Backpacking is like day hiking on steroids. The load you carry is considerably larger and the trails tend to be longer and much, much more steep. It seems there’s no in-between.
After a few friends of ours wanted Ben’s help to climb the Grand Teton, we decided to make it a mini vacation for ourselves as well. The plan was for Ben to take me up the Grand to get to know the route better than he could from just reading about it and talking to people. Then, the next day, he would take up our two friends. That was the plan.
As an old friend used to say, “the only sure thing about a plan is the plan will change.”
Sunday afternoon, after I got home from working a race, we loaded up the car as fast as we could and hit the road heading toward the northwest corner of Wyoming. Driving through the barren landscape, I took a nap in the passenger seat as Ben drove on.
We arrived in Jackson, WY around 8pm, checked into a hotel and searched for some food while walking around the cute town. After looking around for quite a while, we finally found an affordable place to eat at a local pizza and pasta joint, Pizzeria Caldera. My baked ziti was delicious and Ben ate his whole pizza.
The next morning, we drove up the highway into Grand Teton National Park, checked in at the Ranger’s station to get our back country permits, and off we were to the trailhead. It took us awhile to get organized and ready to hike (partly due to a leaky camel-bak), but eventually we made our way onto the trails.
With a short misleading beginning, the trail starts off flat and into a gradual incline, but once it started to incline, it never stopped! The 6 or 7 miles (Ben keeps telling me something different) was the hardest trail I’ve ever hiked, let alone with 45 pounds on my back. A seemingly endless climb, loose dirt and rocks, boulders to scramble over…. 6 miles over this varying terrain challenged me beyond my ability.
With about a mile left, and at least 1000ft, I was reaching the end of my energy levels. Crying and struggling to take steps, my trekking poles kept getting stuck. With a small temper-tantrum, I chucked the poles up hill while Ben snapped some photos of my hissy-fit. I was so done with that hike. I was crying because I was tried, feeling defeated, under trained and my thoughts kept drifting to my life and why I was feeling so out of shape!
After one more tantrum (I’m not making this up), we made it closer, but still had half that ground to cover, but not really knowing how much was left (Ben didn’t even know, having never been there), I was finding it hard to keep moving. I kept looking up and no matter how many steps I took, the peaks didn’t seem to get any closer!
Not even bothering to use my poles, I dragged them behind me. Ben took this moment to go ahead to the camping spot (how he can just trek up mountains like their nothing, I’ll never know). He dropped his bags, turned around, came back to grab mine and we finished the quarter-mile to where we would set up camp.
After a quick dinner, I was asleep in the tent before the sun went down. Justly so, we had an early wake up call at 1:00 am the next morning. We woke up with an almost-full moon overhead lighting up the whole mountain corridor. With a much smaller pack, we left camp and started out on the last bit of the approach to the climb.
It was painstaking work to me. More steep hills, loose dirt and rocks, large rocks to step over… I was breathing hard within the first few minutes. This was hard. REALLY HARD. Harder than anything I’ve every tried before. And I’m not sure why.
As the hike went on, there was more scrambling, short-roping and slippery boulder stepping than I wanted to deal with. The higher we went the more nauseous I felt. Altitude sickness? Maybe. Nerves thinking about what lie ahead? Maybe. Exhaustion? Probably. A mix of all the above? Most definitely.
At a place called the Needle, I sat there thinking about the amount of rope work ahead of us and the tall peak we were about the climb. I felt like I was going to throw up. Ben thought I looked pale. I started to get a headache and we decided to turn around before the harness needed to come on.
Days later, I’m still disappointed in myself and going over my thoughts. Was I scared? Was it all in my head? Or did I really have the onset of altitude sickness? I don’t know. I’ll never know.
After we hiked back to camp, I curled up, back in my sleeping bag again. As it turns out, a thunder-storm rolled in and that would’ve meant we would have been stuck on the summit during the storm. I guess it all works out for a reason. See, the plan always changes.
The storms raged off and on throughout the day. We found a nearby cave that we could stand in (rather than being scrunched up in the tent). We caught bits of conversation with the area guides stopping in for a reprieve from the rain while we waited for our friends to hike in.
Eventually the rain stopped and our friends reached camp. We helped them set up camp, go over what they needed for their next day’s summit attempt, and cooked some dinner.
The rest of MY journey from here is pretty boring (except the storm on the way out, but more on that later). Ben and our two friends hiked and climbed for 11 hours to and from camp and made it to the summit! Their journey sounds amazing and I am super jealous. These two ladies from Golden wanted to do something BIG for their 50th birthday and they accomplished it all, putting me to shame!
I slept in, sat in the tent, read a book, hiked the little bit to stream to get water, read some more, ate food, and waited around. But at least I had some fresh mountain air and beautiful views!
Once they came back to camp, we packed all our gear back up, only a few pounds lighter from eating food, and hiked out. About half way down, a storm thundered nearby and got closer and closer. Terrified of lighting and since Ben was staying with our friends, I picked up the pace, running between clearings, catching my breath in the forested areas but banging my poles together in the woods, attempting to scare away any bears since I was hiking by myself.
Yes, there were really bears in the area and we got many reports of sightings on our way up. However, the only wildlife we saw were pika, marmots, deer and chipmunks.
It was probably a hilarious sight to see, me careening down the trail with a 40 pound bag on my back. Getting tired of running and still nervous about the lightning, I slowed my pace, feeling exhausted when I heard the magical sounds of…. A CAR HORN! I was close, I must be! I picked my pace back up, escaping the confine of the woods to the safety of my car!
After dropping off our bear cans at the ranger station, we celebrated an incredible journey at the Snake River Brewery back in Jackson! The next day, we slowly got up, had breakfast at Cafe Genevieve and drove north again for some sightseeing in the rest of Teton National Park and a little bit of Yellowstone National Park.