August 6, 2006.
After yesterday’s hike I longed for something more challenging and satisfying. I inquired at the visitor’s center if any trails actually went to a peak. The girl at the desk recommended Static Peak, a mountain reached via Death Canyon. There was no official trail to the peak but she assured me a short herd path (which she called a “social trail”) would lead me to the summit. The trip would be just about 16 miles and a 4,000ft. -or so elevation gain. Great.
At 7:15 am I started up the trail. Getting to the trailhead was an adventure in itself since it required driving up a long dirt road at a max speed of 15mph. There were several cars already in the lot, surprising for an early morning start at an out-of-the-way trailhead. I guess nothing is too out of the way in the Tetons.
This trail was similar to the one I’d followed the previous day: flat, with lots of switchbacks. *sigh* Doesn’t anyone have a sense of adventure out here? I plodded along at a fair pace; I knew I had lots of miles to cover today and I didn’t get the 6am start that I’d wanted.
I reached Phelps Lake and then went down into Death Canyon. “The prettiest in the park,” the girl mentioned. It was nice, but didn’t blow me away. The tall coniferous trees were set back in the canyon while narrow meadows of scrub and wildflowers lined the trails. The rocky canyon walls jutted up from either side of me, leading to steeper sections of trail ahead.
Contently singing songs in my head and looking around at the colorful flowers, I wondered what I’d take away from my experience today…
Rounding a switchback and looking up through some trees I saw a large, black shape. I stopped in my tracks and carefully walked forward, eyes focused on this unexpected being. It raised its head and looked right at me. Oh sh…….
Staring into the eyes of a large bull moose several yards up the trail was frightening. I’d never seen one without a fence separating the two of us. I’d heard that bull moose (mooses?) can be violently aggressive so I wasn’t sure if I should try and scare it away or sneak past. As I closed in on him, I realized the trail went right in his general direction. He obviously was aware of my presence and he didn’t seem to care. The moose munched away on the flowery vegetation just off the trail. I skirted right by him, breathless, trying to snap pictures without standing for too long in one place.
Not far up the trail I encountered another group of hikers who’d had to bushwhack off the trail to get around the moose, who didn’t budge for them. Luckily the moose was in the shrubs when I arrived. I would see these hikers a few more times today.
It took some time to get above treeline, something I didn’t get to do yesterday. Unlike in the Northeast, where the trees get noticeably shorter and more gnarly, there wasn’t too much indication that I was coming out of the forest until I was already there. The sun beat down brightly on the rocky ridgetop as I continued to climb. I was treated to lovely views of melting ice in the valleys below and jagged peaks in all directions. My steps became shorter and more forced. I’d like to say it was the elevation that was affecting me but I think it was just my own sloth :). I hadn’t done any big hikes in a long time. Along the trail, a tiny patch of snow glistened in the dirt. Instinctively, I reached down, scooped up a handful and rubbed it on my limbs, head and the back of my neck. I put a few clumps down my shirt for good measure. The cold snow felt so good on my overworked body.
Upon reaching the Static Peak Divide, I saw Static Peak and the herd path leading to the bare summit. Soon, I lost the path and meandered slowly up the rocks. Looking behind me, I saw someone else with the same idea so I tried to hurry up. I was winded and tired but I wanted to arrive first. I found the herd path again, which led me to the top.
The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and bowls in addition to the feeling of conquering a peak created the sense of satisfaction I’d been looking for. I took off my socks and shoes, sat on the ground and soaked it all in. I chatted with the other hiker up there, a local who shared lots of information about hiking in the Tetons.
It was still morning, but I’d been warned about freak lightning storms up here so I retreated after a half hour of relaxing. I happily bounced down the mountain and ducked below treeline all too soon. Back in the woods, nose to the ground, I moved along steadily.
The wooded sections of trail were broken up frequently by stretches of grassy clearings. In one such clearing, I heard the sound of hundreds of grasshoppers or crickets leaping from plant to plant. Strange…I thought…until realizing that was the sound of heavy raindrops falling from the sky. I was miles out from the trailhead, with no raingear, and then I heard a loud BOOM. Thunder. Wonderful. The rain started coming down and I walked a little faster. Then I saw lightning and started to run. Being wet was no big deal, as I’d seen my share of wet hikes this past spring. But the thought of being struck by lightning was not appealing to me. For most of the next few miles I sprinted down the trail, pausing in the dry, wooded areas, and blasting across the clearings. I had been feeling the hurt of a long hike prior to this rain, but the adrenaline kicked in and fueled my rapid descent.
Towards the bottom of the trail, the rain subsided. I encountered many, many groups of people, mostly decked out in ponchos and other rain attire. They must have been furiously hot in there. When I arrived back at my car, the lot was overflowing with cars. Most people make the 2 mile trek to Phelps Lake and call it a day. It was 3:30pm. I’d just cranked out 16 miles in just over 7 hours.
Beat, soggy, hungry, thrilled. I saw a moose, several pika, some grouse, magpies, a marmot, and many unidentified birds. I’d gone above treeline, reached a summit, and battled the rain. This completed my exploration of the Tetons, as I had to get back on the road. I drove almost 3 hours today before stopping in Idaho Falls. Tomorrow, more driving.