After a very very long drive from Chicago to Omaha, NE the first night and Omaha, NE to Dubois, WY the second day, we finally arrived at a cool little motel not far from the Grand Teton National Park. If you've seen Wild, or read the book, I completely felt like Cheryl - packing all of my items one by one for the first time (of many), and filling up my water reservoir, a little afraid at the final weight of my brand new pack. I was nervous and excited to get the show on a roll! We drove the final 1 hour to Grand Teton National Park, enjoying the view along the way. Before driving to our departure Trail Head (Death Canyon TH) we checked out some of the more touristy spots - Jenny Lake Lodge and the post "Moose". We checked into the Backcountry Office at Jenny Lake Ranger Station - applied for and paid for two nights stay in the park for $25, and picked up our Bear Canister. Things suddenly became very real.
Saturday June 27: Our departure trailhead was down a dirt road (that honestly the Acura should not have been driven down...) lined with day hikers and a few excited backpackers. We found a shady spot to park the car, and started to unpack our goods and get situated. By 1:45pm we were on a small trail, leading to the Death Canyon Trail. I have to be honest - the first mile or so was not so great. My pack was heavy, I was unsure about how it should sit, and it was HOT HOT HOT. I have a history of over-heating to the point of passing out, and also severe heat exhaustion. Needless to say, I knew right away that this would push any all of my previous boundaries. Once on the trail, it was such intense climbing and sooo hot, part of me was ready to call it. But a louder, stronger side of me was saying ... "you seriously have to do this, for Danny, but also for you!" This might sound overly dramatic, but believe me - I was teetering on this edge for the entire first day, all 8 miles of this crazy adventure.
We eventually made it over the first mountain (literally and figuratively :) and into Death Canyon. This area was a prime habitat for all sorts of wildlife including bears and snakes. This kept us on our toes and we tried to pick up speed. We were trying to make up for our very slow 1-mph start. During this part we were probably traveling at 1.75 mph. Not great, and it was not looking for for us to make it to the "Shelf". Danny had high hopes that we would be able to hike through the canyon and up the top to camp on the "Death Canyon Shelf". Supposedly the sunrise is incredible from there - we don't know for sure, because we never made it! Next time Danny :)
Our first night of camp was at the very far end of the campsite zone. We set up camp near the river, and went out in search of a cooking spot. Because of the risk of bears, we had to cook and leave all things smelly (toothpaste, chapstick, suncreen, etc.) in the bear canister about 200 yards from our camp. We found the perfect stone perch to cook dinner at about 9pm, enjoy the sunset at about 9:30pm, and make the trek back to our camp by 9:55pm. It was a little chilly that first night, so we climbed straight into our mummy sleeping bags and went to sleep - day one - check.
Sunday June 28: Breakfast was back at the cooking spot, at 8am. With all of our things packed and 4 bottles of water filled up and purified, we were ready to make the big climb - the biggest of the day. Much to my surprise, it was much easier today! My pack was sitting in a better place on my hips, I had improved my walking stick rhythm, and I was quickly learning my aerobic strengths and boundaries. I took off in the lead charging up out of the canyon and it felt great! Danny was ecstatic that things were going 10x better already than yesterday.
We hiked along the crest on the "Teton Crest Trail" for about an hour, to Marion Lake. It was beautiful and cold! Icebergs floated in the middle of the lake. We sat and enjoyed lunch at the lake, careful not to lose any items to the thrify marmots! A couple of travelers that we ran into had a run-in with the marmots the night before - chewing up one of the guys' shoe laces and part of his backpack strap. How terrible! They are sort of like a mix between squirrels and raccoons... curious and pushy! Anyway, we left Marion lake without any marmot damage and somehow we came out tick-free. After a typical lunch of hard salami, soft cheese, and multi-grain crackers we continued down the path to the next canyon.
Things got a little dicey here - somewhere along the way I developed my first blister AND we lost track of the trail... Once Danny realized it, I took the opportunity to rest my feet while he ran back to the last sign. We had missed a turn and were already 1/4-mile into the third canyon on the map. It was an additional 2.2 miles if we continued. The idea of back tracking didn't sound appealing, and we were making pretty good time so we decided to change our route.
Once we were back on track and entering the "Lower Granite Canyon" it was starting to get dark and I was definitely running out of steam. The thought of hiking an additional 4 miles did not seem possible, but I was surprised of what I was capable of when it came down to it! We had to get through 3 sections of "Bear Brush" (a name we created to describe regions that seemed like good bear habitat - long thick grass taller that Danny usually near water), find an open campsite, pitch our tent, find a cook spot, and cook dinner all before sun down! Things got pretty intense. Our feet were dragging when we finally came to a site. I stopped to rest, while Danny ran ahead to see if the next one was better. He came back with good news - we could camp right where I landed!!
We did just that. I pitched the tent, while Danny went to find a cooking spot. I didn't think he could top our cooking spot from the night before, but he did! About a 150 yards up the trail we staked out on top of a granite boulder along the river. It was incredible. Danny made dinner while I started painting a watercolor post card. Once again, the calm of the night made the day hike worth it. Just before nightfall we made it back to camp, wiped down in the freezing cold river, and went straight to bed. Day two - in the books.
Monday June 29: Breakfast was back on the same boulder at 7:30am. I finished up my watercolor postcard and enjoyed some coffee and a breakfast bar. We were only 4 miles from the finish, but I knew the end would be tough because I saw what was ahead on day one. Back up that horrible mountain to the trail head! Once again however, I started off feeling stronger than the day before. We were traveling quickly in the cooler morning air, which was still plenty warm! Full steam ahead, we made it to the Trail Head by 11:30am! Wow, what an amazing feeling! We did it. Making it to our hot dusty car, it felt great to peel off my socks, put on a fresh tank top with a feeling of great accomplishment. Finally I understood the purpose of all that pain - you can confidently say, I DID THAT :)
That morning we had talked about what reward meal we were going to have on our car ride from Tetons to Yellowstone - a big cheeseburger, fries, and a cold cold beer. Signal Mountain had just what we were looking for plus Onion Rings as a bonus!! A beer never tasted so good. It wasn't long though before we were back on the road to our second adventure - Yellowstone National Park for the next 2 nights...