GET OUT: Steep Serenity

By on September 29, 2015

Onward and upward, Lake of the Crags is a quiet alternative to Snow King

Peering down Hanging Canyon onto Ramshead Lake (top); fall foliage framing Ramshead Lake (left); Rock of Ages towers over Lake of the Crags. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Peering down Hanging Canyon onto Ramshead Lake (top); fall foliage framing Ramshead Lake (left); Rock of Ages towers over Lake of the Crags. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Despite the unseasonably warm temperatures, winter may be on its way. While this can sometimes fill the air with excitement, the underlying anticipation of a change of seasons sometimes makes me want to turn my brain off and walk up a hill.  By up, I mean a straight, mindless, steep incline.

When I find myself in town, Snow King has historically been the place to go where I can escape the bustle of errands and get a breath of fresh air. The old “boot pack” trail served as a great respite to the monotony of the switchbacks. Upon a recent excursion to the town hill, I discovered that hikers are no longer allowed to walk directly up the hill — the old trails are covered with hay and netting. While the new trail is fantastically built (great work, trail crew), the narrowness makes it a bit of a cluster for bikers, runners and walkers. I tried to turn my brain off and attempted the new trail, but after dodging dogs and humans, I concluded it might not be the best place for a quiet escape and decided the ideal plan of action was to find another spot.

The quest led me to Hanging Canyon, nestled between Cascade and Laurel drainages.  From the String Lake trailhead, I walked a little more than a mile to the small social trail just north of the Jenny Lake boat dock. The first part of the trail is crossed with running water under large roots. A mystical land of springs and old-growth spruce, the magical beginnings give the mountain walker a small taste of what is to come. The little path took me up a moraine into bugling elk land. At the crest of the first hill, I spotted a bull with his head down bellowing a deep prehistoric noise in a feeble attempt to gain female companionship. I cared not to catch him in the midst of success and continued my way up to the top of the first waterfall.

From here, you may be compelled to think you are almost there but it is only halfway (in vertical feet language). On a warm fall day, the air gets exceptionally cooler and starts to feel exceptionally pleasant at this spot. Continuing up the north side of the drainage, some pikas partied hard, chirping about, bustling while collecting food in preparation for the frigid months ahead.

These small creatures never cease to amaze me. All summer long, they collect grasses and flowers to store up for the winter. Friends of mine have called them annoying and small-brained, but these intuitive creatures actually dry out their flowers in the sun before storing them to prevent them from molding. This tiny species has a great resolve to survive, and have even been known to store their own feces in small pyramids and ingest them later. I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures in the middle of winter. After spending some time with these great recyclers, I came to the first body of water — Arrowhead Pond.

It’s not much of a lake and I didn’t swim in it, but this marker told me I was close to my destination. Another small waterfall and drainage later, I approached Ramshead Lake. This unique spot offered great views of St. John and some wonderful sitting rocks. Still, I wanted to continue to the highest lake, Lake of the Crags, lying just above Ramshead with even better views of the Jaw and Rock of Ages.

I sat in a grassy meadow snacking and napping when I was awakened with a splash. Some bold people were swimming in the freezing excuse for a swimming hole. Watching them was almost as interesting as observing the pikas as they laughed and swam, then eventually they got so cold they had to put on their down coats.

Continuing down the trail, I thought that this trail was a good change of pace to the now-extinct vertical on the town hill. With no one to dodge, the walking up and down afforded a peace of mind that may be a bit more difficult to obtain within the bustle of town. PJH

Vertical feet: about 2,500;

miles: 5.5 miles round trip

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