Backpacking In The Grand Tetons
Aug 1992

I wrote this for the Syntek company newspaper shortly after I returned. It's a lighthearted account of the backpacking portion of the trip. I took tons of photographs that can go with the text — I have them in a photo album — but they are prints made from negatives (film!), and it would be a big job to scan them to digital files. As time permits I'll do a few...maybe.

The Grand Teton Mountains are a relatively small (in extent) mountain range in northwest Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone National Park. They are pait of the Rocky Mountains. The tallest peak, the Grand Teton itself, stands 13,700 ft. The valley floor, known as Jackson Hole, is at 6700 ft. (Compare with the tallest "mountain" in the Shenandoahs, at 4000 ft.) The name Grand Teton is French for, literally, Big Tit.

When I was 16 my parents took me to Yellowstone, passing through the Tetons on the way. I remember wondering all week why we were spending all the time in the relatively mild scenery of Yellowstone, instead of the glorious and majestic mountains to the south. l vowed I would revisit them some day.

My good friend Diane and I arrived by plane at Jackson Hole Airport, right next to the Grand Teton Mountains, just in time to see the sun setting behind the Grand Teton itself. The next day we drove around Grand Teton National Park, stopping to walk next to Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake, and to see the mountains reflected in the water. ln the evening we drove into Jackson, WY, a tourist trap if there ever was one. Their biggest attraction is an ugly archway made entirely of antlers. I didn't waste even one picture on it.

Monday moming we started our six day backpacking trip. We took a ferry across Jenny Lake, and climbed to Inspiration Point with full packs. From there we hiked up Cascade Canyon, stopping for lunch at a most beautiful and peaceful pond. The quad map showed no name for this pond, while all the other bodies of water seemed to be named for one explorer or another. I felt sad for this, so it is now marked Mansbach Lake on my map. Many ground squirrels feasted with us in celebration of the name.

That afternoon it rained, poured, thundered, and got generally miserable. We kept going, since there was really no slack in our schedule. Fortunately, the rain stopped by the time we made camp. The next day we hiked up the South Fork, around to the back of the three main Teton peaks. and pitched our tent for a two night stay at 9600 ft. The day in between we left most of our equipment in the tent, and traveled light We climbed up between South and Middle Teton to Ice Floe Lake, nestled at 10,600 ft. and fed by glaciers. I did not even test the water.

Day four we hiked through Hurricane Pass and the Alaska Basin. The western boundary of the park is a wall, imaginatively named The Wall, which is nearly black, and vertical for the top 100 - 200 feet Overall it rises about 900 feet above the neighboring valleys. The Wall extends for several miles, a very peculiar feature. Hurricane pass is a trail that goes over the wall. And yes, it is quite windy at the top.

On the other side is the Alaska Basin, outside the park. This is a beautiful valley, filled with wildflowers, whose far side is a cliff, with the geological strata exposed, differently colored horizontal bands, reminiscent of the Dakota Badlands. Like much of this trip, there are no roads here. It can only be visited on foot or horseback.

One of the neat things we observed is that every time we went through a pass, the entire world changed: different rock types, different trees and flowers, a whole different "feel" to the land. It was like visiting four very different places — Canyon, Alpine, Basin, Shelf.

We had planned to camp the fourth night near the beginning of the Death Canyon Shelf, a reasonably flat shelf of land at 9600 ft, with cliffs rising on the right, and falling away on the left to Death Canyon itself, 1100 feet below. Nobody knows why it's called Death Canyon.

As the sun was setting we got to where we had planned to camp, near a stream marked on the map. The stream was dry. Only then, studying the map, did we realize we had not passed water for three hours, and it would be at least four more hours walking till we would come to the next marked stream. Too late for today. We had one pint of water left. To give us a head start the next day, we kept going for a while. Suddenly: a stream! this one not shown on the map. Many thanks to USGS for its quad maps....

The trail down into Death Canyon, along its six mile length, and out the other side was pretty, relaxing, and uneventful. Our packs were lighter, the trail unifomily downhill, the air a bit thicker. Traveling seemed easy, as the struggle of the uphill with full packs and thin air became dim in memory.

The fifth night we camped in Death Canyon itself. At night a porcupine visited the camp, and made quite a racket. I didn't worry too much, knowing that our food was hanging safely in the tree, out of bears' reach, and porcupines' also. l never imagined that a porcupine would consider my pack itself a tasty morsel! Fortunately, he didn't quite chew the main pack strap in two, although it was close. Had he finished, I would have had to carry all my gear in my arms the rest of the way.

Exiting Death Canyon we started to see the tourists again, the real world. The long haul through the mountains, the solitude, the slow tempo of foot travel, these are a world apart from our normal lives. These things do not fit with all the masses of busily vacationing humanity with their screaming kiddies and belching vehicles and beer cans that we now encounter. It's a funny feeling to return.

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