The Evening Power-walk
August 25 -Grand Teton NP
As planned, our hike in from the top of the aerial tram to our backcountry camp location had been easy and short. In fact, even though we had started just before noon, we had arrived at our campsite around 5pm., for a total distance of just over 8km and total time of less than five hours.
Although the hike in had been wonderful, I felt a bit restless as I looked around at all of this new mountain scenery. I envisioned the higher and more interesting terrain further up along the Teton Crest trail. In pursuit of making those visions real, I proposed to do a "quick evening hike" to the next point of interest along the crest trail - a small pond called Marion Lake nestled beneath a cliff near an un-named pass over the Teton Crest itself.
Probably against their better judgements, my hiking companions agreed. I insisted on carrying all required clothing and water, letting everyone else go packless. We left our little camp behind, climbing north up the Teton Crest Trail.
Incredible Wildflower fields
In a few minutes we crossed the gentle saddle separating the Middle and North Forks of Granite Creek. There were some amazing displays of especially red Indian Paintbrush flowers here, and we stopped to take some shots. The scenery at the pass was soon forgotten, though, for as soon as we started descending into the North Fork's drainage, we came across a much, much more dense and colorful display of wildflowers. A jaw-dropping display, full of blood reds, and vibrant oranges and deep purples and sunny yellows. Ten wows did not do this alpine wildflower display justice. Pu was nearly struck dumb and promptly consumed many many megabytes of memory card storage.
Incredible Wildflower fields
The main contributors to color in this field were lupines, daisies, and paintbrushes. The paintbrushes in particular were highly colorful and varied - from an especially deep red variety through orange and pale yellow and finally a curious green variety.
The trail down into the North Fork of Granite Creek was quite steep in places, and in total we lost about 250 feet of elevation in the space of a few short minutes. We dived down into some patches of forest along the way and eventually came to the junction with the North Fork Granite Creek Trail - which, by the way, was to be our descent trail for the next day's hike out.
We continued walking north on the Teton Crest Trail. Now at the bottom of the North Fork drainage, the Teton Crest trail began a moderately steep diagonal ascent up open meadow slopes (these slopes were much less colorfully flowery than the recent one near the North-Middle Fork pass).
Regaining the 250 feet we had just lost, we soon arrived at the little pond that was Marion Lake. The sun was now well into the western sky and the lake, nestled as it was against an eastward-faceing cliff, was mostly in shadow. We could still see in a small corner that was still lit that it had a beautiful light-turquoise color to it.
Back up, now to Marion Lake
I had advertised this "evening walk" as two kilometers in length, although I hadn't been completely clear on whether that was round trip or not (one needs to leave something to the imagination, no?). In any case, I could tell that reaching this point on the shore of the lake was enough for Jenn and Brian. It wasn't exactly what I had envisioned, though, which was a far-ranging view north along the Teton Crest. Looking ahead, I could see that a grassy pass was probably where we'd start being able to see these northern views. I cautiously probed for interest, and Pu took the bait. After asking Brian and Jenn to "wait for a few minutes" for Pu and I to go check it out, we headed off at a rapid clip. I left my pack behind, in case they wanted anything from it (and to lighten my load).
Quest for highcountry
a few minutes brought us to the opposite end of Marion Lake, where we turned and waved back to Jenn and Brian. Ahead of us the Teton Crest trail rose up gently through open meadows. I couldn't quite see where the actual crest was, nor exactly when the land would flatten out and give me my northern view. Pu had fallen behind a bit, taking lots of flower pictures, as he is wont to do. Not wanting to waste any time, I just charged up the trail at full speed and hoped Pu would get the hint and follow.
I half power-walked, half ran up the trail. A slight levelling off revealed yet another little slope up ahead, and then another - it was farther than it had appeared from below. Then.. finally, finally, I arrived on the Teton Crest, and crossed out of the park and into the Jedediah Smith Wilderness of the Targhee National Forest. (The Teton Crest generally marks the western edge of Grand Teton National Park, so when you arrive on it you often cross out - or into - the park).
Approaching Awesome View
Finally, ahead of me - the awseome view I had imagined started to come into view, and in a few more minutes of hiking, was completely revealed: beautiful high alpine country stretched away to the north - framed on the left and right by two very differently shaped peaks and cliffs, and in the center - distant and brooding under some dark clouds - was the central mass containing the highest peaks of the Teton Range.
Amazing Teton Crest View
This beautiful scene - which I had been starting to doubt but which now I was very glad I pushed for - was much more than the sum of its parts. The combination of the late-day light, the dark remnants of a departing storm, the cool cliffs and spires and domes of the nearby peaks, the pretty meadows in the foreground and the dark fortress of the Grand Teton - sitting dead center - in the far distance. A beautiful scene, and the Teton Crest trail continued on northward, beckoning, directly into it. But... couldn't today, not this time. But a Teton Crest backpack at some point? Yeah, definitely! Seeing this view cemented that resolve.
The Brooding Grand
Pu soon came up behind me, a bit out of breath but as amazed and inspired as I was by the scenery. At first he had wondered why I had gone off madly up the trail, but now he understood. And with that, it was time for a few selfies.
It had taken us much longer to get to this point than I had predicted, and I knew we had gone way overbudget on the time. I imagined that Jenn and Brian were probably not too happy about this, sitting (now in the cold shade, no doubt) on the shore of Marion Lake, wondering where the hell we were. We started back, going as fast as possible on our return back down to the lake. I was really glad that I had left the pack with them. At least they could keep warm, hydrated and fed.
We arrived back to the others a full 45 minutes after setting out. Not exactly the five to ten minutes I had predicted. Jenn and Brian were indeed a combination of peeved and worried. And with good cause.
Wyoming Indian Paintbrush
Back down from Marion Lake we went on the Teton Crest trail, now heading south, back to our campsite. Down to the crossing of the North Fork Granite Creek, then back up the steep 250 feet of elevation to the divide with the Middle Fork, again passing through that amazing, amazing patch of colorful wildflowers. We'd see them once more the next morning, when we came this way on our hike out.
The sun still shone, albeit quite horizontally, as we came into sight of our camp. I made note of some high branches in a clump of trees some distance away. This would be a good spot to deploy our "Ursack" bear proof food bag (Grand Teton NP is grizzly bear country).
Evening dinner at our camp was relaxed. The weather was calm - no wind even though we were high in the alpine. In the meadows around us grazed a few moose families - Bucks, does, and foals. Might be useful for keeping grizzlies at bay?