When Grace and I got out of the Winds, we took a day to play tourists and rest after what were some very big hiking days for someone who isn’t a thru-hiker. We rode the tram at Jackson hole ski resort, we visited Mormon row, and went to see the buffalo. We had planned to meet handy Andy, and our friend we had been hiking with, Rafiki, and then restart the trail from there. I wasn’t to pleased with this route, especially after seeing the Tetons. I wanted to hike here. I wanted to continue the highlight reel. I didn’t want to go back to forest service roads in the woods.
We headed to McDonald’s, Rafiki, Andy and I, and I said my goodbyes to Grace. The woman who drove us here, Nancy, gave us the number of her boyfriend, John, who used to work for a guiding company in town. He has hiked the Teton crest trail several times and could give us some good beta. Before we have the chance to organize and call, he’s over at McDonald’s giving us all of the details we need to head out. He invited us to their house for dinner, we can’t say no. How nice is that?
At dinner, John grilled several steaks, and Rafiki, Andy and I give an ultralight gear show to Nancy. She’s interested in the PCT, and very interested in how we have such small packs. Us hikers laugh as we set up our tarps and show off our sleeping systems and packs. Just prior, we were laughing at ourselves for comparing hiking poles, deciding which ones were best. Mine were the lightest. I win. They didn’t agree. We ended up just laughing hard at the situation. Three grown men in Jackson debating the merits of weight to feature ratio for trekking poles. There’s something comically off about that. We’re aware.
As we mingle over dinner, we talk more and more about the Grand. The highest Teton, at 13,770 feet. John is a wealth of knowledge on it, and he tells us everything we need to know. It’s a technical climb, ropes required, and it’s likely to get iced over that night wth a big storm coming through. The more we talk, the more I want to climb it, and the less likely it seems that it will work out. It would take a lot of good fortune.
Just before dark, John drives us out to Teton Pass. A large storm is rolling in, so the three of us set up camp not far from the trailhead. Soon after, it starts raining… Hard!
We wake up to a frozen ice layer on our shelters. I pack up my icy things and we take off. The first 5 or so miles of the trail are very uncomfortable. The trail up to the crest is extremely overgrown, and all the plants are coated in ice. It cuts up our legs, leaving blood and ice slowly making their way to our feet, which are completely frozen. After much cursing, we make it out of that mess and to the pass, to the TCT.
Trail, finally! We hike several more miles before reaching an open field with enough sunshine to dry our gear. We yard sale, the cold wind blowing dry our gear. The surrounding peaks are dusted with snow and surround us in this bed of vibrant flowers. It’s a pretty magical sight, and we decide it was worth the uncomfortable climb.
After drying out we head up to Marion lake, a beautiful alpine lake. Rafiki has hiked the trail before, and tells us that after Marion lake, it’s constant highlights. And he isn’t kidding!
We hike many more miles, getting amazing views of the Tetons from the southwest, along with Death canyon, and death canyon shelf, which the TCT traverses. We hike in wonder, pointing out cool geological features and nice lighting in different places. It’s just beautiful. Thank goodness we did this. How could you hike so close and not want to see this?! Tetons!!!
We end the day at sunset lake in the Alaska basin. This area is technically out of the national park, and as such we do not need backcountry permits. It’s a nice, easy 22 mile day, yet it took us all day! It was too beautiful to crush through. Too many places to stop in wonder.
We sit on a shelf overlooking the lake and death canyon shelf. I turn on the boom box from my fanny pack, and we rock out to some Miley Cyrus and old raggae tunes. We talk about life, rafikis life. He used to be in a punk rock band, had hair half way down his back, and at one point had pink hair. Andy and I can’t stop laughing. It’s so different from what we would ever expect, and he has pictures to prove it. They’re pure gold. We all set up cowboy camp on the rocky outcropping above the lake. What a wonderful day!
The next morning we rise late and get headed to hurricane pass. The views of the Tetons ever so grand. We pass by schoolroom glacier, and a nice morain lake soon we’re headed down cascade canyon, and we run into several other campers for the first time in the day.
Andy and I round a corner, and he abruptly stops.
“Bear.” He says quietly, “Cubs!”
We see two cubs wrestling around before the momma bear scurries them away after spotting us. We round the corner after then, being very careful to give them enough room. We watch them wrestle some more on the trail before disappearing into the woods. They’re so fluffy, so small, so cute!
We see a bull moose up north cascade canyon, and the three of us take a break at lake solitude, with epic views of The Grand. It’s so beautiful here!
The three of us get to pint brush divide after a few thousand feet of climbing, and Andy and I decide to climb the nearest peak. We say by to Rafiki, as he’s trying to get back to the CDT today, and we are in no rush. The time with him was great! Andy and I get to the summit, amazing views of the grand, and come to find out that john has put our names on the message board as looking for a climbing partner with a rope to do the grand tomorrow. Someone has already contacted him interested. John has harnesses for us, and other gear we’ll need. Everything but a rope. He plans to climb with us as well!
On top of all of this, John reserved us bunks at the climbers ranch below the grand. How epic is that? A stranger, literally going above and beyond to help make the grand more than just a pipe dream for us hikers. Andy and I are SO excited. We had come to the conclusion that the grand just liked wasn’t going to happen this time around, with such little planning on our part. But John, John helped us out!
We race down paintbrush canyon, with its beautiful lakes and grand view of the valley below. What a great day!
We meet Brian at the string lakes trailhead. He’s 28, from Boulder Colorado, and he’s 5’7″ and 140 pounds. We’re basically the same person. He’s an avid climber, super nice guy, and he’s game to give the Grand a go with us tomorrow. We meet John for Pizza in Moose, and set a plan for the following day. We’ll wake up at 2am, and be hiking by 3. We’ll take just one rope, which Andy will carry up. I will carry up all of the other gear. It’s the only way Andy and I can be helpful / by acting as Sherpas for john and Brian, though they still insist on carrying their own thermals and some gear.
And you, Brian and I head back to the climbers ranch, get a solid 3 hours of sleep, and meet john at the trailhead at 3am.
It’s 7,500 feet of gain from the trailhead to the summit. That’s a lot. Add in that it’s technical for a few thousand of those feet, and you’re in for a long day!
We hike by headlamp above treeline, and before we know I, we’re at the lower saddle where many groups are camped, including the exum mountain guides. From here, it’s a class three scramble to the upper saddle. It’s fun, challenging, and goes by fairly quickly.
Once we get to thrower saddle we rope up and traverse the belly roll, a section of exposed, 2,000 foot drop that you traverse across. Though not technically difficult, if you slip and fall, you’re dead. Ahh, back climbing it feels so good, to be exposed and have to really focus on what you’re doing. Often times I get bored of just walking. I need something to excite me, to stimulate me. Climbing sure does that!
After the belly roll, it’s a series of chimneys, or narrow, vertical rock bands. They’re icy from a few nights prior, and it makes the footholds and hand holds interesting. Some sections get w bit tricky due to the ice and exposure, but we take our tike, and no one falls at all. Brian does a wonder duo job leading U.S. Up the mountain, and John cleans up his tools in the back. Andy and I just climb. We’re the n00bs here.
After several weird moves we make it to the summit. It’s warm, very little wind, and after a few minutes we have it all to ourselves. It’s beautiful out here. The relief is much more dramatic than the mountains in Colorado. Huge lakes all around.
We dis it’s, we safely climbed the grand thanks to John and Brian. After an hour or so we descend down down down to the car. It takes a series of rappelling, long scrambling, and then miles of trail walking back to the car.
To cap off the night, we met up with the East family in Jackson after getting down. The east family trail Angeles us just north of the smokey mountains in North Carolina on the Appalachian trail last year. They’re spending a week exploring Yellowstone and the Tetons as a family. Larry and nancy are just amazing peso ole and they get their three children outside so much. It’s amazing, and I aspire to be just like that when I have children of my own.
It was such an amazing few days in grand Teton national park. The best time of the trip, coupled with the winds. I need to give big thanks to Nancy, john, Brian, and nancy and Larry east for making this such an incredible visit! Y’all made this possible, so thank you!!!
After finishing the grand, Andy and I decided to look into the CDT a little bit more. With all this epic trail and mountains, wefelt as though we couldn’t handle anymore road walking. We looked at the route through yellowstone, no real highlights besides the touristy old faithful. I had heard so much about the Lamar valley and bechler canyon. Electric peak! I wanted to hit those. Not just stroll through and see the forested sections of the park. Andy felt the same way. So we have decided to make the CDT our own experience. We’re doing our miles in yellowstone, up in the beartooths mountains, and in the gallatin range. Many could look down on this, say it’s not the divide it’s cheating. But I want to see highlights, I want to climb peak season, and see gnarly mountain ranges. Not that the CDT in Montana and Idaho doesn’t do this, but it has too much in between to excite us at this point. So we’re doing our own routes, not because we’re better, or above i, but because it’s what will excite us and keep us focused and having a good time. Already we saw a grizzly in Yellowstone. How neat is that?!