The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.

Hiking Death Canyon in a Morbid Mood

Looking across Phelps Lake into Death Canyon

Looking across Phelps Lake into Death Canyon

A week after the autumnal equinox, I also found myself in a transition. Repeating what is proving to be a pattern in my life, I coped with my emotions through physical activity.

I decided to hike in Death Canyon inside Grand Teton National Park. Though I felt some guilt at leaving the dog at home, I’d given him  great 7.5 mile bike ride the day before. Besides, this was about me. I choose Death Canyon for several reasons:

1) An intermediate trail, there was likely to be a few less tourists than other trail heads on a beautiful Sunday,

2) The name seemed fitting,

3) A character by the name of Black George lives in the Grassy Lake Ranger Station and dispenses free root beer floats while he hits on you.

I borrowed my sister’s Jeep for the 1 mile of potholes that lead to the trail head. I was in no mood to be hiking along a dirt road while tourists kicked up dirt in their rented SUV’s. I was on a mission to get away from humanity as quickly as possible. I optimistically pulled into the parking area closest to the trail head to watch four people unload from an SUV with rental plates. They were parked like idiots. If they had moved 3 feet to either side, I would have been able to fit. Fighting the urge to roll down the window and ask them why the hell they parked like dumb asses, I reminded myself I was there to walk and drove back about a quarter of a mile to the next available dirt plod. Getting out of the car, I noticed a pretty stream that I had missed while driving over the bridge twice. Trying to change my mood, I silently thanked the dumb ass parking people for making me walk by the stream. The effort was half-hearted.  My overwhelming feeling was that they were still dumb asses and I still resented them. I turned the corner to find a mule deer just 10 yards away, looking at me with mild interest. I quietly said, “hey buddy, you’re okay” as I continued down the road. Slowly continue along his grazing path, we half-circled each other and I finally let go of my resentment towards the dumb asses.

Still, I tore down the trail like a woman possessed. I had invited several people to accompany me, but everyone had plans. Now, in my solitude, I realized I was glad to be going my own pace and I had only invited others to avoid being alone with my thoughts. I set a brisk, unmaintainable pace with the goal of driving myself into exhaustion. Sleep, usually a sweet refuge in stressful times, had been elusive. I wanted tonight to be easier. I didn’t slow down for the steep uphills and adopted the style of passing I’d seen my mountaineering friends employ. When people approached heading the opposite direction, I resolutely started at the ground and didn’t move in inch, shoulder-ramming several ignorant tourists who assumed I would yield. With an “f-them” mentality for not learning the rules of the trail (the uphill hiker has the right-of-way), I pounded down the trail as if distance from the car would create emotional space as well.

Cursing my endurance, I started to relax four miles in. However, a glance up the steep canyon walls showed that I was almost at the top. With a “why quit now”, I resolved to go to the top. At the saddle,  I enjoyed a homemade brownie I’d packed and enjoyed some well-earned exercise endorphins.

The one and only Black George in front of his ranger station.

The one and only Black George in front of his ranger station.

On return, I ambled over to the ranger station with a “hello hello!” only to be greeted by snoring. Though the screen door was propped wide open (much like the photo), I didn’t have the heart to wake him up. Making note of the the mice fatalities Black George was tirelessly tracking (98) and root beer floats consumed (534), I left the park with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the powerful beauty and its calming power that lie just 30 minutes from my doorstep.

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One Response to “Hiking Death Canyon in a Morbid Mood”

  1. I want to move to Grand Teton Natl Park after I graduate… this definitely makes me want to move even more!

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