Screw alpine starts. The way to picnic, I now understand, is to sleep in until late morning, eat a massive brunch, pedal leisurely to the park, and swim your first lake in magical twilight conditions. That’s what Tristan Greszko and I did on July 3, 2015, when we rolled up to GTNP’s Phelps Lake just before sunset to enjoy 1.3 miles of idyllic alpine swimming, under kaleidoscopic skies, in pond-still, gin-clear water we could drink.
We were on our way to ticking the first Triple Buck: after bicycling from Jackson’s town square to Phelps Lake, we swam its length, climbed Mt. Albright, Static Peak, and Buck Mountain under a fat moon, returned to the lake, swam back to the east end, and rode back to Jackson. It took us quite a long time. In retrospect I recall a dreamy afternoon, ideal hiking conditions all night and a crisp, clear morning. I also distinctly remember being completely over it by the time we passed the Jackson Hole Airport on the bike-path back to town in the early afternoon, when the upslope anabatic facewind (a more accurate term than headwind?) is fiercest. That stretch of bike path between the airport and Dairy Queen has provided some of the most mentally cleansing riding of my life.
We summited Albright at 1:30 am, Static at 2:30 am, and Buck at 6:30 am. In all, I’d have to say that the Triple Buck is a little less demanding than the Grand Picnic, which is less demanding than the Moranic. The climbing on the Triple Buck is easier than for either the Grand or Moran, but be prepared for nasty looseness on the descent from Static to Buck, if you choose the east ridge.
I’d hoped to beat the sun to the top of Buck, but the descent down the east ridge of Static took extra time. While in the dark, on top of Static, we googled Ortenburger and Jackson’s guidebook to check how hard the ridge walk down would be. Fortunately, the glowing rectangle told us Static’s east ridge was only first class! As in, you never even have to use your hands! Hmm, I have a feeling even the legendary Raynold Jackson might want his hands free for this one.
You could also backtrack to Static Divide and find a route across the base of Static over to Buck. We were lazy and chose the east ridge. Kelly Halpin and I scouted the South ridge of Buck last year. It’s burly for a picnic. Trying to link the actual north ridge of Static and south ridge of Buck, picnicking or not, would be a proud day of the chossiest flavor.
Before you involve Buck in a picnic, you should climb it, just as I suggest people climb the Grand before picnicking it, often to little avail. Adding biking and swimming to the day makes the mountaineering spicier. As you advance on your objective, you’re far more tired and dehydrated than if you’d just driven there like any old Tom Dick or Harry, and possibly more prone to mistakes. But this is why to do this, to enjoy the pure focus of crossing spectacular ground, which makes one magically less tired for a while.
Getting to the top of Buck in the early morning light, having crossed a valley, a lake and mountains to get there, is to feel, I think, some of the wonder, elation, and resolve of earlier explorers who roamed these mountains alone, tired from obstacles behind, wary of the trials ahead, but jubilant at the wildness all around. Or maybe I felt the long, hallucinatory but utterly natural trip of having seen a whole night, sunset to sunrise, and the anticipation of the therapeutic dip in the Olympian swimming pool of snowmelt to come.
You may think the Tetons are a climbing range, or a ski range, but actually they’re a swimming range. Phelps Lake, Jenny Lake, and Leigh Lake are unheralded treasures of open water swimming. And these crystalline gems lay beneath shining mountains, just big and real enough for a solid day’s outing. And you can ride from Jackson to these magical lakes and mountains on a black ribbon of bliss. So why not link them, bike path to lake to peak and back, in one tremendously satisfying day? How could you not?