It’s been a week since I got back from Grand Teton National Park and the trip met all my expectations. It was a little more difficult than I thought as I underestimated the amount of total gain. I made another data book, which can be found under the data book tab, and I will upload my GPX files after I’ve had a little more time to review them and edit out any defects (occasional skewed gps readings)
I drove up Friday after leaving work a little early. The Labor Day traffic going north was bad as I expected, but defiantly better than I70 west. As soon as I got past Fort Collins, the traffic disappeared, and I made it to the trail head a few miles past Flagg ranch a little after midnight without a hitch. After scouting out a decent spot to lock up my bike, I headed back to Flagg ranch. I figured nobody would care if I just slept in my car in the parking lot, but around 3am, the night watch woke me up. Apparently they don’t allow anyone to park in front, but he ended up leaving me alone as soon as I explained I was just waiting for the alltrans shuttle. If I would have done it again, I probably would have slept in my car at the trailhead, and then drove back to Flagg ranch in the morning before the shuttle came. The trailhead was quieter and darker, and would have made for a better night’s sleep.
Day one went just as planned. The shuttle picked me up at 7am, and I made it to Home ranch in Jackson by 9:45. I noticed on the shuttle that there was so much haze that you couldn’t see the mountains from Jackson Lake Lodge. I had a taxi pick me up here, and by 10:15 (a little later than I would have liked) I was at the trailhead. My worries about the haze disappeared when I realized that it was sitting in the valleys, and mountains were clear. The weather was perfect with cloudless bluebird sky and I ended up hiking till sundown, making it 19.5 miles to sunset lake just before it got dark enough to need my flashlight. The haze made for a very colorful alpenglow sunset as I hiked past Buck Mountain in the Alaska Basin.
Day two started off late and slow, which set me back for the rest of the trip. Because of the long drive, I only got 4 hours of sleep Friday night, so I ended up turning off the alarm that woke me up at 6:30, and I didn’t get up till after 8:30. After making breakfast and packing up, I got on the trail at 9:45. The weather stayed perfect, but it was a little slow going since I had to deal with some decent elevation gain over the first few miles, and the looseness of the 1000′ of gain to go up the south side of Table Mountain didn’t help either. After making it to the top of Table Mountain, I headed back down, losing over 3000′ before finding my next trail over Fred mountain pass. The hike down was enjoyable since I had a nice conversation with a local that had just finished hiking Table Mountain, and a group on horseback offered me a cold beer during the descent, which I couldn’t pass up. After hiking over Fred mountain pass and down to Leigh creek, I was set back by finding what seemed to be a major creek with a large watershed completely dry, and I was out of water. I also had found a blister on my toe, so I set to fixing it. While I was fixing it, a couple on horseback came down the trail. They told me that it was just a dry spot where the creek went underground, and that there was plenty of water just up the trail before having to climb up to granite basin. After my foot was fixed, I started the climb up to granite basin, and found a nice meadow ~2 miles before the basin to make camp at sunset.
Day three started off around 3 am when a few raindrops woke me up. I didn’t bother to set up my tarp and was just sleeping in my bivy sack with all my gear next to me. I was too groggy to put my tarp up, so I just pulled it out and draped it over me and my stuff, tying it off to my bivy to make sure it didn’t fly away if the wind kicked up. I woke up again at 6:30 when my watch beeped at me, and I got my stuff together, ate breakfast, and set off just before 7:30. When I had checked the weather on Friday, the weather looked great for Saturday and Sunday a 0% chance of rain, and gradually changed with 10% forecasted for Monday, and 40-50% showers on Tuesday. Apparently the storm moved in early, because I got hit by the rain at 8am, and lasted most of the day, getting heavy at times. It let up for a little bit while climbing up Dead Horse pass, and started again as I headed towards Nord pass. At the end of the day going over Nord pass, I stopped several times to admire the low lying clouds as the sunset, and took the video posted below. Soon afterwards I realized how far behind I was, and I needed to make up a few miles in the dark. That idea went out the window as I descended towards bitch creek. Heavy fog moved in after the sunset and the trail disappeared. The fog was very thick and disorientating, and I really didn’t want to bushwhack in the dark in the very wet (and slippery) hills that lead down to the main creek, so I found a half decent spot and made camp.
I woke up extra early the next morning, knowing it was going to be a long day. I wanted to be at my car by 3pm for the drive home, and I was still behind where i wanted to be. The trail was still lost, and it was still very wet. Luckily the rain was gone, and stayed away for the rest of the day. After reviewing my map vs where i was based off landmarks, I realized that I should have probably veered right further up, and I could see where the trail should meet up with the main creek at the base of the valley. Not wanting to backtrack and waste time trying to find the trail, I set off straight towards where I believed that the trail would come out at the bottom of the descent. I found the trail like I thought, but I was soaked from all the wet brush. That trail lasted for another mile and a half, which luckily was most of the gain to get around Red Mountain, and then disappeared again as I headed towards Young’s point. After getting over the pass near youngs point, I decided that I would just head straight toward the last pass, avoiding the full elevation loss going down to Grizzly Creek. I only ended up avoiding around 200′ of gain, and there were a few steep sections that I had to descend, and gaining the elevation to Conant pass off trail was difficult, but I managed to make it to Conant pass just after noon, finding the trail just before the pass. If I didn’t have to make up time, I would have rather just navigated off trail to grizzly creek, where I probably would have found the trail that led to Conant and made the climb a bit easier. After Conant pass, I dug down deep and went into speed mode, covering the last 16 miles in less than 6 hours, which included a stop to change out socks near Berry Creek, a few water bottle fill ups, and running into a bear and a wolf on separate occasions. I made it to my bike at 6pm sharp, and biked the last few miles to my car, putting me at 26 miles for the day. For a reward, I had a 12 pack of soda chilling in the cooler in the back, and I stopped at the Ramshorn in Dubois for a very tasty burger and fries on the drive home. I wasn’t able to make it all the way back without stopping and sleeping a few hours outside of Rawlins, and then sleeping a few more hours near Virginia dale, CO. I woke up just in time to witness a beautiful sunrise (I’ve always loved the Virginia dale area near the state line), and made it back to Denver and pulled into work for a full 8 hour work day.
The most memorable pieces of the trip was Alaska basin, Hurricane pass, the green lakes area just north of granite basin, and the area between Nord pass and Camp Lake. Berry Creek was very exciting, even though I was trying to move fast, I still was able to see a black bear and had my first wolf sighting.
In retrospect, I think I would have been a little more relaxed doing it in 4.5 days. For an alternate route, hiking east from Nord pass will drop you into Moose basin, which will give you a few different routes in the remote areas of Owl and Webb canyon. I think using either canyon as an alternate ending would be fun, and might make for a slightly easier last day.
I also didn’t realize that the Tetons dry up so much in the late summer. Maybe it was just from the low snowpack, but there were several extended dry sections that I pointed out in my data book. Also late summer mean almost no wildflowers. The local I hiked with down Table Mountain said that if I wanted to hike during wildflower season and get the most of the seasonal water runoff, early July would be a better time as long as it wasn’t a very heavy snow season the year before. Insects were nonexistent for most of the trip (except the swarming ladybugs at the top of Table Mountain), and the only part of the trail that felt crowded was actually the Table Mountain trail, which I found surprising. Apparently in the Teton valley, hiking Table Mountain is like hiking the easier 14ers around Denver, since it’s one of the highest peaks in the Tetons that doesn’t require any resemblance of technical climbing and offers a great view of the Grand. Otherwise I only ran into a fellow hiker occasionally, and I did not see anyone on my last day until I started biking along Grassy Lakes Road.