Saturday, January 30, 2010

Excursion article: Sleeping on Snow King in Jackson Hole

Caption: Nate Dunn chucks himself off of a cliff on top of Snow King mountain during a Boy Scout campout.

By Mark Wilcox
Excursion: Chilling out on Snow King
Where: Snow King, duh
How long: Overnight or less
Why: Because you can
Difficulty: Depends on if you ride the lift up or not

Secret of a happy life number 14: “If you’re outside, there’s fun to be found.”

It’s not the first or the last secret in the book I haven’t written yet, but it’s certainly an important one in this valley. It seems no matter what you choose to do, as long as you make the effort to leave the house, happiness follows.

It could be something as simple as a snowball fight in the yard or something as complex as scaling the Grand with your eyes closed in the dead of winter (not recommended). It doesn’t much matter. Sun, snow, fresh air, trees, everything outdoors induces a good mood.

This brings me to secret number 138 for a happy life: “Falling is greater than or equal to fun, unless done unintentionally.”

Maybe it’s the rush of fresh mountain air into your lungs. Maybe it’s because you’re daring fate to do something nasty to you. Maybe it’s just because you’re showing off for friends. Whatever it is, it’s enjoyable.

The trick is finding places where you can fall safely. I recently took my Boy Scouts to the top of Snow King for a campout. Our troop had obtained permission to sleep in the panorama house. I’m not sure how free they are in lending it out to other parties, but they were plenty generous with us. If you’d rather not call Snow King to ask, you can always hike up the mountain with gear to build a snow cave (see my February 4 article) on the forest service land just over the ridge.

We got our gear up on one of the last lifts up to the top and set it up in the panorama house. With plenty of daylight left, we went outside. Mission number one: sledding, also known as assisted freefall when you’re sledding on steep terrain.

We took my sled over to Bearcat and made a few runs down before we decided the sled offered less control than freefall. So Aidan, Jason, Joe, Nathan and I sought out somewhere to freefall instead.

We found it right where we knew it would be: just before taking off on the main Cat track down the mountain. The rocks throughout this area are what one of my exaggeration-prone snowboarding buddies once called, “60-foot cliffs, dude.” With feet planted on the ground, reality is easily grasped. We walked up to the “60-foot cliffs” fearlessly. The tallest one measures maybe 15 feet onto flat ground. This is the only one Snow King labels with “CLIFF” markers. The rest are 6-foot rocks with a steeply sloping hill beneath them. If you jump out enough, you can actually drop farther than 15 feet more safely than the actual cliff because of the slope of the hill.

After checking snowpack and how steep the hill was for safety, each of us took turns leaping out from the rocks in various directions. On landing, we would sink into the snow in a rush, never hitting the ground on the steep hillside. I figured my biggest jump landed me about 18 feet down from the top of the boulder in a shoulder-deep trough I created on impact. Extricating myself from the hole was often the hardest part.

As the sun set, we were treated to a gorgeous aerial view of Jackson by night. Surprisingly, we saw almost a dozen people in ones or twos who had hiked or skied up after dark for a single run down by the light of town. Amazing where you’ll find the nightlife in Jackson sometimes. That is what Jackson Hole is all about. People here seem to have an unfailing dedication to the outdoors.

Waking up to the incredible vista from the panorama house only served to remind me what a wonderful place I live in. Plus I could see my house from there.

Which brings me to secret number 85 of a happy life: “The more land you can see, the more content you are to own none of it.” Just knowing it’s there seems to be enough.

1 comment:

  1. When is this book of secrets to a happy life being published? :) I want a copy. Love your writings and adventures... while I'm at it I love your pictures too. Make sure you give the details again about your gallery when its all set up, then I'll be sure to come see it!