Sunday, July 10, 2011

Into the Mountains! - Alpine Archaeology Trip 1

Once we had settled into being in Jackson and finally relaxed and unpacked a bit, it was time to start some more of our archaeological adventures. 
The Plan: An 8-day survey of the Absoroka Mountains! 
The Crew: Rich Adams, archaeologist; John Lund, amateur archaeologist; Tori and Meredith Taylor, amateur archaeologists and retired outfitters; Jeremiah, masters student; Matt and I; adventurers extraordinaires. 
The trip began leaving from Tori and Meredith's house in Dubois and down into the Shoshone National Forest to the Double Cabin Trailhead. We  hired packers to carry all our food and gear down to Caldwell Basin where we camped, and were accompanied by 6 of T and M's horses. 

Packers loading the horses at Double Cabin 

Wiggins Fork crossing

Our hike to camp involved crossing both Wiggins Fork and then Caldwell Creek.
 With all of the snowmelt high water was the theme of the trip. On day 1, the current was fast but the water was only about shin deep at most parts of Wiggins Fork.  Even still, there was plenty of excitement as some of the horses (and riders) got caught in a fallen willow that was underwater and difficult to see. Within the first twenty mins of the trip, we had two unintentional swims (luckily, both horses and riders were okay). We managed to hitch rides across the swiftest part of the river. To save time and trips, Matt and I got to ride double! Which was actually pretty terrifying on a stumbling horse through fast water. (Unfortunately no good photos of our crossing, as we wanted to keep our cameras dry and safe.)

The pack-string, and T and M just before their big dunk!
Once across, we hiked just a few miles, stopping and surveying for sites along the way. We got to Caldwell Creek in midafternoon and just in time for the peak snowmelt to be running down. Most of the gang struggled to get across losing several wading shoes and a hiking pole in the process but managing to stay mostly dry. Of course, my wade across the river didn't go as smoothly. Not far from the far bank the river knocked me down. It took both Rich and Jeremiah to fish me out. John, our 80 year old archaeologist also took a swim.

Rocks are hard. They left marks.
They left marks all over my legs.
I ended up with close to nine knees.
Camp Life: The days got hotter and the water would be roaring. In the evenings, boulders would be rolling down the river making so much noise we'd have to shout across the camp fire. Some nights, whole trees would float on by. It looked like we wouldn't be crossing Caldwell creek anytime soon. 

Other than that, camp life was pretty easy. Hanging around the fire, eating great food, you know. How many campers make cheesecake over campfire, or asian stirfry?

The Archaeologing: Every morning we'd have breakfast and set off to explore the surroundings. We located and recorded  a variety of sites all while enjoying the fantastic views. 

Some days we had to do Extreme-Archaeology. With the water so high, and our camp located between Caldwell and Bug creek, we were forced to get creative. We made bridges, sometimes with a conveniently washed out tree, other times with four or five long aspen logs lashed together over the deepest parts.

Other days, we'd hike up and down steep gullies  and wade through snow fields.

Although much of the area has been subject to looting, there was no shortage of archaeological material. 

Wildlife: The wildlife, both plant and animal played a large part in our trip.  Tori, on the summer solstice, began a year long ethno-archaeological experiment. He has decided to spend a year eating only a paleo-diet. This means, that he will be eating only plant and animal products that are native to the Greater-Yellowstone area and that he has hunted or gathered himself. It was fun watching T and M going around the mountains collecting a variety of plants for Tori to eat along with some elk meat he brought. For his diet, they even made a special trip to the salt flats in Utah to harvest some salt-lake salt as a seasoning.
Tori and Meredith's horses out in the field next to camp
The best wildlife spotting of our trip was a large gray wolf which ran through the field out by the horses. We only saw the one wolf, but the area was covered in wolf tracks. This track belonged to a particularly large wolf, but we also saw tracks of mama and baby wolf.
Wolf print
As we were in Grizzly territory we all came prepared with our bear spray. While we didn't see any bears during our trip, there were tons of tracks all over the place. 
One very big Grizzly print.
We came across this large pile of torn up sage brush, roots, and chopped up animal bones one day on our hike. Tori explained that when bears make a kill, they often bury the remains in these piles to come back to later. Cool!

Our last day, since the waters were too high to cross safely on foot, we were again ferried across by Tori, and Meredith, and our Packer Heath. Wiggins Fork was so high, that on horseback, the water was to our thighs. 
Heath to the Rescue
It had been an amazing trip, with great archaeological finds. We were dirty and tired and ready for showers and clean beds. Although we were a little sad we hadn't seen any bears on the trip, as we crossed over Togwotee Pass homeward bound, we saw a mama Grizzly and her little cub, wandering around right on the side of the road. 

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