The Most Pain I’ve Felt While Hiking! (Also: Darby Canyon, String Lakes, and Green River Lakes.)

The Most Pain I’ve Felt While Hiking! (Also: Darby Canyon, String Lakes, and Green River Lakes.)

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Part 1: The Text


My Peruvian friend Yue texted me and asked if I’d like to come and visit her in Jackson. She reckoned that we could perhaps go hiking on Friday, then do something on Saturday and part of Sunday, too, and that her friend Beatriz (Chilean) could accompany us.

I agreed, but we both had some minor changes in plans, so I ended up loading up my kayak on Friday, and drove up Saturday morning. It’s about a 3-hour drive, but really not too bad. We met up at Yue’s work, then picked up Beatriz for the ride over to Darby Wind Cave trail. Our plan was to hike the trail and perhaps explore some of the cave. 

The drive to the Wind Cave trail takes about 1-1.5 hours, depending on traffic, and it quite beautiful. If you’re interested, stop by the airport in Driggs and grab a bite to eat while also exploring the museum, which is owned by Dr. Sugden, a flight physician and one of the heirs to the King Ranch in Texas. He owns a number of historic planes and jets, and the visit is free. You can see that and more (including fossils) on a previous write-up that I posted here.

Part 2: The Hike Begins with Ominous Portents

On the road up, the girls kept asking me if I was lost—I wasn’t, but I also hadn’t driven the exact route. I came to question their orienteering skills quite quickly based on that line of questioning. 😉  Anyway, soon enough we were at the trailhead, and it was still before noon. Here I made some mistakes: I packed my mom’s Sawyer filter, which she said was great, forgot that I also had my own in the bottom of my bag, and gave Beatriz my bear spray. 

In all, our roundtrip stats were 6.3 miles total distance, 3 hours 17 minutes moving time, and 4 hours and 27 minutes total time. Why did we spend so much time stopped? Well it wasn’t due to the gals being out of shape. Anyway, a list of stats:

  • Total Time—4 hrs 27 min
  • Stopped Time—1 hrs 9 min
  • Moving Speed—1.9 mph
  • Avg Speed—1.4 mph
  • Ascent— 1,770 ft 
  • Base elevation: 7016 feet
  • Peak elevation: 8855 feet
  • Critical failures: 2

The weather was quite pleasant, if a bit warm, with intermittent clouds that averaged about 3/8 scattered. The trail takes you over a nice, creosote bridge, then there are a couple of creek crossings accomplished on downed logs, which my South American harem handled well. As we climbed, we discussed goofy things, like why the question, “You didn’t go out last night?” is hard to answer with a single word in English. Other languages don’t have the problem. NPR has a helpful article, so here’s a bit of it: 

Around the start of the hike.

“The English language used to have more options than just “yes” and “no.”

There were four options, to be precise: “yes,” “yea,” “no” and “nay.” She writes:

” … ‘nay’ was used to respond to positive statements or questions, while “no” was reserved for contradicting anything phrased in the negative.

Is the Tabard open?
Nay, it closed at midnight.

Isn’t Chaucer meeting us here?
No, he went home to bed.”

“Once that distinction dropped out,” Schulz tells NPR’s Arun Rath, “we actually created a problem for ourselves. Because now when someone asks you a question in the negative — ‘Oh, you didn’t like that film?’ — if I say ‘No,’ I might be saying ‘No, I didn’t like that film’ or ‘No, you’re incorrect, I loved that film!’ “

And in some cases, “No, totally” makes your feelings more clear.”

—  https://www.npr.org/2015/04/12/399210557/the-rise-of-the-no-totally-linguistic-phenomenon

One of the stream crossings.
And another crossing.

We stopped a few times for pictures, and I was shocked by the number of people that I saw on the trail. I’ve done this trail before with my old buddy Chris, and we saw 0 other folks; I did it with my mom, and we likewise were the only humans. Why so many this day? I don’t know.

Before the switchbacks.
After the first switchback.
Waterfalls.
Another fall.

The trail itself is a steady uphill but rather easy in my estimation; it has about five “switchbacks,” but they aren’t stacked on top of each other like on many trails. Soon enough we were at one of the upper creek crossings, but my mom’s filter was broken. Rookie mistake. I forgot that my other filter was in the bag, so I didn’t check on it. Thankfully, Beatriz had some water. 

At one of the upper crossings.

Passing the creek, we entered into the snowpack, which was approximately a 36″ base. We made the climb with me pulling the girls in spots, and especially Yue, as she seemed to be wearing flat-bottom dancing-floor shoes. Getting to the waterfall was difficult, as we had to climb in the randkluft due to the angle of the snowpack. I spent time taking photos, the girls relaxed, and then we started on up to the cave. On the way up, we met a man who had made it into the cave, but he didn’t go past the squeeze. He informed us that the creek was treacherous, and that no one seemed apt to cross it. Noted!

The South Americans aren’t giants, but still, it’s a big waterfall.
Leaving the waterfall.

Part 3: Of Randklufts and Horror

The randkluft to the cave was far worse than the one to the waterfall, so I led the way. At one point, you had to carefully climb down the cliff and hit the randkluft without falling into a pit. I helped Ms. Yue get down, and then started to help Beatriz. As she twisted so that I could grip her, I put my arm under her butt…suddenly there was a great roar that seemed to go on for some time. 

And time was slow. As soon as I heard the sound, I thought that the bear spray had somehow been punctured. It hadn’t. Instead, the safety came off, and it was blasting straight into my open mouth as I took a breath to tell Beatriz that I had her. 

And it continued going. It hit my mouth, my nose, my eyes (thankfully I had my Nemesis safety glasses on), then swept down my face to my chin and neck, and finally across my shoulder and back. I couldn’t drop Beatriz, so I focused on completing the task at hand, and then kind of staggered/shambled away towards the ice-fed waterfall. Beatriz was coughing a little, but it seemed that Yue, who was probably 7-10 feet ahead, suffered the most impact on her respiration. For whatever reason, my breathing wasn’t much affected (of course, that’s true of the gas chamber for me, as well), and I was able to see, but the pain was fairly intense within seconds. I had to pass some folks going the other way (not much room), and they made some comment to the effect of, “God, are you alright.” 

Since I was literally dripping bear spray, I knew that I’d have to suffer the waterfall to simply pressure-blast off the excess. As the spray is an oil, it wasn’t going to actually “clean” me, but getting rid of the excess was important, so I handed my phone to Beatriz and proceeded to take off my hat and let myself be doused. The downside was that I got more in one of my eyes, which was, for the most part, then basically blind. Annoying. I requested that Yue get some water (it comes out of the ground and is safe at this time) for both drinking and to flush out my eyes. She was a doll and did. Beatriz kindly took some photos of me (I didn’t realize this at the time) and, I think, also got rid of some of the massive  amounts of dripping spray that she had on her arm. I don’t think that she ever complained at all. She also found my light jacket, and I stripped off my shirt and put it on—I can feel the burning on my back just thinking about it. 

Now came the fun…obviously the cave was scrapped, so we had to head back to the car. I went off ahead of the girls, as I was concerned that I might end up mostly unable to see, which wouldn’t be nominal in the randkluft. Once out of it, I slowed down and kept trying to scrape off the garbage with snow. You shouldn’t rub the crap in, but let’s face it—with that amount of bear spray, it wasn’t really going to matter, and the cold ice felt delightful. I also found that there was some residual spray on my backpack, which cut through my jacket and burned me some more. Yay!

We descended via a different route than our ascent, and on the way Yue managed to dislodge a boulder, which got me in my ankle. Very memorable. We also saw the memorial to all the schoolgirls who were killed at the cave by a lightning strike. The next hour+ sucked, and all the more so as we exited the snowfields and the burning on my chin and all just reminded me of past, foolish decisions…the Swiss cheese model of accident causation floated through my thoughts. 

An extra downside for the girls was my increased talking, which kept my mind off the burning. We finally reached the car, I took a leak, and we put the contaminated articles in some of my contractor bags, which, BTW, I got via SLICKDEALS! On the way out, Beatriz drove and offered to let me shower at her place. We got a buttload of dish soap to cut through the spray oil, as well as vinegar, which, as it turns out, works great on thermal burns, but poorly for peppers. Beatriz let me shower at her place (so kind) and then we went out to eat at Big Hole BBQ, which used to only exist over in Idaho. It was delicious, although I couldn’t finish my brisket. 

Heading back down into Jackson.

As night was coming on, I headed up the Hoback canyon and found a very rough road by a bridge that had a spot where I could Jeep camp. The burning was still there, but only frustrating. My sleep wasn’t the best, as my hands were on fire, but hey, that’s better than being on literal fire, which I find makes sleeping almost impossible. 

Part 4: Separated at String Lake?

The next morning, I went back to Jackson and met Beatriz at Leisure sports, where she rented a tandem yak. While Yue was getting ready, I headed up to GTNP to get my park pass and park boating permit, as well as my watercraft inspection. We agreed to meet at String Lake, which, as it turns out, doesn’t have cell service on the girls’ phones, but does on mine. I waited about 5-10 minutes but then decided that they might have been stymied by unforeseen circumstances, so I went to paddling. It was great. After about an hour, some folks came paddling up to me…turns out it was the South Americans! Cool beans.

Just yakkin’ around.
Oh! There they are!

We paddled up String Lakes and just lazed around, but eventually they had to go, so I helped them load their kayak on to Beatriz’s SUV, then went back to paddling myself. Interestingly, one of the videos got featured on a few sites, such as “Video Proof There’s Nothing More Chill Than Kayaking The Tetons.” The link also has a great map. 🙂

The short version…
The long version…hear the sounds of nature!
Leaving the lake.

Eventually I was forced to abandon my fun when a thunderstorm swept in, and I headed out, hitting up Ms. Wendy’s on the way out. I Jeep-camped again, and near the same spot, although in a more secluded pull-off. 

My camp along the river.

Part 5: Greyed Out at Green River

Morning rolled around bright and early, and I packed up my junk and got moving. 40 Rod Road is a nice shortcut to the Green River Lakes, which was my destination, but things started to get ominous as I turned off on it. By the time I was on the main road to GRL, there were intermittent storms with hair, and a solid, dark overcast. The temperature hit 42F and continued to drop, which wasn’t ideal.

My plan was to kayak to the Upper Green River Lake, but it seemed like that wouldn’t be wise. Instead, I yakked around close to the boat ramp just so that I could get some photos, and then packed up and headed back down the road to find one of the free, dispersed camping areas. My meal for the night was MRE Santa Fe Rice and Beans and also MRE Chili Beans in Seasoned Sauce! Yummy! Plus some chips, of course. I had some shows to watch and tons of Kindle books, so I hunkered in my sleeping bags and enjoyed listening to the rain, then fell asleep. 

Part 6: A Thousand-Dollar Loss

The next morning looked nicer, and I didn’t get up until 8. I packed everything up, but the weather was colder. By noon it was still 35F and not getting warmer, but at least the sun was out. Note: I wish that they had overnight parking near the boat dock. The walk is tedious if you do it often. I was going to scrap the trip, but there were some park ranger boats on the water doing all sorts of stuff, and I felt pretty safe with them there, my waterproof outers, my multiple NRS float bags, and my wetsuit. I kept closer to shore, though, and tried to stay out of the wind. By the time I reached the lower lake inlet, the waves were just horrible and were blasting me with water. Thankfully I stayed completely dry, but, as it would turn out, my Canon 80D was destroyed by the failure of a dry bag, which had delaminated without me knowing. (I even had it double-bagged, but the inner bag was only a contractor bag.) Live and learn…a terrible mistake. 

I managed to kayak up river for a good ways, but then tied off the bow and drag-portaged the boat up past the bridge, then got back in and paddled on up. Upper Green River Lake comes into view as you hit a wider part of the river, which has some awesome boulders, and it fairly easy to paddle into. I staked out an awesome campsite, then went and nabbed some lake trout. The weather began to turn for the worse, so I made my way back to camp around 6PM, cleaned up, had dinner, and did some reading before calling it a night. There was rain and sleet intermittently, but that helped me sleep fairly well.

Peaceful.

The next day featured weather that was finally decent. My first order was to pack everything up, and get it ready, but then I went and kayaked up past the upper lake into the oxbow channels, which are stunning. I also scared a moose by my camp.

Part 7: Hey, Sun! And Exiting Against the Wind.

I returned, packed my yak, did some more fishing, and then made my way downriver and across the lake directly. There were many more boaters and very little wind, so I went directly across the water, though I began to overheat and had to slow down a couple of times. My exit map is below, if you’re interested; the little pin is where I camped. You’ll notice that I stuck close to shore for the most part, although the area where I “circled” is fairly shallow and was dead-calm at the time.

Skip to the end to see what the first day looked like.

Packing up was annoying as always, so I rewarded myself with a delicious brisket BBQ burger from the Wind River Brewery! 

So many fantastic calories.

Despite the $1000 loss and being bear sprayed, this was a great trip.

With love, always,

My friendly signature.

-Luke

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