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.



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.


Dan and Hannah Hike Mt. Frary on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, Utah

Just north of Salt Lake City, Utah lies Antelope Island (in orange in the inset Great Salt Lake map).  Having been through Salt Lake City maybe ten times, Hannah and I have missed this hiking jewel time and again.  With water five times as salty as the ocean, the Great Salt Lake is nearly 60 miles long and 30 miles wide.  Traveling a seven mile causeway from the mainland, we pay a mere $9 for this easy-access adventure.

MF  GSL map image

Taking the meandering park road to the top of a small rise in the desert landscape to the visitor center, we find a spry elderly volunteer who suggests Mt. Frary if we want a challenging hike.  It is the macho hike of the island and it has Dan and Hannah written all over it.

The road along the west side of the island winds along the salty shoreline to a paved access road to the Mt. Frary trailhead.  Though there is a 2100 foot elevation gain on this climb, it’s only three miles to the top or so we are told.  Promises of big horn sheep and buffalo lure day hikers to 6,600 foot Mt. Frary.

Causeway from the mainland to Antelope Island

Causeway from the mainland (in the distance) to Antelope Island

Immediately we are breathing heavily, thinking, Whoa! This is no walk in the park.  Strewn with sharp rocks, the trail has us stepping carefully.

MF Antelope Island State Park map

Busting our butts, we take the first half mile in 13 minutes as the trail now becomes mostly dirt through fields of grasses.  Dressed in tee shirts and shorts we have packed long sleeve tee shirts for the possibly windy, chilly summit.  Far in the distance we see a buffalo or technically bison.  Bison, despite weighing over 2,000 pounds, are able to jump over a six foot fence from a stand-still!  Plus, they can run as fast as 40 mph.  No lie.

The trail winds through fields and is challenging but not exhausting.  We soon see the radio tower at the promised three mile turn around point.  But alas dear reader, we have been deceived.  I know that is an inflammatory verb, but what we have is a faux peak.  It’s not the top.  The actually mountain top is in the distance, maybe a half mile away.

MF  trail to Mt Frary

From here, the trail descends quickly along the mountainside, and then climbs precipitously.  We soon spot two twenty-something’s 25 feet above us with expressions on their faces of how the hell are we are going to do to get down this steep slope.  I crack, You must be the mountain goats we were promised.  They smile and then start inching their way down feet first on what seems to be a 70% incline.

I reach for the girl’s hand and she extends hers to mine.  She’s made it.  Then I reach for her boyfriend’s hand to get him to level ground.  The human touch!  What a connection can be made by skin on skin, even when so brief.  Without words, it says, We’re not alone.  Someone is there for us.  Our climb up is just as perilous up, as we grab rocks and dirt and skirt the edge of the cliff (knowing all the time we have to go back this way).

MF island image

Atop, we have the classic 360 degree view of the Great Salt Lake.  With surprisingly little wind and pleasantly warm, it is only the no-see ‘ems that are a problem.  Knowing the inevitable hike down awaits, we begin our descent after ten minutes with Hannah in the lead.  Part billy she-goat, Hannah soon is sliding on her butt to negotiate the steep slope.  Inspired, I do the same.  And then she turns to go backwards on the 80 degree pitch.  I sidesaddle it and at times go backwards myself to descend this treacherous cliff mountainside.

MF Mt Frary from the base

Just having been unceremoniously dumped from our group health insurance when I retired from the University of New England, I again wonder why there is no national health insurance and what is in the fine print of our private pay health insurance that we just signed up for days ago.  A $10,000 deductible for each of us is not comforting.  I hope we never break a leg.


MF buffalo

We survive to hike on.  Once back at the radio tower of the faux peak, we descend as if strolling in the park.  On the way down we see two hikers in the distance covered with what it turns out to be are motel towels.   Once we meet them, we learn that this father and son had no idea how little shade they would encounter on this basically treeless mountain.   Unprepared, they willingly accept our trail mix and water.

At the trailhead again and not wanting to leave the island before we dip our feet in the Great Salt Lake itself, we drive to the lake shoreline.  The parking area is just 400 yards from the water’s edge.

Beach to Great Salt Lake

Beach to Great Salt Lake

Wading in water that never rises above our knees, we walk carefully on the pebbly lake floor as sand fleas swarm at our feet.  Sampling the water, I find it triple the strength of salt water I would drink for a really bad sore throat.

The hike to Mt. Frary is challenging, even perilous near the top, but most satisfying.   More than 20 people were on the trail this Saturday in June.  As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.