Saturday’s practice was canceled. I got an idea. I wanted to run from Darby Canyon to Grand Targhee and then ride trail from the resort back to Darby. The map seemed to indicate that those locations aren’t easily connected.
I put out a query on social media that was unsurprisingly answered by people that thrive on exploration. Results were…mixed. Lynne informed me that the singletrack connecting Alta with Aspen didn't go, or would at least be deeply unpleasant. Abby and Jason said there was a route between Darby and Teton Canyon, but others chimed in that it was impassable. I preferred yes to no, so I persevered.
On Saturday morning the air smelled like California. I only lived in Tahoe for one wildfire season and I’m on year four in the Tetons but for some reason the smell of smoke, the obscured peaks, the red eyes and thin sunlight through a veil of haze still remind me of 2013.
After parking our bikes at the Ghee and watching some Pierre’s Hole racers come through, we headed over to Darby. An unmarked but pretty obvious trail threaded its way off the canyon floor and quickly took us high onto the north canyon walls with big views of the Darby badlands and the three peaks, Meek, Jedediah Smith, and Bannon, that encircled them. We walked and jogged through meadows of cow parsnip, the blossoms leaving sticky sweet-smelling traces on our skin.
|Looking down into the Darby badlands|
All pics courtesy of Cy
As we neared the base of the Wedge I got nervous. I was somewhat prepared for the possibility of turning around but was also afraid I might get in over my head on a loose or precarious downclimb. We reached the saddle southeast of the Wedge and peered down. The bowl was dotted with snow patches, obvious and not-so-obvious cliff bands, and skree fields, but it looked like there was a way down and it wasn’t unmanageably steep.
|The aptly-named Wedge|
After snacks we started down, skating on ball bearings, eating snow, following ribbons of water cascading over rock faces. I moved slowly and methodically and we poked through the gut. A half-hearted glissade down the final snow bank and I made it onto the Teton Shelf. Looking back up at the bowl, we realized we had taken the only viable route—every other line ended in massive cliffs.
Travel was fast and easy after that. I flowed down the trail with the Cathedral Group at my back and the depths of Teton Canyon before me. We purified water at the trailhead and started up the north fork. The trail to Table was reliably highway-esque but when we took the turn onto Fred’s trail it immediately steepened and grew thick with foliage. We climbed and climbed, pleased to be gaining vert so fast. By the top I felt depleted and my feet were ragged in worn shoes.
We surveyed the familiar backside of the resort. It looks even more dramatic in the summer. After a fast run down to the base and a slow beer on the deck overlooking the awards ceremony, we saddled up. The minor climb to Lightning Ridge was a punch to the gut but when I dropped into Colter’s and Mill Creek I got a solid attitude readjustment. Mountain biking is so much fun compared to running!
|Pure Teton porn...too bad it was so smoky|
We blazed the road to the Aspen trailhead, watching the bright pink sun dip lower in the smoky sky. Even though we were low on water, I really didn’t want to bail on the final section of singletrack, so we loaded up at a stream and put our heads down for the rocky up-and-down of Aspen. I felt surprisingly great until we hit the last six miles of gravel, where my paltry caloric intake caught up to me and I groused at Cy for dropping me.
|The playground behind Targhee|
No pictures of mountain biking because we were chasing sunset.
Hungry but stoked, we reached the car. Triscuits and beer quieted my angst and we ruminated with some disbelief on the amazing adventure. Connecting points on the map in a painful and aesthetic way...in my own backyard. Is there anything finer?