Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Going to the Mountains is Going Home: Grand Teton Half Marathon Report

Oh my goodness, where to start?! This past week was spent in the mountains of four different states, and what an amazing, soul-cleansing, fun-filled time it was.

Bryce and I left a rainy, stormy Austin on a Tuesday and flew to Salt Lake City to start a 6 day trip through four states and two major national parks. We spent the night in Odgen and woke up bright and early on Wednesday to drive to Grand Teton National Park

"Going to the mountains is like going home." - John Muir
We arrived at the park around noon and checked in at the ranger station to pick up our back country permits. I had reserved two permits, and made plans to do a loop of the park over two and a half days, two nights. Unfortunately, the campsite routes I had chosen required a snow axe (it's been seven years since I lived in Wyoming- I forget there's snow in June!) so we did a little re-routing. After checking out our bear canister to keep our food and other scented items, we loaded up, grabbed a sandwich for lunch from the Jenny Lake store, and hopped on the Jenny Lake ferry to start our trip!

View from our hike in.
Our first night, after about 7 miles of hiking, was spent along Leigh lake. The spot was postcard-gorgeous, but the mosquitos thought so, too, which made us look like ninjas as we karate chopped around our faces while boiling water for dinner. Mmm, backpacker meals. 

My Moxie gear keeping me dry and warm!

After a slightly chilly night listening to the geese honk and the crickets chirp, we started the longest leg of our trip- a 13 mile skirting of Jenny Lake and up in to the Cascade Canyon to the South Fork of  Cascade Canyon. The first jaunt on the cascade trail was no joke, especially with about 35 pounds on my back! Bryce was a little less than happy about the climbing, but remained in pretty good spirits. I mean, how could you not with the gorgeous scenery we had around us?

On our way in, we saw an Osprey, a Bald Eagle, a Black bear and her cubs, and about a zillion Marmots. Although I lived in the Absaroka Mountains at the 7D Ranch back in 2009, I've never stopped staring in wonder while I'm in them, amazed at the way they are both so solitary, yet teeming with life. Backpacking is a hobby of forced self-reliance, common sense, and an appreciation for the literal payoff of climbing the toughest mountains to gain the most gorgeous views.

Our climb was indeed tough! The second night's campsite was at about 9000ft of elevation and packed with snow. Bryce, not used to these heights, began to suffer some altitude sickness at about 8,000 feet, but insisted we keep going, mostly because our only other choice was about an 8 mile hike out back to the lodge. He grew cranky, tired, disoriented, thirsty, and was shuffling his feet in smaller steps than are normal for his 6 foot frame. Being trained in wilderness first aid, I was well aware what these symptoms met (he is typically never cranky with me!) and I emphasized to him the incredible importance that he keep me informed of how he was feeling and to take it easy. Altitude sickness is typically minor, but left un-attended and allowed to progress, can become life threatening if allowed to grow to dehydration through nausea, hypothermia, or shock. Thankfully, his body settled for cranky and sleepy.
On the lookout for Mountain Goats. None found. :(
I had Bryce take a rest after a half mile hike through shin-deep snow and went on ahead alone for about a mile searching for the camping zone signs. I never found them- apparently the snow had not relinquished park signage just yet! The park ranger told us that might happen and instructed us to just get as close as possible and find a dry spot. I did just that, locating a large flat rock with no snow and dropped my pack, returning to help guide Bryce to the spot, and letting him lay down while I set up camp. 
The snow pack was no joke- I went waist deep more than once!
We got the tent set up, the sleeping bags and pads un-rolled and I made dinner with my stove while Bryce continued to get his bearings and slowly come back to life. The important thing for us being that far back with no one around but the mountains was to get our scented items packed in the bear box and far away as soon as possible. I carried the canister through the snow, across a snow melt stream, and behind a boulder where I figured if a bear wanted it bad enough, they could have it.

After dinner, I got in my sleeping bag and didn't get back out- nice and toasty!
We went to bed early, but slept heavily to the sound of the massive rushing stream next to us carrying all of the snow to the rivers and lakes below. Despite our surroundings, we stayed nice and warm and I, at least, woke up feeling pretty chipper. Once rested, Bryce also felt much better, and was a huge help purifying drinking water with my SteriPen so that we had enough for breakfast and getting back down the mountain. Thanks to the water all being snow melt, it stayed PLENTY cold the whole way down, even as the temperatures rose on our hike.

Titled: "Moose Munches Willow- a near-death experience"
As we hiked down the mountain the next day, we didn't see a soul until we crossed a park ranger two hours later. Then, no one again until, when lifting my head to adjust my pack, I came eye to eye about ten feet away from a young bull moose. That'll snap you out of a daze! We hopped up in to the rocks of a large landslide and remained at least 25 yards away, as per law, as we watched him munch his way along the trail, whole-ly unconcerned with our presence.

Happy to be Done faces!
We made it back to the ferry much more quickly than our outbound journey and plopped down on the dock, celebrating over 25 miles of hiking on our trip. We checked in at the ranger station, returned our canister, and made our way to Jackson Hole to destroy a very large pizza, take a shower, and pick up my packet for the other reason we flew up there: The Grand Teton Half Marathon. 

Used my merino wool Moxie half jacket and t-back jersey to stay dry and warm!
We got to bed early and woke up at about 5:15 to drive the 15 minutes to the race start on Saturday morning. My friend Tasha also came in and she and I met to run together, planning to do what we could and take it easier, since we were at about 6,200 feet and in gorgeous surroundings too pretty to run through quickly. 

Many selfies were taken, for sure! The weather started at about 42 degrees, but warmed quickly in the sunny parts. I tied my jacket around my waist at mile four and felt awesome the rest of the run. Despite stopping for many pictures, we kept up a great pace, doing between 9:30-10:30 minute miles when moving.
How do you NOT stop for a photo like this?
My one mistake I made was not eating breakfast and not having my Infinit. Altitude does many things to people, and to me it makes me hungry. I made it 7 miles before eating a Honey Stinger gel, banana, and orange slice at every single additional aid station and still finished hungry. I'm used to steady stream of calories from Infinit, and apparently nothing else will do any more!

Views from the course only got better as you kept going. 
We finished the gorgeous race course in 2:24, under our 2:30 limit we gave ourselves and in great spirits. After crossing the finish line, we got our snack boxes (they're awesome!), chocolate milk, and absolutely massive medals. Seriously, I think it's bigger than my Ironman medal. 

Does a prettier finish line exist?
The race was excellent. For being in the mountains, it was mostly flat or only slightly rolling, so had we wanted to race competitively, we'd have been able to. I am glad to have done it, as it re-confirmed my knowledge that my body handles altitude well, and I am fairly calm about Ironman Boulder's now paltry-seeming 5,000 feet of elevation. The key, of course, is hydrating early and often, eating enough, and of course, SUNSCREEN! 

Vacation races puts on great events in beautiful locations. The fields cap at 3,000, so when you decide on an event, sign up! They take place in some of America's most gorgeous landscapes, and are not to be missed. The tough part is choosing which one to do next! Zion? Grand Canyon? Rocky Mountain NP? What park do I want to explore next year?

The remainder of our trip was spent exploring, but this time by car. We took our rental through the South gate of Yellowstone, through the East Gate to Cody, WY, to Sunlight Basin to see the ranch I worked at, then up to Cooke City, Montana and through the Northeast gate, around to the West side to the Geyser basin for a finale at Old Faithful at sunset, which was monumentally (pun!) perfect. 14 hours in a car never felt so exciting! 
American Bison. So. Big! 

Yellowstone Traffic Jam

Bryce's first time in Montana. (And Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, for that matter!)

The sheep herder's wagon I lived in at the 7D. Still standing!

The 7D's hay fields full of so many horses that I could still name, even after 7 years!

One of the thermal pools near Old Faithful

Old Faithful at sunset. 
To see videos of Old Faithful, geysers, and other amazing sights from our trip, check out my Instagram feed and be inspired to #FindYourPark! It's the National Park Service's 100 year anniversary this year, and exploring our national treasures is a great way to combine fitness, therapy, experiential learning, and adventure all in one affordable trip. As John Muir said, going to the mountains is like going home, and they are home for each and every one of us who choose to visit. See you on the trails! 

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