It's been a while since the Geezers rode together - seven years, to be precise. So it was Bobby who decided to take on the responsibility of organizing our next outing, at his newly adopted homeland in Wyoming. The Grand Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyoming, is a one of my totally all-time absolute favoritest places to go in the USA - Louise and I came in 1980 to marvel at the strangeness of Yosemite and admire the power and beauty of the Tetons, and had a most memorable time. Then, in 1987, we came back with Louise's mother and marched her around the same ground. After a week, she flew back to Chicago and Louise and I headed for the Wind River Range and a backpacking trip that went as far from civilization as you can get in the lower 48 states. Unbelievable! So when Bobby proposed a hike around the Tetons, I enlisted at once, as did the other geezers. It wass agreed that we should come to Jackson a few days before setting out in order to acclimatize ourselves to the altitude. I showed up on Saturday September 9, a day earlier than the other geezers, and spent the day just hanging out with Bobby and Nancy in her house, which she designed herself as a showpiece of healthy building and energy-efficiency.
My entrance into Jackson was unpromising. I stepped off the plane, was astounded by all the natural beauty around me and stopped to take a picture of it. Immediately an official-looking fellow approached me angrily and told me to move along. Whoah! Has this become an totalitairan state in my absence? Does he think I am a member of the Taliban, come to search for possible targets in the area? So I moved on a bit until I saw the entrance to the terminal, which was adorned with antlers. Now I definitely must photograph that, I said to myself, so I stopped once more. After taking the picture (below), I started to approach the door, but suddenly an alarm sounded. "And that's why you mustn't stop on the tarmac" another official said wearily - Nancy later explained that the alarm would sound if both double doors were shut at the same time, so it was imperative for everyone to keep walking. Imperative to fix the alarm system, I muttered darkly.
The core of the park was created by Act of Congress in 1929, but it only included about a third of the land contained in the park today. Over the next 15 years, John D. Rockefeller accumulated the additional land which he then donated to the park. Some landowners refused to sell to Rockefeller, so there are a number of holdings within the park that are still in private hands. One of these is Dornan's, which is set up as a trading post selling groceries, river trips, trinkets and many other things. They also have a restaurant and bar, so, after picking up Laura, Ron and Joe Jack on Sunday, we headed out there for a beer. The bar overlooks the Snake River and has a wonderful view of the Grand. The weather was unsettled, with a few sprinkles of rain, but we warmed ourselves on the good feelings from our reunion and felt the stresses of everyday life slip away. To our delight, three large moose emerged from by the river and strolled across the open area in front of us. A good omen, indeed!
Bobby also took us to the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve, which is a magical place just recently donated to the park by John D.'s grandson. It includes nature trails, a beautiful lake, and a building that bombards you with peace and the joy of nature. Almost more than I could take!
Finally, dinner time arrived and we all went to the Stagecoach in Wilson, where you can play pool, order wonderful Mexican food, listen to some excellent music and even get in a little dancing if you're so inclined. (I was not.) And so to bed.
|Move along, sir||Setting off the alarm||Arriving at Nancy's house|
|The Grand Teton from Dornan's||Strolling moose at Dornan's||Laurance Rockefeller Center|
|Ron packing||Sunset at Nancy's|
On Monday, we tinkered with our gear, obtained our bear canisters and made last-minute purchases. The bear canisters are large, heavy black plastic containers for food and anything else that might have an odor that could attract bears and the Park Service insists that backpackers carry them. Ron discovered that a number of items of his kit seemed to be missing - including hiking socks. Bobby was able to give him replacements.
That evening, Nancy prepared a celebratory lasagna, which was washed down with numerous bottles of wine. As the level of intoxication rose, I realized that this dinner had the potential to interfere with the precision of our departure in the morning, but everyone seemed to come through it OK and the next day we got out our packs and loaded them into the Suburban. Ron's luck continued bad - his plastic belt buckle broke, so the pack was to all intents and purposes useless. In the end, he managed to devise a way to hold the two pieces of buckle together with string and this worked well enough during the trip.
We drove over to the Jenny Lake boat dock by 10 a.m. The boat took us across the lake, saving us from having to hike about 2 miles around the lake. On arriving at the other side of the lake, we got off the boat and were soon on our way. Nancy was not planning to camp out with us, but still walked with us for a few hours, returning before the last boat left at 4 p.m.
The first mile of the trail was very crowded. Indeed, the trail guides say: the Cascade Canyon trail is the most beautiful in the Park, but don't go on it because it is so overused. We thought we might miss the big crowds by leaving after Labor Day, but there were still plenty of people. Never mind, we said - the first mile of trail goes by two major attractions, Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point; once we pass those, the crowds will thin out dramatically. But even after these attractions, there were plenty of hikers, mostly day hikers on their way up the canyon. We were headed towards Lake Solitude, which had been described to us by a ranger back in 1980 as Lake Multitude, but it is 10 miles from Jenny Lake, so it is not an easy day hike. The grandmothers with walking sticks and young ladies in heels mostly turned back before then, but there were still quite a few people doing the 20 miles to the lake and back.
The trail is very well-maintained, easy to walk and you get gorgeous views of Mt. Teewinot, Mt. Owen and the Grand on the other side of the creek as you walk up. In addition, the weather had turned fair and there was not a cloud in the sky. I was creaking a little under the weight of my pack, although it was the lightest in the group - the other geezers had kindly taken more than their share to reduce the strain on my back. Louise considered it to be obvious lunacy for me to hike after my back pain had been flaring up, but my experience in the past has been that the exercise of hiking actually stabilizes my back so that it generally doesn't feel any worse as I go along and indeed that was my experience on this hike. I had also bought a new pair of boots because my old ones always gave me blisters. The new ones were lighter and more flexible and much more comfortable, although at the expense of a certain amount of stability. It worked out very well for me - not even a sore spot, although my feet certainly felt battered.
At one point, we were told that a large bull-moose had been spotted lying in the creek. We went to the place but I saw nothing. Joe Jack took out his binoculars and exclaimed "There he is"!! I looked through the binoculars and saw nothing but some sticks poking up above some weeds. "Wishful thinking" I was about to remark, but just then the sticks moved and, for a moment, looked just like a huge rack of antlers. Then they stopped moving. "Nice!" I said.
At the top of the canyon, the trail forks, going north to Lake Solitude or south along the Teton Crest trail towards Alaska Basin. We headed north - we only had a mile to go, but we had to gain some elevation to do it, so when we reached the first campsite we were all tired and happy to grab it. We threw up our tents and starting emptying our packs in preparation for dinner. Suddenly there was a loud exclamation from Ron, who had just looked in a bag that turned out to contain all the things he hadn't been able to find earlier. Now if he just had packed a new belt buckle...
As the sun went down, we saw a wonderful warm glow on the high peaks and it started to get quite cold. I wasn't sure I had brought enough warm clothes, but Ron gave me some of his extras, so I was comfortable and even slept reasonably well.
|The ferry at Jenny Lake||Nancy and Laura at Inspiration Point||Starting up the valley|
|Lurking moose||Bobby surveying the heights||Peak across the valley|
|Cascade creek||First night campsite||First night campsite as the sun goes down|
In the morning, we crawled out our tents. Before the sun reached us, it was still quite cold, with frost on the tents. We had breakfast, struck the tents and headed out north around 11 o'clock. Lake Solitude wasn't that far, but we still had to slog up the trail, puffing in the high altitude and feeling the weight of our packs. When we did reach Lake Solitude, it was gorgeous - a sweet little glacial lake framed by towering cliffs. We were happy to stop and spend a while having lunch, soaking our feet and generally resting up.
At this point, we had to decide how hard to push ourselves. Our original plan had been to climb up a steep trail another 2,000 feet over Paintbrush Divide and then down an equally steep trail into Holly Lake. It was now 3 o'clock, and we were going very slowly because of the altitude and the heavy packs. Did we want to try to make Holly Lake by sundown? If we pushed on, would we either make ourselves miserable or arrive after dark at Holly Lake? One of the two (if not both) seemed inevitable, but neither of them seemed to be the experience we were looking for, so we finally decided that we didn't come out to kill ourselves and that we'd take the easier option and head back down the way we came. The only problem we faced was that our campsite reservation was at Holly Lake, not south of Lake Solitude. Happily, we had struck up a friendship with another couple from Snoqualmie, Washington; it turned out that they had a campsite for that very evening which they were delighted to share with us. So we headed back the way we had come for a while until we reached their campsite - the best in the valley, we were told by a volunteer ranger who visited us later that evening. Bobby took out the three liters of wine he had been carrying in his pack and a general feeling of happiness spread throughout the campsite.
|Breakfast||Lake Solitude||Cooling off my feet|
The next day we said goodbye to our new best friends, Steve and Cathy. Before us was a long hike, but downhill all the way. The weather stayed fine, and the views were amazing. We also bagged some more wildlife, including the cute rodents of the high country, pikas and marmots. At some point it became clear that we were not going to make the 4 p.m. boat across Jenny Lake, but we felt we were up to hiking the extra two miles around the lake. However, we then ran into some sort of Einsteinian distortion of the space-time continuum. Our packs started getting heavier rather than lighter and the two mile hike around the lake kept getting longer and longer until we despaired of seeing civilization again. Just when it seemed that we had been sucked into the black hole of despond, whom should we see coming towards us but Nancy! Oh blessed vision, for where there was Nancy, could a car be far behind? Suddenly we felt the spring return to our step and a smile return to our face.
|Marmot snoozing on the job||View of the peaks down the valley||Nancy's house lit by the setting sun|
Here are the mighty geezers, proudly surveying their world.
|Joe Jack||Ron||Laura||Bobby||Outline of me, after being eaten by a bear|
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