A Nice Dry Run on the Teton Crest Trail
And an ode to any distance runner’s best friend
The Death Canyon Shelf is a broad, three-mile stretch of trail that links Fox Creek Pass to Alaska Basin in Grand Teton National Park. On one side, steep friable walls flank one side of the trail; on the other side, the world disappears. The shelf is a stunning and remote part of the park, ten miles from the nearest trailhead, and one of the most remote locations on the big solo trail run I do every year. It’s also the place where my crotch threatened to mutiny.
Let me explain—every summer I run from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to the Jenny Lake trailhead via the Teton Crest Trail. From the top aerial tram dock it’s a curvy, undulating 29-mile mission that skirts all the park’s western high peaks. There are several easily demarcated segments, each with their own personality. Marion Lake from the tram is forested and shady, opening to Fox Creek and the Shelf, where wide open vistas invite you to leave the trail and cruise wherever you damn well please. Alaska Basin is a playground of slabs, and the last place to retreat to into Idaho. Hurricane Pass marks the final grunt along a high, barren tundra that takes runners into the south fork of Cascade Canyon, where the Grand Teton towers above. There’s a distinct contrast between the solitude of the Shelf and the final six-mile stretch of the trail, which is lined with tourists offering encouraging words like, What are you running from? or Run, Forrest, Run!
I carry as little as possible on this annual outing: two hand canteens, a light wind/rain shell that I can tie around my waist, a customized belt with two, zippered baffle pockets containing a contact lens container (one side iodine tablets; the other Ibuprofen), four gel packs, some Tram Bars, and a bag of dried electrolyte powder for diluting the iodine taste. The last thing I carry is a small sandwich baggy of A+D ointment. No tubes. (Those things are heavy.)
As you parents out there may well know, A+D is a product designed to prevent diaper rash, and if you think about, that's exactly what distance runners try to avoid, too. My A+D baggy lives in my left pocket, where it’s had a home for the last four years. Chaffing, if left unattended, can shut anyone down. I’d rather walk twenty miles with a broken collarbone than two with a chaffed crotch.
When I reached for the AD bag, as I call it, at the Shelf, there wasn’t much left. Screw it, I said to myself, turning the bag inside out. I then dropped my shorts and rubbed every last greasy smear onto my inner thighs and undercarriage. Considering that A+D lasts for hours with a single application, I knew I’d be golden (literally) until the end of my run.
From the Shelf I continued through to Alaska Basin, Sunrise Lake, Hurricane Pass, which was my final highpoint (10,338 feet elevation) before my final nine-mile descent into the south fork of Cascade Canyon. My knees ached, and my quads burned, but anyone can deal with that. I began to encounter hikers who’d appeared by boat for day trips around Jenny Lake’s western shore. The closer I got to the docks, the more day hikers I had to dodge, and the more the commentary flowed. Is there a bear behind you? Are you training for Everest? I never answered, only smiled. But one man stopped me on the trail, insistent on getting some information.
“Where are you coming from?” he demanded.
“No way,” he said.
“All the way,” I countered.
“Been out long?”
“Yes,” I said. “A while.”
“Well,” he said, rubbing his forehead, “you must be a well-lubed machine.”
I nodded in agreement, patting him on the shoulder. “I am today.”