GET OUT: Give me shelter

By on July 7, 2015

Get high via the gondola or tram to enjoy respite from scorching temps 

During her trail run, the author glimpses a paraglider floating high above Cody Peak. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

During her trail run, the author glimpses a paraglider floating high above Cody Peak. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The summer feels unreasonably warm. Part of it could be my exceedingly old age, but the warming temps seem legitimate. Extreme heat seems to swelter by the late morning. Unless coffee is downed before 7 a.m., cold brew is the only sensible option. For this same reason, early alpine starts can help with comfort and ease in getting into the high country. But the want to sleep in can overtake my desire to get out of bed and outside at the first light. Racking up the hours in the sack has been a priority in my fading youth, but the guilt accompanied by my body roasting in the mid-morning on the valley floor has posed problems. There is a solution, however, which I found on a day I drank one too many iced coffees.

The answer to sleeping in came in the form of a big red box — the tram. The thought that I could be above 10,000 feet in a mere 12 minutes was exciting. So, off I went. The box itself was a little overwhelming. Chatty and nervous visitors pressed their faces to the glass, looking for moose and other wildlife on the way up. If you can’t handle people for one-sixth of an hour, this may not be the best excursion for you.

Before offloading the tram, the operator informed the passengers of the dangers of high elevation: be sure what you walk down you can walk up. It seemed to make sense considering she was dropping 50 people off (some of them in high heels) at the top of a mountain where the oxygen is scanty and merely wandering 20 minutes down the hill could take twice as long to get up.

What shocked me the most was that she announced paragliding flights were available if anyone opted out of walking or taking the tram back down the mountain. While I’ve never paraglided before, it seems like a pretty big commitment to fly through the air with a stranger. How many people actually take the tram up and randomly decide to choose the paragliding option down? While soaring through the air is probably fun, it is a decision I would likely mull over for a while and make before I got dropped off on a 10,450-foot mountain.

When the doors opened, I was greeted by a breeze 15-degrees cooler than the valley. Psyched for life, I prepared for my run. The crisp, fresh air felt as though I was running early in the morning.  There are many directions by which to run or wander at the top of the tram. Teton Village has myriad trails on the east side, while the national park and national forest have trails that lead down to Granite and Phillips canyons, and even Idaho.

Given the heat at lower elevation, my feet opted to stay in the high alpine environment and veer south toward Cody Peak. After meandering a little past Cody, I was able to soak in some terrific views of the mountains. The east side of the ridge dropped off into much loved winter lines like Once is Enough couloir. Looking down that popular line made me feel a little dizzy. It’s just so vertical. I went for a while past there until I needed snacks and was ready to make my way back. I often forget that the turnaround point is only halfway, but it was a pleasant jaunt back to the top of the tram.

Looking at the ground on the way back, I noticed an assortment of tiny wildflowers. Unless one is specifically looking at the ground, these are easy to miss but a wonderful addition for entertainment in the high peaks. When I arrived back at the top, I vaguely thought about the paragliding option. The thin air was definitely having its effect on me, but some activities are best left for another day.

Another option to beat the heat is taking the free Gondola to Couloir restaurant. The ride provided one of the more scenic happy hours I have ever experienced. The Wyomato and watermelon salad was a light and delicious appetizer spruced up with a hearty addition of avocados and goat cheese.  Yes, it was amazing, but the beverage options were also hard to beat. In my old age, I have learned that one can never go wrong by ordering a drink from the menu that is accompanied by huckleberries. PJH

Tram: $32-$37 for adult ticket. By ticket online for a cheaper price. Runs 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Paragliding: $295

Gondola: Free, starts at 4:30 p.m.

About Elizabeth Koutrelakos

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