Climb Every Mountain

Teton Pass, entering Jackson Hole from Idaho

Driving from Missoula to Dillon Montana I felt wonderful and rejuvenated. The drive east on I-90 was beautiful and there were not many trucks. The distance to Dillon was 180 miles. Turning south on I-15 to Dillon I drove between snow-capped mountains. I almost forgot how beautiful Montana is. Being on the road for over 45 days now, I’ve settled into a routine, and so have the cats. The RV has become a tool for traveling, not the primary focus of the trip anymore. These rigs are complex, I still learn something new about the coach each week.

Dillon was a good stopping point between Missoula and Jackson Wyoming. I’ve been to Dillon twice before on cycling tours. The RV park was a little scary, but quiet. There was an industrial plant next the campground, cement, grain, I don’t know, there was a tall cylindrical tower with conveyor belts. At least whatever the plant made didn’t smell.

The next morning I got up very early and headed to Jackson Wyoming. I punched in the RV park location on the GPS Nav unit. I was mildly surprised that the NAV unit routed me on some obscure route and not taking me down to Idaho Falls on I-15 and then into Jackson on 26. The NAV unit has been very reliable so far, so I decided to follow the route.

The drive continued on south on I-15. Very heavy fog and drizzling rain occurred most of the drive on I-15. I turned east on 33 as the NAV unit instructed me too. Questioning the route I pulled off the side of the road and pulled up Google Maps on my phone to make sure I was not driving off into oblivion. The Google Map display helped me understand the route and I thought I was okay.  What I didn’t know was this route was taking me over Teton Pass.

Many people mistakenly refer to Jackson Wyoming as Jackson Hole. A hole is a valley between mountain ranges. Jackson Wyoming is in a valley between the Teton Range and the Gros Ventre Range. Early trappers or mountain men used the word “hole” primarily when entering a valley and had to descend along relatively steep slopes, which gave them a sensation of entering a hole.

To make my way into Jackson Hole, I had to ascend Teton Pass. What a surprise I was in for. I’ve been to the Tetons five times before, but always had entered from the east, north, south, or directly into from a jet airplane. I never entered the Tetons from the west before. Teton Pass had an average grade of 10%. Most grades in mountains out west are around 6%. The ascent to the pass was over five miles long.

At first I was not concerned. I purchased the Winnebago View RV because of the diesel engine. I knew the diesel engine had the power to pull me up mountain passes. Soon I found that I could only attain speeds of 25 mph to 35 mph on the climb. I pushed down further on the fuel pedal which had no effect on the speed. I tried down shifting into lower gears, but that just made the engine jump way up in RPMs without gaining any extra speed. Unlike gas engines, diesels engines have the same power regardless of RPM. I shifted back into drive deciding to let the automatic transmission pick the gears figuring the engineers at Mercedes knew best. I was hauling 11,000 pounds up to over 8431 feet above sea level. Looking back now, the motor did a great job pulling us up the pass. I think a gasoline engine would have screamed at 6000 rpm to 7000 rpm to get up the same pass. The motor in this rig was running about 2500 rpm during the ascent.

The Sunwapta slowly chugged his way to the top of the pass, like the little engine that could. I think I can, I think I can. Blindly following the NAV unit, I had no idea that I was going over this pass. The other route heading into Jackson on 26 would have avoided this pass. Had I picked up the Rand McNally Road Atlas laying on the floor next to me, I would have seen the designation for the pass. The road atlas has mostly just become a prop on the floor that makes me feel like I am traveling across America. There is a pretty picture of Zion Canyon on the front cover of the atlas.

Climbing the pass did reward me with an incredible view of Jackson Hole. At the top of the pass I pulled off on a turn out. The wind was so strong the door blew wide open. The temperature at the top of the pass was very cold. I took in the magnificent view, took a few photographs, and quickly got back into the cab. I always drive in a t-shirt and shorts, I’m just most comfortable dressed that way.

The descent was just an interesting as the climb. For the first time since owning the rig, I considered pulling of the road to let the brakes cool off. The descent was also five miles long with the road falling away at a 10% grade. Fuel delivery for diesel engines is different from gas engines. There is very little engine braking for diesel engines compared to gas engines. Larger RVs and trucks have exhaust braking, jake brakes, and transmission breaking features that help control speed on descents. I found that by down shifting into 4th and 3rd gears I was able to control the speed well using the transmission on the way down without having to use the brakes too much. I was happy to reach the bottom of the pass. The two emergency truck runaway ramps on the descent are there for a reason.

Jackson is at the south end of the Teton Range, just six miles from the park. Jackson is home to world class skiing as well as rich and famous celebrities such as Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone. I stayed in a very nice trailer park on the edge of town. I don’t think I was close to Rocky’s or Indiana Jones’s ranch. I thought I heard someone faintly screaming Adrian. And I was keeping a close on the sky when I passed by the Jackson Airport to make sure Harrison Ford was not crashing another airplane. The park was a very nice to place to chill out for a few days while I waited for the Coulter Bay Campground to open in Teton National Park.

Coulter Bay Village is near the north end of Teton National Park. I will stay in the extraordinary Teton National Park for about four days. This setting may be the highlight of the entire Great American West Tour. There is no cell phone signal there, I will moderate and respond to comments later. The campground opens tomorrow, the day I get there. Temperatures are forecast to drop into the lower 20s at night, the coldest I will experience so far on this trip. I think my previous experience with sub freezing temperatures back in Utah has prepared me for how to take care of the coach in sub-freezing temperatures. I was lucky to get into this campground. By late May, the campground is booked solid for the summer. The road from the Tetons to Yellowstone opens on Friday. I’ve traveled day to day, so getting a spot in this campground was a stroke of fortune. Arriving there on opening day, I don’t think there will be very many people there. Bears will out number people.

My favorite song of all time

Climb Every Mountain


Climb Every Mountain — 4 Comments

  1. Your traveling story sound scary, don’t like the thought of Jackson Hole at all. I am still shocked at how much snow is there…I hope your keeping warm and soon find some warmer temperatures. The view must be amazing if not for the cold. I have learned allot from your trip there are lots of mountains up that way and it still very cold in the spring. Think I will stick to further south when I start travel more that 2 week at a time. We are having beautiful weather this week up here in Canada, no coats today and lots of sunshine..spent the afternoon working on the electric fence. The cattle will be arriving shortly and I would like to make sure they stay in the field. I am Dreaming about holidays, further South….

    • Sue, weather is always part of the adventure when you are doing outside activities. This spring has been a little unusual, but weather is always unpredictable. I am looking forward to getting back to the warmth, then I will wish for it to be cooler. Good luck with keeping your cattle from wandering.

  2. I’m in Lyman Wyoming tonight but planning to head into Idaho since I can’t get through Yellowstone yet. I had to do Teton pass last year when I arrived to early. Not planning to do it again, but my experience of it was just like yours.

    • The road is scheduled to open on Friday the 12th, but that is just scheduled. Snow if forecast for Saturday which could close the road again. Safe travels Sally.

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