Looking down from Paintbrush Divide at 10,700 feet onto Lake Solitude
"What an amazing adventure - just finished backpacking with my 71-year young dad in the Tetons across the Teton Crest Trail. 3 days. 35 miles. 3,000' of climb covering 6 miles in 4 hours the last morning. Overshot our permitted camp zone for the last night so we decided we were close enough to hike out and sleep in a hotel with a hot shower last night. Resulted in 16 miles yesterday, including the big ascent in the morning. Got caught in a thunderstorm with hail on Sunday. Lots of tricky water and snow crossings, including a 300-yard snow traverse on a double black diamond style vertical wall. Saw a moose, a doe with 2 fawns and about 1,000 marmots. Oh, and we hitchhiked out of the park to capstone the adventure!" - - Barbara
Hiking the Teton Crest Trail last month with my daughter Barbara was a dream fulfilled. I hiked parts of the Teton Crest Trail 3 times in 2016. All were done with non-reserved, same day, walk-up permits. I never was able to get the 3rd night site to enable hiking Paintbrush Divide pass. But this year I planned ahead and reserved all three backcountry campsites online in early January.
The trip routes that seem most compelling to me are ones featuring world-class spectacular scenery combined with steep routes over high altitude passes. This Teton Crest Trail route includes several passes including Paintbrush Divide which is the favorite pass of many who take this trip.
The wildflowers were at their peak season.
My first trip on the Teton Crest Trail last year was with Robb Wiley. My second was solo and my third was with my son Andy. While with Andy up in the mountains, I thought ahead to 2017 and a trip with my daughter Barbara. My son Chris, the excellent musician, was not a logical candidate for this trip since he is not a hiker.
Not since 7th grade had Barbara backpacked. She and a group of students were led by a teacher on a week long trip from one end to the other on Isle Royale in Lake Superior.
Barbara is the Global Marketing Manager for an international company that makes fitness equipment. In recent years, she has run a marathon and a couple of half-marathons. So I knew she could do it. Plus she is mentally tough and seems to accomplish difficult challenges with very little drama.
She flew in to Jackson, Wyoming on the Friday evening in between the NTO-LRH shooting class sessions. The next morning we took the first tram up Rendezvous Mountain at 9 am. The 15 minute tram ride dropped us at 10,400 feet, saving us the time and effort of a 4,000 foot ascent. It truly is an impressive experience to get off the tram and look down and around at the valley below.
Robb and I last year started this same way. But Andy and I chose to begin at the Death Canyon Trailhead and hike the 4K ascent the first day of our 2016 trip. I feel the Death Canyon version of the trip is one I’m more likely to repeat than the tram version. But most persons would choose the tram version, especially if only doing the TCT only once.
There always is a new spectacular scene just around the next bend.
On my first trip with Robb, my knees really bothered me because of the way I hiked the steep, quick descents. From the tram’s 10,400 foot starting point, the trail immediately goes down the backside of the mountain, beginning a series of ups and downs adding up to over 1,500 feet of loss in the first hour or two.
By the afternoon of last year’s first day, my knees were already killing me. Lesson learned. On my second trip last year I had trekking poles. I also went down more slowly on steep long descents this year. My pack and contents weighed 10 pounds less this year. And my conditioning was even better than last year. So my knees never came even close to bothering me over the entire 35 mile trip this year.
Barbara and I hiked 12 miles on day one. We found a great campsite near an easy water source with a spectacular view down the long dimension of Death Canyon just below us.
Our campsite was in the trees at the top of the path over my left shoulder.
Staying in touch with family via satellite phone.
On day two we traveled through Alaska Basin. Alaska Basin is technically outside of the park so camping can be done almost anywhere and without a permit required. However, we had a permit back in the park at the end of the day, for a spot in South Fork Cascade Canyon.
Many water crossings.
One of the highlights of this trip is cresting Hurricane Pass just before descending into Cascade Canyon. Very impressive with the backside of the three Tetons staring right back at you!
Hurricane Pass @ 10,338 feet - Note the storm building, which resulted in hail ahead on our route.
Useful tool for analyzing degree of difficulty on trail routes.
Generally water is readily available on this trip but it was even better this year than last due to the heavy snowfall last winter and spring. I use a Steripen UV ray unit for purification with iodide pills as my backup system.
Part of the last morning's push up toward Lake Solitude.
Much more snow than last year.
I expected the beauty of Lake Solitude to have been over-hyped. But it was amazing.
There was much more snow along the route this year. Daytime temps were 5 to 10 degrees cooler and this was a treat since it was just a little too warm last year on most afternoons.
Notice the line of tracks in the snow.
Barbara described this as a double-black diamond ski run in difficulty.
We had hard salami sandwiches on fresh ciabatta rolls for lunch on days 1 and 2. We feasted on Mountain House freeze dried food each evening and for breakfast.
The return flight I had reserved for Barbara initially gave her plenty of time on our final hiking day. But the airline had emailed me a change in schedule that made the timing pretty tight. That was a major reason for hiking out early on this trip as Barbara described above.
Barbara and I had a great meal at Dornan’s in view of Tetons before heading to town for our hotel - - and a shower.
I had almost no discomfort worth mentioning. In the morning when I got up at the hotel the day after we walked out over 16 miles, my feet were sore for only 10 minutes upon rising. But my knees were never sore at all on the entire trip. SUCCESS!
We had a great breakfast visit at a local restaurant in Jackson with the entire Wiley family - - Robb, Brenda and the two little girls. And then I drove Barbara to the airport for her trip home.
For those who may plan a version of this trip, here's the park service's trail map.