Teton Crest Trail
Arriving to Grand Teton National Park brought back memories of downhill skiing in deep powder on bluebird days after the storm. Now, the summer sun shines on the remaining glaciers and the rocky slopes of Grand Teton and her younger, smaller siblings, and I've reached the other end of my time in the Army, a different person, with a wife. I've always had romantic ideas of this place after my first, and only, trip to the Tetons. It had been my favorite skiing trip.
I began planning our Teton Crest Trail hike around Christmas time of 2016 after combing through countless hiking and backpacking blogs. On New Years Day 2017 I woke up at 6 AM to compete for the reservations. Luckily, I secured all but one campsite for the trip, which I planned on receiving at the Park Ranger Station.
In August of 2017, driving down to an Alpine, WY brewery we had been anticipating even longer, I realized that plans were culminating into present reality. That knowledge was surprisingly empowering and made me realize how much stronger we were than many expressed. I started to think about all the haters and weary souls along the sideline shouting to stop and turn the other way; I started to think about how so much of life is defined by other people's thoughts and opinions; and how in reality, in the present, the here and now, the things we think best for ourselves consistently make us happier. That realization made me more confident in what we were doing.
The drive down to Alpine from Jackson alone could make a trip: the Snake River, an often forgotten, Great American River, wound through deep canyons and rolling meadows, cutting the ancient rock and dictating the landscape. The water and dying glaciers designed the world we were driving through: to see the current state of the product and the randomness and circumstance of it all, and how, still, it all came together in this beauty! Things don’t always go to plan, but it all comes together when individuality fills the gaps. Now people ski the mountains, hike the hills, raft and fish the river. Now we are here in Alpine because of that, and because all that brought some other person here from Washington State to start a terrific brewery, which we were driving to.
Alpine is a small town of under 1000 people, yet it houses one of the best craft breweries in the country. Already in a remote location, Melvin built its taproom and brewery at the end of a gravel road winding through a quarry. I thought we may be heading to a primitive structure just barely meeting the legal qualifications for a brewery, but sure enough, the identifiable font in large black letters spelled out confirmation of our arrival. The unassuming door to the warehouse furthered my suspicions, but upon entering, giant fermenters lined the perimeter of the interior. Beyond an HD Big Buck video game, couches, a pool table, and a ping pong table I could see a bar. Doors led outside to a patio along the water and the furrowing sunlight of early afternoon. The sun was fighting the persistent, Rocky Mountain summer thunderstorms and seemed to be winning. Some breweries smell like freshly milled grain - and that scent was here - but a juicy, dankiness appropriately filled the hop sanctuary of Melvin Brewery. I haven't had better IPAs, more consistently from any other brewery. Some folks will likely disagree based on their geographic biases, but everyone who knows good beer can agree that Melvin Beer has the pixie dust that truly excites a palate.
This visit only furthered my conviction of Melvin's place as the preeminent IPA brewery in the country. We ordered a flight of beers: a stout, a Citra IPA, a triple IPA, and another one of their rotational Imperial IPAs. Somehow, the 13 percent triple IPA drank like a session that you could happily chew and remember fondly minutes after the last sip. An incredible balance of almost ten different hops all cooperating to provide the perfect bitterness and aroma - grassy, tangy, melon - compliment pounds of malt per glass. It was the best Triple IPA I have ever had and we decided to buy a four pack for the hike: carrying two in our packs for the trail and two in the truck for a reward afterwards. I think that after 40 miles up and down in the Tetons even the staunchest teetotaler, those menaces to society, would crave a Melvin IPA and could possibly turn to the dark side.
We packed the cans on August 13th and opened them during the evening of August 15th, 20 miles and halfway through the Teton Crest Trail. They traveled up 4,000 feet to the top of the Rendevous Tram in Jackson Hole Ski Resort, across the Middle Fork and down the Granite River; across the Death Canyon Shelf and down into Alaska Basin, surrounded by lakes, glaciers, and rivers below, and rain, clouds, and thunder above. They slept under clearing skies within the plastic world of a bear canister, climbed up to Sunset Lake and Hurricane Pass above that, bowed down with the rest of us before the majesty of Grand Teton splitting clouds in the wind, and finally descended into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon to a campsite overlooking the green canyon fed by Grand Teton's glacial waters and painted by the warm colors of a setting sun. We discovered a campsite with a view of all this and believed that the moment merited two Melvin Lambda Triple IPAs.
We cracked open the Lambda's sitting in our camp chairs overlooking the South Fork of the Cascade Canyon. Hops and grain brewed and trapped in the can filled the glass with aroma and golden liquor. Golden in glass amongst a rainbow of evening colors revealed after days of rain and indecisive weather, the beer foamed and bubbled like a science experiment once poured into an IPA glass. The cumulus clouds rising from it's surface resurrected the excitement found during childhood, after dinner, with a freshly scooped and poured root beer float foaming above you on the grown-up table. The light foam holds all the flavor and aroma in an effervescently creamy package. That far into the wilderness, flavors intensified and satisfied more thoroughly. The snow served as the ideal cooler and made the beer crisp and refreshing. The sun descended with Grand Teton serving as the canvas. Halfway through our beers a group of new friends - four men in their 60's - set up camp next to us with things to drink, things to smoke, and things to laugh about.
That night the sky cleared and the moon hung low leaving the bright star lights without competition. The Milky Way bisected the night sky and drifted across as we shared stories and topped off our Melvin Beer with a whisky dessert. Our laughs and unsubstantiated wisdom along with The Grateful Dead served as the night's musical score; the stars and the infinite darkness between and behind could have entertained us until their daily demise. Eventually the distance and climbs of tomorrow intimidated us into our tents, but the memories of that night didn't leave us as the stars did in the morning.