Jenny Lake Trailhead in Grand Teton NP

Thankfully, C’s mom watched our dog, Domino, so that C and I could hike together instead of alternating turns. The first hike (and best hike) we went on in Grand Teton NP was Jenny Lake trailhead to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. It is probably the most popular hike in the park, but for good reason! Get there early or hike in the heat of the day if you really want to avoid the crowds, but honestly, it was kind of cool to marvel in the beauty of nature with people from all over the world.

For a little solitude, hike the whole thing – most people seemed to take the boat shuttle across the lake which shaves 2 miles (each way) off the hike. We were happy to hike the relatively easy 2 miles without the masses of people. Even with our late start on one of the most popular hikes (we started hiking at 10:30), we were still able to hike in peace for that section of the hike (if you want more solitude in any of the parks, get there before 10am). From the trailhead, the hike winds through the forest around Jenny Lake and provides phenomenal views all around.

The hikers and the boat shuttlers converge at Hidden Falls, but on opposite sides. This gave us the opportunity to breathe in the falls’ energy and enjoy a snack without listening to any whining kids or being asked to take someone’s picture.

The hike from Hidden Falls to Inspiration Point is nearly a mile and climbs many switchbacks up the mountain. There are plenty of beautiful lookout points along the way, though, and I’m not convinced that you have to hike all the way up to get the best view. We had breathtaking views of Grand Teton – the hallmark of this park – up close. We even got to see some climbers being way more adventurous than we were.

At Inspiration Point, there is the option of continuing on to Cascade Falls which is only another .3 miles (uphill), but we had gotten a late start, and C and I were hungry and ready to hike back after a few pictures. But when we looked around to find C’s dad and brother, they were gone, and we weren’t sure if they had continued up the mountain or started back down. While there is cell phone service up there, they apparently didn’t have their ringers on. We were stuck in limbo. Hungry limbo, which is the worst kind. We sat there not knowing what to do and no longer enjoying the view. Hunger made us even more steamed about the situation.

After waiting 10 minutes or so, we told some fellow hikers to watch for C’s family farther up the hike and to let them know that we had started back down. As we neared the boat dock, we spotted them descending the mountain a few switchbacks behind us. We were glad to know they had gotten our message but were still too angry and hungry to wait for them.

We managed to enjoy the hike back as much as possible, but were very glad to finally reach the general store at the parking lot (at nearly 2:30) where we quickly snagged a couple of sandwiches and talked curtly to C’s family instead of just telling them we were upset. That wouldn’t come out until beers were in hand later.

Family Planning (how to survive a family camping trip)

Our frustration from the Jenny Lake hike fired up as we began planning the next day’s activities with C’s family, though Jenny Lake  never got mentioned. The general plan was to go to Yellowstone the next day, and we stayed up late drinking and debating different routes and options. The more we disagreed, the more we drank. We argued about what sites to go to, what time to get started, and how far around the park we should go. (Yellowstone is huge and it would take a whole day of driving to see all the “main attractions.”) C and I had little interest in spending any more time driving. C suggested that he and I split off from his family so that everyone could do what they wanted to do, but C’s brother did not want to split up since we only had one more day with him. So the debate raged on.

The tension had been building since sunrise that morning. We all got up at 8am (as we had planned) to hike Jenny Lake (read about that hike here). C and I dragged ourselves out of our tent and got ourselves ready. And then we waited… And waited… for everyone to be ready to go. Eventually C and I headed to the trailhead on our own, figuring they could just catch up with us.

When we got to the parking lot, it was already packed and cars were parked all the way along the street (it was nearly 10am at this point). We parked and purchased some jerky and mixed nuts from the general store while we waited for C’s family. They arrived shortly after, but had to use the restrooms and walk back to the car to get forgotten items. We didn’t get on the trail until 10:30, even though we had gotten up at 8 (why did we get up so early?). We tried to push it aside and enjoy our hike, but the frustrations grew throughout the hike with each misunderstanding along the way (again, you can click here to catch up). Suffice to say, the communication and planning surrounding that hike were lackluster at best.

By the time we were sitting around the campfire debating plans for the next day, all we wanted to do was avoid the wasted time and misunderstandings from the Jenny Lake hike. But instead of just saying all that, C kept saying we should split up because he needed alone time. And while that was probably true as well, it wasn’t the whole story, which made it confusing. Communication is hard.

We might have talked around and sidestepped the issues, but I will say that in the end, we made pretty specific plans for the next day. Instead of setting a “get up time,” we set a “leave time,” since different people need varying amounts of time to get ready. We agreed to start the day by hiking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is the one thing that C was adamant about doing. Then we would drive to Butte Overlook which C’s family wanted to see before splitting up and doing our own things. One of those “things” was that I intended to find some wi-fi and write a blog post.

Unfortunately, we stayed up until 12:30am coming up with this plan. So the following day, we were all tired and somewhat hungover.

We did make it to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, but C didn’t feel up to hiking it. And by the time the rest of us finished the hike and finished eating our lunch from the general store (the same awful deli sandwiches that are at every store in the park – pro-tip: bring your own food or get the salads which are far better than the sandwiches), it was 2:30 and the fatigue was hitting us hard. There was no way I could write anything worthwhile, so C and I headed back to camp. Our hours of drunk planning had mostly failed; however, we did all stick to the morning “leave time,” and we did make it to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone even though C didn’t hike it. And at least we were being more honest about the need for more specific planning instead of thinking that “winging it” would fulfill everyone’s needs.

Come back tomorrow to read about the hike itself and see pictures! I’ll leave you with a sneak preview pic:

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The wrong things

We seem to always worry about the wrong things…

My mom worried about me hiking alone because I might get eaten by a bear. A woman in Yellowstone didn’t go on one of the hikes because she didn’t have bear spray. Yet, only 1 person per year is attacked by a bear in the park. And a ranger told us that people in the park are injured by car crashes more than anything else.

We worry about plane travel when car travel is much more dangerous.

As young people, we all worried about “ending up alone,” but we should probably be more concerned about ending up with the wrong person.

We worry about strangers attacking and raping and murdering us, but it is much more likely that a family member, friend, or acquaintance will do this to us. Pick the scarier situation: a teenage girl meets a 300 lb linebacker in a hotel elevator and agrees to go with him to his hotel room alone OR a teenage girl goes to her best friend’s house where they hang out with the friend’s boyfriend and his best friend. Our gut reactions are wrong because we’ve all been taught “stranger danger.” Rare occurrences are sensationalized and people are made to fear the wrong things. Our reluctance to talk to (and trust) strangers actually makes us more unsafe.

 

I’m worried about making it in NYC, but I’m more likely to regret it if I don’t try at all.

C and I embarked on this trip to ease our anxieties about the move. We were paralyzed with fear and depression, not knowing if we were making the right decision and not knowing how to fill our time while we waited in limbo. Now we don’t have time to think about any of that. We have to plan out our trip and our day-to-day. We have to plan meals and hikes and find campsites and hotels. We have to build campfires to cook on and find places to do laundry and shower. There is hardly any time for worrying.

When I was a kid, I never worried about anything and couldn’t understand why adults wasted their time worrying about things they couldn’t control. I want to live more like that.

Finding solitude in a National Park during the busiest season – Great Basin NP

Bringing our dog on this trip has been the best and worst thing. She’s not allowed on any of the trails in the National Parks, so we have to take turns hiking and exploring. We certainly would have been able to do more in the parks without her here, but we also wouldn’t have been forced to go hiking alone. And after 10+ years with someone, being alone is sometimes exactly what you need. Relationships have a way of making us co-dependent, especially in relationships where the people have a lot in common. We like the same things and love being with each other, which makes us forget how much we also like being alone.

My last post was about Grand Teton NP, but I skipped ahead of myself because I was so in awe of the Tetons that I didn’t want to lose that excitement in the passage of time. So let’s rewind to a park that awed me with its quietness and ruggedness.

In Great Basin National Park, I hiked solo, and it was phenomenal. We weren’t sure how to make the hike happen at first, though. On our drive to the park (after visiting Zion NP and DSCN1489Bryce NP, which you can read about here), we had lost cell phone (and internet) way before we thought we would. Great Basin is super remote. It was awesome because there  weren’t as many crowds as Zion and Bryce NP. But it also sucked because we hadn’t mapped out the rest of our trip. We knew that we wanted to head to Grand Teton NP next, but we weren’t sure how long it would take to get there (or what roads to take). Would we need to stay in a hotel on the way? Or should we leave early in the morning and drive straight through? We tried using the navigation system on our car, but it told us that our drive would be 14 hours and we were pretty sure that was incorrect. We guessed it was 6-8 hours. Since we were supposed to be meeting C’s family in Grand Teton NP on the 30th, we had a decision to make. How much time should we spend in the park?

We arrived around 3pm on July 28th, and it was pretty hot at the campsite – 84 degrees. We had expected it to be much cooler since it was at 7,500 feet, but the weather is weird here. It is pretty steady all day and all night. I don’t think the temperature swung more than 10 degrees, which is good and bad. The locals confirmed that this is typical. Had we arrived early in the day, we might have snagged a campsite at Wheeler Peak campground which was a perfect 75 degrees, but we were happy to have at least found a campsite at Baker Creek. While we waited for cooler temperatures, we drove all the way up to Wheeler Peak to hang out and make dinner. The flies and bugs were pretty horrendous at the picnic site, but at least we cooled down. And the drive up the mountain is spectacular (albeit a bit scary). When we drove back down, we stopped at the visitor center where they have a fruit tree grove – a great way to get some nutrients and deliciousness while camping.:)

At this point in our trip, we were exhausted. Luckily, C had some shows downloaded on the ipad. So after we set up camp, we plopped down on our air mattress and vegged out. It was perfect. Especially since it was too hot for a fire (though it cooled down just enough in the evening/night hours), and we planned to go to sleep early anyhow. And sleep we did! It was one of our best nights of sleep we had gotten so far. It was delicious and very much needed.

The next morning, we awoke refreshed and headed up the mountain relatively early. Craig had solo hiked the previous day in Bryce NP so he agreed to stay behind with Domino while I ventured out to see the Bristlecone Pines and the southernmost glacier in the US. It was a 4.6 mile round trip hike and took me a little less than 3 hours. We had originally planned to camp for 2 nights here, but since we weren’t sure how long our next drive was (and it was pretty hot camping AND  we wanted showers), we decided to leave that day. Our plan was to get on the road as soon as I was done hiking, drive a few hours until we got cell phone service again, and then find a hotel for the night (showers!) before finishing the drive to Grand Teton NP the next day.

I was happy that we had a pretty solid plan for the day as I headed out on the hike.

The Bristlecone Pines are really fucking old trees. Like thousands of years (as old as 5,000). They are the oldest trees in the world. Can you even imagine? It was incredible to see and touch something that old and to imagine everything it had seen. The trees are able to live that long not because their lives are easy but actually because their lives are incredibly difficult, growing in an extreme, harsh environment. In fact, the Bristlecone Pines that live at lower elevations – in more “favorable” conditions – do not live as long.

Hiking to the pines is not easy, but it’s also completely doable for most people. It’s not the trail that is difficult, but the elevation of over 9,000 feet which makes breathing more difficult. I was happy that we had come up the night before to hang out and help our bodies adjust to the elevation. I still huffed and puffed right from the get-go, but made it without too much trouble. Plus, the whole hike is gorgeous. It steadily climbs its way up and around the mountains towards Wheeler Peak. Most people turn around after they reach the Bristlecone Pine grove which has signs to tell you about the different trees. But just 15 minutes or so beyond the pine grove lies a spectacular view of the glacier where there is a sign with information about the glacier.

Those who are looking for solitude and a little adventure continue past the sign on the rocky trail that leads all the way out to the glacier. The trail is completely made up of rocks, but is easy to follow and isn’t any more difficult that the Bristlecone Pine trail. It does take some time, though. You’re adding an extra mile to the trail if you hike all the way to the glacier.

While I was mostly alone for the entire hike out to the Pines (I started at 9:30am and only saw 3 other couples/families on the trail), it wasn’t until I marched my way out to the glacier that I found total solitude. I was literally the only one on the trail after I passed the sign for the glacier. It was slightly nerve-wracking, but mostly invigorating and inspiring. I loved not having to compromise with other people about how far to go. If I wanted to go all the way to the end of the trail, I could. If I wanted to call it quits and turn around, I could. My whole life, I have been a peacemaker and a mediator, so it is hard for me sometimes to assert myself and do what I want to do despite what the rest of a group might want to do. Hiking alone allowed me to regain my independence and just do whatever the fuck I wanted to do. And look at the view I got!

As I hiked back, a couple of other people were starting to venture out towards the glacier, but most people were still just heading for the pines. So if you want to find some solitude, hit up Great Basin NP and hike out to the glacier in the early(ish) morning. As always, take plenty of water and put on some sunscreen!


If you enjoyed this post, please click the follow button to get updates! We are nearly halfway through our 30-day road trip across the country on our way to NYC where I will be going to grad school. If you’re able, please consider donating to our “Camping Across the Country” fund. We are well over halfway to our $1,000 goal! Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. 

Camping in Grand Teton NP

The National Parks are my Disney world. Driving down roads lined with thousands of pine trees that open up to blue lakes, canyon rivers, and unbelievable mountains, we get swallowed up in it all. We lose ourselves. Finding solitude without going into the backcountry is nearly impossible, but it doesn’t matter. There’s something about being immersed in nature’s vastness with people from all over the world speaking all different languages – the parks allow us to connect even without words. As we hike and we explore and we let go of everything except experiencing life’s beauty, we connect back to our oneness with it all.

For a whole week, we camped and explored Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. (Do not miss the chance to see both since they are right next to each other.) We camped at Lizard Creek Campground which is in Grand Teton NP, but also gave us relatively easy access to Yellowstone. All of the campgrounds in the park fill early in the morning and we didn’t plan this trip far enough in advance to have made reservations. We chose Lizard Creek because the Internet told us that it usually doesn’t fill until the evening. And since we were driving in on a Saturday during the busy summer, we knew it was going to be a challenge to find camping. C’s parents and brother joined us for this part of the trip and were able to snag the last 2 campsites at 4pm. While we would have had more time to explore Yellowstone if we had camped in the park, I think we saved time (and stress) by not moving to a different campground mid-week.

We immediately fell in love with our campground that was adjacent to Jackson Lake and gave us a gorgeous sunset view of the Tetons. We didn’t realize that this area is filled with lakes (we all know Yellowstone for the sizzling hot geysers, not cool lake waters). Most of the campgrounds seem to have easy access to rocky beaches and lake views. Lizard Creek campground is just up the road from  Colter Bay Village where you can shower and do laundry.

I had never done yoga in such beautiful surroundings before, and it was the best antidote to all of the driving we did throughout the week. I found a perfect (though somewhat bumpy) overlook of the lake to put down my mat and find some silence. This trip has definitely reminded me that I need to always make time for myself to be alone. It’s sometimes hard to do that on a camping trip in the National Parks, but even with millions of visitors (and sharing car and camp space with family) – the parks are huge. I just had to make the effort to find my own space.

Our campground by the lake also gave us some amazing star gazing. We spent several nights looking up at the planets and the stars and wondering at the Milky Way that reflected in the lake. Not to mention the meteors that streaked all the way across the sky every few minutes.

This part of our trip was the longest camping streak we have had so far, but the time evaporated before we could catch our breath. The funny thing is, though, I don’t have any great photos of the Teton Mountains. The first day (when I wrote Grand Teton NP), I was completely mesmerized with the enormity of the mountain range and its perfect setting – and I didn’t take any photos except a shitty cell phone shot. I figured there would be plenty of time for that, but the next day, smoke from wildfires completely obstructed our view of the mountains as you can see in the photos below. And when the smoke cleared in the next couple of days, we hiked Jenny Lake which gave us a close up view of Grand Teton, but not the grand photo of the whole mountain range that I was lacking (in the evening
hours, since the sun sets behind the mountains, the definition of the rock faces fades into shadows). On our last day in the park, I got up early to drive down to Colter Bay Village and snapped a couple of quick photos on the beach before my camera informed me that my batteries were dead. Of course. But luckily, the photo turned out pretty well (compare it with the smoke covered mountains below).

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Grand Tetons
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I promise there are mountains in this picture, but the wildfires hide them.

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