In case you missed it, so far I've recapped the first few days of our Great Western Adventure, including our visit to Chicago, the Corn Palace, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Devil's Tower, and our first day in Yellowstone.
Day 7: Grand Tetons Camping Day 1
After eating our usual breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, and a biscuit, Nick and I headed south to the Grand Tetons for a two-day kayaking and camping trip with OARS (we went on the Jackson Lake trip). We arrived at the Signal Mountain boat ramp (near Signal Mountain Lodge) on Jackson Lake at 10:30am and packed all of our stuff into giant dry bags that would be transported by OARS on a boat.
This is the beauty of a kayaking/camping trip with OARS: they haul all of your stuff and they prepare all of your meals. It’s not cheap, but it’s the only way I agreed to go camping.
After a short orientation about where we would be going over the next couple of days, we set out on our kayaks. Traveling with us were two families from Chicago (they didn’t know each other), one with two kids, the other with one, and a couple from Mount Laurel, NJ, which is, amazingly, right across the river from us in PA. What a small world!
After a half-hour paddle, we arrived at a small island for lunch. The guides let us explore for about 10 minutes (that’s really all the time we needed because the island was that small) while they set out lunch, which consisted of make-your-own bagel sandwiches, apple slices, cookies, and chips.
The guides told us that while we eat lunch, we either have to stand in ankle-deep water or make sure we cup our hands underneath our food well enough so that no crumbs drop onto the island. They explained that bears can smell food from up to a mile away, and if everyone who visited kept dropping crumbs, bears would know that there is regular food there and would be more likely to be on the island when we were. Nick and I, and pretty much everyone else in our group, opted to stand in the water.
We then hopped back in the water for what should have been an hour-long paddle to our campsite Grassy Island, right at the foot of the mountains.
Unfortunately for us, the wind picked up while we were eating lunch, causing almost 3-foot swells on the lake. The guides had given us splash skirts before we left from lunch, so we were nice and toasty in the sit-in kayaks. We got to Grassy Island three hours later (!) and were completely exhausted. A short hike had originally been planned for the afternoon, but because we took so long to get to the campsite, it had to be scrapped.
We all helped unload the boat and then the guides showed us how the island would be set up. Right near where we parked our kayaks was the kitchen and the living room. If a bear did come on the island, it would be coming from the mainland, and they wanted to ensure that the bear wouldn’t have to go tromping through our tent area to get to the food. We then went a little farther into the center of the island where the guides showed us how to set up our tents. After minimal struggle, having never set up a tent before, Nick and I set ours up and we headed back to the beach to relax and get in what one of the guides called our “wilderness mellow.”
The guides interrupted our wilderness mellow to introduce us to “the Groover,” aka the #2 area. The Groover is basically a toilet seat on a container to hold the waste and they set it up right on the shore but far away from the kitchen and tent areas. We were told that if a boat drove by while one of us was on the Groover, then we should just smile and wave. A container with toilet paper was left near a hand washing station near the living room. If the container was gone, that was the signal that someone was using the Groover. It’s a pretty good system, I must say.
We all enjoyed chatting in the living room while dipping into the hors d'oeuvres, a sampling of crackers and goat cheese. Then dinner was ready: caesar salad, vegetable lasagna, and garlic bread. They even made brownies for dessert! Dinner was delicious, and I’m sure we would have thought it was delicious even if we hadn’t been exhausted and starving from paddling.
The guides set up a system so that we could wash our dishes after dinner. They had four buckets: one for rinsing the plate and scrubbing the food off, one for soapy hot water to clean the dishes, one with clean hot water to rinse off the soap, and one with clean water and a tiny bit of bleach to disinfect. We then put our clean dishes in a mesh sack to dry. Brilliance! And the kids thought it was so fun that they ended up washing their parents’ dishes.
It was getting dark, so the guides explained how we were going to bear-proof our tents for the night. They gave each tent a “bear football,” basically a bear-proof box, and we had to put anything that had the smallest hint of a scent in it. This got annoying. We had to basically dump everything from our packs into this small box, all the way down to our chapstick, which I am addicted to and can’t live without it in my pocket.
After packing up our bear football, we all sat around the fire. A few people told some scary stories and jokes and I brought out my knitting for a bit, which was the only bit of crafting that I did the entire time! Eventually the families went to bed and we got to ask the guides about the “must sees” of Yellowstone. They gave us a few tips for places that we hadn’t come across in the guidebooks.
When we were just shy of falling asleep at the camp fire, Nick and I got up and checked out the stars before going back to our tent. Being afraid of the dark, I was not thrilled with standing in the pitch black in bear country, but it was amazing to see how bright the stars are out in the middle of nowhere. Nick and I both saw shooting stars, and then we headed to our tent for the night. Convinced that a bear was going to attack us, I had a very bad night’s sleep and was thankful when the sun started to come up.
At 7:00am I heard one of our guides make the morning call for coffee, and we got up to start another fun day in the Grand Tetons. We actually got to go on a hike!