Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stop 8, Teton National Park, Wyoming, Teewinot

I can outrun a pronghorn antelope. Though found in the Teton National Park and considered to be the fastest land animal in North America, the pronghorn must take second now that I have arrived in the area. So I think, as I begin the hike up Teewinot in the Teton National Park.

Sixth highest peak in the Tetons, Teewinot is the only major peak with an Indian appellation (though bestowed by Europeans). Considered non-technical, there is still a small snow field to cross requiring an ice axe, and fourth class moves through a cruxy section up higher. There is also a bit of route finding involved, especially just below the summit.

All that is yet to come though, as first there are the dreaded switchbacks up the Apex, 18 in all. They are no match for me, however as my lungs are bellows and my legs steam pumps, churning in unison to push me higher. I am invincible, surely faster than anything around. Until I am passed—no, Blown By—on the trail. By a girl.

That it is a girl is no big matter—I've shared a few runs in Bellingham with my friend Brie, and she could dust me at will. But my legs did feel strong this day; I had done a 21 mile acclimatization hike two days before, just after arriving in the area, and felt recovered and reenergized from that.

Perhaps I am not a pronghorn, reaching speeds of 50+ mph. Maybe I am more like a bison, also found here in the park. Once numbering in the millions, the bison (aka American buffalo) in the Teton National Park and are part of the only naturally surviving herd in North America which once ran 60 million strong and was hunted down to 300 by the late 1800s. Think Buffalo Bill Cody, who gained his nickname by killing almost 5,000 of these creatures in a year and a half under contract to supply food to railroad workers. And that was just one man.

The bison is big and shaggy (which I decidedly am not), but can run up to 35 mph. That's it...I'm a bison, big and strong and lord of all I see. Until I am passed again. And again by a girl. Okay, maybe I'm just a pika, small and harmless with a shrill whistle sounded in alarm as I scurry off the trail to let the faster hikers pass me by.

The day is beautiful, sunny but not too hot with a few high white clouds here and there and thunderstorms forecast for later in the day. Lower down, wildflowers splash the hillside with color, while at higher elevations the mica laden granite sparkles with every

step. Stopping to get out my ice axe before the snow field, I pause to enjoy the view across Jackson Hole and again give thanks that I am able to once again do exactly what I want to do today. I want to be nowhere else, I want to be doing nothing else. I am, at least for a time, living in the present, no thoughts of the past, no plans for the future.

At 12,325 feet, Teewinot is the sixth highest peak in the Tetons and the route from the parking lot includes 5,500 feet of elevation gain. I am definitely feeling the elevation—any slower on the last 500 feet and I think I would be going backwards. With a start, I realize that this is my personal high point. It's not much, but it's mine. The summit fin of rock is tiny, allowing for one person at a time on top, but there is a nice perch just below where I sit and chat with a father and daughter from Maine. The views from the top are inspiring, and thoughts reach towards future plans, imagining what the climbs on the nearby peaks will be like.

On top of Teewinot, with the Grand Teton in the background

On the hike down, a young marmot gives me a quizzical stare, and the trill of birds and calls of chipmunks and pikas accompany me. I temporarily lose the well-trodden trail but regain it slightly lower, and reaching for my camera to snap a pic of the dark afternoon clouds rolling in over the range, I say “Oh my!”—or perhaps some other four letter exclamation, I don't remember which—realizing my camera is no longer attached to me. Somewhere on my detour I lost it. Turning towards the darkening sky and hiking back up the trail to try and retrace my steps with little hope of finding the small black bag, I notice a ray of sunshine in the form of my friend Susan coming down the trail. She had finished her day early and hiked up the trail a ways to wait for me, choosing to wait at a spot along the trail that I had bypassed when I lost the path. Explaining my plight, we set off together on the search. She asked what the camera looked like, and I said it was in a small black case and would be impossible to find among the dark needles and ground cover shadows. “You mean it looks like this?” she asked, showing me my black camera case she had just bent down to pick up. Expressing my gratitude, I shook her hand gravely—or perhaps it was some other gesture, I don't remember which.

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