Backpacking in the Grand Teton National Park (attempting to climb the Grand)

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.

Super hazy from all the nearby (ish) fires

This is not the grand. This is a ridge right in front.

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.

This IS the trail….just right over those giant boulders…

Still looking generally happy….

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!

You can’t see, but I’m definitely crying in the pictures and have just thrown my poles.

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!

I look PISSED!

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.

The view in the morning…

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.

Trying to look happy after turning around

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.

The cave…bigger than it looks!

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!

Waiting in the tent for them to come back

The fresh water stream we got our water from…yes, we boiled it or used a Lifestraw!

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.

Hiking out

A marmot, posing for me

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!

This was actually the start of the hike but thats my sweet Jeep!

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.

Yellowstone Lake

Wild West Relay – Pre Race Review

wild west relay coloradoWith a tag line of “Get your ass over the pass,” the Wild West Relay starts Friday morning in Fort Collins, CO, travels up into Wyoming and back down to the C-O, ending in Steamboat Springs……What the hell did I agree to do!? AND pay money for!? I’m a little freaked out. I’m suddenly getting really nervous for this relay race. (Thanks to everyone telling me I’ll do find! Especially kandjcoloradoliving who did the race last year! I appreciate it!)

Ok, I’m being a little dramatic. But, honestly, I am really nervous for this event. I’ve never done a relay before. I chose the third highest amount of total miles to run – 19.1! This does not, by any means, mean that I have the third most difficult sections. Some of the lower milage legs have really big hills to climb! I have three, 6+ mile legs, that don’t have too much elevation change, but I do go up into Wyoming. If I get a picture of the wyoming state sign, do I get to count this as my wyoming race?????!!. I hope I can do this!!

Starting Thursday night, after work, I head “out of town” to meet my team members (not that much out of town – just an hour’s drive up to Fort Collins where I actually lived for five years in college). I’ve never met any of these people before. We’ve all been exchanging emails, and I spoke with the captain on the phone only once. Through the emails, everyone seems really nice. One guy is having us all over for dinner Thursday night, mostly likely to feed out faces with a lot of carbs and to discuss the last details of everything. A few of the others that live in Fort Collins are offering their houses for us out of towners. I know at least one is from New Mexico and one is from Kansas. The rest, I believe, are either here in Denver with me or already up in FoCo.

wild west relay coloradoI’m writing this post as I take a break from packing. Packing for a relay race is hard. You can’t pack too much, because there is limited space in the vans. But you have to pack enough to get you through three runs…including if weather gets crazy on ya. Also, we are staying in Steamboat Springs the night after to relax (and hopefully to swim in the hot springs and drink lots of beers!) so you have to make sure you have clothes for the extra day….. blah!

Things that scare me about a relay race: 1) Running in the dark. Alone. On back roads. Yeah, a little scary…a little “the hills have eyes” feeling going on there! 2) Running 6+ miles, three times, in a day and a half. That’s a lot of running! 3) Being able to eat right. With all these different legs of the race, and being up at weird hours, I think it is going to be had to get adequate nutrition. It’s hard to pack that kind of stuff too. I have a bunch of snacks like granola/protein/energy bars, trail mix, fruit (fresh and dried), but it’s hard to pack substantial food because a lot of that stuff requires either cooking or a cooler. I’m not sure if our van has a cooler and I wonder if we’ll eat at a restaurant at some point. 4) Water. I think I’ve decided I’m going to run with my Camelbak, especially at night, but probably only half full (that’s optimism right there!). Its not that I necessarily need to run with water for a 6 miles run, but I can carry a few things I might need like pepper spray (for the creepy hills have eyes people..or bears, or mountain lions…or tigers…wait a minute, I’m not running to Oz), maybe extra socks, poncho (maybe..), and my phone…just in case and for music. I’ll also be attaching a blinking light for when I run at night and there are reflective strips on my camelbak. As required by the race people, I will have a head lamp for running my night leg. I’ll be sure to take a picture, because I’m sure this will make me look super cool.

Things that don’t scare me but weird me out: 1) No headphones allowed. YIKES! I survive runs on music alone sometimes. I think what I might do is just have my phone on speaker and listen to the music player because this is allowed. I do completely understand this rule; it is MUCH safer to run without headphones on these type of roads and times of day. I still need to create a running playlist on my phone….so much to do. 2) What if it rains? Now, I’m not opposed to running in the rain, but HEAVY rain could be a problem. Wet clothes for 6 miles does not sound fun. I actually don’t own a raincoat. Yeah, pathetic I know, for a Coloradian especially. (Anyone suggest a good, lightweight, semi cheap, rain coat??? for the future of course, I’m running out of time now) I am bringing a poncho, but I’m not sure how easy running in something like that would be! 3) What if I have to pee?? I can normally go for an hour run without having to pee, but with all the nerves and weird eat/drinking/sleeping schedules over the weekend, you never know! The rules clearly say, “no relieving yourself on public property.”  Yes, this is written multiple times and I think most of the course is public property since it’s mostly through farm lands.

Things that I look forward to: 1) Meeting all these fun, new people!! I’m so excited to meet more crazy running fanatics! 2) ROAD KILL! No, not like dead animals. I’ll probably cry if I see a dead animal while running, but read this from my participant email: “BIB NUMBERS – 
This year, bib numbers were assigned by your starting time. This way, you’ll be able to really track your road kill – if you pass a team with a bib number lower than yours, you know it is true road kill.” I guess this is a normal relay term, but I had never heard it and it cracked me up! I want to get a “road kill” so bad! 3) Another email stated this: “We will be having a contest this year – the WWR finish line staff will be voting on the most original/creative finish.” I think there could be pretty fun to do and watch!!! Anyone have any good ideas?? Please let me know so I can tell my team!!!! 4) We get in discount to the hot springs! As WWR runners, we can get in and use the pool and showers. Uh, super excited about that.

Goals?: Hmm… 1) Get road kill. That is all.

Since I stalled and wasted a lot of time writing this, I better get back to packing and making my “Caution! Runner’s on Road” sign.

I will be trying to live Tweet my team’s progress through the relay! Follow me on Twitter @Racingthestates

Anyone else doing races this weekend!? Good luck to you! And everyone else, have a fantastic weekend!