Intermezzo in the Hole

by Matt Fraker on August 8, 2012

My return into The Hole from the south was met with spectacular high altitude clouds of smoke from fires in Idaho, lit up by a setting sun. It was too late to rescue Tucher, so I snagged a cheap motel in north Jackson, cleaned-up a bit, and then made an evening walk right over to the best sushi restaurant in my world, Nikai.

There I took a seat at the bar and let the sushi maestro, Laura Inukai, and her trusty side kick, Cooper-sabi, feed me at will. Eventually Seth Heeter made his way to the bar after leading a long tour to Yellowstone. It was good to see Seth, and he helped me destroy an obscene amount of food and sake. After Nikai closed we started an “as-advertised” reckless all night run on the town with Attila, Laura, and Coop (and there is NO driving  — all foot or taxi). Seth and I awoke safely within the walls of the El Ranchero, and made our way to Attila’s Wake Kup breakfast shack for a life saving killer hungarian crepe breakfast complete with a healing Huckleberry smoothie.

Tomorrow was the big day — Snowshoe Canyon alone. The reason for Snowshoe Canyon versus Moran Canyon will be discussed later. I have to admit I had my doubts — I knew what I got into last year when I explored the opening of Moran Canyon solo and I knew even that was scary as hell. This was going in whole hog. I had asked Seth if he was interested in going with me, but he had to lead a tour on Monday.

After our Hungarian calorie fest, a very hungover Seth had to go lead an 8 hour tour into Yellowstone. Attila and I found this fantastically amusing of course. Seth and I split ways and I went to recover Tucher (VERY happily may I add) and then we were off on a quiet valley exploration. First I drove up to Colter Bay Marina to make sure I could harness a boat ride there and back with marina staff. It was vital to have marina staff in charge of the ride since afternoon thunderstorms were common and I was not likely to get a civilian to come get me in one of those. Ridge was my captain last year, but he had remained in Florida this Summer as his wife was having some health issues. His best friend, Pete, was at the marina and let me know it would not be a problem getting me over there. When I showed him on a lake map where I needed to go, he noted that in all of his years he had never dropped anyone off at that location. I embraced the warm fuzzy hug of confidence. Tucher was with me and I asked him about taking Tucher across the lake even though it was against Park Service rules. His reply:

“#$!& ‘em! You think you’re gonna see any of THEM over there?”

That was it. Tucher would be my backcountry sidekick. And that made me feel good, since I knew Black Bears were not fond of dogs, and assumed the same with Grizzlies. We grabbed  a cabin at Colter Bay, a place I had not stayed since the 1970’s with my family. These simple cabins are delightful.

From there I explored back to Jackson, first driving up Signal Mountain Drive looking for Dusky Grouse and Black Bear. I was pleasantly rewarded with this Black Bear family — a momma and her two very cute cubs:

From upper Signal Mountain I tried to scope Snowshoe Canyon way off across Jackson Lake but the afternoon haze kept me from getting any detail.

We then slowly worked our way back to Jackson, taking in this view of a wonderful sky over the Tetons:

Next was a late afternoon run on the always interesting Moose-Wilson Road. Early on the drive near the overlook was this pair — a Moose cow and calf:

Another cow Moose was on the other end of Moose-Wilson, chilln’ like a villain in the sage:

That evening, I ate out on the second story deck of the Tavern and then made the long drive back to our cabin. I called Seth on the way and told him that Tucher was going to go with me.

“Wow. That’s ballsy.”

“Well I figured it can only help with the bears, right?”

“That….or get a Grizzly eating you.”

We chatted a bit more then back at the Colter Bay cabin I started thinking about Seth’s statement…

A quick Google search educated me on dogs and bears. Black Bears do not like dogs and tend to avoid them. But dogs set Grizzlies off; a Grizzly-dog encounter usually results in a Grizzly attack, one where the dog usually runs behind…the owner. The Montana backcountry article was adamant and clear — NEVER take dogs into Grizzly country. Damn it.

That meant a two plus hour drive tomorrow to take Tucher back to Dog Jax then drive all the way back to Colter Bay. Or….

I decided to take on Snowshoe on Tuesday. That allowed two things — one, I could meet our closest of friends, the Novotny family, at the airport on Monday and help them get settled in. I also found out that Seth was off on Tuesday and could go with me. And, the Novotnys, who know Tucher like their own, could keep him for me.

So Monday dawned and I revisited Pete and set-up a plan for Tuesday. On my way to the airport, I saw one of several Western Tanagers:

It was great seeing the Novotnys — they have four children aged 12 to 5. The day was spent getting them caught up on the Hole. That evening we had a wonderful meal at the Calico restaurant with its lawn full of playing children and a single canine rock star who was quite popular with the patrons:

That night was a pack check — five basics. Water; calories; warmth and rain gear; first aid; two cans of bear spray. I do pack a .45 with me in the backcountry. But my personal feeling on handguns and bears is that the gun is basically a Crackerjack condom. You feel protected but you’re not. God forbid if a person ever has to shoot a bear, they better kill it — because it will kill you if you do not. But I also figured if we got really lost, I could use the gun to shoot Seth and eat him. So it was going.

And so were we…

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