We had obviously heard/read/listened to all the hype surrounding the eclipse and to be honest, we weren’t really buying it. Maybe we are getting jaded at this point, but with everything we had seen over the last few months, how could this be so fantastic that it was worth our entire nation getting in a frenzy over it? Well, we were wrong. Very wrong in fact and we are glad we fought the crowds to be in a very special place to view it.
If you read our Wyoming blog you already know we kind of landed in the Tetons around the eclipse by accident. The Tetons were high on our to-do list and the eclipse really was an afterthought. Grand Teton National Park was easily one of the most desired places to view the eclipse. Not only was it on the path of totality, but the landscape would surely elevate the whole experience with the mountains and panoramic views.
This is where Kirby’s Dad came in: As an avid adventurer, climber and photographer, Kirby’s Dad, Jim, has explored the Tetons before and almost gets emotional when talking about them. So when this eclipse conversation came up he highly urged us to try and get into the park if we could. He also emphasized how cool this event would be and had his own separate plans to travel west to see it. On his advice, we were able to get into the park and camp for the entire week, including the big day.
After we landed in the park, Jim altered his own plans and decided to do his own drive through the night from Denver to come meet us in the Tetons with his friend Sandy. This was awesome, not only because we got to see some family, but also because Jim knew the trails and had ambitious plans for us to get into the best spot to view the eclipse away from the hordes of people and with a backdrop that would create a nat-geo-worthy experience.
So, after they arrived and settled in we began planning for our adventure. After a little deliberation we decided on a hike up to Paintbrush Divide, which is an 8.5-mile one way climb up Paintbrush Canyon to 10,700 feet! This would give us an unobstructed view of the eclipse, in the backcountry with the Tetons as our backdrop. You can read about the hike here if you want.
Since the eclipse was to begin at 10:45am, we had to get up at 3am to start our journey. We packed a day’s worth of food, water and more camera equipment than was probably required for the hike. We then drove down to the Leigh Lake trailhead and begin our march into the woods at 4:30am. For reference, the pine forests of the Tetons are home to lots of bears including Grizzlies, so it was rather eerie hiking for over an hour in the pitch black with nothing but headlamps.
After hiking for about an hour and a half we emerged from the forest and got up into the canyon. At this point, the sun started to rise and we started to see exactly where we were. It was insane. We were in the midst of a vast canyon with huge mountains on either side and views down the valley for miles. We knew if we could make the summit by the eclipse it would be special.
The hike took us almost 6 hours to the top. The steep inclines, loose rock and added weight of our packs made the hike a challenge. We also stopped a lot to take photos because of how beautiful it was. However, we were finally able to arrive around 10:15 and we found a large point of a rock face where we could sit, eat and set up our cameras. Even if there was no eclipse, it would have been one of the coolest spots we have ever been to take in the sights. Just check out how the official trail guide describes the top:
“From the Divide hikers will enjoy incredible 360-degree views. You'll have commanding views of Thor Peak, Mt. Moran, West Horn and Mt. Woodring towards the northeast. Towards the south is the majestic Cathedral Group, and towards the east you'll be able to see Rockchuck Peak, as well as Leigh Lake and Jackson Lake in the valley far below.”
Yep we were in a good place and even better, only about 15 others made the trek and it’s so wide open it was almost as if we were alone at the top.
The eclipse started without us even really realizing it, you had to use the special viewing glasses to even see the beginning of the moon crossing the sun. However, once the moon started covering 80% of the sun we noticed a lot of things starting to change. For one, the light started disappearing and the horizon looked as if it was dusk. Secondly, the winds died down and everything started to get extremely quiet. It really did feel eerie. Also, we realized how much light our sun can throw when even 90% of it was covered. The difference between 95% and 100% covered literally was day and night.
We watched with our glasses as the final slivers of sun disappeared and when we removed the glasses we couldn’t believe our eyes. Not only was it dark, but seeing the sun completely tucked away behind the moon with our naked eyes was something we will never forget. Furthermore, when scanning the horizon, we started to see stars at 11:35am!! Words truly cannot describe this experience. We thought nothing would ever top seeing the northern lights, but this probably did.
We stayed at the top, awestruck for about an hour after the totality ended. We could not believe what we had just witnessed. Moreover, we knew a huge part of our own incredibly awesome experience was due to the fact that we were pretty much alone at nearly 11,000 feet in the Tetons. We have Kirby’s Dad to thank for that! Had it not been for him, we probably would have just watched near our campsite.
After the event, the two of us decided to take the long way down and descended through Cascade Canyon back to Jenny Lake. The views we got to see on the way down were insane and we felt like we were back in Switzerland. We passed by Lake Solitude, the Peterson Glacier and right by Mount Teton itself. All in all on the day, we hiked nearly 12 hours and 22 miles. When we got to the bottom we collapsed, but it was all very well worth it.
This was probably the most memorable day we have had on our trip and one of the top experiences of our lives. Yes, we realize all of this sounds cheesy and over the top, but it really was. We were very fortunate to be where we were to view this phenomenon. Not everyone was able to have the experience including those who travelled for it so we were insanely lucky.
The photos we took from this day simply do not do it justice. What we tried to do was take a picture of the sun and the moon and then take a landscape of what were seeing at the same time. What it shows is just how the light changed at each stage and then returned to normal. Not the best photos ever, but we were so awestruck that the cameras became an afterthought (even after schlepping them up the mountain for 6 hours). Check out the gallery here.
A very special day and we were so happy Kirby’s Dad was with us to experience it.