Foggy Flats backpacking weekend, Labor Day Weekend

In my search for new places to explore I found a series of trails that travel on the north side of Mt Adams. These trails are not visited as much part because there’s not a lot of information and part because some of them enter the Yakama Indian Reservation which requires special permits that are difficult to obtain. Still, I had my sights on Foggy Flats and Avalanche Meadows. While thinking about it, I noticed that Zach had posted a trip with the group to the north side of Mt Adams which was this exact same trail so I decided to join. The plan was to leisurely head out on Saturday and hike to Foggy Flats to camp, explore on Sunday and then head back out on Monday.

Day 1: Muddy Meadows to Foggy Flats

On our drive to the trailhead, we noticed that weather was looking kind of rainy and on the colder side. We got to the trailhead and just when we started hiking, we felt the first drops of rain. It was just a mist so we decided to just keep on going. From pictures I’ve seen in the past, I knew Mt Adams was right in front of us, but the low clouds were completely obscuring the view. The only thing in front of us was a big meadow and a dark sky. After passing Muddy Meadows, we started our slow climb towards the PCT. The trail in this area is very dense and covered so there are practically now views. We did get a bit lucky with Huckleberries though so we made numerous stops to grab some and eat.
We made a short stop at the PCT junction, part to grab a bite and another because we were right on the dates a lot of PCTers pass by so it’s always nice to see them and give them some trail magic. That day, we saw nobody. From there, we continued our climb towards the Highline trail. The skies looked very menacing and every so often, we would get some rain that would quickly dissipate. Then we got to the junction with the Highline trail and it started pouring. This time it was for real so we had to stop and quickly get our rai gear out. It took no time for our feet to get wet and I was already almost lamenting a bad call on my part regarding gear. I was wearing the kilt which can be the best or the worst depending on conditions. We pushed on with the rain hammering on us up until we got to Foggy Flats. The rain had stopped but everything was soaked, including a potential campsite with great views of the mountain. We dropped our packs and started wondering around looking for sites and finally, after a while, we spread out and set up our tents. I decided to set up by the open meadow with direct view of the mountain. One of the plans I had was to take pictures overnight so I needed a good spot. After that we did all of our camp chores and had dinner. The wind picked up later that evening making the temperature drop abruptly. It got really cold so we all hit the bed relatively early.

Day 2: Devils Gardens exploration

On Sunday we woke up to a bright, sunny and very windy day. Clouds were moving incredibly fast above us so it was difficult to know what the weather was going to be like for the rest of the day. After breakfast, we grabbed our day gear and continued on the Highline Trail. Little did we know that only a couple of minutes later we would find plenty of dry and much better campsites than the ones we picked. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t know. The other incredible thing was that we left the forest behind and entered open semi-arid meadows. I was completely different scenery. The trail crossed several affluent of the Muddy Fork which at times can be tricky.
We got lucky that water was not too high and crossing was a breeze. After the last crossing we got the first views of Red Butte towards the East and the mountain in front of us. It was an image out of this world. It really looked like we were on another planet. WE followed the trail as it meandered thru the lava fields skirting the mountain. At a certain point, when Red Butte was almost directly south of us, we saw a small group of people on the ridge signaling to us to go over. That was right before reaching the Yakama Reservation boundary. Checking the map, we noticed that we were just south of the Devils Gardens, so we left the trail behind and started going off-trail. Once we reached the ridge, we saw the expansive area in front of us and understood why it’s called Devils Gardens. The whole area is completely desolated, there’s practically no vegetation and the only thing you can see, besides Mt Adams, is volcanic rocks that seem like the exploded from underneath and were frozen in the act.
As we hiked closer, we passed several of these formations and you could also see them moving as they were taking shape, not in a slow way though. The literally looked like someone had stopped time as they were moving. WE continued towards the mountain aiming for a ridge right in front of Lyman Glacier. Once there, we went up a bit to catch some better views of the mountain but by then the wind was howling. We saw very dark clouds coming around the mountain. As minutes went by, the mountain disappeared and reappeared in front of us several times. We decided it was time to stat heading back. We followed the ridge going down trying to cover ourselves from the wind until we reached the Highline Trail again. From there, we retraced our steps back to camp keeping our fingers crossed that it would not rain on us. It didn’t. And despite very dark and heavy clouds moving quickly above us, we got not even a drop of water that night. That evening, while I ate, I did a time lapse video of the fast moving clouds. I also tried taking pictures of stars for the first time.

Day 3: Foggy Flats to Muddy Meadows 
Monday was even a better day, dry, crisp blue sky and less wind than the previous days. We took our time to have breakfast, pack out gear and hike back down retracing the step we had taken on Saturday. The trail was the same with limited views but now we were able to see Mt Adams from the meadow near the trailhead and on the drive back. It was a glorious short day as we were already on our way home Interactive map To see the full map, click Menu and select Full Screen. You can also click Terrain to change the map style

Gales Creek, Aug 24th

About five or six years ago, while trying to find new areas to discover and explore, I found information about Gales Creek. The description talked about a beautiful fern covered forest with multiple streams flowing towards Gales Creek. I made plans to go check it out only to find that they trail had been closed due to a washout. While I waited for the trail to reopen, I explored other trails in the area but then I learned that the trail closure was going to take longer. Not only they needed to reroute a big portion of the trail but an accident involving one of the crew workers delayed the whole thing. About a year ago, without a lot of noise, the trail reopened and I found when a friend went there. Finally it was time for me to check it out again so I planned a hike with the group to do it. I can say I was pleasantly surprised with the hike even though there was something missing. Certainly the area has enough greenery to feed your needs. The tall skinny trees and the ferns make the forest almost magical. The missing part was all the streams. Although I lost count of the number of streams that appear to cross the trail, none of them had any water. With the dry summer we had, all of them were dry. Not only that, Gales Creek itself was running lower than usual, something that was easy to note just by looking at the creek shore. I may need to revisit this trail when the water comes back

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Twin Lakes - Sawtooth Wilderness backpacking loop, Aug 11th and 12th

Continuing our honeymoon, Val and I spent a couple of fabulous days in Boise after backpacking the Teton Crest Trail. Our original plan was to hit the trail again on Sunday for a 5 or 6 day loop in the Sawtooth Wilderness, but after dealing with rain for 5 days, we decided to take an extra day and shorten the trip. That changed our trailhead as well so Sunday we drove around the wilderness to Stanley, ID were we stayed the night. That night we checked weather forecast and packed our gear for an early departure the following morning. The forecast was not very promising but we still opted for following the plan and hitting the trail.

Day 1: Pettit Lake to Twin Lakes

After a quick breakfast in Stanley, we drove the ten or so miles to the trailhead and got on the trail in no time. The morning was spectacular and very promising with clear blue skies and warm temperatures. At first the trail took us on the north side of Pettit Lake all the way to the end were, after passing a small meadow, left the valley behind and started climbing towards Alice Lake. It didn’t take long for us to leave the lake behind and start traversing a canyon with huge granite walls on both sides. It almost seemed like every other step, the scenery was different and we had traveled a long distance when in reality it was just a different perspective. The trail follows a creek most of the way that in most places you can only hear. After several turns and crossing a very shallow creek we finally got to the first lakelet below Alice Lake. In front of us was a cirque of tall peaks and incredible scenery.
For a while we walked around the north side of Alice Lake enjoying the views of towering El Capitan (not to be confused with the California Version) on the other side. WE left this scenery only for a moment to climb just a bit more and then descend towards our destination. We arrived at Twin Lakes right to the stretch of land that separates them. Just by instinct and because that was the way we would follow the next day, we turned right and continued north on the shore of upper Twin Lake until we found a campsite. We dropped our backpacks and went checking for other sites but didn’t find any. It was still pretty early in the afternoon so we set up the tent and relaxed a bit. I got in the water for a while and stayed there for as long as my legs were able to comfortably take the cold water. After that, I went exploring a bit, first back towards lower Twin Lake. I walked pass the junction we had arrive from and decided to explore a bit around the stretch that separates the lakes. In that area I found the best campsite. It had big fire pit and views to both lakes. We had already set up so moving was not an easy option. On my way back, I passed or campsite and continued on the trail we would take the following day towards the north end of the lake. The trail starts climbing quickly on that side so that extra elevation gave a really good angle and view of the lake. I took a couple of pictures but made a mental note to go later in the afternoon to get some nice light and take more pictures. We had a nice dinner that night and after putting everything away and hanging the food, I went back to the north end to sit and take some pictures. By then, he sky was already graying out a bit. There was no rain yet but it wasn’t looking very promising.

Day 2: Bail out

The next morning we woke up to a very grey and almost cold morning. We guessed we got some drops of rain thru the night but nothing like we had in the Tetons. Still, the clouds and sky were corroborating what the forecast said. The original plan for the day was to go over the pass towards Toxaway Lake and then continue north towards Kramer Lakes or west towards Edna Lake. Either of these routes included going over passes or hiking on ridgelines. With bad weather, that didn’t seem like a very good idea. So we started our hike going north passing by the spot I had gotten to take pictures the previous night. From there, the trail just traversed the hill on a couple of very long switchbacks until we got to the saddle.
At that point we got our last view back at Twin Lakes which, at that elevation looked just fantastic. From there we stared descending quickly towards Toxaway Lake. On the way we passed a couple of very shallow lakelets filled with turquoise water. Above us, the clouds still looked very menacing. This chain of lakelets was connected by a creek that moved water from the ridge down to the lake. So the trail continued traversing the hills close to it. The final approach to Toxaway was a series of switchbacks on the right side of a huge rock filed were you could see numerous waterfalls. Going around Toxaway was not very interesting as view of the lake were limited. That was until we got to the north side. The lake itself is beautiful especially because of a small island in the middle. About half way on the north side, we found the trail junction going up to the saddle around Sand Mountain. By then the sky was not showing signs of improving so we called it and decided to continue down towards the car rather than risk it and go over the pass. From there to the next lake, Farley Lake, the trail took us by several small lakes and ponds.
I recall one in particular that might have been no more that 10 or 12 feet in diameter but very deep. It almost looked like a small crater filled with water or a sink hole. While passing by Farley Lake, the sky cleared up a bit and it almost seemed that it was going to hold but that didn’t last long. By then we were already descending towards the forest as the clouds were quickly moving in. We kept on hiking trying to maintain a good pace as we knew the rain was coming. We could even smell it in the air. The wind picked up and then the first clear sign, thunder. At first it was far away but as we continued, they seemed to be getting closer and closer. We got our rain gear out and put it on when it started raining, lightly at first but getting worse by the minute. When we passed the lowest point of the connector trail that would take us back to the trailhead, the sky was incredibly dark and the sound of thunder was almost nonstop. We pushed on. Right after passing the last ridge line, where we knew it was all downhill from there, we got the think of it. At first it was pouring rain with wind, lighting and thunder, but then it started hailing. Finally we saw the shore and we knew we would be out quickly; we just needed to hike around the north side of the lake to the parking lot. As we did, I looked back to a complete different image of the lake than the image we saw the day before. From our point of view, we couldn’t see the other shore much less the towering peaks on the other side. Not only that but we also so waves on the lake.
It almost looked like we were on an ocean coast. We finally made it to the car just when the rain stopped so we had a chance to put our gear away, dry up, change and start driving. The dry spell didn’t last long and we got more of the storm while on the road. As we drove away from the Sawtooth we couldn’t believe the clouds around us. We knew then it had been a good call to bail. We got a nice glimpse at this magnificent area that we’ll certainly visit again sometime, hopefully with better weather.

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Teton Crest Trail – Grand Teton backpack, Aug 4th to Aug 8th

This is a trip that Val has had in her to do list for a while. I didn’t know much about it but after reading a bit it was certainly going on my list as well. Then we both decided it was a great trip to do for our honeymoon. Planning for it was both easy and complicated. First was getting permits. At first we laid out a plan for 4 days and made a plan to login and get the permits as soon as they became available. We learned in a few minutes that some people either have very fast fingers or some spots are taken before they permits are offered to the public. In the end we ended up getting permits for a 5 day 4 nights and not even one of our original camping spot choices. The second part was a bit more complicated as we needed to hire a service to either shuttle us from one end of the park to the other or move our car. And then was the part of planning for food and gear and the extra weight in the form of a bear canister and bear spray. With all that, our expectations for the trip and seeing wildlife were pretty high. When the day came, we took a two day leisurely drive that took us thru Idaho all the way to Jackson in Wyoming. We stopped at the ranger station were we got permits and bear canister and then went back to pack it all up in a little cabin we stayed. That night we got the first ominous sign of things to come – rain.

Day 1 - Jackson Hole Tramway Summit to South Fork Granite Zone

That little drizzle we had Sunday night was rain on Monday. With permits in hand, we drove to our starting point in Teton Village were we left the car and spare set of keys cleverly hidden behind the wheel. We went back and forth a couple of times thinking if it was a good idea to go or wait and after a while we grabbed our gear, jump in the tram and started going up. The tram saved us from having to climb over 4000’ on our first day which is what most people do. We landed at the tram summit which slightly above 10000’. The whole thing was completely covered in a cloud so we couldn’t see anything. At the top there’s a small coffee shop were they serve waffles. We followed our noses to
there and got our rain gear out. While doing that, both Val and I had a close encounter with the lack of oxygen. Tying your shoes and then standing straight made us realize that we needed to take things slowly. Then, a bit reluctantly we decided to step out of the comfort of the warm building and start our journey. The first part was kind of tricky as we couldn’t see far so we followed an old road as much as we could. Luckily the trail descends from the summit so we got under the clouds pretty quickly and found our first intersection where we took the Rendezvous trail. We also found the Bear warning sign…
From that point on, trail descended towards the South Fork Granite Creek valley where the views expanded a bit allowing us to see some pretty amazing rock walls to the south. We noticed that wildflowers were not only abundant but also huge. We learned later that it was very unusual for this time of year to have so many flowers. As we hiked, the skies went from fully covered, to partially covered to grey again.
After taking the cut-off trail we finally reach the trail we would travel on for the next couple of days, the Teton Crest Trail. At that point we were already in the camping zone we were staying that first night but following the recommendation of the park ranger, we continued until we reached the end of the zone. The ranger told us we would find good spots around there and that the scenery was spectacular. He was not lying. The last part of the zone climbs gently on a wildflower meadow that ends at a saddle and drops on the other side. Towards the west, the valley is protected but huge
vertical walls. To the east and south, the meadow rolls down towards the middle fork of the Granite Creek.
We found a nice spot protected by the trees just off the trail and very secluded. After setting up camp we made a short trip to get water and then dinner sitting on the tarp surrounded by flowers. The sky above was grey by then and when we were done and walking back to the tent, the rain was starting.

Day 2 - South Fork Granite Zone to Alaska Basin

In our original plan, we wanted to camp one night on the Death Canyon Shelf, First because a friend of us had strongly recommended it and two because it was probably one of the most scenic places along the TCT. Unfortunately, we were not able to get permits for that zone. The ranger also mentioned that there was no water there… more on that later. So the plan for the day was to hike thru the Shelf and continue on the other side to Alaska Basin where we would spend the second night.
The day started with a small visitor that really wanted to know what that tent business was all about. As we were packing our gear, this little fellow tried to get in our tent a couple of times. He was clearly not scared by our presence. Once packed and ready we started hiking down towards the North Folk Granite Creek on a very gray day. We had done the first part of the trail the day before when we went to get water. With the overnight rain, the trail was a lot muddier than before. After getting down to the valley, we crossed the creek that was pretty dry and started climbing again thru more wildflowers until we reached Marion Lake. The lake was spectacular and empty despite having a group size campsite.
Then came a long walk thru beautiful flowers, dark grey skies and tons of mud until we reached the shelf. Luckily the shelf was more or less flat so we only needed to concentrate on not sliding off the trail with the mud. Weather was very unstable and as we continued we got rained on several times. At times the clouds would raise just enough to let us know that there were views we were missing. Along the way we passed countless creeks flowing of the snowpack across the shelf and down – plenty of water everywhere. A little past noon, we wanted to stop for lunch but with the rain, mud and weather, we opted for a quick standing lunch. Not the ideal when you have great views but then, we didn’t want to get to cold. We left the shelf and then the park on a section of the TCT that crosses out to the Targhee National Forest. From that point, the impressive, and imaginary for us, views of the Tetons are left behind and a view towards the west opens up. Right after passing Mount Meek Pass the scenery switched to a more arid alpine scenery. Behind, Mount Meek extends on a ridge a wall towards the northwest that seems to have no end.
In that area we found our first snow as we traveled over Sheep Steps before descending down to Alaska Basin. Rain continued to come and go as we hiked down long switchbacks to a valley and then climbed again to a subalpine meadow dotted with small lake. By then we were ready to drop our gear so we took the first campsite we found a few feet of the trail but behind some trees. Later that day, once we had picked up water and were ready to have dinner, rain started again. With no signs of clearing up, we set up a tarp between some rocks and a tree and managed to crouch under it to cook and eat. Once we were done, we waited for a while so we could grab everything and go back to the tent without getting completely wet. At some point we started getting cold so there was no other way than a quick run, changing into dry clothes and jumping in our sleeping bags. For the second night in a row, we were inside early in the evening listening to the rain. I woke up several times during the night just to learn that rain wasn’t going away.

Day 3 – Alaska Basin to South Fork Cascade Zone

Due to the changes in our original plan, day three was a shorter day but included going over the second highest pass in the route. We started again on very grey day with a light drizzle that stopped at some point. After crossing the south fork of the Teton Creek, we started gaining elevation slowly with some views towards the west. We passed thru Sunset Lake which, with clear skies must be spectacular; with our weather it looked really nice. Strangely enough the trail was much drier on this side of the mountain so that was a relief. As we gained elevation, the surrounding terrain got flatter to a point where it looked like we were in a gigantic football filed. In the distance we could see the ridge edge close to Hurricane Pass. Up there we had a close encounter with the locals. As we were hiking we saw tons of marmots that couldn’t care less of us being there. Short of the top, Val stopped to get a bite to eat and turned to face me.
We noticed a Marmot to my left that was interested in us so as I walked towards Val; the Marmot started circling her from behind until it got on the trail. Once there, I asked Val to stay still as I took pictures of the marmot as it came towards us almost asking for food. I’m guessing it was not more than two feet away when it turned around and went the other way without rushing. We saw several more before we got to the actual pass were two more were siting enjoying the view. As we passed by, one got close to the other for a kiss. I guess part of was for the view we didn’t have yet. A few yards after that, we got to the edge were the trails drops and the views open up. To our right we could see the Schoolroom Glacier and the lake below it.
Ahead of us we had deep valleys and incredible peaks. Even though the clouds were covering most of the scenery you could easily get the idea that there was a valley deep below us and an insanely high peak behind. Probably one of those rock walls climbing and disappearing in the clouds was Grand Teton. As we hiked down towards the valley and lost a lot of elevation, we noticed that there were more chances of getting in the rain zone. That was proven beyond doubt when all of a sudden we got a hailstorm. We were almost trapped on the trail with nowhere to go for cover so we stopped, got the tarp out to cover ourselves and waited. After that the 20 minutes of heavy wind and hail we decided to look for a campsite rather than continue farther to the end of the camping zone. We were lucky for a while as it cleared enough to get some sun and dry some stuff as we set up camp. Sun didn’t last long. The sky turned grey again and it looked like it was going to rain again. We took our gear down to the trail and, as we were about to start, the rain started again. We were under a tree which made setting up the tarp a bit easier. The wind didn’t help much though. We finished dinner, put everything away but still had to wait for a good hour before we could make the run to the tent. We were cold, tired and wet.

Day 4 - South Fork Cascade Zone to Upper Paintbrush Zone

We woke up with the idea of bailing as we were done with the rain but almost changed our minds as we woke up to clear skies and sun. For a short while we were able to see mountains around us and the valley we had descended on the night before. With that, instead of going down on the trail to our dinner spot, we climbed on a big rock to have breakfast with a view. It was magnificent for a while but then fog and clouds moved in quickly. The entire valley disappeared in front of us. And then it disappeared again giving us some nice treats.
As the fog was clearing out we could see sun rays filtering thru the trees illuminating the valley below us. We were unsure what the weather was trying to do so we packed and got back on the trail. We descended even more until we got to the Fork where both the South and North fork of Cascade Creek Join. We decided to continue on rather than bailing so we turned left and started climbing towards Lake Solitude. The first part of the climb was thru dense forest but then we found ourselves hiking on the side of a slotted canyon. We couldn’t guess were our next pass was but we knew we had a lot to climb before getting to our next camping spot. As we traversed the hills we passed an area that seen a considerable avalanche. We hiked thru packed snow and a lot of broken trees that looked to resent. We saw several hikers on the way but the big group was already at the lake when we got there. Clearly is a big destination for day hikers. The lake itself is beautiful and the surrounding area even more as you are in the center of a big circle. While resting and getting a bite to eat, we saw the trail ahead of us as it cut a straight line on the hill going up. It looked ominous from the lake. With that view, and the fact we actually had some sun, I changed before hitting the trail again. Then we started climbing. This was Val’s favorite part of the entire trip, the climb to Paintbrush Divide, the highest pass in the route.
The trail seemed endless as it went up and up and up climbing a bit over a thousand feet before it made the first turn. Two turns after that brought us to the top at about 10700’. Other hikers have told us that it could be tricky getting down on the other side of this pass. In their description, they said something like looking like a big football field, going left and descending from there. The trail was actually pretty clear and easy to follow before the pass; figuring that part didn’t add any challenges. Before getting to the very ridge, we had to stop to put on our jackets as wind was howling. Once we reached the actual pass, we were welcomed with an incredible view of the Upper Paintbrush valley.
A completely different view than the valleys we had seen before. This one looked more alpine and bare compared to the other ones. It was spectacular. We started our descend on the other side first going over loose rocks and then traversing snow banks. It was slow going for a while. We passed several potential campsites but decided to push on to shorten the distance for the last day. We knew we had a long day ahead. That idea made us make a mistake (unknowingly though). We passed a nice campsite that we ignored which ended up being the last campsite in the area. Once we reached the boundary we had no option but to climb back up to it. Up there we set up camp, and looking at the clouds, decided to set the tarp before making dinner. We were kind of expecting rain. As soon as we turned the stove on to boil water the wind started pushing us really hard. Then lighting and thunder started. Rain hadn’t started yet but we picked everything and run down to the valley and crouched next to a couple of big boulders. After setting our cooking gear in a small rock ledge, we placed the tarp over us and held it there while the storm passed. For about an hour or so, we heard the rain and thunder and saw the occasional lighting. It was a bit scary. Finally I decided to tie down the tarp around the rock so at least we could eat. So we cooked dinner and ate under the tarp while fending of a Pica that was very interested in what we were doing or our food. Finally the thunder stopped so we picked our stuff and went to bed. We were both done.

Day 5 - Upper Paintbrush Zone to Jenny Lake trailhead

Last day we woke up again to a clear day with the sun illuminating the paintbrush canyon. It was quite spectacular.
By then we were tired of eating far from our tent so we brought everything to the campsite and made breakfast there. We left the campsite shortly after and started our long descend to the String Lake trail. On that trail we went from alpine to subalpine to forested scenery as we left the tall peaks behind and hiked towards the open plain. It was incredible to see big jagged peaks behind us and a lot of flat land in front. It was like being in the dividing line between two different worlds. Finally we got down to the Valley trail which would take us around the south end of String Lake and the west shore of Jenny Lake. For some reason I had thought that Jenny Lake was not that big. It took a while to go around that lake that looked almost like a small sea from the trail.
Incredibly enough, we didn’t get a drop of rain that day, in fact I pulled my umbrella a couple of times for shade. Even though we had much better weather than the previous days, the hike itself was not as enjoyable. Part of it was because it was somewhat arid and the other because is closer to the trailhead so you have to dodge day hikers as you go. We finally made it to the trailhead without seeing a moose or a bear. Later that day, when we were back on the road towards Twin Falls in Idaho, we got the evening part of the storm as it was rolling slowly towards the Tetons. We saw really heavy clouds, multiple lightning bolts and tons of rain. I guess there was no rest going towards the Tetons.

You can check the pictures here

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Table Mountain, Jul 27th

When Val and I don’t have a hike planned for the weekend we tend to just pick one of the classic ones that will give us some good exercise and a fair amount of rewards. With weather being almost on the crappy side, that’s pretty much what we did. We packed our day gear and headed out to the Gorge to hike Table Mountain once again. We did get descent views from the top which included MT Hood, Mt Adams and Mt St Helens. We also got our first glimpse at fall colors… yes, fall colors in July. Weird.

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