The idea for this trip started over a year ago when I saw triplogs from @Lucyan
. Their pics looked amazing and I knew this was a hike for us. I talked to Chumley and he was just as excited as me. From there the planning began and FOTG & Kyle were both down. I did some research and was at my PC ready to go the morning the permits went on sale back in early January on Recreation.gov. Once we had the permit the rest of the details were planned. Airfare was a bit pricey so we decided to spend a week in Wyoming. The first four days will be backpacking the Teton Crest followed by two days in Yellowstone and one final day back in Jackson Hole where we would catch a flight home in the late afternoon. The days and weeks ticked by and we flew out on Wednesday, July 19th.
We arrived in Jackson Hole around mid-afternoon and met FOTG at the airport. From there we drove to the Tetons Visitor Center and acquired our permit. We went over current conditions and they strongly recommended an ice axe. Kyle and Chumley already had one but FOTG and myself needed one. So from there we drove into town and stopped by the Teton Backcountry Rental where we both rented an Ice Axe for twenty five bucks. After that we checked into our hotel, bought groceries, ate dinner and arranged our shuttle. We went with Daniel’s Cash Cab 307-413-3770. The rest of the evening involved packing and final preparations. All the months of planning were over and it was time to hit the trail!
Day 1 – Thursday, July 20th. Granite Canyon to Upper Granite Canyon
We met our shuttle driver at the Leigh Lake Trailhead around 9am and were shuttled to the Granite Canyon Trailhead to the south. We geared up and headed up the trail. The going is fairly easy with a steady gain. It was a warm and humid day and all of us were sweating in no time. We continued on as the trail parallels a creek heading up canyon. We took some short breaks and only saw a handful of people.
As we got farther back we noticed storm clouds moving in. We were hoping to beat them to camp before rain started falling. We selecting a campsite about a half mile above the group campsite and set up camp right before the rain started falling. We all climbed into our tents as the skies opened. Rain & hail fell as thunder crackled around us. It wasn’t too bad and lasted less than an hour. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing around camp. Fires are not allowed so we put on our jackets to keep warm. Sunset was around 9pm so we had lots of daylight. All of us turned in by 10pm and that was the end of day one.
Day 2 – Friday, July 21st. Upper Granite Canyon to Sunset Lake
Our day two started slowly as we took our time in camp and packed everything up. We hit the trail and started the solid climb to Marion Lake. About a mile up the trail we encountered our first snow. It was patchy as we walked over and around it. Our big concern was post holing but didn’t have any issues. We continued on and passed Marion Lake which is spectacular. We wish we camped here but didn’t have a permit for this zone.
Next up was the Death Canyon Shelf which I was really looking forward to. There were more patches of snow and we passed a few groups going the opposite direction. They gave us an update on the conditions and said they couldn’t get over Paintbrush Divide. They only had one ice axe among a medium size group and that wasn’t going to cut it. We kept at it and really enjoyed the views down Death Canyon. I’d love to return here for a trip down this canyon. It looks awesome! We took a lunch break overlooking the canyon and continued on from there.
We encountered more snow as we neared Alaska Basin and the trail makes a steep drop into the basin. I was glad I had hiking poles because this helped with balance. Once we got into the basin we talked with a national forest employee. He asked us to be bear aware and take proper bear precautions with our food. We told him we were from Arizona and he asked a bunch of questions about the Superstitions. It took little convincing and he is all about a trip this spring! After our chat we took a short break near one of the basin lakes and then continued one more mile to Sunset Lake. We encountered quite a bit of snow through here and it sucked energy. We were all glad to reach the lake and took off our packs and relaxed!
Sunset Lake is a beautiful alpine lake that sits a bit below 10K. We had a wonderful campsite with plenty of space. Our campsite was surrounded by marmots too. They were all over and we counted eight at one moment. We enjoyed a relaxing evening and were in bed again before 10pm.
Day 3 – Saturday, July 22nd. Sunset Lake to North Fork Cascade Canyon
Our third day was going to be big. We had to cross Hurricane Pass and then drop down South Fork of Cascade Canyon and then head up the North Fork where we planned on camping. We left camp around 9am and had roughly a thousand feet to climb to the pass. We talked to some other hikers and they said Hurricane Pass was mostly snow free with some patches about a mile below the pass. This was a relief knowing we have fairly easy going.
We made the long climb to the pass and encountered one steep snow field. FOTG opted to put on Micro Spikes to safely cross. The rest of us scrambled around the snow field. Once above it was easy going all the way to the pass. Once we arrived at Hurricane Pass we were greeted with epic views of the peaks and Cascade Canyon. One of the best features is Schoolroom Glacier. It’s a frozen lake surrounded by a moraine. It made us think of Global Warming. This glacier will probably dry up in my lifetime and it will be a tragic loss. After admiring the views we dropped down into Cascade Canyon and continued north. There were a few patches of snow that took some careful footwork but nothing serious. The snow disappeared as we continued dropping and we set a quick pace as we headed for our low point.
The crowds picked up as we descended and we met a volunteer ranger who checked our permit. She was very friendly and was excited about our itinerary. After that we continued down and then started the climb up North Fork of Cascade Canyon. Today is Saturday and this canyon was very busy. We were concerned on finding a good campsite, especially one that can accommodate four tents. We ultimately found one that was tight but we made it work. We spent another afternoon enjoying the pleasant weather and our epic view of Grand Teton Peak!
Day 4 – Sunday, July 23rd. North Fork Cascade to Paintbrush Canyon and exit the park
We decided to start early on our final day in the park. We were on trail at 7am hoping the snow would be firm by the time we started our descent from Paintbrush Divide. We had to climb nearly 2,000 ft over three miles to the high point of our hike at 10,700ft. The going went well as we passed Lake Solitude and continued on the immaculate trail up. It makes a long traverse followed by a couple of switchbacks. We hit a patch of snow around 10K ft and decided to put on our Micro Spikes and get out the Ice Axe. There were two sections clustered together and I’m glad we hit them. This gave us a chance to get a feel for the snow and our equipment. Once we were over the snow we put our gear away and continued on to the Paintbrush Divide.
I was the first to arrive at the Paintbrush Divide and noticed the epic views down canyon. There was a lot of snow we’re going to need to deal with and this gave me some anxiety. It helped seeing a couple heading down. They passed through before us so I knew the route was doable. There are two routes from Paintbrush Divide. The normal summer route where the trail heads down and the winter route. The trail could not be accessed due to a large block of snow. You would need technical gear to safely pass over the snow here. I checked out the winter route and thought it looked steep but safer. The snow continues down and out. There was no threat of rocks in the event you cannot arrest your fall. Chumley and FOTG both wanted to do the summer route and there was no looking back once the decision was made. We didn’t waste time thinking about it. We geared up and went!
FOTG went first and set the pace. It will be slow going as he dug out steps started by groups before us. I followed and took my time. Every step was slow going as I carefully went one step at a time constantly repositioning my Ice Axe. There were a few times where my downhill foot slipped an inch or two on soft snow. This made my heart skip a beat. The Mircro Spikes helped and I couldn’t do this without the Ice Axe. I had my phone stowed away and didn’t take any pics along the traverse. I barely looked back at Chumley and Kyle fifty feet behind me. It was one foot in front of the other all the way until we were back on solid ground. I was elated after safely crossing the snow field. This was the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. It was a hell of a rush!
Once everyone was down it was fairly easy going. We still had snow fields to cross but none were as treacherous as the descent off the pass. We continued down and saw some day hikers exploring the area. We knew we were home free! We took a short break at Holly Lake and then continued down. The snow disappeared as we got below 9K ft and our pace picked up. The last few miles to the car were bittersweet as we completed our hike. This hike took a lot of work and the snow didn’t make it any easier. What an adventure!
The Teton Crest Trail is a spectacular hike that is right up there with the John Muir Trail. The views are magnificent as you hike from valley to pass and back into valley. Each turn brought new jaw dropping views. The trail never disappointed!
There was quite a bit of snow for us. Most of it was patchy and a nuisance but it sucked time and energy. We were fairly spent each day and didn’t do huge mileage.
Having a GPS with a route preloaded helped keep us on track. The snow covered the trail in some areas and the GPS helped with navigation.
I wore trail runners for this hike even though the BCO recommended boots. My feet were soaked on every day except the first day. Luckily it wasn’t a big deal.
We had Micro Spikes and an Ice Axe for this and couldn’t have completed our loop without these tools. We only used these on the Paintbrush Divide Trail. Check with the BCO on current conditions a few days before beginning this hike. Go prepared!
The weather held up nicely for us! The only rain we had was on our first day after getting camp set up. It lasted about an hour and the storm cleared.
Thanks to Chumley, FOTG & Kyle for coming along for this hike. We had a great group and truly enjoyed this trip! Another memorable trip in the books!