GET OUT: Rockchuck Peak Rocks

By on October 27, 2015

A warm hike for fall offers geological, historical insights.

Alex Lennon prepares to pose for a mom pic (top left), during a jaunt to Rockchuck Peak, which offers unique views of a historic landslide and Paintbrush Canyon. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Alex Lennon prepares to pose for a mom pic (top left), during a jaunt to Rockchuck Peak, which offers unique views of a historic landslide and Paintbrush Canyon. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Jackson, WY – This seems to be the phase of seasons where grocery store conversations stray to the topic of whether or not one is ready for winter. This poses additional pondering while I’m trying to figure out what kind of bacon I want from the deli. To some, being ready means getting new skis, while others gain their sense of readiness by extreme physical fitness. What some fail to recognize, however, is the mountains also take time to get “ready” for winter.  Humans must wait patiently through an awkward in between time where there’s just enough snow to posthole but too little snow to ski.

For me, getting ready entails enjoying whatever means of recreation I can, and being sure I have enough bacon to get me there. Currently, the skimpy snowline in the Tetons makes for excellent travel up the east faces. Late autumn is a prime time for hiking on these sides of the mountains. Unlike the host of narrow canyons that drive the hiker into hot and cold spells, the sunny sides offer consistent and pleasant hiking temps.

Grand Teton National Park is always a good call for such ventures. The road is only open for a little bit longer, and it’s hard to resist hills with views of such plentiful rocky wonders.

In accordance with my typical jaunts, I had no goal for the day. I started around String Lake and concluded that Rockchuck could be a good bet. Paintbrush Canyon can be shady and while I was in the mood for vertical, I was not prepared for cold hands. After making a mental note that forgetting mittens increases self-limitation, I started up the major slide path on the west side of String Lake.

The off-trail jaunt was a lot less bush- wacky than I expected. The moose brush kept the off trail traveler aware of one’s exposed legs, but the pain was balanced and never excruciating. After the first 1,000 feet, the bushes petered out to high alpine grasses and boulder fields. This part of the hike boasts some of the greatest snacking rocks on the planet. Large, flat and sunlit, these things will make you want to eat something, even if your blood sugar is OK.

After the snack, I spotted another person, who ended up joining me for the rest of the jaunt. He, too, wanted a warm exploration on the beautiful fall day.

Reaching the top was a bit anticlimactic. The summit looks a lot farther away than it actually is and, unlike most Teton summits, once you think you are at the top, you are. This wonderful break from multitudes of false summits was quite nice. Its close proximity afforded us time to take pictures of ourselves to send to our moms and enjoy the scenery.

The view from here offers a unique perspective of the many layers of Paintbrush Canyon as well as an in-your-face-view of the South Buttress of Moran. The most interesting thing about this view was that you are able to see the full track of the landslide in Paintbrush Canyon from its origin to its destination. My new friend on the summit was a witness to the landslide and gave me a detailed account of his theory and experience.

One particularly wet day in the summer of 2014, part of a glacial chunk on holding in a dam of water on Mount Woodring broke. What started as a small stream of water quickly became a torrent. Huge chunks of rocks and debris began to travel down the slide path. The path of destruction occurred in Paintbrush Canyon around the switchbacks and ripped out parts of the trail. Fortunately, the observers of this slide managed to escape with no causalities other than a couple of buried backpacks. Of particular interest in this slide is the fact that the path strangely veered east instead of going down the proper slide path route.

Rockchuck Peak is the only place I have found that provides the entire picture of this historic slide. A walk up there for the sole purpose of soaking in the geological history is well worth it. The ease of this late fall travel season in tennis shoes and shorts will surely be cut short in the near future, so get out while the opportunity exists. This trip could be classified as ski training or pure geological enjoyment. Best of luck “getting ready” for the winter. PJH

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