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Fossil Mountain and Caves of Darby Canyon

Description

By Bill Schiess


“If you want to hike underground for over 10 hours and three miles you have to be prepared,” explained Dagnar Gorski, a hiker from Poland, explained to me as she was studying the fossils below the mouth of the Darby Ice Cave.  “Three of us hiked from the Darby Ice Cave until we came out of the Wind Cave yesterday for the fifth year is a row and each year it changes – less ice, more and deeper water.  We had to use climbing gear, chest waders and lots of batteries for our lights to get through it.”

Two adult friends from Minnesota had joined her for the hike through a tunnel that at times required them to crawl on their bellies to make it through.

“We damaged one pair of waders and had to have knee pads to get through the narrow areas of the tunnel,” said Gorski.  “But we will probably do it again next year, as it takes us a year to recover.”

A poisonous Western Monkshood flower is abundant along the Darby Canyon Trail. Like where most dangerous things inhabit,it is found in the moist cool dark places where it tries to hide.
To get to the Darby Wind cave is a hike of over is over 3 miles up the Darby Canyon Trail, full of switchbacks through an old forest intermittent with beautiful flower-covered meadows and cliffs as a back drop to the greenery.  A taxing climb of over 1800 feet will get your from the trailhead to the Wind Cave.

The Darby Canyon Trail is a part of the Teton Crest Trail system along the mountains in Teton Valley amid the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness southeast of Driggs.  Better known as the Darby Wind Caves Trail, it was one of my bucket “to do” list for this summer. Joined by my wife, a daughter and her husband and two grandchildren ages 6 and 9.  We joined the chipmunks, grouse and songbirds for a day’s outing.

 My biggest goal was to examine the fossils on the mountain above the Wind Cave with my wife as she had been there with friends and had come back with tales of rocks filled with fossilized coral and shells. 

Once we got to the trail leading past the Wind cave to Fossil Mountain and the Ice Cave, we split up as I wanted to get a picture of the memorial honoring a group of girls that were killed by lightning when I was a kid.  The rest of the group headed directly to the fossil fields another mile above the Wind Cave entrance. While working my way along the 350 million year old dolomite cliffs, I started to see fossilized coral and clam shells in the scree.

Many of the rocks and cliffs above the Wind Cave contain coral fossils that was once under water, but is now over 9000 feet above sea level.
About half a mile up the mountain I met Gorski and her son, Dominic, who were looking for the odd fossils amongst the boulders.  Much more knowledgeable than I about Fossil Mountain and the caves, she said they may had found some fossilized bones on earlier trips that indicated a much younger matric that housed the coral and shell fossils.  The picas became upset with us as they were gathering their veggies for the winter.

After meeting the others in my group, it was time to head down the trail as the skies were threatening rain and/or snow at the 9000 foot elevation level.  The hike down was beautiful with the wildflowers, chipmunks and Steller’s jays entertaining us in our decent.

Those desiring to do some caving through the Darby Ice and Wind caves should be well equipped and trained to proceed very far into them.  The official classification of the length of the tunnel between the two entrances is one mile.  If this is so, it must be almost straight as the trail up the ridge is .78 of a mile.

Whatever the distances involved from one point to another, it became one of my favorite hikes.  The beauty of the high mountains was enjoyed by the youngest to the oldest, but will soon be covered up with a blanket of snow.  May the picas and the chipmunks find enough food to last them under 10 to 20 feet of snow as we hope to see them again next year.


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