Saturday, August 5, 2017

Grand Tetons 2017 - Day 4

Jim on the Wildflower Trail climbing the ski slope.
August 5 - We didn't have Jason around anymore today so it was Jim and I communing with the mountains. We planned to take the trail up the Jackson Hole Ski Resort to the top of Rendevous Mountain (10,450 feet), and then go over the top and connect with the Teton Crest Trail and then return the same way.

We got to the base of the mountain and were ready to go about 7:30am. We discovered that there was actually a race going on, starting at 8:30am, on the same trail that we were taking. It is a six mile climb and the top guys hope to break one hour as there is a cash bonus if they do. We started up the Wildflower Trail and made the relentless climb to the Bridger Lodge at about 9,000 feet. There are a lot of switchbacks and the trail is often not too steep so we were able to do some running, although it was mostly just power-hiking. The people at the aid station for the race at Bridger offered us some of their watermelon so we took advantage. It was some pretty fine watermelon at that point.

At the "Top of the World" on Rendezvous Mtn.
We continued to the Cirque Trail and started to look behind us to see if we could see the first racers catching up to us. We knew that a few of them might beat us to the top. Finally we got to the last section, which was a half mile scramble over rocks and we saw the top guy getting close. Two hundred yards before I reached the summit I stepped aside and cheered the first guy on. A few minutes later the second guy finished. The winning time was 1:02 so he didn't beat the goal of one hour, but it was a very impressive climb. They both looked quite spent when they went by me.

Jim and I took a few pictures at the top and then saw a couple of para-gliders ready to launch off of the mountain. We waited until one of them went. It takes some guts to just run off the mountain and hope that air fills your glider.

We continued down the mountain until we found the Rendezvous Trail and continued a steady descent. As I'm going down I'm thinking that we will have to climb all the way back up again and I wasn't sure how I felt about that. Finally we leveled off for a little, but then we climbed again and descended again. At this point, Jim mentioned that he wasn't wild about climbing back up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. We formulated an alternate plan to just skip going to Teton Crest and to take the trail down Granite Canyon, where we had ascended two days ago. It is a pretty canyon and the wildflowers in in are spectacular. We soon arrived at the fork in the trail and started the descent into the canyon. It was a pleasant run down, and it didn't seem to take too long until we reached the bottom, as we were able to make good time.

The trail through a field of wildflowers.
We connected with the Valley Trail and took the couple of mile jaunt back to Teton Village. We ended up with about 19 miles and 4500 feet of climbing for the day. My legs felt pretty good and I never really got very sore during the week, which was a surprise. After the first day I wasn't sure I could do four long days in the mountains.

It was a good trip, with good company, beautiful surroundings, ice cream after each run (huckleberry for me), and good food at the end of the day. Now we will have to think about the next one. I am certainly in favor of continuing to do them in the mountains somewhere.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Grand Tetons 2017 - Day 3

Jason at Surprise Lake.
August 4 - The plan for today was to make the climb to Amphitheater Lake via the Taggart Lake Trailhead, an approximately 14 mile trek. Jason had to be back early to start his trip back to Kansas so we had to make a shorter day of running.

We got to the Taggart Lake Trailhead at about 8:30am and began the day with a moderate climb to Bradley Lake. On the way we spotted our first bear on the trail. This was an adult black bear of average size. I was in front at the time and scared it out of the brush about 25 feet off to my left. It scared me as well but it quickly ran in the opposite direction. It was too quick for us to get a picture of it.

We got to Bradley lake, a beautiful little lake at the base of the Tetons, followed the trail around it, and then began the climb in earnest. The trail to Amphitheater Lake is a relentless series of switchbacks that keeps climbing and climbing and climbing. It is mostly open and there are numerous good places to stop and look over the whole Jackson Hole valley.

Amphitheater Lake.
Finally we got to the top into an open forest and Surprise Lake was off to our left. Like all lakes at this altitude in the Tetons, the water was clear and blue and cold. After a quick snack, here we continued the short distance to Amphitheater Lake. There was a trail we could see that continued up the mountain beyond the lake so we decided to follow it at least a little way and get up above the lake. This trail soon got sketchy/rugged and we decided to turn around and head back down the mountain.

We made good time going down. It was pretty good trail for running: not too steep and not too rocky in most places. The only slowdown was all of the hikers that were coming up the trail. The trail is fairly narrow so there isn't a lot of place to pass. We finally arrived at Taggart Lake and Jason and I had to jump in. The trail was dusty so it was a great opportunity to wash the dust off.

We got our gear back on and ran the 1.75 miles back to the trailhead. The distance was a little over 15 miles for the day with over 3600 feet of climbing. I have felt stronger each day that I've been here as my lungs and legs adjust to the terrain and as I get another night of decent sleep. Tomorrow Jim and I plan to run up the Jackson Hole Ski Resort slopes to the top and run around on the Teton Crest Trail.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Grand Tetons 2017 - Day 2

Jim and Jason on the Teton Crest Trail.

Wildflowers in bloom in Death Canyon.
August 3 - Today we did a loop from the Granite Canyon Trailhead. The plan was to climb up Granite Canyon, run across the Teton Crest Trail, and then come down Death Canyon and back to the trailhead.

As we started, we quickly got into open meadows in the canyon. There were a lot of wildflowers in bloom and it was quite beautiful. Granite Canyon has a more open feel to it than some of the others we were in. About 9 miles into the trek we reached Marion Lake at about 9,200 feet. Of course Jason and I had to get into the lake and go under. It was definitely refreshing (i.e. really cold). Tomorrow we will work on Jim to jump in also. The lakes in general in the high country are so clear and blue. They are definitely one of the signature parts of the Grand Tetons, in my opinion.

Jason running through the wildflowers.
After getting back onto the trail, we climbed the Teton Crest trail to the wide open spine of the Tetons. The views from the crest are amazingly spacious and, although the soil is quite rocky, there are many flowers here also. Eventually we made our way into the opening of Death Canyon and started down.

The top end of Death Canyon is lush with many waterfalls and greenery. The trail is very tight as the foliage is thick and you can't easily see where it is going. Eventually we reached the patrol cabin and then plunged into the steep part of the canyon. It gets rocky and steeper for the last few miles before getting to Phelps Lake. After looping to the east of Phelps Lake we picked up the valley trail and returned to the trailhead.

The view down Death Canyon.
The distance for the loop was 24.71 miles, according to my Garmin, with 4,118 feet of climbing. I felt much better today and didn't have the altitude issues I had yesterday. I suppose a better night of sleep and a day at altitude helped me. It was another gorgeous day with hardly a cloud in the sky. We finished with some hard running and I was definitely still spent at the end.
A cold can of tea and some huckleberry ice cream helped with the recovery process. We will see what tomorrow brings: probably a run up to Amphitheater Lake.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Grand Tetons 2017 - Day 1

Near Inspiration Point.
August 2 - After having my flight delayed from Grand Rapids and missing my connecting flight in O'hare, I spent the night between the floor and a chair in the Denver Airport before getting a flight to Jackson and arriving at 10:15am at the Jackson Hole Airport. Jim and Jason picked me up at the airport and drove to the Leigh Lake Trailhead. I changed in the back of the car on the way and hurriedly packed my hydration pack for the trip. This was not the way that wanted to start the day (i.e. sleep deprivation, late start, hurried packing) but I wanted to use every day.

The plan was to go up Cascade Canyon as far as we could (hopefully Lake Solitude) before turning around and coming back down the canyon. The backcountry ranger had told Jim that he didn't advise trying to go over Paintbrush Divide and doing the whole Cascade-Paintbrush Loop, although that had been my original plan. He said there was too much snow at the top of Paintbrush Canyon.

We started up Cascade Canyon at 11am, took a few minutes to stop by Inspiration Point, where I had just got married 6 weeks ago, and then continued up the Canyon. It is a beautiful trail, beside a mostly slow-moving mountain stream. After about 9 miles, we arrived at Solitude Lake, around 9,000 feet in elevation, and took a break on the shores. Jason and I took off our shoes and waded in the cool waters. We talked to some other hikers that heard that Paintbrush Canyon was doable, although there were a few sketchy spots. We decided to continue to hike up and see what it looked like. We could turn around if it looked bad.

I was not feeling great by this time. The altitude (and possibly lack of sleep) were getting to me. I had a headache and just generally felt bad. The other two seemed to be okay, but they had been at altitude days longer than I had.

At the top.
We continued up and up and up and finally reached the Paintbrush Divide. There were, of course, gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. The view down Cascade Canyon from near the top is spectacular. As we started the descent, we quickly discovered the sketchy snowy part. We had just been told by other hikers that it wasn't bad for far, and indeed it was just a short section. A slip here, however, would have been very bad. We got over it and continued down. There were more snowy sections, but they were less scary.

The descent down Paintbrush is more steep than Cascade Canyon, but still a nice trail. Jim had recently picked up a new skill that he used often on the descent. He had seen a ranger video that showed people how to clap (basically, separate your hands and then bring them together) to keep from surprising bears. The vegetation towards the bottom of the canyon is more dense so Jim and Jason were deploying this new skill frequently.

The sketchy part at Paintbrush Divide.
I had gotten my second wind after hiking over the snow so I was feeling better now. We came across Holly Lake on the descent and Jason and I went for a swim. It was so cold it was painful, but refreshing. We continued down the Canyon. I started to feel bad again but we kept moving and finally came out to Leigh Lake and back to the parking area.

It is an epic loop, with lush scenery, streams, snow and lots of rocks, especially when you get above the treeline. A supper at Bubba's Barbecue and now it is time for bed. The total loop was 20.39 miles with 3889 feet of ascent, according to my GPS. It took us right on 7 hours, including all stops.