Despite being unacclimated to the altitude, not yet broken in with our packs, and including the steepest climb, the first day was the easiest.
We crossed over into Wyoming and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness as soon as we left the trailhead parking area. The first 2.7 miles of the hike, through woods and meadow, were delightful. Every twist in the trail revealed new treats for the eyes. I discovered fat huckleberries, a trail snack I always cherish, as well as translucent red berries I thought might be a different variety of huckleberry, but which had a slight off taste that kept me from trying anymore. And yes, my mother did teach me never to eat something I found in the woods unless I knew what it was, but I'm still alive and well, so there.
As we hiked up Teton Creek, we had this view behind us:
The Devil's Stairs is a trail up from the valley to Mt. Meek Shelf, a total elevation gain of more than 1500 feet. The trail had plenty of switchbacks, just a few places where it actually felt like we were climbing stairs, and was not nearly as difficult as trails we've used to summit Elk Mountain, Dog Mountain, and Mount Defiance in Oregon. What made this trail was challenging was altitude: by the time we made camp, we were at 9500 feet. This made for slow going: climbing at nearly two miles of elevation with a 40-pound pack is very different from day-hiking in the Columbia River Gorge. It was hard work, we were both breathless, but at no point did we feel like this was undoable.
I wish I could say I stayed in that place for the remainder of the day, but that would not be true. Once atop the shelf, we took a wrong turn, and had to double back. We passed a beautiful alpine lake that was not on the map, and saw several young men who, having made camp, were now relaxing atop a huge glacial erratic rock in the middle of the water. We pushed through meadow growth gone wild, exulting in the brief high altitude summer by putting out brilliant red, yellow, purple flowers. At one point, I cried out angrily as a yellowjacket stung me on the ankle; fortunately I'm blessed with an immune system that does not overreact to insect venom, and the swelling was almost gone by the time we stopped. But now it was getting later, the shadows were lengthening, and we discovered that one of the streams we'd planned on camping beside had run dry. Finally we heard water again, and as we continued to climb up the gentle slope of the shelf, found another brook; but this was not enough: we also needed a stand of trees to hang our bear can.
Yes, bear can. All our food, most of our toiletries, and any clothing that had had contact with anything fragrant had to be suspended at least ten feet in the air, four feet out from whatever tree we were using. This proved problematic, as most of the trees at this level were far too skinny to provide the necessary branches. We finally found a spot, though--or, rather, three spots close enough to each other, one for the tent, another (a large rock) for our cooking and eating area, and a grove of trees for the bear can. There was much climbing up and down from the stream where we were camping to the rock, then across to the tree, much sorting of items, a freeze-dried meal, a chocolate bar, and finally, in the dark, a rope thrown across a branch, then two stuff sacks hauled up into the air. By now we were tired, cranky, and very ready for bed; which is precisely where we went.