Bridge outIt was still early in the evening when I plopped down on the picnic table to peel a Band-Aid from the inside of my calf. My scratched and muddied legs desperately needed a scrub, and I could feel the beginning of a blister between my toes.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
It was still early in the evening when I plopped down on the picnic table to peel a Band-Aid from the inside of my calf. My scratched and muddied legs desperately needed a scrub, and I could feel the beginning of a blister between my toes.
A puff of dust formed as I untied my grimy laces to slip off my shoes, but I still had to smile. Nothing beats a day of hiking.
I was three when I first began hiking with my family, and to this day I love hitting the trail with my parents and older brother. During the start of August, we all headed to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming for a week of camping.
On the first day, my brother and I dragged our parents up a series of arduous switchbacks. We’d chosen the trail because the name sounded intriguing — Death Canyon. In hindsight, we should have known our parents wouldn’t be pleased.
After the hike, they hinted my brother and I would be walking alone if we had another mountain trek slated for day two. Our original plan was actually a longer, steeper trail, so we switched an easy 11-mile hike in the Colter Bay area instead.
The trail was a gem. The first half followed the shore of Jackson Lake to Hermitage Point. It offered the best views of the Tetons we saw during our entire stay, yet was lightly traveled.
The second section of the trail angled away from the mountains and into wildflower meadows. The climbs remained easy, and at the top of one ridge we spotted two moose in a distant swamp. We were caught in a short sprinkling of rain, but overall everything was going well and my parents loved the trail. There was just one little thing my brother and I had neglected to tell them.
According to our map, the final bridge across the stream from Cygnet Pond was out. My brother and I just wanted to look at it to see how difficult the crossing was. If we couldn’t make it over the stream, our only options were to backtrack or cut a few miles out of our way to get around the stream and swamp. Either route would add at least three miles to our hike. Even worse, the detour around would lead us east toward Jackson Lodge.
I didn’t want to go anywhere near the lodge. The people who stayed there — “lodgies” as we nicknamed them — made me uncomfortable. They smelled of perfume and cologne instead of campfire smoke and wore flip-flops instead of hiking boots. When we crossed paths with the lodgies, they often stared at us. I’m not sure if they were repulsed or found us entertaining. Probably a little of both.
In any case, I was willing to take my chances with the stream.
Because I’m the youngest, I was voted as the first to cross (I still don’t understand that logic). The logs shifted under my feet, but I made it to the other side still dry.
As I watched the rest of my family on the logs and unsteady branches, I waited from someone to take a face-first plunge into the muddy water. I felt relieved when all had crossed safely but also a trifle disappointed. I was kind of looking forward to a good laugh.
The trail was faint past our makeshift bridge, but we easily picked our way through a pine forest. A great gray owl swooped down from overhead and perched on a branch along our route, and fat little chipmunks poked their heads out of logs to peer at us. Other than that, we were completely alone.
We kept a straight course as the trail gradually became less defined. No one really wanted to attempt the stream crossing again, so we continued onward. Our map showed another trail we could connect with less than half a mile from the missing bridge. We’d be back on a path in 10 minutes. How bad could it be?
The forest thinned out, and we found ourselves facing a large bog. The path broke off in several directions through the long swamp grass, and from the large hoof prints on the branch I chose, I began to suspect we were following a moose trail. Once we reached an impassable stretch of mud and water, I knew I was right.
We could see higher ground only about 50 feet beyond the mire. All we needed was a log or two to make it over the mud.
I poked a stick into the ground to test how far I would sink if I just made a dash for it. The mud was at least two feet deep and very thick.
I let my brother go first. After all, he’s second youngest.
He made it over and found a few branches so the rest of us could made a shorter jump. The only thing left to do then was cross the remaining 50 feet of swamp to reach the forest.
My brother suggested balancing on tufts of grass to navigate the last stretch of wetland. He and I had grown up crossing the swamp near our house in this way.
Not wanting to get my shoes wet, I instead opted to plunge through the thick brush where I knew the ground was dry. Everyone else followed my brother.
I was ducking under a branch and trying to untangle my backpack when I heard laughter.
“You’ve got ants all over you,” my brother said between giggles.
I paused to catch more of the conversation but could only make out the sound of my mother’s voice, followed by something crashing into the bushes and more laughing. I knew I was missing something good.
When I reached the edge of the swamp my family was nowhere in sight, although I could hear feet tramping through the brush.
As I waited I surveyed the damage. My legs were streaked with dirt and I had about half a dozen scratches, none of them very deep. My formerly white socks were now dull gray, but overall I was in good shape.
The same couldn’t be said for my parents. My mom had mistakenly put her foot on an anthill as she looked for tussocks to cross the swamp. The insects had swarmed out, but she didn’t notice until my father tried to warn her. He lost his footing and tumbled over into the grass, popping up again quickly to get away from the ants.
I was still examining scratches when my mom crashed through the shrubs and frantically brushed the ants from her legs. My brother was still laughing, so I headed over to hear the story.
My backpack caught once again as I maneuvered between two downed trees, and I felt a sharp pain on my leg as I struggled to get loose. Looking down I could already see the blood beginning to run. So much for making it through unscathed.
Once my mom had removed the last of the ants and I had placed a Band-Aids over my cut, the four of us set off again to find the trail. It was a hopeless effort.
First we headed north, then west, then north again. We followed another moose trail but soon lost even that. Some of my fellow hikers began to grumble.
They had just proclaimed us lost when we met up with a path just below the horse corral. Our indecision had apparently put us on a very nice course northwest, and we had cut about a mile off of our hike by reaching the corral.
The rest of my family claimed it was pure luck, but I say it was skill. I knew where I was going all along.