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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

A Perfect Week in the Grand Tetons

You won't waste a minute with our only-the-highlights hiking and climbing guide to the West's archetypal range. From the loftiest summits to the loneliest cross-country routes, this seven-day sampler visits every type of Tetons treasure-and then some.

by: Michael Lanza

Leigh and Paintbrush canyons. (Catherine Coe)
Leigh and Paintbrush canyons. (Catherine Coe)
Above the
Above the "Meadows" (Greg Von Doerstein)
Mooly Loomis leads the way to Mt. Hunt Divide (Mike Lanza)
Mooly Loomis leads the way to Mt. Hunt Divide (Mike Lanza)
Wildflowers brighten Death Canyon Shelf  (Greg Von Doersten)
Wildflowers brighten Death Canyon Shelf (Greg Von Doersten)
12,325-foot Teewinot. (Michael Lanza)
12,325-foot Teewinot. (Michael Lanza)

photo icon Grand Teton National Park
Read more articles and trip reports on our Grand Teton homepage.

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

About 36 hours later, I pause at the trailhead in Lupine Meadows as the nasal bugling of a bull elk pierces the morning calm. Dave Simpson and I grin: It's an auspicious start to the second leg of my week, which will take me and Simpson, a PR rep for Gregory, Scarpa, and others, up a peak that graces more photo albums than possibly any other in America. Teewinot's 5,600-foot east face screams skyward directly above Teton Park Road and Jenny Lake, culminating in a sinister-looking, multihorned summit.

In air cool enough to raise goosebumps on our bare arms, we follow a steep climbers' trail that switchbacks up Teewinot Mountain. Halfway to the top, the forest ends and the trail grows rougher, crossing scree and sloping, pebbly ledges. Several hundred feet below the top, it peters out. We reach what seems like a dead end at a nearly vertical, 20-foot granite slab. Dave, who's been up here before, eyeballs it closely and identifies it as the crux of this serious scrambling route. Very patiently and deliberately, I follow him up, clinging to holds I wish were just a little bigger, trying not to think about the 5,000 feet of air under our butts. A short while later, my jaw unhinges as we take turns crawling up onto Teewinot's 12,325-foot summit, which literally comes to a pointy arrowhead not suitable for lengthy sitting. The earth falls away thousands of feet all around us. Mt. Owen and the Grand Teton–looming another 600 and 1,400 feet, respectively, above us–look close enough to leap onto. In four hours, we've climbed more than a vertical mile, walking just less than two, and I feel positively euphoric. I'm amazed that such a magical wilderness aerie lies so close to civilization–and that someone who's fit and knows the route could run up here and be down for lunch.

That thought leads to a plan that needs no debate. We begin trotting as soon as we clear the scramble–and just three hours after tagging Teewinot, we're sipping cold beer in warm sunshine on the deck at Dornan's, reliving a fine day beneath the most photogenic skyline in the Lower 48.

Tenting amid the industrial thrum of RVs at Gros Ventre Campground is tolerable enough, especially when I spot moose and bison in the nearby sagebrush flats. But the morning after Teewinot, my psyche is already craving another backcountry night. And I do have a schedule to keep. So I collect my buddy David Ports, just in from Missoula, and head for Garnet Canyon and another classic overnight. Nexus of climber ambitions in the Tetons, Garnet is a tight horseshoe of cliffs and flying buttresses soaring 1,500 feet straight up. After a nearly five-mile, two-hour hike with light packs, we set up home in the lee of an elephant-size glacial erratic. Clouds scurry above the sharp ridges, almost keeping time with a meltwater creek humming down the valley beside us. We kick back for a utilitarian meal of freeze-dried noodles and kick ourselves–with loads so light, we could've stashed a few beers from the cooler we left behind.

In the morning, we start hiking while it's still cold and dim. The sparse human traffic this late in the season mostly turns off toward the Lower Saddle and the Grand Teton; we choose Garnet's less-traveled south fork. Initially steep, the angle relaxes as we ascend steadily through a treeless landscape of granite tilting skyward. Less than two hours from our camp, David and I scramble up a refrigerated gully where fist-size rocks frequently roll out under our boots and bounce downward, gaining velocity and making longer ricochets before finally exploding far below. Escaping the gully, we walk a few minutes up a ridge of crazily stacked talus until we can't go any higher. At 12,514 feet, the South Teton's blocky crown overlooks almost the entire Teton Range, with the Grand and Middle Tetons in-your-face close.

As we descend, I gaze almost straight down more than 2,000 feet to Snowdrift Lake, a vivid turquoise gemstone shimmering in the sunlight, and think: tomorrow.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


Apr 28, 2009

Fell in love with the T's many years ago and make the trip from MI. every year to get both "on and off trail". You've already said too. much..........SHhhhhhh!! Nice write up's.

Shawn Johnston
Aug 16, 2008

Your article was awesome, I haven't read to much about the Grand Teton Mountain Range. Now reading your article it is in the top five mountain ranges I must hike

Steve C
Jul 24, 2008

Mike Lanza,
Great article. Your description of the beautiful solitude makes me want to go for myself. The one risk of your writing skill is that readers like me may crowd the very solitude that you so aptly describe. Lucky for you, our vacation days are limited and the world is a pretty big place to explore. Lucky for us that you make us feel as though we are there.
Thanks for the escape, Steve C.

kelli jones
Jul 03, 2008

wow, why haven't I seen any of Catherine Coe's photography before in your magazine. Big fan, can you send me her contact info? my email is


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