Sunday, August 19, 2018

Trip Report: Teton Crest Trail

It has been about a 30 year dream of mine to backpack the Teton Crest Trail and with a little help from a willing back and a friendly Grand Teton National Park climbing ranger, we were able to do it this past week. 

The seeds for the trip were planted when I was a teenager and my family made our first visit to Grand Teton National Park.  I remember riding the boat across Jenny Lake with a group of college-age backpackers and thinking I want to be them some day. 

After graduating college, I drove across the country and spent several days in Jackson in late May 1989.  I was 22 years old, short on experience, but long on exuberance.  Or perhaps what Allen Greenspan would call irrational exuberance.  I walked into Teton Mountaineering when I arrived for some beta and someone sold me an ice axe, told me to learn how to use it, and said good luck.  Said ice axe is in the photo below, taken in the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, May 1989.

The next year, I returned to the Tetons with Dave Schultz, a good friend from graduate school who is now a professor at the University of Manchester in England.  We did a number of day hikes, including one to Paintbrush Divide. 

It was during these trips that I began to dream of hiking the Teton Crest Trail.  Finally, last week it happened, and it exceeded expectations.  What an incredible variety packed into 4 days and 40 miles.  A few photos are below.

We started with a major cheat, beginning from the top of the JHMR tram.  They charge $43/$35 per person (walk up/advance reservation) for the privilege!  I'd call it highway robbery, but saving nearly 4000 vertical feet of ascent
with full packs was desirable given the time available and my balky back.   

Just another Teton meadow.

Our sole moose sighting.

Heading northbound near Fox Creek Pass with distant views of the Grand and surrounding high peaks.

Smoke tinged sunset from our first night's campsite.

Sunset Lake.

Wildflower carpet above Sunset Lake.

Point-and-shoot photos don't do it justice.

After meandering for two days through meadows and enjoying wildflowers, things get real when you hit Hurricane Pass, gape at the Tetons, and descend into the upper South Fork of Cascade Canyon.  From here, you are in the big mountains. 

Well deserved rest the next day while ascending the North Fork of Cascade Canyon.

Lake Solitude in the North Fork of Cascade Canyon.  

View of the Grand Teton on the ascent to Paintbrush Divide.  There are a few places in the lower 48 that remind me a great deal of the Alps with the big relief and the huge glacier carved canyons and this is one of them.  The others are in the North Cascades.

Paintbrush Divide, 28 years since my last visit.  Maybe we'll return for the 30th.

One of the great things about the Teton Crest Trail is that it is remarkably well designed and built with low grades the entire route, which is just what you want carrying a big pack.  The only steep section is here, right below Paintbrush Divide, where a persistent snowfield often requires one to use an ice axe, although trail through this area was snow free, following a path at the top of the scree field.

Fortunately, we did hit a bit of snow that required crossing as it would have been a shame to be in the Tetons without a little snow travel.


  1. WOW! Nice trip report!

  2. Great pics. I did this trip several years ago. Well worth the effort for sure. The following weekend I did the LOTOJA ride. I am not sure I would do both of those things that close together again.

  3. Awesome trip. Those wildflowers!! I've missed the bright colors compared to last summer around the Wasatch. I love that view looking down towards the Grand from Lake Solitude. Been there a few times - it totally blows you away!

  4. Wow! Thank you for sharing! Inspiring me to start planning!