Grand Teton National Park frequently shows up on lists of favorite backpacking treks, and in particular the 32-mile Teton Crest Trail. Last week I traveled to Jackson, Wyoming for a conference, but before the work — I met up with another attendee who travelled from Germany and together we spent four days backpacking this beautiful national park.
We had originally planned to hike the Teton Crest Trail, which most people start from the top of the tram above the Jackson Hole Ski Resort, then loops around the west side of the range, crossing four passes and exiting east through Paintbrush Canyon. We knew that there had been snow the week before, but as you can see from the view above, the snow didn’t look too bad.
Monday morning, I met my hiking partner Carsten for breakfast, made a stop at Teton Mountaineering to pickup bear spray (there are grizzlies up here) and a fuel canister, then headed to the visitor center in Moose, WY to pickup our permit. Right off the bat, the ranger informed us that the tram which whisk us to the top of the mountain and give us an easy, mostly downhill first day had stopped running the day before, shutting down until ski season started up in December.
So we went with Plan B. Starting at Granite Canyon and hiking up from the bottom. The ranger warned us that the snow was “probably” deep, but we figured we’d see for ourselves. And so we did.
The trail started out as we expected–pretty dry. The creek running down Granite Canyon had plenty of water, the forest shaded us from the bright sun. And then we ran into a bear.
It may not show clearly in the photo above, but there were berries on those bushes. The ranger had warned us that bears were especially active, looking to load up on calories before going into hibernation for winter. I was leading the way, and hear the quick rustling in the brush. Carsten saw the blur of fur, and we both turned and quickly headed back down the trail to put a bit of distance between us. We didn’t run (never run from a bear) but we did get out of the way.
After retreating about 50 yards, we stopped and listened. Apparently the bear was as startled as we were, because after we waited about five minutes and made our way back up the trail, the bear was gone.
As we continued climbing up the canyon, we encountered more snow. There was plenty of evidence of wildlife, but only one set of footprints.
By 8000 feet, we were hiking through about 12″ of snow. Travel was not bad, and we hoped for the best. As we reached 9,000 feet, the snow was 24″ deep, and we were post-holing and breaking the trail. We knew that we had several passes over 10,000 feet. It wasn’t going to get better. We had set an aggressive schedule for the Teton Crest Trail, and with the snow level, there was no way we’d be able to make that mileage.
So we went from Plan B to Plan C. We camped our first night on the snow (my first time) and hiked back down Granite Canyon the next morning. Instead of the Teton Crest Trail, we’d be backpacking on the Valley Trail.
Being the shoulder season, the crowds were non-existent. We saw occasional day hikers (being not-too-far from the trailheads) but only a few other backpackers. We had our pick of campsites, including our Tuesday night camp at Phelps Lake and Wednesday night at Bradley Lake.
We finished at Jenny Lake. The skies had cleared and Grand Teton towered majestic above us. Plan C worked out pretty well. Though I’ll be back to hike the Teton Crest Trail another time.
Hiking with Carston was a pleasure. You never know when you hike with someone for the first time. All I knew about him was that he was into ultralight backpacking and had hiked the PCT. As we talked about our hiking background, I asked him if he had seen “Tell It On The Mountain” — the documentary about the Pacific Crest Trail that I reviewed here on SoCalHiker a few years ago. As it turns out, “Sauerkraut” (his trail name) was featured prominently in the documentary, and I had even written about his story! No wonder it sounded familiar.
I’ll be sharing detailed trail information in November, but wanted to give you a sense of what the trip was like.