The Ever-Changing Beauty of the Tetons: A 45-Mile Hike Through the Wyoming Range

When I got to my first campsite in the Teton Range of Wyoming, about 17 miles from the trailhead, I expected to collapse in my sleeping ...


When I got to my first campsite in the Teton Range of Wyoming, about 17 miles from the trailhead, I expected to collapse in my sleeping bag. My feet were aching, I had shoulder cramps from the weight of my pack, and although I had spent a good part of the day walking over 9,000 feet, I still hadn’t got to. fully adapt to the altitude. I quickly pitched my tent, took off my boots and climbed inside.

Instead of falling asleep, however, I peeked through the wire mesh and found myself mesmerized by the view: Framed in the distance – as if perfectly laid out in a picture window – was the towering peak. from Grand Teton, overlooking the surrounding spiers.

So began what looked like a five-act nocturnal play, with the Tetons taking center stage: the early evening clarity, the dark glow of sunset, the gradual emergence of the Milky Way, a set saturated with hues before dawn and, finally, streaks of morning light.

A day earlier, I had floundered overflowing parking lots and crowded boardwalks in Yellowstone National Park, making my way to spectacular views of Grand Prismatic Spring and the Norris Basin geysers.

But here in the backcountry, some 50 miles to the south, away from the popular hikes along the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, the main thoroughfare that connects Yellowstone to the Teton Range, I lived in a almost loneliness what Rockefeller – who donates tens of thousands of acres at Grand Teton National Park – once described in a letter.

“The Teton Mountains are, in my opinion, the most awe-inspiring and spectacular mountains I have ever seen,” he wrote. “When viewed above the vast expanse of sagebrush that covers the valley, or with Jackson Lake and the marshes in the foreground, they present a picture of ever-changing beauty that is to me unmatched.”

Mile for mile, the Teton Crest Trail is one of America’s most scenic multi-day hikes, encompassing mountain passes, epic ridges, dense forests, glaciers, snowfields, alpine landscapes without end, towering peaks, glacier-carved canyons, a constant array of wildflowers, breathtaking mountain lakes, and abundant wildlife including moose, bighorn sheep, mule deer, wild groundhogs and pikas, as well as grizzly bears and black bears.

Most hikers complete the trail in four or five days, taking advice from the National Park Service to expect to travel. no more than two miles per hour.

In early August, a friend and I worked hard to complete it in three days.

Permits are required for overnight stays in the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park, and securing campsites along the Teton Crest Trail is a competitive process. Having missed the advance booking window, we instead aimed for a first-come, first-served permit, which involved standing in line at one of the park’s visitor centers the day before the hike at 6 a.m. morning, two hours before the office opens. (I was the first in line, but still only received one of our two favorite sites, which required slight adjustments with our hiking plans.)

There is another option, however. Since the trail enters and leaves the national park, hikers who wish to forgo the permit process can camp (free of charge) on the sections of the trail that fall into the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests.

If you’ve seen a photograph of the Tetons, which stretch north and south along the western edge of Wyoming, it was likely taken from one of the popular and easily accessible vantage points east of the mountains: Schwabacher Landing, Mormon Row, the Snake River View, Oxbow bend. Seen from an eastern perspective, Grand Teton, the tallest peak, rises almost a mile and a half above the adjacent plains. (The steep climb of the Tetons looks especially dramatic due to the lack of significant buttresses.)

The Teton Crest Trail, on the other hand, gives hikers a glimpse of the peaks from a western perspective – a view gained only by ascending steep canyons or over a series of arduous passes. On this less traveled side, the mountains offer a greater variety of scenery, including the pristine seclusion of Lake Solitude, scattered scree, and the eerily arid landscape surrounding the 10,400-foot Hurricane Pass.

Relative seclusion, of course, is one of the trail’s other draws. Grand Teton National Park welcomed 3.3 million visitors in 2020, claiming fifth place – ahead of the Grand Canyon – on the list of most visited national parks. Parts of the park, including the once little-known Delta Lake, have been so inundated by ever-increasing crowds that they have helped spawn campaigns against the geolocation of their locations on photos shared on social networks.

Given its remoteness and the limitations of available permits, the Teton Crest Trail, on the other hand, is well insulated from the threat of overcrowding. As expected, we only encountered a handful of other hikers along the southern sections of the trail. (We started at the Phillips Pass Trailhead, although some hikers choose to go a few miles – and a few thousand feet of elevation gain – by taking a tram or gondola from Teton Village.) Only near the northern terminus of our route, at Paintbrush Canyon which is popular with day hikers, the trail started to feel even slightly crowded.

Fittingly, my hiking companion, Darius Nabors, and I enjoyed the most serene moment of the trip to Lake Solitude, which we reached just before sunrise on our third day. Sitting on a rocky peninsula jutting out into the lake, we silently watched the sun rise over the surrounding peaks, gradually filling the basin around us with light.

Based on our calculation at the bottom of the envelope, given that only a few campsites put the lake within reach of a reasonable hike before sunrise, this is a scene that maybe only a hundred people witness each. year.

From Solitude Lake we climbed steadily for over two miles – on a section of the path built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era government work program – at Paintbrush Divide, which at 10,700 feet marks the highest point of the Teton Crest Trail.

We stopped and took our bags off to take in the breathtaking 360 degree views, reveling that the rest of the hike, to our end point at String Lake, would be almost all downhill.

Reflecting on the completion of the Skyline Trail – a precursor to the Teton Crest Trail – in 1933, Fritiof Fryxell, who was Grand Teton National Park’s first naturalist, summed up its appeal. “Going through this loop,” he wrote, “We completely encircle the Three Tetons and the adjacent high peaks, looking at them from all sides. We thus get to know these summits with an intimacy impossible for the visitor who is satisfied with distant views.

And it was true: as we drove south toward the town of Jackson, after completing the trail, and peering west, seeing the Tetons from their far corner and the better known, the summits seemed infinitely more familiar to us, infinitely more real – as if they had finally emerged from the two-dimensional image that had been etched in my mind for years.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The Ever-Changing Beauty of the Tetons: A 45-Mile Hike Through the Wyoming Range
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