The Grand Teton triathlon — or “Picnic” as it has come to be called — was first contrived by mountaineer David Gonzales in 2012, but the idea didn’t really gain steam until last summer.
Then, after Gonzales’ acquaintances began attempting the adventure, stories were written, photos were shared, tales were told and the word got out. But when July 2014 came to an end Gonzales said fewer than a dozen people had attempted and completed the Picnic.
One year later and the number of people trying this truly epic test of physical and mental endurance that encompasses all our landscape has to offer has grown.
The Picnic consists of a bike ride from town to Jenny Lake, followed by a swim across the lake and a climb up the Grand Teton. The athlete then reverses course, climbs down the mountain, swims back across the lake and pedals back to town.
Last summer’s relatively unknown adventure has now blossomed into a challenge that endurance athletes all over the valley have lined up to attempt.
Gonzales, who couldn’t believe that nobody thought of the idea before him, said it was only a matter of time before athletes got behind the concept.
“Given the way that multisport adventure has become kind of popular lately I guess I’m not that surprised that people have jumped on the picnic-ing wagon.”
A Picnic isn’t limited to Jenny Lake or the Grand, though. A Picnic consists of any sort of bike ride to a water crossing below a prominent mountain peak before climbing the peak and reversing course.
Gonzales has created and completed local Picnics that have taken him to the summits of mountains like Albright, Static, Buck and Moran.
The Moran Picnic or “Moranic” is the least contrived of the triathlons and has joined the Grand Teton triathlon as the most popular alpine triathlons to attempt. And Gonzales doesn’t even know many of the athletes who are putting his idea to the test this summer.
“A lot of people have been doing it that I’ve never heard of,” he said. “Somebody mentions a name and I go and look them up on Instagram and lo and behold they did the Moranic unsupported.”
The idea is now to the point that certain brave people take it to another level without the help of others, or even ropes for that matter.
A supported journey can consist of dropping equipment off at certain points along the route or using ropes and harnesses on a climb or downclimb. An unsupported journey means that the people are pedaling their equipment to the water, swimming with their equipment across the water and using nothing but their hands and feet to get up and down the mountain.
A trip for most mountaineers to the summit of Mount Moran usually includes a canoe ride across Leigh Lake. But other Teton summits require no such water crossing.
The idea that one must cross water to complete a picnic is contrived but, for Gonzales, that’s what makes it fun.
“I laugh at the whole thing because it is contrived,” he said. “It’s contrived to go swimming on the way to climb a mountain, but it’s actually like the coolest part of the whole thing.
“When you get in that lake and you swim across it. ... There’s something so magical about swimming across those beautiful alpine lakes that are made of the snowmelt that came out of the mountains you were just climbing in.”
Matt Joch didn’t know Gonzales but heard about the Picnic and decided he’d spend his summer training for the Grand Teton version of the triathlon. He joined with friends Chelse Grohman and Guerin Platte to prepare before giving the feat a shot last week.
“I heard about it through work and people that I know and see come through the store,” the Teton Mountaineering employee said. “I just wanted to try something ridiculously hard for my first summer here.”
After nearly 30 hours of physical activity, which included a dizzy bike ride home and even a brief nap while escaping rainfall on the descent, the three friends completed their first Picnic.
Grohman said the epic just made her want more.
“It was life-changing for me,” Grohman said. “I just never thought I was capable of doing something like that and it just really inspired me to want to do more.”
The picnic-ers said there’s more to the adventure than simply grinding out miles and enduring pain. There’s an elegance to it that those who have yet to attempt such a journey might not understand.
Grohman said that on her initial swim across the lake in the dark of night she flipped over and swam backstroke to take in the meteor shower that was putting on a show above her.
“It was an amazing experience to watch the shooting stars above you at Jenny Lake at midnight,” she said.
Picnic season is almost over but the stoke remains as more and more people hear about the feat. Some will gaze at others’ exploits while others will put the idea into their own heads and wonder if they too can accomplish such a task.
And as the popularity grows, so does the idea that this is more possible than many might have once imagined.
“It seems like such a huge undertaking but I think it’s more within the grasp of the athletes that live in Jackson than they might realize,” Gonzales said. “And once they start doing it, they get kind of addicted to it.”