GOOD TIMES JOURNAL // PHOTO SERIES 022 // KATIE COONEY
Katie Cooney is an adventure and lifestyle photographer from Madison, Wisconsin, with a passion for the Great American West.
A summer in the Tetons — every outdoors person’s dream! I had the incredible fortune of securing an internship based at the foot of the Tetons this summer, and to make it even better, my boyfriend Nick landed himself a job working at a brewery just on the other side of the mountains. We packed up and moved West, dreaming of waking up to mountains every day (we’re both from Wisconsin — no mountains there!).
There are few landscapes in the world as striking as the Tetons. Rising straight out of the valleys into sharp, rugged peaks, they hold a special place in the hearts of people across the world — photographers like Ansel Adams, painters, tourists — it’s not a place that you only visit once. There are over two hundred miles of trails in the park, which is teeming with extraordinary wildlife, beautiful glacial lakes, and alpine terrain. In one summer, I did my best to explore as many corners of this incredible place as I possibly could. I’m already planning my next trip back.
To cap off an incredible summer of exploring, Nick and I hiked a portion of the Teton Crest Trail. The TCT is widely renowned as one of the most scenic and must-see backpacking trails in the US, and with good reason! Looking at photos of the sights we’d see had me giddy with excitement all summer long. We opted to hike a route that would take us 35 out of the 44 miles, through the most scenic portion of the trail. Despite taking a “shortcut,” our route added a couple of extra difficult mountain passes.
We got on the trail on a Friday afternoon, packs loaded up and feet eager to hit the dirt. Our first day would take us up into the Tetons via Death Canyon. Around mile 2.5 (or 2, as Nick would tell you — I like to think I did a little better), just after passing the fork in the trail that led us to the canyon, I caught the toe of my boot on a rock and did a full-force, arms flailing face-plant. Luckily, though, it was on a very conveniently placed patch of nice soft forest floor — most of the rest of the trail is granite and not very hospitable if you’re going to smack your face on it.
Late August in the Tetons often brings the beginning of Autumn weather — the aspen trees start to put on their golden dresses, and the temperatures grow cold again. There was potential that the temperatures would drop below freezing while we were on the trail, but we were hoping for the best. When we awoke early Saturday morning, we were happy to see that there hadn’t been a frost… but sunrise quickly changed that. A cold front pushed through, leaving frost on everything — our toes, tent poles, my wispy hairs, and our water filter. It was a rough start to the morning, but we needed to get on the road — we had 16 miles ahead of us for the day.
Day Two brought wildflowers, several mountain passes, and very, very tired feet. The last pass of the day was the longest and the most difficult, but the most rewarding. After over 1,300 feet of elevation gain, we were rewarded with the most spectacular view of the Tetons I think I’ve ever seen (and some snow to play with). Photographs hardly do it justice! Pulling our boots off that evening was the greatest feeling. There’s nothing like slipping your worn-out, beaten up feet into your comfy camp shoes and putting on a warm shirt. We fell asleep early that night, sleeping easy after a warm meal and the dessert we'd packed.
Our hike for Day Three was only about 10 miles, but after two days of hard work, our bodies were pretty tired. We allowed ourselves a slow morning, savoring every bit of the backcountry that we could. The last 10 miles followed a glacial stream, took us out Cascade Canyon, and around Jenny Lake. By the last half mile, all I could do was put one foot in front of the other! The best thing to do after a backpacking trip is to treat yourself to a great meal that isn’t freeze-dried, and we did just that. Nick and I enjoyed a couple of well-earned beers with a couple that drove us back to our car who’d also just finished the Trail — we sat back, relaxed, and reminisced on the good times we’d had.
Photography and words by: Katie Cooney