Tuesday 22nd November – Me and the Grand Tetons

Up with the sun, I was happy to find that my camp was lovely. I had a nice view of snow-capped mountains and could hear that I was nearby a river, though I was up too high to see it. I got going pretty quickly because I wanted to make the most of today since I was the only sunny day I was likely to have here according to the weather forecast. I set off before breakfast and enjoyed the views as I drove through national forest land to enter the park on the south side.

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At the Taggart Lake trailhead where the road was closed, I parked next to yet another astro van. I asked the couple there if they lived in it, but they did not, avoiding doing a conversion because she was too unreliable. They were armed with bouldering pads, I thought they were crazy to jam their fingers in cracks in this cold. Must be hard core.

After I cooked and ate some eggs and bacon for breakfast, I got my bike off my roof and set about replacing the flat rear tube, not an easy task in the cold, I had to scrape ice off my rim. My plan for the day was to ride along the closed road and do a hike at Jenny Lake, as suggested by the lady I spoke to yesterday at the visitors centre. As I got ready, two guys in a truck pulled up with bikes, looked like they were doing the same thing. Once I had packed everything and was confident in my rear tyre, I rode over to them to see what their story was.

Mac and Charlie were from Durango, Colorado, up in the Grand Tetons for a few days. You could say we were kindred spirits, they’d free camped the night before near where I was, they didn’t use their phones to navigate anywhere relying on people’s information instead, and they were loving being in the outdoors when no one else was around. They had no idea like me, just going to go for a ride and see what they could see.

I rode away then rode back to the car within minutes when I realised my rear tyre wasn’t fully seated on my rim. Rookie. I fixed that then tried again. Thankfully I didn’t blow the tube in the process, that would have really dampened my mood. The cold pinched my exposed face so I wrapped a necker-chief around my head underneath my beanie to keep warm. No helmet since warmth was the priority over safety. The road, predictably, was deserted and while the peaks of the Tetons were hidden in cloud, the day was clear and sunny.

The road was mostly snow-free, a shame that they’d closed it, but some shady sections had 1-2 inches of snow. At these bits, I rode through the one set of car tyre tracks so I didn’t have to plough through the soft stuff. I saw countless animal prints and tried to predict just what these creatures were doing, some of the tracks looked absolutely sporadic.

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Along the road, I stopped at every turnout and trailhead to have a look. The first of which was the south end of Jenny Lake. I managed to ride all the way to the lake, which was huge. I stood by the bank for a bit to admire it.

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When I bent down to pick up my bike, water came pouring out of my Camelbak mouthpiece because the rubber bit on the end was missing. Damn it! It was an essential part. I looked all around but couldn’t see it. I must have lost it somewhere along the way. As I rode back the way I’d come, I scanned the ground for it. On my way back I ran into Mac and Charlie, they’d followed my tracks. They were limited on time so this would be the only stop they’d make before riding back to their car. They had to be in Denver by that night, not sure how long that drive would be! They thanked me for the inspiration of quitting their jobs and travelling indefinitely and I wished them well. They also said they’d look out for my missing Camelbak piece and leave it on my car if they found it. Maybe I would see them in Durango!

I rode slowly back along the trail. When I found the blue mouthpiece underneath a bush, I was ecstatic! I picked it up and wrote “FOUND IT!” in the snow so the boys would know not to look too hard for it.

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I continued north along the road, the view of the mountain range ever changing as the clouds showed snippets of the peaks. I rode all the way to Signal Mountain, but I didn’t really need to, the interesting stuff stopped north of Jenny Lake. Still, it was pretty riding back towards the mountains and having them right in front of me. I took the scenic loop to the north end of Jenny Lake where I started a hike from the String Lake Trailhead. I placed my bike underneath a pine tree and set off on foot. I was excited to try out my new hiking boots for the first time!

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Fresh snow most of the way, I didn’t see any wildlife this time, but was accompanied by a pair of wolf prints on the trail, that kept me looking around. I walked along the bank of Jenny Lake, stopping on a rock to eat lunch and admire the view, then I went on to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. There was just the right amount of snow to make everything beautiful but it didn’t impede me too much.

I really was inbetween seasons which suited me just fine. After Inspiration Point, I walked a little ways through Cascade Canyon where I got stunning close-up views of the Cathedral group of peaks. The only part of the range that had been out of cloud most of the day, shining in all its glory. I didn’t go too far since time was limiting and I was feeling tired after riding 30km and walking 10km.

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I enjoyed the walk back, taking it slow and happy with my dry feet inside my shoes. I big smile crossed my face when I saw my bike where I’d left it. I didn’t really feel like riding another 7km back to the car, but the sun had dispersed most of the clouds and the mountains looked stunning as the sun crept behind them. I saw quite a few people returning from their day’s activities, and some just out for a short walk. Amongst them were the climbers, I waved as I rode past.

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I was happy to be back at the car. It was 4pm so I’d had a full day of exploring. I packed everything back up then decided I’d head down to Phelps Lake for a look. I had intended to drive into the south end of the park again the next day, but I figured I had some time so I could see what there was to see today, thinking I could see a pretty view for sunset. This was a bit of a mistake, I should have just driven to camp where I could have admired an uninterrupted view of the mountains from the road, but I’d made a decision.

As I drove to Phelps, I saw a crew of Elk come hurtling down a steep hill, then across the road. Thankfully I saw them coming so there was no t-boning, but they were totally booking it down this hill, I’m surprised none of them ate tarmac. One mile from the end of the Death Canyon trailhead road there was a sign that advised 4WD. There was a Subaru Forrester parked here so I figured I better not risk it. I had planned on a short 1 mile walk to a lookout over Phelps lake. This was now a 2 mile job. I decided to stick with it and set off.

The road wasn’t that bad, so I was annoyed that I was walking it. I nearly turned around when I’d walked for fifteen minutes and still hadn’t come to the trailhead. I was nervous about the fading light. I didn’t want to be out here in the dark. Then, I turned around to keep going and there was the trailhead. It was 0.9 mile to the Phelps overlook. I’d come this far! I motored up the trail, which was more slippery than anything I’d hiked so far but I still made pretty good time. I was exhausted by the time I reached the overlook. I was tired and hungry before I started this walk, now I was daydreaming about what I would eat when I got back to the car. I allowed myself five minutes at the lookout to enjoy the view, which was stunning. I could see snow-capped mountains far away in the distance and headlights every now and then weaving amongst them. How beautiful.

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The light faded quickly as I head back and I broke into a solid jog. I did NOT want to be out here in the dark. I ran all the way back to the trailhead, gave myself a breather and walked a bit, then broke out running again. I had only one fall on some ice, falling on my left side, but nothing too bad. I reeled myself back a bit, knowing that a rolled ankle or worse would not be fun. The road seemed to take forever, but eventually I saw the blue of my van with relief. Immediately I had a piece of apple strudel cake to tide me over, then got driving to the same camp spot I’d had the night before, since it was so nice. It was dark, but having driven the roads last night and knowing there hadn’t been any snow since, I knew it couldn’t be any worse. In fact the roads had been ploughed so it was a lot better! And guess who I saw on my way to camp? My favourite park ranger from the night before. He turned his car around as I approached him so he was facing me. While I resisted the temptation to smile and wave enthusiastically, I’m sure he recognised me. I was doing 35 mph on the dot. Asshole.

I could see the silhouettes of the Tetons from the car and kicked myself for having not just driven back after my main hike and stopped on the side of the road to watch sunset. That would have been a much more relaxing version of the evening.

At camp, I got straight onto making dinner. It was 6pm and I was starving. It took a while, but I eventually enjoyed Thai green chicken curry which was amazing. I had Big Buddy going in the van while I ate. It was cold outside, so I did the dishes quickly, then made myself a hot chocolate and retreated back inside the van with Buddy and quickly warmed up, inside and out.

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