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A Trip to the Tetons

  • Submitted by: Nick Jarboe
  • Website: None Available
  • Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005

Mike Diener and I decided to take a trip in Oct of 92. We were tired of Houston with the Heat and Humidity and wanted to see the mountains before summer. Got out the maps, found a National Park/Forest near an Airport (We want to be able to walk from the park if we had to). Tetons National Park, Jackson Hole Wyoming. Mike had/has a thing for Wyoming also.

Mike used some air mileage, and we got two for one tickets to Jackson Hole. Transfer in Denver, prop job over beautiful scenery to the Hole. Get off the plane. I stand awed, exuberant, ecstatic. I breathe the cool dry air. My skin tingles and brain devours the interplay of the hot sun and refreshing breeze against my face, arms, legs.

Such a contrast, such a joy, such a deliverance from the Houston Humidity Hell. We slowly walked off the tarmac toward the terminal. I love tarmacs. They let me feel I have arrived. The roar of the engines, the wind, the miles of hard cement. You never see the Heads of State arrive at a country and get off the plane through some anethesized umbilical cord. The Pope kisses the ground not Dow Chemical fuzz.

We are happy, yes.

We wait for the bags to be brought in by the ticket agents. Minimal staff here between moose season and ski season. Bags in, no damage, around noon. Let's get camped before sundown. We get a quick hitch with a guy taking off time from Michigan state to make some money as a raft guide. I feel that he is making good life decisions.

He drops us off at a few shops next to the park entrance. We buy lunch, eat out in the sun, and wonder where to put Mike's extra bag for the next four days.(He is meeting his parents afterwards and has some nice clothes)

I ask the woman at the store where we could store a bag.(There were no lockers at the airport. That is why we have this problem) Nowhere around here says she. We wander; we ponder; we want to hit the road. She seemed pretty friendly, so I ask her if we can store the bag at her place. Small fee I offer. She says yes. Cool.

We walk down to the visitor center and get our backcountry permit. Next, a frustrating 30min trying to get a ride to the trail head. Eventually we start to head down the road, thumbs ready. Get a ride with Owen. He has a cool sixties Chevy Nova convertible. Cherry. He just decided he was tired with CA. Quit his job and is going to meet some surfer bum friends of his near Atlantic City. He wants to see America.

A drop off at the trail head and we are on our way.

A valley lake left by the melted glaciers, a young moose, a few thousand vertical feet, an icy stream filled with trout, pools surrounding massive arrets; we camp in the shadows of Death Canyon.

Mike is worried about the long hike tomorrow. Many thousands of feet with Hurricane Pass lurking at the end. We are breathing clean, fresh air, yes; but it is thin. We are lowland boys, acclimated to the soup of sea-level. I know I will have few problems, know my condition, know I can make it. Mike is uncertain, but I push. Not to far... this time.

Letting the tent dry, we get off to a late start. The views are great heading up the North side of Death. Across the canyon, above where we camped the night, is a compact hanging valley, a cirque. The cirque holds a tarn delicately above the canyon floor. The water hangs at the edge of a cliff, small rivulets escaping as waterfalls. An islet sits upon the cliff, surrounded by water, one side the abyss. Some pines grow there, sparse on the rocky ground. I want to sit, my back to a pine, and listen to the water fall.

The route to that spot looks treacherous but possible. Someday, someday.

We ascend the ridge and break for lunch. We are on the other side now and can see into the wide valley that holds Jackson Hole. Snow begins to appear on the North side of the ridge. We start to wonder about Hurricane pass. I go on ahead, to mount a small side peak. Mike will wait at the trail. People on day hikes to the small peak number about ten. They will turn back, but we head on.

We pass a group of four packers in shorts and T-shirts, heading the other way. The last people we will see for about two days. (Rangers don't count, they are wildlife) The trail is snowcovered now, and the bright sun has turned it to a watery soup. I praise my boots and snowseal, while Mike is soon cursing his.

It is a steady downhill walk to Sunset Lake; we make good time, and need to, as time is getting pretty short. A relaxing but quick rest at Sunset. A look at the ridge. A huge cave stands out as dark hole on the side of a cliff. I want to explore, I want to go. We need to fly or get piles of rope. Someday, someday.

At the moment we need to get over Hurricane and set up camp.

Mike is beginning to tire. Social interaction occurs and we decide to give me the tent. I will head over the ridge and set up camp at the first reasonable spot. We have pads and we will be tired. We can sleep on rock.

I go on ahead, strong for awhile. I see tracks that can be nothing but bear. Grizzly is extinct in the lower 48, right?. A snowfield covers the top of the ridge.

The slight incline seems to go on forever. I am really tired now. Push, push, push. I have to get over. Finally the top.

The backside is full of hardpacked, drifted snow. Steep. Not a place to fall. I stomp my feet into the crunching ice. Sometimes I can't break through and I walk on top of the sloping snow. That makes me a little nervous, but not too much; my nervons have just about stopped firing for today. Get down to some flat rock, set up tent, prepare for dinner and watch the beautiful sunset. Where is Mike? I don't worry to much. He has my tracks to follow. Soon, he comes over the top.

The koos-koos was cooked and eaten. I forced myself to eat more than I like as apatite are falsely suppressed at altitude. Mike does not share my philosophy; he eats little. The air is very still tonight. I sit outside the tent waiting for the full moon to rise. It does so magnificently between two tets of the tons. An image I studied hard, long, carefully, and with passion to impress it upon my feeble storage device.

Sleep. Ahh.

The next day we did some walking around the local area. Three, four miles. Relax, enjoy the scenery. I spend some time alone sitting on the arrets scattered here and there. At the start of the valley, a cool terminal moraine structure sits. Almost circular, the walls as tall as the radius. I scramble up the 150 foot side for a nice view. A small stream has cut a sliver out of the circle. Beautiful geology.

The wind really picks up in the evening. We have a hard time getting the water to boil in the lidless pot. The angel hair is eventually cooked enough to eat.

The wind has picked up to a good howl now. The sun is starting to go down, the tent is shaking hard, we wonder if we should get off the windswept rock. It is about half an hour before it gets dark. The sun is already behind the mountains. Should we go down to a lower elevation and get out of this horribly exposed position, or do we sit tight and hope the tent holds up through the night. We discuss the matter for awhile. I am ambivalent about either choice. The tent will hold up, but it could be very noisy all night. I leave it in Mike's hands/brain. He says, "Let's go." We rush to pack up and in a half hour we know the decision was a good one. Found a nice place in the trees with a view of the valley. I relaxed on the sloping grass and watched the remnants of daylight vanish from the sky.

The next day we hiked down to a campground by the road.

A beautiful U-shaped valley with snowcovered peaks on either side. Waterfalls spilling out of hanging valleys. Clearings of sparse and twisted trees, beat-up from many winter avalanches. We join another trail, there will be people soon.

We have lunch on huge rocks, fallen from the sky, next to a shallow, stump crowded pond. I could almost see moose or elk splashing through the reeds at the edge of the shallow pond. But none today.

We are moving at a good pace when my brain states,"Where is Mt. Owen." Owen mentioned a Mt. Owen but we never looked up where it was. Out with the map and magically the massive is just above up to the south. Just something to add to the feeling of being removed from the normal world.

We exit the valley, wait for some blasting to be finished, walk south around the lake, and look for the campground.

It is closed for the season. Tomorrow I head back to Houston. Hmm.... We hitch-hike north to try to find an open campground. A couple in an old Subaru picks us up.


Man: (mumble, mumble, stuff, half baked thoughts)

Woman: He doesn't know why he is leaving.

Man: (quiet)

Dropped off and nothing is open at Jackson Lake either. Hitchhike into Jackson hole, get a hotel, a shower, and a good bite to eat. We had an interesting $20 elk dish at one of the finer establishments. Intriguing spices on the side dishes. I enjoyed the meal immensely. We get some Henry Winehart's Dark(unavailable in Houston), my favorite american beer and some cigars. Head back to the hotel. Drink, smoke, talk, relax, enjoy the air and the moon. Sleep.

Mike wonders about the ethics of hitch-hiking to the airport when we can afford a cab. We ask the hotel manager how to get to the airport. He mentions cabs and hitch-hiking. The thumbs go out, and we are on our way in just a ten or twenty minutes.

My plane leaves before Mike's parents arrive, so I don't get to meet them. Someday I will(and do).

Nice views on the way back over the Rockies.

Nick Jarboe, June 23, 1994


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