Dan and Hannah Hike the Gibson Jack Trail in Pocatello, Idaho – Archive May 2011

When Hannah and I travel to the Mountain States, we love to explore Western towns after a day of hiking.  Some of our favorites are Flagstaff and Prescott, Arizona, Lander, Wyoming, Bozeman and Missoula, Montana, and Panguitch and Moab, Utah.   Traveling to small towns provides us with a getaway with no to-do lists or the weight of responsibilities at home. They embody a freedom from our usual day-to-day. Though I love our day-to-days in Maine, these towns get me thinking in new ways and entertaining new possibilities.  

Unable to visit as planned to the Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks due to the three feet of snow on even the lower elevation lake trails in early June, we pivot to Plan B and drive due north from Salt Lake City (where we had landed) to Pocatello, Idaho.

The former and current city flags of Pocatello, Idaho

Idaho! My first trip to the Potato State was in June of 1969 with my college roommate, Jim Francis (Mule), and Hugh Chappell (Kerch). Mule and I were transferring out of the College of Wooster in Ohio after three tumultuous years there as undergrads and Kerch was heading to Yellowstone National Park for a summer internship. It was the summer of the Beatles “Hey Jude” playing in the local pub in Idaho Falls. The following day I began hitchhiking from Idaho Falls to Tempe, the home of Arizona State University where I was transferring in the fall.

That 900 miles of hitchhiking took me three days. Just two years later my continued meager finances had me hitchhiking from Atlanta, Georgia to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio to meet up with Hannah when on the way I ended up in the Knoxville (TN) Jail. Click here for the first of this sixth part series of my being jailed in the South as a long hair.

Today, there is no hitchhiking or jail involved as Hannah and I arrive for a popular local trail – Gibson Jack Trail. Loving the chance to interact with others, I am energized by the give and take with other hikers.  Truth be told, with other hikers around, we are much less likely to get lost!

Arriving at the trailhead a little after 1 PM on a sunny, 80 degree early June day, Hannah and I lather on the sunscreen, slap on our fanny packs, and immediately start steadily climbing on a rocky trail with sage, juniper, and pines; we handle the nearly 5000 feet of elevation just fine. 

After 45 minutes through mountain meadows of grassland, we hit a fork in the trail and choose to cross left over a wooden bridge of planks.  Unfortunately today we lack a map so we are hiking blind.  Yes, I agree that’s not impressive!  Usually if we have no map, we believe that we can go up and back on most any trail with a high degree of confidence that we won’t get lost. But today’s trail is a loop trail, the Gibson Jack Loop.  

Here in the Targhee National Forest the signage is poor which compounds our issues. Aspens bracket the trail with leaves that are not fully leafed.  Mountain snow rivulets whisk by us.  It’s all pretty cool until…

After an hour we still see no other hikers but do see a distant mountain and wonder if that’s part of the loop.  We are again reminded that not having a map is a major bummer.  We look for a sign. I mean an omen-type sign: if we see another hiker on the trail whose advice we have a high degree of confidence in, we’ll continue on.  If not, we’ll head back the way we came.

The mountain ascent is steep and rocky and makes us wonder, should we go any further? Now five miles into the wilderness without seeing a soul, we feel we are out of options and don’t want this late afternoon to be spelled L-O-S-T.  

Seeing no one, we turn back, later learning that if we had continued to that mountain top, we would have had just 2.3 miles back to the trailhead.  Instead, by turning back we hiked five more miles. 

Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you. – Davy Crockett 

Later, we toast the Blackfoot Mountains and small town America as the sun sets after 9 PM this early June evening here in the northern Rockies .

Dan and Hannah Roam Idaho and Hike the Gibson Jack Trail Update

GJ Idaho map with Pocatello

When traveling in the Mountain States, Hannah and I love to hang out in small towns of the West.  Some of our favorites are: Flagstaff in Arizona; Bozeman and Missoula in Montana; and Panguitch and Moab in Utah.   It’s wide open Big Sky Country at its finest.  Unable to visit the Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks this early June because of two to four feet of snow on even the lower trails, we drive an easy 170 miles north from Salt Lake City on I-15 to another one: Pocatello, Idaho.

GJ ISU

 

Pocatello is home to Idaho State University with a perplexing nickname: the Bengals, as in tigers.  Let me remind you that Bengal tigers are found on the Asian sub-continent primarily in India, a half a world away from Pocatello.  Of course, our alma mater (Arizona State University) has a mascot (Sun Devil) from 93 million miles away so we can’t get all hot and bothered ourselves that our mascot is not native.

Set at the base of the Bannock Range, Pocatello sits at an elevation of nearly 4500 feet.  With a semi-arid climate, the winters are long and cold and summers hot and dry.  That said, this early June day is delightful.  With Latter Day Saints (Mormons) comprising 75% of the population, Pocatello is a family-oriented community.

GJ trail 1

Midday we head south to the edge of town for a favorite local trail, the Gibson Jack Loop Trail, with six to eight cars already at the trailhead.  Loving the chance to interact with others, on the trail I am no solitary John Muir or Henry David Thoreau or Hermit D. Wilderness.  Energized by the give and take of conversation, I enjoy interacting with fellow hikers on this sunny and 80 degree late spring day.  Lathering on the sunscreen and slapping on our fanny packs, Hannah and I immediately start a steady climb at 5000 feet on a rocky-strewn trail through sage, juniper, and pines.

Grassy fields along the Gibson Jack Trail

Grassy fields along the Gibson Jack Trail

After 45 minutes through mountain meadows of grass, we hit a fork in the trail and choose to cross left over a wooden bridge of planks.  Sadly, the trail signage here in the Targhee National Forest is not great and we have no map.  We bad.  Since today’s trail is a loop trail, we just can’t go up and back on the trail we’ve hiked.  We hike on and hope.

GJ trail 2

Aspens bracket the trail with leaves that are not fully leafed out.  Mountain snow rivulets whisk by us.  After an hour we haven’t seen another hiker.  With a mountain in the distance we are looking for a  sign. I mean an omen-type sign.  If we see another hiker on the trail in whose advice we have a high degree of confidence, we’ll continue on.  If not, we’ll double back the way we came.

GJ trail 3

The mountain ascent is steep and rocky and makes us wonder, should we go any further?  Now five miles into the wilderness, we feel we are out of options and don’t want this late afternoon to be spelled L-O-S-T.  Seeing no one around, we turn back the way we came.  Denied, we learn later that if we had continued to that mountain top, we would have had just a little over two miles back to the trailhead instead of the five we retraced.  Lesson learned: get a map, bucko.

GJ overview of mountain

Spent after three and half hours on the trail, we drive a simple ten miles back to our Super 8 motel in Pocatello.  After a shower, we toast the Blackfoot Mountains, as the early June sun sets after 9 PM in this part of the northern Rockies.

The Gibson Jack Trail is challenging with a steep ascent to the mountain top, but it’s doable and enjoyable despite the poor signage.   As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.