Day 3 – Thousand Island Lake to North of Donahue Pass

Miles: 7.2

Our alarm clock this morning was a 15 minute howling from distant coyotes.

The girls were up early as Laurie wanted to get a time lapse of the sunrise.

They stayed dry in their tent last night even though it was very humid.

As for me, I did not sleep as well. I cowboy camped on a rock and woke up every few hours with water dripping into my sleeping bag.

We had another lazy morning.

As we ate breakfast, I dried my sleeping bag and pad. At 9:15 we set off down the trail.

But we didn’t hike long as Laurie wanted to take a soak. On trips like these (low mileage days) we take opportunities to soak and lounge. Why not?

By 10:30am, we were hiking up toward Island Pass. The views of Thousand Island Lake were spectacular from the switchbacks.

As we climbed, we knew it would be a warm day. The first half of canyon between Island Pass and Donahue Pass is really pretty. Lush plants and trees, and active rivers. The second half of the canyon is exposed, dry and hot.

I decided to hike faster and try to get to Donahue Pass before 2:45pm. The heat, endless steps and views behind me made for slow going.

I arrived at the Pass at exactly 2:49pm. Didi mention it was hot?

Around 3:10 the girls arrived looking worn from the heat and the never-ending climb. I know Laurie can handle long climbes – after all, her nickname (one of many) is The Grinder. But I am so proud and happy that Erin made it too. Go Erin!!

After an hour break at the Pass eatin and chattin with other hikers, we packed up, laced up our shoes and headed down the trail. The view of Lyell Canyon from Donahue Pass is spectacular.

As we slowly descended, we talked about how far to go and where to camp. We decided to call it a day when we reached a beautiful flat section of trail still exposed and out of the trees, only a mile from the pass.

We set up our tents, one tent actually – I chose to cowboy camp again – stretched and ate dinner.

The temperature dropped soon after the sun sank below the mountains. Looks like it will be another cold night. But I was prepared. I set up my sleeping bag to prevent a crosswind. And I wore my down jacket on top of my silk and midweight wool long johns.

Another lovely but difficult day of hiking in The Range Of Light. Time to spot a few shooting stars and drift off.


Day 2 – Bushcamp South of Parker Pass to Thousand Island Lake

Date: October 8, 2015

Miles: 15

I woke up with a very stiff neck. My pillow had unraveled during the chili night. But no matter, we’re in the backcountry. And there’s no one else here. We saw only two people (day hikers) yesterday and probably won’t see many people today either.

Sunrise was absolutely spectacular. The few clouds that lingered turning orange and pink before the sun greeted us.

We lounged about in our tents until 8am, finally deciding to brave the cold and take care of business.

Around 9 am we were finally hiking. We predicted to be up and over Koip Pass by 11. Boy were we wrong.

There was so much more snow on Koip mountain than we expected. It was slow going as we kicked steps into snow to make progress. We must have been the first group to hike this trail after the last snow fell.

As the sun made its way over Koip mountain, it softened the snow enough to make kicking steps easier.

We decided to skip the switchbacks and go straight up the mountain. It was slow going and hard work, but we kept at it. I’m not very comfortable on snow and this was Erin’s first time traversing snow.

We both did very well. The dropoffs were massive and there were a few stretchy, rocky sections to manouver around, but we did it – following our fearless, sure footed leader Laurie most of the way.

By noon, we had finally made it across the pass.

We were beat.

We dropped our packs and devoured most of the food in our sacks. After consuming too much guyere cheese, an entire tray of smoked salmon, gorp, powerberries, and ginger chews, we were ready to set off once again. Except we didn’t want to put on our wet socks and shoes.

Nature always has a way of getting you moving though. In this case, the wind began howling and we were moving in no time.

On the long downhill to Alger Lakes, we took off most of our layers and couldn’t believe how different the landscape was on the south side of Koip Peak.

At 5pm we made our way down to Gem Lake, where we made the decision to hike to Thousand Island Lake.

We climbed up to Gem Pass, then gradually down to the Waugh Lake/Agnew Pass junction. After a refill of water and snacks, we hiked the 2 miles to Agnew Pass.

It was 6:30pm and the light was fading, but we kept walking. No turning back now.

At 8pm we finally made it to Thousand Island Lake with our headlamps lighting the way.

We ate dinner and went to bed. Erin and Laurie again shared the Tarptent while I chose to sleep under the stars.

I don’t like critters, and I saw a few spiders and mice, but the night sky won me over.

Grand Tetons Part 1: Death Canyon – Alaska Basin Loop

Trip dates: Tuesday, July 28 – Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trip Details: 
Death Canyon – Alaska Basin Loop: 3 days, 26 miles
Seven am on a nippy Tuesday morning found Laurie asleep in the car as I scoped out to the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center. Only a handful of others were there, eagerly waiting for the Visitor Center to open. All of us had different itineraries. This put me at ease, slightly. 
We had no reservations but hoped to acquire permits for an overnight trip looping from Cascade Canyon to Paintbrush Canyon. Unfortunately those permits were all reserved, but we were able to get permits to enter from Death Canyon, camp in Alaska Basin – which is outside Grand Teton National Park – and exit Death Canyon via Death Canyon Shelf.
We drove the length of the bumpy dirt road to the trail head at Death Canyon. After a short 1.7 mile uphill walk, we enjoyed fantastic views of Phelps Lake. 
We chose to do this loop counter clockwise in order to do most of the climbing on our first day. Most backpackers may want to hike it clockwise but we enjoy big climbs right out of the gate. We can do this because fortunately we don’t require much acclimatization.
Day hiking Death Canyon to Buck mountain at 11,938 ft was quite popular. Many hiker were descending as we climbed higher and further into the majestic mountains. 
The weather couldn’t have been better either. We had partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the 60s to 70s. 

And the wildflowers. Oh my, the wildflowers. We were hiking through peak bloom! 

The hike up to Static Peak Divide was a long but gentle climb mostly shaded by trees.  We stopped for lunch near the Divide and enjoyed the jaw-dropping views. 

The wind had picked up and we were tired from a 12 hour, 800+ mile drive the day before, so we chose to forgo bagging Buck Mountain and descended toward Alaska Basin. The views on the other side of Static Peak Divide were equally magnificent. 
Camp for the night was near Mirror Lake. There are at least 4 designated campsites near the lake. About half a mile after the junction, there are more campsites near smaller bodies of water and streams. We set up camp in the trees, ate dinner by the lake soaking up the sunshine and went to bed before nightfall.

The next morning was a lazy one. Having to cover only 7 miles for the day, we enjoyed a long breakfast while allowing our tent to dry under the warm morning sunshine. Today promised big blue skies and warmer temperatures.
Around 10am we became stir crazy and were ready to get moving. We realized we had chosen a great camp spot after passing many backpackers on the other side of the lake. But the number of hikers didn’t matter because Alaska Basin is absolutely gorgeous. Thousands of wildflowers greeting us at every turn. 

The climb to Meek Pass was gentle and included many false summits along the way. This didn’t bother us much because Laurie and I agreed this was one of the most beautiful trails we have ever walked upon. The wildflowers, the gentle rolling trail and scenery were hard to beat. 

The miles came easy as we made our way down Death Canyon Shelf toward Fox Pass. The vistas  were tremendous. 

We dropped down into a bowl, escorted by wildflowers. Eventually we made our way into Death Canyon. Here one has to camp at designated and established campsites. We had our sights set on one such campsite near the eastern end perched high on flat boulders away from the trail. The campsites on the northern end had better views and less mosquitos but we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow and chose to make the following day as short as possible. 
We were glad with our decision because had we camped west of the group campsite, we would have had to hike through the overgrown trail the next morning. And odds are we would have been very wet from the brush.

Before entering Death Canyon we were warned by other hikers (but not rangers) of aggressive porcupines in the area that are attracted to salt. Flip flops and trekking pole handles were chew toys for these pesky critters. Although we didn’t see any, we were kept up most of the night by one making strange noises in the tree next to our tent. 
The next morning we felt groggy. Nevertheless we were up early and on the move before 7am. We had to hike back to Death Canyon Trailhead 5 miles away, get in our cars and drive to Jenny Lake Trailhead, where we would start our overnight loop through Cascade and Paintbrush Canyons.
The 5 mile hike to the trailhead from our campsite was easy, consisting of only one climb back up to Phelps Lake. There were more areas of the trail that were overgrown, but nothing that hampered our progress. We were hiking fast and on a mission to get to our car by 9am. At exactly 8:25am we reached the parking lot. Go us!
Tips for backpacking in the Tetons
  • Storing food in the car is considered proper bear storage. Bears don’t break into cars in the Tetons. 
  • There are no bear boxes at trailheads.
  • Designated camping only in established areas. The sites are well marked with signs and maps of the camping zones are available at the ranger station.
  • Peak season is last week of July.