Thursday, August 27, 2015

Grand Tetons Death Canyon Loop - Day 4

This is my last post on my four day backpack of the Death Canyon loop at Grand Tetons National Park. Previous posts are here: day 1, day 2, and day 3. The trip was in a pretty area, and the trails we did could be combined into longer or different backpacks, like Granite Canyon on the Teton Crest Trail. We stayed on the other side of the mountains in the Grand Targhee Resort before and after the trip, and we could have actually hiked to and from there instead of driving as we did. (Although the Grand Targhee Resort is in Wyoming, driving between there and the Death Canyon trailhead requires going into Idaho, then back into Wyoming and through Jackson.)

On our last day, we just had to retrace our ground from the Death Canyon camping area back to the Death Canyon trailhead. As previously noted, I was pretty pissed off with my group. I'd found them on Meetup.com because I did not want to hike alone when there was a risk of encountering a grizzly. I was pissed because they left me behind - alone - so that I ended up doing exactly what I categorically never want to do: hike alone in grizzly country. At least I had bear spray. To make sure I avoided surprising an unsuspecting grizzly and her cubs, I sang the bears an out of tune Broadway medley as I hiked. The grizzlies of the Grand Tetons were treated to selections from Cabaret, Spring Awakening, Singin' in the Rain, and more. I hope they appreciated it. I never saw a bear of any species, so either there were no bears anyway and I was singing in the woods like an idiot, or my strategy worked.

By the fourth day, I was not just pissy about being left alone to risk a grizzly mauling. I was pissed at being treated like a non-entity by the rest of the group for the past several days. If I contributed to any conversation, the others often acted as if nobody said anything. Perhaps the song I should have sang for the bears was "Mr. Cellophane" from Chicago.

The last day had the potential to get ugly. I drove to Wyoming whereas the others had flown, and the car at the trailhead was mine. They needed me to drive one of them to the airport to pick up their rental car (my car was stuffed to the gills so I only had room for one). Then that person would return to the trailhead with the rental car to pick up everyone else. I knew what they'd want: if they beat me to my car, they'd want the keys from me. They'd want to go get their rental car, and they'd want me to wait until they finished before I could drive into Jackson and use a flush toilet and eat real food. And that wasn't happening. They could not be bothered to wait one minute for me for three days, and now, on the last day, I would give them no choice. Yes, it's a bit passive aggressive... but I did not sign up for the trip to be their doormat.

I would have liked to be more assertive in telling them about my feelings, but I did not know how. It did not seem to be a good risk to take. Brene Brown, whose audiobook I had listened to on the drive there, says you should be vulnerable with people who have earned the right to hear it. These people had not earned that right. Opening up and honestly telling them about my feelings meant risking getting hurt worse. And I was stuck with them just a little bit longer, since we were sharing a hotel room that night. So I kept my anger under wraps.

To avoid the impending problem of them wanting to drive my car off without me, I set out for my car early that last morning. It was not hard to do. I'm not a morning person, but these people were the latest sleeping and slowest packing backpackers I think I've ever met. It was just 5.5 miles to the car. I estimated that I needed to leave about an hour before them, and we'd reach my car at the same time. So off I went.

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Morning in Death Canyon

Up until this point, my wildlife sightings had been limited to deer and rodents. I saw my first buck with antlers ever, so I was pleased about that... but since I'd driven all this way to a place with moose, elk, pronghorns, bison, and grizzlies, none of which live where I hike at home, I wanted to see something. And ideally not a grizzly. Well, I wouldn't mind seeing a grizzly from the safety of my car. Or across a lake from me. Or in some other safe sort of way.

But just before reaching the Alaska Basin junction, I saw something. It was large and dark (dare I say, moose-colored) and far off in the woods. I began singing "Good Morning" from Singin' in the Rain (in case it was a grizzly) and kept hiking. Then I saw it move. It had antlers. I kept looking, but could not see it at all. Then it was gone.

I continued on the trail, wondering if this counted. Could I now tell people I'd seen a moose? Was I even sure it was a moose? And then I saw this:

Moose

And that, my friends, is a moose butt. With a moose head at the other end. Female. And standing right in the middle of the trail. She didn't want to move either. So I got my wish, I saw some exciting wildlife... but until I could convince her to move, I could not continue hiking. I talked to her like you'd talk to a dog, asking her to please be a good moose and get off the trail. Which she did. I attempted to take more pictures - better pictures - but the light was not very good and none of them came out well. I suppose I should have wished not just to see a moose but to see a more cooperative moose in brighter light. Oh well.

I continued on, with a big smile on my face. I had my wildlife sighting. The others had also seen a female moose on the first day, and I was really sad that I hadn't. So now I had too. I finished up the trail, and took their stuff out of my car. Then I waited. They arrived soon thereafter, and I took one of them to the airport to get his rental car. I told him I'd see them back at the hotel, because I did not plan to have lunch with them. Then, free at last, I headed off to Jackson.

It would have been more efficient to do what I did in reverse order, but I was hungry. First, I went to the Lotus Cafe, a delicious organic restaurant in Jackson. I looked like hell and did not care. I ordered two meals - one for there and one to go - because the menu was so good I could not even choose, and because the restaurant at our hotel was expensive and disappointing. My to-go order would be dinner.

Then, I went back to the park. I wanted to drive around a bit, to see what the rest of the park was like, and to maybe even see some wildlife out the window. I drove through the Moose entrance to Jenny Lake and continued past it. Then I turned and went out the Moran entrance and headed back to Jackson. The road went along a flat plain to the east of the mountains. If it weren't for the smoke from distant wildfires, they would have provided a stunning view of the Tetons. Instead, it looked like this:

Tetons in Smoke

The plains were covered in sagegrass. For a short part of the drive, there was forest along the roads. Then more plains again. As I headed back to Jackson, concluding that my drive was a bit of a bust, I saw some pronghorn out the car window. I stopped and took a few pictures, but they were not very good. I'd left my telephoto lens in storage at the hotel. A little bit later, I passed a herd of bison. Again, my pictures did not come out. But, I saw pronghorn and bison in the wild! Good enough for me! (Later, while driving through Wyoming to Ft. Collins, CO, I saw lots and lots and lots of pronghorns. No shortage of pronghorns in Wyoming. I saw a male very close up too, because he was grazing by the side of the road, but I did not stop my car and take a picture.)

The last thing I did before returning to the hotel was stop at Moo's Gourmet Ice Cream in Jackson. I decided that my 13.5 mile hike the day before justified two scoops and a waffle cone, especially because the ice cream was organic.

I am definitely heading back to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone again, the sooner the better. Preferably when there isn't any smoke from wildfires obscuring the view. And I am not going with strangers from a Meetup group again. The trails are pretty well-populated if you do day hikes, so I think I will bring some bear spray and stick to popular trails unless I've got people I trust to go with me.

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