2017 Field Trip, Day 2

We spent our first full day in the Tetons doing short hikes to help acclimate us to the increase in elevation. We’re at 1900m (~6200 ft), which is a pretty big jump from sea level. Given that we’re heading up to approximately 3000m (~9800ft), it’s important that we get our bodies used to the lower oxygen levels.

At sea level, oxygen makes up about 21% of dry air. In Jackson Hole, the concentration drops down to 19.4%. At the Cascade Canyon rock glacier, where we’ll be spending a few days gathering data and installing equipment, the available oxygen drops to 14.3%.

The Effective Amount of Oxygen at Different Altitudes (m).

Of course, the lower oxygen availability isn’t as drastic as, for example, Mt. Kilimanjaro (9.9%), Denali (9.7%), or Everest (6.9%). However, the human body needs time to adjust to less oxygen, even when experiencing a change of a thousand meters. So, how to do so?

The idea is to expose the body to higher elevations gradually. The general idea: climb high, sleep low.


Today, we started the acclimatization process slowly with three short hikes: ~1km at 2350m, ~1.25km at 2300m, and ~1.3km at 2250m. Then, we retreated back to the comfort of 2000m at the research station.

Over the course of a week, we’ll increase hiking distances and pace to push our bodies to accept the new elevation. That should give our blood, lungs, and brains time to get their acts together.

We were trying to take it easy today, but we didn’t want to lose a chance to experience the park. So, we drove to the summit of Signal Mountain up an 8km road to the Jackson Lake Overlook. The mountain itself was formed from ashfall from an ancient Yellowstone eruption, but it’s also partially a glacial moraine. Two different lookouts offer expansive views of the Snake River Plain.

Paepin and Madelyn at the Jackson Point Lookout, July 12, 2017.

Then, we picked up a backcountry permit (had to get it at the park in person), to camp off site in the Cascade Canyon area. Come to find out, we could have camped across the National Forest boundary without a permit, but it’s nice to have one anyway.

From there, we drove up Mormon Row and hiked up a portion of Blacktail Butte, an isolated hill that rises out of Jackson Hole just east of the outer mountain road (Hwy 26). Here, wildflowers covered the northeastern face.

Lupinus flowers (purple) and Balsamroot* (yellow) on the Mormon Row trail. Photo by Paepin, July 12, 2017.

From there, we visited the Gros Ventre Slide geological area. Last time I was at the Slide, I took the trail and called it a day. This time around, we went hiking through the debris, which is an unconsolidated mixture of boulders and scree. To help put that into perspective, our rocky adventure (~1.3 km) took about 45 minutes.

Gros Ventre Slide debris field.

We spent the evening at the Jackson Lake Lodge, where we have a bit of internet access. The lobby has two-story windows that face the Tetons and the sunset behind the range was gorgeous. Tomorrow, we’ll head to Snake River to begin fieldwork at Schwabacher Landing.


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