You probably have started to notice, but my summer was packed full of fun and adventure and we’ve only just begun! As the season progressed I started to really get the camping/backcountry bug. I couldn’t get enough of it. If I wasn’t looking at gear at work, I was talking about trails or campsites with anyone that would listen.
After our last camping adventure I decided I wouldn’t do it like that again. As fun as that fiasco was, better to not test my luck twice. I started to find crazy deals (like always) and got enough gear together to make an adventure of it. I pieced together most of the main backcountry components and borrowed the rest. Around this time I, against my better judgement, started to date an employee at the lodge (Sara). I had gone into the season with the expectations to not date any coworkers as the seasonal lifestyle isnt very conducive for relationships. That said, I talked my girlfriend into an adventure. I had heard of Surprise Lake and the surrounding area from several tourists and my coworkers, so I had to check it out. It was only a 5 miles, I figured it would be a great way to start off the backcountry adventures. When looking at maps of the local area I noticed a campsite right next to the lake. With a few days off coming up and after some careful planning I headed to my new favorite place, the permit office. Anytime I wanted to head off in the woods I would make sure I got to the permit office 30 minutes before the soonest possible time. With only 3 permits a day for Surprise Lake, it’s a struggle getting it; but I did! Only one permit for that location was open and I snaked it.
We headed out for the trail head. Just driving to the trail was challenging for my car. The trail head is off a hard packed dirt road, but the road isn’t without its fair share of serious pot holes. After slowly navigating the road, we made it to the parking lot; challenge one completed. After securing the vehicle we headed up. Very quickly you are in the thick of the forest. No more than a mile into the hike we came across some hikers coming down. “There’s a bear just around the upcoming corner,” they warned. I immediately pulled out two cans of bear spray (one for each hand) and we continued on. I also grabbed out my camera (just in case). Around the next corner– BEAR! I pulled the safety pins out the bear spray and watched. Neither of us had ever been so close to a bear before, having only seen them at zoos or at a safe distance in a vehicle. We just watched for a good couple minutes as this young (couple years old) brown bear cleaned a bush of every huckleberry in site. I needed to get a photo of it, so I handed a can of spray to Sara and grabbed my camera. I hit the power button — nothing. The lens was stuck! I tried to fix it, but to no avail. Just starting the trip and now no camera.😦 Since I couldnt take any pictures of our trip, I’ll have to use photos from the internet for this adventure. Double😦
The beginning of the trail starts off very nicely, slowly gaining just a couple hundred feet over a few miles; that is until you reach the Bradley Lake junction. From there the trail starts to drastically climb in vertical feet. That following mile my right quad started to cramp up. I tried to drink water, eat trail bars, massage it, stretches — you name it, I tried it. But no luck. After about a third of a mile it would cramp up and cause crazy pain. I had to be strong. This is a new girlfriend and I needed to impress. I said it hurt, but she had no idea how bad. I actually thought I was going to tear the muscle in half. But we kept on. The next leg of the journey slowly turned through the mountain still gradually climbing up. At the Garnet Canyon turn off I felt empowered. I thought I could do it. We had already gone up about a thousand feet, how much more could there be? Actually, lots (approx 1800ft more) . The next two miles would challenge me physically and mentally.
Shortly after the Garnet Canyon turnoff the trail the switchbacks started off nicely, nothing too drastic, nice winding trails.
It deceptively made it seem like you were closer than you were. Those final two miles were the longest two miles of the entire season. The further you hiked, the shorter the switchbacks became, and the greater the elevation was on each switch. We finally reached a ridge and the trail began to mellow out, only to have more elevation to go. I literally considered just throwing camp anywhere, but just as I was about to give up, the surprise happened; Surprise Lake.
Upon arrival at Surprise Lake we headed up to setup camp. The daylight was fading rapidly and we had to move with purpose. I set up camp and sent Sara off to collect water. Just as the sun set behind the Tetons we had camp going and dinner was cooking. Given the bear we had seen earlier in our trip and on the trip before, we had to be aware of bears at all times. We followed every backcountry guide to the letter. Cooked in different clothes than we slept in, meal site at least 100 feet from camp, and used bear boxes for all odorous items. I dont think I slept better the whole summer than I did that night.
The next day we barely left the campsite. We were exhausted and just needed to nap all day to recover. Before all the day hikers came through the area, I headed down to Surprise Lake, stripped down and dove in. All that hiking had taken a toll on my scent, and I needed to at least get a rinse. The water wasn’t actually that cold. You wouldn’t want to hang out in it long term, but for a quick rinse, it does the job. I’ve surfed in colder water.
The following morning I awoke late, but still before Sara and got breakfast started. As I sat there cooking oatmeal I heard some bushes rumbling nearby. I popped up, grabbed my strategically located bear spray and prepared for the worst. I could hear the noises getting closer. I was prepared to spray that animal at a blink of an eye. Just as I was about to let loose and dump a can, out pops a little deer. After watching the deer for a minute and making sure there wasn’t a bear waiting around the corner, back to cooking I went. After eating breakfast, Sara went back to bed and I decided I would do a little exploring. The views near the campsite were some of the best from any campsite in all of the Tetons.
Not only was Surprise Lake just a hundred yards from our campsite, Delta Lake and Amphitheatre Lake were easily within walking distance (under half mile). I decided I would just explore our surroundings and wait to do any additional hiking until she got up. The Surprise Lake outlet view is, to put simply, stunning.
From there I decided to head to the bluff overlooking Delta Lake.
I went back to the campsite to wake up Sara. There were too many views to be sleeping for another day. After arousing her and getting some grub in our bellies, we decided we needed to go see Amphitheatre Lake. The views there were equally amazing. With still a little snow on the ground, the views were comparative to Surprise or Delta. Everywhere you go in the Tetons, the views are amazing/stunning/breathtaking/fill in your choice of words. And this trip was no different. Amphitheatre Lake was an easy .2 miles (or less) from our campsite, a very short walk. With just a couple hundred feet of elevation difference, it is a worthy trip.
We hung out on some large rocks at Amphitheatre Lake and soaked up the sun. After getting our fill I had to take Sara to see the other views I had already seen. Walking back from Amphitheatre Lake we decided to do a little mountaineering, trying to hike on the rocks in the area. Having only rinsed the day before, I needed another rinsing. Amphitheatre Lake flows into Surprise Lake via a nice waterfall. I stripped down and hopped in. I had never bathed under a waterfall so I had to try it. THAT WAS COLD, but not as cold as Jackson Lake in late May, but cold none-the-less.
From there we explored the other side of Surprise Lake and the Surprise Lake outlet. I had already explored that area, but this time I was with someone so I could be a little more bold. I decided to hike down a little bit of the outlet so I could free climb back up another side. That was sketchy. The rocks around the outlet give you no warning before giving out, so you need to check every hold and footing twice (or more) before trusting it. After messing around doing some climbing we headed back to camp for dinner. After yet another typical meal of rice, lentils, and some dried fruit we shut it down.
The following morning my deer friend visited me while I was cooking breakfast again. I would soon learn that the animals that call the Tetons home are, in fact, very bold. After packing up we trotted out. Once we started out my pace was ferocious. I knew that if I stopped I wasn’t going to make it.
When we made it to the car my pack came off me like it was an equally charged magnet. My quad hurt for the next two weeks, but the memories and views from that trip will be remembered for a lifetime.
I’m trying as quickly as possible to catch up on my summer adventures so I can bring you up to speed on my winter adventures! Don’t worry, the season has only just begun and there haven’t been many adventures — yet.