On August 18th, 2019, my mom and I were sitting in a wagon being hauled by two horses. We went a couple miles through this little valley and around a herd of grazing bison. We eventually arrived at our destination, which was a chuck wagon dinner tucked between two little forested hills and the air smelled of steaks and baked beans. My dad would’ve really gotten a kick out of this whole experience.
In a way, he was there. We did this special dinner on the anniversary of my dad’s death in honor of his memory.
Ever since my dad passed away, my mom and I have made a conscious effort to create new experiences and memories, especially on dates that are important to us. That is how this trip to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park came into being. If you want to check it out, I wrote several blog posts pertaining to my dad and how I’ve been processing his death for the last ten years over on my personal blog.
We started the trip in Grand Teton National Park and it’s easily one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been. There are many times throughout my adventures where I feel like what I’m seeing is just an immaculate painting created by the world’s greatest artist, and Grand Teton was one of those moments. It was very hard for me to process what I was seeing the entire time I was there. This is also the place I decided to do my big hike of the year.
Ever since I hiked the Grand Canyon last year, of which I write about it here, I decided I want to do one huge hike for every year I’m alive. Now, this doesn’t mean I have to do more and more miles than the last big hike, but it’s more so I want to do one hike that will be an experience for me that I’ll never forget. I don’t think I’ll ever top the Grand Canyon experience, but the Grand Teton experience is a very close second.
I chose to do the Teton Crest Trail, which is a massive 38 miles up and through the Teton mountains then back down, also resulting in an elevation gain of over 8,000 feet. Unfortunately, due to timing, I was only able to finish 32.5 miles of this trail. I’m not disappointed, though! It’s still quite a feat to do in one day and I loved every moment of it. Well, except for when I thought a deer was about to attack me in the pitch black canyon at 5:00AM.
And I got what I needed from that hike. I got the soul-enriching experience that included an appropriate number of moments to make me teary-eyed and in disbelief and feeling so grateful I am able to have journeys like this.
I started the hike at 4AM at the Granite Canyon trailhead and headed up through Granite Canyon with plans to have breakfast at Marion Lake. I nearly had a running start because I was feeling so good and was pumped full of adrenaline and excitement for the adventure I was about to have. I was on edge, though, because this was new territory for me, which means animals I don’t usually have to worry about. Namely, grizzly bears and wolves. Animal encounters that turn dangerous are rare, I know this, but being alone in the mountains at 4AM when you only have your headlamp and the stars for light, it’s a little harrowing. After about a half-hour of hiking, that’s when I saw the eyes.
My headlamp illuminated a pair of eyes staring directly at me so I immediately gripped my bear spray because all I could see were the eyes, nothing else. I had no idea if it would be a bear or deer or Karen from accounting so I had to be careful. I got close enough to realize it was a deer and my heart rate calmed down as I continued on past the animal. I noticed the deer was following me for a bit but I ignored it and quickly forgot about it all.
A half hour later, I stop for a pee break and take my backpack off and set down the bear spray. As soon as I finished my business, I looked to my right and see a pair of eyes staring straight at me. Except this time they’re much lower to the ground, like the height of a bear. It started walking towards me, going around a tree carefully, then it full-on started running and I felt such a primal fear that I’ve never felt before. I shouted, “GET BACK! HEY! GET BACK!” and just as I’m about to push the trigger on the bear spray, it got close enough to me that my headlamp revealed a deer. It suddenly stopped in its tracks, perked its head up, and took off up the side of the canyon. Thankfully I had just peed otherwise I absolutely would’ve wet myself in that moment.
The sun finally started peeking out over the horizon and light crept up into the canyon just as I was reaching the first summit of the trail. I was finally able to relax and calm down a bit from the deer encounter, especially since I could actually see what was around me without the aid of the headlamp and stars. The downside to hiking in the dark is that you miss out on a lot of the beauty you’re sauntering through. So, seeing the world around me become brighter was re-energizing me and bringing a fixed smile to my face. This was when I was getting really hungry and eager to reach my breakfast destination.
After breakfast, I crossed over Fox Creek Pass into an area called Death Canyon Shelf. ~*~OoOoOoH sPoOkY~*~ This part was really nice because it’s gorgeous, obviously, but the trail takes a very flat, meandering path through so it’s a nice break from the intense elevation gain at the beginning of the hike.
Once I crossed from Death Canyon Shelf into an area called Alaska Basin, I knew I’d be approaching the final trail junction that would allow me to start the end of the hike or keep going and attempt to complete the entire trail. The basin dipped me way down over a few miles then straight back up the other side when I finally hit that trail junction. Which is when I tried to make a funny video for my Instagram that quickly backfired. I did have a nice conversation with the runner, though!
I chose to take the trail to the east because I wanted to play it safe and ensure I could end the hike by sunset. This was when I learned I really should’ve started the hike at 2AM rather than 4AM, but I still got to experience 85% of the original planned trail! This new route back to civilization would take me to the summit of Static Peak, across Static Peak Divide, then eventually corkscrew down into Death Canyon and out at Phelps Lake.
My mom picked me up shortly after I ended the hike and we were able to make it back to the lodge in time so I could have a much-needed greasy burger. My body hurt but I felt so good. I then went and got a beer while watching the sunset over the sharp, raggedy peaks that, for a day, was home to my adventure and exploration. It was a beautiful sunset and ending that day felt good. I was in my happy place and I couldn’t stop smiling. Immediately after the sunset, I was already figuring out when I can go back and experience Grand Teton again. I want to do that hike again, but complete the entire thing. Also, I want to state how proud I am of myself for not making any “big titty” jokes about Grand Teton during this post.