GET OUT: Teton Relativity

By on October 4, 2016

Slowing down time with a 19-mile walk in the park.

Sunny, warmer weather this weekend could make this journey an enjoyable late-fall venture. (Photo: Sam Morse)

Sunny, warmer weather this weekend could make this journey an enjoyable late-fall venture. (Photo: Sam Morse)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Einstein’s general theory of relativity states that the speed at which time passes is relative to the speed an object is moving. Of course, this phenomenon only becomes noticeable when approaching velocities akin to the speed of light. It is a principle, however, that also applies to outings in the backcountry, when early starts and long suffer fests can bend time.

I recently experienced this time warping sensation while hiking the Paintbrush Canyon to Cascade Canyon loop in Grand Teton National Park.     

Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes during a coffee-fueled 4 a.m. drive to the String Lake trailhead, I had the apprehensive feeling that normally precedes a long day in the mountains.

As we hit the trail my buddy Ryan and I alerted area bears of our presence via our loud and obnoxious chatter. Sadly, Ryan’s hiking music was also obnoxious. Passing around the western side of String in the pre-dawn glow, Seal’s “Kissed By A Rose” brought back memories of puberty, middle school and Batman Forever.

Those early hours of the hike were defined by a kind of cold determination to hammer out as many miles as possible before the sun made its way over the horizon. We pushed into upper Paintbrush Canyon, where, during the formative hours of a golden Teton morning, we stopped to recharge and consume calories.

This was my first time in the upper confines of Paintbrush Canyon, and I now understand why so many whisper of its raw and vivid beauty. Soaked by the morning light, the majesty of the park was on full display. Hiking past Holly Lake and climbing the upper parapets toward Paintbrush Divide (10,720 ft.), my mind had the Lord of the Rings horn theme music on repeat.

For me, having lived in Jackson Hole for a few years now, seeing the park from this angle seemed a capstone of sorts, an overdue consummation of my love affair with this place.

Dropping into the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, we confronted miles of emerald trail and jagged granite. Now 12 miles deep as the morning flirted with the afternoon, I found myself less consumed by natural beauty and more preoccupied with distance. At a certain weary point, the cordial banter we conducted with passing hikers was over. What were once warm pleasantries became gruff nods and quick “hellos.”

The last thing I clearly remember was eating lunch at the confluence of the North Fork and Cascade Creek proper. Exhausted and in need of a pick-me-up, I took sour candy strips from my pack and stuffed them between my lips and gums like chewing tobacco.

A couple hours later, hobbling across the bridge at southern String Lake, I felt like I’d just gotten my ass kicked. This was easily the biggest circle I’d ever walked, but even there, in the deep grip of exhaustion, I contemplated my next Teton mission.

During the drive back to Jackson, it was difficult to accept that just 12 hours ago we’d crossed that same bridge before dawn. While hiking that day, time was relative; it seemed much longer than half a day. Human lives are interesting that way: small bursts of adventure and excitement contrast longer stretches that pass only as fast as the time clock at work allows. PJH

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