Teton Crest in a Day
An epic introduction to the Grand Tetons
The Grand Tetons were on the docket for my second trip to The West after our Colorado adventure last summer. This time, we were meeting up with Cody’s parents and sister for a week of wildlife spotting and shorter hikes. But being us, we decided to arrive a day early to get A Big Day out of our systems first. Driving north through the Grand Tetons the night before and seeing those jagged peaks rise up from the flat valley, I was stoked but nervous about our plans for the next morning. Did this really fit into the tapering plans I had for a 50 mile race two weeks later? Don’t most people spend several days backpacking this route? And what about the Grizzlies?
We booked a last-minute stay in a teepee for the night and watched the sun set over the mountains we intended to run around the next day and went to bed in the chilly 30-something mountain air. The next morning we scraped the frost off the rental car, packed some snacks in our packs and headed on one final important errand before our adventure: the bear spray rental shop. Here, the young fit folks in the shop looked us up and down and gave me the reassurance that we weren’t crazy. They had actually run the same route on their day off yesterday. And about the bears? Nah, just carry the spray (we got two). They’d be more afraid of cats (extremely unheard of in those parts) based on the scat they’d seen on the trail. Gulp
Because of our timeline and my race coming up, we decided to skip a few thousand feet of climbing and take the tram from the ski resort to the top of Rendezvous Mountain to start. It felt a bit like cheating, but the tram was pretty cool. We were the only hikers aboard and got more than a few strange looks from the mostly older crowd in our tramcar.
So, we started at over 10,000 feet, sucking in the thin mountain air and warming up with nearly 2,000’ of decent and cold legs. This resulted in some gnarly downhill right out the gate which came back to bite Cody’s knees in the end. He’s still recovering almost two weeks later (though hiking almost everyday the rest of the week certainly didn’t help either). 5k in, we finally got to the bottom of the decent. Coming from sea-level the day before, we were challenged by what appeared to be very gradual rises. We did some hike + jogging the majority of the uphills from here until the top of Hurricane Pass at mile 18 when we hit some relentless downhill that challenged our knees rather than lungs. (The guy at the bear spray shop actually mentioned that he prefers to run this route the opposite direction — taking the tram down instead of up — and in the end, I can see his point.)
The Teton Crest Trail is extremely well-maintained and easy to follow. It winds its way northeast through magnificent sagebrush meadows and big open skies, with the occasional peak jutting upward and past cold mountain lakes. Though it was a beautiful Saturday morning, we immediately found ourselves completely alone. In fact, the whole day we saw maybe fifteen people — mostly backpackers. Considering this trail really is it out here, I was shocked and thrilled by the solitude.
Some highlights were passing imposing Mt. Jedediah Smith (?), and seeing three black bears (at a safe and enjoyable distance) — two cubs and mom — at turquoise Sunset Lake. The cubs were adorable, standing up on their hind legs and roughhousing with each other in the water.
The best part was saved for the last third of our journey, as Grand Teton is mostly out of sight until cresting Hurricane Pass at mile 18. After hiking up and up through inhospitable grey scree, you reach the crest to get a magnificent reveal: the jagged peaks of the Grand Tetons rising high. On the other side, switchbacks lead into a lush green valley, Schoolroom glacier and it’s runoff glacial lake. It’s a jaw-dropper. And also windy. So we descended down and down with many-an ‘OMG’ and the satisfaction of a plan well-worth-it.
Next, we followed Cascade Canyon ever downward following the cascades into the forest. Cody’s knees were bothering him, so we took it a bit slower on the steeper sections. When the trail leveled off a bit, we did manage to run two 11ish minute miles which felt pretty fast considering our leisurely pace most of the day. At about mile 28 we both had had it with running and we were a bit early to meet Cody’s family at the trailhead anyway, so we enjoyed a pretty walk around Jenny Lake to the String Lake trailhead.