The first person we met at Grand Teton NP was a young bespectacled female Ranger at the Colter Bay Visitor Center permit station. We asked her what hikes she would recommend. Before she could say a word, her eyes lit up and she looked giddy.
“Just wait,” she said as she hurried to her desk area and began to pull out almost a dozen pamphlets. “OK,” she said while taking a deep breath. She rapidly explained the handouts with a tangent-prone excitement. I know exactly how that kind of mind works; I have one. Even before I could say a word, we had connected. If Gab and I can ask the right questions, we will get the best answers.
As she moved southward on the map, past Colter Bay and into the Teton Range she got excited and her words quickened. “OK. On this hike, you start by going around Jenny Lake, whichissobeautifulohmygoshtheblues, (her voice crescendoing the whole way) and then you go up to Inspiration Point whichisalittlesteepbutyougetagreatviewofthelakeanditssoprettyandsoworthit, and then you can continue up the Cascade Canyon whichisterrificandnotsosteepbutsobeautifulthe mountainsareonallsidesandtheresagreatviewofMountMoranohmygoshyoullloveit!
She continued like this, explaining long hikes, short hikes, day trips, backpacking routes, hikes reached by aerial trams and strolls through marshes. She had done them all. Most importantly, she was ecstatic about the place she worked. We felt her exhilaration and her love. We were already enamored with the Park and equipped with more hikes than our two days allowed.
We had originally wanted to do a three to five night backpacking trip but a snowstorm was coming on Sunday. It was Thursday afternoon. We promised ourselves and the Ranger that we would return someday and decided on our shortened itinerary: The Cascade Canyon hike on Friday and the hike to Amphitheater Lake on Saturday.
To fully appreciate the Tetons, you have to go up them. The hike to the Forks of the Cascade Canyon is 13 miles round trip with a 1000-foot elevation gain. The hike to Amphitheater Lake is only about 10 miles round trip, but the elevation gain is about 3000 feet.
These numbers are scary and the hikes are strenuous to all but the hardiest of mountain men (or women). We were scared both mornings, hastily trying to convince each other of flatter routes. But we did not give in to our wimpier halves and we experienced two nearly perfect hikes.
The hikes, no matter how strenuous, are never as difficult as you believe them to be. The rewards are always greater than you first thought. At mile 11 of the Cascade Canyon hike, we were both tired. The terrain was flat and skirting Jenny Lake. We had seen the Lake for hours and were pretty hungry. Gab said, “look up, what’s that?” I looked through my binoculars, “oh my, it is a Bald Eagle and it is flying right at us.” I tried to follow its swift pass through the binocs, but Gab got a great look at it, just 20 feet above a heads. How beautiful, how regal, how unexpected.
Once you get on the trails at most National Parks you realize that you are not the oldest, not the youngest, not the most out of shape, not the most overweight, not the strongest, not the one having the most trouble, not the least experienced and not the most fearful of bears. Everyone hikes. Everyone tackles these seemingly impossible elevation changes. You just have to get out on the trail. You have to leave the smell and roar of traffic. You have to try.
The experience is yours to take. Not every Ranger is a wonderful as our friend from the Tetons, but they come close. They will tell you their favorite hikes and point you in the right direction. Don’t miss the rarefied air of the Tetons, it is one of the most stunning places in the world.
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