A Hike in the Tetons Part 1

By: Moromis

Sep 27 2013

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Just over a week ago, I was in Tetons National Park hiking. My older brother and sister had decided to accompany a family friend as she visited her alma mater, Sarah to revisit the Tetons, and Caleb for the hiking. As for myself, I was mainly looking for some vacation time before summer ended. We planned out a 10 day trip, leaving the 12th and arriving back in Washington on the 21st. When we first arrived, I had to tie up some loose ends concerning work, and then I was free to go hiking. So on Sunday, the 15th, we set out a bit after noon on a 4-day 3-night hike through a good 36 miles of the Teton mountain range.

The first day, I had no idea what I would be facing. I never weighed my pack, so I’m not sure how heavy it was, albeit it was heavy. Overly much. I was also borrowing a pack from a friend and had never done more than a one night hike. Being unfamiliar with the pack, I didn’t know about weight distribution, and had my shoulder straps cinched up tight against my back. I quickly realized that my shoulders couldn’t bear the weight I was giving them, but by that point they were already sore and I had to hike with them thus the rest of the day.

I never rightly figured out how long a hike would be each day, or even at the end of the day. I figure we walked about 10 miles a day, as we totaled 30-40 miles by the end. Our route the first day took us around Phelps Lake, and then up a steep and rocky trail, into a large valley named Death Canyon. Interestingly enough, it was quite lush, with tall green grass, wildflowers (not in bloom at this time of the season), and streams flowing about it all. It was not really very deathly at all.

We arrived at our campsite, my siblings only slightly wearied, myself being quite tuckered out. We set up camp, and boiled some water for our dinner on top of a borrowed wood gas stove, which worked fairly well (though I never really had to start or tend it). We dined well on pasta with a shrimp scampi topping minus the shrimp. I thought that camping was quite fine after this, and slept fairly well in my hammock that night.

The second day, we rose early and filtered water for our bottles and began our trek once more. we strode through a lowland setting, with streams traversing it back and forth across our path. Trees were in fair abundance and provided good shade as the sun rose over the east canyon wall. Then, after close to an hour, hour and a half walk, we began our ascent of the western slope. The climb was quite difficult, rivaled only by the hike up from Phelps Lake the previous day (though this may be because I acclimated over the latter two days of the trip). Once at the top, we stopped for a well earned break and sat with Caleb and sipped our lovely water before continuing on.

I should mention at this point that it was truly only Sarah and I that hiked together for most of the trip. At the beginning of each day, we would all start out together, and then Sarah and I would let Caleb go at his faster clip. We would generally see him framed against the sky at the top of a ridge, looking down at us for a few moments before striding off over the other side. He was always our goal, stopping after walking 10 or 15 minutes till we came into sight, and then continuing on once more.

After the uphill climb of the early morning on the second day, we had arrived out of Death Canyon onto Death Shelf, which was a nice, mostly flat walk along a long shelf that took us almost completely back to the relative point where we had come up from Phelps Lake, except we were now on the top of the western ridge, as opposed to the bottom of the east. About halfway along we stopped for lunch, and then continued along for the next 3-4 hours, and went around and behind the mountains that had made up the western edge of Death Canyon, and then dropped the 1000+ feet we had gained and dropped into the Alaskan Basin.

Every time we went up, I hoped and prayed that we would keep the elevation we were gaining. Then my hopes would be dashed, and we would go down, with a view of the other side of the valley or basin in sight, taunting us. If only one could walk along the ridge of the mountains, instead of going up and down and up and down…

As we crossed the Basin, a thunderstorm began to flow in from the east. we stopped for a short while next to the western slope of the Basin and put a tarp over our packs in expectation of the storm. It seemed to skirt our location, and so we decided to go the extra distance and climb up the mountain to get to the next camping spot, Sunset Lake. It was an arduous hike up the side of the mountain after a full day of hiking, but we managed to get to the lake in a fairly good clip, even though I was slightly delirious by the time we arrived. We didn’t even have time to set up our tents before a storm rolled in from some direction, pelting us with hail and rain, and we all huddled under our individual tarps with our packs to wait it out. As soon as it passed, we quickly set up a combined camp with our three tarps stretched over us, Sarah and I sleeping side by side in our hammocks and Caleb directly beneath us. That night, we cooked a few packets of cheap ramen, and slept with hail occasionally coming down and great gusts of wind blowing angrily at our camp.

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