GET OUT: Fire in the Mountains

By on July 26, 2016

Going to great lengths (and heights) in search of smoke-free recreation.

When there’s smoke in the air, recreationists  are forced to get creative. (Photo: Andy Lyon/Inciweb)

When there’s smoke in the air, recreationists  are forced to get creative. (Photo: Andy Lyon/Inciweb)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – At this point in the year, the summer activates the vortex of acceleration and I go about my days believing we’re forever in the tail end of June. Then I see a calendar. July is almost over? This signifies the time for “the thing” to happen. You know, the thing that happens every year that is easily forgotten until we’re engulfed in it. The entity affects every cell of the body, starting with slight itching in the eyes, a scrathy throat, and eventually headaches and malaise. It’s easy to smell and obvious to see, but we forget how much wildfires actually affect us.

This time of year we are all on equal ground. Neither tourist, nor Jackson local, nor the wealthy seasonal Jackson “resident” can get away from the bi-product of mass amounts of burning trees. The experts recommend staying indoors, keeping windows closed, not smoking or lighting things on fire, and not vacuuming.

Most of these things seem pretty difficult to do, considering staying indoors on beautiful sunny days fosters FOMO (fear of missing out), and most of the workingman’s houses here have no air conditioning, which is painfully evident in the scorching late afternoon sun.

From these recommendations, I think I would definitely be able to not smoke or make fires and I certainly could abstain from vacuuming. (Who needs to clean when there are things to do outside?)

I experimented with a few outings while there’s smoke in the air. Some of these proved moderately successful while other attempts were total failures.

Attempt 1: Unfit for the King

One morning around 4:30 am, I decided it might be a good idea to go up Snow King during wildfire season. The moon showed full, and I thought that an early jaunt would start my day off right while avoiding the hot and smoky midday sun. This was a terrible idea.

The smoke was settled in the valley, and I wasn’t even a quarter of the way up before my lungs began to burn. I continued anyways, thinking it was just the challenge of hiking Snow King in the wee hours. Instead I was plagued with a headache the rest of the day. Taking this seemingly little adventure was a recipe for lung damage.

Attempt 2: Grand exposure

This was a last ditch effort to try to escape, so I figured I’d check out the highest point around. The day was beautiful but the smoke clouded the peaks. This time, I got a bit smarter and hiked with my prescription glasses on until I got above the smoke. From there, I washed my hands and popped my contacts in once I could no longer smell the stuff.  This kept my eyes from itching, but again, a headache ensued.

After taking a bit of a rest at the Upper Saddle, I continued and the air really did seem to get better, but I’m unsure if that was the altitude playing tricks on my mind. It seemed like many other people had this idea to escape the smoke, as I spotted a few surface heaters just below the Grand at the top of the Upper Exum route. Thus, I got away from the smoke, but I could not get away from human fecal matter. The mountain views, blanketed in smoke, were also a bit subpar. Lastly, this mission was difficult, entailed ropes and route finding and seemed to take a lot of effort just to escape the fog.

Attempt 3: Mid-mountain happy hour Hopping on the gondola and riding up to The Deck for happy hour was by far my most pleasant mission. Not only was the gondola ride free after 4:30 p.m., it was fast. There was no self-propelling through plumes of smoke. A lovely taste of the Huckleberry How Pow served as respite to the smoky heat below and the tempura-fried portabellas satiated my hunger pangs. I consumed a plethora of delicious food and cold beverages, but the thing I loved the most cost nothing.

The seemingly untainted air did not contain as much oxygen as the valley below, but at least it was easier to breathe. The experience lasted only until the sunset chilled the high altitude sky, however. On my way down I remembered that midsummer does exist in Jackson and, even though the smoke prevails, warm nights in Jackson should never go unappreciated. PJH

About Elizabeth Koutrelakos

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