I woke early this morning excited to spend the day hiking in the Grand Tetons.  My first order of business was the weather forecast.  As expected had changed slightly overnight.  They were still calling for rain today but they had pushed the “bad stuff” back about 24 hours.  But they were still calling for a significant temperature drop and snow for the next few days.  So I decided to do a day hike today (vs multi-day back country as I had planned) and see what the forecast looks like later in the day.  With that in mind I had been told by a few people that the hike to Surprise Lake (AllTrailsImages) and Amphitheater Lake (AllTrails, Images) was a must do.  So I set my sites on that and drove to the trailhead.


When I reached the trailhead there were quite a few cars and people (unlike the last hike I did in Yellowstone).  I packed up quickly and hit the trail.  You basically start climbing right out of the gate but, as I learned later, the “real” climbing doesn’t begin for at least an hour.  I hiked fast and passed several people in the first mile or so.  Two young couples had started about 10-15 minutes before me and I had my sight set on catching them so I hiked on. About 1.5 miles into the hike I topped a little ridge and came up on a doe standing in the trail grazing. I stopped, she looked up and we just kind of looked at each other for a good 30 seconds.  Once she realized I was not a threat she leisurely turned and wandered into the woods.  When I walked up she was standing about 5′ from the trail and just turned and looked at me one last time. I love these encounters!

Once I passed it was back to business.  I hiked for another 10 minutes or so and didn’t see anyone ahead or behind…or so I thought.  A couple of minutes later I turned up a switchback and saw a man coming up on me quickly!  This guy was hiking like a machine.  Now, I do not claim to be the best, fastest or strongest hiker on the trail but I do have a pretty fast pace and I can say that it is rare that I’m passed on a climb.  It does happen, but it’s rare. But this guy was coming up on me like train.  When he got closer I stepped aside to let him pass and decided I would fall in behind his “draft” (ha ha) and see if, and how far, I could use him to pace myself.

We actually ended up hiking together for the next hour or so and we were covering some distance. During this time we had a great conversation.  His name was Gerald, he is from Germany (I thought it was funny that I had just hiked with a Swiss couple the day before) and he was headed to the lakes as well.  He had accepted a position with his company in Norfolk, VA and he has been there for a few years.  He said he loves to hike and grew up hiking with his family in Germany.  I also learned that he is 4 years older than me, which of course impressed me…and kind of depressed me at the same time (ha ha), is not married and has 3 sisters still in Germany (I think that’s correct). As for hiking this guy was a machine!  After about an hour I stopped to take some pictures and I did not want to hold him up so I told him I would catch him at the top….maybe. 😉

Note: These pictures were taken at the end of the hike.

It turns out that it was a good thing I let him go on because I spent some time over the next mile taking quite a few pictures as the scenery was incredible! Here are a few.  (you can view all pics from Day 19 by clicking the link at the bottom).

As I hiked up through the canyon I could see a place where I expected the lakes to be (see pics above).  However, when I got there, there was only a creek and no lakes.  I was a bit surprised and wondered if something was wrong but I just assumed they were further up…and man-oh-man was “up” “UP”.  At this point all you could see were tight switchbacks up a very steep and long climb.  I could barely see Gerald at the top with a few others and I could see a large group coming down from the top.  I hiked for about 5-10 minutes when I met the large group coming down. Just to be sure I asked the first guy I met if the lakes were at the “top” (I knew what I could see was a false summit). He said, “Surprise lake” to which I said yes.  Then he said, “Dude, you overshot that by 2.5 miles and 2000′ feet”.  I was like….WHAT???  HOW???  WHERE???  UGH!!!!!  He said, “Yeah, you have to go back under treeline and take a trail off the main trail”.  While I had been having a sense something was wrong for at least the past mile I couldn’t understand how Gerald and I both missed the other trail and sign.  I told them, “Well, there’s another guy up there that’s on the wrong trail too”.  So the guy said, “You should hike on up to the saddle, you can see Idaho from there”. Now, a couple of things….the “saddle” is basically a “pass”, the lowest point along a ridge between two peaks. Second, I was thinking, “dude, you can stand on a bucket in Jackson and see Idaho”.  I thanked them and carried on for a few minutes.

At this point, the blue skies with puffy white clouds from this morning had been replaced with no sky and dark clouds. I really wanted to see the lakes!  I knew from having studied the map earlier that I would have a pretty good climb up to the lakes once I found the right trail….2000′ below!  And as for “seeing Idaho”, while that may have been the case early in the morning, I knew it would not be good now as it was cloudy and this area had been getting a lot of smoke in the afternoons. So I decided to turn back so I could (hopefully) make the lakes before the rain (or snow) started.  Now, I think I may have mentioned this before but I HATE to turn back on a hike.  I’ve only done it once in a really bad lightning storm.  When I set a destination I lock in and do everything I can to make it. So it bothered me to turn back.  But then I had a thought….this was never my intended destination! (ha ha).  My intention was to make the lakes and I was fully planning to do that.  So having resolved my turn-back “dilemma” 🙂 I headed back down. And this time I was VERY cautious to see every sign, trail, path, marker, broken twig, smoke signal, etc. 🙂

I found out later that the place I (we) had hiked was called Garnet Canyon (AllTrailsImages). While I wasn’t happy about the mistake while it was happening in retrospect I was (kind of) happy it happened as Garnet Canyon is unbelievably beautiful (see images link above).

Click here to see 360 views of the Garnet Canyon area

It took about 30-45 minutes to get back to the side trail that leads to the lakes but this time I found it.  I still have no idea how both Gerald and I missed it but we did.  I guess we were just head-down hiking and talking and blew right by it.  Bottom line is I was now at almost 10 miles and 3500′ feet climbed and I was beginning another 2.5 miles and 2000′ to the lakes.  So off I went.

While the trail and climb to the lakes was not as technical or steep as the one I just did to Garnet Canyon it was still 2000′ feet in 2.5 miles.  I made it to the first lake (Surprise Lake) and decided to climb on the the second lake (Amphitheater Lake) and then come back to this one.

When I reached Amphitheater Lake (AllTrails, Images) I was in awe!  It was just incredible.  I walked from one side to the other and found a large boulder to sit on for a while and just take it all in.  Wow!

Click here to see 360 view of the Amphitheater Lake

There were two people sitting beside the lake down below.  After a few minutes they got up and continued to hike up beyond the lake.  I sat there for another 10 minutes or so and decided I would hike further up as well…even though I had promised my body no more climbing once I made the upper lake. 🙂

It was a short but very steep climb up the “bowl” surrounding the lake.  I made it to cliff that overlooked part of the Garnet Canyon trail and met the people I had seen earlier there.  Overlooking the Garnet Canyon trail it was a sheer drop of at least 300 – 500′ and the wind was blowing so hard I had to tighten the string on my hat.  While I was pretty high above the lake at this point I saw a path that continued up to the top of the bowl….so once again I had lied to my body because up I went.

When I reached the top of the bowl (as far as you could go without serious rock climbing) I had hoped I would be able to see into the Garnet Canyon meadows area but unfortunately all I could see was more of the trail up to Garnet Canyon.  However, looking the other direction I had an amazing view of almost the entire Jackson Hole Valley!  I was like, “Jackpot”!  I took some pictures and hiked over to a snow bank and (of course) wrote in it. 🙂  After that, I relaxed for a few minutes and enjoyed the view.  While I was sitting there I saw Gerald way down by the lake. I only knew it was him because he had a bright orange pack.  I wasn’t surprised that he had made the lakes as well.  I didn’t stay long at the top as those black clouds I mentioned earlier were gaining strength.  So after a few minutes I headed down.

After leaving Amphitheater Lake I hiked back down to Surprise Lake and took a few pictures.  While I was there I saw a couple sitting on a rock so I struck up a conversation.  They were from France (my 3rd European meeting in 3 days). I thought they looked great sitting on that rock, and I loved the colors in her jacket, so I asked if they’d mind if I take their picture. They said sure and he put his arm around her.  I liked it.

I said goodbye to the couple and thanked them for being in my blog 🙂 and headed out.  On my way back to the main trial I began to hear some thunder in the distance.  When I got to a clearing I could see out to the valley and saw it was raining like crazy in the distance…..

I made it back to the main trail and continued down and in about 10 minutes or so I ran into Gerald talking to a couple from Switzerland (not the couple from yesterday).  He finished his conversation and jumped in with me for the final decent.  Again, we had a good conversation and it took my mind off of the approaching storm.

Fortunately we made it back to the trailhead just before it started to rain (great timing).  It had been an almost 16 mile and 5500′ climbing day for me (more like 20 and 7000′ for Gerald).  We took a couple of pictures (above) and exchanged contact information.  Since we both live on the east coast we’re going to try and get together for some east cost hiking.  VA is a great state for the AT (Appalachian Trail).  We said our goodbyes and headed out. Gerald actually had a couple of more miles to his campsite.  I offered him a ride but he said he wanted to finish the hike on foot.  From the little I knew of him I was not at all surprised.  🙂

Later that evening I was sitting at a Wendy’s in Jackson blogging (wifi) when a man sat down at the next table.  We struck up a conversation with the usual where are you from, what do you do, what brought you here, etc.  The response I got from him was very interesting.

His name was Philip and he was retired from the Airforce.  He lived in Oregon (or Washington state) and he was in Jackson to interview some people for a book he was writing about a man from the Jackson area.  The man worked at Tetons NP and, from what Philip told me, lived quite a life.  He was an outdoor guy who loved to hike and climb. I’m not sure what his actual job was at the park but Philip said he had gone on many high mountain rescue missions in the Tetons and had saved many lives.  Unfortunately the man died at 26 (in the 50’s or 60’s) while climbing Mt. Everest.  Philip had done research on the man and thought his life & story were fascinating and contacted his widow, who still lives in the Jackson area, and asked if he could write a book about the man.  She said yes and this was his first trip to Jackson to conduct live interviews with people in the area who knew the man first hand.

I thought the whole thing (the man’s life but also Philips desire to write the book) was very interesting so we sat and talked about this and life in general for a while.  He said he had began to follow Buddhism several years ago because of its peaceful & non-violent history and teachings which again, I thought was very interesting.  The area of Indonesia where I hiked in July (East Java) has a large population of Buddhist and I was able to visit a few Buddhist temples and meet some Buddhist people while I was there so I was very interested to speak with Philip about this as well.  We had a good conversation and exchanged contact information so we can keep in touch as I am very interested to see what becomes of the book.

All-in-all it turned out to be a great day in the Grand Tetons and the Jackson Hole Valley.


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4 thoughts on “Grand Tetons #2 – Day 19

  1. Hey Stephen,
    I’m back to Virginia.

    I made it to Avalanche Peak (rain and clouds up there) and to Mt. Washburn (snow and clouds up there) and always had a good time.
    Winter started when I left Grand Teton for Yellowstone but it’s much easier to spot antilope, deer and bison in the snow 😉
    Had a 2 day back-country hike as well as many day-hikes, visited the many geysers and hot springs,
    watched wildlife, etc. before moving north into Montana.
    Castle Rock was great for a hike and I found some good trails along the Missouri River / Jefferson River between Great Falls and Butte.

    Nice writing!

    Take your time traveling and let me know whenever you get back East.


    • Thanks Ted! I’ve been to Zion before but didn’t make it to Angels landing. Not 100% sure I’ll hit Zion on this trip but if so I’ll definitely check it out.

      Any other recommendations are much appreciated!

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