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 Bryce 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!