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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The BEST New Mexico Road Trip – EVA!

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Between all my jobs (yes, plural), I don’t get much free time. I do, however, take advantage of every spare second I can do get. My boyfriend and I regularly go climbing, running, hiking and do mini-vacations (#weekendwarriors). When we do get a chance to plan a longer break from work, we make it worth it!

December happens to be a slow time between ALL jobs (that’s lucky) so we decided to take a road trip and visit a state that neither of us has had a chance to spend a lot of time in: New Mexico! I’ve personally been to Albuquerque to run a race and Ben (my boyfriend) has visited the state a long time ago as well, but I forget why he was there. With it being super close to Colorado (and has a TON of National Parks/Monuments) it made it a perfect place us to take a road trip.

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We saved money by “camping” in my Jeep (i.e. we put a mattress pad in the back and slept in Walmart parking lots). It was free, convenient and free.  Did I say that already? Yes, we would have loved to camp in actual campgrounds, in the wonderful outdoors, but during the day we spent a ton of time in nature and it left us with extra money to enjoy other things.

Here’s the highlights of the #MostEpicNewMexicoNationaParkRoadTripEVA

1. We left late on a Monday and made our way south, first stop: Roswell! It was NOT everything I hoped it would be. Picture a dirty, run down town that has a UFO museum. There is also a free zoo, that is closed on Tuesdays (the day we were running around), Bottomless Lakes State Park (that we did check out, but didn’t stay. I bet it’s really pretty in the summer), and a space walk I read about in a travel book (but it was super run-down and gross so we didn’t do it).   Needless to say, we could have done without the stop in Roswell. Tip: They apparently have a really cool world-famous contemporary art museum that people recommended after the fact.

2. Now, time for the exciting stuff! Next stop: Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We spent three days exploring the caves and could have spent more! It was amazing, mind-blowing and the pictures can’t even do it justice. We can’t wait to come back and do more ranger led tours (we really want to do one when you free climb in the cave and have to crawl) and see the bats. Tip: Definitely do a range led tour!

3. City of Carlsbad – There is a lot to do here, and I want to come back, but we did do Christmas on the Pecos, a beautiful christmas light tour via BOAT! Houses that line the river decorate their back yards for people to see. It was such a unique way to see Christmas Lights and well worth the $30 ($15 each). Tip: They provide blankets!

4. We attempted to see Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We wanted to camp (for real) and hike the tallest point in Texas, but as you can see from the picture, that would have been miserable.

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5. Onward to Las Cruces, our favorite city of the trip! Delicious food, good beer and really nice people (seriously, everyone was really nice in New Mexico).

6. If you head northwest from Las Cruces and up the road a little, you’ll find a road less traveled (this a BEAUTIFUL drive) to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and some hot springs. We camped (for real), got a personal tour of the cliff dwellings (it was a really slow day) and soaked in the natural hot springs that came with our camp ground.

7. Back toward Las Cruces, we briefly stopped at City of Rocks, caught a quick glance and left. It was cool looking, just not much to do except look at the rocks.

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8. We spent another night in Las Cruces the started to make our way back north via a bunch of stops. The first of which was White Sands National Monument, my second favorite stop on our trip.

9. Our next night was in Alamogordo. If that name sounds familiar to you but you can’t remember your history, this is close to where they tested the first nuclear bomb. While you can’t go to the actual site (only once a year), we did go to the space museum, ate awesome frozen custard and saw the movie “Arrival” (mind-blowing) to kill time.

10. The drive up to Albuquerque involved a lot of stops. The Smokey the Bear Museum, Fort Stanton, Three Rivers Petroglyphs National Monument, Valley of Fire, the Salinas Pueblos Missions National Monument and a spectacular sunset.

11. Petroglyph National Monument is a National Monument nestled right in the city. Literally, they had to act fast in the 80’s so people wouldn’t start building where the petroglyphs are.

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12. Our last night was in Sante Fe when we found delicious food and Bandolier National Monument.

13. Finally (yet too soon) we were homeward bound:, but not with some stops at more National Monuments, Fort Union National Monument and Capulin Volcano National Monument.

Fort Union

Fort Union


Things I want to check out in the future:

-Tent Rocks (near Bandolier), the whole NorthWestern corner, Montezuma Hot Springs, Cloudcroft the city, the Cat Walk Trail, Sandia Mountain Wilderness and climb in The Oregon Mountains near Las Cruces.

New Mexico has A LOT to do! I highly recommend a road trip if you haven’t done one there yet!

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Planning it all out. My planning usually involves getting a general idea from websites and travel books. Check out the two I used:

New Mexico Off the Beaten Path®: A Guide To Unique Places (Off the Beaten Path Series)


What we spent:
-Lodging: $12 total (Gila hot springs resort and including soaking in the springs)
-Food (groceries): $80.50
-Gas: $189.22
-Attractions/Tours: $114 (this does not include admission to the national parks and monuments since we have an annual pass)

TOTAL: $395.77 (That’s all you need for the Most Epic New Mexico Road Trip EVA!)

Optional Stuff (This is all stuff you can do without if you’re going even cheaper than we did):
-Souvenirs/Christmas Gifts: $100 (most of that was gifts. My souvenirs are usually those squished penny machines)
-Restaurants/Breweries: $124 (roughly)


Disclaimer: We love to travel,  experience new things and places and enjoy the outdoors through a variety of activities. I really have a strong desire to check out every inch of this planet. Unfortunately, travel can be expensive. I am a big proponent for doing what you love and if one of those loves is travel and exploring, then you have to make it happen. I don’t have much in terms of money and finances, but I have never let that stop me from doing what I enjoy. I choose to spend what little money I do have on things I enjoy and eliminate unnecessary expenses. I’m not always the best at this, but I’m trying. I hope that through my posts now and in the future, I can give you tips and ideas to make travel happen for you, if that is your thing.

Life is not meant to be just working and sleeping. We’re not meant to just pay bills and die. Find your passion and figure out a way to live it.

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Happy Birthday, National Parks!

Hiking to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo Credit: my friend Katja

Hiking to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo Credit: my friend Katja

(If you’ve been following me over the last few weeks, I have been doing a series of National Park Posts. It’s all culminating to this one post, celebrating the Centennial of the National Park System and showing my National Park Pride! Official turning 100 this Thursday, August 25th, I wanted to write about them to show different ways you can enjoy the parks.

Through my posts, I took you Hiking in Rocky Mountain and Arches, Climbing in Joshua Tree, Wandering in Death Valley and Exploring in Mt. Rainier.

I absolutely love and respect the National Park Service and when Cotopaxi reached out to me to help show my National Park Pride, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to write about them. I want to encourage you to find your closest National Park and explore, learn and discover what nature has to offer.)

Christine Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park

Christine Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park

When I was younger, I used to take yearly road trips with Mom or Dad. Many of these road trips were around Colorado and some were out of the state, but a lot of them ventured into National Parks.

Picture from my scrapbook...Yellowstone National Park with my Mom.

Picture from my scrapbook…Yellowstone National Park with my Mom.

As I’ve gotten older, my love for the outdoors and exploring has grown exponentially but it has only been in the last couple of years that I have had a lot of opportunities to get out and travel more; many times into National Parks. I’m super grateful that I had met my boyfriend, Ben, who shares an equal love for adventure and travel.

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Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

This year alone, Ben and I have ventured into five national parks! We’re also in the process of planning out a New Mexico/Texas road trip for the end of the year that will check off another two National Parks (Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe National Park) and several other National Preserves and Monuments (in addition to going through Roswell, NM…. yes….aliens!).

There’s a TON of National Parks all across the country, and I bet there is one close enough for everyone to get to.

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There are a million ways for you to get out and enjoy a national park…. Climbing, hiking, driving, camping, running, star-gazing, canyoning…… the list could go on and on!

2013, Acadia National Park! Explore by myself before my best friend's wedding.

2013, Acadia National Park! Explore by myself before my best friend’s wedding.

I know what some of your are thinking….”All that travel is expensive! Plus they raised their prices for National Parks! BLAH!”

Exploring in Arches National Park

Exploring in Arches National Park

Well, thankfully, the money does go to a good cause (ya know, like preserving the place) but there are many ways to travel cost-efficiently. My boyfriend and I bought a season pass and it has saved us literally hundreds of dollars. In addition, we are very cheap travelers: we don’t eat out much, camp instead of stay in hotels (yes, even in the winter), and don’t splurge on souvenirs (I collect those squished pennies you get from the crank machines. 51 cent souvenirs!).

Now, hopefully I have sparked a little inspiration for you to start planing your National Park trip and don’t forget to wish them Happy 100th Birthday!

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Links:

National Park Centennial Information

FindYourPark.com

Cotopaxi – an outdoor gear company that cares. Check out their travel backpacks to support their fight against global poverty

I know you can get in FREE to Colorado’s National Parks Aug 25th-28th…I would assume that’s the case across the nation! 

Rocky Mountain National Park...check out that air I got! I'm on the left! Photo credit to Katja again!

Rocky Mountain National Park…check out that air I got! I’m on the left! Photo credit to Katja again!

Exploring Mt. Rainier National Park

20160426_160305(Did you know it’s the Centennial Celebration of the National Parks? It is! The National Parks Service is officially celebrating their 100th birthday on August 25th. I absolutely love and respect the National Park Service and plan on doing a whole bunch of National Park posts this month. Check out my last posts about Rocky MountainArches, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley. Next up is this one, Mt. Rainier National Park….)

Back in April, Ben, myself and a friend of ours, took a journey to Washington. It was a trip to combine many different things: a half marathon for me, my Grandpa’s Memorial service, family time, vacation and some Mt. Rainier fun.

Photo Credit: My aunt Bambi that lives out in Washington.

Photo Credit: My Aunt Bambi that lives out in Washington.

Ben and his friend Matt had plans to climb Mt. Rainier. I had no desire (yet) to do this climb, let alone the route they chose, but went with them to the National Park. I was their communication to family and friends via the internet while they climbed. While their climb is their story to tell, this left me with a lot of free time to explore Mt. Rainier National Park, or at least the parts of it that were open in late April.

Ben and Matt started toward the summit from the Paradise parking lot. This is on the South side of the big mountain. During the winter months, a majority of the roads and entrances to Mt. Rainier are closed due to snow. Winter in this area can extend into June, we were told. We were visiting right as lot of the snow was melting, but that still only left one entrance open to get to paradise, through the town of Ashford.

Ben and Matt starting their climb.

Ben and Matt starting their climb.

After waving good-bye as they started their journey, I doddled, trying to figure out what to do and see. I don’t mind doing stuff by myself, but having company on adventures is always more fun, in my opinion. Not letting being alone stop me, I studied the map for some trails I could explore. Not a lot was open but I had driven past a couple of signs for waterfalls, and thought, “I should start there!”

Leaving Paradise, as I drove down the road, I first came across Narada Falls. At first, when you look over the edge of the parking lot you can see the fast-moving river and the side of a massively wide waterfall. There’s a trail you can take to the view-point down below. I started and was thwarted by a massive wall of snow, waist-high that came right up to the guard rail. I was super bummed as another lone-hiker came. I watched him hop right up on top of the snow and defeat this obstacle (why didn’t I think of that). So, I followed!

The trail-blocked with snow

The trail-blocked with snow

 

After getting over the snow, I realized that was the only part of the trail that was difficult. The rest was snowed on and a little slippery, but was manageable. The other traveler was in town on business and decided to journey into the park for a quick trip. We helped each other take pictures, then went about our ways.

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Next up was Christine Falls. Just a quick drive further down the road and I was there. I hopped out of the car and took in the beautiful view. There was a trail that takes you up about the falls, but I was going to save that for the next day.

When traveling by yourself, you take a lot of selfies!

When traveling by yourself, you take a lot of selfies!

After getting some rest, trying local restaurants (dinner the night before and breakfast), then talking to the rangers, day two brought some more exploring.

I drove back into the park (stopping at every view-point along the way) and did the short, flat historical hike called the “Trail of Shadows”. I learned all about the town of Longmire (a health destination in the late 1800’s for people to cure all that ails them by soaking in the once hot springs and using medicine from the native plants nearby).

View from the trail, through the trees you can see Mt. Rainier.

View from the trail, through the trees you can see Mt. Rainier.

Then I drove my way up the road again to hike the trail behind Christine Falls with the destination Comet Falls in mind. The ranger did warn me that he didn’t think the trail was passable, but I decided to try it anyway, because I’m like that.

I made it about 1.5, maybe 2 miles at the most, before the trail was blocked by a steep snow slid (see picture). With better shoes and an ice ax or walking pole, I probably would have attempted it. But looking at the bottom of the slope and my trails shoes, I opted to skip it; envisioning myself sledding on my butt to the icy river some 100 ft down. No thank you!

What I would have had to hike over to get to Comet Falls.

What I would have had to hike over to get to Comet Falls. Would you do it?

The rest of my day was spent at Paradise, staring at the slope, looking for my boyfriend to return, terrified, not knowing they were staying one more night on the mountain due to weather. That’s a whole different story filled with worry, a lot of tears and looking for a hotel at 11pm.

Top of Christine Falls

Top of Christine Falls

Getting there:

  • Looks like the only way to enter during winter is from the south/west side of the park where we did, through Asford; the snow leaving all other road impassable.
  • There are THREE total entrances during the summer. We only got to see this part of the park.
  • Mt. Rainier Website

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Tips:

  • Best time to visit: Summer – Temperatures are great, roads are open and trails are passable. (Unless you’re a mountaineer, then consult mountaineering books to find out when the best time is to visit.)
  • Skiers and Snowboards: this is a magical place! You can hike up and ski down; I wish I had brought my board!

We can’t wait to go back!

Oh, by the way; the boys made it to the summit, safe and sound (and back down again)!

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