Grand Teton National Park, 2014

Every single time I saw pictures from Grand Teton National Park I'd say that I wanted to go there. I'd been working on my camping skills and felt almost confident enough to survive a solo backcountry camping trip (aka no one wanted to go with me). I grabbed a camping permit when they became available in early January (only available until May 15th) to reserve my desired camping spots (the first night was at a location with only 3 sites) and then started figuring out how I was going to do this on my own in a different state. :-) The logistics were a bit complicated, but it was worth all the effort. Warning: contains some discussion of back country bathroom procedures. :-)

Favourite pictures and full gallery.

Saturday August 30, 2014 - Boston to Jackson

I got up a bit early to freeze brocoli soup and make roasted tomato sauce, after being up past 2am fussing. I switched out to a different shoulder bag at last minute and realised I left my pen in the old one but at least I remembered my key! I stuffed a few last minute things into my suitcase, having tried to be as minimal as possible for weight reasons, but the candle lantern will make camp a bit nicer. I took the garbage out, and brought my suitcases down, then got into the taxi to the airport. The cabbie reversed very carefully down my street and drove sedately, it was a bit surprising for an airport trip. :-) I tagged own bag ($25 on United), and I think I jumped into the pre check line, but it was short. Security was being slow with the stuff on the x-ray belt - it turns out that I packed organics (hiking food), timer (watch), batteries (removed from my steripen) and a metal cylinder (candle lantern) too close together and it set off their suspicions. Ooops! I still opted out of the scanner, the female assist guard was intent on saying her whole spiel while the guy inspected my camping gear and told me why I'd been flagged for a hand inspection. I put my stuff back together and grabbed a tea at Peets. There was a very 60's vibe in the re-done gate area, they had green globe lights with white vertical stripes, and orange fabric chairs. I remembered that the flight would span lunch time and bought a turkey sandwich to eat on the plane. There was lots of room left when I went on in the third boarding group but then I got surrounded by boys. I had to snap at the one next to me as he kept elbowing me, kicking, and reaching across me to play with the blinds. I put the magazine up, ate my sandwich and dozed, but then got jolted awake when he elbowed me again while rooting through his bag. What the fuck, this was the most annoying seat neighbour I think I've ever had. We were also late off the gate, the air conditioning wasn't working, there were delayed crew members, and then they had to redo the flight plan. And then we hit turbulence. The kids in front of me also all reclined their seats all the way back and played with the blinds. I had to get the kids to move right out of the row so that I could get out to go to the bathroom (no room with them scrunching up their feet with the seats in front reclined). Very luckily my Houston to Jackson flight was delayed half an hour and left from same gate the Boston flight came in on, so I just had to wait for them to swap out the planes after rushing to debark. I had time to hit the bathroom and fill up a water bottle before re-boarding. I planned to eat dinner in Jackson, so didn't bring anything on this leg of the flight.

I had a row to myself but there was a semi-annoying extended family in front of me - the staff were enforcing no jumping up to empty economy plus seats without paying and the father was upset since he'd paid for everyone on miles and it shouldn't make a difference and yadda yadda yadda. We had on and off turbulence, and I found that the classical channel seemed to loop after 1.5hrs. I ordered some hot tea, and finished my book, then spent the last bit of the flight reading the airline magazine and looking out for mountains. I saw a line of far off white peaks then we came through gorgeous sunset clouds and I saw the Tetons rising through a mist. Below them were brown plains with trees along lines of water. At some point someone explained to me that the area between the mountains was called Jackson Hole but the town was just Jackson.

We had to walk down outside stairs to the tarmac, then walk through marked pedestrian lanes to the other end of the terminal to get in the arrivals area. They had an outside baggage claim, and you also had to go outside to get back in to the toilets, since the terminal was under construction.

I found where the Alamo car rental shuttle was picking up and was the first one in, the benches and suitcase rack filling in after me. It was a long drive into and then through Jackson to the rental office on the other side of town. I was first out and joining the 3 person line, behind me the people from the van stretched out the door. It was moving slowly, it would be worth it to sign up for their membership program with the special line. I saw a sign warning renters that there had been heavy hail in the area and that wasn't covered by the basic car insurance, and that you had to report if your car had been caught in a hail incident. I finally I got up to the counter, only to find that my reservation had been cancelled and there were no cars available. :-( Apparently when I'd tried to adjust my pick up time from 10:30am as Travelocity seemed to keep defaulting to, I'd cancelled it instead of setting pick up to 10:30pm. The Thrifty car rental office next door was closed, the clerk at Alamo suggested that I try to come back the next day to see if any had been returned.

I was about to call for a taxi to take me to my hotel (a Motel 6 that was still over $100 night because it was a tourist town) when I decided to map it out on my phone. Turns out it was only 0.6 miles away, and since both my suitcases had wheels, I decided to just walk it. Unfortunately the sidewalks had been ripped up or were non existent on the side road where the Alamo office was hidden, and dragging my cases over the gravel bed and grassy verge shredded bits of my larger suitcases (the smaller wheels didn't give it cross country clearance). I finally got to the sidewalk when I reached the main road, Broadway, again and walked past a mall that had a K-Mart and past another motel before getting to mine. Luckily that reservation was still good, and I was soon in my room near the front, opening right off the parking lot on the first floor. It had been redone recently, it felt nice and modern. I dropped my stuff and headed out to search for food since I was starving at this point. I had asked at the hotel front desk about restaurants that would still be open (it was almost 10pm) and nearby. They recommended the Rendezvous Bistro (warning: video) which I'd noticed on my walk past the other hotel. I hustled over the two blocks and found the entrance, nabbing a seat at the bar. A loud drunk woman was talking to the couple next to me for a bit, it was hard to tune her out. I had the duck confit, and then since they were out of peach cobbler I had the basil sorbet. I invoked the vacation drinking clause and had a gin and tonic, and then a barrel aged Red Hook (a speck in the first one was probably a bit of the charring from the barrel, but the bartender poured me a new one anyway). There was a frequent traveller drinking at the other end of the bar and holding forth a bit to the bartender. I could easily tell the difference between her earlier animated chats with friends and this state of forbearance. :-) I headed back to my room and it was close to midnight by the time I'd showered, definitely feeling like 2am in my own time zone, but I still slept like crap. :-(

Sunday August 31, 2014 - Jackson

I woke up at 5am desperately needing my allergy pill. I'd asked the desk clerks for a breakfast recommendation as well (both of them were from Transylvania I think, their name tags said Draculaland which seemed a bit mean) and was pointed toward Cafe Boheme just around the corner. I walked there through a bit of a misty morning, and when I asked the French proprietress for the biggest tea they served, she gave me a big soup cup for my tea and a small plate to keep over the wide opening to keep it warm. It disappeared before my pancakes arrived, I'd been subsisting on sub standard tea for a bit too long. :-) As I was finishing up, it started raining buckets, so I waited in the building lobby for a bit to see if it would ease up. It did, and on my walk back to my hotel I found the bus stop with a sign saying it was just $3 one way to Teton Village! Taxis were $60 from the airport, $30 from Jackson I think, transportation was becoming a problem, but my fall back that would get me to the start of my hike was solved by this bus route. Now I just had to figure out how to do my shopping and get my camping permit from the park office on the other side of the airport.

I walked back to the Alamao office, the two stylish European ladies that were on th desk said that there still weren't any cars. I walked next door to the Thrifty, no cars available there either. I sat on the bench at the Alamo for a bit, half waiting to see if any cars would get returned, half working on contingency plans. It was around 11am, the ladies had said to call around 1 or 2 to see if any cars had come back. I decided to jump on the Alamo shuttle back to the airport and see if I could pick up a car there without breaking the bank. A midwestern couple who ran the marathon yesterday (which would explain the lack of hotel rooms and cars) and an older couple were on the shuttle with me, the men talking over each other. The sun was playing peek a boo with the clouds, casting rays and shadows on the plain.

Enterprise had no cars, Avis said they did but for $88 for the cheapest for a single day, and Hertz also had one but also for $80+. The Hertz guy was nice though and said to check with the taxis outside (all two of them). That guy was all nope, it would be two times $30 to take me to the permit office in Moose and back to the airport. I went back in, sat in one of the lounge chairs and took stock. I took a look for cars online at Travelocity, and found the ones that I'd been told were available at the airport for a much lower price, but it wouldn't let me book them via the mobile site. I went back to the Hertz desk and the manager gave me the $45 base price that I'd found on line. *phew* But then I took all the insurance options (I was worried about hail or an unexpected animal encounter, knowing what my luck was like right now) and that brought it up to $99 for a day anyway. It would have been a lot higher with the first quote, but I re-learned a lesson about asking if I could get the online price in person. As I walked out alone to get my car (a green Camry, parked somewhere in row 3), I heaved a big sigh of relief to get this phase of the logistics sorted out. Once I'd signed the rental contract, everything was pretty casual and easy, they just said to come in and report if there were any big dings or scratches, otherwise I just drove right out of the small parking lot (rental cars had the first 5 rows or so reserved for them, the rest was for the public).

I drove straight to the Moose visitor center, the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, it was easy to find, just left out of the airport, then another left following the signs. It was pretty busy, the parking lot almost full and people walking around looking at interpretive signs and a large sculpture, but there was only one person ahead of me at the permit desk, tucked in near the back. It was interesting listening to him get information about a boating permit, for a totally different national park experience than I was going to have. The rangers were really nice, and one looked really familiar, maybe from a story on him in the National Parks magazine that I get? I requested and got the larger size of bear proof cannister (black with a white number 181 painted on it) and then was encouraged to take a seat on it to watch a required move. I made a note to myself that I'm supposed to stand uphill of the trail in order to let stock pass. My back country camping permit is to stay on my pack or tent where it's visible to rangers, but I can leave it on my tent when I go for day hikes after setting up camp. There was a white board showing the spaces left at the various camps over the next two nights, Marion Lake was going to be full when I got there. The ranger showed me how to open the cannister with a coin, turning it in a slot to unlock the metal rods and open the top. I started off using a tool on my Swiss army knife to open and close it, but soon found that my fingernail worked just as well, it wasn't stiff enough to threaten to break my nails.

Back to my car with another sigh of relief, this was the thing I was most worried about not working out, as I couldn't start backpacking without the cannister and permit and the original literature I'd seen said that it had to be picked up before 10am on the day you start your hike. Re-reading opened up the idea that I could pick it up the day before and not have to worry about delaying my start past the opening time of the visitor center. I pulled out to head back to town, driving past the airport, and stopped at the pull off by the big park sign. It was starting to clear and I got some glimpses of the Teton Range without cloud cover. The forecast still contained a chance of rain so I was determined to get a pair of rain pants just in case. It was time to get lunch at this point and then dive into my camping shopping. I'd spotted a Japanese restaurant on my way by, but after parking behind it and walking back onto the main street, I saw the sign saying that it was closed on Sundays. I walked back toward the center of town and went to the Town Square Tavern and got a personal sized margherita pizza. It was very touristy in there.

Back to the car and down the street a bit more out of town to the Ace Hardware store, they had the standard big cannisters of camping gas. I think this one was labelled as Coleman stove fuel instead of white gas, but I double checked with a store employee and when they couldn't reassure me that it was the same thing, I triple checked on my phone - the MSR stove FAQ answered my question. Then I headed next door to the huge Sports Authority, easily finding a cheap plastic trowel (mine had gone missing when I was packing) and some not so cheap but good Columbia rain pants. They didn't actually carry any white gas and said that there was only one place in town that sold it, and that place wasn't the hardware store next door, odd. Glad I'd checked there first. There were lots of bear sprays available, and I hemmed and hawed over the $40+ price tags. I wouldn't be able to take it home with me, they're outright prohibited on planes, and chances were good that I wouldn't have to use it in the back country (despite reports of bear activity), or if I did have to use it that I'd spray myself by mistake, so I talked myself out of the purchase and vowed to practice good anti bear tactics (aka be loud, don't be on the trail at dawn or dusk, pay attention, stick with other hikers when possible).

I drove back to the motel, parked the car and then walked next door to the gas station to get a lighter for my stove. It felt very odd buying one, I don't think I have before, my camping partners would always provide or procure one. They didn't have matches though, so I tried to find some in the K-Mart - they just had huge packs of 1000 matches in multiple boxes, so I let it go for now. Back to the motel and dove into packing my pack for the hike! My bear cannister was stuffed full with food for five days plus my toiletries, I was very glad that I'd managed to get the larger size. I filled up my fuel bottle from the can I'd bought, and my water bottles and bladder from the bathroom sink. I took lots of breaks to procrastinate as I was stuffing everything into my pack. I bungee corded the bear cannister to the outside bottom of the pack, tied my trail shoe laces together through another loop, and called it done! It was very heavy though, I estimated over 50 pounds with all the liquid added to my test pack at home. :-(

There was still daylight left to play with, and the sun was definitely coming out now, so I decided to take advantage of having a car and check out the area a bit. I first checked out Teton Village to get the lay of the land up there for tomorrow, it is indeed pretty far from the town of Jackson, around a ridge. I had bought an AllTrans Shuttle ticket from the airport to Teton Village and back, it was $53 yet still cheaper than even the one way taxi fare. I drove around the loop facing the resort hotels, not seeing any reason to stop, then headed back the way I'd come. I spotted some people watching some elk as I passed the gated entrance to a farm or ranch, and decided to make a u-turn and park to join them. It was a big herd, they were all over in the trees and along the road that extended from the gate. My phone camera pictures all came out crappy but my real camera got some good shots. I had turned in the wrong way, there were lots of cars in the pull out, it took a bit of maneuvering to get out. Back on the road, I then stopped again on a ranch road to take pictures of the range. I stopped back at the motel, after looping back around the ridge, since I was parched - altitude? I also wanted to pick up some sun screen since the sun was getting stronger. I drove through Jackson again and went back to the park sign where I'd stopped earlier - this time capturing the gorgeous sun beams. I had also stopped briefly at the wild life viewing area just outside of town, on the river. There were a lot of ducks, but the swans weren't visible. There were quite a few bikers, a pair went to the same visitor center I did, I saw them on the paved trail parallel to the road and then spotted their bikes locked up at the racks when I came out with my permit. There were bikes locked up at the river viewing area, and a kid was having trouble with his chain, a guy in a truck came to help him.

After taking more pictures of the Teton Range, I went back into town to browse the shops for a while, content to play tourist about town for a bit, it was around 6:30pm at that point. The arches made out of shed elk antlers were both impressive and a bit disturbing. I picked up a brown marker pen since I'd managed to completely misplace my regular expedition pen, and also a nice box of matches (totally over paying) at Paper and Grace - there were so many neat things in there, I was completely enchanted. I meandered some more, through lots of art galleries and jewelry stores. I tried to go to the Rose for a craft cocktail after seeing an ad for them, but they weren't set up after the dinner theatre show yet. I was feeling tired and head achy so I drove back to the motel to try and find dinner around there - it would be a bit cheaper than in the middle of town too. I ended up in the Mexican place in the mall, El Tlaxcalteca. I had a good chicken mole poblano with rice and beans. It wasn't very busy in there, I got my meal and ate quickly. Back in my room, I was feeling chilly and thinking I might want to repack and wear warmer things tomorrow.

At 10am tomorrow I'll leave the airport for Teton Village on the shuttle, then I'll have a 10:30am pickup from Hotel Terra on my way back. I needed to finish separating stuff to check at the hotel versus taking camping with me, eat breakfast, get gas and return the car by 10. I recorded some trail notes so that I didn't have to bring the full Hiking Grand Teton National Park book with me.

Monday September 2, 2014 - Jackson to Marion Lake

I woke up just before my 7:30 alarm and decided to pack up and get my things in the car so I could drive to breakfast and take my time there rather than worrying about having to walk back to the motel. It was very misty out! Cafe Boheme had different ladies working this morning, but they were still very nice. :-) I ordered a big tea (they didn't give me a plate covering this time), OJ, a chocolate croissant and pancakes, thinking to fuel up for hiking. It was either too much food, or I was feeling nervous and unable to eat much. I only ate 1.5 pancakes but finished my juice and tea, and packed up the croissant to go. I left there at just after 9am I think, the fog was being burned off a bit. I stopped at the last gas station on the other side of town, before you hit the park (had to make a u-turn when I realised that was it). Of course it ended up being the most expensive gas, but I only needed a couple of gallons (the rental guy said that they accepted cars back as full if they were filled up in Jackson). The sun hadn't worked it's magic on the fog that socked in the road to the airport, it was super foggy. It was opaque to the point that I considered stopping again at the park sign to take a picture with nothing visible beyond it, but I was feeling a bit rushed at 9:20 so continued on. I parked the car in Hertz's row, emptied the trunk (pack on back, big almost empty suitcase rolling), then took the car keys to the counter inside. I'd just sat down outside again to wait for the shuttle when the AllTrans van pulled up. The driver got my stuff into the back luggage area and by a quarter to 10 we were all set but waiting for passengers to come out from a delayed Denver flight. Finally the loudspeakers gave an announcement of the arrival and prompted the departing passengers to head through security. Very few people appeared at the baggage claim lane and no one came over to the shuttle, so I got a private no stops drive to Teton Village for $25.

The driver dropped me off in front of the Hotel Terra as requested and the hotel staff gave me zero problems about checking my bag until I came back for it on Friday. In fact they were so efficient that I didn't get a chance to move a couple of things out of my pack and into my suitcase - mostly coins making my wallet a bit heavier than I wanted to carry on top of everything else, but also some maps of the town that didn't really make a difference. They directed me through the hotel to the other door and then turn right for the Tram. It was a short walk to the entrance of the lift, but then I had to go down the hill and back up again after exchanging my online receipt for a tram card - it was a ski lift card just like I've had for resorts in Utah, I could recharge it and come back to ski in the winter! :-) I was paying double for the tram since the far included a ride down as well, but I'd be hiking out at the end of my loop. All the middle aged to senior couples around me were fascinated by my huge pack and the fact that a) I was going to sleep out, b) for multiple nights, c) solo. I just had time to shoot a quick phone photo and post it to FB to let people know I was starting my hike (I'd posted the full itinerary earlier so everyone knew where I was supposed to be and when I'd be out). It was a gorgeous ride on the large aerial tram car. It took 32 million dollars to build it, and they went with this instead of a cheaper gondola because they'd always had one, yay tradition.

It was sunny, windy, and chilly at the top (the lift thermometer was reading 43F, at 10,450ft) and as I was getting my layers sorted and my pack settled that's when I found my wallet in my coat pocket, oops! The trails were pretty bare up on the peak, mostly crushed gravel dropping away to amazing views on all sides. There was a small hut just down from the peak, the scent of waffles wafting from it. I went in to use the restroom, propping my pack up outside the women's room. They had composting toilets, nice to see. A fairly large group of backpackers were also looking for the hiking trail and one had gone off to ask about it, so I followed along behind them when it became clear they were heading the same way I was. A pair of fast guys were also on the trail, adn near the end I caught up to a foursome of southerners who were also camping at Marion Lake. The trail started off down, a lot, winding along one of the ski trails until we came to where the hiking trail branched off to go down the back/park side of the mountain. Once off the wide open ski trail, we were going through lots of clumps of low, and then higher, trees and bushes, with limited sight lines, so I was doing a lot of singing and clacking of my poles to let any bears around know that I was there too. There was one rock jumping stream crossing, and a couple of rock or plank bridges. I heard a pica calling from a large rock fall. I saw a super fast glimpse of a tufted ear red squirrel like creature right next to the trail. The trail was mostly packed dirt between trees at this point. Tent on sq. highway? I stopped for lunch (pita and almond/chickpea spread) at a trail junction at about 3.5 miles in. I had stopped for a snack from the lunch stash just before I reached the junction, running out of calories right when I spotted a nice log to sit on. I was happy to see my mentally designated lunch spot finally appear down the trail, the junctin between Teton Crest trail and Middle Fork Cutoff. There was some traffic there with hikers mostly passing me from behind to head up all the way to the Teton Crest trail, or doing a big loop back down and out. We had quickly dropped down from the peak of Rendezvous mountain and were now surrounded by rocky peaks. Next up was a long bright meadow to cross, then up a steep slope for the first time to get out of that depression. I had to stop and catch my breath a few times on the way up. At the top of the slope was a grouping of boulders with a chipmunk playing hide and seek with a big group of hikers who were also taking a rest. I put down my pack and chatted with them a little bit, taking each other's pictures with the mountains as back drop and the top of the tram on Rendezvous Mt just visible. One woman ripped her rain pants when climbing down from one of the sharp edged rocks, she used a strip of duct tape to patch them - I completely forgot to bring any myself, Sue would be disappointed in me. :-) Through more lovely alpine flower covered meadows for a while, enjoying the sun and clouds.

From there the trail dropped again, it was really steep getting down to Granite Creek that ran down the canyon below the ledge with Marion Lake. The trail went past a rock fall and I caught sight of a marmot or pica before dropping down some lovely stone steps to the creek and across. So of course it was a steep climb up to Marion Lake on the ridge above us. It's a glacial silt green lake, nestled in below cliffs. I had to hike around it and take a side trail to get to the tent sites, I took the last one of four, even though it also had two tent pads, since I liked how it had some trees to screen it as well as a short walk to the cliff edge for an amazing view down the canyon. I set up my tent, put my food in the bear box (still in it's cannister), then started in on making supper as it was looking like the sun was starting down the sky and the shadows would hit soonish. I rehydrated the cowboy pasta (turkey chilli basically), happy with how it came back to life with a bit of boiling water. I'd set up a bit away from camp, near the stream and in a patch of sunlight, and my tent site neighbour came to say high as I was eating. Her name was Janice from New Mexico and she was another female solo hiker, with 15+ years experience backpacking on her own. It was chilly once the sun went behind the ridge, so I sped up my eating to finish before it got too cold, then cleaned up (leave no trace is hard you guys, but odor barrier sealed top bags help). I walked over to the lake lookout point, then around and up to the cliff look out point that I'd passed on my way into camp. I took advantage of the down time to do some stretching, that was 7 miles under 50+lbs of weight and my legs could feel it. I was on the trial from about 11:20am to 5pm, taking it slow. I'd turned off my phone, it just always says 5pm when I turn it back on since it can't synch with any cell towers out here (the calendar also gets stuck in 1980, very annoying). I'd made of note of when the sun was going to set that day since I knew I had a bit of a challenging walk to make before dark and it felt like the time that passed between getting to camp and the sun setting was about right for a 5pm arrival. Then I realised that my camera was putting the correct time and date stamps on the picture I was taking and I started using it to double check my hiking time. :-) The pictures from Marion Lake were stamped between 4:30 and 5:20pm.

After hanging out by the lake and watching the sun set, I went back to the tent pads and realised that beyond the trees right arond the pad area it was very open and I wasn't sure of the best spot to situate my toilet pit. I ended up going toward the ridge edge and hoping that it was far enough from the stream to be safe for the water source. I brushed my teeth, wrote up the day, then it was time to sleep as the light had faded enough that I couldn't see my notebook very well any more.

Tuesday September 2, 2014 - Marion Lake to Death Canyon Shelf

I slept fitfully as I usually do on my first night in a tent at altitude, but I was warm enough once I put on my long underwear, no socks were needed this night. I indulged in a slow waking and stretching process as I saw the sun hit the top of my tent. I had my first back country bowel movement that morning, hitting the small hole in the ground is hard, I will forever appreciate the composting outhouses that most New England camp sites seem to offer :-) I walked up the little hill to the bear box by the group site, even that little slope at that altitude was noticable. I grabbed a baggie of granola and went out to sit on the edge of the cliff looking down into Granite Canyon, inviting Janice to share the view as I went past her tent. She joined me for what was just supposed to be a bit but we ended up talking for almost an hour I think. It turns out that she lived in Belleville Ontario for a while, I thought her accent sounded a bit familiar. She was a lot taller and thinner than me, so she shared her opposing hiking clothing woes, and that she made her own hiking pants, respect! :-) She finally dragged herself away and we both started packing up our sites, only spending one night in that idyllic location, but looking forward to seeing what came next.

I took it slow packing up, slightly dreading having to load myself up with all that weight, minus only the bit of food that I'd eaten. I brought my whole pack over to the bear box when I was done but for food, laying it down on the top of the metal box (it opened along the side) to bungee the bear cannister to the outside again. The bungee net wasn't working as well as the day before, the can was bouncing a bit as I walked. I started the day's hiking off slow, just getting to the shore of Marion Lake where the group had hung out last night and stopping there to eat yesterday's granola bar snack. I think I'll have food left over, I'm not eating quite as much snack wise as predicted, but definitely better to have too much than not enough. I left camp at around 11am, knowing I had a short trip to my next camp ground. It was a slow climb out of the lake bowl, vistas opening up as I climbed and a wild flower meadow surrounding me. I let a couple pass (the Marion Lake campground quartet had left before me). Once I was over the lip, I let a quartet of older guys pass, as well as Janice who'd caught up to me. I stopped and talked with the guys for a bit when one needed to stop and rest and I caught up again on the plateau - it had opened up so that I could see the other side of the range with what looked like some farm land in the distance, and another cliff looming. The guys were from western MA, and one's sons are living in Cambridge and Jamaica Plain. We talked a lot about hiking at altitude, I got an herbal recommendation from one who had also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It was really neat to find people happy to chat, I definitely didn't feel very isolated up on the main Teton Crest trail. Around there the bungee net gave way on my bear cannister and it dropped onto the trail behind me, oops! I swapped it into my pack in place of my sleeping bag and bungeed that to the outside and that worked a lot better - it could squish a bit and stay tight to the pack.

I passed the Spear peak, happy to mark my progress along the open trail by it approaching and receding. I saw two marmots sunning on a rock at the foot of a vertical slab of rock. The trail then dropped down to a few dry creek bed crossings, and I started to worry a bit with respect to water sources on the Shelf. I'd filled up at Marion Lake, but the ranger at the visitor center said that I should fill up when I saw a water source, but it should be fine on the Shelf with all the rain they'd been getting. I finally made it to the Death Canyon intersection, feeling thankful for the signs there (and the group of guys in front of me) since the shelf path turned left and the canyon one went straight. It was a step climb up to the shelf, but not too long, then I quickly hit the sign marking the start of the 2 mile long camping zone. My first choice in a copse of trees was marked closed for camping, but the second one had evidence of former occupancy: an illegal fire pit and moved rocks. I'd also seen that most of the park signs along that trail had been defaced to scratch out the prohibition against carrying guns. :-/ I was aiming to grab a camp site as close to the canyon path intersection as possible, since I'd be heading down that way in a couple of days and didn't want to have to backtrack too much with my pack. I dropped my pack in the clearing and walked a bit further on without it to scope out if there were other nearby sites in the line of trees, but didn't see any, so I went back to set up my tent. But first I had to sit and eat a peanut butter fudge bar (the balls got all smooshed together) because I was feeling a bit light headed - I think I got there at around 2pm, so it was getting late for lunch. I got my tent up after injesting some calories, there were prickly bushes by two of the stakes that I kept hitting, but the rest were clear, if a bit hard to get in due to roots and rocks. I set up my bear cannister near a rock, far enough from my camp according to guidelines and away from both the cliff and the creek so that it wouldn't get knocked over or in either by any curious wild life. Then I got my stove set up to make a hot lunch, in the open area that stretched out from where my tent was tucked in the trees, trying to keep the kitchen area and cooking scents away from the tent as well. I completely spaced on changing into different clothes to cook and then sealing those away, camping in bear country is complicated. I rehydrated the sweet potato and lentil soup this time, but it didn't come back to life as nicely as the cowboy pasta had - it didn't completely liquify from the dried chunks, but the solid bits were soft enough and the food hit the spot. I had to quickly dig ou some tissues though, I'd added extra cayenne pepper to this one after finding the cowboy pasta a bit bland, and it was making my nose run.

It wasn't even 4pm by the time I cleaned up from lunch, so I decided to hike further along the Shelf, and maybe see if I could find the camp sites of some of the groups that I'd talked with on the trail and socialise for a bit. Janice was aiming to blow right through the Shelf and skip to the next camping area since she was worried about the high mileage she'd have the next day along more challenging trails, but the western MA guys had mentioned camping up here as well. So of course when I did spot some familiar faces from the trail below their sites, I was too shy to do anything more than wave. It just felt like imposing a bit to hike up to their tents. Ah well, it was supposed to be a solo trip anyway. :-) Not too far along the trail I found a pile of stones and logs that looked like the start of a house. At that point a guy with a minimal pack passed me and I paused to take a picture of a chipmunk that was eating on top of the piled stones. From there the trail dropped into a dip in the Shelf and I finally saw running water and a more established empty camp site, but if I'd camped there I'd have had to climb out of the dip with my pack, so I just noted it as a place to fill up my water bottles. The rehydrating food wasn't using up nearly as much as when I'd gone with a boil in bag food solution, so I wasn't using up my bottles as fast as I'd feared, and still had a bit of hotel water left in my camelbak I think. There were a few bare ground camp sites along the edge of the Shelf, perched over the cliff dropping down into Death Canyon, feeling kind of exposed. Compared to them the one I'd chosen was practically wild, and I realised that I wasn't in an officially designated one, but it was a free camping zone and I wasn't going to leave any traces of my presence. I still felt a bit defensive about it though. I had a lovely view of the moon rising over the range I'd come through already though.

I continued along the Shelf getting a great view of Grand Teton dead ahead. I was watching the angle of the sun, I had been engulfed by shade from the trees at my cooking spot but the sun still had a ways to go before it hit the ridge and the big shadows would loom. I spotted other campers after a longish stretch by myself, off to the left as well in bigger tree and boulder collections. I waved and smiled but everyone was busy setting up camp. I was half trying to make it to the end of the camping zone for my afternoon walk, but then retargetted to reach the point on the Shelf trail that went past the bend in the Canyon below. It was further than it looked, hooray for crystal clear mountain air. :-) Though I did talk briefly to an older guy who said that we were getting a little bit of haze from some forest fires, not nearby but the wind was in the right direction for the particles to come up here. I ended up turning around when I could see out the canyon to the valley floor of Jackson Hole. Friday will be a long day even if I grab one of the last sites in the Death Canyon camping zone. Luckily the valley trail is pretty much a road according to Janice - she had transportation logistic woes as well. I hiked with my head down on the way back to my tent as I was going right into the setting sun. I had re-applied my sun block before setting up camp, and I had to put more on after getting back from the hike - high altitude sun burns suck. I spotted a cute camp site from the return angle on the trail, just around a huge boulder from the string of bare sites. I was moving through some shadows from the cliffs on the last part of my hike.

Once I got back to camp I made a batch of the cowboy pasta a again for supper - I'd left my stove set up just tucked behind a rock so it wasn't visible if anyone came to look at my tent. I was up a little bit from the trail and most people were hiking further along the shelf and wouldn't look back to spot my camp. The pasta hit the spot, I didn't realise that I'd used up that much energy, but I probably did a solid 2 miles after setting up camp and I'd loaded up my pack with necessities as well. I cleaned up as the sun was gilding Grand Teton and tried to take some pictures, but it was a bit hazy. I moved my bear cannister a bit further from camp, hiding it a bit. One more tooth brushing and toilet pit digging and then I retired into my tent. It was getting cold and darker, time to huddle in my layers of down and wool. I put on my EMS insulated hiking pants to sit up and write up my day as well as a fresh pair of socks. I was really wishing for a three season tent, the inability to close the four vents in my light backpacking tent is frustratin, especially the one near my feet since it's pointed at the wind. I could hear squirrels and something that sounded like a loon. But then, fuck! wolves or coyotes! The sound was coming from the other side of Death Canyon though, it was very faint if undeniably a predator. I burrowed down in my sleeping bag before 8:30 and drifted off to sleep, not too freaked out by being in a thin nylon tent in the wilderness. :-)

Wednesday September 3, 2014 - Death Canyon Shelf

I slept a bit better that night, I was warmer and had to undo my sleeping bag. I woke at dawn and caught the sun just as it came over the range. Then I dozed until 10, yay vacation. :-) It was my bladder that got me up and out of my sleeping bag. I heard a hiker making anti bear noises as I was putting on my pants, but they didn't notice me. Granola for breakfast and I saw more hikers going past and I verified that my camp wasn't noticable from Death Canyon way. While eating I watched two bumblebees, one collecting from yellow flowers, the other from purple. I dug a toilet pit (okay, hole, a pit sounds more long lasting, but I went a different place each time) over by the edge of the ridge, screened from the Shelf trail by trees, but I saw a line of 6 hikers down in the canyon. There was a deer grazing in the grassy area around my camp site as I was getting ready to head out for my day hike. I'd finally found my wet wipes as well, they'd been tucked down inside a long narrow pocket on my pack, so I got to have a wet wipe bath that morning. I put my cold weather gear, water collection gear and snacks into my pack and went off to explore the shelf. I left camp at around 11am and planned to turn around by 2pm in order to make it back to camp in time to cook supper before it got dark, with a bit of leeway. I ended up making it to the Sheep Stairs (I think) on my map before turning around at 2:15 and making it back to camp at just before 5pm. It was cold when I got back, I bundled myself into my tent at around 7pm after the approximately 6 mile round trip in 5.5 hours.

Okay, starting from the beginning: It ws so easy to hike with a lighter load, empty water bottles, no fuel bottle, no bear cannister. Even with pots (wasn't sure I'd cleaned them well enough to leave where bears might find them) and bathroom creating stuff and cold weather clothes it felt so light compared to the full load. I stopped to look more closely at the other hidden camp I'd spotted yesterday on the way back, it was very nice. I was still thinking that I should have sucked it up with the climb out and moved. Ah well. More people around today, a couple of large groups and lots of pairs. I saw another solo female when I stopped to have a snack. I was feeling a bit oogy but some almond dip and pita and lots of water seemed to help settle my guts. I had a chipmunk investigating me as I sat to eat, it nosed my poles where I'd set them down, and came within three feet of me. A pair had claimed the rest stop that I'd been aiming for, I talked briefly with the older guy in floral shorts - I think it was him who'd told me about the fires. I filled up one water bottle at a stream, I was otherwise only carrying the water in my camelbak. Distances are deceptive, I went quite far past yesterday's stopping point, up off the shelf, past a camp tucked in behind a screen of trees, before I hit the sign marking the end of the camping zone.

After that it became more reminiscent of arctic desert zones I've been in, less green, almost no trees, lots of bare rock. I went over Meek's Pass, Mount Meek was the end of the cliff running along and above the shelf. I went around another point and then crossed some gulleys that ran down and out. Not a lot of water, dry stream beds. The haze had cleared up a bit, but I still felt like I wasn't able to get good pictures of Grand Teton. Near Meek's Pass I saw something like a holster strapped to the thigh of a guy wearing shorts - gun? or just bear spray? There was pink tinged snow patch at my turn around point, just past the trail to Devil's Stairs. I saw the steeper trail down below me, a hiker was stopped briefly before a lip where the trail disappeared down even further, and when they started heading down again, they were gone in 3 steps. I had gone a bit longer than my turn around time of 2pm due to curiosity, but hitting that at 2:15 made a firm stopping point - no way was I going to climb back up that at the start of my hike back to camp. :-) In fact, I staggered a bit as I was starting back up the trail, so I sat and had a snack. I ended up finished yesterday's snacks today. I went back past the sign giving the distance to Alaska Basin (I think that's were Janice was trying to reach last night), it 5+ miles away, and the Teton Shelf trail - it was flat/rolling there. I started seeing some people going past me making for the next camping zone. It was windy! I got pushed off my stride once. I was glad to be back on Death Canyon Shelf, the wind was less strong there with the ridge ending in Mt. Meek breaking the wind from the other side of the range. At the nice stream I climbed up to the camp site up toward the sheltered part of the shelf to check it out and to find a discrete place to pee - it felt very odd treating the whole great outdoors as a potential bathroom. *wry smile* Then I went back down to the stream to fill my water bottles, I'd poured my last water into my camelbak, I had drunk more water today. A couple of hikers also stopped to fill their platypus bladders at the same time and we chatted briefly. The day boasted clear blue skies, the sun was nice and warm but it was a bit chilly in the wind and shaded areas. I advised people on the state of water going on down the trail I'd just returned from. I stopped to eat my last snack on the edge of the shelf, looking down the Canyon. No chipmunk this time, but I did see more hikers passing by, moving faster now as they raced the sun.

I was almost back to my camp site when I met an old dude and (probably) his son - they were trying for Alaska Basin to camp that night. I told them it took me a slow three hours to make the sheep stairs, just past the 5+ miles sign. They were taking lots of pictures, but it was about 4:30pm then and they needed to hustle if they were going to stand a chance to beat the sunset. One guy (his ear had a stretched hole with a plug) with a guide book in hand asked me how far it was to the group site - I'd finally spotted the sign for it on the way back today.

I had a bit of a panic when I got back to my camp: I couldn't find my bear cannister with all my food in it! I walked all over the copse of trees, down to the big rocks by the stream bed, over to the next copse, everywhere around where I remembered walking last night and this morning, trying to remember more clearly where I'd hidden it. I was trying very hard not to panic at the fact that I was a day's walk from civilisation without food, but at least I had water and would probably make it. I was about to walk over to the cliff edge where I'd last dug a toilet pit when I spotted it, further up the trail toward the canyon trail junction. It was sitting upright right next to the trail, But a deer (or elk) was grazing right by it, I waited for it to move on like a good back country camper but then it walked right through my camp and pissed by my tent. *sigh* Once I could get to my cannister, the number was showing clearly that it was mine, it was obviously moved by a human not a bear, but nothing was missing or added to it, and there was nothing noted on my permit about leaving it behind. Either someone took offence at me leaving it today (I remember being happy with how hidden it was too), or not seeing that it was with my tent, or an animal rolled it and they put it there for me to find. No idea. I dithered about moving camp, and decided to make up some lentil soup so that I'd have some calories to fuel the decision making. But then it got cold, I packed up my kitchen stuff, brushed my teeth, peed (always important to get that out of the way before you get cozy in your sleeping bag) and then got into my tent with my sleeping stuff on to stay warm. But then I had to get out to secure my permit from flapping about in the wind - I tied it lower and put a stick on it as an anchor. I planned to break camp on first waking up, I wanted a low Death Canyon camp site anyway. It'll probably be 6+ miles to hike out on Friday, but motly on flat valley trails. There were some high clouds coming in as the sun set and the temperature dropped, so I made things more secure with my waterproof pack cover and stuff under the cover of the trees just in case the Thursday rain forecasts came true. Oops, I think my rain pants are in the pack outside the tent... I'd broken down my stove and packed it up, planning a cold breakfast for tomorrow and to have hot tea on Friday morning instead.

I was thinking about things that I could have not brought with me: the wool hoodie (the down jacket was enough), kettle (pot was enough), mug (didn't need to have tea and was drinking water fine out of my camelbak), winter pants (long johns and pants and rain pants would have been enough to keep me warm). I also hadn't needed bug spray yet, only seeing a few flies and sand flies or something. I saw lots of marmots today, a few chipmunks, those black and white birds, some butterflies, deer - it might be the same one from the morning, though I also saw one going toward the group site at my last snack stop. The mountains were glowing with the sunset again, it was gorgeous. There were so many stars out at night, it was so bright. The moon was past half full now. I caught bits of the sunset on the secondary peak, but was feeling too cozy to get out of my tent to grab pictures of Grand Teton in the dying light.

I wrote down a dream I had the previous night: I woke up from a dream of a climber type in red board shorts doing a back flip off of a bridge that we all had to run down and jump off of the end (like a bigger Walk the Plank from Tough Mudder). I jumped in normally but couldn't get out - sharp barnacles? He pulled me out, then slid over a bright red folding step and sat on it, pulled my foot over and massaged my calf - just what I needed after all of that hiking! :-) I dozed, half dreaming of other things, and didn't get up until 10.

Thursday September 4, 2012 - Death Canyon Shelf to Death Canyon

Overall I slept really fitfully again, I should try putting in the ear plugs so that I don't wake each time I shift position (sleeping bag against pad against tent floor was loud in the absence of all other sounds but wind). I woke to take a picture before the sun was fully up, catching a back lit silhouette of the range. There was frost on the ground as I went out to the bathroom, but only in the shade. My bear cannister was in place, phew! I ate my morning granola sitting on it, and then stood up to say hi to a young guy who was hiking past and laughing at a comedy podcast. It's a good way as a solo hiker to let the bears know that you're around! I got up at around 8am I think and was ready to go before 9am. There was a large group of young kids and a few adults who went past my camp as i was hoiking up my pack. I had put my bear cannister inside again thought it wasn't sitting as well with this version of the stuffing. I'd split up my tent and fly and stakes to pack it in a bit better.

I passed the large group just before the steep drop off from the camping area to the Death Canyon trail, the kids all lined up to one side of the trail as the adults conferred. I think they went towards Marion Lake as they didn't pass me on the Death Canyon trail. From there I dropped down about a thousand feet of elevation to get onto the canyon trail. I passed a couple resting about half way up, and my right knee was shaking, I would have hated to climb up it, even with all the switch backs. Dropping down fast I could watch the Shelf rising above me, losing sight of the peak of Grand Teton behind it. It was much greener in the open valley that started the canyon, I was following the river that ran down it and soon hit the top of the camping zone. It was two miles long so there was lots of space between clusters of camp sites. I made my way past the horse camp, winding in and out of trees and rocks, passing between bushes that were higher than my head. I was singing and talking a lot to announce my presence to any lurking bears, since it felt like I was walking through the perfect berry pantry. :-) At one point I passed between two shoulder high boulders bounding the path and came face to face with two marmot sunning themselves on the next boulder hidden behind the bend. One was blonde and one black, they were lined up side by side and made a pretty picture. :-) I saw a raptor circling above some higher trees, it was more hawk sized than golden eagle sized, at least if they're the same size here as the eagles I saw in India. I stopped at camp five for a snack as I was getting a bit faint. The trail was mostly dropping so it didn't feel like a lot of work, but I still was doing a few miles carrying about 45 pounds (I'd left one water bottle empty to save a kilo). I saw a group of cowboys stopped to eat at a clearing (camp stove and Mountain House packets), horses tied up all around. They asked me how far it was to Marion Lake (there's a hitching bar there), and I think I under estimated, but at least I conveyed that it was still pretty far (might have said 3-4 miles), though I have no way to estimate how fast they'd move mounted. One horse tied near the trail was twitchy as I passed, I went slow and easy. I saw the group camp site and started counting down from it, there were five sites left in the camping zone according to the map that the ranger had given me explaining where I could camp here, and I was aiming for the last one (didn't want to miss it and have to backtrack!). The camp numbers started getting incorporated into my anti-bear-surprise songs. :-) A while further on, in among taller trees, the group of cowboys passed me, they'd changed their minds. When I saw the trail below the camping zone the next day I understood how much they'd already done and it made sense that they turned around unless they were going to camp at Marion Lake. Though now I had fresh horse droppings to avoid as I walked down the trail, that made it's way into my bear songs as well - I was definitely getting punchy. The cowboys were the only people I saw on the Death Canyon trail that day, I was all on my own and worried that the trail surroundings looked perfect for bears to graze or nap in. There were rock falls and towering cliffs and tall confiers to either side of the trail, but the path itself was generally easy - the canyon seems to go steep, shallow, steep and I was in the shallow part. I followed the horses over an edged packed dirt trail section, it was kind of neat having hoofprints to follow instead of boot prints - this might be the first time I've encountered horses while backpacking, beyond the ones in India that helped carry our gear of course, so more people out for a pleasure ride.

I checked ou the 'cliff side' camp site, number 2, as I passed it, it was really nice, but I wanted to cover more distance for the day. There were lots of split log bridges of varying width as the trail criss crossed with the river. There were also some stone covered fording places, it was a mix. I got to the last camp site in the zone and sat to rest for a bit, evaluating the site as I examined my pictures for ones to delete as the card got filled up. I was feeling twitchy and exposed, it was in sight of the path and had many approaches through the woods that I kept checking for bears. I decided to screw the time/distance and head back to the nice cliff side site so that I'd have a relaxing camping experience. It only took me less than 20 minutes to get back up the trail, though I was going quickly as I thought that I heard hikers behind me and was worried that they'd catch up and pass and then claim 'my' site. :-) Being alone but for the cowboys on the trail was kind of eerie, I'd think I'd hear something but the twisty trail meant that the sight lines were back to being New England short, no more wide open vistas like up on the Shelf.

I got to the camp site and it was still empty, yay! A short climb up on top of a huge rock and there was a grassy bowl where I set my tent up and got my sleeping stuff inside. There was a lower shelf of rock closer to the river that was perfect for cooking and eating. There wasn't any place perfect for the bear cannister though, everything was close to a cliff or water! I grabbed my empty water bottle and went across and a few feet up the trail to check out the 'up the stone steps' camp. It stinks, it would suck to have to climb up with a pack and the dirt tent area was tiny. I backtracked, climbing down the steep cut out in the rock to get back to the trail, and found a path off of it that went down to the water. It was a bit of a reach to get the bottle into the river enough for it to fill up. It was gorgeous there, huge boulders and a few downed trees, then the canyon wall rises on the other side. I made my way back to my tent and realise that today's meals were pita with almond dip for lunch and lentil soup for dinner. I had the dip but traded tomorrow's extra cowboy pasta (I wasn't planning to stop for a hot lunch on the hike out to Teton Village) for th soup to make for dinner. I felt a bit nervous with my back to the trail and river sounds masking other noises. I moved to a scooped out rock hollow to write up the day, after some sitting and doing some sky gazing - a plane went over, contrail blown apart. There were small birds flitting about, and I saw a chipmunk on the other side of the river. Marmots or pica must live in the rock fall opposite my camp, unless it's too low down the canyon for them. I put on sunscreen and bug spray, I was out of the low bug zone for sure here (the flies loved the horse poop!), watching clouds of mosquitoes, fighting or mating? No bites though. I'd made it to camp at about 2:30pm, I think Forest and Vanessa would love this, I want to send postcards to them and Cris if I can from Teton Village. You can sometimes ask the hotel to mail them and add the postage to the room charges, I'd just have to find an open gift shop. I'll also need to empty my excess fuel - I still have lots in the bottle - and discard the can (gas station? outdoor store like we did in Patagonia?) and get some vinegar to clean out the bottle so I can fly with it. I love this camp site, it's easier to stay in the moment here - I'd been anticipating the next day's logistics a lot while hiking. We'll see how swiftly it cools off once the sun goes behind the ridge though. I took off my rain coat at camp five when it started getting warmer and haven't had to put it on again yet though the smooth rock is a bit cool on my back. I saw some blueberries by the river when I went to get water, so was a tiny bit worried that bears will come to browse. I saw another elk/deer by the first footbridge crossing. As I was searching for places to put my bear cannister and my toilet pit I also found a blueberry bush right beside the camp too, on the river side.

I stayed up until the sun left all the cliffs around the camp, enjoying the beautiful golden light on the rocks. I was taking the afternoon as a rest period in advance of the next day's long hike, plus being in an area with only one trail, my choices were to backtrack or go ahead and neither appealed. I secured my camp and got ready for bed. I started off a bit chilly in my tent, but wiggled around enough to get my pashmina inside my sleeping bags and added to my core covering to warm that up and fell asleep. In the dead of night I was woken by the tent flapping - there was no wind. I called out, shook the tent from the inside, turned on my headlamp, nothing more. But after a bit it came back again. I screwed up my courage and put the lamp on my head and looked outside - nothing. I kept the light on in the tent pocket for a while, no more noise. My heart was racing and my shoulders were tense up around my ears. I was hard to hear over the river (and the occasional plane going by over head). I felt secure enough to turn out the light eventually, but was still hyper listening. I had to put ear plugs in in order to dull my senses enough to sleep, hoping for the best. I slept through to dawn (good as I was sleep deprivation (and anxiety) nauseus during my wakeful period).

Friday September 5, 2014 - Death Canyon to Teton Village

I woke up and came out of my tent to see my hiking poles moved out from under the tent fly where I'd tucked them last night. One was a few feet away and the haldes and straps were all chewed up! It was not my imagination then. :-( I had also thought that I'd smelled something slightly gamey - not to the musky level that I'd expect from a bear, I thought it might have been an elk grazing around my tent. The elk I'd seen yesterday had bounded away in the stream, all four feet together, maybe it was an antelope? Whatever that visited my camp was probably after the salt in the pole grips from my sweaty hands, I'll probably need to wear gloves on the poles today. :-(

I went a bit further to set up my toilet pit that morning, working my way away from the trail on the other side into the sparse woods until I got behind a large tree. The up the stone steps camp was looming above, it always seeed hard to find a private location, I'm so spoiled by the thick woods out east. But at least it was a lot easier to dig my cat hole in the forest floor than trying to avoid rocks on the stony plateau. I made tea and hot couscous cereal - my kitchen was undistrubed. I couldn't quite finish the cereal and will pack it out as garbage. I also picked up MOOP around the camp site: there was a scouring pad by the river, matches (burned and not), and ironically a bear paw print earing. I thought of another friend who would have loved lounging here on the sun warmed rock. I'd love to come back to this site, it's accessible from a parking lot at the bottom of the canyon. I'd joked on the tram that this was my graduation trip, I definitely feel like I've levelled up my camping skills in the last year (winter, solo, bear, leave no trace).

I filled up and steri-penned two bottles of water. I'd forgotten to screw on the pre filter in camp, but I had to lie on a bigger rock as the smaller one was too slippery to stand on - it was still wet from frost. I wrote up the night's excitement as I was waiting for the tent to dry from the melting frost. I was up at 7am or so, I had lots of time. I'll be going past the Alaska Basin trail junction on this one before I hit the valley. Time to change into lighter hiking gear and break camp! 9am. The sign marking the end of the Death Canyon camping zone was right after the last camp site, I'd have seen it if I'd gone 10 more feet along the trail last night.

I didn't see anyone on the trail until past the intersection with Alaska Basin, where a random locked cabin was located next to the river. It was 2.5 miles from the cabin to Phelps Lake. I ran out of space on my camera card and sat again by the falls and rewmoved a few from the card I'd taken with me to India (the pictures were already on my computer, I just hadn't cleard the card since they weren't uploaded to share yet). I just removed a few taken in Delhi, hoarding the Leh ones. Squirrels were dropping stuff from the trees onto the trail and into bushes just past the cabin, I almost had a heart attack until I figured out where the sound was coming from (aka not a bear). It was mostly sunny with just some clouds high up, and I took off my rain jacket at the steep part of the canyon where the sun could get down on me. A bit further along, as I stood aside to let a family of hikers pass, I met a brother and sister who went to Tufts, the young woman living in Kendall Sq. I gave them a heads up about the aerial bombing squirrels and they warned me about a bear that was seen by a Seattle couple just down the trail, so I did some extra singing, though trying to keep an eye out for approaching hikers so I could tone it down a bit then. :-) The river turned into a water fall and the trail started to drop steeply. There were lots of rock falls along the cliff face, and bushes living off the river water. The waterfalls were gorgeous, rocky drops sparkling in the sunlight, bounded by the canyon walls and the trail.

I finally dropped down enough to see Phelp's Lake and stopped to take a picture of it in the distance, and then spotted a bear between me and the lake. I'd always said that I wouldn't take a picture if I encountered a bear (that seems like a Darwin Award waiting to happen), but my camera was out already to snap the lake so I took two quick shots to record my first bear sighting. It wasn't huge, maybe waist high and a cinnamon brown, grazing through the tall grasses and low bushes in an open meadow. The pictures came out blurry, but that was fine, I was more intent on stowing the camera and getting out of there. A lady came down the trail then (her head half shaved, nice to see some alternative looking people out on the trail) and told me that she felt like a bear magnet, she'd seen five in five days! Luckily she was going a different way, turning back to head to the trail head parking lot I think. I walked down with her a bit, passing an unmarked trail that went through the bear's meadow. I met an older couple from SF, the guy with a sun shade on his face who offered to check his phone GPS for me to verify if I'd missed my turning or not. Yes, yes, I had, it turned out that the trail going by the bear was the one that I needed to take to bypass the lake and head over to Teton Village. Crap. The couple walked back to the junction with me, pointing out a garter snake tucked under a boulder, my frist snake of the trip too - luckily I managed to not scream (phobia). I saw the lady I'd passed earlier, and she joined us to come and look at the bear too. I figured that they'd all distract it and I could sneak past, but as I moved loudly down the connector path, the bear had moved closer to that part of the meadow. It was very chill though, and I was making noise so it knew I was there. I made eye contact. It was definitely black from that angle, though it looked cinnamon from behind - where there two bears?!? This was an adolescent I think, it wasn't that big and would almost disappear in the brush as it grazed. I walked, not ran, to Phelp's Lake, and was very good about making noise. I was a bit spooked by the encounter, but very happy that it had been so benign.

The Valley Trail split from the lake loop and climbed up to a ridge to connect with the Open Canyon trail. I stopped there for a toilet break and a snack, thankful that the lower areas of the park were more tree filled for privacy since there were definitely more people around. Unfortunately there were also more mosquitoes and other biting things, I got a big welt from this stop. I made it to the Open Canyon trail at around 2pm, and from the map I had about 2.4 miles to the Granite Canyon intersection (I'd camped above that canyon at Marion Lake), and then the same again to Teton Village. I felt like I needed to hustle a bit, especially since the trail was steeper in parts than I'd counted on - it didn't follow the valley floor so much as drap itself over the upraised knees of the mountains, dipping down where canyons spilled out. There was a nice flat stretch where it dropped down to a canyon opening, widely spaced trees with nice sight lines. I made it to the Granite Canyon intersection at 3:30, in need of another snack, so I sat on a log there to rest and stretch for a while. This felt like Grand Central Station, so many hikers came through. I met an older couple from Cranmore, Alberta, the guy had a blast teasing me and I bantered back in kind. They'd heard a report about a bear up Granite Canyon, but not seen it themselves. Trail gossip, whee! They also said that the hiking near them wasn't as challenging as the Teton trails. Then a different couple from Seattle, who hadn't seen a bear in Death Canyon, arrived at the junction and I started talking to them as well, so much for my hurry. :-) Chris had hurt his Achilles tendon and Sally was going to hike out the longer way to get their car from Teton Village and drive back to pick him up at the Granite Canyon trailhead. Chris would only have to hike out 1.1 miles as opposed to the 2.4 to Teton Village, but he'd have to wait for a bit. Sally and I ended up walking out together, talking non stop (yay, perfect bear avoidance strategy). We passed some nice look out points over the valley and I used them as excuses to stop and take a picture and rest a bit - Sally only carried a small day pack, though I had toughened up and lightened my backpacking load over the previous days. Once we hit the Teton Village resort area (bye bye wilderness), we teamed up to navigate the construction site and unclear Valley Trail signage and mountain bikers whizzing past on their trails. We'd heard a big boom as we were approaching Teton Village but still out of site - construction? A four wheeler ATV and a huge construction truck went past us on a portion of gravel road that we had to take to connect between trails - they'd closed of a ski run to do some work on it I think and that detoured the hiking trail. They kicked up a lot of dust, we stood aside to let them pass and to let the dust settle a bit. I'm not sure that I'd have been able to find the trail if I'd started at the bottom rather than taking the tram up. We hit the Apres Vous lift and made our way up and then down from there, luckily we could mostly see the tram and gondola to give us something to aim for. We made it to the base at around 5pm.

Sally and Chris were staying in the Hotel Terra as well and she was willing to delay 5 minutes to let me check in, grab my stored suitcase, and throw my stuff upstairs. I unpacked my bear cannister, throwing everything into the bathroom to keep any dirt contained, gave it a cleaning swipe (the zip lock bags had held), grabbed my permit in case they needed to check the can off against it, and my wallet so I had id (it felt very very odd not to be carrying my whole house on my back), and ran downstairs to meet her. I'm so glad that she was willing to give me a lift back to the gate where someone had told me I could return the can, instead of having to somehow make my way back to Moose and the visitor center there - a huge flaw in my plan as I didn't have a rental car any more. Without the lift my plan had been to walk the mile or so to the gate house to return it myself, but getting back to the village so late I was pushing it for finding a ranger there - I wasn't sure how well it would work just to leave it outside with a note to please take it back. :-) Luckily we just made it to the gate before it closed and the ranger was fine with taking the return of my bear cannister, phew! But since Sally was heading right past the gate to pick up Chris, it was only a minimal delay for her - I'd offered to buy them a cocktail that evening as a thank you as well. :-) She was also able to sweet talk the ranger into waiving the entrance fee since she had an annual national parks pass and was just going in and right back out again. We waved coming back through the gate, but didn't see the ranger at that point. We continued up the road toward the Granite Canyon trailhead, and it quickly deteriorated into a dirt road full of potholes - no wonder the shuttle van went around the long way (barring the whole polluting the park and entry fee issues of course). By the time we got to the trail head Chris had been waiting for about an hour, not having any significant problems hiking out on his own. He insisted I stay in the front seat and cleaned out one of the back ones, putting their epic road trip supplies in the back of the SUV so that he could sit down. I was utterly relaxed on the drive back to Teton Village, I didn't have to hike anywhere, my cannister was returned, and I had plans to get my long anticipated cocktail later that evening. :-)

Back at the hotel and I could finally take in the luxury of the room. Double sinks in the bathroom and a huge square tub with jets all around the base of it, and super awesome bath products for me to try out. The wrapped up gift box on a high shelf was over $30 if you decided that you wanted to take it with you though. I stripped off my camping clothes and had one of the best showers of my life (the post-Kili climb one was just a tiny bit better, but that included more jungle sweat to get off). I let the water from the shower accumulate in the bath while I washed twice, letting my feet soak for a bit, then let all the water drain and did a fresh batch to soak all of myself in the tub. I had some skin irritation on my thighs from where my hiking pants had been rubbing, I think I needed to be better about taking baby wipe baths even when it's just me on the trail. :-) I was wondering a bit at the large tub in an eco hotel (as well as the pool and hot tub that were available off the gym), until I read a bit later that there are strict rules for what amenities hotels have to offer in order to qualify for certain star ratings.

We were meeting for drinks at about 8:30, having exchanged cell numbers in case we needed to get in touch, but just planning to meet in the lobby. I just had enough time to sort my stuff a bit (basically clean/dirty and check/carry on piles), clean my pot and mug in running water, and then find dinner. I had brought along my EMS shirt dress and wore that with my trail shoes, rain jacket and shoulder bag and hoped that I passed for outdoorsy chic. :-) I also left off my hat for the first time in ages, it was nice to have my shaved scalp out for air. I left the hotel on a search for healthy but not too heavy food, but lots of places had closed at 6. I found the Mangy Moose Saloon due to the noise of people on the patio and took a look at the menu to see if there was anything that appealed to me. The host came over from behind his stand (casually dressed in denim up and down) and pointed out somethings, basically talking me into staying, though I made him promise I could get a quiet table (I was feeling a bit over whelmed by all the people and noise after 5 days on the trail). They led me to a quiet table upstairs, oh, man, I felt my toe blisters and tired legs going up the stairs, I'd pushed my pace a bit with Sally as she was a lot taller than me. I had missed lunch, just snacking, so I was in a picky hungry mood. I ended up with my much desired fruit and veggies in the form of a fire grilled stone fruit salad (though I found out that my lip had cracked and split when the acidic dressing hit it), and a side dish of grilled asparagus. Then I had the mussels appetizer for some protein, though three didn't open and I left them alone. I went light on bread, hard on water, it was still super dry down there. Noise wafted up from the tables below the mezzanine where I was seated, but nothing impinged on my too badly and the server had to go past my table to her other ones so I wasn't too out of her way. Lots of skiing memorabilia on the walls, as well as some hunting stuff.

After finishing up my dinner I went back to my room and sorted things some more, then went down to the lobby to meet Chris and Sally a bit early, settling at a table to start my write up of the day. I wasn't sure if I'd just fall asleep if I tried that in the room with the nice big soft bed. My hotel rate was listed as a special, I was given a room near the elevators - I'd just finished reading 'Heads in Beds' and was trying to be a good guest but had to smirk at recognising this tactic (I'd probably never be back, was only staying one night, no reason for them to treat me extra well, though I could have asked and seen what happened). Luckily the hotel was pretty quiet, I don't think I heard anyone at all in the hall. I also had a vestibule that held the connecting door for the next room, I could close it off from the bed area to block any hallway noises. There was a cast moose antler tray and cowhide lamp covers, that honestly freaked me out a little bit. I had also called to confirm the airport shuttle for the next day, and verified that the auto check in for my return United flight went through. Plus posted a single picture to Facebook with an update that I was off the trail - one of my phone cam pictures up on the Shelf had come out okay.

They walked me over to The Spur in the Teton Lodge (I'd looked at booking in there, prices were ... high) since they'd had a good drink there previously. I tried their Bee's Knees but asked for it without the ginger beer, they had a very odd recipe (later back in Boston I encountered a lot of variations on this classic as well), but it ended up being as good as the ones I'd made myself at home. Conversation flowed easily and I was happy to find out that Chris makes his own simple syrup infusions, and also likes bourbon, and poutine. Sally and I had bonded on our hike out, it was great to see that Chris and I had a lot in common as well - he worked at Microsoft, and strongly reminded me of someone, we might have met in passing at a conference? We exchanged promises that if we were ever in each other's cities, we go out for cocktails. I recommended a lot of gin drinks for Sally to try and promised to send her a long email with details and started drafting it on my phone there (also including movie recommendations since they got me started on Fantasia). They told me about their trip to New Zealand and Glacier National Park, I'll be keeping them in mind when I plan my trip(s). They're in the middle of a huge road trip, they're hitting Montana and Utah next, and I said I'd send the name of the campground Sue and I had used outside of Moab. I had the bartender make a Bohemian for me and Sally since he had Peychaud's bitters and St. Germain. He let us taste the elderflower liquor first, Sally's eyes got wide. :-)

I headed back to my room at just after 10pm. It felt very odd for me to be in a king sized bed and not touching the sides of my tiny backpacking tent. :-) I planned to get up at around 8am to finish packing, get breakfast and deal with my excess stove fuel - I'd found the sports place across the way. I tried to figure out a way to turn off the computer phone, the screen was super bright in the dark room. It was about 11pm when I dozed off, hoping to hit the hot tub in the morning. I also needed to decide what to do with my packed out garbage, most of it was sealed up but some could technically be flushed - basically I didn't want to leave it for the poor cleaning lady to find. :-)

Saturday September 16, 2014 - Teton Village to Boston

I woke up at 7am, the sun was just coming up. I decided to hit the pool / hot tub since I was up before I'd planned, but found that I couldn't get the elevator to take me to the floor with the hot tub. I popped out to the front desk in my robe over my bathing suit and asked the desk staff what was up - the roof top tub didn't open until 10am. :-( The open air infinity pool was open though, and there were jets in it and it was warmed to about 90F. Okay, fine, I can make do. :-) I sat on the side for a bit and used the water jets to massage my legs, moving around to find the strongest ones and trying to keep my feet in the warm lower ones as well. The maintenance guy was moving around the pool but not being creepy at all with just me in the water. I sat for about fifteen minutes then I swam to the edge of the infinity pool lip and watched the water falling over into the gutter around the pool for a bit. It wasn't a true infinity effect as there was a railing past the edge that broke the view out over the village and the ski slopes. The sun was starting to beat down on me as it came over the top of the mountain peaks and I was starting to feel a bit crispy. I dried off by the pool so that I wouldn't be dripping all over everything then made my way back over the enclosed bridge to the other hotel building where my room was. I started running the bath so that the water would have time to rise over the jets so I could have some more bubbles after I finished packing. I rinsed out my fuel bottle with plain water and a bit of scented soap until I couldn't smell the gas any more, but I also put it into it's own ziplock bag to keep the odour contained even more.

I was starving at that point, so went down to the hotel cafe for breakfast - there was a fairly long line at 9am. I put in my order for a fritatta and tea and sat in the corner, a bit overwhelmed by all the conversations going on around me - I'd lost the knack of tuning people out I think. I spotted Sally and stopped her to ask if they could use some white gas since I knew they were travelling by car rather than plane and could hold on to it until they got home if they didn't use it. She said yes, a bit thrown off by the question first thing in the morning, but happy to take my leftovers once she got what I was asking. :-) I ran up to my room via the stairs (omg legs still sore despite all the soaking) to fetch the big can for them. I gave them my lighter too, but I left the matches for housekeeping (I'd flown with a small box of matches inside my stove bag by mistake, oops!). I was all done with my breakfast so hugged them goodbye and went back upstairs to finish up the last of my packing. I had lots of room this time, both of my suitcases ended up being pretty light. I don't really want to know how much the food weighed.

I went down to the lobby at 10:15 to check out, catch up on writing my trip diary and to wait for my shuttle pick up. I wanted to leave enough time to roll my suitcases down the outside ramp instead of wrestling them down the stairs (granted the driver would be doing it but...). I did that a bit before 10:30 and stood around while two loaded SUVs were departing and noticed that some paragliders / parachuters were coming in to land as I was waiting. I grabbed some quick pictures of them on my camera, half wishing that I'd swallowed the cost and my fear of heights and signed up to try it myself. The AllTrans pulled up to get me right on time. My driver was named Chance, or Cody, something that sounded like a Western hero. :-) He highly recommended skiing Grand Targhee, since he felt the snow was better (lighter/drier) on the other side of the Tetons. We stopped to pick up a woman from NYC at a cabins style hotel in Jackson, she was quite talkative. She'd done a guided tour in Yellowstone, and proud of making it up a hike after starting to work out a couple of months prior. I didn't mention much about my hike, not that I really had an opening to talk. I'd also taken the first bench seat in the back and she was in the front passenger seat next to Chance/Cody and bending his ear from there. She was also on my flight to Denver (not that many flights leaving per day, so not that odd a coincidence) in my boarding group, we walked out along the tarmac to the plane together. I was in line for bag check behind some hunters who were checking two fifty pound boxes of meat in dry ice. I mentioned that there was an empty fuel bottle in my luggage, the check-in agent said that they'd page me if there was a problem with it. I'm not sure she understood what I meant, I was just disclosing it but not thinking it would be a problem, I think she might have thought it was one of those sealed cannisters that you can't refill/empty. She had asked me about bear spray explicitly, and a photo at security showed the unrefillable fuel cannister as prohibited. The coffee stand before security didn't have a seating area, I guess it was for arriving passengers. I got TSA precheck on my boarding pass and was given a line timing card (I think) as I went through the metal detector. I kept my trail runners on, but I took off my jacket, belt and hat. My lips were a mess, the skin right under the bottom lip peeling, the corner top split, the corner bottom burned, and a cold sore blossoming. I'd seriously neglected my lip balm, lesson learned why it's always on backpacking gear lists. :-( So I was feeling a bit self conscious about my face now that I knew what it looked like, I'd been fine out by myself. *sigh* With my belt off (a narrow belt I'd added to my slightly loose hiking pants at the start of the trip) my pants were very loose, I'd lost quite a few inches at my waist over the course of the week.

The food court after security was fairly busy, I ordered a grilled chicken burrito that came with nachos and was huge enough that it took me close to boarding to finish it. I had gorgeous views of the Tetons from the seating area and I took a quick snapshot of what I thought was my plane. In the end it turned out to be the very delayed previous Denver flight. There was some confusion at boarding since the flights were boarding next to each other, at gates nine and eight. The finally got us all on, walking out and up a portable ramp into the plane (my calves weren't doing too badly on these stairs at least). There was a big family with a crying baby in the terminal who were seated near me on the plane but a woman moved and left me with an empty middle seat next to me and the baby quieted down inside the plane. It was a smooth flight to Denver, only taking about an hour. I didn't recognise it, we didn't have a precipitous approach over the Rockies from this direction.

We came in at gate B26, I just had to go over one moving walkway to get to B29 for my flight to Boston. I saw some neat hair clips at the booth, I looked it up online once I got home and book marked it for presents - the nice ones were just expensive enough to make me not want to buy them on the spot. I had a few minutes and backtracked to a small cafe to get a mango blueberry smoothie, it was so good! There were lots of people carrying on meals on my next flight, but I still felt full from the burrito in Jackson. An English guy and his American lady partner were next to me, but I just put my headphones on since I was feeling exhausted and just wanted to nap. I missed the water service though. It was just over a three hour flight, they predicted that we'd be landing 30 minutes early, that was going to be nice, but they also said that it was a 30+ degree C day in Boston - I was missing the frosty mountain air already! I was really glad that I'd remembered to take out my trash and put it in the big collector bin before I left, but I found out when I got back into my email that my CSA share had been skipped (I'd asked them to leave a share for me on the Friday night and I'd pick it up when I landed). I think that Cris (who was organising the CSA splitting) was in transit from Paris at the same time as I was in the air, though he'd probably be landing in terminal E from his international flight. I saw out the window that we were passing over a wind farm, it was very dispersed. I also saw solar panels on the car rental parking in Denver, nice to see in person after seeing multiple pictures of it. Flying over Chicago, the grid with diagonals very familiar, and an almost full moon in a pink tinged dusk sky. Counting up the miles and hours I hiked on this trip will be fun, I should get a lot of points in Fitocracy. My rough total for the 5 days was 32 miles, I'm hoping to hit the backpacking quests as I doubt that I'll go out with such a big pack again. :-) Spoiler: turns out that they changed the quests to make the 'military' ones dependent on speed rather than weight+distance, but I got all the ones in the level below it, yay!

Here are my time, distance, pack weight notes:

Monday: 11:20am-5pm, 7 miles, 50lb, 5.5 hours -> Marion Lake
Tuesday: 11am-1:50pm, about 4 miles, 50lb, 2h50m -> Death Canyon Shelf
Tuesday: 2 hours, 2 miles, 25lb -> group site on DCS
Wednesday: 11am-4:50pm, 6 miles, 25lbs, 5.5 hours -> DCS to the sheep stairs
Thursday: 4 hours, 4.5 miles, 50 or 45lb? -> DCS to Death Canyon 
Friday: 9am-5pm, 45lb?, about 1 mile to Alaska Basin, 2.5m AB-Phelps, 4.8 Phelps-TV I think, from the 
intersection of Death Canyon Shelf and Death Canyon it said 13.4 miles to TV, so take off the 4 or so 
that I did Thursday? 9 miles? 8.3? -> Death Canyon to Teton Village

I saw a gorgeous sunset from the plane, all orange and purple. I looked through the pictures that I'd taken to double check trail signs and mileage and was reassured to see that a lot of them that had looked over exposed when I was checking them on the trail look fine when I tilted the camera to get a different angle on the screen - I feared I would regret some of the deleted ones, they'd probably been fine. I definitely needed a new larger camera card to go with the new camera, 2Gb goes fast at 10Mb per picture! I landed in Boston a bit earlier than scheduled and picked up my checked case and was on the Silver line heading home by just after 10pm. It wasn't crowded and I got my suitcases onto the Green line train and the 80 bus okay. Rolling them the last few blocks home on uneven and cut out sidewalks, rushing to try and get home ahead of the rain, was the most challenging part. I got there by 11:30, but then I stayed up until 2am reading, yay jet lag.

Back to my diary page.