September 14–18, 2019
The best remedy I can think of for getting past the emotion of dropping off your oldest child to college is heading into the woods. Thankfully for us, the Grand Tetons were a short drive away from BYU-I, and it was just the prescription we needed.
We’ve driven through the Grand Tetons a number of times, but it was always Yellowstone that took our attention. However, my wife and I decided this was our time to relax and enjoy this popular little park together—a little diversion from our long drive back to Arizona.
My challenge with national parks has always been the crowds. Popular outdoor tourist spots tend to feel more like Disneyland than the relaxing “escape-to-nature” I prefer when I go backpacking. Our research into the Tetons was somewhat encouraging, knowing that we would be entering the park during their “off” season, but we also discovered that the “off” season was still pretty crowded, in part due to the early winters that shut down much of the park. The other challenge was that camping spots in the park are in high-demand and they can’t be reserved in advance.
We arrived in the late afternoon and found that the only campground with openings was Gros Ventre, which is located a little ways away from the mountains, off in the sagebrush flats. It wasn’t our ideal spot, but it was available. My biggest worry was that it wouldn’t have any trees to hang from—and I only brought hammocks.
We called ahead to the campground hosts and asked whether there were any spots to hang hammocks. To our delight, they said that they have marked several spots that were ideal for hammocks, since that mode has become more popular over the years. The campground is near the Gros Ventre River, so while the drive to the camp was devoid of many trees, there were plenty of Cottonwoods to hang our hammocks from when we arrived. I was relieved and delighted. I set out immediately to hang our hammocks side-by-side using the Dutchware Double Whoopie Hooks and spreader bars. The site we picked only had a few trees (despite the fact it was identified as “hammock friendly”), but thanks to the hardware we brought, the hang worked out wonderfully.
While hammocks were not uncommon sites in the campground, ours were the only ones set up for camping instead of lounging, and we caught the attention of our neighbors. This was a great opportunity to share with them how hammocks really work, and a quick demo earned two new converts. It’s still amazing to me to see the dismissive attitudes turn to delight once they experience how comfortable hammocks really are—when done correctly.
Our plan was to spend one night and then rush over to Jenny Lake Campground to get in line for a spot. We heard that you’ve got to get in line early as any available spots for that day get snatched up before 9 am. Thanks to the simplicity of the hammocks, we were packed up and out on the road quick, although we were still the fourth people in line when we arrived at Jenny Lake.
Jenny Lake Campground is probably the most popular campground, and for good reason. It’s a tent-only site, secluded near the lakes at the base of the Tetons, so it doesn’t suffer from generator noise and other man-made mischief. The foliage is also very different as the Cottonwoods gave way to juniper, pine, and other evergreens. It was much more dense with plants and shrubs; very quiet and peaceful. The camp hosts talked to me at one point about my hammocks, intrigued that we actually slept in them.
Our adventures included kayaking the glacier-fed lakes at the base of the Tetons and hiking the many trails around them. String Lake is one of the shallowest and crystal clear. We had originally planned to kayak Leigh Lake and reserve a remote camping spot right at the edge of the lake, at the base of Mount Moran. However, a storm system blew in and made it difficult to kayak, so we changed our plans.
Staying at Jenny Lake Campground was amazing, and worked out beautifully with our hammocks. We stayed dry in the rain that downpour all night and into the day. One night we snuggled up together in one hammock to watch a movie. Staying flexible in our plans made the trip more enjoyable, as we opted to drive tour areas of the park as the rain and freezing temps kept us off the choppy lakes and muddy trails. Misty mornings with moose and elk lifting their heads through the willows was a site to see.
The trip was a success: well-rested and emotionally stable, we headed for home. Should we ever come back, my next trip into the Tetons will include backpacking up into the glacier valleys and get up close to the craggy summits.
Gear used on this trip
I brought along the SMr Ninox Hammock because I was in the middle of testing it. It’s a big, deep sag hammock that features an integrated but zip-off bug net and lots of tie-outs. It was a very comfortable but just on the margins of size when I was considering all the gear we were packing for a kayak trip. Space is a premium on a tandem kayak, and we had to pack simply and carefully in several dry bags to make everything work. My wife loves insulated hammocks because she doesn’t have to worry about the quilts shifting in the night (and I appreciate not having to fiddle with them). They take a little more space to pack, but we made it work.
I skimped a bit on the tarps, balancing enough coverage with pack size. The Sea to Summit is one of my all-around favorite tarps for its simplicity and coverage. It has a hex side and a diamond size, so you minimize some weight and bulk but can (along with good site selection) keep storms on the broadside. The Kammok Kuhli tarp offers a lot of tie-outs and worked well, although the Ninox hammock was really pushing it’s ridgeline limit for coverage. The bottom line? We stayed dry through a few days of rain. No problems.
I brought a few Hammock Gear quilts along with us for top insulation and layering. The 40°F quilts pack small and I brought one of those as an extra insurance policy for my wife who sometimes sleeps cold.
I modified the hammocks to use Amsteel end loops instead of the proprietary suspension that came with them. This was in part so I could use the double Dutchware Whoopie Hooks so we could hang side-by-side if needed (it was). The Whoopie Slings also worked well to pack down small, but now that I know more about the terrain at the Tetons, I will only bring lightweight webbing and use the Becket Hitch to save weight and bulk while maximizing suspension length.
- Kammok Kuhli Tarp (first gen)
- Sea to Summit Hammock Tarp
- SMr Ninox hammock
- Superior Insulated Hammock
- Hammock Gear under quilts and top quilts.