We wake up in Jackson after having one of those nights where we’re half awake, and waiting for the cops to knock on our door and to ask us to move on. On this occasion they don’t, and we grab some food at a bagel shop and then promptly head towards the Grand Tetons that tower over and dominate the flat valley that’s home to Jackson Hole.
It doesn’t take long, and we pick a hike that’s going to be a little less trodden. We’re heading to Garnet Canyon. It starts by following a trek to a lake which is much busier, but then splits off towards the canyon, 7 miles one way and climbing towards an elevation of 8,930 ft. We’re a little pumped as we’ve been looking forward to this for a few weeks now. Fair to say the hike is stunning to begin with – heading up a dirt path with large rocks, with a fairly steep and relentless incline. The views through the pine forest and the steep forest floor are of the valley and 2 crystal blue lakes surrounded by trees. About 8 miles on the other side of the flat plains, at the bottom of the valley, lies the road up to our campsite two days earlier, that nearly ruined our camper.
It’s quite a busy trail and we pass a number of different groups heading up, or on their way back down, till we branch off the path to the lake and head onwards towards the canyon. It’s really cool as the trees begin to disperse and we are in open land, mainly with rocky slopes, and for about 20 minutes we don’t pass anyone.
We then get to the base of the waterfall, and the end of the official trail. However, we decide to carry on to the top of the waterfall, and have to ramble over some rocks to discover a great steep valley or canyon with the mountain summit sticking right in the middle of it. As we make our way up further, we meet people and groups that are all carrying helmets and rope. They’re all carrying way more than us, but with the thin air we are finding it tougher than normal. Most, if not all, are planning to camp out here for the night to make an early start at some of the cliff faces surrounding us. Excluding having to climb the hundred meter cliff faces, we’re quite jealous.
We make our way up the canyon until there is nothing more and sit and chill for a bit, with the company of something that resembles some sort of large rat mixed with an otter. I think it might be a marmot.
We head back down and join the main route back to the parking lot. It’s much later on in the day, and as the last few of us stragglers make our way down, we meet a family from New Jersey. As we’re chatting away to them, we come across a young black bear cub foraging in the bushes close by. We watch it for a bit, as it’s aware of us and totally ambivalent to our presence. It energetically moves around some bushes about 15 metres away from us, eating berries. We figure that this cub is young enough that the bigger, less well tempered, and protective mum won’t be too far away, so we carry on down.
At the parking lot, we meet a guy called Ryan who’s sitting in a old Ford van with something about plumbing written on the side of it. Inside, he’s got a simple single bed made out of 8 pieces of timber and a mattress. There’s a cooler and a psychedelic tie die style poster taped to the wall. It’s simple, it makes our RV seem like a luxurious and straight off the assembly line, with all extra features.
We’re knackered and whilst Katie’s looking for somewhere we can stop for the night on the map, I talk to him. Wait for it…. He’s not really from anywhere. He was last in Arizona. He follows seasonal work which, when I push for more detail, he reveals – “I’m a wild fire forest fighter and usually spend the summers in Alaska, and then move south in the winter…. It’s fun work but there’s a lot of waiting around and that’s really hard for me”.
This year he’s saved up enough to take 3 months off and travel in this van to different national parks to go running, climbing, trekking… anything to keep him on the move and outdoors. He says, “Most of the guys I work with are the same, you know, doing this and living the single life”. Another American Nomad that I’ve met on this trip.
We wish Ryan luck on his trip, as we’ve left it late yet again the sun’s sinking low. We head north towards Yellowstone through the Grand Tetons, hoping to find a campsite which is somewhat on the way and more importantly has space. We make our way further into the National Forest. This poses a problem, because you can’t park up on the side of the road in the National Forests or National Parks, so if we don’t get somewhere we have to drive back every mile. 3 different sites down and the light’s beginning to fade.
We make our way up towards the last site in the Grand Tetons – Sheffield campsite. A turn off the main road finds us on yet again another pot hole lined dirt road. We arrive at a stream and rather than risk taking the camper across for no reason at all, I go across by foot to find the campsite.
I find the site a few hundred metres past the stream, and come back to get Katie and the camper. With Katie at the wheel we cautiously grimace our way across the stream – both of us refusing to think about what it would be like to break down and spend the night lodged here. When we get there, all sites are occupied, and we’re struggling with the thought of driving back out. I find a family of 5 from Colorado in the small parking lot at the base of a trailhead, next to the campsite, cooking some fish they caught fresh today.
They’re all staying in their car as “Spots are hard to come by”. We park up and make dinner, hoping that a park ranger doesn’t move us on. I suppose we could try and bribe them with our homemade chilli. Thankfully, by the time we finish dinner, another 3 RV’s or cars have pulled up in the same predicament, and I go to sleep knowing that no ranger would move on 6 different groups of people in the middle of the night, unless he was a proper dick…. Which is always possible.