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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

The Grand Tetons: 5 Hikes, 7 Days (or so)

How to retrace each segment of the author's perfect week from "A Perfect Week in the Tetons."

by: Michael Lanza

The author clings to 12,325-foot Teewinot. (Greg Von Doersten)
The author clings to 12,325-foot Teewinot. (Greg Von Doersten)

A Perfect Week: Tetons       5 Hikes, 7 Days      Tetons Trip Planner

MT. HUNT-STATIC PEAK LOOP
Ramble an unknown portion of Teton backcountry on a partly off-trail tour.

This 26.8-mile loop, mostly above treeline with glorious Teton vistas, features lonely trails, a cross-country traverse amid secluded alpine-lake basins and meadows, high summits, and big canyons. It's also the most difficult route described here, with miles of steep, off-trail hiking, tricky routefinding, and a technical descent of a 25-foot cliff. A strong party can do it as a two-day trip, but taking three to four days allows a moderate pace and lets you enjoy some of the park's best backcountry campsites (the plums are Indian Lake, Death Canyon Shelf, and Alaska Basin).

Hike the trail up Open Canyon to just west of Mt. Hunt Divide; then head off-trail up Hunt's east ridge to its summit. Continue west (look for goat trails) to a 10,500-foot saddle north of Indian Lake, where you'll hit the cliff; experienced climbers might downclimb it unroped, but a 70-foot static line and harnesses are recommended for a rappel. (The rock is poor; be careful setting up an anchor.) Continue west to Fox Creek Pass, then follow the Teton Crest Trail north across the shelf to Alaska Basin. Loop back via Static Peak Divide–drop your pack for the quarter-mile, 500-foot hike up Static Peak–and lower Death Canyon Trail.

The Way
From the Moose Visitor Center, follow Moose-Wilson Road south about three miles. Turn right at a sign for Death Canyon trailhead and continue one mile to the end of that road, which is usually passable for cars.


TEEWINOT MOUNTAIN
This serious scramble ends on a pinpoint summit overlooking the Grand Teton.

Few peaks are as thrilling as Teewinot, which culminates in a summit the shape and size of an upturned bicycle seat. But don't attempt it unless you're comfortable with exposed, can't-fall scrambling, or plan to follow an experienced climber on a rope through one or two technical 20-foot sections of nearly vertical rock.

At Lupine Meadows trailhead, find the unmarked climbers' path heading for Teewinot's 5,600-foot east face. It switchbacks steeply to The Apex through a triangle of forest where black bear sightings are common. Leaving the trees, follow the rough path; when it peters out, good routefinding skills are needed to find the easiest way through the steep rock. Stay right of the central gully, which leads straight up to the summit notch; instead, zigzag to the north end of the summit ridge. There, a few third-class moves put you on top, at 12,325 feet.

The Way To reach the trailhead, drive eight miles north from Moose Visitor Center and turn left at the sign for the gravel road leading to Lupine Meadows.


GARNET CANYON/SOUTH TETON
Explore a majestic climbers' haven in the heart of the Tetons.

This 14.2-mile out-and-back probes the central Tetons, visiting the basecamp area for climbers attempting the Grand and other peaks. Your goal: Garnet Canyon, whose cliffs, winding glacial stream, and huge erratics are quintessential park features. Your other goal: South Teton's 12,514-foot summit–fifth-highest in the range–which offers one of the park's best views attainable without a rope. This outing can be done in a big day–you'll ascend 5,800 feet–but spending a night in Garnet Canyon is worth the effort of hauling camping gear.

From Lupine Meadows trailhead, follow the Garnet Canyon Trail to the Meadows camping area. Hike through the campsites on a faint path, then climb toward the Middle Teton's prominent black dike; at the cliffs, traverse left. Follow climber trails up Garnet Canyon's south fork. Continue to the saddle between the Middle and South Tetons. There, turn south for South Teton's Northwest Couloir, ascending it to the summit ridge. Snow can linger in the couloir into August, requiring an ice axe, but the route is generally dry by late summer. Camp either in the Meadows or Garnet's south fork zone. There's also a pair of high, secluded tent sites in the talus just before the Middle-South Teton saddle.

The Way Begin at the Lupine Meadows trailhead (see Teewinot description).


AVALANCHE CANYON TO CASCADE CANYON
Link two of the park's deepest and most spectacular valleys via a high pass.

Joining obscure, trailless Avalanche Canyon and popular Cascade Canyon gives as complete a Teton experience as anything described here. You'll enjoy five-star scenery, a pass well above 10,000 feet, and adventurous but straightforward cross-country hiking. This 17.4-mile, point-to-point trek can be done in a long, arduous day, but take two or three to enjoy great campsites at Lake Taminah, Snowdrift Lake, and the South Fork of Cascade Canyon.

From the Valley Trail north of Taggart Lake, turn west onto the unmarked use trail to Avalanche Canyon (it's often blocked by sticks) just before the Valley Trail begins climbing the low ridge separating Taggart and Bradley Lakes. Obscured in spots and challenging to track across talus slopes (look for cairns), the use trail is otherwise obvious much of the way to Lake Taminah. From there, you'll navigate cross-country, but it's an uncomplicated hike up the canyon. Find the breaks in the cliff bands below Taminah and Snowdrift Lakes to avoid any scrambling. (Hiking up Avalanche and down Cascade makes this routefinding much easier.) At 10,680-foot Avalanche Divide, pick up the good spur trail into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon, then follow maintained trail all the way to Jenny Lake.

The Way Start at the Taggart Lake trailhead, three miles north of Moose Visitor Center on Teton Park Road. Leave a second vehicle at Jenny Lake Visitor Center, just minutes farther up the road, or hitch a ride back to Taggart post-hike. Catch a shuttle boat across Jenny Lake from the Cascade Canyon boat launch to avoid hiking an extra 2.3 miles around the lake. See jennylakeboating.com for prices and schedules.


SOUTHERN TETONS  
The range's best-kept secret harbors big, open mountain terrain.

First-timers in the Tetons naturally gravitate to the tall peaks around the Grand. But veterans return time and again to the sprawling high country between Fox Creek Pass and WY 22. The scenery comes straight out of an old Western: big, forested canyons flanked by cliffs stretching for miles; wildflower-filled meadows; peaks hardly touched by boots; and less severe terrain than the picture-book Tetons–which means off-trail opportunities abound. The mountain views are almost constant, moose are abundant, and there's hardly anyone out there. The author's roughly 24-mile route (including side trips) was done in spring on skis and is partly off-trail, but you could parallel it almost entirely on trails.

From WY 22, follow the Phillips Pass/Teton Crest Trail for 3.9 miles to Phillips Pass. Climb east off-trail to the open crest of the ridge running southwest from Rendezvous Peak, which has an amazing 360-degree view. Continue north over Point 9815 and follow the Teton Crest Trail to Marion Lake. From there, spend a day exploring the high plateau around the striking pinnacle of Spearhead Peak and Fox Creek Pass before descending the cliff-walled defile of Granite Canyon on its namesake trail.

The Way
You'll need to drive two vehicles or hire a shuttle (see page 78 for shuttle service info). The Phillips Pass/Teton Crest trailhead is less than a half-mile up Phillips Ridge Road, which is off WY 22 about two miles east of Teton Pass. Granite Canyon trailhead is on Moose-Wilson Road, about 6.5 miles south of the Moose Visitor Center and 9.5 miles north of WY 22.




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