Younts Peak and Yellowstone River

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Younts Peak and Yellowstone River

Postby TomTuriano » Sun Jun 26, 2005 3:43 pm

Over the past week (June 20-24, 2005), Forrest McCarthy and I climbed Younts Peak from Turpin Meadow, and then floated in Alpacka Rafts from as high up as we could in the Yellowstone River. On June 20, we left Turpin Meadow at around 10:30am and hiked up Soda Fork of Buffalo River to Crater Lake, hitting snow about 500 feet below the lake.

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Forrest takes a rest above Soda Fork Meadow.

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Crater Lake.

Exhausting postholing through the forest led us up to the continental divide. At several places while crossing the high plateau of the divide above 11,000 feet, we encountered soft spots where we would posthole to our waists for 15 minutes until we could reach firmer snow. It occurred to us that if the whole way was like that, we would likely freeze to death, given that we were exhausted, soaking wet, and wearing only lightweight sneakers with ankle gaiters.

At the far side of the plateau, we found a break in the cornice and glissaded into Woodard Canyon as the sky turned dark. Four more miles of knee- and ankle-battering postholing and mud sloshing in the dark brought us to the Yellowstone River, where we camped...a total of 26 miles that day.

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Forrest trudges across the continental divide at sunset. Tetons in background.

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Sunset and the Tetons from continental divide.

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Forrest at Woodard Canyon camp.

In the morning, we used our Alpacka Rafts to cross the river and hiked several miles upstream into the north fork. The whole way, we were eyeing the river trying to judge whether or not it would be floatable in our Alpacka rafts. I deemed it unfloatable above the forks, but Forrest had a different plan.

At the confluence of the north fork with the creek that drains the west face of Younts Peak, we blew up our boats, crossed the river, and stashed the boats on the Younts side of the river. Lightening our loads, we followed that drainage past spectacular waterfalls to the summit of Younts. Easy travel on steep sparsely-forested slopes led to snow line and a bit of postholing until we reached the upper slopes, which offered more solid traveling over snow. The final 1,000 feet was hiking over mixed snow and tundra. We summited around 1:00pm.

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Forrest at top of Younts Peak. Storms raged all around, but clear where we were.

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Yellowstone River valley from top of Younts Peak.

After a short visit, we made the longest continuous sitting glissade that I've ever done....2,000 feet straight down the west face. It was really fun, despite our asses aching red with cold and abrasion. A fair amount of postholing down the canyon bottom brought us to snow line and an easy hike down steep slopes to our boats.

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Forrest provides a trench for me to get going super fast during the glissade of the west face of Younts Peak.

While the raging water of the north fork had me determined to walk down, Forrest convinced himself that he could float down. The float would begin with a half-mile vertical-walled gorge with very pushy Class III-IV water. I walked downstream about 500 feet and down to the water's edge to film Forrest's descent. By the time I saw him floating through the gorge, he had already flipped and was maytagging down the gorge. I quickly dropped my camera and picked up the throw rope that I had pre-anchored to a tree just in case.

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Forrest before plunging into his gorge - north fork Yellowstone River.

As he churned past in the whitewater, I tossed out the throw bag and he grabbed the rope with one hand while hanging onto his boat and backpack with the other hand. Clambering to shore, he laid on his back to catch his breath and amidst complaints about his ankle and cuts/bruises on his legs, he agreed that it was really stupid to attempt to float in these dinky rafts in these raging conditions. I should have spoken up and insisted that he not attempt it in the first place.

His ankle hurt, but it was only a sprain. He could walk. Our bigger problem was that he had lost his paddle. We walked a short distance downstream and spotted half the paddle (apparently snapped in the middle) hung up in stainer, but on the wrong side of the river. We walked a bit more downstream to find a place to cross, and Forrest made an attempt in his raft. Again, the current was too strong and he flipped again. Luckily, I was set up a short distance below with a throw rope for another successful save. Happily for me, he held onto my paddle during that swim.

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In order to retrieve his lost paddle, Forrest prepares to attempt a crossing of a relatively easy section of water in the north fork of the Yellowstone River. Seconds after this picture was taken, he flipped a second time and I again threw him a rope.

Relunctantly, we decided that the paddle was unretrievable and limped down the canyon toward the forks. At one point, we looked down at the water and saw the other half of the paddle floating past, but there was no diving in after it. We never saw it again.

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Dejected, Forrest retreats down the flooded Yellowstone River trail.

We were both extremely disappointed...Forrest because of the stupid choice he had made, and me because of being stuck up the creek without Forrest's paddle in such a remote place. The thought of having to walk home was a big disappointment. Forrest said not to worry and that he would figure something out.

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Cabin where we found enough salvagable material to make a new paddle.

As we retreated down valley, I remembered an old trapper's cabin that we had passed on the way up the valley near the forks of the Yellowstone. Inside, some old 3/4" plywood boards remained on one of the bunks. We split one of those into two thinner slats and with large-headed nails salvaged from the roof, we attached the slats onto either end of a 2" diameter lodge pole. To reinforce the paddles, we nailed thin strips of wood to the opposite side of the paddle and lashed the strips to the lodge pole on either side of each paddle blade with salvaged outfitter cordage. This paddle was actually going to work!! Our adventure was just beginning.

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Forrest assembles his new paddle from lumber salvaged from an old cabin.

By the time we reached the forks, the river had risen even more. What in the morning looked like gentle Class II/III water, now was raging and pushy Class III. Wary of having another swim in the river, we decided not to put in at the forks. We hiked down the flooding valley and put in about 2 miles above Woodard Canyon confluence where the river seemed to drop a grade to sustained and pushy Class II. Very cautiously we floated downstream through several rapids and bends and made it safely to camp at the mouth of Woodard Canyon by dark.

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Forrest gets to know his new paddle. (The paddle currently is on display hanging from the rafters at the Jenny Lake boat dock in Grand Teton Park.)

With renewed confidence in the morning, we decided to float as far down the Yellowstone as we could, knowing from Jackson friends, maps, and satellite photos about a unnavigable gorge a few miles below us. Superb but pushy Class II water brought us about 2 miles downstream where we decided to take out as the river seemed to steepen into a gorge. We gained the trail and hiked about 4 miles down to the confluence with Castle Creek and put in again for the float down to the Park boundary....where we took out.

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There is a two-mile Class VI section in the Yellowstone River between Woodard Canyon and Castle Creek. This might be floatable by the best kayakers with many portages around log jams and rocks.

The rest of the story to follow later.....

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