On Top of the World


Selfie on top of Rendezvous Mountain, Teton Village, Wyoming

What a difference a day makes.

Today, Sunday, Aug. 24 was a fine day. Sun was shining, big fluffy clouds filled the sky, just the perfect remedy for me to overcome all the dreary days of last week.

Later in the morning I headed back north into Grand Teton National Park to find a hiking trail. That brought me to the Moose Junction Ranger Station for information. A close by hike was on the Death Canyon Trail. This sounded interesting to me (maybe a bit ominous too), but the drive to this trailhead also intrigued me. Part of the road was unpaved and use of high clearance vehicles was recommended. Well now, that was an invitation to adventure for me and I set out on the designated paved road leading to the unpaved one. Additionally, that road then led to a town named Teton Village that had an attraction that I thought I’d like to experience. After Teton Village I could continue south and loop back to Jackson and my motel. A pretty efficient way to round out the day I reckoned. 

The road out to the trailhead was a narrow paved road for a number of miles and I was a bit surprised by the number of vehicles coming back on it. They must have been early morning hikers I guessed. Once I saw a place where two other cars had parked in a small designated place, I thought I had arrived at the trailhead and changed into my hiking boots, donning my day pack and hiking pole. Just as I was about to lock up the truck, a ranger came by and started a conversation. He told me the path I saw at this spot was a horse trail and the one I sought was further up the road where the pavement ended and the unpaved road began. With his instructions, I headed off and soon was on the rough, unpaved portion of road. It was well used though rocky, uneven and pocked with muddy water potholes. To my surprise there were a lot of vehicles parked in various places along the winding road amongst the trees.  Further in I found an open spot designated for parking and set out for the trailhead. The same ranger drove up in his vehicle and offered me a short ride to the actual trailhead. It was really a short distance, but I accepted his generosity and hopped in. 

On the trail, many others were out enjoying this fine day also, so I was not very concerned about being on a trail alone. (The bear warnings are always present in these areas). With a fair number of people coming back on the trail and a few others who were headed in, I felt assured with the safety in numbers even though I was hiking solo. 

Being a gradual ascent up to Phelps Lake, this hike was turning out to be a piece of cake for me, particularly when I thought of how much harder it had been on the backpacking trip carrying a heavy burden upon my back. Breathing heavily, but not straining, this was, for me, a moderate hike that got my heartbeat up and still allowed me to breath deeply without straining. Steadily I proceeded, working up a sweat beneath my three layers of clothing. In less time than I had imagined I was up at the overlook to Phelps Lake. The scene down to the lake was a peaceful one, though by now the clouds had begun rolling in over the Tetons. If the sun had been shining the lighting on the lake would have been outstanding. Still, I took some time to admire what was before me, removed my outer fleece covering, rested a short time and set out again, intending to circle around this lake, a distance of about 7 miles.

As I observed the changing weather with more cloudiness, I knew it could rain. Having my rain poncho in my day pack I was not overly concerned. But, on the down slope to the lake my left knee started aching which then forced me to start rethinking my intention of hiking all around the lake. Descents are harder on the knees, I knew, and if the lake trail were flat I’d probably be able to enjoy the day with a minimum of discomfort. Continuing down the gently sloped path, my thought processes were evaluating the knee situation with each step. 

Near the two mile mark on the trail I chatted with a group of hikers who asked if I had seen the bear. 

Huh? Bear?

Yea, well really a cub.

OH, if a cub, then a mother is nearby, that’s a formula for trouble. 

Well, we saw the cub maybe a few hours ago when we came down.

OH!, that makes me feel better, the bear and cub probably have roamed off somewhere else by now…

They continued up the trail and I down. 

The interspersion of hikers on the trail had fallen off now, so I had more actual solo time. Approaching the lake I wanted to go to the waters edge but ended up in a marshy area and changed my mind. No use getting into that swampy mess and end up lost. Additionally, the sky was totally overcast and with more threats of rain, my knee aching, my final plan was to just wrap up this hike and go back to the beginning of the trail. On the way out, the same ranger who gave me directions and a ride was approaching toward me. I stopped and chatted noting a very small waterfall back of him far up on the mountain, maybe a ¼ mile or less away. I also asked about a bear sighting. Yep, a bear has been hanging out in this area for the past week or so.

OH!

Yes, it’s been seen up near that waterfall…with her cub. With all the heavy underbrush up there it is hard to see and she stays low, out of sight - most of the time. She might poke her head up once in awhile.

Hummm (as I noticed he was carrying his can of bear spray), should I be concerned?

Probably not.

As the ranger continued on his way, I peered up at the area of the slim waterfall with its' dense vegetation, trying to see if that bear would pop up. After more than a minute of scrutinizing the area, I moved on, still feeling wary. 

Just to reassure you, I was not REALLY very concerned, as I also know wild animals do try to avoid humans if they can. And with the pretty consistent flow of hikers, the bear would keep its’ distance. 

Upward hiking offered me much less strain on my knee, so I was enjoying the hike even more. On this hike I had noticed horse dung in a few places, but on the out I saw a different type of droppings. Having visited a few ranger stations along the way, one exhibit was of the type of feces of various animals. What I now saw was a larger animal, not a horse, not another hoofed beast. Only logical conclusion was - bear. 

Oh wow, on the trail! So a real bear was hanging around here somewhere.

A bit further along, another group of hikers and an ensuing conversation. Uh huh, about THE bear.

Seeing a bear a bit closer up had an appeal to me, but only in that I thought I might get a photograph of it. But knowing a mama bear with a cub was somewhere nearby did make me cautious. 

My hike up to the lake view point was relaxed and with far fewer people this time. Downward from the lake, my hike was more of a stroll as I was really loving the solitude and scenery. The pain in my knee had vanished, the surroundings were still. Some sunlight was poking through offering more brightness along the forest trail. 

In this stillness and solitude, I began to hear a sound from behind as if a runner, breathing heavily were coming along the trail, or a fast walker breathing heavily with a bit of a snorting sound. A runner had been on the trail as I was going down the trail, so that sound was still fresh in my ears. Continuing on, every once in awhile I would detect the sound. By now I’m getting a bit paranoid, afraid to turn around and thinking of the training we had for a bear attack…fall face down, pack protecting your back, hands clasped behind your head/neck to protect those vital areas. 

Could that bear be stalking me? 

Then for awhile all that I heard was silence as I casually walked along.

After awhile the sound returned.

I’d had enough, turned around and, of course, there was nothing there, no other hiker, runner - or bear.

As I turned back around again, I heard that same sound.

Oh, for heavens sake! It was the pack upon my back that occasionally rubbed, in just the right way, and strangely enough produced a sound that I interpreted as from another person, or animal. I had to laugh at myself for my “active” imagination. 

Strolling along now, feeling peaceful and content, I did hear a real person was approaching from behind me. I stopped to make way for her but she paused also and talked. Guess the subject of our conversation…Yes indeed. THE bear.

However, this young lady had actually SEEN the bear AND taken a picture. She showed me her photograph of it, only partially obscured in the thick brush, but definitely a bear. 

Putting a lid on my paranoia, I knew I’d soon be at the trailhead and that I had never been in any real danger on this really pleasant hike. I would like to return to this area and explore more hiking in and around the Teton Mountains. 

Driving on, I headed for Teton Village, part on paved road, but a large part unpaved with the same muddy water filled potholes and rough, yet well driven surface. 

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Upon approaching Teton Village, I immediately recognized that this had to be a skier’s haven. Several chairlifts to the higher mountain were visible as well as the appearance of an Alpine village. And this stop was to cap off the day with a ride on the aerial tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Having a discount coupon and my senior discount (age does have it’s advantages), I was lucky that the next ride up was in a mere 10 minutes. A small group boarded the tram and soon we were up, up and away.

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The views were increasingly spectacular both up slope as well as down. 12 minutes and we were on top of the barren mountain, 10,400 feet in elevation. 

It was also windy and very chilly at that height. I was very enthralled to look all about me. To the north, low clouds hung over the rest of the Teton Mountains, while down below, patches of sunlight dotted the landscape. Off in the distance to the south rain was falling along the lower slopes.

Standing up there observing, from the top of the world was exhilarating. 

And COLD.

With fingers numbed with cold I headed indoors to a small restaurant called Corbin’s Cabin and enjoyed a hot cup of cocoa and a peanut butter, bacon waffle, a specialty, I guess, for the many skiers who also enjoy the sport in the winter as well as those who ride up in the off season.

After about 45 minutes, I was ready to return to the valley floor and boarded the next tram down. On the way we were informed of a moose sighting. Sure enough, off a short way on the mountainside we saw it. A cow and a calf, hastily running down and away from the high hanging tram car.

As we departed the top, rain began to fall from clouds that hung right before our eyes. It was as though a person could reach out and grab a piece of them, like stripping off a piece of cotton candy.

By the time I was back on the road it was after 5 o’clock. It had been a good day for me, with an enjoyable hike topped off, if you will, with a ride to the top of the world.

A short 15 mile drive and I was back to my motel room.

Today, Monday, Aug. 25, a heavy fog has covered the nearby hillsides. The mountains are not visible. Rain is forecast. 

I will see if I can locate Granite Hot Springs, down an unpaved forest road and possibly soak in the hot waters. If the conditions won’t warrant that, I hope to keep driving to the Wyoming/Utah border and stay at or near Flaming Gorge. 

From there, I have no definite plans but am about ready to go home to Phoenix.

Having warmer weather will be a welcome relief from the unusually chilly and wet August I’ve been experiencing in these north woods.


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kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments