Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saddle Up

Grand Tetons Adventure – Day Six – 7/30/09 – Jackson Hole, WY – 0 Miles 

I slept the sleep of a canyon conqueror, with a tired back, aching feet, a full stomach, and a smile on my face in anticipation of the morning. My day off had been planned long before we left Charlotte, with the option of hiking with Jeff and Mike if I wanted to, but a day of eating and goofing off was the ticket for me. Soooo…the guys headed for some off-trail scrambling up Hanging Canyon to Lake of the Crags and I headed for my day in civilization.

First stop: the Visitor Center to return our bear canister. I wandered around the exhibits there, watched the film and bought a pretty picture book of the Tetons and a little flower ID book. Then I joined the stream of traffic flowing towards Jackson Hole. Second stop: the visitor center there, which I quickly departed because it was crawling with – oh my gosh – tourists. (But I did get my passport stamped for the National Elk Refuge.) Third stop: the Rec center for my second shower of the week. (Note to self: make a top 10 list of things that are great after a backpacking trip). I felt like a runway model when I stepped out of the Rec center, hair flowing in slow motion and heads turning my way…well, at least I was clean. I left the rental car parked at the Rec and took Jackson Hole by storm.

Lunch, window shopping, a coffee shop, a bookstore, more shopping, gawking at high prices, deciding against buying the pink-and-turquoise cowgirl boots, looking at menus for dinner – after about 3 hours Jackson Hole was making me yawn. I sat in the square (with the famous antler arches) for a while reading my book, but some guy was under the impression that we all wanted to hear his cell phone conversation, so I strolled back down to the Rec center. Jeff and Mike were due in around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. so I settled down on the lawn with my book (A Walk For Sunshine by Jeff Alt – an AT thru-hike as a fundraiser – what a concept!)

The guys arrived, took showers, and we went in search of a good meal. But first, Mike had something on his agenda – a picture of me on a saddle bar stool at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Well…if you insist…

 Then a sumptuous meal at the Silver Dollar as the guys described their hike (difficult, beautiful, technical, stunning) and a nighttime drive back to campground-sweet-campground – tomorrow is our last hike in the Grand Tetons.

 I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see. ~John Burroughs

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flower Show

Grand Tetons Adventure – Day Five – 7/29/09 – Teton Crest Trail from Alaska Basin/Death Canyon Shelf/Death Canyon Trail – 15+ Miles

Reflection in an unnamed Basin lake

After a cool and comfortable night I woke at first light again to – yippee – a dry tent. We did not have leisure time this morning because our longest trek was ahead of us. Since Jeff confirmed that the Static Peak route was no good, we had nearly 16 miles to go to complete our backpacking fun. Just 16 miles between me and a pizza and a cold soda! I was a happy hiker. Granted, I was no longer unhappy with our adventure and had even come to enjoy it, but real food is a strong enticement after a couple of days of carrying everything on your back.

Mike and I fired up the backpacking stoves in our little protected area between two Buick-sized rocks and were sleepily watching the water come to a boil when I heard or, rather, felt a vague rumbling. Suddenly a very large deer with a very, very large rack lept over the rock that Mike was leaning against, landing about ten yards away near Mike’s tent and gracefully moving out of sight. He was followed immediately by a second deer. I felt more rumbling and had just enough time to say, “Here comes another one,” when a third deer popped up over Mike’s rock. This one took a second leap, then paused and turned back to look at us before continuing on his morning romp with his buddies. As he disappeared, Mike and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. A truly priceless moment and a prime example of why I like to hike and backpack and camp with other people – we will always be able to say, “Do you remember the time…?”

We hit the trail again by 8:00 a.m. and continued our tour of the Alaska Basin. Doesn’t Jeff look raring to go on Day 3?

Here and there we could see small campsites, people in stages of waking and packing up. Battleship Mountain was still dominant on the horizon. Soon we started upward out of the canyon on long switchbacks called the Sheep Steps. The piles of bare rock we passed through are like marmot condos. We saw lots of them along this part of the route.

One more time,kids – when you walk up out of a canyon you are going over a pass. Pass Number 3 for our trip was Mount Meek Pass at 9,276 feet. This was not nearly as daunting as Paintbrush and Hurricane. The approach is rather gentle compared to those two. Mike had passed this way before and could point out precisely where the trail would take us. In this photo, Mount Meek is the magnificent beginning of a miles-long wall of rock. Fortunately, we did not have to go over it – the pass is at its base on the left. Mount Meek Pass is also the point where we left the Jedediah Smith Wilderness behind and re-entered the Grand Tetons National Park.

Me at Mount Meek Pass

Consulting the map - is Jeff taking a nap?

Thus we entered the Death Canyon Shelf, a flat bench on the east flank of a series of incredible mountains, including Mount Meek, Mount Jedidiah Smith, Mount Bannon and Fossil Mountain. Yes, I said flat! We had several miles of leisurely strolling along, losing only about 200 feet of elevation before Fox Creek Pass (our last pass of the trip). On our right the mountains rose straight out of the ground to unbelieveable heights, and to our left the earth fell away into Death Canyon. Then we would descend about 3,000 feet from Fox Creek Pass to the end of Death Canyon – which would make us scream in a different way than going up 3,000 feet.

Here on the Shelf we began to see samples of the flower show that lay ahead.

Columbines are so beautiful, even I can take a good photo.

Tiny Jeff on the trail again. Thank goodness for those red shorts!

I have already forgotten what type of rock is predominant here - but it looks like a patio, doesn't it?

Looking into Death Canyon from the Shelf

Looking down into Death Canyon from the Shelf plus flowers

Fossil Mountain

While on the Shelf we met two more backcountry rangers. When asked what our route was, we told them that we were walking out today so they didn’t check our permits. They were identifying flowers as they walked along. We stopped for a lunch break near the end of the Shelf where we could look down to Fox Creek Pass, where we would begin our descent into Death Canyon. Tiny people were walking along the trail and patches of snow were below the pass – a little bit more slippery fun yet to come.

Mike loaned Jeff some emergency sunglasses to help him walking across the snow. Jeff loves these sunglasses.

The wildflower main event cranked up as we began our descent into the canyon. (I didn’t attempt too many photos because I knew Jeff was breaking a world record for flower photo- graphy. I’ll ask his permission to use some of his shots for a “flower show” here soon.) Anyway, the slope had no trees, just these never-ending beauties, and as we made our way down the dominant colors changed from pink and purple and blue to red, with white and yellow mixed in all the way. The flowers were often waist high and sometimes over my head, and the path was narrow. There were frequent switchbacks as well as water runoffs, and more than once my feet carried me straight a few steps when I should have turned before the dense vegetation stopped me. Again I was channeling Dorothy, only this time instead of wishing for home I felt as though I were approaching the Emerald City through the poppy field...well, maybe I didn't feel quite THAT good, but you know what I mean. In all this beautimousness we passed a good number of people were walking up the trail, including a group of a dozen Boy Scouts and Scout- masters with red faces.

Eventually we reached Death Canyon Trail and settled in for more flat walking. The flower show was a teensy bit past its prime here, but awesome nonetheless. This view looks back up at the Shelf we walked on.

Indian Paintbrush

Parry Primrose

Elephanthead (this flower is very small and very detailed – see the elephant ears and trunk?)

We saw tons of cowparsnip, probably the most pre- dominant flower of all, but I suspect a flower called yampah is also mixed in, which looks very similar.

The walk through Death Canyon was…loooonnnggg. We crossed water many times, usually by benefit of footbridges, and passed many side trails to campsites. This canyon was a busy place – we seemed to be the only people walking out, lots of fresh faces walking in. One young woman I passed asked me if I had seen her friends (“you know, three college age kids” – yeah, right, about 50 of them) because she wasn’t sure where they were supposed to camp. I sure hope she found her friends in that big place! We stopped at the intersection with Alaska Basin Trail, our original planned route down from Static Peak, and I’ll bet Jeff made a vow to return someday.

The three of us were growing weary and we separated, occasionally leapfrogging as we stopped to rest. We were passing beautiful waterfalls and glimpses of Phelps Lake but it was hard to fully appreciate them at the end of this very long trek. Feet and knees were beginning to complain and someone kept putting rocks in my pack every time I stopped. Jeff got a second wind and pulled ahead for the home stretch, while Mike and I fought the good fight up and over the last ridge to Phelps Lake Overlook and then the last mile downhill to the trailhead, arriving around 5:30 p.m. Not bad for a nearly 16-mile day! Taking off a loaded backpack for the last time is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures…

What to do next? The Gros Ventre Campground where we had been staying does not do reservations and we had to sleep somewhere tonight, so that was our first stop. There were a handful of sites left, only one of them large enough, so we hastily put up tents and then went in search of food. At Dornan’s (home of the chuckwagon and teepee dining, remember?) we walked into the Pizza & Pasta Company, placed our orders and sat down to salivate while we waited. And let me tell ya, that was the best pizza I have ever eaten in my long life. It was all I could do to keep from crying as I ate, I was so happy to be there.

 That’s the happy ending to our Grand Tetons backpacking trip…it was was the best of times…it was the worst of times…it was grand memory-making…and I offer a prayer of thanks for the skills and the physical ability and the companionship and, above all, the mountains themselves.

AND…tomorrow is TOWN DAY!!!!

Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take. ~Author Unknown

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hurricane Pass and Beyond

Grand Teton Adventure – Day Four – 7/28/09 – Lake Solitude Trail/Teton Crest Trail to Alaska Basin – 10.1 Miles

The gradual lightening of the tent walls woke me but I had no watch to help me determine the time. While I don’t consider myself a clock watcher (it’s time to do this, it’s time to do that), I do like to know what side of noon I’m on. Being watchless added to my discomfort on this expedition. One plus: the cold temperatures that I had expected at this elevation did not come about - it was mid-40’s, perfect for sleeping. I missed my luxury Thermarest, but my ProLite 3 was livable. (There was much debate about which one to bring for the week, because the ProLite is not adequate for 7 nights on my hip bones and the luxury Therm is too heavy for backpacking – so I brought both on the plane.)

Everyone began to stir and figure out breakfast chores – find stoves, get water, to boil or not to boil? For Jeff an apple was enough, but instant cheese grits sounded good to me, and Mike has never missed a full meal in the wilderness. The sky was clear, but we were still in shade waiting for the sun to pop up over the northern peaks that separated us from yesterday’s Paintbrush Canyon. Our tents were heavy with dew and not looking very packable. We slowly began to gather stuff and we were avoiding the subject of what I was going to do today. While I was putting my Camelback into its sleeve on my backpack, something shiny caught my eye.

My watch! It must have slipped off my wrist while I was removing the Camelback yesterday. I held it up and declared it a sign that I should continue on the backpack trip. How simple is that? Actually, before falling asleep last night I had made the decision that I would get up this morning and pretend it was the first day of an overnight trip. I could endure anything for one night, right? Ah, what fun to play mind games with myself…

At last the sun’s rays crested over the peaks and quickly reached down into our canyon. We spread out our tents and dillydallied with the rest of our gear as they dried; consequently, we did not get on the trail until nearly 9:30 a.m. But it was great to know we would pitch dry tents at the end of the day. We headed off down the North Fork of Cascade Canyon to see what awaited us. Here’s Mike and the Grand Teton posing with her morning clouds gathering. Looks like a smokestack,huh?

Wildlife was scheduled for this morning as marmots popped out among the rocks. Cascade Creek flowed noisily as we criss-crossed it. Halfway down the canyon, I was ahead of the guys when a brown stump caught my eye off to the right. The stump took a couple of steps, looked at me, and turned into a moose! She was alone and very content to be photographed and admired. We watched her for quite some time and when we left she was still breakfasting on leaves and grasses, a very tranquil scene.

While hiking in the Smokies I knew all the trail mileages and most of the elevation gains between trail points, but out here in the Tetons those details were much hazier. My NatGeo trail map does not include distances and only gives elevations for certain high points. Jeff said we were going to gain “a couple thousand feet” today, not as strenuous as yesterday (we gained 3,800). Every so often he would tell us what elevation we were at on his GPS and I tried hard not to ask. After all, “it is what it is”, right? Just remember that going over a pass means going UP again, and we were headed for Hurricane Pass.

At the end of the North Fork is a junction. Left takes you out Cascade Canyon Trail to Jenny Lake, the route that Mike had hiked in yesterday. Right takes you into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon via the Teton Crest Trail, passing the stars of the Grand Teton Range: Mount Owen, Grand Teton, Middle Teton and South Teton. These babies are on your left as you walk up the canyon. However, to the right is an incredible wall of rock that to me resembles El Capitan in Yosemite, and yet it has no name. Imagine – an incredible formation like this being so insignificant compared to what’s around it that it doesn’t even have a name. Wow! Out here Charlie’s Bunion would be…a rock.
You do not get a handrail with your footlog on these trails. If that makes you nervous, you have no business being out here.

Look closely at the center of the ridgeline. What are those four rock formations? Let’s call them hoo-doos.

We walked around gawking at views like this all day long. That's Table Mountain on the right.

Mike requested an early lunch around 11:00, so we chose this nice little spot for our break. This river was a swift cascade, very noisy, and the snow seemed to flow down to meet it. It was sunny and magnificent and I wanted to stay here for a long time.

A new photo series:

My boots and the landscape

Marsh marigolds

A backcountry ranger overtook us as we were climbing the switchbacks and he checked out our permit. Jeff asked him for the latest scoop on conditions at Static Peak Divide (remember, the rangerette had basically said you are an idiot if you take that route.) Well, this ranger said that conditions change so quickly these days that the pass could be clear now. I saw the hope gleaming in Jeff’s eyes. For the rest of the morning we leapfrogged with the ranger as he stopped to talk with other backpackers along the trail. Again, these trails are not for the hiker seeking solitude. We probably saw two dozen people today. (I have even seen Lake Solitude referred to as Lake Multitude, although there was no one else there when we passed by yesterday.) Most of the South Fork is a camping zone and there are lots of great looking places to pitch a tent. If I were ever to pass this way again, I would like to camp in this area.

Eventually we began to approach the canyon’s end and tried guessing where the pass would be. Now that I’ve conquered one pass, I think I know something, right? This particularly beautiful waterfall was in view for a long time and we thought maybe we would pass just to the right of it. Well, we were wrong. The waterfall was on the left side and Hurricane Pass is on the right.

Here are tiny people on the trail nearing the end of the canyon. And are those clouds gathering again?

Another view of the trail – just one more mile to Hurricane Pass.

 At last the pass loomed in sight along with the snow fields we had to cross to get to it. I was not any happier with them today than yesterday. The real trail zig-zagged up the mountain but the steep slopes and melting snow encouraged shortcuts. I watched Jeff tentatively try first one path in the snow, then another, and then finally he scrambled up the loose rock on an even bigger shortcut, and I followed him. (Note to self: hiking poles are no help when you are scrambling up loose rock.) Jeff kept going, but I turned to watch Mike negotiate the snow. I felt someone should be a witness if he didn’t make it. Mike doesn’t normally use hiking poles but he had toted good old-fashioned ski poles on this trip for just such an occasion. He carefully stomped out footsteps in the snow like a responsible hiker rather than short- cutting.

Here’s tiny Mike again in the center of the photo. My camera and I are near the top of the pass.

Standing at Hurricane Pass (10,338 feet), the view of the girls, Grand Teton, Middle Teton and South Teton, is ___ fill in the blank with any superlative you wish! The scene is just so vast, I am amazed that I got all three of them in one frame. There was a stiff cold breeze blowing (Hurricane, remember?) and I stopped to put on my jacket. There is nothing tall growing here. The flowers are abundant but low to the ground, alpine forget-me-nots among them.

As if all this scenery were not enough to blow your mind, a glance down to where we were just hiking reveals Schoolroom Glacier, with high sides of moraine built up and a seemingly tiny sliver where the water flows on down into the canyon. You can’t see the glacier until you are most of the way to the top of the pass.

At the top Jeff and I made a plan that he would continue on to Alaska Basin, our camping zone for the night, while I waited for Mike. Jeff would scout out a good campsite and either wait for us or leave a trail sign. He wanted to take a side hike up to check snow conditions at Buck Mountain Pass (the route to Static Peak). Even if he couldn’t make it through Static Peak Divide, perhaps he could complete one of his primary goals of our entire Tetons trip: summiting Static Peak. So Jeff took off and I waited all of five minutes before Mike appeared. The two of us walked together as the Teton Crest Trail crossed the national park boundary and into the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. (We would cross back into the national park the next morning.) We waved to Idaho and then Mike chose to make a side foray to try to overlook the glacier from a different vantage point. I chose to stick to the trail and finish the few miles to Alaska Basin.

At this point we had been above any appreciable tree cover for a few hours and now I was walking on top of the world. Where were the bathroom facilities? I finally chose a two-foot-high rock for my pit stop. The wind blew my hat off while I was occupied. I got myself together, chased my hat, and about 90 seconds later a group of hikers came over the horizon. Gee whiz, what do you gotta do to get some privacy out here in the wilderness?

Among the dozens of impressive mountains to the west is a formation called Battleship Mountain. It comes into view from the front angle and then you walk for miles alongside it. It is impossible to get lost for about ten miles as this mountain dominates the horizon. What do you think? It is too massive to get the idea of scale unless you are standing there for real.

After a grateful mile or more of flat walking I began the long descent into Alaska Basin, a much larger open area than the canyons we had trekked through, many square miles and ringed by mountains. The few alpine trees are not very tall but the boulders are huge and plentiful. The photo is looking down at Sunset Lake in the Basin – but I still had a long way to go past Sunset Lake. As I walked down, down, down, I could sometimes pick out teeny tiny Jeff on the teeny tiny trail.

On one switchback I was surprised to encounter a family consisting of Dad, Mom and two small boys, perhaps ages 3 and 6. (Click on photo.) Mom was sprawled out in the middle of the trail with her boots off and her hat over her face. I tentatively approached and said hi to Dad and casually asked, “How’s everybody doing?” Dad said they were doing great. They were heading for the South Fork…which meant they were going to tote those children over Hurricane Pass and through the snow fields. Dad smiled and I just kept walking.

   I took a break at Sunset Lake to see if Mike would catch up (he didn’t – he was off exploring). I replenished my water and then pushed the rest of the way to meet Jeff waiting near the intersection of the Teton Crest/Teton Canyon/Alaska Basin trails. He showed me the camping spot in the Basin Lakes section that he recommended and then he embarked on his side trip that would be around 4 miles. It was already 5:00 p.m. and I was a little concerned that he would be out so late. But I knew how important it was to him to try to summit Static Peak so I crossed my fingers and went to leave trail arrows for Mike.

I loved my tent location – the big rock beside me was perfect for spreading out stuff and protected me from the wind on that side. And isn't this a great old tree? The down side: from the back side I could see one other group’s camp in the distance.

Although the elevation gain was less today, I was still exhausted and moving slowly as Mike arrived. He was tuckered out as well and we took a very long time to set up tents, get water and decide where to cook. The breeze was brisk enough that we set up between two large boulders to light stoves. We were trying to prepare food without too much extra effort, when I heard a noise…and Jeff popped up over the boulders at about 7:00 p.m. The bad news was that the snow at Buck Mountain Pass was impassable, so he turned back. The good news was that he was back safely and before dark. I was sorry that he couldn’t make his summit, but I was glad that he had seen and made the determination for himself.

More good news: the daily thunder- storm never appeared and the night was breezy, cool and clear. I had survived and actually enjoyed the day. Nobody said "I told you so." And more awesomeness awaits - tomorrow the three of us will be hiking on the Death Canyon Shelf.  

I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes. ~e.e. cummings

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paintbrush Divide OR The Second Scariest Day of My Hiking Life

Grand Tetons Adventure – Day Three – 7/27/09 – Leigh Lake Trail/Paintbrush Divide Trail to North Fork Cascade Canyon Campsite – 10.5 Miles

Packing up a wet tent is a mental challenge early in the morning. You want to just wait until it dries, but you don’t have time. Maybe you’ll get a chance to dry it out during your lunch stop…maybe not. I knew from our first day that although the morning is all blue skies, in the afternoons the clouds build up and we would likely encounter rain, and I do hate being wet. I was blissfully unaware that a wet tent would not be my biggest challenge today. Jeff and I snarfed down our Bubba leftovers, Mike got breakfast to go at the Chuckwagon, and we drove to the String Lake picnic area where Mike would abandon...uh, drop us off.

 Jeff and I planned to hike 3,800 feet up Paintbrush Canyon, over Paintbrush Divide (topping out at 10,700 feet) and down into North Fork Cascade Canyon, ending at the Lake Solitude camping zone. There are some designated spots to camp in the camping zones, but you can pitch a tent anywhere in those areas. Mike’s plan was to take the boat shuttle across Jenny Lake and hike straight up Cascade Canyon to the North Fork and set up a campsite for us, marking the trail with an “S” to guide us from the trail.

Part of our chores the day before had included registering with the backcountry office, getting our required bear canister (Mike had his own) and getting updated on the latest trail conditions. The nice young rangerette told us that Paintbrush had about ten snow fields, all passable without an ice axe, but that she strongly recommended that we not attempt Static Divide (planned for Day 3) without ice axes – or really at all. She even wrote on the permit that she cautioned us against it. That sealed the deal for me. I was cheering for Plan B from that point, a much longer hike on the last day, but a much safer I-want-to-live-to-tell-about-this option.

Since we were starting out separately for our first day, the night before we had devised meticulous “what-if” plans: “What if we don’t find each other in the camping zone when we get there and we have to set up camp separately?” “Well, we’ll meet at this designated spot at 8:00 p.m.” “What if we don’t meet you at 8:00 p.m.?” “Well, we’ll meet at this other designated spot at 9:00 a.m. the following morning.” “What if we don’t meet up then either?” “Well, each will assume that something happened to the other and we will each just hike back out that morning by the shortest route.” Good worst case plans, so each was responsible for him/herself and did not have to searching blindly for the others. I don’t understand hikers who just “decide where to hike when they get there.”

SOOO…Mike ate his to-go breakfast while Jeff and I made last-minute checks, lamented at how heavy our packs were (Jeff had the bear canister, which is both bulky and heavy – and oh, yeah, MY food was still in it), shifted stuff around and looked at the sky, and all the while Mike chuckled at our “trailhead jitters.” And thus began the second scariest day of my hiking life.

 Jeff and I skirted the eastern side of String Lake, crossed the bridge between String Lake and Leigh Lake, and paused to look at Mt. Moran, which is actually one canyon over. A vocab lesson: A canyon is a deep valley between mountains, sometimes created by a river, but in the Tetons they are mostly U-shaped and formed by glaciers. A divide or pass is the spot in a mountain range that is lower than the surrounding peaks and the preferred way to get to the other side of the range. Paintbrush Canyon lies between Mt. Woodring and Mt. St. John and the only way to the top is…up.

The flowers were not as abundant as the previous day, but beautiful none- theless. (I think this photo is blue pen- stemon). We passed into the subalpine forest, crossing Paintbrush Creek and other creeks a few times. The amount of water was surprising – it was everywhere, large whitewater and small gushes. Looking up at the walls of the canyon, we saw waterfalls that were enormous even from a great distance. With every switchback the waterfalls grew larger until I realized I could delete the first 10 photos taken from a distance.

The trees became scarce and the trail continued to climb. As we took a break in the middle of the trail we watched a marmot scurry away. The day was plenty warm and I was trying to stick to Mike’s mantra: walk at a sustainable pace.

 This is columbine, my favorite Western flower.

 The Grand Tetons is not a lonely place. We passed several backpacking groups and I always stopped to chat, asking where they had spent the night, digging for clues about what coming over Paintbrush Divide was like. Most hikers were doing an out-and-back and had not come over the pass. One couple said they were surprised at the hailstorm yesterday evening – fortunately they had already pitched their tent so they huddled inside to watch it. Hmmmm….hail?

This is the view over my shoulder looking back down at Leigh Lake and (I think) Jackson Lake. The clouds seemed to be gathering earlier than usual today. Jeff and I kept looking up, watching the white, then light gray, then dark gray clouds crowding out the blue sky.

We didn’t stop to rest much and I slipped into the danger zone of trying to match Jeff’s pace. One father-daughter couple dressed skimpily even for dayhiking merrily passed us by, making me wonder if I was worrying too much. Within 30 minutes of hearing about the potential for hail, we felt raindrops and stopped to cover our packs. Five minutes later we were scooting under tree cover as pea-sized hail bounced around us – and five minutes later it stopped. The air was definitely cooler and it was all very interesting.

We took a right trail option to check out Holly Lake, a lovely alpine lake, but the pressure of thickening clouds became intense and we didn’t linger. Sure was pretty, though.

Above Holly Lake we could see what we guessed was Paintbrush Divide – a wall of rock with one low spot and lots of snow (see photo - yes, that is Jeff in the snow). For the love of Pete, how were we going to go up that?

By now the sky was even darker than the gray peaks and we were beginning to cross the snow fields, slushy from the warm sun. Jeff boldly crossed and I crept along like an old granny. Even with trekking poles, the added weight of a backpack made balancing a precarious affair. Are we having fun yet????

My biggest mistake to this point was not resting enough and not eating. Jeff and I were both pushing to get over the divide before the inevitable thunderstorm erupted, but I had to admit that I could not make it. Finally I told Jeff that I simply had to rest, and at the end of a long snow field we sat down under some scrubby trees. I could feel my natural stress reaction coming – tears – not very helpful in this situation. We knew that the place we chose to stop was not adequate for a storm and we eyeballed a better spot if necessary.

Okay, after a two-minute pause, the rumbling started and we hightailed it. The temperature dropped probably 30 degrees in a couple of minutes and the hail pelted us. We scrambled through the stunted trees and struggled to put on our rain gear. My jacket was accessible but my rain pants were not. Ya know, back in the Smokies you don’t use your rain pants in a summer storm! The ground was sloped and all I could do was huddle on my feet with my arms wrapped around my bare legs. I glanced back to see how Jeff was managing – he had his rain pants on and was eating his peanut butter bagel. What, me worry? Sigh…

The hail continued for a bit and then the rain spattered down. Thunder and lightning crashed as I shivered and shook. I tried channeling Dorothy (“there’s no place like home”) but no luck. Amazingly, a dayhiking couple approached, talking and laughing, saw us through the branches and asked what we were doing. Duh, we are sitting here so we don’t get killed by lightning! They seemed genuinely surprised and decided to take cover as well.

We spent nearly an hour under cover while I devised several exit plans: get to the campsite and forcibly take Mike’s car keys was the scenario I favored most. I had had enough of canyon hiking, was darn sure I didn’t like it, and as Arnold says, hasta la vista, baby! No way was I doing two more days of this.

Now the sky was still rumbling (more softly) and the clouds were breaking up and moving eastward past us. Time to try once more to get over the pass. My forced rest had helped a little for the last push, but I was still not dancing to the top. There were still several snow fields to cross, each one steeper than the last, but about a thousand years later we stood on the top of Paintbrush Divide.

Jim says he can read my body language in this photo. What do you think it means?

 The 2.3-mile descent into the North Fork of Cascade Canyon was long but stunning. Less talk, more pictures:

Jeff looking down the North Fork of Cascade Canyon

Rocky trail

Grand Teton looking southward down North Fork Cascade

Canyon Lake Solitude and creeks in the canyon

 Tiny Jeff on the slope

Sparkling Lake Solitude

Creek rushing from down the canyon from Lake Solitude


Mountain bluebells

Mike at Lake Solitude

Mike was waiting for us on the shores of Lake Solitude, grinning and exclaiming, “I want to hear all about it!” Of course he had been caught in the same storm we were, although I think by that time he was either near a campsite or had already set up camp. I could feel those tears cranking up again, but tried to joke and shrug it off – although I was sure I was going to hike out in the morning.

We walked down the canyon looking for the sign to our campsite. We had a small but level area big enough for three tents, water flowing nearby, and Mike had even set up a dining tarp. We quickly put up tents, grabbed our food and cooking stuff, and got under the tarp as the rain began to pour. Somewhere in the hustle my watch slipped unnoticed off of my wrist.

 As we cooked I told Mike about our experience and that I was done with this backpack trip – could I please have his keys? Jeff was silent but Mike began to poke at me, saying there was no way I could quit now, I wasn’t miserable enough yet – and I burst into tears. Suddenly it was very quiet out there in the wilderness, just the pitter-patter of the rain.

I struggled to pull myself together. Mike got serious and tried to pull out of me what was making me so unhappy. I’ve accomplished too many things to consider myself a quitter and really don’t care if anyone else thinks I am one. Peer pressure is not something that influences me much at this stage of my life. My biggest pressure usually comes from within myself. But I was cold, wet and scared of that hailstorm and I didn’t want to do it again. Any of you out there familiar with the phrase H.A.L.T.? It means don’t make any decisions when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. I had several of those going on.

The rain eventually stopped, I got some food in me and calmed down, and the evening turned out to be lovely. The summit of Grand Teton was shrouded in her cloud cover. The sunset was peaceful.

I was beyond exhausted and crawled into my tent before the guys. As I lay there, I thought about another time when I was cold, wet and scared – good old Hazel Creek. And just like at the end of that day, here I was warm, dry, fed and safe. Jeff and I had done everything right in the situation. Now I knew what this crazy Western weather could do and those stupid rain pants should be at the top of my pack, not buried in the bottom. Although I did not think I would regret bailing out the next morning, maybe I could also not regret continuing on.

The trouble with weather forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it. ~Patrick Young