Backpacking in the Grand Teton National Park (attempting to climb the Grand)

Backpacking is like day hiking on steroids. The load you carry is considerably larger and the trails tend to be longer and much, much more steep. It seems there’s no in-between.


After a few friends of ours wanted Ben’s help to climb the Grand Teton, we decided to make it a mini vacation for ourselves as well. The plan was for Ben to take me up the Grand to get to know the route better than he could from just reading about it and talking to people. Then, the next day, he would take up our two friends. That was the plan.

As an old friend used to say, “the only sure thing about a plan is the plan will change.”


Sunday afternoon, after I got home from working a race, we loaded up the car as fast as we could and hit the road heading toward the northwest corner of Wyoming. Driving through the barren landscape, I took a nap in the passenger seat as Ben drove on.

We arrived in Jackson, WY around 8pm, checked into a hotel and searched for some food while walking around the cute town. After looking around for quite a while, we finally found an affordable place to eat at a local pizza and pasta joint, Pizzeria Caldera. My baked ziti was delicious and Ben ate his whole pizza.

The next morning, we drove up the highway into Grand Teton National Park, checked in at the Ranger’s station to get our back country permits, and off we were to the trailhead. It took us awhile to get organized and ready to hike (partly due to a leaky camel-bak), but eventually we made our way onto the trails.

Super hazy from all the nearby (ish) fires

This is not the grand. This is a ridge right in front.

With a short misleading beginning, the trail starts off flat and into a gradual incline, but once it started to incline, it never stopped! The 6 or 7 miles (Ben keeps telling me something different) was the hardest trail I’ve ever hiked, let alone with 45 pounds on my back. A seemingly endless climb, loose dirt and rocks, boulders to scramble over…. 6 miles over this varying terrain challenged me beyond my ability.

This IS the trail….just right over those giant boulders…

Still looking generally happy….

With about a mile left, and at least 1000ft, I was reaching the end of my energy levels. Crying and struggling to take steps, my trekking poles kept getting stuck. With a small temper-tantrum, I chucked the poles up hill while Ben snapped some photos of my hissy-fit. I was so done with that hike. I was crying because I was tried, feeling defeated, under trained and my thoughts kept drifting  to my life and why I was feeling so out of shape!

You can’t see, but I’m definitely crying in the pictures and have just thrown my poles.

After one more tantrum (I’m not making this up), we made it closer, but still had half that ground to cover, but not really knowing how much was left (Ben didn’t even know, having never been there), I was finding it hard to keep moving. I kept looking up and no matter how many steps I took, the peaks didn’t seem to get any closer!

I look PISSED!

Not even bothering to use my poles, I dragged them behind me. Ben took this moment to go ahead to the camping spot (how he can just trek up mountains like their nothing, I’ll never know). He dropped his bags, turned around, came back to grab mine and we finished the quarter-mile to where we would set up camp.

After a quick dinner, I was asleep in the tent before the sun went down. Justly so, we had an early wake up call at 1:00 am the next morning. We woke up with an almost-full moon overhead lighting up the whole mountain corridor. With a much smaller pack, we left camp and started out on the last bit of the approach to the climb.

The view in the morning…

It was painstaking work to me. More steep hills, loose dirt and rocks, large rocks to step over… I was breathing hard within the first few minutes. This was hard. REALLY HARD. Harder than anything I’ve every tried before. And I’m not sure why.

As the hike went on, there was more scrambling, short-roping and slippery boulder stepping than I wanted to deal with. The higher we went the more nauseous I felt. Altitude sickness? Maybe. Nerves thinking about what lie ahead? Maybe. Exhaustion? Probably. A mix of all the above? Most definitely.

Trying to look happy after turning around

At a place called the Needle, I sat there thinking about the amount of rope work ahead of us and the tall peak we were about the climb. I felt like I was going to throw up.  Ben thought I looked pale. I started to get a headache and we decided to turn around before the harness needed to come on.

Days later, I’m still disappointed in myself and going over my thoughts. Was I scared? Was it all in my head? Or did I really have the onset of altitude sickness? I don’t know. I’ll never know.

After we hiked back to camp, I curled up, back in my sleeping bag again. As it turns out, a thunder-storm rolled in and that would’ve meant we would have been stuck on the summit during the storm. I guess it all works out for a reason. See, the plan always changes.

The storms raged off and on throughout the day. We found a nearby cave that we could stand in (rather than being scrunched up in the tent). We caught bits of conversation with the area guides stopping in for a reprieve from the rain while we waited for our friends to hike in.

The cave…bigger than it looks!

Eventually the rain stopped and our friends reached camp. We helped them set up camp, go over what they needed for their next day’s summit attempt, and cooked some dinner.

The rest of MY journey from here is pretty boring (except the storm on the way out, but more on that later). Ben and our two friends hiked and climbed for 11 hours to and from camp and made it to the summit! Their journey sounds amazing and I am super jealous. These two ladies from Golden wanted to do something BIG for their 50th birthday and they accomplished it all, putting me to shame!

I slept in, sat in the tent, read a book, hiked the little bit to stream to get water, read some more, ate food, and waited around. But at least I had some fresh mountain air and beautiful views!

Waiting in the tent for them to come back

The fresh water stream we got our water from…yes, we boiled it or used a Lifestraw!

Once they came back to camp, we packed all our gear back up, only a few pounds lighter from eating food, and hiked out. About half way down, a storm thundered nearby and got closer and closer. Terrified of lighting and since Ben was staying with our friends, I picked up the pace, running between clearings, catching my breath in the forested areas but banging my poles together in the woods, attempting to scare away any bears since I was hiking by myself.

Yes, there were really bears in the area and we got many reports of sightings on our way up. However, the only wildlife we saw were pika, marmots, deer and chipmunks.

Hiking out

A marmot, posing for me

It was probably a hilarious sight to see, me careening down the trail with a 40 pound bag on my back. Getting tired of running and still nervous about the lightning, I slowed my pace, feeling exhausted when I heard the magical sounds of…. A CAR HORN! I was close, I must be! I picked my pace back up, escaping the confine of the woods to the safety of my car!

This was actually the start of the hike but thats my sweet Jeep!

After dropping off our bear cans at the ranger station, we celebrated an incredible journey at the Snake River Brewery back in Jackson! The next day, we slowly got up, had breakfast at Cafe Genevieve and drove north again for some sightseeing in the rest of Teton National Park and a little bit of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone Lake

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My First Freelance Writing Job (and It’s now live online!)

I’ve always liked writing. Ever since I can remember I’ve loved it. When I was in 2nd grade I used to write stories about a dog name Scruffy that smelled of cookie dough and went on adventures (If I ever find these, I will definitely show you all).

Later, I used to write stories about haunted amusements parks in a journal I kept. They were never very good, but I loved to imagine what would happen to my characters (think: the shy, smart girl gets the cute, popular boy).

In high school,  my english teachers loved my writing and one saved my re-telling of a mythology story for future classes. However, It wasn’t until I started this blog, and mainly in the last few years, that I realized how much I really liked writing and thought about doing anything with it.

I started writing some stuff for a novel and have thought of freelance writing jobs. I have submitted articles to different publications, none of which got accepted, but finally I saw a great opportunity that was perfect for me! I’m not sure where I first found out about the job, probably social media, but I applied to be a contributor for 10hikes.com

After exchanging some emails, I got the chance to write about the best hikes in the Denver region!

10hikes.com is part of 10Adventures.com,  a Canadian company (you’ll see everything listed in kilometers!). For 10Hikes.com, they select the 10 best hikes for major, popular regions like big cities or national parks. Contributors, like myself, compile the list based on experience, research and physically going out to find the best hikes. We hike them, recording the map data, take pictures and write about each one.

I get paid to hike! How sweet is that!?

My first region, Denver area hikes, is finally live on the website and I want to show you all! Check it out!

My favorite of the 10 hikes I chose is number 1 on the list, Beaver Brook to Chavez Trail.

I just got assigned the Rocky Mountain National Park region! I’m so thrilled and already started hiking them while trying to pick the 10 best ones (a very hard job).


Look! It’s me!

Follow along in real time of where I’m hiking on Instagram! 

#60HikesChallengeDenver – White Ranch: Blecher Hill

(For 2017, I have a goal of getting through all 60 trails in the book “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Denver”  You’ll see these posts all year-long. You can find a lot of info on each of the trails in the book, but I’ll highlight some things each time in addition to including my experience and opinion on the trail. The number below is associated with how they are labeled in the book if you have it.)

Trail #31 – White Ranch – Blecher Hill
Completed: 4/29/17 | Number Completed: 12/60
Mode: Hiking – in the snow
Location: Golden, CO
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip, out and back
Difficulty: Moderate (very hard in the snow)
Surface: Hard packed dirt, single track to double track in parts
Exposure: moderate amount of shade
Facilities: Pit toilet restrooms

Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you should skip eye protection! It was bright that day even while it was actively snowing!

My Experience:
I don’t have a big family and the little bit of family I do have, I don’t get to spend much time with. However, my cousin recently moved to Colorado for Physical Therapy School, and even though we have a lot in common, he’s usually hanging out with his closer-aged friends. I don’t blame him, that’s what most 21 year-olds do (I mean, I did), but when your Cousin calls you up to go hiking, you go no matter the weather!

It just so happened in late April we got a freak blizzard, dumping tons of heavy, wet snow across the front range. Needing a break from studying, my Cousin Blake asked if I would like to go hiking. I warned him of the weather, but told him I’d be game. We both bundled up in the appropriate gear saying, “Bring it!” to the weather. I chose a hike from my book that I thought would be doable in the snow, and we set off, following the footsteps of a few other brave souls.

White Ranch is a local favorite for area bikers, runners and horseback riders. I’ve hiked here before with my boyfriend and doggie last fall and have always wanted to come back and explore more. Through the snow, Blake and I  trudged along the trail, trying to follow the directions of my book. We made it to the turn around and were trying to find the turnoff for the loop as described in the book.

The map in the book.

We gave up, thinking the snow was covering a less-used trail and marched back to our cars. After studying the map at the trailhead, we realized there was no such trail. I’m not sure if the trail was later removed after the publishing of the book or if the author never even hiked it and found an old map. Either way, I checked off the Belcher Hill Trail from the list!

During the fall.

The trail starts north from the trailhead and winds down to the stream. You’ll wind around, up and down. Then, about a quarter mile in, after crossing a bridge,  you’ll start ascending. Look around at the GIANT houses in the area – they are incredible! Glance behind you to see North Table peaking between the ridges. Follow the signs for Blecher Hill, staying on the main trail, not turning off. We hiked about two and half miles up, turning around just after the Mustang Trail and before the Round-Up Loop trail. There’s a few benches along the way to sit and rest at. Hike out the way you came in.

Just pass the first hills is North Table and in the distance is actually Green Mountain peeking up.

Pros:
-Beautiful views of North Table and Golden from the switch backs.
-Over 20 miles of trails
-Camping available on the North-west side of the park
-Not crowed

Cons:
-Not much shade cover in the beginning

Tips:
-Bring water. From the trail head we started at (east side), there’s no water access. I am unsure about the other side.

Overall:
A great place to be active in! I plan on going back to explore the other side of the park. Highly recommended for out of towners and well as locals looking to beat the crowds.

My cousin Blake and I


Hike with me and check out the book:

#60HikesDenverChallenge – Chautauqua Park, Royal Arch

(For 2017, I have a goal of getting through all 60 trails in the book “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Denver”  You’ll see these posts all year-long. You can find a lot of info on each of the trails in the book, but I’ll highlight some things each time in addition to including my experience and opinion on the trail. The number below is associated with how they are labeled in the book if you have it.)

Trail #6 – Chautauqua Park – Royal Arch, Boulder
Completed: 4/12/17 | Mode: Hiking
Location: Chautauqua Park, Boulder
Distance: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: Hard, steep climb
Surface: Hard packed dirt with a few bigger rocks in parts
Exposure: Lots of shade!
Facilities: Water, restrooms, and information at the Ranger Station

My Experience:
Back in April, I headed out the door to Boulder to get in a birthday hike. Afterward, my Mom met me for dinner in Boulder and it was a great 30th birthday! As I find some free time, I’m going to keep posting about my 60 Hikes Challenge and the ones I have gotten done during the last few months.

The beginning of the hike, looking out at the Flatirons.

Found at the base of the Flatirons, Chautauqua is a well-used park. People come here to hike, climb, and to simply hang out. There’s also a dining hall, theater, and more trails just behind the Flatirons. I went hiking in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week and it was still crowded. Although, once I was past the beginning trails that go up to the Flatirons, the crowds thinned out and I was left to the Royal Arch trail mostly by myself.

This is hike is not easy by any means. You climb the whole time to the arch, increasing in steepness during the last half mile as the trail turns into stairs. Just as you think you’ve made it to the top, you realize you need to hike down a little and then back up, again, to the arch. For me, that day, my quads were taking a beating and cramped up on me after the first summit. As you round on the last switchback, the arch comes into view and all of a sudden it’s looming over you. Hike right through the arch and see a beautiful view of Boulder and surrounding areas.

Pros:
-Restrooms
-Ranger station with maps, information, and gifts
-Lots of shade!

Cons:
-The biggest con is the crowds. This is a very overused park and needs a lot of attention!

Tips:
-If visiting on the weekend, there is now a free shuttle service from New Vista High School to help alleviate the parking issues.
-When you reach the first summit before the arch, climb the rocks there for a faraway view of Royal Arch.
-Please, please, please practice the Leave No Trace Principles and STAY ON THE TRAIL! I can’t believe how many people I saw hiking off to the side on a DRY day, next to a very wide trail. #InDisbelief

Overall:
I really wish this park wasn’t abused as much as it is. It’s a beautiful place in the heart of Boulder, but because of its location, so many people flock to the trails for a dose of nature. Many of those don’t respect the “rules” of the outdoors and it is getting pretty frustrating. While I was there, I watched two people walking off the side of a trail that was literally wide enough for TWO cars! No joke.

I hike here a lot to get to the climbing areas of the Flatirons, but for just for hiking alone, I tend to avoid this area like the plague. If you’re visiting from out of town, and don’t mind the crowds, it is definitely worth the trip.  Or you can climb a Flatirons while you’re there! Hire a guide: GoldenMountainGuides.com (#shamelessplug #sorrynotsorry)


Check out the book for yourself!