Climbing the Grand Teton

The day was a Saturday in early July of last year when our friend Charles came over to pick up some climbing gear for his trip up the Grand Teton. After discussing his trip, who he was taking with him and the route he was going to take he said “you guys should come with us!” My soon to be husband and I looked at each other for a moment. We had been talking about crossing the Grand Teton off of our bucket list before getting married. We had already crossed almost all of the surrounding peaks off of our list – South Teton, Middle Teton and Teewinot. After a quick exchange of glances I said “that sounds like fun, count us in!” It was 4PM and we agreed to meet him on the lower saddle of the Grand Teton at 7AM the next day, less than 24 hours later. 4 hours later we were packed and in bed. It was difficult to fall asleep when the sun was still up, but knowing that we were to be getting up and hiking in 5 hours kept me in bed. At 1AM the alarm sounded. Our dog looked at us like we were crazy as I prepared some oatmeal and we packed up the car with our packs.

1025620_673665501925_1407061574_o(1)An hour later we were on trail. It was a pitch black and a beautiful clear night as we made our way up the mountain from the Lupin Meadows Trailhead. By dawn we were in Garnet Canyon, watching the first light hit the high peaks. We refilled our water and had a quick snack break before the last push up to the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton.

As we neared the saddle we had to cross a snow field. A hard, icy boot pack stood between us and our friends on the saddle. As we neared the top I heard a shout from Charles 1072073_673665626675_1072323988_o(1)welcoming us to the Lower Saddle. But I was so focused on not slipping on the steep boot pack that I couldn’t even acknowledge his cry until I was on dry ground, away from icy peril. I gave him a big hug and followed him up to the camp that they had made the night before. I downed a granola bar, some beef jerky and a snickers. I have to say, a Snickers at 7AM never fails to hit the spot.

After a some brief introductions, our crew of 6 started up the 1072418_673665926075_1323549653_osaddle to the Owen-Spaulding route and the Upper Saddle. The OS is primarily on the west and north side of the Grand Teton, which means it rarely sees the sun. I stayed in my puffy jacket for most of the ascent, despite it being early July. As we reached the first climbing pitch we stashed our shoes by a boulder and put on our harnesses and climbing shoes. The first pitch is called the Belly Crawl, and it is more of a traverse than a vertical pitch. Charles started off by leading the climb, scaling a large rock out cropping and then dropping out of sight. Then he paused so that the next climber, me, could tie in. We tied 8s on a bite so we were all connected on one rope.

I thought that I was well prepared for the exposure of the belly crawl, but nothing can prepare you for the 18″ ledge with an overhanging rock above you and sheer 2,000 foot drop off on the other side that you experience in the middle of the pitch. As I was shuffling my way onto the belly crawl all of a sudden movement stopped.1071372_673666210505_512007922_o(1) They were tying another climber onto the line. So there I sat, in purgatory, not in danger but not quite safe either, exposed on the belly crawl. I decided to sit on top the ledge as opposed to crawling through the small shelf on my belly. The view down to Vallahala Canyon and up Cascade Canyon was stunning, so of course, I whipped out my camera and gave the view a thumbs up. As long as you didn’t acknowledge the fact that there was thousands of feet of open area directly below you, you were fine! Finally, we started moving again and I scrambled to the safety of Owen’s Chimney. One of Charles’ friends rounded the corner with a sour look on his face. I thought the he was just shaken up by the belly crawl, but when he reached us he told me that he had mounted a Go Pro to his climbing helmet and as he started the Belly Crawl he bumped his head on a ledge and it sent the Go Pro sailing into thin air. He watched it disappear out of sight to the bottom of Vallahala Canyon. The Go Pro was still filming. I always thought that it would be really cool footage if the camera survived the fall.

After everyone made it across the Belly Crawl 1074833_673666993935_1785190304_owe eased our way up Owen’s Chimney to Sergeant’s Chimney. It was a very easy climb to the top of the chimney (though we stayed roped up). At the top we ditched the rope and scrambled up to the summit. It was a gorgeous blue bird day when we summitted around 11AM, 9 hours after we had left our car. We only had to share the summit with two other climbers. We stayed on the large summit block for about half an hour, fueling up and taking in the breathtaking view. After taking the mandatory photos, touching the USGS summit marker, we reluctantly left the summit and started the long trudge back to the car.

1065148_673667682555_1971452067_oWe did two rappels – the first was an easy rappel, the second was easy in technicality but included a terrifying 120 foot free fall over a ledge. Some of the people in our party were more comfortable with the rappel than others. Slowly one of the members of our party made his way down to the ground, collapsing on it when he finally was off of the rappel. You could tell that he wasn’t a fan of heights. We found out boots stashed by a nearby boulder. After 3 hours in our climbing shoes, everyone was very excited to change back into our hiking boots.

We made our way down from the upper saddle to the lower saddle, scrambling between loose rocks and scree. At one point I kicked off a big rock, right above Charles. “ROCK, CHARLES, ROCK!!” I screamed. I will never forget seeing him look up at me and the rock and duck, as it coasted 4″ away from his head. In that moment, I remembered that what we were doing was very dangerous and we were not out of the woods yet. I could have killed one of my good friends in an instant. That thought was sobering. When we reached the Lower Saddle Jared and I bid goodbye to our friends, who still had to pack up their camp. We scrambled down the rocky pitch that defines the Lower Saddle and coasted to Garnet Canyon. Surprisingly, both of us had a lot of energy even though we were going on hour 12 of hiking. We finally reached the car after 14 hours of hiking. Exhausted but happy we talked about our trip and schemed about what our dinner would be. I find that a juicy burger always hits the spot after a long hike in the park. Finally, with the Grand Teton crossed off of our bucket list we could get married with no regrets!

If you are interested in climbing the Grand Teton I would suggest that you do it in two days, unless you are in incredible shape and adjusted to the altitude. There are two guiding companies that I would recommend you go up the Grand with – either Exum Mountain Guides or Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. Both provide stellar service and have high camps set up on or near the Upper Saddle. None of the guiding services do the Grand Teton in one day. A two day ascent is recommended. If you are an experienced climber or mountaineer and want to do it on your own I would highly recommend purchasing “A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range” by Ortenburger & Jackson, which can be found locally at Teton Mountaineering just off the town square. Either way, no feeling compares to standing on top of the Grand Teton and seeing the world laid out below you. It’s worth the effort, I promise you that.

September 11, 2014 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

Hike up to Ski Lake in Jackson Hole – Dog and Kid Friendly!

There is a trail up on Teton Pass that’s pitch isn’t too steep, Ski Lakeit takes you through fields and wanders through the pine and aspen trees until you reach a small lake in a basin. The best part about this mellow hike is that your dog can come along! The trail I’m talking about is the hike to Ski Lake. It’s 4.6 miles round-trip from the parking area with an elevation gain of 850 feet. The trail is perfect for families and dog owners alike.

To reach the trail, drive 2/3rds of the way up Teton Pass from the Jackson side until you see a large parking lot on the left hand side and a sign and a small dirt road on the right hand side of the road indicating “Phillips Canyon.” Park either in the parking lot or on the dirt road and then take the dirt road up until you see a trail split off on your left hand side. There will be a sign for Ski Lake and Phillips Pass Trail. Follow the Phillips Pass Trail up into the large open meadow where you’ll cross a small bridge.  The junction for Ski Lake is just past the bridge on the edge of the meadow.

The trail slowly gains elevation as it heads west. The views are beautiful from the trail and even better when the wildflowers are in bloom in July and August.Hike to Ski Lake This is a very popular hike with the locals (and their furry friends) so expect to see a fair amount of other people. You will know when you reach the lake because the trail will dead end at the lake. Make sure to bring bear spray, water and some snacks, especially if you are hiking with children. Also, since the hike is starting at such a high elevation, 8,211 feet, you may want to bring some extra layers because it will be cooler than the hikes that you may have taken in the valley. Once you are done with your visit at the lake, retrace your steps back to your car. Additionally, since the hike is at a high elevation it may be snow covered or muddy until mid-June depending on the snow year.

September 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm Leave a comment

Shopping on the Town Square in Jackson Hole

One of the best things about being located in downtown Jackson is that you can walk to a myriad of shops, restaurants and bars. Whether you are looking for a souvenir t-shirt for your kids or for an authentic western hat, cowboy boots or belt buckle, there is a shop that fits your needs on the town square. Here’s a list of some of my favorite shops:

MADE – Located in Gaselight Alley, this shop features goods made by local artists. The owner, John, makes all of the glass items in the store. His belt buckles are very trendy and I love his Teton themed coasters for the coffee table. There are also plenty of other Wyoming themed knick knacks including bucking bronco accent pillows, antler necklaces and bronco coffee mugs, pint glasses and wine glasses. Also be sure to head across the street to their sister store “Mountain Dandy.”

Wyoming Outfitters – For a good quality pair of cowboy boots or a Western button down shirt head over to Wyoming Outfitters. They have a good selection of quality boots and western attire. It’s the perfect place to stop and splurge on a western outfit to wear to the rodeo.

Jackson Hole Trading Company – Located at the main intersection of Broadway and Cache, this store has quality souvenirs including local goods – huckleberry jam, elk jerky or huckleberry chocolate bars. Additionally, they have some Jackson themed home goods and your standard souvenirs such as postcards, magnets and key chains.

Lees Tees – For good quality souvenir t-shirts head diagonally across the street to Lees Tees. Here you will find a variety of t-shirts and sweatshirts all with different designs and sayings about the Jackson Hole area.

Teton Mountaineering and Skinny Skis – If you are looking to pick up some last minute supplies for a hiking or backpacking trip head on over to Teton Mountaineering or Skinny Skis. Both carry a great selection of outdoor apparel, shoes and gear. Teton Mountaineering will have a broader selection and has a better variety for climbers while Skinny Skis has a larger selection of children’s clothing. Both also carry bear spray and rent outdoor gear.

High County Outfitters – For the fly fisherman, this is your go-to store. Additionally, they have a large selection of guns upstairs for the sportsman. They also have a large selection of outdoor clothing and shoes.

Jackson Hole Resort Store – Don’t have time to make it to Teton Village, the base of the famed ski resort Jackson Hole Mountain Resort? Don’t worry! If you are looking to purchase any ski-themed gifts head over to the Jackson Hole Resort Store. They also have a small selection of outdoor clothing.

Those are a few of my favorite stores on the Jackson Hole Town Square. There are plenty of other stores that are worth a stop in, notably The Hide Out (for belt buckles and leather), Vom Fass (for artisanal oils, vinegars, spices and spirits), Accentuate (for the ladies) as well as plenty of art galleries. Either way, a stroll on the Town Square is always a good idea. If it’s a hot day, be sure to stop at Moo’s Ice Cream and take a break to get a cone or milk shake and eat it in the small park on the town square. Oh and don’t forget to take your photo in front of the iconic elk antler arches!

August 13, 2014 at 3:37 pm 1 comment

Hiking Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is known for their steep ski trails and relentless vertical during the winter season. 10498645_739268298395_2997857251376472587_oHowever, during the summer season you can hike 4,139 vertical feet    uphill to the summit of the famed ski resort. If you think that their double black trails look intimidating during the winter, wait until you see the terrain during the summer! Some trails look completely unskiable. For example, Alta 1 is a sheer rock face, the Expert Chutes are huge craggy outcroppings and Toilet Bowl looks like it’s better fit for a rock climber than a skier. But don’t worry, there is a trail system and access road that allows you to hike among these double black diamond trails. No climbing harness necessary.

We begin at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village, Wyoming. There are a few trails that can take you to the summit. Wildflower TrailCurrently, the bottom half of the Summit Trail is closed while JHMR is preparing to install a new chairlift. The alternate route is up the Wildflower Trail, a meandering trail that has beautiful vistas, park benches and of course, wildflowers when they are in season. The trail starts in the base area just to the right of the red Bridger Gondola. After about 3 miles, the Wildflower Trail meets up with the Summit Trail, which is essentially the access road for JHMR. The road switchbacks up the mountain and is the main trail used to access the summit. The total mileage of from the Wildflower Trail to the summit via the Summit Trail is approximately 6.6 miles long (one way).

If you prefer a single track trail I would suggest hiking up to the top of the Gondola and taking the Cirque Trail to the summit. There will be signage on the Summit Trail on how to access the top of the Gondola (approximately a mile after joining the Summit Trail from the Wildflower Trail). A local favorite is hiking down from the top of the tram to the top of the Gondola via the Cirque Trail or Summit Trail for drinks on the Deck. The Deck doesn’t open until 4PM so nothing is open at the top of the Gondola until then.

The Cirque Trail is steep and becomes a little bit of a scramble after you pass the top of the Sublette Chairlift. Canyon and Cody PeakFor the skiers who know Jackson Hole, the trail follows the East Ridge Traverse trail. For those with a slight fear of heights or prefer something more mellow, I would advise sticking to the Summit Trail. The summit trail passes the top of the Thunder Chair and then traverses into the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl and up to the top of the Sublette Chair, where it has one long traverse across the bowl and then zigs back up to the top of the tram.

At the top of the tram you can enjoy a delicious waffle at Corbet’s Cabin, snap a few photos and then decide whether you would like View from the JHMR Summitto take the tram down or hike down. Hikers can take the tram down for free. Conversely, some people prefer to take the tram up the mountain and then hike down to the base. Downhill only hikers must pay for a ticket for the tram. Unfortunately (for me), dogs aren’t allowed on the tram. However, dogs are allowed on the mountain, which isn’t the case for any of the trails in the neighboring Grand Teton National Park. For a trail map and a list of all of the trail descriptions visit Jackson Hole’s website. As always, bring bear spray, food and plenty of water on your hike.

July 30, 2014 at 3:46 pm Leave a comment

Bear Safety Tips for Your Jackson Hole Adventure

You’re hiking along with your family, deep into some family bonding when you round a corner and see a bear about 20 feet down the trail. What do you do??

The first tip starts in town, way before you even hit the trail. If you are thinking about hiking or mountain biking in the bear-spray-collageTeton area it is imperative that you purchase bear spray. There are a variety of different sprays ranging from a small size and a larger size but they all do the same thing – deter bears. The larger size is good if you are only planning on buying one can of spray. However, it is suggested that you have more than one person with bear spray in a group of 3 or more. For this, the smaller size will do the trick.

Now, you have the spray, you are in the woods and spot a bear. What do you do with the darn thing? First, make sure that the spray is accessible. Wear it on your hip belt of your backpack or on your belt. The spray doesn’t do you any good if it’s in your backpack. By the time that you take off your pack, unzip it and get out the spray you could already be charged by a bear. Next, remove the safety, which is a wedge between where your thumb should be located and the canister. Do not spray until the bear comes within 40 feet of you. Do not make eye contact with the bear and try to back away slowly while talking in a soothing voice to the bear. Say things like “Hi, Mr. Bear. I’m not here to hurt you. I am backing up slowly.. etc.”

If the bear starts pawing the ground on all fours and puts its head down like it is going to charge, prepare to spray the bear. Be aware of the wind. If the wind is coming toward you, you will most likely get sprayed a little too. In this case, wait until the last possible moment to spray the bear. Hold the canister out away from your body and spray at the feet of the bear when it is far away. Since the spray will rise, the bear will have to run through the mist of pepper spray in order to get to you. If it is within 10 feet of you, aim for its head. Deploy the spray in 2 to 3 second bursts in a sweeping motion. This will prolong the amount of time that you can spray the bear. If you hold down the trigger the whole time the spray may be out in as little as 8 seconds. Try not to use the whole amount of spray in the first attack since more than one application may be needed.

If for some reason the bear remains undeterred by the spray and continues to charge you, get on the ground and lie with your stomach on the ground. Spread your legs so it is difficult for the bear to flip you over. Cover your head with your hands. Maintain this stance until the bear becomes disinterested and leaves the area. Do not stand up until the bear has left the area.

After any attack be sure to retrace your steps and clear the area. Also, warn others about the bears presence, including the National Park or National Forest staff.

How do you avoid a bear encounter all together? Noise. The primary reason that a bear attacks is that it was surprised by the people – it is scared and views you as a threat. If you carry on a conversation while hiking or biking it will help prevent you from sneaking up on a bear and surprising it. It is debatable whether bear bells have any effect. Overall, conversation or singing works best. Just remember, the bear is more afraid of you than you are of it. It attacks because it feels threatened, not because it is naturally viscous. Hopefully you will not run into any bears when you are on a hike or bike ride in Jackson Hole, but if you do, remember these tips -

1. Always carry pepper spray
2. Avoid eye contact with the bear
3. If charged use a sweeping motion and spray in 2 to 3 second bursts
4. If attacked, drop to the ground, cover your head and spread your legs. Do not drop to the ground unless the bear actually hits you.

With these tips in mind you should be able to survive a bear attack.

July 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm 6 comments

An Overnight Rafting Trip with Barker-Ewing

It is very difficult to plan your summer vacation in Jackson Hole – there are so many different activities that compete for your attention. Do you want to go horseback riding? Hiking? Biking? Golfing? Sight seeing? Shopping? The possibilities are endless! But if you are looking for a crowd pleaser, something that is destined to be a highlight of your trip, look no further than an overnight rafting trip with Barker-Ewing Whitewater! After hours in the car trying to make the decision on what sights to see and where to eat, stay or play it’s nice to put the reigns into the capable staff of Barker-Ewing. The overnight trip is full service, providing you with snacks, dinner, dessert, breakfast and good ole’ fashioned cowboy coffee in the morning. They even provide sleeping bags and lanterns. All you need to do is bring a change of clothes. No, really!

We arrived at the Barker-Ewing office at 3:15PM and checked in. They gave us some wet suits and booties for the whitewater portion of the trip and provided us with a cooler so that we could have a cold beer once we got to the campsite. We introduced ourselves to our camp-mates, a family of four from Florida. Their two excitable children were ages 8 and 10. After some pleasantries and instructions from the staff about what to expect on our trip we boarded the bus which would take us to our put in on the river, 20 minutes South of the town of Jackson.

We met our guide at the put in, an affable fellow, Austin, whose fondness of nature was abundantly apparent. As we started the scenic portion of our float down the Snake River he pointed out different wildflowers and listed their genus names. Additionally, we kept an eye out for birds and otters. We saw plenty of birds, but unfortunately, no otters. After an hour and a half of floating we arrived at camp, which was a short walk from the river bank. The camp at Pine Creek was set in a draw, flanked by the river on one side and surrounded by mountains on the other three sides with a creek running by it.

The camp was comprised of a cook tent, a dining tent, two outhouses, a fire pit and six “cabins”, which were canvas tents on platforms with three twin beds in them. After meeting the camp cook, Will, we headed up the trail to select our cabins. Each cabin had a Adirondack chair on the small deck outside, which I thought was a nice touch. It was easy to relax at camp, knowing that our meals were being prepared for us and we didn’t have to partake in any camp chores. In fact, I tried to help Will carry wood from where he was chopping it to the fire and he refused my help. The staff provided top notch service and Will worked his butt off for us!

Dinner was steak, beans, corn, garlic bread and salad. Will cooked each of our steaks to order and they were delicious! After dinner, spurred on by the kids, we went for a short hike up one of the hills by the camp. From the top of the hill we had a nice vista of the Snake River and the surrounding mountains (and the highway). After we hiked back down to the camp we started the fire. We played camp games and ate s’mores and peach cobbler. As the sun set, we spotted a moose up on the hill where we had hiked earlier. After the sun set Austin broke out a “star finder”, which was essentially a laser pointer that he used to point out constellations in the sky. He told us about the mythology behind some of the different constellations and taught us how to find Polaris, the North Star.

The next morning we had a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, pancakes and fruit cocktail. We washed the deliciousness down with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. After breakfast we packed up our belongings and headed across the river to the whitewater put in. There, around 9AM, we loaded our belongings on to the bus so that they would stay dry during our 8 mile whitewater float. I was excited because we had such a small group so we were able to raft in an 8 man raft. An 8 man raft is more exciting than the larger 16 man rafts because the rapids are more intense in a smaller raft.

The whitewater section was exciting. The largest class of rapid that we went through was a mild class 4 rapid, Lunch Counter. We all got soaked and had a great time. After an hour and a half of floating, swimming and a dozen rapids we arrived at the take out. There we said good bye to Austin, changed into dry clothes and headed back to town. We were back in town around noon.

The cost per adult for the trip is $210 for adults and $160 for children. It is a great deal because it includes a scenic float, whitewater float, overnight accommodations, dinner and breakfast. I would highly recommend booking an overnight trip with Barker-Ewing on your next trip to Jackson. It is a great way to get out of the car for the day and a very relaxing experience. It’s the perfect thing to do with your family or your significant other, even if they aren’t super outdoorsy! The staff at Barker-Ewing is top notch and will make sure that you don’t have to worry about a thing during your trip.

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June 25, 2014 at 2:57 pm Leave a comment

Popular Day Hikes in Grand Teton National Park – Inspiration Point & Jenny Lake

By far one of the most popular day hikes in Jenny Lake Boat RideGrand Teton National Park is the hike to Inspiration Point. The view from the rock outcropping provides a spectacular vista of the lake and the valley below. It is mellow enough for the novice hiker and family friendly. In fact, if you are looking for a short hike, you can take the Jenny Lake Ferry across the lake and save yourself 5 miles of hiking. The ferry costs $15 round trip for adults and $8 for children. It departs every 15 minutes from the Jenny Lake Boat Dock.

Make sure that you bring bear spray on your hike, or any hike for that matter, in Grand Teton National Park. Bear Spray can be bought in Hike to Inspiration Pointtown at the grocery store or at any of the sports shops in town – Skinny Skis, Teton Mountaineering, Sports Authority or Hoback Sports.

The hike begins at the Jenny Lake parking lot by the boat dock. For a map of the hike, follow this link. If you plan on hiking to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls you should park on the boat dock side of the parking lot, not the parking lot by the visitor’s center. The hike around the lake is relatively flat. You will hike 2.4 miles to the junction where you can hike 400 feet up to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls.

After a moderate hike of .6 milesHidden Falls you will see a path to Hidden Falls on your left. Walk about a hundred feet and you will come across an 80 foot cascade. After visiting Hidden Falls the trail gets steeper. Continue .4 miles along the trail to reach Inspiration Point. This is a great place to hang out and have a snack while soaking in the view. From Inspiration Point you can continue up Cascade Canyon on a relatively flat trail. There are good opportunities for spotting wildlife in this canyon, moose in particular. The hike is an out and back, so turn around whenever you feel ready to head back to your car.

You can make it into a loop if you want to hike around the entire lake. The loop will add 4 miles to your hike, whereas if you retrace your steps to your car it is 2.4 miles from the junction with the lake trail. In order to turn it into a loop, take a left at the Jenny Lake trail junction and head towards String Lake. Once you reach String Lake, take a right and then follow the trail around the lake until you reach the Jenny Lake Visitor’s Center where you parked.Inspiration Point

There are great opportunities to spot wildlife on this hike and it isn’t a very challenging hike. It’s a great way to get out of your car and stretch your legs. If you are short on time, take the ferry across. It will turn the 7 mile hike into a 2 mile hike. I promise you won’t regret visiting Inspiration Point and Jenny Lake!

June 12, 2014 at 9:58 pm 2 comments

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