Excursion

The winter wildlife closure on the trails on the northern side of Cache Creek lifted May 1. On these south facing slopes, some flowers are already out.

I’m writing this April 25. I do not think many people would disagree with me if I described that day’s weather as unabashedly gross. I woke to snow flurries, which eventually warmed into a drizzle that was obviously Mother Nature crying about how she messed up this spring ski mountaineering season with all her rain and snow.

No, Mother Nature, I do not accept your apology.

But this spring I have started working on something I should have learned long ago: letting go. Of bitterness, anger, annoyed-ness, disappointment and all the rest of the negative emotions the weather, especially, is rousing deep inside me.

How I am doing this?

There’s no corn, but there are some hiking trails that are melted out. And, by the time you read this, the winter wildlife closures in effect from Dec. 1 through April 30 will be lifted. Crystal Lite, here I come.

Years ago I thought myself highly original. I called the unnamed mini butte below Crystal Butte “Crystal Lite.” And every time I said that name inside my head I smiled at my genius.

But then, a couple of summers ago, the Bridger-Teton National Forest installed new trail signs in the area around Crystal Lite (it’s on the north side of the Cache Creek drainage). One of the new trail signs had “Crystal Lite” written on it.

Initially I was too sad that I wasn’t nearly as clever as I had imagined to be upset that, for the first time in my memory, this little-used trail was marked. I expected the anger would come eventually, though. Whenever I hiked this trail, which is a spur off the main trail heading east from the Nelson trailhead in East Jackson, I had it to myself. And that was good.

Anger never came, though. I discovered something better than having Crystal Lite to myself: having a relatively easy and short trail close to downtown to recommend to visiting friends without fearing they’d get lost. Hiking up Crystal Lite is the easiest way to blow a newbie’s mind.

This trail, which can be a 0.9-mile out-and-back or a 1.6-mile “lollipop” loop, climbs only 300 vertical feet. It is now the first hike on which I send all visitors. Not only is it short and easy by Jackson standards, but the views from the top are worthy of a far greater effort. Go ahead, pack a picnic. Crystal Lite’s summit is nothing if not fetching.

Because it has some vertical and melts out early, Crystal Lite is one of the first hikes I do every spring, once the wildlife closure is lifted May 1.

If you want the shortest possible version of this hike, head east from the trailhead parking lot. When the trail splits in about 200 feet take the left fork, which is limited to hikers and equestrians. A quarter-mile from the trailhead you’ll see the sign that so crushed my ego: Crystal Lite. The climb to the top is about 225 vertical feet and 0.15 mile from here. On the way down retrace your route to the parking lot.

If you want to make it a 1.9-mile lollipop loop, when you descend from Crystal Lite turn left at the bottom to continue east on the main trail, following the sign for Woods Canyon. You’ll quickly hit a junction with the Putt-Putt Connector Trail. Turn right onto it. And then it’s all downhill for about 0.8 miles back to the parking lot. As of last week, Crystal Lite was free of snow but the south side of the lollipop had several snow patches.

Crystal Lite is west of Cache Creek, but trails connect the Nelson Trail to main Cache Creek trailhead. They’re about 1 mile apart. You can spend hours hiking around the area.

Make any Cache Creek excursion more interesting by packing Susan Marsh’s excellent book published last June, “Cache Creek: A Trailguide to Jackson Hole’s Backyard Wilderness.” Between 2011 and 2015 Marsh, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee, spent over 400 days hiking around Cache Creek researching this book and taking photographs.

Think Cache Creek is boring? During her research, on the first 2 miles of the old Cache Creek Road she counted 300 species of flowering plants. And some of these flowering plants are already doing their thing. Flowers actually come up on Crystal Lite earlier than in Cache Creek itself because of the former’s sun-rich southern aspect.

Directions to trailhead: Where Broadway dead-ends at Elk Refuge Road turn right onto Nelson Drive. Continue through a residential neighborhood. Take the first left into U.S. Forest Service housing. The trailhead is 300 feet up on the left.

Dina hasn’t given up all hope for spring skiing adventures, but her motivation is waning. She can be reached at columnnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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