I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one’s life and sigh.
Isabella L. Bird
It’s dark in no time once I cuddle into Big Greenie. I look out occasionally, but I can’t see too many stars through the pines. It’s damp and is feeling a bit colder. And then, it begins to thunder.
From about 2:00 am to 3, the lightning is on full blast, a kind of strobe light with long, rolling thunder following. It never seems to hit the ground and once my nerves calm, I just lie there enjoying the sound. Surprisingly, this last night is the best sleep of the trip. Deep and long. Someone walking past early waking me. A person? An animal? They don’t stop or answer when I call.
I guess it’s best I didn’t sleep up high last night.
The tent is soaking wet and cold as I take it down. No one touched my bear bag and I pack it up, planning to take the lot up to Ski Lake. It might have made a good camp spot, but I’m thrilled I set the alicoop2 just in time to jump in before the rain came last night.
After my one flat bit, the trail heads steeply down again, eventually reaching a dry stream and a meadow where another tent is set. The path to Ski Lake heads steeply up just for a mile, but I’m out of breath and wondering if I need more than a week to get used to the altitude.
The view opens up as I ascend of rounded mountains and a fuzzy sunrise in smoke. There are also many camp spots – with views! – but I would have been walking up here in rain and put out of my mind any idea of having camped here.
The lake itself is perfectly round under a huge eroding cliff. I’m surprised to see piles of driftwood leading away from the lake, and these are not tiny pieces but entire trees. It leaves an air of violence in this absolutely silent place. I walk around the lake, carefully stepping over fallen rock, then depart looking for a place to have breakfast.
There’s a rock looking out to the mountains and above the trail that fits my bottom just so. I take out the last of the food and begin devouring it, most of the crumbs and powders and grease ending up on my $3.99 trousers. In between bites, I take out my tent to dry in the sun. A couple arrives, led by a guide. They laugh when I warn them how messy I am not expecting guests.
More people arrive, and I become the de facto greeter, some passing quickly and out of breath, others joining me to talk hiking and favorite spots in the Tetons. Most are surprised this middle aged gal is out here alone and finishing her hike today.
It’s not far to the road, just two miles of descent, the sound of cars and trucks managing a 10% grade over Teton Pass into Idaho reaching me way up the mountain. More and more hikers come up with dogs, running and carrying babies on board. I’m so delighted I had the place all to myself most of the morning.
At the road, I get a hitch within minutes, riding in an overloaded truck with vacationers from the midwest. They take me to Wilson, where I phone Bear and make plans for the evening.
And just like that, the hike is over.
Let’s face it, it was not all that hard, especially since I cut my daily mileage by about 2/3rds. I had very few obstacles, except for a few moments of worrying thunder. I stayed pretty healthy, even with one episode of tachycardia which I was able to get under control. All in all, it was a hike I savored, spending more time just looking and studying my surroundings, simply being in them, rather than passing through them.
Does it make me braver for the next hikes, and perhaps ready to take on one of more magnitude? I don’t know. But one thing is absolutely certain, it’s reminded me why I love backpacking so much – spending day after day outside, carrying all I need on my back, and becoming, at least for a short time, a resident in the wilderness.
So it’s exactly what was needed to overcome any lingering doubt that this activity is one I love, one that expresses the truest part of me and one that I can handle doing all the way into my old age. The Teton Crest Trail was absolute bliss and I am sated, yet also cleansed, like the intervening bit of ginger between bites of sushi. I’m ready for the next course.