Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Tale of Danger and Supernatural Endurance

View of the Tetons.

E and I take in the view at the Hidden Lake trail head in Yellowstone.

The Lower Falls at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Bison and fly fishermen mingle in Yellowstone.

I nearly died in the Tetons, but we'll get to that later.

I can't remember how much I've already shared with my blog readers who haven't sold out their souls to Facebook, and I'm too lazy to check, so here's the short version:

It rained almost every day we were in Wyoming. It was ridiculous. This is a semi-arid environment and we spent the week dampened by regular showers. Plus, it was cold. It supposedly dropped into barely sub-freezing temperatures one night, although cold isn't really an annoyance to me. Perhaps I should say that it wouldn't have been a problem if K hadn't forgotten to pack part of the clothes I had chosen for the trip. Because we weren't packing our normal luggage, K put herself in charge of packing our bags. She's quite possibly a genius at getting the most stuff into the smallest amount of space, so I just made a pile of what I needed to take and let her put it into the bags. The only problem is that the fleece jackets and thermal base layer pants I laid out didn't make it into any of our bags. That was fine during the day when my soft shell jacket and jeans kept me plenty warm in the 50-60 degree weather, but at night I got pretty chilly. We eventually caved and bought Yellowstone hoodies to wear to bed at night. After that point, we slept much better.

The trip was full of great scenery, we had fun with Mickey and Courtney, although I always felt a little guilty making them put up with a two-year-old, and we saw tons of animals I'd not seen in the wild before. I even got to teach E to make snowballs because of all the remaining snow drifts.

The weather eventually did clear up, however. Our last two days in the Tetons were actually quite nice. Last Monday, I took a hike into Death Canyon with Mickey. Despite the name, Death Canyon is quite pleasant in appearance, although there is that one part of the trail where an avalanche uprooted large trees and scattered them across our path. Avalanches smell like Christmas. After a couple of miles of navigating switchbacks to get up about a 1,000 feet in elevation to actually get into the canyon, the hike was pretty easy. It's nearly level, the trail is pretty clear and the view was incredible. Going in I had no problems. The switchbacks made the climb into the canyon easier than most of the trails I've hiked in the East Coast mountains. In the Appalachians, trail makers tend to just plow their way straight up the hills. The mountains in the east are pretty gentle, but that bullheaded attitude can make for some strenuous hikes. In the Rockies, they seem to rely a lot more on switchbacks, probably because they have to. Rock climbers could handle the incline of the younger Rockies without switchbacks, but hikers aren't mountain climbers.

We crossed snow slopes pretty early on in the hike and it wasn't until we'd gotten back into the canyon that I started having problems with snow. Mickey is nearly 100 pounds lighter than I am and bounds gracefully like a gazelle over the snow, that is if gazelles weren't a warm-climate animal. I learned pretty early on to follow his footprints to avoid the hollow spots in the drifts near rocks and logs, but even then, I'd frequently fall through to my knee or hips into the drifts. I even warped the lower section of one of my trekking poles in one fall, but was able to bend it back into shape. Speaking of the trekking poles, they're perhaps the best buy I've made for hiking gear. I got a good deal on them, but usually I finish a 10-to-14-mile hike over two days and come out with legs that set into rigid posts every time I sit still for a few minutes. With my poles, I hiked almost 14 miles in one day, and I didn't experience any muscle soreness or knee pain, something that plagued me on my last mountain hike.

On the hike back out of the canyon, things turned for the worse. I hadn't felt hungry when we stopped to turn around, so I didn't refuel while Mickey snacked. I was getting a little too hungry by the time we stopped again for a snack break. I had started to feel a little nauseous, but I assumed it was just from letting myself get too hungry. I ate a good snack, drank a little water and he headed on. My nausea dissipated and I didn't feel hungry anymore and I was good for a while until we crossed those snow slopes again. The funny thing is that I don't remember the first crossing of these to be all that difficult. I don't remember any issues with crossing the snow until we'd gotten into the trees the first time. Unfortunately, this time I had some serious problems. See, the slope was a steady downhill to the edge of the cliff where it met a drop of a few stories. Maybe I just realized this on the way back and the thought made me a little less nimble. I made it about 3/4 of the way across before I managed to slip and fall.

The snow slope that nearly took my life.

This is when that thought about the drop entered into my head again. Time seemed to slow as I felt my hip hit the packed snow and begin to slide. I rolled onto my stomach as I continued to slide and frantically grasped at the snow to slow my descent, but the snow always seemed to crumble in my fingers. The vision of my body crashing through the two-foot-high firs at the base of the snow slope and out into the empty space beyond replayed in a loop in my inner vision. Finally, I managed to halt my slide, my heart pounding and my hands shaking with nerves. I turned to the side to see Mickey snapping photos of me lying in the snow. What an ass.

Then I looked at the track my body left in the snow as it slid. Turns out the whole trip was two, maybe three, feet downhill. I was still a good 15 feet from the edge and it wasn't even really that steep. Mickey didn't seem to be the slightest bit concerned, so I tried to act like it was nothing and then pulled myself to my feet to continue the hike back to Mickey's car.

I give you permission to laugh.

The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful, although I kept getting more and more tired and a little sick feeling. I did manage to finish the hike, my longest single-day hike ever, including the short bushwhack to avoid the moose Mickey almost pissed off. It wasn't until we finally made it back to the truck and I'd buckled myself in for the trip back to his cabin that the nausea finally caught up with me. I felt the sudden wave that broke my self-control coming and fumbled with the seat belt buckle as I twisted out the door to avoid puking in the vehicle. I didn't have much in my stomach so it was an uneventful puke, but I have to tell you that puking while twisting to the side really hurts. I don't advise it. Hips should always be in line with your shoulders while vomiting.

I was a little surprised when I had another bout with the toilet about an hour later before finally perking up. It had to be altitude sickness. I can't explain it any other way. I never felt physically tired at any point in the hike and I never had any muscle soreness afterward.

At least I didn't die.


sid said...

thanks for the puking advice. can't stop looking at the picture of snow ... gorgeous but i don't think my body would be able to handle the cold.

Jacob said...

It wasn't actually cold. There's just such a deep bed of snow built up in the winter that it takes that long to melt in the shade at that elevation. I hiked most of the way in just a thin runner's long-sleeve shirt. The worst of the cool at the highest elevations required me to wear my soft shell. Basically a fancy windbreaker.

Courtney said...

Yeah, I'm sure it was altitude sickness. If it was something you ate, you'd have puked more. I'm just glad you managed to vomit out the door. (And yeah, twisting while vomiting does sound painful.)

Courtney said...

Also: Baby bison!

Cj said...

I would like to see Mickey's pictures.

A Free Man said...

Aren't friends great? There to capture your most embarassing moments for all eternity. Awesome.

Also, that photo of you and your boy is a great one.

Jacob said...

Cj: I'd like to see his photos too. He's the only person involved in our trip out there who actually has a regular job this summer, so I'm willing to be patient.

A Free Man: I love that photo too. We're getting prints of that one and a couple of others to replace the freaky infant photos my wife has decorating our living room. Babies are creepy.