Delta Lake was as incredible as the pictures appeared. That was my original thought. Sometimes you go somewhere the and the pictures oversold it – Mount Rushmore or the Grand Canyon North Rim, to name a few examples. Not this. Framed on the left by Disappointment Peak, on the right by Teewinot Mountain, and with the imposing massif of Grand Teton directly in front of us, Delta Lake carves out a cathedral-like view that only had one comparison in my mind – Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was more impressive than that – the waters of Delta Lake were exactly the color that they were advertised, a brilliant turquoise blue that defies a more classy comparison so Elizabeth and I have taken to calling “Gatorade blue”.
What a weird and wild sight it was – a 75 degree day with not a hint of a chill, even up here at 9,500 feet above sea level, and yet I could see snow in the distance. That snow was from Teton Glacier, a small glacier hidden by the peak of Grand from the worst of the sun, whose melt feeds Delta Lake. Which yes, means despite the heat and direct sun, the water of Delta Lake was no more than 35 degrees. To my overheated self, that sounded heavenly.
Even more to my relief, just to the right of me, across the morass of rocks and logs you see at the foreground of the second image, I found Rich and Taylor perched on a big rock overlooking the lake. I hailed them and found out that the two of them really had not finished all that far ahead of us – in fact, they said they’d been there less than 20 minutes. As it was, Rich was feeling the sting of the arduous climb in his ankles and was taking a well-deserved rest. Apparently Taylor was feeling much like me, having enjoyed the challenge of the rock climb part and being well-worked-out without feeling gassed.
As for everyone behind me… well, Elizabeth, Pam, Terri, and Garrett all looked varying levels of worse for the wear. We needed a little bit of a break up here, and a lot of water to boot. Terri had her infamous one-pound chair on hand, which she set up right along the lake. The rest of us flopped down on various rocks near the Gatorade water and pulled out the lunches we’d packed. Elizabeth had been mooching my water for the past hour or so, so I mooched an entire bottle from Taylor – the circle of life. I had a peanut butter sandwich and some snacks – Go-Go squeeze, sweet and salty mix, some standard hiking snacks. My appetite wasn’t particularly large, a peculiar quirk I have in the middle of and immediately after a workout. But my thirst? Yeah, I was thirsty. To conserve water, I asked Rich for his life straw so I could drink directly out of the lake. There was a long discussion on how one properly uses the life straw. I was reading the instructions, which pretty clearly stated how to use the LifeStraw. But everyone else had their own opinion on how it worked, including people I had never met before. In the end, everyone is a critic. I reached the straw down into the cold aqua depths and began sucking water through the straw. It was heavenly. (Note: I now have a LifeStraw water bottle). Maybe I looked silly while using it, as Rich would seem to suggest.
I took off the bulky hiking boots for a bit and soaked my toes in the water with Taylor. You really couldn’t have asked for a nicer day with a better group of people. I hadn’t been expecting to share this view with any more than half of the people in our party that I was, and that doesn’t even mention our two hiking buddies. There was plenty of time to enjoy the view and get pictures. Taylor’s rock was a hot commodity for that.
I also had some time to do a little more photography before we got moving again. I’ll try not to include too many pictures, but understand that that is not easy.
It’s worth noting that the features in these pictures probably look a bit smaller than they were in reality. For the most part, I used wide-or-medium lenses for my photography, a decision I stand by. With that said, there’s some “objects in mirror are larger than they appear” effect from that. The peak of Grand is still another 3,500 feet up. Looking at it in these pictures, I think it’d be easy to say “oh yeah, I could get up there”. I assure you, in reality I did not feel that way. Furthermore, the big mountaintops that flanked Delta Lake gave it a very “cathedral-y” feel. Everything was large and awe-inspiring. The rock pictures come the closest to capturing that in my opinion, but nothing could fully capture the feeling evinced by the view.
In the end, I decided not to jump in the water, a decision I maybe vaguely regret. I don’t know, there were a lot of people up at Delta Lake, which is obviously rapidly exploding in popularity. I couldn’t really jump in naked, and I didn’t have any spare pairs of shorts, so it was either take that terrible climb back down in wet shorts, or just dip in my toes. I went with option B.
Rich and Taylor took off for the trailhead shortly before we did. I didn’t want to leave, but I also didn’t want to stay for too long, given the fact that Kris and Alex had been told we’d meet up mid-afternoon and it was already basically mid-afternoon now. I snapped a last selfie with Elizabeth and we began the treacherous climb down.
The way back down was as arduous as it was treacherous. In some ways, it was worse than walking up. On my own, I could have scrambled down like the nimble mountain goat that I am made it to the bottom of the boulder field in minutes. With Elizabeth, who is habitually overcautious in descending tough trails, it was going to take longer. With Pam, who was much the same way but also exhausted and starting to show signs of dehydration, it was even worse. The sun beating down on us created a feedback loop, exacerbating all of our ills. So, too, did the necessity of clambering over the boulder fields downhill. I’m glad everyone else had their hiking poles with them.
I’m going to guess it took somewhere in the range of 60 minutes to get back to the maintained trail – in other words, one hour to go one mile downhill. Maybe that time estimate is off, because by now the only sense I had of the passage of time was the increasing angle of the shadows on the mountainside. Not longer after we got onto the maintained trail, I took the last swig of my carefully rationed water. Nobody else had any – not telling everybody to make sure to pack enough water had been a major failing on the part of Elizabeth and myself. Pam looked flushed, and we still had three miles to go. Besides, I was chafing to go go go go go. I turned to Elizabeth. “Do you want me to go down to the car and pull it up to the trailhead so that you guys have less to walk? I can get some waters ready for you.”
Elizabeth looked at me. “Are you sure?”
I made a big show of acting like it would be a huge sacrifice for me to do so, then I grabbed the keys from her and took off at a jog down the mountainside. Finally, I had my peace and quiet on the hike. Which I guess was more of a trail run at the pace I was going. I took the exposed switchbacks pretty fast, trying to get out of the sun’s harmful UV rays because I had forgotten to put on sunscreen and didn’t need to be fried for the rest of the week. Around the 2-mile mark/trail junction with the Garnet Canyon Trail, the path moved into the long shaded downhill slope. I slowed down here, but was still moving at a pretty decent clip because of the promise of that little creek up ahead. I had Rich’s LifeStraw inside my backpack, and nothing was more of a motivator than the thought of drinking water straight from Glacier Creek. Along the way, I also called Kris to try to coordinate the rest of our Saturday in Grand Teton. The plan had been to meet up with Michael and Irene in Jackson later in the afternoon, do some gift shopping, and then get dinner. But with everything going on, we weren’t sure what dinner itself would be, and first of all I just needed to coordinate with the Meister family. My mom told me she was on the way to the trailhead to pick up Rich and Taylor, who I honestly expected to overtake at any moment. They were going to freshen up before heading to Jackson. I told her that sounded like the plan, then abruptly hung up when I heard the gurgling waters of the fabled Glacier Creek in the distance. The water was calling me. I stepped off near the bridge, prayed no one walked by to see me debase myself like this, and spent a solid 5 minutes doing nothing but drinking the cold, refreshing creek.
Reinvigorated, I returned to my hike/jog through the lower trail wilderness. All of a sudden, I recognized the final boardwalk to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead. Sure, it was getting quite late in the day, and it had been a much longer adventure than I anticipated, but the toughest hike of the 2021 National Parks Trip was conquered. Even more to my liking: the Meister family had stuck around at the trailhead in their rental car, and when I walked up my mom offered to walk down the dirt road to pick up Elizabeth’s Outback. As grimy, sweaty, and thirsty as I was, I accepted her offer to sit in the blessed air conditioning and drink an ice-cold bottle of water while she took the last part of the walk for me. This is why you invite your family on your vacations, I guess!
After a nice refreshing break in the air conditioning, my mom arrived with the Outback. I bade my family adieu and promised to let them know as soon as we had dinner plans figured out. As for who would be making the dinner plans? I figured that nobody would be better at finding a reservation for 11 on short notice in a crowded vacation destination during peak season than Michael Harding himself. I put him and Irene on the task of finding a restaurant that could handle us, then I went into the back of Elizabeth’s car and pulled out a bunch of waters and Delta-Lake-colored Gatorades to chill at the bottom of our cooler. And then I sat down on the cooler to wait.
After a good long meditation, Terri and Garrett came tumbled past the trailhead. I tossed them each a water (under strict instructions from Elizabeth to guard the Gatorades with my life). Terri told me that Elizabeth and Pam weren’t far behind, but Pam was struggling a bit. I grabbed a few more waters and sprinted up the trail. Turns out “not far behind” was like 100 yards, so I needn’t have done that. Either way, I made sure that everyone started hydrating immediately. Aren’t the mountains supposed be cool?
Elizabeth offered to take Terri and Garrett to their car so that they could avoid the walk. We didn’t really have much to pack up. Better yet, Michael had a lead on a restaurant. It was on to Jackson Hole for our merry crew.