Monday, August 25, 2008

The Teton Crest Trail

Hiking along Death Canyon Shelf on the Teton Crest Trail.

I just spent the past seven days in vacation oasis, away from my usual life and surrounded by the wilderness and my favorite people. There was no cooking, no sewing, no dress designs, and no thoughts of fabric or recipes. There were however mountain views, wildflowers, fresh air, and good old fashioned huffing and puffing up steep mountain divides. I was on the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park with my husband, my parents, my two youngest sisters, and two very good family friends.

On our 5-day, 39-mile backpacking adventure, we tackled such delightful obstacles as the Death Canyon Shelf, Hurricane Pass, and Paintbrush Divide. Oddly enough, the hardest portion of the trail - Paintbrush Divide - sounds the most serene, while the easiest part of the hike - Death Canyon Shelf - sounds like hell on earth. Both were memorable. We camped at Marion Lake, Alaska Basin, Cascade Canyon, and Lower Paintbrush Canyon.

Each part of the trip was uniquely inspiring. A hard first day left me collapsed on a rock desperately sipping Gatorade and staring at the still water and cliff's reflection at Marion Lake. The next day I recuperated with an easier, flatter hike along the Death Canyon shelf, surrounded by fields of flowers and overlooking dramatic mountain views. Death Canyon Shelf is a broad bench below the crest of the Meeks Mountain range overlooking Death Canyon. To the west was a 3-mile-long escarpment of daunting cliffs and to the east the shelf abruptly plunged into the deep trough of Death Canyon over one thousand feet below. We ate lunch next to a mountain stream that flowed into a small crack in the shelf and disappeared abruptly, plummeting into this trough of a canyon below. You don't see a stream disappear every day! The wildflowers along the Death Canyon Shelf were unlike anything I have ever seen, and I live in South Texas, the self proclaimed wildflower capital of the states. BEAUTIFUL!

Day three met us with our first big hill, but Hurricane Pass rewarded us with one of the most incredible views I have ever had the pleasure of viewing! After a steep and tiring climb (I had to use my rest step AND sidestep techniques to keep from collapsing with fatigue), we rounded the curve of the pass and saw due east the Grand Teton (13,770'), Middle Teton (12,804') and South Teton (12,514') peaks towering over us about a half mile away. The photo below cannot capture the spectacular perspective of the mountains looming above us, but it comes close.

We camped just below Lake Solitude in Cascade Canyon, with a gorgeous sunset view of the Grand Teton and about 10,000 mosquitoes. As the sun set and the view enhanced, the biting bugs eventually gave way to small, pesky, non-biting flies. Thank heavens the flies did not bite, because many of us were already covered in a multitude of itching bites. Claire had 14 bug bites on her right shoulder alone!

On our second to last day we completed the hardest, most magnificent day of hiking. From Lake Solitude we climb from 9,035 feet to head over Paintbrush Divide at 10,720' feet. The trail moved us out of the North Cascade Canyon's U-shaped glacial valley and seemed to stretch above me for what looked like miles as it ascended Paintbrush Divide's never ending switchbacks. We gained 1500-foot of elevation in 2.5 miles. It is a glorious stretch of trail with the Grand Teton right in front of every southerly heading switchback, but the day was ominously cloudy, windy, and gray, giving me the humbling feeling of mother nature's power. A ranger we passed even shared a prediction for snow. We were actually quite relieved to finished the divide, as the windy gusts at the top were strong enough to almost sail us off the mountain. Some Brits we met on the trail even confessed to crawling across the divide to prevent being blown away.

We finished our adventure with a quick (yes, very quick, it was freezing cold) dip into String Lake. The water was frigid, our feet and legs went instantaneously numb, and the view was (still) majestic. Off to the showers for a two-shampoo washing, and the trip was complete. Such a delight!

The group and the Grand at the top of Hurricane Pass. Yes, the wind was blowing as though we were in a hurricane, but the view was worth a pause. After a steep climb up and up from Sunset Lake we were rewarded with a stunning, towering view of the Grand and its partners looming near the trail.

Hikers round a switchback in front of a turquoise-blue glacial lake. You can barely see the tongue of the the glacier lapping at the base of the pool. The glacial flour suspended in the water, made of powdered rock ground down by the ice, gives the pool that brilliant color when the green and blue wavelengths of light are reflected back out of the water while the other wavelengths of light are absorbed in the flour.

Fields and fields of wildflowers stretched out along the 39 miles of trail. I have never, and I mean NEVER, seen or even imagined such an abundance of wildly beautiful blooms. It was stunning, especially in contrast to the rocky peaks in the distance. It would be impossible to recreate or fabricate this kind of floral display in the modern world. Even the best botanical gardens cannot compare.

The moon setting over Marion Lake at our first campsite.

Claire, Lisa, me and Sam rewarded ourselves for a hike completed with a freezing dip in String Lake at the culmination of the trip. This is a plunge only for the brave, as the water is snowmelt and cold enough to suck the breath right out of you! Sam earned a prize for braving the friggid water with the ladies. :)

1 comment:

Katy G. said...

What a crazy good trip that looks like! Reminds me a bit of part of the Sierra Nevada in CA where I've hiked with my favorite cousin. But I've never seen such beautiful flowers there!