Since our first attempt at Grand Tetons Backcountry in August of 2009 didn’t turn out quite as expected, we vowed to try again. Many people have asked if we did, in fact, give the Tetons another try, and I am happy to say that we did!
It has taken me much too long to blog about our second attempt at the Tetons, (today is the 2 year Anniversary of that fabulous trip). It’s hard to believe that 24 months have passed, but I finally found some time to relive and share this great adventure with you. Hope you enjoy it.
August 8, 2010
It was exactly a year, to the day, since our first trip to the Grand Tetons. We felt we had failed our first backcountry attempt,
(see "Beaten By The Tetons")
and now we were back again to give it another try. As we drove in to Grand Teton National Park, it was quite a different scene from the year before. No black clouds, no jagged lightning bolts or rumbling thunder looming over the Grand, just crystal clear blue skies as far as the eye could see.
With our bit of experience from the previous year, we had made some adjustments to our supplies. Lighter weight tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags and jackets, less extra clothing, and most of our food, we completely dehydrated. Our packs were much lighter and we were as set as we could be this time.
While getting our permits for the backcountry, we learned that there were two bears in the areas we planned to hike that were giving people a bit of trouble. One bear actually shredded a couple’s tent while they left it to go day hiking, and another bear bluff charged a group of hikers on the trail. And here we were, more worried about the weather! Well, we had our bear spray and we were aware of the do’s and don’ts of
“proper bear etiquette”.
We weren’t going to let this deter us.
Our first day in Grand Teton National Park, we decided to do a short lake hike just to get a bit adjusted to the high altitude.
Here are some of the views from “Coulter Bay Lakes Loop”.
It is only about 2 miles long, which worked out great, as it was already late in the afternoon and we didn’t have much time. The scenery was gorgeous and the air was nice and cool. After the hike, we camped at Coulter Bay Campgrounds for the night. To us, the chance of a grizzly bear encounter is much more likely in the campgrounds than in the backcountry. The campgrounds are filled with people cooking foods and drinking and (sometimes) acting stupid and not keeping food in the bear vaults, leaving stuff out on the tables or in their tents. We were more nervous of a bear encounter here than we ever were in the backcountry.
The next day, we decided to do a 6 mile loop trail that gave us a great overview of the Oxbow.
We ended up at a beautiful spot that looked out over
Emma Matilda Lake.
We enjoyed our lunch here, watching the antelope wading in the water below, but also noticing the dark clouds beginning to roll in towards us.
Soon we heard thunder, and saw the lightning, and decided to pack up and head back. We had been sitting on a cliff overlooking the lake, and when we walked back down, we spotted a mama and baby moose that had been directly below us along the shore. We couldn’t see them from where we had been, but we did get a quick glimpse of them when we made our way back down to the trail.
The lightning and thunder were all around us our whole way back, but we never did get rained on. We spent our second night at Coulter Bay Campgrounds, and were getting antsy to start our backcountry adventure.
Our third day, we drove up to check out the trailhead where the taxi would be dropping us off early the next morning. We would start at Granite Canyon, and hike up and across Fox Creek Pass, Death Shelf, Alaska Basin, South Fork, then down Cascade Canyon. About 30 miles total. We planned to be in the backcountry for three nights.
Driving back to Coulter Bay campgrounds, we came across a few plein air painters. They had such gorgeous views, and most were doing a pretty good job duplicating it in their own artistic way. How amazing it must be to be able to paint like that.
I had not yet experienced plein air painting, but I thought to myself, if I ever do start plein air, we will HAVE to come back here again some day!
We got back to Coulter Bay campgrounds and had to re-pack all of our gear for our backcountry trip. It is much more difficult to pack for a backcountry adventure when you first have to fly to your destination. If we had lived where we could drive to the Tetons, we could have had our packs all set to go before we even left home. But with flying, and all the security regulations and weight limits, we had to pack all our supplies in a suitcase as check-in and then re-pack everything into our backpacks while at the campgrounds, hoping we didn’t forget anything major. It was a lot to have to plan ahead, and a lot of reorganizing, making sure we didn’t take anything extra that we did not need. Last year, our packs had weighed 49 lbs. (Dean) and 41 lbs. (Lisa). This year, the weights were 35.9 lbs. (Dean) and 29 lbs. (Lisa), including water. This might not sound like much, but believe me, every single ounce makes a huge difference!
Our third night at Coulter Bay campgrounds was as we expected. There had been grizzly bear sightings at several camp sights and the rangers were going around making sure people were following the rules and using the bear vaults. The people in the tent next to us had a towel shredded during the night that they had left out on a line. We didn’t sleep real well this night and were glad it was our last night there.
The next morning was a beautiful day!
We were so excited to FINALLY get this backcountry adventure started. The taxi drove us up to Granite Canyon trailhead. The driver snapped a quick picture of us, and then we were on our way!
The hike up Granite Canyon was quite beautiful. A rushing stream ran parallel with the trail some of the way, which made it convenient to not have to carry so much water. We could simply stop and filter a bit when we started to run low. We were having a wonderful time and our packs felt light! So much different than the year before! The weather was absolutely beautiful and not a black cloud or rain anywhere.
We passed a few people coming back down. Many of them claimed there was a mama with two baby bears about 2 miles up the trail, playing in the stream. We kept a lookout but never did spot them. We stopped for lunch and headed on until we got to the Granite Canyon camping zone.
Earlier, we met a ranger coming down the trail and he informed us that Granite was pretty overgrown and camping spots were virtually non-existent. We found this to be true. As we approached the camping area, you would never know it. We couldn’t find a bare bit of dirt anywhere. We couldn’t believe it. We walked all the way up to the end of the zone and then back down – nothing! This was crazy. Where were we supposed to set up the tent? The ground wasn’t even that level. We hiked back to the stream because we knew we would need water. We found a somewhat level, very small space and began smoothing out the vegetation so we could place our tent there. I felt guilty doing this, but we had searched and searched, and there was no possible place to pitch a tent.
Our tent, atop the wildflowers.
We were not too impressed with Granite Canyon, and hoped the next few days, things would go better. We made our dehydrated chili and rice for dinner (which was absolutely AWESOME), and went to sleep with the lumpy uneven ground making it pretty uncomfortable.
The next morning was beautiful and we headed up past
The hiking had been uphill all day yesterday, and most of this morning, but once we got to Fox Creek Pass, it finally started to level out. It felt funny to walk on level ground after so much uphill hiking. Fox Creek was quite picturesque. We were finally able to see, in person, all of the landmarks we recognized from other hikers' blogs.
It was pretty amazing. And then, the black clouds rolled in and - no it didn’t start to rain, it started to SNOW. Oh no ! Not again! We were having flashbacks of August 8, 2009! This time though, we weren’t caught off guard. We had been through this before, and were now ready if that was how it was going to be. We took a snack break under a tree that looked out over Death Canyon. The backcountry of the Grand Tetons is one of the most amazing places I have ever been, and I think I could have sat there all day just taking it all in. Luckily, the sky began to clear and the snow decided to hold off. We were on our way again.
Dean heading towards Death Shelf.
This was definitely one of the most beautiful sections of the hike and we just couldn't believe everywhere we looked was so amazing!
We reached Death Shelf and were lucky enough to find the most picture perfect camp site imaginable. It was up on a small ledge that looked over Death Canyon. Unreal!
Million Dollar view from the tent!
There was a small stream close by that made getting water a breeze. This was too good to be true! Not a soul around but Dean and I and a few screaming Pika’s running from rock to rock, collecting wildflowers. It must have been cold enough to keep the bugs away because, unlike Granite Canyon - which had been swarming with flies, gnats, mosquitoes and all other kinds of weird crawly bugs - we did not encounter any of those here. And no dusty, gritty, dirt like at Granite Canyon either. It was perfect!
Death Shelf is a bit eerie, as you are surrounded on one side by this sheer mammoth wall of rock, many of which you can see have broken away and fallen over time. We just hoped there wouldn’t be an earthquake!
As we cooked our home-made dehydrated Beef Stroganoff dinner, it got cold and began to hail pretty heavily. Luckily, it passed quickly, and then the sun was beaming out again full force. It is amazing how fast the weather can change here. It was still quite cold at this altitude, but I was able to wear my down jacket underneath my rain jacket and they did a great job keeping me warm. We finished up our meal, and then spent the rest of the evening enjoying our surroundings in complete solitude.
NOW THAT's ONE HUGE ROCK!
I spent some time sketching and just trying to soak in as much of this magical place as possible. It doesn’t even start to get dark till almost 9 p.m., so we fully enjoyed the time we had to just relax before our next hiking day.
Gorgeous time of evening as the sun finally starts to go down.
The next morning, we woke to great weather again.
As we were making breakfast, a deer “couple” came around. They were not a bit scared of us, and we enjoyed their company. They munched up the wildflowers nearby, chomping the large round flowers off the stems as if they were lollypops, as we finished our meal.
We reluctantly packed up and headed on towards Alaska Basin. The wildflowers were abundant and it was clear enough today to see the Grand ahead of us, which yesterday had been engulfed in clouds. We had a smile on our faces the entire time we were hiking.
Alaska Basin was beautiful and we found a large flat slab of granite to eat our lunch on. The panoramic views were amazing, and although the sun was blaring, it was not hot. The air was cool and comfortable.
Now THIS is how we had pictured backcountry hiking to be!
The views from our "lunch rock".
A cute little Pika keeps us entertained.
After lunch, we hiked on to Sunset Lake.
It was beautiful with crystal clear aqua-colored water.
The wildflowers here were completely unbelievable. Our jaws dropped as we made our way up towards Hurricane Pass.
The fragrant smell was so strong, we had never imagined seeing anything like this. It was definitely one of our favorite sections of the hike.
We finally made it up the “Skyline Trail”, just as the black clouds began to roll in. We started to worry about lightning, as we didn’t want to be on the exposed area of the pass if it began to storm. But luck was on our side, and by the time we got to the top, the sky began to clear. It got very cold and windy on this section of the hike.
Battleship Mountain behind me.
"Hurricane Pass Official Welcoming Committee"
Hurricane Pass – our highest elevation – 10,300 ft.
WE MADE IT!
What a great feeling of accomplishment. After our disappointing hike exactly one year earlier, we made another go at it and this time we were successful!
We just stood there for a moment, enjoying the amazing scenery.
The wind was so strong and ice cold up here, that we got moving again right away. The zig-zaggy switchbacks, now going downhill, were probably the scariest part of the hike, as some areas of the trail were covered with snow, and one bad step could send you down the mountain in a way that would not be too enjoyable!
We passed Schoolroom Glacier, and down to the South Fork camping zone.
We found a decent camp site where we could see and hear several waterfalls.
Dean filters water from a nearby stream. There is water all around us from all the melting snow. Pretty amazing.
We were just finishing up our pasta dinner when the mosquitoes decided to appear. They were atrocious!
Luckily, we had packed mosquito head nets. We didn’t really think we would have needed them, but they were small and lightweight, so we threw them in our packs at the last minute. These were worth GOLD to us now! They worked unreal, and yes, we might have looked rather dorky, but we didn’t care. We didn’t suffer a single mosquito bite the entire evening.
We woke in the middle of the night to a huge flash of lightning followed by a loud BOOM of thunder. Then the downpour started. It quickly turned to hail, and as we looked out with our headlamps, we could see that it was starting to collect around the edges of the tent. It lasted much of the night, and in the morning we woke to find that our tent had a thin sheet of ice covering the roof.
We had to wait for our tent to thaw before we could pack it up, so we went to make breakfast, only to find that our bear canister was also frozen. A bear canister is tricky enough to open in normal conditions, but now that the lid was frozen solid and also covered with a layer of ice, it was impossible to push in the two tabs needed to get the lid off. After a bit of thawing, Dean was finally able to get it using two rocks, and breakfast was made. Coffee tasted SO GOOD on this icy cold morning, and luckily the low temperature kept the mosquitoes away.
We packed up our wet, soggy tent and headed down Cascade Canyon. The beginning part was beautiful with waterfalls streaming down everywhere!
The views were pretty nice too, and we were a bit sad at the thought of heading back towards civilization.
When we were about 4 miles from the end, we came across our first person, then more people, then more, most of them starting from the Cascade Canyon trailhead heading on short day hikes. By the time we got a mile from the water taxi (and our final destination), there were people swarming everywhere – Auuggh!
We caught the Jenny Lake water taxi that took us back to the lot where our car had been parked for 4 days. What a weird feeling to be back with so much going on all around us.
It was a relief, but also a bit sad to have this adventure come to an end. But at least, the outcome was different than the year before. We had done it this time! We completed all that we had set out to do, and it ended up being spectacular!
We still think about our first Tetons backcountry ordeal, but look on it as a learning experience. This trip, too, gave us much backcountry experience, but was also a magnificent way to spend a few days. Just the two of us, in the most beautiful nature imaginable, relying on one another to make everything run smoothly.
I think we are a great team.
It was a vacation we will never forget!
To see our disappointing 2009 attempt at Tetons Backcountry, click the link below:
BEATEN BY THE TETONS
MAHALO for taking the time to read my blog.
ALOHA FROM HAWAII!
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