GET OUT: Peaceful Paintbrush

By on June 23, 2015

Slide, snow cover the trail to the canyon

The author and her hiking companion survived the ‘impassable.’

The author and her hiking companion survived the ‘impassable.’

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The warm, thick pollen in the air initially sparked my urge to escape the allergy-related sniffles. A nice jaunt was in the books for the day as we pulled into the parking lot at the North Jenny Lake trailhead. Our initial goal entailed going up Paintbrush Canyon and scoping out the scene with a possible exit via Cascade Canyon. I hadn’t been up there yet this season and was unsure of the snow or possible posthole conditions on the trail.

A late morning start made for a warm walk up the canyon, but after an hour of hiking away from the valley heat wave, the air was soon cool and crisp. I have walked the trail before, but noticed something new. A large mud and rockslide had transformed a section of the trail in the lower camp zone of Paintbrush Canyon. This slide appeared to have occurred last year, and while the trail was still passable, it was evident that large portions of it had been ripped out by this random act of nature.

Hiking further up the canyon gave a better perspective on just how large the slide path was and just how many sections of the trail it had impacted. In one part next to the creek, huge swaths of rock had manipulated the water’s flow, causing it to move further over into an old growth tree. While trail crews may be able to repair the trail, there is no way the old direction of the creek can ever be restored. This force serves as more evidence of the ever-changing nature of the Tetons.

We approached the junction between Holly Lake and Paintbrush Divide under the guise of a thick layer of snow. Consolidated, sun-cupped summer snow made easy walking on the bypass trail up toward the divide. A stranger yelled across the snowfield and asked where we were going. We motioned up toward the divide and she told us that the trail was impassable. People with crampons and ice axes failed to make it past the slide, she said.

I thanked this stranger and wished her a wonderful day, while continuing our way up.

“At least I know where you are,” were the last words she murmured as she pointed her Cannon PowerShot SD1200 at us.

Pulling my hat below my eyes to appear incognito, I continued my way up toward the divide, unsure of what to expect in these previously noted “impassable” conditions. Using caution, my partner and I did make it past the blocked part of the path. After walking the trail, I understood and appreciated the visitor’s warning. Many people have gotten hurt on the steep snowfields by Paintbrush Divide throughout the years and it is always good to use appropriate caution during this time of year. We went on the hike with no expectations, so either scenario was a win in our minds. After careful negotiation, we made it to the top safely and continued our way down toward Lake Solitude.

Long switchbacks led the way down toward the lake where a wondrous laying rock was found. Ice chunks still floated in the water and the day was not quite warm enough for me to jump in. I took off my shoes and had a snack while wandering in and out of sun soaked daydreams.

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I was brought back to the moment by a nibbling on my shoes, resting just above my head. A wild marmot was licking the salt and chewing at my precious Gortex comforts. Not only did the creature have terrible taste in footwear, but also he was most inappropriately tamed for a wild animal. A few yells scared him away and I continued snacking and napping.

Although the solstice season offers spectacularly long days, the time had gotten fairly late. We bid farewell to the lake and made our way down the trail. The first three-quarters of a mile down from the lake was snow, and it became patchy and manageable down to the forks. As we dropped in elevation, the pollen and all the worries of the valley came back in full force. About a mile from the forks, I spotted something alongside the trail that stuffed my nose even more than the largest puff of pollen—it was human produced, very large and accompanied by some TP. All good things eventually come to an end, although I tried to keep the smell of the untainted high mountain with me a bit longer.

Length: About 18 Miles

Vertical Gain: About 4,000 feet

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