Friday evening Tom and I head out on the town for the fall Arts Festival grand opening with all (or maybe most) of the galleries in town serving drinks and food and showing their stuff. Meet some great people, have some great conversations, and end the night by grabbing dinner and a couple of beers and reconnecting with Eliah, a friend from high school that I haven't been in touch with since then and who has been out here for the last 3 years.
The next day the household arises and heads into town to take part in Old Bill's fun run 5k/10k (5k for me) fundraising race, and it seems, as the night before, that a majority of the town seems to be there
. Great run, great food, and solid company preface an awesome hike into Darby Canyon and the Darby wind caves between Victor and Driggs, ID. The cave went back several hundred feet, and reportedly (from a guy we met back at the entrance on our way out), there is an ice cave further up the trail that offers a technical descent, including pulling a rappel rope after decending off a 45º ice slope overhang (no return), wading through a waist deep 34º or so underground pond, navigating through a maze provided there's no iceflow block (check ice block before pulling rappel rope), and into the passage that we were exploring. We didn't quite make it to the cavern where you have to do a 30 ft rappel down a vertical face, but it was still pretty cool. The dogs were a bit sketched out though. The day ends with some amazing homemade elk burgers (best burger I've ever had - ridiculously good) and a discussion of opening a pretty sweet burger joint in Jackson - may Jimmy's someday transpire.
Sunday brings a pretty relaxed day; tested my Whisperlite Internationale and my new Kelty 4-season tent, and both perform splendidly. I take apart my headlight assembly, the easiest part of the circuit to access (after that the gas tank pretty much needs to be removed), and find burned wiring. And a familiar smell. Phew! Much less potentially catastrophic than declining brakes. Feeling more ready for Glacier NP
. Head to the TVRC office to do some more research, and talking to backcountry rangers up in Glacier, discover that pretty much the shortest loop that I can do (shuttle's not running anymore) is an 8-10-10 (miles) sequence with plenty of vertical gain, a full winter pack, and who knows what kind of weather. Maybe not quite feeling ready for Glacier..
Monday sends a bunch of us (Toms, Jim, and I) back to Dubois to visit TVRC in its quietude to strike the rest of the canvas wall tents and stow them before the snow sets in. The dining tent platform is no more, and ground is broken for the new building. Awesome dinner at Paya's, back over the pass to Jackson, pack for my attempt at climbing middle, and to bed later than intended for a 4 a.m. wakeup the next morning.
Tuesday. Wow. Tom awesomely gives me a lift to the Lupine Meadows trailhead in Teton NP, and I'm moving upward towards Garnet Canyon just after five with plenty of darkness left. Elk bugling somewhat unsettling. Two hours in brings plenty of light and shorts and t-shirt weather, with the occasional hat and windbreaker to fend off a chilly down- or updraft. I meet three young deer on the trail in the pre-dawn and they look up in hello. Not bothered, they don't run. Hmm. I reach the meadows by 8 or so and move towards Middle, preparing to break left up the South Fork boulder and scree fields to a saddle between Middle and South
. Along the way I keep looking towards the Grand, thinking.. hey, those two routes look gradual.. I thought that there were no non-technical routes up the Grand.. but.. and I get drawn in. I break right and head up to the lower Grand-Middle saddle where Exum stashes their gear, and I check out the routes that I spotted. One is gradual at first, and then heads towards sheerness with a few-hundred-foot drop on the side, more than I'm experienced with. The other looks decent, but is pretty loose (handholds wiggle) and partially blocked by snowpack. Most accidents in the Tetons happen to folks unroped on snow. I back off, nod to the Grand, and head back down towards the meadows to loop back up and around to the Middle-South saddle. By this point I've spent an extra two and a half hours, several hundred vertical feet, probably a little over a mile, and the associated energy on the side trip. Not great. I slowly move up the boulder fields, stopping regularly to get oxygen into my legs. Not quite crawling, but man. On the way, I encounter thousands of butterflies. I don't really know what they're doing, but it looks like there having a great time. Looking to the side, I see bunches wafting near the ground while other bunches a few feet higher racing as they ride the up or down drafts through the canyon. Amazing. I reach the saddle around one, and look up towards Middle. A guy I met who had turned around from the saddle said that from there it looked like another hour's work - I think no way
. There is a rough couloir (bascially a gash that funnels rockfall and drainage) that heads up the southwest face of Middle, and it is the only non-technical (I think - at least the most popular non-technical) route up to the summit. It easily looks like another 45 min to the beginning of the couloir, and then at least an hour up to the summit, not visible from my vantage. Also, there is an amazing lake, Iceflow Lake, that the saddle drops straight to on the Idaho side. It looks tropical. I move up the ridge, crisscrossed with packed trails of people trying to find the best route, towards a field that lies beneath the couloir. Once, my foot, too lazily, slips on snowpack to my right, and while my other foot and hands easily have me, the snow pack is about a 60º - 70º, 150 ft slide to the nearest boulder field. I up my mental game. As the couloir approaches, it looks scary. If there are other people up there and rocks fall, there aren't a ton of options, and I'm not carrying a helmet. Hmm. It's approaching 2 p.m., but the sky is totally clear; nothing building, so no storm worries. Just time, light, energy, and strength to consider. I check my legs; tired, but no buckling - not weak yet. I move into the couloir, and in retrospect, recognize something. My body easily sends a message that it needs a rest; fatigued quads, breath not easy, sometimes lightheadedness after a too dynamic move. But it doesn't send the message that's it's ready again. The mental game becomes apparent, and I seek a rhythmn. One step per two or sometimes three breaths, find handholds. I know there are people who can do this much more effectively, but I'm not there, so I compensate to allow me to keep moving. It's 2:30. Three is the limit. I feel like I'm moving well; I can't see the saddle anymore, and am well up and inside the couloir. I also can't see the summit. Damn. Worth it? Dunno. Don't want to turn around 100 ft from the top, that's for sure. I keep pushing.
Outlines that could be the summit are much closer. Which one is it? Maybe the one on the right... no, it drops to a mini-saddle, inaccessible without a rappel.. can't be. Left? Why not? Aha! More blue sky than rocks. Finally, there is nowhere else to go, and a geologic marker confirms. 2:40. Wow. Eat. Ramen in a themos (though the sun is warm), some lasagna, a snickers, a granola bar. Half a liter of water. Some basking. It looks like someone has placed a rock in a gap against the summit rock, and it makes the perfect wind break. Rest. A phone call to Tom: I won't be there at six.. let's make it eight. And then my phone loses reception.. glad that fit. 3:00. Time to start down, goodbye gorgeousness. Hello couloir. This time we're friends though. Well, maybe not friends, but we understand each other. I know I'm tired, so my mantra is.. gradual and secure. gradual and secure.. no momentum. Taking time. Speed doesn't matter. If I need to, I can make it up on the flat trail beyond the meadows. Were there this many boulder fields? I guess so.. three hours to the meadows. Not bad. I truck down the (relative compared to boulder fields and scree) flats, not sure why. My knees and legs aren't sore anymore, and the rhythmn is easy. This time, I meet a young buck, still with felt, and we hang out for a bit. About 10 ft away from each other. I think as I depart that I hope he spends the rest of his life in this apparent refuge. Time goes by and I reach the parking lot. I layer up, eat some more, and call in an order to Teton Thai
. Oh yes. As Tom arrives to pick me up, it sounds like someone is emitting screams in a nearby canyon. Some nearby hikers inform me that it's a cub caught in a trap, we hear the mom start banging on the cage. Really impressive. Tom and I roll, grab the chow, head for home, and call it a night. Wow. What a boost.
Up at seven, to make an apointment about 90 miles away for some scheduled service and to check out my headlight. Beautiful day and ride, and the problem is relatively simple. My headlight bulb was not stock, and with a higher wattage drew more current than normal. It wasn't enough by itself to blow the fuse, but the wires definitely would have been warmer than normal. Combine that with the friction due to bumpy roads (the wires rub slightly each time the handlebars turn - not a problem on pavement since it's too little motion to create real heat, but on a jittery ride..) and enough heat is produced to start melting the wire insulation. Which started happening outside of Durango. By the time I left the motel in Moab, the insulation on the wires was thin enough to melt entirely with the regular heat of the of the current being drawn, so the wires were able to touch and voila, short circuit. Anyway, I expected to shell out a couple hundred bucks for all the work on the light plus the regular service, but the guys in Idaho Falls charged me $90 for it. I imagine they were being generous to a wandering biker, and I gave them my thanks. Back to Jackson for a farewell dinner with Eliah, connecting with a friend from the summer, and enjoying whiskey night at Cutty's. Not too shabby.
And, this whole time, everyone I know here has been trying to convince me to swing in for the winter before heading to South America. It's a pretty damn attractive suggestion, they've already found me a place to stay, and I'm basically just waiting on confirmation for a job that will help me save a bunch on money if I so desire.. I'm pretty much like 99.8% there. Guess we'll just have to see :)
The next week is extremely full. I'm staying at Jim's with him and Tom and occasionally Ripley, sorting out the next phase (short-term, fall/winter, spring, and next few years) and having a great time.