GET OUT: Emma’s Lair

By on September 15, 2015

Enjoying the eerie outdoor quiet of fall.

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Chromatic fall colors dot this quiet fall jaunt (left); a glistening Emma Matilda Lake (top), and views of the Tetons from the high point of the trail. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Fall beckons to the casual hiker with the promise of aspens shimmering in the breeze and wildlife sightings. Just out of town is a large lake with spectacular views. This is one of my favorite low elevation hikes that is highly underrated by the general public.

The hike around this obscure lake, known as Emma Matilda may lead to a deceivingly endless time warp. Named for the wife of William Owen (one of the ‘founders’ of the Owen-Spalding route on the Grand Teton), I couldn’t find much about this gal with two first names. She must have been pretty hardcore; I read she once attempted to go up the Grand Teton with her husband via Darmouth Basin, which is pretty extreme terrain. Other historical scribes simply describe her as the “wife of a mountaineer” but from the sounds of it, there may be more to her story than is actually written. In a similar vein, the casual walker need not underestimate Emma Matilda Lake.

This place can be accessed via Jackson Lake Lodge, Grandview Road or a small pullout a couple of miles up Pacific Creek Road. Opting for the most familiar route, I chose the Pacific Creek Access.

In the parking area, a woman made coffee on the tailgate of her truck. Surprised to see someone in this slightly random neck of the woods, I asked her what she was up to. This lady spontaneously vacationed from the Cooke City, Mont., area and was looking to catch a glimpse of a grizzly bear. Reports brought her to this location for a few days and while she spotted none, I was sure to grab my bear spray.

The actual walking journey began with careful awareness as I headed around the north side of the lake. I heard rumors about strange encounters with large mammals and the fall air had a vibe of creepiness to it. On parts of the trail, visibility is good as open meadows allow ample scanning. About a mile in, I heard a tromping of some sort. Prepared for the worst, I grabbed my can of security. A glimpse of the creature told me there was no need to worry, just a random runner enjoying the trail.

I saw the runner on multiple locations; the strangest thing about her was the fact that she was running in the opposite direction and lapped me four times. According to my calculations, the jogger circled the lake at least twice, meaning she surpassed the distance of a marathon. I concluded that this woman might in fact be using the circumference of the lake as her own natural wilderness track. Only in Jackson.

I stopped for lunch at Lookout Rock. But Lookout Rock wasn’t really a rock, but more of a viewing area of the lake and, of course, the Tetons. This is one of the few sections of trail that is substantially closer to the lake. With careful negotiation of a short but steep hillside, a swimming hole served as a great break in the walk.

In the silence of post-swim relaxation, the birds came alive. A loon called in the distance, but I never saw it. Sandhill cranes got rowdy overhead, and some swans swooped down into the lake. I’m no birder, but that experience was pretty darn cool. I sat until my birder kick subsided, then continued along my merry way.

The south side of the lake has old growth trees, delineated by a significant old burn area. After a few more meadows and a small bridge, my journey neared its completion. By the time I got back to the car, I felt satisfied with the stroll. While I spotted no bears on this excursion, the inherent ambiance of this area held an air of uncertainty and that was enough for me. PJH

The Beta:

Emma Matilda Lake

Miles: 10ish

Elevation gain: 750 feet

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