Day 5 – An Epic Adventure

“… and there I was, shirtless, leading a horse bearing my injured buddy out of a canyon in Grand Teton […]

By on September 7, 2007 | Comments
“… and there I was, shirtless, leading a horse bearing my injured buddy out of a canyon in Grand Teton National Park.”

Ever since the first time I saw “epic” used to describe a 50 mile mountain bike ride or a long run through the mountains, I was annoyed. Outdoor magazine and its ilk had entered upon a quest (and not an epic one) to render this term a meaningless modifier. Odysseus went on an epic journey… chances are Joe Schmoe and his friend didn’t on their four hour run. Despite the semantic hang up, the night I had labeled today’s run as epic. Steve and I would traverse 2 miles further north on the Valley Trail that we’d run on day 4, climb 3300′ up Open Canyon and over Mount Hunt before descending Granite Canyon and finishing on a two and a half mile traverse back to Teton Village.

The morning started out great. We hit the trail a bit earlier than the day before and both of us felt much smoother, much more recovered from the weekend’s body-bashing efforts. The previous day’s traverse went by in a snap as did the next two miles over to the start of the big climb. The climb was filled with great views.

Looking east down Open Canyon towards Jackson Hole.

While we made good time while moving, we stopped to take many pictures.

Looking northwest up Open Canyon at a mountain of a yet to be determined name.

Including (more than) a few staged running shots.

Steve rolling down the north side of Mount Hunt.

Me bounding down the north side of Mount Hunt.
-taken by Steve Burton

The top of Mount Hunt was particularly stunning.

An upper face of Mount Hunt.

With the threat of storms rolling in we picked up the pace as we dropped in elevation. I wanted to be below timberline if lightning hit. This stretch was filled with many miles of great single track through forest and glen with plenty of cliffside running mixed in. These openings were great as the other side of aptly named Granite Canyon included a two thousand foot stone face.

Looking south over a cliff on Mount Hunt
at the opposite side of Granite Canyon.

Once we reached the canyon floor, we ran by many more open, stream side glades. Knowing that these were prime wildlife habitat, I kept my eyes peeled. We were rewarded with the spotting of a large bull moose.

Bull moose in Granite Canyon.

Slightly further down the canyon we encountered an encampment with horses and then a forest service trail crew. Steve and I gave them many thanks for the great trails we’d already covered. About two miles further down the trail disaster struck. Steve caught a toe on a root and hit his right thigh on a sharp rock as he fell. He immediately called out my name and I came back up the trail. He had a deep cut about 4 inches long about five inches above his right knee. Steve was holding the wound closed, but the blood was still flowing.

Newt the Horse is ready to carry Steve down the canyon.

I ran up trail to find a couple we’d passed not long before. Fortunately, they had a cellphone and had reception. They called 911. I gave some vital details and then sprinted back to Steve while the couple kept the line open and walked back down the trail to him. At this point I took my Montrail team jersey off and fashioned it into a non-sterile dressing to help put pressure on the wound and reduce the bleeding. Despite this I watched as Steve went unresponsive. His eyes were open, but were completely dilated and rolling back into his head. I spoke to him, but he did not seem to hear me and did not respond. To keep the story to a manageable length we got Steve stabilized and about 45 minutes later Eric the cowboy, who had been up at the trail crew encampment came by with his pack horses. We got Steve up on the horse, Eric gave me Newt’s lead (Newt is Eric faithful steed), and there I was, shirtless, leading a horse bearing my injured buddy out of a canyon in Grand Teton National Park. Three miles and a thunderstorm later, Steve, Eric, Newt, Helen (a ranger who Steve and I had seen earlier in the day and had been dispatched to rescue Steve), and I were at the Poker Flats parking lot.

Clouds forming in the Tetons post thunderstorm
as captured from Poker Flats.

After Steve got a bunch of stitches, we still made it out to Snake River Brewing Company to celebrate our epic run.

Nota Bene:
Do not go into the mountains unprepared. Steve and I are both experienced mountain runners; however, this incident showed up that you never know when that one-in-a-million fall will happen and you need those supplies. We had no cellphone (not the biggest mistake), but also no warm clothes, no emergency blanket, no fire starter – nothing to provide warmth. Once I used my shirt as a bandage either he or I could have gone hypothermic had either aid taken longer to arrive or the thunderstorm had arrived earlier. We should have had other gear as well.

Also, if you spend lots of time in the mountains, whether alone or with friends, do everyone a favor and take an outdoor medicine course. You never know when it will save your or your friend’s life.

Daily miles: 21
Daily elevation gain: 6,115′
Trip miles: 91
Trip elevation gain: 21,242′
Weekly miles: 26

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.