The Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are essentially one. Nestled in the vast surrounding forests of Wyoming, Yellowstone represents the best known and most visited national park in the USA, with most visits to Grand Teton being somewhat of a tag alog. Teton is almost relegated to the status of Yellowstone’s bonus ball.
But judge a park not by the company it keeps. Elsewhere in this or any other country, this would be a great and treasured destination. Not that it isn’t appreciated here, just that it is lost in the flash, grandeur and diversity of Yellowstone itself.
Any great national park deserves a great hike to see it properly. So that is exactly what we did.
We had been aware of bears before, black bears have been prevalent through much of this and many of our other trips, but this was the first time we were to camp and hike amongst Grizzlys. Camping wild in the National forest just outside the park the night before we entered, it was the first time that we became acutely aware of this distinction. In the dark forest, through swarms of mosquitos and lit only by the stoves flickering flames, every cracked twig, rustle or worse, keen pointed bark of the hound was cause for alarm.
The next day, despite talking a very calm game, I must admit, it was much more in the forefront of my mind than anticipated. In fact, less than half a mile from the car park, something large moved through the bush and we froze in fear, until the deer that caused it, was revealed.
As we pushed upwards, the increase in gradient tied in perfectly with a decrease in other hikers, and as the forest became more dense, the noises and shapes became ever more difficult to identify. The main advice on Bear safety is to make your presence known every step of the way, so that they will not be startled and are likely to just steer clear. Hiking uphill while talking is surprisingly tiring, and trying to think of enough to say to make a constant and loud noise is a challenge in its own right. Within the first mile we had descended into chatting utter nonsense.
As we began to push through the dense central belt of the forest and into the more sparse upper mountain fauna, our scope of vision opened up a bit more and we were able to relax a little more as we could now see for a few hundred metres in most directions. This new scope of vision rewarded us with more than a sense of security, it also afforded us much better views up to the snow-capped Teton peaks, a reward well worth our sweat and relentless bear-preventative jabber.
We pushed on, towards our goal, Holly Lake, nested above the snow line at 9’416ft. Finally reaching it as sweaty, wheezing messes after 4 solid hours, 6.2 miles and 2546 vertical feet of hiking.
The reward speaks for itself:
After battling the horse flies for our lunch and having relaxed for a while in the sun by the crystal mountain lake water, we decided to head back down. While we had enjoyed the views on the way up, the morning light and clouds had muted the full scape of what we were seeing. As we rounded the corner on the way back down, we were greeted with the full beauty of the vista back down the mountain and over the lakes and landscape of the park below.
The clouds were beginning to cover and the afternoon was taking its hold. The new dimmer light and renewed isolation on the trail renewed our fears, and by this point our chat had begun to border on the insane. As the hound lurched after another mountain Marmot, my relentless attempt to make verbal noise led me to make this joke;
“Dee can we get a pet female Marmot?”
“Why would we do that?”
“Just so we can call it ‘Lady Marmot-lade’!”
And then Laugh for the next 100 metres of descent. Actually, I still cracked a smile writing that a day later.
As we furthered our descent, we rounded a corner to come face to face with a colossal bull moose. The hound hadn’t noticed it, so before he barked, I sent him with Dee ahead to safety while I stopped to take a picture. Unfortunately, as soon as he noticed me, he dipped his horns and lurched at me. I ran out of the way with a shock, and rounded the corner to where Dee and the hound waited. We walked on another 100ft or so, discussing how crazy it is that Moose were so aggressive, when just ahead, only a few feet from the path we spotted this:
The antlers of an even bigger moose, he must have been 1,500lbs. We were lucky to have spotted him before we passed (you can see the trail to the right of the antlers) as we would have been but a few feet from away if we had not seen him.
We muted the hound and scrambled up some rocks to relative safety as he grazed on and within a few seconds, was planted firmly in the middle of the path.
After waiting 15 minutes without him moving on, we decided we would have to push through the dense undergrowth to find an alternate route. He had seen us, and whilst we kept our distance, seemed not to care. Seeing another group of hikers approach, we managed to flag them down at a distance, and using splayed fingers, gesture that there was a moose in the path. A good job we did as the dense bushes would have disguised him until they had bumped into his rear end.
After we had passed, we realised how easy it was to find yourself right on top of an animal that size, despite making noise. So we were sure to move though the rest of the forest louder and more brash than ever before. As luck had it, the rest of our descent was uneventful. Although at one point, a hiker behind us that I had not noticed tripped just behind me and I screamed like a girl.
We were exhausted by the end, and as we reached the lakes shores once more, now with the full heat of the day to have warmed the water, I decided to finish the hike in the best way I could think. A relaxing swim in what may well be the most picturesque lake in the USA.
I love the outdoors, and like walking the dog, but, generally speaking, I am not usually the kind of person for whom walking or hiking is a means in itself. My first hike in the Grand Tetons had been incredible and for one of the first times had really wet my appetite for more. Relaxing tired muscles in clear and cool waters with a stunning 360 mountain lake vista must well be one of the greatest possible rewards for a day spent hiking. There are few places in the world that could afford both this challenge and this reward in such abundance.