Teton Crest Trail – Part 2

by | Sep 15, 2016 | Backpacking Trail Reports, Lessons Learned, Teton Crest Trail, Wyoming

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Read part 1 here

Day 3 – Alaska Basin to South Fork Cascade Creek

We awoke to a clear morning, while most of the smoke had cleared out the previous afternoon, it was nice to see that it hadn’t returned.  After a quick breakfast we hit the trail just after 9am. Unfortunately in our striking of camp,  the Elf missed packing his Thermarest Neoair, which we wouldn’t notice until that night. If you find yourself in Alaska Basin and find a spare Thermarest, you know who’s it is (packing it out would be appreciated).

Hiking past the basin lakes we came across a group of youth and leaders starting the day, we weren’t sure if they were Scouts or not, but they had hiked in the previous day and had set up a basecamp for several days of day hiking. With all of the trails converging in the Alaska Basin I could see it being an ideal spot for this. We quickly climbed out of the basin and up to the spectacular Sunset Lake, which would also have made a great place to spend the night if we were willing to put in more elevation the day before. We had some concerns from the previous day as we had observed a steep trail from across the valley making us think that we might have to climb down a fair ways and then regain all that elevation, fortunately it was a different trail.

Elk Lakes Provincial Park

Sunset Lake

Coming around Sunset Lake we started the climb towards Hurricane Pass. Our first thought was the saddle looming in the distance at the head of the valley was Hurricane Pass, but as we started to climb around the left side of the valley we quickly realized that the pass was hidden to the south (left). Again the two of us were impressed by both the endless wildflowers, but also how well built and maintained the trail was.

The group photo (missing Dwarf)

This is not Hurricane Pass

Just before the pass, we saw a large group of people resting on some strategically placed rocks. We would later find out that this was generally where people coming from the south would rest after getting out of the wind on the aptly named Hurricane Pass.

Just before noon we summited the pass and sat down to enjoy the up close view of Grand Teton and a quick lunch. Our timing was just right as the wind wasn’t too bad until we got up to leave. It’s at that point things really picked up and it was full-scale “hold onto your hat” hurricane wind.

Once you get off the pass there is a short ridge walk, and here we strongly recommend you take a moment to get closer to the edge and look down into the South Fork Cascade Canyon. While we were climbing up  we kept looking for Schoolroom Glacier which was fairly prominent on out map, and while we saw a few patches of snow, we just couldn’t see anything that qualified as a “glacier”. That is until you look over the ridge .

I can see why most folks recommend hiking the Teton Crest trail from South to North, the scenery just seems to get better and better.

Beautiful creek near Elk Lakes

Schoolroom Glacier and it’s tarn

Stepping off the ridge, the wind goes from “Hurricane” to almost uncanny stillness and you quickly loose most of the elevation you gained earlier in the day. Except for a small section of the trail that was washed out, it was easy hiking the switch back down. We took a small detour to look at the glacier up close and peer deep into the ice.

As we entered the South Cascade Camping Zone, we noticed a few differences. Unlike the Death Shelf zone where you could camp in many locations, the rocky nature of the Cascade Canyon make it more difficult to free camp. As a result there are several marked campsites along the way. One here, 2 there, a couple further down, some even with food storage.

The canyon drops in several  giant steps as the tiny south fork of Cascade Creek slowly grows as it gathers tributaries. We decided to call it a day around 3:30 (I unfortunately had been nursing a cough that was getting worse) and set up camp.

One lesson we learned was not to be too quick in setting up your tent if the weather is good. Waiting allows you to get a better feel for your site and best placement. This was a lesson we quickly learned. The location we had selected was right where wind from the canyon funneled through, making for some pretty significant (and noisy) gusts. This wind picked up the fine dust around the campsite and we soon found our tent (and sleeping bags) full of dust. This was also when we discovered that the Elf’s sleeping pad was missing.

As all things come in threes, our comedy of errors closed out the day with the Elf (who is a vegetarian) realizing that the chili he had just re-hydrated for dinner was most definitely not meatless and while he had a backup dinner, I had to either eat his dinner in addition to mine, or pack out a full container of chili. In the end, I ate both, but it was touch and go for awhile.

Being deep in the canyon, night came quickly and we crawled into our dusty sleeping bags for a night of noisy wind and a rustling fly.

Snowy covered landscape around Elk Lakes

South Fork Cascade Canyon

Day 4 – South Fork Cascade Creek to String Lake Trail-head

Our original itinerary had us hiking over the Paintbrush Divide and a night at Holly Lake, but between my cough (which had only gotten worse from the dust) and the missing sleeping pad, we decided to hike out that day.

One of the things we liked about this trail was the flexibility in how you can organize your trip. There are many on and off points allowing for shorter or longer itineraries.Packing up again, we continued down several cascades and beautiful waterfalls.

Shortly after the junction with the Paintbrush trail, we began to see day hikers coming in from Jenny Lake.

Hobbit eating pizza at Elk Lakes

Cascade Creek

While the first ones were the most eager and fit, it progressively got more and more crowded as we approached civilization. While the cascade creek valley is beautiful, we had been spoiled by the truly incredible scenery of the previous three days.

Out of the alpine we were back in the forest and among the clean smelling families and groups. At one point someone mentioned that we had just missed seeing a black bear by about 20 min. The last time we saw a black bear was when we did Rage the Sage in 2014, but that’s a whole different story.

Before long we were hiking along the shores of Jenny Lake and its inviting waters (I really could have gone for a swim), around the bend we came up to the bridge at the String Lake trailhead and my waiting vehicle. 

Back in the world of air conditioning, we grabbed lunch at the ski resort and hit the highway, making it to Idaho before stopping at a hotel for the night, a soft bed and warm shower. The next day is was back through Montana, into Alberta and home.

It had been an incredible 4 days on the trail, the scenery had been spectacular and the wildflowers beyond anything we had expected. This is definitely a part of the world we want to re-visit with our families and finish the Paintbrush Divide

Grand Teton Part 1 can be found here

Our blog on the Grand Teton flora and fauna can be found here.

Another one for the books

Kelly McDonald

Kelly McDonald

After spending 12 years in Ottawa Kelly returned to Calgary in 2012 and decided to pick off where he left off by roping his closest friends into some new back-country adventures (some more fun than others).

Kelly McDonald is a father of two hobbits ages 12 and 13 and tries to get them out into the wilderness as often as he can.

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