Yes Dates: September 17 to 20, 2018
Destination: Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Route: Started from the Aerial Tramway, Jackson Hole, and proceeded toward Rendezvous Mountain (10,450 feet) in order to access to the Teton Crest Trail and then headed northeast toward Death Canyon (day one) and over the Death Canyon Shelf (day two) to the Sheep Steps with a stop at Sunset Lake for lunch and then upward by Alaska Basin and to cross Hurricane Pass -- from there, down through Cascade Canyon (day three) and to the Cascade Canyon Trail to exit via boat across Jenny Lake (day four).
Hikers: Mark Goetz, Derek Goodson, David Heidrich, John Hennessey, Colin Jennings, Mark Neikirk, H. McGuire Riley, Rob Seddon and Jon Stratton


As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even forever.

PSALMS 125:2



The typical diet of a bear, whether grizzly or black, is whatever is available. Blueberries. Trout. Roots. Rodents. And moths. 

Yes, moths. One bear eats as many as 40,000 a day, raiding nests and then licking off the unsuspecting varieties of genus Lepidoptera as they fly up and land innocently on the hairy arms of genus Ursus. Death of one, satiation of the other, is imminent.

Human food also is consumed when available, as is the occasional human, especially any human paralyzed by fear and thus unable to activate a can of bear spray with sufficient speed and accuracy while standing in terror within sight of the saliva-drenched incisors of a top of the food chain predator, its hot, moist breath as foul as brimstone. 

Hence the bear locker.

A bear locker is not where bears store their gym clothes. Rather, it is a steel box found in wilderness campsites located in bear country. Typically, it is about table height and large enough to safely store food and other odoriferous substances, such as deodorant for those piffling, persnickety persons who bother to pack their Old Spice Pure Sport. Bears eat that, too, as well as the piffling, persnickety persons wearing it.

The locker itself looks like an oversized Army surplus ammo box and, as such, is charmless. But with no campfires permitted in the Grand Teton National Park, our evening gatherings tended to be around our campsite’s bear locker. There we would set up Helinox chairs in a semi-circle, spread out our food and camp stoves on the locker’s surface, and make dinner. At sunset, the warm flame of a Jet Boil is almost like candlelight. The hum of compressed propane spitting through a fuel cannister’s nozzle is soothing in its own way, especially if there is bourbon nearby. Food preparation, which involves tastings along the way, brings warmth of yet another kind. Together, it is ambiance enough even without a campfire − especially in the Tetons, which bring a little something to the table themselves.

Conversation, by turns serious and frivolous, came easily around the bear locker. Our first night was on a group campsite east of Middle Fork Creek and below Granite Canyon. We were still getting to know one another, as we were a group of nine in which everyone knew at least one other person but in which no one knew everyone. Our first night out was a time to tell our stories. To get acquainted.

Jon Stratton, a retired school principal and assistant superintendent, is the son of a Methodist minister and grew up at the head of a hollow in Eastern Kentucky. He is the picture of probity. He married the winner of a beauty contest from Hindman, has one son, one daughter and can by God tell a story.

Like this one. Everett Bentley, whom everyone called Ebbie Do, was minding his own business at home one night in Hindman, when a robbery unfolded at the Dollar General Store across the street. Hindman, if you have not been there, is a quintessential coal town but is also the home of the Hindman Settlement School, established in 1902 in tribute to education and heritage. James Still hung out there. Mr. Still, the novelist and poet whose sentences writers still emulate, lived outside of town in a log house along Dead Mare Branch, a tributary of Little Carr Creek. Still’s River of Earth was written about the same time and published by the same house as Grapes of Wrath and is that great novel’s mountain complement.

Given what he witnessed, Ebbie Do, whose name should be retained by a future novelist looking for the next Ishmael, would be summoned to testify at trial against the apparent perpetrator of the robbery, who faced hard time should Ebbie Do’s testimony withstand the rigorous cross examination of a determined defense attorney.

Imagine a corpulent fellow, a sort of grizzly bear of the law, hungry for something more than a moth. With slow but transparent purpose, he leans in to ask Ebbie Do, whose name is pronounced “eh-bee-due” as if it were one word not two, what he saw. 

“Now Ebbie Do, you say my client rob the Dollar General Store. You saw him do so?"

“Yessir, I did.”

"So you were there, inside the store?"

"No sir, I was at home."

"At home! Where is that?"

"Across the street."

"Oh, across the street. I see. What time of day was it Ebbie Do -- noon or something?"

"No sir. It was the evening. Night."

"Night! And you were across the street!"


"Hust how far can you see in the dark, Ebbie Do?”

“I can see the moon. Just how far’s that?”

On the shoulders of such brilliant testimony rests justice, and the thief was convicted.

Jon regaled us, too, with the story of a young man in Hazard, Ky., who drove an imaginary car through town, steering it with a trash can lid as the only visible evidence of his vehicle. Jon, a mere lad, watched this man park his car on Main Street, leave the trash can lid on the pavement and within the lines of his chosen parking spot, and then go about his business in town. Unaware he was double parking, another driver pulled into the same spot and was exiting his very visible car just as the original driver returned, greatly offended by the nerve of someone to park in the spot as if no other car were there. He summoned the police. The officer knelt to look under the newly parked car, where he could see the trash can lid.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the officer told the second driver. “You will need to move your car. He was here first.”

Jon doesn’t drink but the rest of us had to toast those stories. It was if Mayberry were a real place.


Our second night had a different feel around the bear locker.

“I’m going to take Jon out tomorrow,” Mark Goetz announced, explaining that Jon, new to backpacking, was, in Goetzy’s perfect description, “Spent.” 

His legs were gone. His shoulders sore. His energy level lower than a drained iPhone. An early exit would avoid the next two days with their 18 miles of trails and 3,000 feet of net elevation gain achieved by going up more than down but still including both. In contrast, the hike out, though long, would be mostly downhill and one day instead of two. Mark Goetz, the former Air Force medic turned coach and teacher and, in retirement, a concierge for Cincinnati Reds players and their families, was doing what every profession he’d ever held taught him to do: Take care of his people.

Logical though an early exit might have been, it came out of the blue. The rest of us were stunned to learn it was a possibility. It was remarkable how quickly our group had gelled, getting each other’s humor (thank you, Ebbie Do) and enjoying each other’s company. The trail, in just two days, had given us something in common with each other that we shared with no one else, each of us seeing together and for the first time this amazing place – the backside of the Tetons, forged by ice, water and volcanic flow, each interacting with the others. It was indelible. Now, with the glue was barely dry on our bond, its strength was being tested. Could it hold?

An instant collective of resistance and resolve materialized, as if out of the Tetons' thin air. We gathered our wits and cross-examined Jon with the gusto of Ebbie Do’s inquisitor.

Us: What hurts? Jon: My shoulders.
Us: What else is bothering you? Jon: I’m just tired, men. I don’t think I could climb what’s ahead. I don’t want to slow you down.
Us, unflinching as we got more personal: What color is your pee?

Jon, undaunted by our intrusion into his urinary frequency, answered: I haven’t peed today.

Us: Well! Now we know the problem. Let’s get you hydrated. 

Us again: Did you take an Advil?

Jon: No. My doctor told me it would interfere with my thyroid medication.

Us, incredulous: What! You have to take an Advil for the pain. Your thyroid will be OK for a couple of days.

As my late father-in-law, a physcian, was fond of coldly saying on such occasions: And where did you get your medical degree? We had none. Just an iron will to get the group together.

Within an hour of being plied our advice plus water, Gatorade and tea, Jon was feeling better and agreed to decide at first light whether to stay or exit. Either way, Mark combed through Jon's pack, taking out anything unnecessary: a pack cover, an insulated cup, a toilet trowel, some snacks. It would all be left in the bear locker for a subsequent group along with a note explaining the gift. Perhaps they would consider it Trail Magic – one of those unexpected gifts that seem to just fall out of the sky when out in the wild. Imagine being two days on the trail without a trowel to dig your cat hole. It would be the backpacking equivalent of being up shit creek without a paddle.

Portions of Jon's necessary gear were distributed for others to carry. Ounces make pounds. Pounds add up. Jon’s 40 pound plus backpack was now minus 35. Much easier on his shoulders. He took an Advil. He drank hot tea, which he doesn’t like. “How’s the tea?” Jon, someone asked. “Nasty,” he replied, taking a sip. And smiling.

Photographers, the really good ones, talk of moments. They are not trying to capture an image. They are trying to harness light to capture moments. I’ll try to do the same with words, because our trip to the Tetons was a series of moments, all of them memorable and many of them especially so. That evening in the mountains when Jon and Mark contemplated an early departure was one of those moments. So much was riding on how it played out, not the least of which was Jon’s health. Maybe he did need to get back to town. But if there were some way to avoid an exit, we wanted to find it. Later, when we were back in town, and Jon was rejuvenated by a Coca Cola and a shower, he told us, quite movingly, that he had never been with a finer group of men. The way the group rallied to his rescue, lightening his load, and, with every sincerity, wanting to be sure he stayed with us − it all moved Jon, and his telling us moved us.

You just don’t get a moment like that every day.


It was around the bear locker, too, that H. McGuire Riley, aka Mac, brought out his little book of stories about how to survive in the wilderness. He selected one to read to us, presumably based upon his sixth sense about what threat was most immediate this particular evening. Mac used to work in the Pentagon, so perhaps he picked up some skills in threat assessment. He selected one about what to do should aliens land in or near your campsite. It was a clear evening. Intergalactic activity probably seemed more likely than had it been cloudy.

Regretfully, I don't recall much of the advice except that up to a point much of it was diplomatic in nature built around the assumption that aliens might be sufficiently accommodated, or their ill intentions delayed, by kind entreaty.

War, it is said, is the failure of diplomacy, and so the first canon of foreign affairs is to exhaust negotiation before turning to cannons. There’s a story from Mac’s own life that illustrates this, and it was another story we would hear around the bear locker.

At age 28, barely out of law school at Northern Kentucky University, Mac was retained to assist in writing a bid for the salvage rights of the U.S. merchant ship, the John Barry, which, according a Reuters story in 1994, “was torpedoed in 1944 by a German submarine and broke in half, slipping to a depth of 8,500 feet, about 125 miles off the coast of Oman.” The ship was thought to carrying silver coins, minted in Philadelphia, worth millions and bound for Saudi Arabia. Mac’s clients were convinced of the legend’s truth – and were convincing in relaying it to him. Their bid won out, due significantly to Mac’s creative idea to apportion some of value of what might be recovered to the United States Treasury.

All seemed well until the royal government of Oman became royally irked that a sunken treasure in its waters might be recovered without benefit to Oman, which threatened to dispatch its navy. The sultanate’s navy might not make other nations tremble but an unarmed salvage operation would be fly caught in a spider's web, its fate a question of time not result. However, Mac and team became aware of a provision of United States law that provides protection in perpetuity for anything "USS."

Mac’s phone rang. It was James Baker, the secretary of state. Intrepid but young, Mac was understandably timorous – far more so than he would be today. His career since has taken him inside the echelons of power. He’s seasoned in 2018. Not so much in 1992.

Mr. Riley, Mr. Baker drawled with self-deprecating deference, the United States will of course protect the salvage of the USS John Barry as we must under the law. But, he added with a suggestion that must have felt more like an order: Might you consider negotiation? There was, the secretary explained, a lot going in the world and a yet another crisis would, in the State Department’s estimation, best be avoided.

So off to London flew not-yet-thirty Mac Riley to hone his diplomatic skills, which proved ample. A deal was struck, the salvage proceeded, the coins were in fact there, and fortunes were made, as was Mac’s reputation.

Though exhausting diplomacy before resorting to arms is fundamental when humans are at odds with humans, the rule is reversed when humans are in the unexpected presence of aliens, who may want our minerals, our bodies or our Netflix passwords. Mac’s little book of backwoods safety counseled to hell with diplomacy. Lead with war: “If you have gun, shoot the alien in the eye. If he has one.” The book was silent on where to shoot an eye-less alien.

I don’t recall the name of the author of this useful textbook although he is surely someone Mac would call, and mean it as a compliment, a fellow ecentric.

Later, Mac would read another chapter, this one on how to survive a volcanic eruption, which we could not rule out. In the Tetons, stone is omnipresent, solid and still. Rocks of ages. But up the road in Yellowstone, stuff is bubbling and erupting left and right. It’s a veritable cauldron of Middle Earth activity making itself known at the surface. Old Faithful ejaculates hyper-heated water hourly. Hot springs are puddles of primordial soup trying to recreate evolution on mutated bacteria at a time. At the Grand Prismatic, the grid of colorful craters looks like the surface of another planet. Come to think of it, the threat of aliens might be greater here, too. Looking down from their saucers, those meddlesome buggers might mistake this place for home.

Again, I don't remember much detail from Mac’s reading except that, before coming, we had all reviewed what to do in the presence of an attacking bear. The advice for surviving a volcanic eruption was eerily similar: You can't outrun a charging bear nor a river of steaming lava. So in either case, lie down, roll up on a ball, protect you neck if only to feel like you’ve done something on behalf of yourself. Think happy thoughts as you pass painfully to the other side. Say hello to Elvis.


Click. A snapshot of Ebbie Do. Click. A snapshot of Jon’s weakened condition. Click. A snapshot of Mac reading those odd essays to us.

Click. Click. Click. A veritable album of moments can be summoned from this incredible hike.

Here’s another. It begins with our delay on the Tarmac at the Cincinnati airport because, the flight attendants told us, a baggage belt broke. When we got to Jackson Hole, we found out why. Dave Heidrich brought his backpack and hiking poles in an old hockey bag from his boys’ playing days. Apparently, one of the poles poked through enough to catch in the baggage belt, setting off a chain reaction that broke the pole, shredded the hockey bag, tore a support rod out of the backpack, shut down the baggage belt and delayed our flight.

Our pilots made up time in the air. We arrived in Jackson Hole a few minutes early. David replaced the bag and poles in town and repaired the pack with duct tape and a wire nut. Delta sent him a check for $475. Click. Click. Click.

And then there was the whistle ceremony.

Mac and Colin Jennings, who works with Mac handling finances and other matters, had prepared a ceremony. It required toasts of bourbon (what doesn't?) and it had a script, as Mac and Colin presented each of us, and themselves, with a whistle made from the cross-section of an elk antler. The whistles were ungodly shrill and of course everyone had to try theirs out. Boys will be boys. For few minutes, the condo living room in Jackson Hole, where all of this happened, sounded like a training ground for railroad conductors, each trying to be heard over the locomotives and each other. Piercing, painful. Yet each whistle was a small work of art. It was Mac’s and Colin’s showing their appreciation for the days ahead – and their way of binding us, strangers at first. Now we were a tribe, recognizable by these utilitarian devices hanging around our necks. We could summon one another should we need to do so. Could we frighten off a bear? No, someone wisecracked, whistles attract bears.

Maybe aliens, too.

When it came to moments, none surpassed the breathtaking beauty of the Tetons themselves, which created a succession of moments. The Tetons. Wow.

Can I write those three words, treat them like two sentences, and be done? Probably not. More is expected when I’m called upon to write an account of our hikes. But that is the story if rendered short: The Tetons. Wow.

Those grand mountains, and especially the grandest, the Grand Teton, confront you with their massive, domineering selves from every vantage point. Land at the airport. The Tetons rise behind the airstrip, which you walk across because the Jackson Hole Airport is still small enough to lack Passenger Boarding Bridges (PBB’s), those accordion tunnels better known as jetways. People come here to be outdoors. The airport puts them outdoors immediately, and does so in the presence of the town’s imposing mountains.

Bags in hand, we boarded a minibus to the rental car lot. The Tetons were less visceral through the windows but still stunning even as backdrop to lot full of SUV Toyotas, Chevys, Fords and Jeeps, each one shiny and ready for rental. They would be returned bathed in the dust of the mighty mountains they carried people to see.

Our first two nights, and our last two as it worked out, would be spent in condos at the Spring Creek Ranch just outside of Jackson Hole and operated by Derek Goodson, who joined us for the hike and played gracious host all week, ferrying us to and from the trailhead, advising us on places to eat, buy gear or rent a van for a day trip to Yellowstone. Spring Creek strategically situates its infrastructure – the bedroom windows of the condos, the deck of the restaurants – to maximize the view of the Tetons’ profile. What a profile it is.

An early lesson for boys is that you will cut yourself worse with a dull knife than a sharp one. Having done both, I don’t recommend cutting yourself with either but at least with a sharp knife the cut is clean and easily closed so that it might heal nicely. An old knife, its edge rusty and chipped, inflicts a much nastier cut, mauling the flesh as it rips through without the good manners of a sharp knife.

The Tetons are that kind of knife. Jagged. Menacing. They were cut unceremoniously by glaciers after being pushed around by molten rock and broken apart by a foundation that shifts with the tectonic plates below the calderas. Nothing is stable. Nothing is finished being formed.

If you could magnify the most messed up pocket-knife in your boyhood collection through the lens of the Hubble, you would perhaps see the silhouette of the Teton Range.

That silhouette is a nearly constant presence on the Teton Crest Trail, which provides a view of it unlike any seen from town. As magnificent as a the Tetons are from the airport, from the Spring Creek condos, or from any roadside between Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, they are infinitely more magnificent from the Teton Crest Trail and never more so than on our Day Three after we hiked across the Death Canyon Shelf and through the Alaska Basin, the first winding past a succession of sheer walls of granite on one side and a gaping canyon on the other and the latter the very definition of vast, stretching over a rock-strewn drainage toward mountain after mountain and into Idaho. Nothing was small except us.

For most of our hike, the Grand Teton was like the center of a carousel that is always there even as the painted ponies circle it, going up and down. Now and again, the peak would disappear behind a new horizon as we when downhill, then reappear as we went uphill. On Day Three, the Grand Teton disappeared in a valley below the Alaskan Basin in preparation for our ascent to 10,388 feet above sea level and above the tree line at Hurricane Pass. The trail up was a lazy snake of a switchbacks carrying us higher and higher, but shielding any view of the top.

Throughout the climb, it was worth stopping periodically to look back at the Alaska Basin and marvel. John Hennessey was with me step for step despite a nasty cold that would develop into modest pneumonia by the time he was home. With his lungs functioning at partial capacity, he had to work harder in the thinner air and ascending trail than I did. His company is always supreme and, in this instance, a reminder of our hiking group’s first big western trip – our trip to Glacier National Park. Once, walking section of a trail nondescript by Glacier’s standards, John said, “Pinch me. I can’t believe the views here.” It is easy in places like this to start taking it all for granted. We learned in Glacier. Each of our stops up Hurricane Pass represented a concerted effort to not do so. We were pinching ourselves.

Arriving at top, the prize was revealed. There, the awesome face of the Grand Teton was so close that if felt as though you could reach out and touch the thing. You could not; it was still a half mile or more away and, at 13,775 feet, towering still another 3,000 feet above us. But somehow it was all more intimate now. The peak, so distant when in town and even over the past two and a half days of hiking, was now right there. John and I walked a couple of hundred yards off the trail across a flat moraine and sat down to take it all in. It was a sunny day, chilly enough at elevation to warrant a fleece but on the whole warm and perfect. Between us and the trail, a marmot scurried from beneath some rocks. It was silent movie starring one mountain mammal and driven not by plot but by theme: This land is your land? No, it's theirs. Enjoy your visit.

In due time, the rest of the crew arrived, all except Mac and Colin. Along the way they had found cell service and were doing some pressing business via text messages. Such is our state of affairs in the wilderness today. Maybe we're no different from Lewis and Clark, carrying their medals struck with image of Washington. We, like them, cannot seem to venture into the wild without bringing some of what we left behind. I brought a Kindle.

Awestruck, everyone lingered atop Hurricane Pass to enjoy this climatic view. I lingered a little more, thinking Mac and Colin would be along soon. After 20 minutes or so, I decided to move on. Mac and Colin were fast hikers and would catch up.

As a treat for myself, took out my bag of Claeys Old Fashioned Hard Candy, root beer flavored. These had been a pick-me-up all trip. At most stops for water or rest, I asked, “Who wants a root beer?” and distributed them according to requests. It was one of those running jokes that become particular to each trip. Next trip, it will be something else ‒ but for this one, it was an inexhaustible supply of Claeys.

In a dry climate at elevation, a little piece of hard candy is a miracle drug for mood. So I placed two on the Hurricane Pass signpost and walked on. Within a few yards, I saw a shiny penny on the ground, heads up for good luck. I picked it up and took it back to the signpost and laid it beside the two candies, thinking its shine in the sun might draw more attention than two dull, brown hard candies. It worked. Mac and Colin indeed found the little gift and were appreciative. Another moment on the trail. Small. Memorable. A piece of the whole.
Before I take you down the other side of Hurricane Pass, let me walk you back to earlier point on the hike as we descended from Death Valley Shelf. We came to a skinny stream – a rare water source and thus a necessary stop. We unpacked the water purification devices and set to work.

Scanning the crest of the trail we had just descended, Derek saw movement. Elk? Sheep? Goats? Deer? Whatever they might be, they looked as if they might constitute a small herd. Let’s see if we can get closer, Derek suggested. Game, I headed back up the hill. On second thought, Derek said, probably not worth it. If we can see them, they can see us. But I’d already started, thinking we could hug the granite wall to our right and not be noticed. Derek joined and in due time we were close enough to see and count 11 bighorn sheep grazing at the crest above us. It would be our most significant wildlife sighting of the trip. After that, it was the occasional camp deer grazing by our tents but no bears or moose, though those are the Tetons' signature mammals.

Not that we necessarily wanted to encounter either up close, and especially not a bear. We were greeted upon our arrival in Jackson Hole by a headline in the News & Guide about the mauling death of hunting guide, whose client had killed an elk. If an experienced guide who had bear spray (and used it) as well as a Glock (which he was unable to use) had been unable to save his own life, then what chance would we have? Maybe we should have carried Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum and mustered the steel nerve to squint and say to an impending bear, “I know what you’re thinking, punk....”


Gathered around the bear locker at South Fork Cascade Canyon Group Site for our third night on the trail, we needed to talk about what would be next. Though our trip was planned for four nights, there was talk of an early exit.

Day three had been a spectacular day, the kind you tell your grandchildren about ‒ and we did so once home. Three of us are of that age.

It would turn out to be a 14 mile day, with climbing, descending and, in the end, a long slog. Not that upper Cascade Canyon, named literally, wasn't something to see. The trail passed through a cool, beautiful forest and follows a stream that occasionally cascades over falls that stair step at a scale you’d find in a land of giants. It was just time to set up tents and cook dinner. The other side of Hurricane Pass had been a tricky descent past a glacier that was melting into its own reflecting pond – the water of which was sea green. Much of the trail was against the mountain on your left as it rose almost vertically beside your shoulder and then fell steeply to your right. At one point, the trail had fallen apart and required all fours to cross a missing gap of a few feet to avoid slipping down the right side. A little hairy, that. It made the trip down Hurricane Pass interesting.

As tents were pitched, the sun set fast. We were lower now, at the base of various mountains and cliffs that towered overhead. So when the sun was below their tops, it was gone for us until morning. As the sun’s last light departed, rising moon glowed bright over the steely cap of one impossibly tall precipice, a halo of light over a sacred place.

With that last light as an ally, I set up the stove to boil water and set out the ingredients for spaghetti, the meal selected by Rob Sedden, to whom I’d left this decision. He earned it. Reverend Rob (he’s a pastor) is a large man and generous, including with his strength. He was among the first to volunteer to carry some of Jon Stratton’s overload and also was carrying two dinners. Twice his share.

We had planned for five days, four nights on the trail, which would mean four breakfasts for nine (none needed on Day One, when we ate in town before leaving) and four dinners for nine (none needed on Day Five, as we would be off the trail by mid-afternoon). Lunch was mostly nuts and protein bars, a comparatively inconsequential load.

With nine hikers, we needed eight people to carry a meal, either a breakfast or lunch. If you carried Monday’s dinner or Tuesday’s breakfast, you were in luck. You had to carry a meal for just one day before your load was consumed. But here it was Day Three and Rob was still carrying two meals and a few of those bars and nuts. Not given to complaint, he didn’t. But he did advocate for spaghetti on Night Three, which was a Wednesday evening. He likes spaghetti, all the more so because it was the heavier of the two meals left.

Because I like to cook and also to think about cooking, I volunteered to buy all of the food, pack it and run the kitchen at camp. At $60 a head times nine people, I would have a budget of $540 – a lot of money when you consider that most of what we eat comes right off the grocery shelf: oatmeal, pasta, rice, dried mashed potatoes, Cup-of-Soups. The expense, really, is the accouterments. The spaghetti had a lot of those. Dried minced garlic. I also packed three fresh garlic cloves. Dried onion. I also packed a real onion. Basil. Oregano. Cracked pepper. Dried tomato powder and a tube of tomato paste plus a tube of pesto. Freeze-dried beef, which looks like rabbit turds but tastes like beef, is a key ingredient. Add a bouillon cube, black currants and, of course, olive oil and you have my recipe for backcountry spaghetti for nine.

Dinner’s a bit of production, though the real work is back home when the components for each meal are apportioned and packaged.

Dave Heidrich came by my house three weeks before the trip to assist. We made oatmeal, which consists of measuring the oats, adding ample brown sugar, cinnamon, a little powered goat’s milk to provide some creaminess, nuts and then dried bananas one day, dried blueberries the next, and then both in the interest of daily variety. We sorted the odds and ends: A salami for lunch one day. Peanut M&Ms. Pretzels. Gorp. A spare soup that would feed nine in a pinch. You never know when you might get trapped out there an extra day. Finally, we vacuum sealed each meal and used a Sharpie to label them: Monday dinner, Tuesday breakfast, Tuesday dinner, etc., through Friday.

I boxed it all up, my wife, Kate, took it to the Post Office and shipped it to Derek in Jackson Hole in two boxes, each with insurance and tracking at a combined cost of $90. As of Thursday, Sept. 13, the larger of the two packages had still not arrived. We would be in Jackson Hole on Saturday, Sept. 15, and would need our food. I was starting to panic and then work out a plan to shop in Jackson Hole if necessary.

Kate checked online using the tracking numbers for the two packages but the only information was the sketchy phrase “package delayed.” She requested a call from a service representative, who did in fact call only to report the package was delayed but unable to say where other than “between here Jackson Hole.” I’m sending the Post Office a dictionary so they might look up the word “tracking” and better understand their customers’ expectations.

Fortunately, the package arrived the next day, Sept. 14. Derek, accustomed providing customer service, did so for us. The boxes were delivered to his house. He had them brought by the condo by an older gentleman who works at the Spring Creek and who dressed like a John Wayne trail hand, loved to skateboard in a leather motorcycle jacket (few scrapes on the falls) and smoked like a chimney. Welcome to Wyoming, an American melting pot of original characters.
So the food made it into our backs and onto the trail.

Mealtime was a highlight, especially dinner. All day on the trail we were spread out, forming mini groups. At any given time, the mix would differ as two or three people hiked together for a mile or so and then a different set of two or three connected. At dinner, we were together, all nine of us, Mark, Dave, Rob, Mac, Jon, Derek, Colin, John, and me. 

The food prep was, without fail, accompanied by a story from Derek about his annual trip into the Tetons on horseback. He'd been doing the trip for years with the same group of friends, and being in the mountains brought him a flood of good memories. His sharing those connected our hike to a greater inventory of Teton treks. On the horse trips, Derek is the cook, a duty he takes seriously and enjoys. But beign the cook is work, and Derek enjoyed the reprieve this trip provided. Pulling up a Helinox, he would kick back to enjoy the lack of responsibility and teas me with descriptions of horse trip meals. Bacon. Eggs. Steak. Potatoes. Weight is no obstacle when pack animals are involved. As I pulled out some sad bag of whatever, Derek smiled as he recalled the horse trips and their culinary nirvana, which by definition is a " transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth." Now that's some good food. 

Rob, with able assistance from Colin, was our pack animal. It's probably no coincidence that Rob and Colin also were the two youngest members of our coterie. Rob also provided each evening's blessing, a grace even more so for being in the Tetons. Thank you, God, he would begin.The blessing of food and fellowship followed. The Lord is round about his people from henceforth even forever.

The spaghetti turned out quite good, both to my taste buds and to others, as did the other meals. Chili on Monday. Rice and chicken on Tuesday. The spaghetti on Wednesday left a chicken dish with Japanese pasta for Thursday – the last night according to the five days, four nights plan.

Therein lines another tale. Jon Stratton’s challenges were, for the most part, overcome. Rest, hydration and a lighter pack worked miracles. Still, Thursday would involve a 2,000 foot elevation gain – just the sort of hike that might take out of him again. John Hennessey’s lungs were getting worse, not better, and he needed medical attention. Mark Goetz’s bunion was making every step painful. And Derek’s old knee surgeries made any downhill trek aggravating in a bone-on-bone sort of way. By the time the spaghetti was in our dishes, the conversation was about exiting a day early, renting a van and driving to Yellowstone for the day on Friday. A weather forecast came through on Derek’s Garmin: rain, falling temperatures, and possible snow. It was time to abide by Goetz’s Rule: No misery. 

Thursday morning, we packed our backpacks one last time and headed out by way the Cascade Canyon Trail, which was 5 miles, mostly downhill and sufficiently scenic. We would in fact spend Friday touring Yellowstone, which is right next door. We stopped first at Old Faithful, de rigueur, and then at the phenomenal Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. There we took our place among the tourists along the winding boardwalk that leads to the Prismatic, a large hot spring boiling with color and weird beauty. Beneath the boardwalk the earth’s crust is so thin in places that a misstep could break it, like thin ice on a lake. Dire warnings were posted all about: Rather than plunging into icy water, one would slip instead into a witch’s blistering brew and be instantly incinerated. Maybe an extra puff of steam would stir the air as the earth belched the gassy remnants of its consumption.

We did see evidence of tourists losing, if not their heads, their hats, which all too frequently blew off and landed on the grey and brown edges of the Prismatic’s main and subordinate hot springs. A truly eclectic collection of hats lined these timeless and geologically significant springs, a metaphor I suppose for how civilization encroaches on the natural world. The first hat we spotted was a bonnet in a style favored by Asian visitors and designed to protect one’s face and neck from sun damage. It was red and white, which are perfectly fine colors except when arranged in the patterns that offended the fabric of this hat. Nothing about the bonnet was attractive. Seeing it, Colin, with the wisdom of his youth, observed: “The wind did someone a favor.”

My daughter, Anna, drove down from Bozeman, where she lives and works for Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, which carries the bard to mountain hamlets where cowboys and cowgirls pull up in pickup trucks, set out lawn chairs and catch themselves a little Richard III as the sun goes down another summer day. Our rendezvous with Anna was an amazing bit of logistics. We agreed to meet in Madison, which sounds like a big place and in Wisconsin it is. In Yellowstone, it's a parking lot and a public restroom. There’s no cell service for coordinating one person coming into the park from the north to make sure she meets up with those coming in from the south, entrances that are some 80 miles apart. Yet within five minutes of us, Anna arrived. I’d not seen her since January, when she was home for her wedding and I walked her down the aisle for her ceremony presided over, naturally, by a Shakespearean actor for whom she had written the script. That was a splendid day, as was this one. Her coming made the disappointment of departing the Teton trail a daily early a little easier to take.

Anna took us past fields of buffalo and to Yellowstone's Grand Canyon, a gaping fissure through which the Yellowstone River tumbles, having cut the spectacle around itself from the igneous rock which itself was lava, spewed and spent from ‒ in geological time ‒ a very recent volcanic eruption just 600,000 years ago. Homo heidelbergensis was already in Africa, creating an ancestral footprint for Homo sapiens who would, in turn, make a national park out of the volcanic activity.

We would cover over 300 miles in a van with 160,000 miles on its odometer and a suspect wheel bearing in the right rear. Driving back to Jackson Hole, the Grand Teton appeared on our right, rising above the Snake River at sunset. A mile of tourists had parked roadside to watch this timeless and beautiful event, many having set up cameras on tripods to capture it. To capture light. To capture the moment.

Around one bend, the Grand Teton disappeared behind us, gone, only to reappear around the next bend in front of us. Behind us one minute. Ahead of the next. It's that kind of mountain. It's everywhere.

Our moments were coming to an end, except in memory where they live on. The Tetons. Wow.

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