Picnic: a Grand Teton Triathalon
The Grand Teton Picnic is an informal mountain triathalon first completed in 2012. The route:
- First, bike from the elk antler arches in Jackson's Town Square to the Jenny Lake East Overlook (23 miles).
- Second, swim across Jenny Lake to the Cascade Canyon ferry docks (1.3 miles).
- Third, ascend and descend Grand Teton (13,775′) via its 5.4 Owen Spalding route (16 miles / 7,000' vert).
- Fourth, swim back across Jenny Lake to the East Overlook (1.3 miles).
- Fifth, bike back to those elk antler arches (23 miles).
In total, 46 miles of biking, 2.6 miles swimming and 16 miles / 7,000' vert of trail running, hiking and climbing. The Picnic is self-supported, which means no gear stashing. Anything needed for the climb is dragged in a wet bag on the swim.
Connor, Kelsey and I left town at 2:45am and returned at 9:15pm, an 18.5-hour round trip.
David Gonzales conceived the original, Grand Teton Picnic and first completed it in 2012. Since then, athletes (aka adrenaline junkies, masochists or "people with a screw loose," as my Mom likes to say) created picnics throughout the Tetons and beyond (e.g., Mt. Moran's Moranic / Moronic and Mt. Hood's Hoodnic).
[The] essence of a picnic is that it’s human-powered from start to finish, and something about it scares you. – Gonzalez
Check out David's website, thepicnic.us, for more context from the source.
I first heard about the Picnic in summer 2021, my first full summer in Jackson. It seemed like a pipe dream at the time, especially after a bad case of hiker's knee. But after rehabbing through fall 2021 and a lot of ski touring/conditioning in winter 2022, I thought the Picnic might be doable in summer 2022.
For more context on my winter 2022 training, check out Part I of my "Skillet" post from April 2022. TL;DR: I paused all hiking and running in the fall to rehab my left knee. When I started running again in December, I'd dropped to 10-minute pace for 5 miles. After a winter of nightly Snow King bootpacks and some bigger ski tours, I got myself back to 7:30-minute pace for 5 miles.
In May and June, I dialed back cardio, running just one half marathon for kicks (9-minute pace) and a 15K trail race at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
After the 15K, I strained my left foot on a Garnet Canyon overnight / South Teton summit, and in general, felt beat up. At that point in June, the Picnic didn't feel realistic. My cardio had room for improvement, my climbing experience was limited to NYC bouldering gyms (shout-out to GP81 in Greenpoint) and I hadn't even summited the Grand yet.
But then my foot healed in mid-July. I started feeling the Picnic bug again and decided to give it a shot.
To build up cardio, I started trail running a few days a week. I joined a Monday run club in Teton Valley (the Idaho side of the Tetons) called Mountain Ninjas. The group runs started with modest hill climbs (e.g., a 6-mile / 1,800' vert run to Darby Wind Caves) and built up over the summer.
On my own, I started running up Taylor Mountain on Teton Pass or Snow King every other day, much like those nightly Snow King laps in the winter.
I didn't bother with swim or bike training. I'm a decent swimmer and the paved bike trails in Grand Teton were my least concern. (Spoiler: or so I thought...)
The easiest route up Grand Teton is Owen Spalding ("OS"), a 5.4-rated climb. As a climbing newbie, I spent some time reading up on rating systems, rope techniques and routes in the Tetons. I'd also need at least one dry run before attempting OS after a bike and swim.
Some background on climbing ratings from Wikipedia:
The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is a three-part system used for rating the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs...
The class 5 portion of the class scale is primarily a rock climbing classification system, while classes 1–2 are used mainly in hiking and trail running. Class 3 describes easy and moderate climbing (i.e. scrambling), with varying amounts of exposure (length of a possible fall). Class 4 is an "in-between" rating that describes a very exposed scramble...
Class 5 is subdivided into parts, currently 5.0 to 5.15. Ratings 5.10 and above are further subdivided, for example, 5.10b or 5.15c.
For context, the El Cap route Alex Hannold climbed in Free Solo is rated 5.12d.
5.1–5.4 routes are "beginner" climbs. Footholds and handholds are large, but on exposed sections, climbers generally use protection (i.e., ropes). Routes are rated for their hardest segment, also known as the "crux." Owen Spalding is a "non-sustained" 5.4, which means only a few moves warrant that rating. The rest of the route consists of class 3–4 scrambling and 5.1–5.3 climbing.
The best resource for Owen Spalding is the Wyoming Whiskey guide. The article is extremely detailed, breaking down the route and all its variations. It includes pictures from various angles at different times of year, many marked up. I read it a few times and downloaded a PDF (99 pages!) to my phone for my dry run.
You can also find dozens of YouTube videos from groups tackling different portions of the Grand. I watched a bunch.
To swim and ascend efficiently on the Picnic, I planned to save weight by skipping a rope, free soloing the route. Most parties rappel below Sargent's Chimney (rope required) to avoid downclimbing the crux. But, there are also plenty of downclimb precedents. E.g., runners attempting fastest known times, or FKTs, downclimb to save weight. (The current FKT is 2 hours 53 minutes trailhead-to-trailhead! By contrast, most groups take a couple days to ascend/descend the Grand.)
After exhausting the internet, I turned to friends in Jackson for beta (outdoorsy jargon for advice). A couple friends soloed the ascent, but no one downclimbed.
Taking one friend's advice, I bought a basic climbing kit (harness, belay device, helmet, a few carabiners, personal anchor and prusik). While I still planned to skip a rope, I wanted the option to rappel with another party in case of medical emergency, bad weather, etc.
Note: Climbing helmets are designed to withstand multiple impacts without breaking (i.e., rockfall from above). Ski and bike helmets are designed to break upon one big impact (i.e., collision with a tree or car). So while you can get away with a ski/bike helmet in a pinch, it won't provide the same sustained protection.
I watched a few rappeling tutorials on YouTube (e.g., this REI guide), then practiced with a friend in Jackson's boulder park at the base of Snow King. (She brought the rope.)
Dry Run: Grand Teton's Owen Spalding ("OS")
- Grand Teton summit via Owen Spalding, the 5.4 route used on the Picnic.
- 12 miles roundtrip from Lupine Meadows trailhead; 7,000' vertical.
- 11 hours trailhead-to-trailhead, leaving at 3:30am and returning at 2:30pm.
- High enough energy at the summit to attempt the Picnic.
Ideally, a first ascent would be with a friend who previously climbed route. But, most people don't want to repeat OS, due to crowds, limited technical climbing and a long approach. Plus, schedules are hard to line up. OS repeaters are usually runners who maintain a pace I wasn't ready to match. Guide services are pricey ($1,000+), and based on my OS research, seemed like overkill.
It was early August, and with a mid-August deadline, I was running out of time. So I decided to solo OS later that week.
In the summer, the route's busy from trailhead to summit. Exum Mountain Guides (an elite Teton-based guide service) even maintains a base camp on the Lower Saddle. If anything went wrong, there'd be plenty of support.
The earliest day I could manage (August 4th) was forecast clear until early afternoon, when thunderstorm risk increased. I didn't want to be in the high alpine during storms, so I planned on a 3am departure. (I estimated 3 hours to the Lower Saddle, another 3 hours to the summit, then 5-6 hours on the return, getting me back to the trailhead by 2-3pm.)
I bought new approach shoes and a 15L hydration vest (low profile with storage pockets on the chest). My HOKA trail runners were great for approaches, but too soft for toe moves on climbs; my climbing shoes were overkill for a 5.4 route. My hiking backpack was high profile for narrower climbing sections and awkward for jogging downhills.
With a few months of use now, I recommend vest packs over traditional backpacks for day hikes. Centering weight between the back/chest reduces strain on shoulders and makes jogging much easier. Aim for at least 15 liters of storage.
Aside from the new kicks, a vest pack and a climbing kit, I packed standard emergency gear (multi-tool, first-aid kit, space blanket, tourniquet, etc.), bear spray, a headlamp, food/electrolytes (including GU gels), a windbreaker and a vest. Overnight lows would be 50-60F with daytime highs of 80-90F.
(I'll include a more detailed gear list in the Picnic trip report, below.)
So, plan laid, gear packed and carbos loaded, I headed to Lupine Meadows. I left town at 9pm the night before, planning to sleep a few hours at the trailhead. Before retreating into the bed of my '06 Tundra (equipped with a cap for truck camping), I skimmed through the Wyoming Whiskey guide again on my phone and took shorthand notes for quick reference.
A parade of traffic at the trailhead stymied my sleep plans. All night, cars pulled in and groups geared up—chatting and playing music. One group even discussed divvying up a watermelon, grill and sausages for a planned summit BBQ. (Jackson natives.) I learned Lupine Meadows is the busiest late-night spot in Jackson Hole. With many climbing objectives in the Tetons, some pushing 24 hours (e.g., Grand Traverse), groups depart at all hours of the night.
At 3am, I gave up on sleep, turned on my headlamp and started gearing up. By 3:30am, I hit the trail.
It was a warm night, so I started with supplex shorts, a sun hoodie and a Patagonia vest. By the switchbacks, I was sweating and ditched the vest. There are two junctions on the lower trail—one before the switchbacks and another that forks left for Garnet Canyon near the fifth switchback. I almost missed the second junction in the dark.
I passed a few groups on the way up (maybe 30 people in total)—headlamps snaking up the mountain.
Just before 5am, I entered the first of two boulder fields before the "Meadows," a popular camping area in the base of Garnet Canyon. Both fields were tricky to navigate in the dark with only one prior trip (the South Teton trip). But by 5am, I cleared the fields and passed the "watermelon group" in the Meadows.
After the Meadows, the right-most trail winds up to the Lower Saddle, easy to follow with the exception of one large a boulder field toward the end. (A left in the Meadows takes you to Middle/South Teton.) It was my first time on the route and I ascended a bit too high in the boulder field. Wind ripped over the Lower Saddle, so I added a windbreaker. First light was filtering into the mountains, helping me pick a course through the boulder field.
Note: The fastest route through that boulder field involves a sharp left when the trail ends and a short scramble through a gully. Then, the trail resumes. Also, the second half of the trail between the Meadows and Lower Saddle has sections of scree, so tread carefully.
The Lower Saddle is the saddle connecting Grand and Middle Teton. Shortly after, Grand Teton climbing routes like Upper Exum and Owen Spalding begin. Exum Guides and the Park Service maintain seasonal camps on the Lower Saddle. Its elevation is 11,600', about 5,000' above the valley floor with 2,000' remaining to the Grand summit.
To reach the Lower Saddle, you climb a short stretch of rock called Fixed Rope, named for a series of ropes maintained by guides for the benefit of all climbers. Fixed Rope is on the right side of the cliff band, so aim for that north side if you get lost in the upper boulder field. At Fixed Rope, I grabbed my helmet off my vest pack (clipped on the back), in case of rockfall.
By 6:30am, I cleared Fixed Rope and headed for a spring at the base of the Lower Saddle, which absent very dry conditions, is the last refill opportunity. Middle Teton glowed orange in the sunrise and a light layer of fog hung in the valley.
At the spring, I ate breakfast with another free soloer, adding to energy blocks and bars from the approach. Later on, I partnered with that free soloer to route find from Belly Roll through Sargent's Chimney.
After topping off my filtered water bottle, I picked up the trail, passing Exum's camp and forking right toward the Grand. The trail snakes up to the Black Dike a streak of black rock in a wall of gray granite. At the Black Dike you need to start referring to route instructions.
For detailed instructions, check out the Wyoming Whiskey guide, by far the most comprehensive resource. I'll stick to highlights in this post.
My shorthand notes and one of many excerpts from Wyoming Whiskey:
I backtracked once after climbing too far east on the Central Rib toward the Upper Exum route. I also spent too much time in drainages, exposing myself to the risk of rockfall from parties moving above. But all roads lead to the Upper Saddle, a saddle between Grand Teton and the Enclosure. (The Enclosure is the second highest peak in the Tetons, just off the west side of the Grand.) I ascended too far left on the Upper Saddle and had to downclimb, then re-ascend the right side near Grand Teton.
I troubleshooted once with a pair of climbers, debating where to cross after Belly Roll Almost and passed a few other groups descending. Otherwise, it wasn't too busy that early.
By 8am, I reached the Upper Saddle. Owen Spalding starts with a narrow ledge and some exposed moves (Belly Roll and the Crawl) that are almost indistiguishable from the cliff face. The handholds are very easy, but most groups use ropes. If you slip, you'll tumble 2,000' before arresting.
There was a small traffic jam at the start of Owen Spalding. I waited with my troubleshooting partners, who were using ropes. Then, the free soloer from breakfast caught up. By 8:15am, the group ahead entered Double Chimney. Roped parties usually let free soloers pass, so the other free soloer and I started on Belly Roll ahead of my troubleshooting partners.
I'm not afraid of heights, so the exposed moves were fun. But, many people get anxious on this stretch.
Another excerpt from Wyoming Whiskey (left):
After entering the Double Chimney via its second entrance, the route feels less exposed. After Double, we took Owen Chimney, the crux of the route that gives Owen Spalding its 5.4 rating. An alternative is forking right to the Catwalk, an angled and exposed series of ledges up to the rappel station below Sargent's Chimney. I scraped my knee on one friction move in Owen Chimney (hazard of shorts), but otherwise we climbed efficiently.
After Owen Chimney, we tackled Sargent's Chimney. Hidden Exit, a slight left toward the top of Sargent's Chimney, seemed like the easier way out. All that stood before me and the summit were a few ledges called the Slabby Wall.
At 9am, I looked out on the Teton Range from its highest vantage point at 13,775'.
Jackson Hole opened up to the east and Teton Valley to the west. Mt. Moran loomed to the north. Middle/South Teton and Buck scratched the sky to the south. Teewinot broke up the valley view and alpine lakes sparkled in the morning sun.
My energy level was high and I wasn't noticeably winded at that elevation. I felt like I could add a bike and swim before the next ascent—the Picnic was a go!
I snapped a couple summit selfies, panos and pictures of the USGS marker, then settled down for a snack. Before long, I had the company of few more groups, including a couple runners. After 15 minutes or so, I started downclimbing.
After Sargent's Chimney, I opted for Catwalk instead of Owen Chimney, passing the rappel station. The vast majority of climbers opt for the 100' overhanging rappel instead of downclimbing. Since I planned to skip ropes for the Picnic, I wanted to try the downclimb.
Rappeling usually doesn't save much time between the transition and traffic at the station, but it's definitely a bit easier. If there's significant uphill traffic when you downclimb, time saved from rappeling can be substantial. To rappel, you need at least 60 meters of rope, ideally 70 meters.
I paused a few times for roped groups during the downclimb, including a 10min stop at the bottom of Double Chimney. Roped parties move much slower than free soloers. It was smooth sailing after clearing Belly Roll, the end of OS.
I retraced my steps to the Lower Saddle, again struggling to find the best route down Central Rib, then to the Meadows. In the Meadows, I started crossing paths with more day hikers. Below the Meadows, you almost exclusively find day hikers aiming for Delta or Ampitheater Lake. Climbing gear elicits bemused looks.
I heard distant thunder and felt some raindrops on the lower switchbacks. One pair of backpackers told me they were camping out, then climbing OS the next day. One seemed taken aback by my one-day push without ropes. I was taken aback by the idea of a high alpine campout during thunderstorms.
Tip: Bring a WAG bag. You can bury waste at the lower elevations in the Park, but not in the alpine. Suffice it to say, a WAG bag would've made for a less painful (and faster) descent.
Finally at ~2:30pm, I arrived at Lupine Meadows and beelined to the outhouse.
I stopped at Dornan's for a coffee on the way to Teton Sports Club (RIP) for a hot tub soak. Running without sleep, I needed one more coffee to make it through a friend's birthday dinner. Then, I settled in for my best night's sleep of the summer, dreaming of the Picnic attempt now in reach.
More Conditioning: Teewinot
After OS, I joined Helen Gurina on a Teeiwnot summit. (She also helped me practice rappeling before the Grand dry run.) Teewi's a 12,330′ summit just east of Grand Teton and accessed from the same trailhead, Lupine Meadows.
While it's rated class 4, Teewi is responsible for the most fatalities in Grand Teton. Route finding can be difficult and it's easy to end up in class 5 terrain. There are also snow crossings early in the season, and without an ice axe and self arrest training, climbers can get in trouble.
The snow largely melted by our August trip, and aside from a couple off-route detours, Teewi was a fun climb. The summit sports some of the best views in Grand Teton, close ups of the Grand and Mt. Owen. It was high on my summer wish list and good conditioning for the Picnic.
With conditioning and an OS dry run out of the way, I was ready for the Picnic. Connor and Kelsey returned from a PNW trip and wanted to join. So, we started looking for weather windows right before my mid-August deadline.
The July-early August dry spell gave way to higher humidity and afternoon thunderstorms. The forecast was a moving target. Monday, August 15th, seemed like our best bet, so we locked it in and hoped for the best.
On Sunday night, I organized my gear, lined up rentals and carbo loaded. To increase the odds of a better night's sleep than my OS dry run, I grabbed a pack of Olly sleep gummies (Melatonin and L-Theanine). Sometimes I find it's hard to fall asleep with big objective nerves.
I packed climb gear in my vest pack, then slipped the vest, helmet, wetsuit and swim gear (goggles, chord and belt) into the wet bag. I settled in for a 5-hour nap before the scheduled 2am wake-up.
- Road bike and bike helmet (rented from Hoback Sports; only have a hybrid gravel bike in Jackson)
- Long, 4/3mm wetsuit (rented from Rendezvous River Sports; my wetsuit was in Florida with my surfboard)
- 30L Marchway dry bag (wish I got a larger size), plus backup ziplock bags for electronics (phone and portable charger)
- Section of floating chord from ACE Hardware and a belt from Arcade (Cody Townsend's brand) to drag the wet bag on the swim
- 15L REI vest pack
- Petzl climbing helmet
- Black Diamond Momentum harness
- Three carabiners: one large, auto-locker for my belay device and two smaller ones for my daisy chain (personal anchor) and prusik (for a third hand)
- Daisy chain
- Black Diamond ATC belay device
- Gloves from ACE Hardware (in the dorkiest yellow I could find)
- Extra socks (wool) and underwear for the climb (left the first pair from the bike/swim hanging to dry with our wetsuits)
- Bear spray (limited sightings on the route with all the traffic, but the occasional black bear and less frequent grizzly)
- Black Diamond LED headlamp
- Tinted Speedo googles (should've bought a clear pair for the night swim)
- Camp towel for transitions
- Sportiva TX4 approach shoes
- Laminated sign from Staples to ward off well-meaning tourists from returning our wetsuits to the lost and found (unlikely, but who knows)
- Blaze orange ball cap (originally for hunting, but always good to be visible)
- LifeStraw filtered water bottle (on my list to buy a flexible version that can fill up other containers, like a bladder)
- Food: GU gels, Clif bloks, RX bars, etc. (I've gotten in the habit of using ziplock bags to keep food organized)
- Electrolyte powder
- Emergency gear: first aid kit, tourniquet, space blankets, Gorilla tape, baby powder (for chafing), Leatherman multi-tool, lighter, whistle, Ibuprofen, Voile straps (multiple uses)
- Portable charger for my iPhone
1) Bike from Town Square to Jenny Lake (23mi)
At 2am, I woke up and pulled myself together for a 2:30am rendezvous near the Town Square. We parked a couple blocks away, organized gear, and by 2:45am, biked to the Square.
It was a mild, clear night with temps around 50-60F, so a windbreaker over my sun hoodie was plenty warm. We cruised past the elk antler arches, heading north on US 191/89. The bike path starts by the Dairy Queen, gaining just ~500' of elevation gain over 23 miles.
A near full moon lit up the valley and mountains. A gentle breeze rolled over the Gros Ventre Butte. Before we knew it, we turned left at Moose Junction. We surprised one elk herd just before the Taggart Lake parking area. (Barely made out their silhouettes floating across the bike path ahead.)
As we approached the Cathedral Group (a collection of summits around the Grand), we started seeing headlights. One party worked up the switchbacks just past Lupine Meadows, a few more rustled on the Lower Saddle and another seemed to be summiting Mt. Owen. Grand Teton never sleeps.
At 4am, we stopped at South Jenny Lake for a bathroom stop, then weaved through the bike trail to Jenny Lake's Scenic Drive. The Picnic swim starts at the East Overlook. According to Gonzalez, that east-west route is intended to make Picnickers swim directly at the Grand.
By 4:25am, we locked up our bikes and scrambled down the steep hillside to the lake shore.
2) Swim across Jenny Lake (1.3mi)
We emptied our wet bags on the rocks and started transitioning to wetsuits. We lucked out with mild weather. It took us awhile to transition. My rental wetsuit's zipper kept going off track and we all had trouble squishing gear into wet bags.
After 20 minutes, we finally waded out on the slippery rocks and into Jenny Lake, wet bags tied to our waists. The west ferry docks were in line with the middle of Cascade Canyon. We could make out its silhouette against the clear sky, though it was harder with tinted goggles.
I alternated between freestyle and breast stroke. I kept removing my goggles to get a better view of the Canyon, thus spending more time on breast stroke. I expected the chord and wet bag to get in the way of kicks, but that wasn't much of an issue. I also considered additional floatation beneath the wet bag (e.g., a boogie board), but the wet bag was plenty buoyant on its own.
Connor accidentally swam ahead and we couldn't find him in the darkness. Knowing he was a strong swimmer with a wet bag for flotation, all we could do was keep swimming.
Everything was a shade of black. The water below was the darkest shade, followed by the mountains, lake surface (twinkling in the moonlight) and a clear sky.
At 5:30am, first light illuminated the landscape like a dimmer switch. We were halfway across the lake, slow time for a ~mile swim. The mountains and canyons slowly took their natural color, dark shades of green and brown.
Approach the ferry docks just after 6am, Connor wasn't in sight on the bank. Still, nothing Kelsey and I could do but swim ashore. I set my feet on a muddy lake bottom off a beach just left from the ferry docks.
Gaining a better viewpoint on the beach, I spotted Connor swimming behind us. Turns out, he hooked right unable to track Cascade Canyon in the dark. Spotting my orange wet bag after first light, he rerouted. Lesson: bring glow sticks on group night swims. (To my dad's credit, he suggested clipping a beacon to the bag, but I couldn't find a waterproof one at ACE the day before.)
One-by-one we hit the beach and started transitioning for the climb. I changed into fresh socks and underwear, running shorts, a sun hoodie and approach shoes. As we changed, the sun worked its way down the mountains, ultimately landed on our beach. It was just us, Jenny Lake and some geese.
We hung our wetsuits (inside out to make the next swim transition more comfortable) and wet bags on branches surrounding the beach. I also hung my underwear and socks, so they'd be dry for the bike home.
I added the laminated sign to prevent a well-meaning tourist from moving or turning in our gear. Unlikely, but I couldn't imagine finishing ~75% of the Picnic just to be thwarted by missing gear.
At 7am, I tossed on my vest pack and we headed south to Lupine Meadows.
3) Run, Hike and Climb up Grand Teton (16mi / 7,000' vert)
The Picnic adds two miles (each way) to the standard Grand Teton summit. Taking the Jenny Lake trail south eventually leadeds to a valley trail to the Lupine Meadows trailhead.
We jogged a portion of the Jenny Lake trail. Connor was still recovering from some night swim-induced vertigo (all those shades of black), so we took it easy. We passed a few early-bird hikers on the trail, but nothing compared to the typical afternoon crowds around Jenny Lake.
At 7:45am, we waited in line for Lupine Meadows' one and only outhouse. (Takes forever once the morning crowds roll in.)
At 8am, we started on the trail, mostly passing day hikers on the ascent. We jogged one section after the switchbacks, getting to the Meadows at 9:15am. After a quick stop at the creek for a water and snacks, we started for the Lower Saddle. (At each prior transition we fueled a bit—good to keep snacking on long days.)
By 11am, we reached the Lower Saddle spring for another water and food stop. Right after Fixed Rope, a descending climber realized we were attempting the Picnic and took our picture. Even in the alpine, the weather was mild.
At 12pm, we reached the Upper Saddle, kicking off the OS route. It was later in the day than my dry run and there seemed to be even less traffic. We zipped through Belly Roll and the Crawl, then up Double Chimney. We opted for the Catwalk instead of Owen Chimney since the rock was dry.
A half-hour later, at 12:3opm, we summited the Grand, just in time for lunch. It took us 4.5 hours from the trailhead, an hour faster than my dry run. (Kelsey and Connor are speedy, so I struggled to keep pace.)
A few small clouds floated by at eye level, a reminder we were "in the clouds." After 15 minutes soaking up the view and some more calories, we started downclimbing.
We made another quick water stop at the Lower Saddle, and by 2:30pm, started downclimbing Fixed Rope. After Fixed Rope, we cruised down the switchbacks, jogging the solid sections of trail. Within an hour, we passed through the Meadows boulder fields.
We ran into more traffic on the lower switchbacks, jogging past at least 30 groups. I cramped up at one point, but was able to work them out and keep running.
At 4:30pm, we rolled into Lupine Meadows, an 8.5-hour roundtrip, a full 2.5 hours faster than my dry run, trying to keep pace with Kelsey and Connor. Most of the time save was on the descent. The valley was probably 80F, perfect conditions for a refreshing return swim.
We jogged and hiked the last two miles along Jenny Lake to our wetsuits, dogging afternoon crowds. Ferries shuttle visitors across Jenny Lake every 10-15 minutes, plus plenty of hikers from the South Jenny Lake parking area. Kelsey was dreading the swim back, so we tried to pump her up.
We approached the ferry docks at 5:15pm, and to my relief, found our wetsuits still hanging by the beach. This time, we didn't have the Lake to ourselves. Every 15 minutes, a ferry with ~30 visitors pulled out from the docks and cruised by.
Connor goes commando in wetsuits. He thought he found a private spot to change. A few seconds later, he was mooning a boat-full of tourists on a passing ferry. Wetsuit stuck around his ankles, all Connor could do was blush.
My phone died, so I plugged in the portable charger, protected by a ziplock bag for the swim. At 6pm, after some more snacks and water, we waded into the Lake.
4) Return Swim (1.3mi)
Our return swim was more efficient and less eventful. My only worry was visibility to ferry captains, hoping they wouldn't run us over. In afternoon sun and after the Grand ascent, the swim was refreshing. We passed a few canoers and kayakers.
Able to use tinted goggles this time around, I alternated between freestyle and breast stroke. My right leg cramped a bit on breast, leading to more freestyle.
We approached a relatively crowded beach beneath the East Overlook, a few groups clustered at the water's edge. At 7pm, we stumbled onto the slippery rocks.
I was finally feeling fatigued, so the transition was sloppy. There was some chafing on my neck and shoulder due to the rental suit. I added electrolyte powder to my hydration bladder and ate my remaining food.
By 7:30pm, we stumbled up the hill and back to our bikes.
5) Bike to Town (23mi)
I expected the bike home to be the easiest part. Out of the mountains and lake, we were back to civilization, a paved bike path.
But, I didn't account for the rental bike seat. Bruises settled on my inner thighs from the morning ride, thanks to ~14 hours between sessions. In retrospect, I should've popped a few Ibuprofen or wrapped my wetsuit around the seat. Each bump in the bike path forced me to my feet, reducing the impacts. (Turns out, the bike path had quite a few speed bumps.) I lagged behind Kelsey and Connor.
We rode past an elk herd just past Taggart (maybe the same herd we spooked that morning) and into a sunset. It would've been a perfect ride without bruised thighs. Needless to say, the return bike was much slower than the initial.
Shortly before the elk herd, my bladder valve broke and began spewing electrolyte solution. I halted the flow, but couldn't hydrate for the rest of the ride.
It was dark as we approached the Gros Ventre Butte near town. Past the Elk Refuge sign, the bike path runs along the road. Blinding headlights from oncoming cars interrupted our night vision, making the fast downhill section a rush.
Nonetheless, we made it to the home stretch, passing a couple bikers close to town.
At 9:15pm, we rolled into the Town Square and parked beneath the northwest elk antler arch. Picnic complete!
We stumbled back to the cars and I haphazardly tossed gear into the bed of my truck. I scarfed down some popcorn and water I left in the cab. I was beat, but aside from those nasty thigh bruises, felt like I had a bit more in the tank. I headed to Albertsons for more food, then fell into a 12-hour coma.
Summer Up Next for the Park
- Grand Teton's 5.5 Upper Exum route (crossed off in September: trip report).
- Grand Traverse.
- Mt. Moran's 5.5 CMC Face (also crossed off in September: trip report) and 5.4 Northeast Ridge.
- Mt. Moran's Moranic and/or Moronic Picnics.