Teton Crest Trail

Death CanyonThis post is a complete departure from the primary substance of this blog, but it’s my blog and primary substance is in the works. This is about a backpacking trip I took in the late summer. There wasn’t a lot of specific information when I was searching to plan my trip so I decided to throw in the pieces I thought were important. Let Google sort it out.

From 13 September 2012 to 17 September 2012 my good friend Brian and I backpacked around 40 miles of the Teton Crest Trail. Any good pictures are purely accidental.

I did a lot of research for the trip before settling on a route and the dates. Since I’m a good ol’ Southern boy I chose September because there isn’t any need for an ice axe in the mountain passes. In hindsight, I think I should’ve done a mountaineering school and made the trip when the flowers were in bloom and snow was still around. Mountaineering school is now on the agenda. I’d be happy to entertain recommendations.

If you’re planning a trip to the Tetons I would highly recommend the path we took. We started at Death Canyon Trailhead and camped at the end of the Death Canyon Zone (map). We then went over Death Canyon Shelf and camped in Alaska Basin near the Mirror Lakes. The next morning we went over Hurricane Pass and through South Fork Cascade to camp in the second site in North Fork Cascade. The last day we eschewed camping the final night at Holly Lake and made the trek over Paintbrush Divide and out to String Lake in one go. From what I can tell, many regular hikers of the area recommend this route and I do as well. The photos I linked to include many of the signs we encountered and try to give you a sense of the scenery and hiking required by the route.Grand Teton from Hurricane Pass

If I were going to pick one place to absolutely see in Grand Teton National Park, it would have to be the walk from Hurricane Pass through South Fork Cascade Canyon. It would be an epic out and back day hike, but I’ve been to many a scenic mountain vista and this was completely spectacular.Death Canyon Shelf

We saw elk, deer, marmot, and approximately 137,048 chipmunks. We were spooked by a black bear near the confluence of the trails between North Fork, South Fork, and Cascade Canyon. He was standing right on the trail. Right between us and our campsite about 1 mile down the same trail. Good times. Sleep came so easily that night.

You should buy bear spray. We didn’t. We hiked during a “bear activity advisory” where you shouldn’t travel in groups smaller than three or be without bear spray. We didn’t do that. It’s probably better to listen, but don’t let spray (or even a gun — which isn’t allowed in the backcountry) give you a false sense of security. That bear was no more than 30 feet down the trail when we could see him. Being effective in that situation with spray (were the bear more alert and angry) would require practice and a very easily accessible storage location.

Water was never a problem. We both used filters and valves that allowed us to pump directly into our CamelBak reservoirs and water bottles. Even in the driest month of the year, water was plentiful. I don’t see any reason to carry more than a gallon at any time.

One final note for anyone without a lot of snow/ice hiking experience is that despite the claims of the pass status page there was still a scramble across 20-30 feet of ice at a steep angle on the descent from Paintbrush Divide. Brian and I are both pretty fit, but we’re also big and we had 60 lbs + in our packs for an extended backcountry stay. Neither of us use trek poles, but I can see the value from that particular experience. Most of the locals and day hikers seemed unbothered by the scramble, but I feel like anyone planning a trip through Paintbrush should be aware.

Grand Teton
From 2nd campsite on big table rock in North Fork Cascade Canyon 15 Sept 2012 near sunset.