The old “corduroy” bridge has been restored as well, making your crossing of Trail Creek a bit easier. Only the dogs need get wet now.
While you slog up the steady incline (1,880 feet of elevation gain in 3.5 miles) think about the many trips made by mail carriers back in the day. True, most early travelers preferred the Indian crossing – taking the Mosquito Creek drainage over the pass, then easing down the aptly-named Mail Cabin Creek at the head of Mosquito Pass to spill out at Trail Creek. But when the Oregon Short Line Railroad spur came to Victor in 1912, it was the Old Pass route most used. By 1913, the Forest Service saw fit to grade the path, making this year the 100th anniversary of Old Pass Road.
Countless cattle and sheep were herded over this old pathway into the valley from the railhead. By 1928, the road was widened to accommodate early motorists willing to fill their boiling radiators with snowmelt. The road was eventually paved and remained in use until 1969.
Speaking of pavement, look at how it’s held up for more than 40 years. Crumbling in places with weeds growing through but the potholes are no more vicious than those on Spring Gulch Road this time of year.
Many readers have probably heard about the restoration project going on up here. Silver Star Communications set aside funds to patch some of the worst segments as part of their agreement for bringing a fiber optics line into valley. If the money is combined with some outside funds, a longer-term repaving solution could be realized. The Institute for Global Awareness, a Wilson-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is attempting to raise this money. They are about halfway toward their $36,000 goal. Email Jim Verdone to learn more about how you can help ([email protected]).
Skinny dip trip
Hikers will see very little in the way of wildlife up here during the spring. In the late summer and fall, moose and bears enjoy Old Pass Road for the berries and cooler temps. It’s 1.25 miles to Crater Lake which holds Glory’s snowmelt. The earliest I’ve taken a dip in it has been April 1 in 2011 – so you won’t break my record this year unless you’ve already been in. From Crater you can loop back via the Historic Trail or press on to the top – another 2.25 miles from the lake.