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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

week 38: grand teton, devil's tower, badlands

grand teton national park

bill: just south of yellowstone is its sister park, grand teton national park. the tetons were discovered by french canadian trappers, apparently with a sense of humour since “grand teton national park” translates to “big boobs national park”. the tetons are a small but tall range of mountains composed of extremely prominent granite towers. the peaks are super sharp without any foothills, which makes the view of them rising out of jackson lake all the more impressive. we had considered doing some mountaineering here but multiple factors have conspired against us: first off, it is raining and thunderstorming every day we are here, second - it is freezing cold even at the base of the peaks, which means that bivouacing part way up a peak is going to be wet, cold, and miserable, and third - everything here is huge. essentially every peak here involves at least an 1800m, 30km day of off-trail scrambling, meaning alpine starts and 12+ hour days racing the short fall light window. all in all, probably best left for summertime and better weather.

bill: on our way between yellowstone and grand teton we stayed in some national forest land along a beautiful river down a long gravel road. at some point in the night, we picked up a tag along; a field mouse that has decided to call our van home. he has now been living in the van for a week and has evaded any attempts to capture him, some nights being quiet and respectful, other nights keeping us up all night trying to get into our various foods. we have called him “cheez-it” because that is probably his main source of food at this point, and some nights we even leave water out for him. it does somewhat remind me of how dante wakes up up at night at home.

Amy: After re-evaluating what would be possible with the less-than-ideal weather, we settled on hiking Cascade Canyon, which is supposed to be one of the prettiest moderate day hikes in the park. We also connected part of the Jenny Lake trail, and the Inspiration Point outlook. The trail was about 20km out and back (600m), and took us into the Teton range, with towering granite peaks on either side of us. The fall colours are just starting to turn here, so the mountainsides were looking autumnal in shades of yellow, orange and green. On our way back, we got soaked by a massive rain/hail storm. This was the start of 3 straight days of rain, which waited out in the quaint western hub of Jackson Hole.

bill: as we drove back to jackson hole from the hike, apparently the thunderstorm shook loose a few things in the engine bay; the van started shifting weirdly so we pulled over in a parking lot, finding a massive puddle of transmission fluid and radiator fluid.

i found the source of the radiator leak pretty fast, a cap had come loose - screwed it back in and it was fine. the transmission fluid leak was from a loose rubber line running the transmission up to the hard line to the radiator, which had come loose before (apparently a new hose clamp wasn't a good enough fix), so i jerry-rigged a splint out of zip-ties and an exacto knife handle to hold it in place and spent forever refilling the transmission.

that oughta get us home

because we were stuck on the ground due to the rain, we did some driving around the park in the few moments of sun we got. here is an old mormon settlement.

check out this terlet

jackson town square - these antlers are collected each year from the jackson caribou sanctuary after the rut

after a few days, we got sick of waiting out the rain in jackson so we said goodbye for now to the tetons and started heading east. we will definitely be back at some point, hopefully with better weather, more alpine climbing experience, and longer days to try for some of the very cool alpine routes. but for now we are headed eastwards, back towards ontario.

we hit the highest point in the van ever: 2950m on the way out of wyoming. it is full on winter up here.

wyoming is weird. between the buffalo filled plains, geysers and hotsprings, and massive granite peaks springing out of nowhere, that seems like enough, but as we drove east we came across another surprise: sandstone! there is a ton of weird ass sandstone here, it feels a lot like driving though utah; massive red cliffs, weird hoodoos and towers, mexican hats, etc. it is a flashback to an earlier life of ours, driving forever across the american deserts.


Amy: For Bill’s birthday, we took a rest day in Thermopolis, which sounds imaginary, but it’s exactly as steamy as you’d expect. Here, we visited Hot Springs State Park, and got a day pass at one of the local hot spring resorts. They pump the hot spring water into pools you can actually swim in. Like Yellowstone, the water is too hot when it comes directly out of the ground, so there are no natural soaking pools. The water has to be cooled down before they dump it in pools. We hot tub hopped all morning (there were like 10 pools, all different temperatures), tried the sulpher steam sauna (a miss) and even went down the resort’s water slide (lol, a hit). After a quick shower to get the sulphur stink off our pores, we headed east towards Big Horn Wilderness. On the way, we stopped to see another Buffalo herd (Buffalo Bill’s new favourite animal). We camped in a field of cows, cracked out bottle of California wine, and played funk music all night. Happy birthday billy!

devil's tower

bill: another wyoming geologic oddity: devils tower (or bear's lodge as per the indigenous nomenclature). the tower stands 264m tall, massive hexagonal blocks sticking straight out of the earth in an otherwise fairly blank, low, rolling, and decidedly non-mountainous environment. a former volcano, the tower has been a sacred place for indigenous groups here for thousands of years, with one of the legends being that the creator lifted the tower out of the earth to protect a group of girls from a bear who then clawed at the side of the tower trying to climb it, creating the patterns. the girls were then lifted to the sky to become the pleiades.

the tower is also a rock climbing hot spot, but we will not be climbing; the climbing here is all super hard! the easiest routes up the tower are all offwidth (?!) and are described as “super sandbagged, super polished, ass kicking, body wrecking off width type 2 fun” and need much bigger gear than i own (2x #4, a #5, a #6, and some big bros). there are some hand cracks, but they need 6x #2s and are also super sandbagged 5.9. it is a little disappointing to be in such a cool climbing spot and not be climbing, but way better than being halfway up the tower and remembering how much offwidth sucks and not having the right gear. so we hiked around the tower and watched the climbers.

Amy: Devil's Tower is also surrounded by fields chock full of my favourite animal of the trip: Prairie Dogs! They are a cross between squirrels, gophers and meerkats and live in large underground colonies called "towns". We walked right through a prairie dog town to get up to Devil’s Tower, then hiked the loop to check out the hundreds of climbing routes on all sides. It would be cool to come back one day to stand at the top!

amy in prarie dog town w prairie dog hat

We snagged an awesome campsite at the base of the tower to stargaze and watch the sunrise in the morning. Gorgeous.

badlands national park

bill: just past the south dakota border lies badlands national park, a large expanse of arid grasslands with some very familiar looking formations. the sandstone and dried mud here feels a lot like we are back in the utah desert again, just with buffalo this time.

Amy: One final US National Park was positioned smack dab in the middle of our trajectory east: Badlands. The park contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds. The soft sedimentary rock is crumbly - a lot like dried mud. This area was once a shallow sea (evidenced by various crustacean fossils), then a forest/plains area (there are many sheep, wild pig fossils too). Apparently, the crumbly sediment erodes an inch or two every year. This means park visitors and hikers have a pretty good chance of stumbling on new, undiscovered fossils! I kept my eyes peeled the whole time we were hiking but unfortunately didn’t make any groundbreaking discoveries.

apparently this mouse-sized deer lived here at some point. oh and i think our mouse-sized mouse moved out on his own at devils tower because couldn't figure out how to get into plastic packaging and got hungry.

we did a quick 20km hike through the saddle pass and medicine loop, lots of grasslands, cool rock formations, and the cacti are back! also lots of spiderwebs.

Amy: Sunset here, like in Utah and other deserty areas, was especially exceptional, the pink rock illuminated by the orange hues of the sunset, with thousands of layers of sediment bands stretching uniformly across the horizon.

after driving through all of the beautiful states on the west coast, while driving through south dakota, which is lots of flat, agricultural land and rolling hills i found myself thinking "why would anyone live in this place when the rest of the country is so beautiful", and then shortly after found myself thinking "wow this place looks just like southeastern ontario...". hmm. things are starting to look more familiar now as we cross into minnesota, more lakes, more granite, more boreal forest. a quick pitstop in minneapolis for one last shake shack before we cross the border back to canada!

here is this week's video:




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