The storm has passed, leaving a beautiful day before us.

I’ve been taking my own sweet time to leisurely tell you about our backpacking trip, but here it is: the last installment.

Last we left our three intrepid, tired hikers, they were getting reacquainted with their sleeping bags at the end of the second day of hiking. The storm of rain, hail, and wind had already come through around 5pm that day, leaving behind a calm and the gift of a sunset with all the breathtaking hues of orange, gold, and peach one could want. Sadly that calm was not to last, as the travelers (current destination: Sleep) would soon discover. The dark and the night hours brought another storm, complete with plenty of pounding hail and torrents of rain to make a good deal of noise on the tarps, accompanied by a wild wind that howled and ruthlessly attacked the tarps as if they were sails, lifting them one minute so they flapped like a bird caught by the feet and then letting them fall the next, over and over again.

The three dozers that had just begun to say “hullo” to their neverlands soon blinked open their eyes to the complete dark and lay awake for a long time, listening to the sounds the weather played through their hung gear, listening to the sounds of thunder that danced near and far, inevitably bringing to mind the image of angry gods playing in the roiling storm clouds above. All sounds that kept sleep at bay for a while, instead bringing in worries about gear getting wet and would the tarps hold? and was Caleb on the ground still dry, poor boy? and thoughts of how a mountain storm like this, so far from any shelter or hospital or warm fire to run too, brought such a mixture of fear, worry, and yet exultation in the sense of smallness.

The wind and hail and thunder and rain continued on, but we all found our way back to our neverlands and slept through to morning, when we woke to find the storm had cleared and left blue sky (not that we trusted that anymore!). Since we had cooked our oatmeal the night before – when the stove had already been going for dinner – we simply had to eat, then wash our dishes & brush our teeth by a little stream that ran from Sunset Lake.

The trail wandered through the rest of the Alaska Basin – worn into the dirt, it made the fading wildflowers that grew on both sides seem as tall as our shoulders. The trail began to climb steadily uphill and Caleb drew further ahead until he was a silhouette on the top of the hill, pausing to look down on us for a moment before turning and disappearing down the other side.

Kevin and I walked together out of the Alaska Basin and onto increasingly rocky and bare hills, with views of the Shelf behind us and before us, the very tops of the Cathedral Group showing over our coming ascent.
The wind increased as we climbed higher, became two lone figures in the middle of the mountain wilderness. We reached Hurricane Pass, which is a thin ridge between valleys. There the wind reached its pinnacle, chilling our skin and playing with anything attached to the backs of our packs.

We stayed there for a while, enjoying the view and experiencing again the frustration of being unable to capture with our cameras the beauty of the sun against the mountains, the immenseness.
Then we began the descent downwards, into Cascade Canyon.

Fullscreen capture 10302013 35905 PM.bmp

Maybe this will give you a better idea of our trip…

Throughout the trip I kept telling the boys – oh just wait, next it’s the Shelf! I love that part! or – next we’re hiking into the Alaska Basin, it’s so beautiful! But honestly, now that I’ve done this hike again, I would have to say that my favorite part is the view from Hurricane Pass and then the descent through the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. The South Fork is… ethereal. Straight out of a book. From small, broken lakes set in the greenery that reflect the dark hues of the sky, to the slender brooks that are truly silver, cascading, musical strands through the landscape, to marmots that dart from the shadow of one rock to another, to the stately mountains that overlook it all.

All we were missing as we hiked through the South Fork was 1) for the wildflowers to be in bloom and 2) some fluffy sheep grazing in that valley! 😉

We met up with Caleb and all of us agreed to hike further into the camping zone before stopping for the night, so as to make tomorrow’s hike shorter. We also decided that we would hike back down Cascade Canyon, not down Paintbrush Canyon as had been our original intention. This would save us several miles and several thousand feet of climbing.

It began to sprinkle as we walked and we paused to put on our rain gear. The boys looked so macho… (see picture below)

Since we were all three hiking together, Caleb taught us some of the marching chants he learned in the army (“shoot ’em, shoot ’em, til they’re dead!”… how quaint), and some of the songs he learned while working at camp this summer (“Bill Grogan’s goat – not a chicken but a goat…”). We sang the latter song until we were thoroughly sick of it, but it passed the time nicely and was a good change from Caleb listening to his audio books and Kevin & I hiking mainly silently (so I could focus on breathing. Like Gimli).

We kept going for about another hour before swerving off the trail into a campsite, where we ate lunch and set up our hammocks/tent. By then it was still only about 2pm-3pm so we pulled out a deck of cards and played what games we could remember, using our bear canisters as seats and semi-flat rocks for a table.

Once we had exhausted our memory of card games, we explored our campsite a bit and collected dry wood for the evening. It began to sprinkle again so we all retreated to our beds, where we spent several hours reading and dozing.

When dinnertime came we tumbled from our beds to congregate beneath Kevin’s tarp, where we began the process of coaxing our stove to the point of being able to boil water. The fire had just reached that point and we had just placed the pot on to boil our tortellini when the rain began in earnest. Very much in earnest. We pulled our backpacks around to shelter the stove from the wind and tried to scoot further under the tiny tarp to keep ourselves from getting wet, but it barely five minutes later a river of water was flowing through where we squatted, extinguishing the little fire in our stove and soaking everything. And from the sound of the sky, this storm was not going to relent anytime soon.

We abandoned our efforts and fled to our beds, after making sure that everything we owned had the best chance of staying dry. Just like last night, the rain, thunder, and wind was unrelenting, but unlike last night, none of us were completely covered by our tarps. We had hung separately instead of combining our tarps and hanging together, our too-short tarps were causing water to drip on one side or another (or all sides…) of our contraptions.

Hmmm… “If we do not hang together, we shall assuredly… all get wet?” 🙂

I wrapped my raincoat around one end of my hammock, so while cold water was dripping on my hammock and making its way to my sleeping bag, my clothes, my soul… it was doing so very slowly and I thought I would be able to sleep through the night, though restlessly and uncomfortably.

About 8 o’clock Caleb’s voice came drifting out of his tent, asking how we were faring. Kevin responded “all right,” and I responded that I was getting a little damp but would be okay. Upon hearing my answer, the boys confessed that they were not all right, but completely soaked (Kevin) and sleeping in a puddle (Caleb). Even though the sun had just gone down and the rain was showing no sign of relenting, we came to a group decision to pack up and hike the remaining 6-8 miles out.

So, in the rain, we emerged from our beds (it’s easier to leave when it’s damp and cold… sorta) and stuffed everything haphazardly into our packs. I didn’t bother to put on my rain jacket since it was already thoroughly wet. We all put on our headlamps (remember I mentioned earlier how Caleb used the batteries for his mp3, and we were all fortunate our headlamps worked the whole way down? …yep) and set off.

The trail was mostly swamped – worn into the ground by many hikers, it made a welcome channel for the rain. It made our nocturnal walk all the more interesting as we had to frequently skirt large puddles and walk on the very edge of the trail – if the side foliage permitted. And while I had my sturdy, gortex-lined hiking boots (thanks, Aunt Sharon!), Kevin’s hiking shoes were not water proof and Caleb’s shoes were torn-up, falling-apart old tennis shoes.

The rain did let up after a while as we marched on, our vision narrowed to roots and tree limbs that flashed by. The mountains were only shadowy hints in the distance. Once we had cell service I called my friend and former roommate, Anna, and told her we’d been rained out.

We were drowned rats scampering off the boat.

We hiked down & down – slowly – to Jenny Lake, around Jenny Lake, and finally ended up at the parking lot, the same trailhead I had started at last year. It was about 11, 11:30pm. Not long after Anna showed up and we ended up spending the night under a roof, fed and clean and warm and dry. All lovely, wonderful things.

And thus ended our backpacking trip in the Tetons.

The boys will agree with me, I know, that the views were magnificent and impossible to comprehend or describe. That the storms made the experience and the story better. And that nothing can beat the coming back, the renewed thankfulness for simple comforts.

Our trip concluded with meeting back up with our friends Olivia & Kelton, spending a night in Idaho Falls & then driving to Portland where we enjoyed the Portland Saturday Market, Voodoo Donuts, and Powell’s before heading home. ^^ All in all a great road trip.