In my tour of the National Parks I never made it to the 1st one; Yellowstone, or its sister park, Grand Tetons. I decided to rectify that tragedy. Amy was keen on getting out and exploring, so she came along. Leading up to the trip, all I heard about was bears. What to do when seeing a bear; how to avoid bears; different bear personalities; favorite diets. She would stay up until 3am going into Internet rabbit holes on bear attacks. This drove me crazy after a while because I knew we would not see any. She wanted us each to have bear spray and even where a bear suit, like people do when they are training dogs to attack criminals. Ok, she didn’t demand the last one, but I am sure it crossed her mind.
This led to the title of this blog. Most of my entries steal words from a song, and this is no different. This is a random song by Lyle Lovett that reminds me of my 20s
We flew into Bozeman MT just after Labor Day.
After picking up our rental car and checking into a retro motel, we walked the small downtown and had a beer at a brewery next to a pond. Lunch was a terrible Dim Sum place (Amy’s pick) so we hoped for redemption at a chicken shack brimming with local color
We picked up a couple ‘Nashville Hots” but they were not terribly impressive. On a side note, I don’t know why everything is so crazy expensive out here. I mean it feels like double what we pay for things in the Midwest. Not sure how people afford to live out here. Don’t even get me started on real estate prices.
We closed out the day stopping at Walmart to get supplies for the week. It was strange but most of the shelves were cleared out as if a hurricane was eminent. We found our bear spray (not allowed on the plane or would have bought before) but when trying to buy fuel for camp stove (also not allowed) there was no inventory. I went to 3 stores and finally found a 1 lb canister. I did not want to walk around with all that extra weight later on, but no choice at this point.
The next day we drove through Yellowstone and got our first sighting of a Bison in the wild.
Once you realize that they are everywhere, the thrill goes away pretty quick. They are as ubiquitous as deer. Yellowstone had some major flooding a couple months ago, so some of the roads were closed, but we were able to follow the major road that is shaped as a figure 8. Our first official stop was at Mammoth Springs. Geysers and springs are pretty boring. They fall just below cave tours on my list of things to see, but we were here.
It was very hot outside, so our planned hikes turned into short 1 mile or less strolls to attractions with a quick retreat back to the comfort of the car's AC. Now is a good time to bring up the rental car. It was a Candy Apple Red Ford Ecosport. It was easy to find in a crowd. When we picked it up there was a dent in the bumper, a hand paint job on the other bumper after a sideswipe, broken safety glass in the backseat and an empty gas tank. I returned to the counter imitating my best Steve Martin from "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", but I fell just about as flat as he did. They guy just looked annoyed and said, “just take pictures and return it empty”. No offer for changing the car. I spent the next 20 minutes determining how I would be able to coast into the airport on fumes when returning it, but then determined it wasn’t worth all that mental calculation.
We stopped a couple more times to see Bison
Then it was time to set up camp for the night at Canyon Campground in the middle of the park. I had been stressing about this part. Due to the current state of the airline industry (lost luggage, flight delays, understaffing) I really did not want to check a bag, but I had tent stakes and hiking poles. Both of which are not allowed per FAA in Carry-on luggage. To attempt to get around this I bought carbon fiber trekking poles and plastic tent stakes (points grinded down). Both of those got through fine, but it was my Pocket Rocket fuel attachment that held me up. In the Detroit airport none of the 5 people I showed it to had any idea what it was. Has no one been camping? Don’t you see this a fair amount!? I guess not. Anyway, after much discussion I was allowed through, and upon returning to home I shaved the points of this as well to make a bit less intimidating.
We had a decent site next to the bathrooms and there was not too much traffic in the area. I did have to quiet a neighbor down for playing music late, but I did it in such a kind and gentle fashion. Before making dinner and calling it a night we walked along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
The next day, we headed south to see the lower half of the park. We started at Grand Prismatic Spring. We walked about a mile to a viewing platform that I thought might be better than actually standing next to the colorful pool
We continued on to a couple more springs. I had planned to do a hike at our next stop but since I left the bear spray in the car, Amy would not allow it.
Her eyes were getting fatigue from all the bear searching. We were having no luck, but we probably could have upped our odds if we drove around at daybreak and dusk.
Our next stop was the famous, “Old Faithful”. We sat at the lodge benches waiting for about an hour. So I guess it goes off every few hours and they can time it down to +/- 10 minutes. I must have taken 20 pictures trying to capture it. I did not know whether it went off for 5 seconds or 5 minutes so I wanted to be quick. It finally happened and as you would expect, pretty anticlimactic.
That night we camped near the south edge of Yellowstone. It was a pleasant evening with mild temperatures where we were able to walk along Yellowstone Lake, a lake we had driven around earlier that day and even stopped to go swimming.
I had been sleeping out of the tent, letting Amy be protected from bears, but it started raining around 1 am and forced myself into the solo tent, happy to not get blasted with pepper spray.
The next day we left Yellowstone sans bears and entered Grand Teton National Park.
We stopped for a hike at Coltier Bay and were surprised by the lack of water.
We kept driving south toward Jackson WY, stopping frequently to catch sight of the Tetons to the west.
We ended up in Jackson for lunch and again there was no reprieve from the high prices. Everything from gas, food and lodging was through the roof. I know I said I wasn’t going to get started on real estate, but we looked, and it turned out that a 1 bedroom/1 bath condo in Jackson was starting at a measly 5.5M. I will say that I did not hate this town as much as Banff, Aspen or Vail. It kept the cowboy charm. Even though everyone here was a 1%er they did not dress the part. I am sure in ski season it looks a little different as all the toys come out.
Don’t worry, all the antlers in the above arch (there are many of these arches around town) are not from slaughtered elk, merely scooped up after they fall off at the end of the season. Not sure I buy that one either. Amy continued in her search for bear
After lunch we headed back up north to our ranch lodging for the next 2 nights, The Heart Six Ranch
The next morning I had to get up early to get a Backcountry Permit for my Solo hike I planned through the Tetons. I got in line at 7am to get one of the few “walk-in” permits left open. I was able to snag the 3 camp zones I wanted and on my way back to ranch I saw this big boy in the road
I instantly felt guilty because it was the only time Amy was not in the car and she wanted to bag one so bad. He walked right in front of my car and off into the bush as if he was a baseball player disappearing into the corn during the movie, “Field of Dreams”. The claws were enormous.
When we sat down to breakfast, I gave Amy my camera to look at pictures for the last day. She scrolled through and when she came to the bear, she just froze and let out and expletive; claiming she knew this would happen the second we separated. She tried to improve the situation by photoshopping herself into the pictures
She got over it enough to continued on with the day. We drove down to Jenny Lake and hiked the 8 mile loop
Below is a good representation of the Tetons. On my hike starting tomorrow I would be hiking a trail that went up and down from a shelf behind the peaks and then come out at the end to the trails you see in the foothills of the mountains.
Amy did get to see 3 moose on this hike, but none had huge antlers, so it did not soften the blow of the bear no matter how much I tried to hype them up. The moose never had a chance.
On the way back to the ranch, we saw these deer-like creatures called Pronghorns. I had never heard of them.
They froze right in the middle of the road and came within inches of getting pummeled by a Camper going 70 mph. That would have really capped the day off for Amy.
We sat in one of the living rooms of the ranch and watched the sunset before getting everything packed for Amys flight out and my 4 day hike.
At breakfast the next morning we were no longer astonished by the fact that our food cost about $70. Of course that included $3 glass of water and $5 for a cup of coffee straight out of the pot. It was fun to watch the other tourists utterly confused by their bill total. Some even spoke about it loud enough to make the staff aware of the highway robbery taking place.
Amy dropped me off at Jackson Hole Ski Resort before she dropped the car off at Jackson Airport and flew home. I paid $50 for a 10 minute ride up the tram to the top of the ski hill and was off on a 4 day hike along the Teton Crest Trail.
It was a little chilly up here. I forgot to mention, that morning we scrapped ice off our windshield at the ranch. I was very apprehensive about sleeping outside with just a 30 degree rated quilt. In my efforts to go light with my pack I decided to sideline all comfort. So I started the hike at around 11K ft and would spend the next 4 days just hiking up and down like a stock market trend.
Since I was at the top of the world to start, it was all downhill for the morning. I had my bear spray on my hip but hoped it was the end of my sightings for the trip. I mean the way they talk about bears here you would think they are on every street corner. I was also saddling this extra bulk of a bear canister and had to take all kinds of precautions around camp to avoid any smells to be within 200 yards of me.
I finally hit the junction with the Teton Crest Trail. The trail actually started a little further south but I thought starting at the top of a chair lift and meeting up the trail might be a nice way to ease into the hike. I stopped in the afternoon to sit beside Marion Lake and read a book
I headed back onto the trail until getting to my designated camping area at Death Canyon Shelf
I had asked the ranger the other day to mark on the map the trusted water sources this time of year and there was to be a spot just short of my camping zone, but when I got there it was a few hundred feet down from the trail and I don’t hike any more than I have to with this pack. So I pushed into the camp zone and hoped for an active creek. About a mile in I ran across some other campers and asked them, but they did not have a water source. I could have made due with my liter left for dinner and breakfast but I was hoping for extra to rehydrate. Eventually when I was about to just camp and make the best of it, I came across this trickle and was saved
I set up camp just beyond the creek, made dinner, and stored my bear canister a good distance from my tent and called it a night
Views on, “The Shelf”
The next day would be the first of two "passes" on this hike. Up first would be Hurricane Pass. I admit I was dreading the unending vertical switchbacks, but just had to tackle it when I got there. What made me more anxious was the altitude. I definitely felt the reduced oxygen up here. There were many times where I would catch myself forgetting to breath, and feeling a bit of panic, like when you are underwater a few seconds more than your liking. I had decided not to take altitude medicine because I had been up to 15K ft in the past and tolerated it…barely.
I worked myself down into “Alaska Basin” and stopped at Lake Solitude before making the climb up to the pass
Pretty funny story at Lake Solitude. I am sitting there getting myself psyched up for what I thought would be a tough hike, when all of a sudden a group of 15 woman came running down the trail. They all proceeded to take of their close and skinny dip in the lake! You might be able to zoom in on above picture and catch a nipple. Anyway, I immediately felt like a predator and packed up my gear and shoved off. In the picture above, there is a notch in the mountain that I assumed was the pass. It turned out to be a different location and was up without stopping in under an hour. The woman passed me an hour later on their 50 mile run!
After crossing the pass, I dropped down into North Cascade camping area for night 2
Starting to get some close looks at the 3 Tetons that looked so intimidating from the road a couple days before. I entered the camp zone and found a spot next to waterfall hoping for some white noise effect.
I wasn’t sleeping great because I was using a pretty flimsy sleeping pad. I could not roll on my side because my hips and shoulders were points of pain in contact with the ground. Not a lot of soft places here. My shaved off plastic stakes were broken a few times trying to find a place to drive them into the earth. I had to use rocks to hold my tent guy lines.
The next day was the final big test: Paintbrush divide. This was setup same as the last with a lake before the big ascent, but no naked woman at this lake I am afraid.
I chilled for a bit at the lake and then started the climb. This one was a true challenge, unlike the last. I came to a couple demoralizing false passes before finally cresting the divide.
Now it was downhill to Holly Lake for the night. In fact it was downhill the whole rest of the way.
After setting up camp, I actually took a bath in the lake. I figured it would be good to clean up a bit before returning to civilization. I also figured this would be perfect time for a bear encounter. Me naked in a lake and the bear standing at the shore next to the bottle of bear spray.
All went smooth and the next day I hiked the 6 miles out to the trail parking lot
Since Amy returned the car when she flew out I would need to find another way to get back to Jackson (1 hour away). I thought this might be tough in a national park with so many foreigners and not “outdoorsy” people around, but amazingly I got picked up in the first 5 minutes
I couple from Jackson just completed a morning run and were heading back to town. I almost wanted to say, “No Thanks” as I had not suffered enough out here on the open road. I needed to get depressed and sit on my pack for a few hours of thumbing my way for it to be a real adventure. But I was glad they stopped and took them up on their offer.
He was wildlife photographer that took clients out. I asked if he had secret places to spot bears and he said, "no, really just the main road in and out of town is where we see most the wildlife". Man, Amy would have been more pissed if she knew that.
They dropped me off at a reincarnation of the Bates Motel (only place under $200/night in Jackson). An Art festival was going on, so I walked the streets a bit, had some dinner and played pool at the tourist trap “Cowboy Bar”
A funny thing happened while playing pool. Some guy asked me if I wanted to play for money. I said fine. He suggested $50/game. I assumed this would be one and done for me and maybe make an interesting story. Well I won the first, he doubled the bet. I won the next game. He doubled the bet again. Now we had some serious cash on the line but I didn’t not mind since I was still playing just the original $50. During the third game, I went to use the bathroom (mistake) and came back and the 8 ball was missing from the table during the middle of the game. I asked where the 8 ball went and he said he didn’t know. This was one of those bar tables where you put money in to get the balls out. So obviously the 8 ball went into a pocket and could not be simply retrieved and placed conveniently back on the table. Eventually he suggested we just split the money. I agreed as I really did not care too much and did not feel like getting the shit kicked out of me by 4 guys in cowboy hats later in the alley. After he left 3 people watching said he knocked the 8 ball in accidentally, meaning he should have lost. I said, “Could have used that eye witness account 5 minutes ago”
Anyway, it was fun reliving my college pool days and had an extra few dollars in my pocket. The next morning I flew out. A solid experience with great weather on my hike for a change (I am talking to you Scottish Highlands!).
Until Next Time,