The Luxury and the Misery

After Doug suffered through two gruelling weeks of being out at various rigs (we figured he slept at home 3 nights out of 14), I whisked him off on a trip to Jackson Hole in northwestern Wyoming and Teton Valley in eastern Idaho.

On Friday the 7th we headed up to Pinedale with a friend of ours, Andria, and her two dogs, Belle and Chase. It was a beautiful, sunny day and perfect for the day hike we had planned in the gorgeous Wind River Mountains (a range within the Rockies). After trying to figure out which trailhead to start from, we ended up on the Pole Creek Trail that leaves from Elkhart Park in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It’s a popular trail with day-trippers like us and backcountry campers, so we weren’t worried about bears, just about slipping in the poop left behind by the numerous Llamas being used as pack animals for campers.

After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch at this picturesque overlook. Andria was kind enough to share her gourmet lunch fixings like pine nut hummus, wasa crackers, and peaches. I had a generous hunk of white chocolate/lemon/mint bread from the farmer’s market that I contributed and we feasted like kings. Then we headed back to the trailhead where Andria embarked on her two hour drive back home with a Llama poo-covered dog (why do dogs enjoy rolling in excrement?) and Doug and I booted it north to the swanky mountain town of Jackson, where our B&B; awaited us.

Jackson is an incredibly expensive place to live and play, and July-August is peak season. Doug and I don’t mind paying a little extra for a special experience, but in a place like Jackson the Best Western costs you $230/night and the nicer places can run $400-$500/night. Luckily I’ve got some experience hunting up deals and found us the most amazing place to stay at a 40% discount because we squeezed into a one-night spot between reservations. I had high expectations for The Bentwood Inn after poring over the website and it did not disappoint.


We arrived at 5pm pretty grubby after our hike, but the co-manager, Peter, welcomed us warmly and gave us a quick tour of the Great Room (above), the breakfast area (home-baked chocolate chip cookies available 24/7), and showed us to our lovely room (below) complete with Scandinavian Inglenook bed, jetted tub, private balcony, and gas fireplace. After we cleaned up, we enjoyed their nightly wine (imported from the Republic of Georgia) and cheese (and fruit, and crackers…) in the Great Room while chatting with the other guests.

After some discussion about dinner options, we decided to go to the Snake River Brewing Co. in Jackson, which I’d heard had some great microbrews. It was packed full of outdoorsy-people but it didn’t take long for them to find us a table. By then we’d already grabbed a Zonker Stout (Doug) and a Hoback Hefeweizen (me). Then we had to decide what food would complement our ales. Doug picked a unique pizza: bbq sauce, grilled peaches, italian sausage, and goat cheese. Once he was able to shift his “pizza paradigm” he enjoyed it quite a bit. I had their award-winning buffalo chili and a chunk of corn bread. Delicious!

I could see Doug starting to come back to life after his exhausting stint in the field. After a 10-hour sleep in the cozy room and an incredible three-course breakfast replete with what I have dubbed Beavertail Coffeecake and a sundried tomato and goat cheese omelet, we were ready to head out into the wilderness and rough it for a couple of days.

First we had to decide where we were going. The original plan was to go to the Alaska Basin on the western edge of Grand Teton National Park for a one-nighter and then to Yellowstone National Park for a two nighter at the end of our trip, but I had glimpsed in the local newspaper that Yellowstone was in the midst of its busiest season in decades: 900,000 people in July alone. There was also major road construction going on that was causing long delays. We both agreed that we did not feel like dealing with those hassles during our relaxing getaway.
So we changed things up. We drove the mountain pass through to the Teton Valley – formerly known as Pierre’s Hole – on the Idaho side. Then we went north of Driggs along a one-lane dirt road into the Targhee-Caribou National Forest where we parked and embarked on what we hoped to be our first successful overnight backpacking trip to Green Lake.
The hike started well enough. We knew there was a good chance of rain and that it was going to be chilly in this alpine region, but we felt we were prepared. Lugging our bags up the steady incline was challenging, but we were well-rested, well-fed and in good spirits. We enjoyed the views, the beautiful alpine meadows, and chatted amiably with the sparse groups of folks we encountered.
Then the drizzle started. No problem, we though, just a scotch mist. Then it started coming down harder, turning the dirt path into a muddy stream and coating the wildflowers so that brushing up against them soaked our pants nearly up to our waists. Then the rain turned to freezing rain, then to hail, then to wet snow. By the time our three-hour, 2000-ft climb ended at Green Lake, I was so cold, wet and tired that I didn’t even bother to rock-hop across a stream: I just waded through it. My boots were soaked anyways!
We set up camp as quickly as possible in the cold rain, struggling because our fingers were numb. Then we ditched our wet clothes under the rainfly, towelled off as best we could and piled on whatever dry clothes we had before bundling into our sleeping bags. It was about 3pm but Doug passed out for two hours. I was too cold to sleep so tried my best to distract myself with M&Ms; and a book I’d brought along, Jenny of the Tetons.
It was an appropriate book, set in the 1870s in the Teton Mountains. And I felt silly about putting myself through potential hypothermia and privation on purpose when Jenny, Beaver Dick Leigh and their family had to deal with it for survival. In any event, I finished the book by the time Doug had woken up and the rain had abated. It was time to venture forth to make a fire and dinner but our boots were still soaked so Doug fashioned himself some ziplock booties and I wrapped my dry socks as best I could with tied-up garbage bag pieces and we gingerly put the boots back on.
Then we went in search of dry wood (quite the feat) to make a fire in an attempt to dry our clothes. The next step was to try and light it, but while our matches were waterproof the boxes (and strike pads) were not. After finally striking them successfully, then the toilet paper did not want to catch. In desperation, I started ripping non-essential pages from Jenny of the Tetons, which lit beautifully. I figured a Shoshone woman and a pioneer woman would both encourage the action. The fire didn’t manage to dry our clothes despite our best efforts, but its warmth and cheeriness dispelled some of our gloom. As did our freeze-dried Louisiana Red Beans and Rice with lots of hot sauce.
It started raining again during the night, water pooling on the rain fly and dripping into the tent. It was perhaps the coldest night I’ve ever spent, and the next morning we awoke to hail around the tent and a light coating of snow on the ridge above Green Lake. We broke camp as quickly as possible, scarfing a granola bar for breakfast. We knew that as soon as we got dressed and got out we would need to start moving to stay warm. I put on as many top layers as possible: t-shirt, hoodie, fleece, rain jacket. Our only dry bottoms were shorts, though, which in the end we decided might be better in the sodden meadows anyway.

We power-marched it back to the Element, fantasizing aloud about dry shoes, clothes, and the warm bed we’d be sleeping in that night at the Grand Targhee Ski Resort, but all the while trying not to kill ourselves in the muddy mess that had been the trail.

After catching our breath in Ellie, enjoying the feel of warmth and eating a lunch of jalapeno-cheddar bread, buffalo sausage, and chocolate pudding, we left the woods.
But the adventure was only half over…

62 thoughts on “The Luxury and the Misery

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