Monday, August 23, 2010

The futility of speech

[The last of the time-delayed posts (we hope). But the pictures weren't all on the PC so look for an update with the rest later!]

The noted philosopher Thomas Roman said it best: “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Grand Teton is everything we imagined and hoped for, and more. I don’t want to leave. Really, I want to say “screw the 7-day limit” and claim squatter’s right on this campsite until they drag me kicking and screaming from this place. I love it here. Alyssa does too. There is zero doubt in my mind that when we arrive in Seattle, we will begin planning our next vacation in Grand Teton.

Just north of Jackson, WY and immediately south of Yellowstone, there stands an array of craggy peaks collectively known as the Tetons. A week ago, we left Yellowstone at 5:45am and drove south in hopes of getting a site at the coveted Jenny Lake campground. And the early bird, as they say, got their worm. Our site here is phenomenal. A little bit of shade, just close enough to the bathrooms to be convenient, but not so much as to find the slamming door a nuisance. Alyssa may not like the lack of showers, but who needs that when you’re less than a quarter mile from the lake? Yeah, I’m gushing, but it’s is only that good because…

We are right at the base of the Tetons. I mean, we stare up at them from our site. All we have to do is walk down to the boat dock, and in a few short minutes, we are there – right in them!! And where Steve McQueen may have lamented being kept from the mountains in the closing minutes of Tom Horn, we need have no such concerns. And in the last week, we have taken full advantage. This is one amazing place!

The view from Dornan's.
Our first day here, Friday morning, we secured our campsite by 8am and then headed to Dornan’s for a chuck wagon breakfast. This is no ordinary chuck wagon though. Imagine all-you-can-eat sourdough pancakes, cooked fresh for you while you sit outside at a picnic table with a staggering view of the Tetons. Yeah, pretty awesome. When we were sure that check-out time had passed for our campsites prior occupants, we headed back and pitched tent, strung tarp, set up chairs, and got comfy. But within minutes, we were eager to get out there and see the scenery.

On our first day, given our late start, we only did the 3-mile String Lake loop, which still afforded us some nice scenery. And on Saturday, we upped the ante and circled Jenny Lake on the 7-mile trail and then finished our day with a nice kayak trip on which we saw a bald eagle high above us in the shoreline treetops. The real work would start on Sunday!

We woke early and caught the 7am ferry special across Jenny Lake. Our destination for the day was Lake Solitude, at the distant end of Cascade Canyon, which we had been told was excellent moose habitat. The 14.8-mile round trip was both a leg stretcher and an ankle breaker, climbing 2,300 feet, most of that in the last two and a half miles of the ascent. We were sweating and gasping for breath as we reached the top, but oh was it worth it! We found a quiet spot on the far side of the lake to relax and have our lunch. Alyssa read a little of Sookie Stackhouse’s early adventures while I got a little shut-eye to recuperate for the trek down.

Can you see the beast, Miss Moneypenny?
The scenery on the return hike was even better, as the Tetons now occupied our full view, and we weren’t staring down at our feet in exhaustion. Once we returned to the canyon, the route became a bit monotonous, but the boredom was shattered when we got our promised “moose viewing”. We watched from a good distance as he chomped away at the creekside vegetation, his massive antlers swaying gently from side to side. We smiled as we started back down the trail again, only to have those smiles wiped away when we reached Inspiration Point.

The sole downside of the Jenny Lake area is that the boat ferries people across a lake that would normally require a minimum five mile hike. Thus people can forego that effort to get to the base of the Hidden Falls/Inspiration Point trail, and not educate themselves on what that trail involves – which is five hundred feet of rocky switchbacks in less than a mile. So every tennis sneaker explorer was headed up to Inspiration Point as we were heading down, many of them clinging frantically to the cliff wall for purchase, which incidentally was the side we were supposed to be coming down on. It had flashed of Yellowstone for an instant, but once we were back at our campsite, all was well again.

On Monday, we had scheduled a Snake River scenic and whitewate rafting trip, and though the water was well below springtime flood levels, we still enjoyed the trip. The whitewater was nothing close to what we had in West Virginia, but I raised the idea of rafting the Gauley in October to Alyssa. I’m working on it! Our guides for both legs of the trip were east coast transplants - the scenic guide was from Framingham and a staunch proponent of Jay Peak's skiing!

We had decided to make a night of it in Jackson, and our first stop was the Snake River Brewing Company, where I dined on my first buffalo wings since having left Boston. The withdrawal symptoms may not have been evident, but the ravenous hunger with which I devoured them was that of an addict. We tried four of their microbrews and would definitely rate them as high on our list. After happy hour, we did some shopping for Alyssa. You see, despite the fact I had told her it would be cold out here, she failed to pack what one might consider “appropriate” clothing. So we got her a nice Patagonia sweater, and then headed for an early dinner. We were back on the road to Teton by 8pm, our hunger and thirst fully sated.

The next day, we visited the Rockefeller Preserve, a new addition to the park donated by noted conservationist Laurence Rockefeller. The visitor center here was a much different approach – less informative and more contemplative. We then did the seven-mile circuit around Phelps Lake, and rested by the shore for lunch. The trail was fairly quiet and we got to relax at a few of the benches along the way without fear of being disturbed.

On Wednesday, Alyssa decided not to accompany me on my proposed ascent of the Amphitheater Lake trail – 11 miles round trip, 3100 feet of elevation gain. So she did laundry and I did the mountain and at about the four-mile mark, I might have agreed to trade places with her, not knowing she was sitting in hours of traffic due to road construction in the park (your recovery dollars at work!!). At the top of the trail, you first come upon Surprise Lake, likely so named because you turn a corner on the trail and are surprised to find a lake there in front of you. The view was wonderful, with the Tetons framing the lake, and a couple of hikers suggested I come around to the lake’s southern edge and get a view into the valley below. And when I say “below”, I mean way below, as I was staring out over a cliff edge with no floor in sight. I then continued up to Amphitheater Lake, which was even more spectacular, and settled there for lunch and to get my legs back. On the return trip, I took a couple of off-trail detours to look down upon a glacial lake on the trail’s north side, and then to summit Surprise Lake Pinnacle, 200 feet above the cliff wall where I had been looking down before. Both routes gave me much different perspectives on the route I had taken up.

On the way down, I gave Alyssa a ring and she picked me up at the trailhead, informing me that she had spent an hour and a half to get to Colter Bay, 20 miles from our campsite, and another hour getting back. I hope these new roads are worth it! I took a dip in Jenny Lake, since Alyssa was freshly showered, and I was coated with the salt of a day’s perspiration. The frigid waters were a shock at first, but then a pleasant salve to the tired muscles of this hiker.

Thursday, we had decided to do the Death Canyon hike, an 8-mile round trip with about 1500 feet of elevation. Don’t worry about the ominous name, the trail is very much alive, and we enjoyed the hike, despite my back spasms acting up as we reached the far end of the round-trip. But this would be our last day in the park, and we were none to happy about that. After I took another cleansing dip in Jenny Lake, we settled down to read at the campsite, knowing we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the spot much longer.

Tomorrow we will end this stop as we began it, with another breakfast at Dornan’s, with that amazing mountain view. And from there, it is on to Craters of the Moon in Idaho, then Boise, then beyond. See you soon!

[Note: the title of the post is a reference from the park's first explorers, whose names I forgot to jot down.]

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