From South Dakota we headed west to Wyoming; first stop, Grand Teton National Park. We had hoped the smoke from the wildfires in the northeast would dissipate, but the winds weren’t in our favor. We stopped for lunch on Jackson Lake, and Mount Moran less than ten miles away was barely visible. A note to those reading this; these posts are delayed by a few weeks. We haven’t been spending much time in hotels, so wifi is difficult to come by, and cell phone service when we’re stationary at campgrounds is generally lacking. We’re not complaining. We don’t mind being disconnected temporarily in this day of age where it is commonplace; we definitely appreciate a fast connection to the internet on the occasion that we receive it!
We arrived on the Labor Day, assuming the park would be emptying out after the holiday weekend; however, most of the campgrounds were full by early afternoon. The backcountry was not as busy, and we were able to obtain our desired permits to camp just below 10,000 feet near the Middle Teton. We found a campsite in the Gros Ventre Campground in the southern part of the park, and prepared for our two nights in the shadow of Middle Teton the following day.
This backpacking trip was unlike any we’ve ever undertaken together, as most of it involved off-trail travel. We hiked four miles up from the valley on maintained trail, switchbacking through forest and alpine meadow. After those miles the trail petered off into a boulder field, and we picked through catching bits of trodden trail here and there alerting us that we were by far not the first people to pass that way. About a mile later we arrived at Garnet Meadows, where our permit allowed us to camp. Despite there not being maintained trails in this area, it is popular for those wishing to climb either Grand or Middle Teton. Grand Teton is a technical climbing route, whereas it is possible to hike to the top of Middle Teton without ropes. We had read trip reports online, and felt confident in our ability to reach the top, despite the lack of trail. We set up camp, and hiked to the top of a nearby waterfall. While we saw a few hikers heading down the mountain from their adventures that day, we were the only ones camped in the meadow. It was blissfully quiet, and after enjoying a remarkable sunset due to the light refracting off the haze in the air, we crawled into the tent to sleep.
The next morning we set off to hopefully reach the top of Middle Teton. The weather was in our favor, and we started the hike through talus and boulders to the col. Due to lack of space in our Prius, we chose not to bring any of our mountaineering equipment. As a result, we choose to go around the snowfield as we were not properly equipped. A hiking party of four had passed our camp earlier that day, and we caught up to them as they were attempting to cross the field with their ice axes. We easily ascended between the boulders to the side of the snowfield, while we wearily watched the party. They were using their ice axes incorrectly, and one woman in the group seemed unsure of her friends path and choose a different one.
From our vantage, we could tell her line was more difficult than her friends, and she called up to them that she was going to turn around. Her voice caught our attention, and Garrett saw her turn around to retrace her steps, but instead she tumbled out of view. Her friends didn’t see her fall. We immediately started back the way we came to make sure the woman was not hurt. We reached her quickly, she had tumbled 20 feet or so to the bottom of the field were the snow met the rock. She was shaken-up, had suffered a few abrasions, but fortunately had avoided hitting her head and was otherwise okay. We stayed with her until her friends made it to our location, and suggested they all head back down to the valley. They agreed, and we went our separate ways.
We reached the col about a mile later for a breathtaking view of the other side of the range, and hiked a little ways up the arm to rest for lunch. We looked at the final challenge to the sumit, about another 1,000ft of elevation up a scree-filled couloir. A man was coming down from the top, and he gave us some advice on the route. His biggest suggestion was to watch for dislodging loose rock on each other as we hiked, or from other parties descending. There are no others on the mountain after he left, but as we finished our lunch a solo-hiker was making his way up. We stopped to chat; his name was Hunter, and he was out to climb Middle Teton, too. From this point, we ended up all climbing up together, taking care to look out for each other in regards to loose rock. The climb seemed to go quickly, although it took us about 45 minutes to reach Middle Teton at 12,805 feet. The summit was a lump of rock, barely big enough for the three of us. We took in the view of Grand Teton and surrounding area, and for a second my stomach flipped marveling at how high we were. It felt like a big accomplishment to reach the summit, as it was one of the most mentally challenging hikes I’ve done.
We gingerly made our way down the loose rock, and once we made it back to the col we all noticeably relaxed. Hunter was still hiking with us, and we chatted with him about his summer working in Yellowstone as we made it back down the boulder field to our camp. We said our goodbyes, and we enjoyed one last night in the meadows. It was an easy hike out the next day, and we made it back down to the valley in time for lunch. On the way out of the park we stopped at Jackson Lake once more to swim. The air was a bit too cold for me, but perfect for Garrett. Despite not getting in the water, surrounded by the mountains and water, it was a great end to a successful hike.