Back to fresh alpine scenery!
The Grand Teton Range is a magnificent collection of snow-covered peaks, pine forests, sagebrush flats, wet meadows and beautiful lakes. The peaks rise abruptly from the broad, flat valley of Jackson Hole. The park is surrounded by two national forests, the Caribou-Targhee and the Bridger-Teton, in Wyoming State.
Jackson Hole is a really pleasant modern town amid breathtaking mountain scenery, complete with a ski resort and a western, fun-filled cowboy atmosphere. I felt I was in Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kids country alright! It was great fun to spend a few days there, drive on the beautiful road to Teton Village, cycle around Aspen and go up the Aerial Tramway a couple of times to enjoy the views and a short walk on the snow-covered grounds.
My first hike in the park was around Lake Jenny, getting to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point; a great walk. However, my heart was set to get to Lake Solitude, a strenuous 18.4 miles roundtrip through a bear-country canyon, pine forests and about 3 miles of steep, snow-covered ground.
I bought a new backpack, a hikers tent and a thermarest mat the day before in Jackson.
Early in the morning I was the first person to enter the backcountry office to get the permit to spend a night up in the mountain. I was given a bear-proof canister to store my food and I bought a bear spray - a potent red pepper spray used to deter bear attacks. By then I had read plenty articles about the dangers of close encounters with bears, how to best avoid them and what to do in case of an attack. All that literature certainly makes one anxious about hiking on their own, but my challenge was already set.
The next step was to go to the mountain shop to rent snow shoes and get purifying tablets for the water I would collect from streams while I hiked up. As it was a sunny, warm day I washed my laundry in my collapsible sink besides the van and hung it to dry in the van as to have clean socks on my return. A couple of hikers stopped by for a chat, and all these events delayed my departure. I left the car park at 2pm.
From the first steps my legs were shouting complaints at me.
It was my first ever hike carrying so much weigh. The bear canister alone was bulky and weighed 1kg. Add to that the backpacks weight, food and drinks, a tent, two sleeping bags (a summer and a light winter one), a spare t-shirt, sleeping trousers, socks and underwear plus the sleeping mat, two torches, a knife, a camera, two sunglasses, sunscreen lotion, toiletries, maps, a book I convinced myself I couldn do without and the bear spray. Eeeha! There I go mountain up feeling like a loaded donkey, hehe!
Clapping and singing to warn possible bears in the proximity of my presence (I never saw any but they might have seen me!) I slowly made my way up. The views were spectacular all along: first the lake and rivers, then the amazing Cascade Canyon where lots of streams throw themselves down from upon the cliffs as if they wanted to detach themselves from the rock, to reach the void and make themselves weightless in the air. I wanted to make my backpack weightless too, but that would not be happening soon...
Then came the pine forest with patches of hard-packed snow on the ground. Well, most of it
was kind of hard-packed, except for some parts where my foot would smash the hard crust and go deep in the snow. On one of these frequent breaking-crust incidents my right foot went all the way down until my whole leg was swallowed by the snow up to above my knee. I had to sit on the snow to get myself out. Eventually I got above the forest line where only few trees and big boulders stuck out of the deep snow. A park ranger was sitting by the trails fork, warning hikers about the snow. He asked me whether I knew it was still winter up there and advised me to camp for the night and try and reach the lake in the morning. He said there was only one party camping there that night. It was 6pm. I put the snow shoes on and continued my way up.
Now the snow was softer, fresh from the past few days. I was already at my limits. My steps were small and slow, but like a stubborn mule I trodded on, only stopping to adjust the backpack straps and take pictures of the white, wild scenery. Pikas were screetching,
anouncing my arrival at their territory. A few robin-like birds were scanning the snow for insects, showing awareness of my presence. I gulped the last drops of water from my bottle and filled it up with water from the stream, dropping a clorine pill inside. I followed footprints on the snow, getting distracted here and there by some intriguing larger animal footprints, possibly left by a fox.
I crossed the last bridge over the stream that flowed down from the lake. A fragile-looking, narrow bridge covered with snow, over angry waters which rushed through deep openings in the white surfice. At some places the iver bank as to refer to the snow walls on either sides of the stream were surely twice my height. With my tired legs in a shaky state by then, I carefully made my way to the other side, inspected the surroundings and decided to cross back the bridge and leave the backpack there. I would have a short break and then decide whether it would be sensible or not to proceed. It was nearly 7pm and I knew I couldn possibly make the last mile or so to the lake carrying all that weight.
I took the food canister out and ate a banana and hadfulls of peanuts. The food canister made a 5 cm deep round imprint in the snow just by its weigh and difference in temperature. I left my backpack on a lying branch of a tree that sprouted out of the snow, fearing my equipment could be swalled whole by the melting snow if I left it on the white surfice. I was still going to try and get to the lake. In the morning, I judged, I would be too tired to do anything else but hike back, get to the shop and return the snow shoes by midday so that I wouldn have to pay for another days hire.
On my way up, some 300 metres after dropping my backpack, I saw a tent pitched up with cooking equipment scattered in front of it. I called out but had no reply. The thought that people could be at the lake encouraged me to press on. I was moving much faster now without all that weight on my back. A few minutes later I saw two people coming down the hill: a lady in her early thirties and
a man in his middle fourties. They were from New York State. Ehxaustion was evident on their faces. They told me they had pitched up the tent and eaten before attempting to complete the hike to the lake, but had given up when the trail became too steep. From where we were they had hiked up for about 20 minutes but could see no signs of the lake. I said I would try. There was still time left, as sunset was going to happen around 9pm.
The final part of the trail was definitely the most steep and strenuous. I was determined to hike until 8, when I would turn around and get back to my camping equipment, no matter if I never saw Lake Solitude. The views of the closing cirque of rocks and of the peaks on the Teton Range were fantastic and worth the hike anyway (though I would feel a little disappointed with myself if didn get to the lake). At 7.45 I stepped on what seemed to be the border of the lakes moraine. On the far side underneath the rock walls I made out, covered in snow, what would be the limits of
the frozen lake. Carefully I walked towards the border on my side. There stood a small opening on the icy surfice through which I could see the lakes water with a few logs submerged on it and the lakes rocky bottom. I had at last arrived at Lake Solitude.
The sun was just then going down behind the cirque, painting the snow with a faint golden-yellow hue. The air was fresh and pure. Silence was absolute. I took my time to take in the view before making my way back to where I would spend the night. I would later feel dizzy because of the high altitute and would not be able to eat, but I would sleep surprisingly well despite having worried about feeling cold in the night. My first time camping on deep snow ground. But at that moment, beside Lake Solitude, I was radiant with the rewards of my efforts. Surrounded by snow, rock, the changing light and the blue sky I let myself feel, once again, the joy of been alive!
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