Monday, May 30, 2016

Blame it on the Tetons

 Beat and I are often accused of failing to take "real" vacations. Every time we leave home, they say, it seems to be for some kind of difficult endeavor, steeped in suffering. Of course this isn't true, but any such argument requires dredging up philosophical musings about the subjective nature of enjoyment, and reasons why one woman's day at the beach is another woman's slow-roasting torture of sunburn and boredom.

Memorial Day brought an opportunity for a classically enjoyable vacation in the form of a Google employee retreat in Teton Village, Wyoming. There would be relaxing in a spacious suite, big breakfasts, nice dinners, a wine tasting, a rodeo, and access to any number of luxuries that come with a resort destination. Attendees were encouraged to enjoy scenic floats on the Snake River or bus tours to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, but warned that late May is still the pre-season and outdoor opportunities would be limited.

On Wednesday Beat and I drove from Boulder to Jackson, and the scenery and wildlife viewing was great right along the highway (Over the course of the weekend we saw elk, deer, bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, osprey, and a grizzly bear, all from the comfort of the car.) We enjoyed a few nice meals with Beat's colleagues. Somewhere in there I developed a crushing headache, which I can't even blame on the altitude as Teton Village is a thousand feet lower than our home in Boulder, but I'll go ahead and blame the altitude anyway.

I was feeling quite lousy, and sulked through Thursday's long breakfast followed by an afternoon wine tasting, where I drank bottles of water and struggled to hold down a light lunch of barley soup and salad. (If you're wondering how there's a winery in Jackson Hole — because I certainly was — it works because they grow their grapes in Sonoma County, California, and truck them into Wyoming for fermentation. Reportedly the high altitude and cool summers aid in this process.) Anyway, by mid-afternoon I was all relaxed out, so I angled for some fresh air and a short hike before dinner. Nothing too difficult — we could just walk up the ski hill, look out over the valley, and jog down.

 Our friend Liehann, who is racing the Freedom Challenge again in two weeks and has been exclusively bike training for the past six months, made the arguably poor choice to join us. Up we marched in a biting wind and intermittent sleet squalls. I wasn't anticipating an epic and was wearing a T-shirt and hiking pants, with only a 2-ounce Mountain Hardwear shell, a knit hat, and a fleece buff as extra layers. When I started to feel chilled, I put on the hat and buff but opted to leave my arms bare, relishing the sensation as the feeling left my extremities. See, ever since I developed carpal tunnel syndrome in late February, I've lived with a low-level pain in my hand that can partially be described as a mild case of the screaming barfies. Now that three months have passed, I've grown more accustomed to living with this constant tingling, but I do notice when it goes away. It feels wonderful. And the only thing that makes the pain go away is reduced circulation or actual numbness in my hand.

As we continued gaining elevation and the wind grew more fierce, I debated where to draw the line between my enjoyment of pain-free fingers and the increasing discomfort of the cold. It was about then that I took a sip from my Camelbak and drew a mouthful of slush — meaning the ambient temperature was below freezing.

"Windchill has got to be near single digits," I thought, and decided it was time to put on my jacket. The paper-thin material whipped wildly in the wind, and the fingers on my good hand were too stiff to open it up. Basically I'd become too chilled to put on my own coat, which was not a great coat to begin with. It's quite a dumb thing to do, and of course I knew this. At the same time, I knew enough to understand my body was uncomfortable but not dangerously cold, and that warming up would be quick the moment I turned around and sprinted down to sheltered elevations. So I stuffed the jacket in a pants pocket and continued marching up the hill in a T-shirt.

 It was all quite exhilarating, fighting those primal fears that spark at the edges of survivability. I wasn't yet shivering and actually my body was doing a great job of circulating warm blood through my core and legs — only my arms were icy cold. The frigid wind roared and sleet squalls hung like curtains from surrounding clouds, but overhead there was a patch of almost-sunlight, and I relished it all.

At Rendezvous Mountain, Beat and Liehann had ducked behind a closed tram station. Beat helped me put on my jacket, which was definitely better than a T-shirt but not great, and then we all pressed into the brunt of the wind for one more view of the snow-capped skyline beyond the summit. Running downhill, I managed to warm up quickly. After a half mile Beat graciously leant me his mittens to expedite the real screaming barfies feeling in my fingers (which is a lot worse than what I feel all the time. Lesson learned.)

We returned from what turned out to be a 14-mile, 4,200-feet-of-climbing outing just in time for dinner. My headache had finally abated, so I used up all of my bar tickets on glass after glass of Diet Pepsi.

 On Friday we cast a hopeful eye on a canyon loop in Grand Teton National Park, but we weren't well-equipped for spring conditions. (I did have a better jacket, which I carried on every other outing this weekend.) After parking on the wrong side of Jenny Lake, we'd already hiked nearly eight miles by the time we arrived at the mouth of Paintbrush Canyon. Slush line started at 7,500 feet, and by 8,000 feet we were post-holing to our knees. Over scree fields this kind of post-holing can be dangerous, because you don't know where your foot will land. It could be a deep crevice between two rocks, which could easily end in a sprained or broken ankle.

 The weather was volatile as well. It went from raining to sleeting to blue-sky sunshine in the span of about thirty minutes.

 We found a nice basin to have some lunch and called it good.

 Heading back down to String Lake, where we hitched a ride with Liehann and Trang. We could have trekked all the way back around Jenny Lake, but we were committed to our lazy resort weekend. This hike ended at 13.2 miles. Later that evening went out on the town with a large group of Googlers. There may or may not have been overconsumption of a massive funnel cake and the purchase of a fur-lined jock strap. (Beat was not the one who made this purchase, and wanted me to clarify this, although he did go on about how well a fur jock strap would work in Alaska.)

 Saturday morning, we weren't willing to brave the crowds in the national park, so we traveled to the other side of the valley to scope out a route to Jackson Peak. The best views came on the road walk to the trailhead, where clear skies revealed the entire Tetons skyline.

 Snowline consumed the trail at 8,500 feet and then it was a slog. We should have brought snowshoes to Wyoming. Wide backcountry skis would have been the way to go of course, but even snowshoes would have greatly improved our chances of getting to the places we wanted to see.

 Beat inadvertently volunteered to be the trail-breaker, and carefully tested every step. At this point were were all frequently collapsing into hip-deep crevasses.

We decided to turn around when we found ourselves on rotten snow atop table-sized boulders, where falling through might end in a head injury. This was also a nice lunch stop — Goodwin Lake.

 Beat's colleague Ben in one of the many leg-swallowing holes.

 Ben penguin-ing downhill. This helps solve the postholing issue, but it also results in a face full of snow.

All in all, it was a pleasant holiday weekend with lots of relaxation and hardly any exercise. I don't know why people assume we don't like to have fun.


  1. While I don't trudge to Nome, I do come back from my "vacations" somewhat exhausted. I always claim to want a lazy trip but have yet to book one.

  2. Beach vacations sound boring to me too.

  3. but, its may.. time for summer fun! Bike, beach, boom-a-rangs and boats is on my agenda for the summer :)

  4. Awesome read Jill. How could you possibly relax any other way.

  5. It's not fun if there aren't war stories to tell.

  6. Awesome read Jill. This look so beautiful. I love moutain :)

  7. We just spent the past week either biking, hiking or kayaking 4-8 hours each day and felt it was a very relaxing vacation! We would be bored after about 2 hours laying in the sun on the beach.


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