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« The Wheels Come Off | Main | Jackson Hell-Hole »

The Marathon

As I was too scared of the grizzly tourists I skipped Yellowstone National Park in favour of the Grand Tetons instead. I decided to hike to where the artificial knees and SUVs can’t go.

As is my wont I left the hostel in Teton Village by the gondola a little later than planned. I ended up biking 30k in the pitch black with only my head-light illuminating the way. Obviously that was a little stressful considering I was on a gravel road. I was making my way to the camp-site by Jenny Lake, the gateway to the National Park. This camp-site is for people tenting only, which was quite refreshing to see. It’s difficult to know what the definition of camping is anymore. Most people ‘camp’ inside a massive RV. Often I can’t stake my tent into the ground because they have gravelled over the site to ensure that RVs and trailers have enough traction to pull in and out. Am I camping or are they camping? The lines have become blurred.

As it was no longer summer the days were getting shorter forcing me to hike at first light. My original plan was to hike into Cascade Canyon to Lake Solitude but that would have been an out-and-back route. Thus, I decided to go through a different canyon and hike over the Paintbrush Divide to Lake Solitude instead. This would allow me to return via Cascade Canyon and cover a fair amount of ground through the Grand Tetons. Having talked to the Ranger I was under the impression that the trail wasn’t rocky, of course, being the Rockies I should have just assumed that it was. Thus, the heavy ground started to wear me out after about 10k of hiking. I have only one pair of shoes; my trade-mark pair of Converse. Obviously these are not the best shoes for hiking in. I slowly made my way up the mountain with the understanding that this was the difficult side and the other side would be more straightforward. Looking over my shoulder the panorama across Jenny Lake to the plains was spectacular. Up ahead I could see some snow-banks. Snow is to be expected at this altitude, indeed it was more unusual to be able to hike over the Divide at all as normally it is not passable at this time of year. Thankfully the mild weather had delayed the snowfall long enough for me to explore the park.

Lost in thought I turned the corner. Uh oh! A bear! I cursed beneath my breath. He was no more than ten feet away from me. Having made eye-contact with him I looked down so that he could get a sense of me without feeling threatened. I had two choices; to move forward and potentially aggravate him or to turn back down the mountain and wait until he had moved on. I didn’t want to go back as that would have meant hiding out and I didn’t really have time to delay with. My legs getting heavier and I was only a third of the way into my hike. He had his claws sunk into a tree and was two foot off the ground. The position of the tree was at the apex of the bend and I was only two metres from moving through the bend such that he would be behind me. Both of us were frozen to the spot. I couldn’t but notice how wild his eyes were. His eyes were glass, which meant that his thoughts and soul were invisible to me. When you look into the eyes of a puppy or a horse you can usually determine what they are thinking. In that first glance I quickly understood what the term wild-eyes meant. He did not look teddy-bear cuddly at all, this was a grizzly but he was only about 5 feet tall making him more of a cub than an adult. Within the stasis I could sense that we were both thinking the same thing; we are not supposed to meet. As I was reluctant to back down I paused and in my hesitation he made the first move, which was to grind his way up the tree. I took that as my cue to press on keeping my stare firmly to the ground and my ears pricked in case a shuffling should come from behind. The danger passed and my adrenaline settled. Phew! Considering the amount of back-country I have passed through it was only a matter of time before I encountered a grizzly from close quarters. I’m lucky that he was more a cub than an adult as that likely made him a little unsure of himself. Of course, I was also fortunate that he had his paws sunk into the bark of the tree. If he didn’t have his hands full things might have turned out differently. I wasn’t dressed in camouflage with a rifle or a bow slung over my shoulders, he had no need to fear me. However, it was sad that neither of us could afford to take the chance to share the same space.

Having crossed the shallow snow-banks I made my way to the bottom of the final face. This would entail a scramble up rocks. This was the point of no return. Scrambling up rocks is a lot easier than scrambling down them. If I climbed to the Divide I would be forced to take the longer route down the mountain through Cascade Canyon. Working my way over the rockery I crested the summit. It was a nice feeling as biking over mountains is rarely as remote as hiking them. I was pleased to have scaled at least one summit during my time through the Rockies. The Paintbrush Divide is only 3,260ms of altitude. It is lower than the capital city of La Paz but it still represents a 1200m vertical ascent from Jenny Lake. This is nothing to a practised hiker but the climb was certainly weighing on me. This was only my fourth proper hike up a mountain on my travels so my legs were a little beat up from going over the rough ground in a pair of chucks. It probably would have been easier for me to bike it.

Having taken in the view I made my way down the other side. While it wasn’t rocky the trail was still hard-going. My hamstrings were just about intact but I wasn’t sure how much longer they would hold. I had to keep moving as I was getting slower and couldn’t afford the time to rest. I did not want to be hiking in darkness and while I had prepared for the eventuality in case of emergency it would be best to get out of the canyon. My adrenaline was kicking in once more. The hike was no longer about enjoying the scenery. I had to keep moving even though I was moving at about two miles an hour at this point. I had bitten off more than I could chew but I was not defeated yet.

I suffered a small delay as a moose came down my path. This was the first time I had seen a moose up close. They are the largest members of the deer family but are not blessed with a deer’s good looks. However, they are cool in their own way as they can easily move through very deep snow despite their size. Deep snow may as well be quicksand to humans. As agile as we are in some ways we are retarded in others.

By the time I reached Inspiration Point it was dusk. I had to scale the mountain down to Jenny Lake and from there it was still a 3k hike back to camp. My legs were ridiculously heavy now but I was out of danger. If I had made it this far I would be able to make it back to camp even if I had to crawl. I finally reached my tent very relieved. I knew I was in for a long day but I had not factored hiking 37k over very difficult terrain. It had taken me twelve hours to hike the divide. It was beautiful but my legs were now so jammy that I was worried I’d need a few more days off the bike.

As tired as I was I had enjoyed the challenge immensely. It’s not everyday that you see a bear, a moose, snow-banks, two beautiful lakes and a mountain peak. The beauty of the Grand Tetons will leave a lasting impression on me for certain.

Regards to all


ps - my netbook is toast, I will post the full gallery when I am technologically equipped soon.

Converse are not designed for thisPaintbrish Divide - 10,700ft. Mount Moran in the background

pitch-black on my return. I look surprisingly fresh but I can barely walk

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