This is an incredible day hike for folks who are in shape, though probably best done when the weather is cool. (Status: not proofread.)
➻ Quick Facts
My mom and I don’t get to hike too much together, so I had been wanting to go on a hike with her in the fall. The week leading up to October 9th I had received a new employee and gotten some sort of mystery illness that had really done a number on me: 103-degree fever for a few days, the feeling that my head might explode, and a cough that was as terrible as it was unproductive. The bad news was that the weather was shaping up to be great at the end of the week, so I told my mom to head on up, stay at my house on Saturday, and join me for a quick hike over the Tetons on Sunday. My wife would be returning from Idaho Falls and would be able to pick us up below Grand Targhee, and if we started at Jenny Lake, we could take the South Fork Cascade Creek Trail, which we’d previously only seen from Paintbrush Pass. Mom thought it sounded fun, though she was worried about my health. Hey, it’s better than “died unexpectedly at home,” which people in my age bracket in my little hometown had developed a distinct proclivity for doing. Absolutely tragic.
⤑A Day Hike from East to West Across the Tetons
Mom and I got up very early and made our way to Jenny Lake Trailhead, hoping to arrive with the dawn. The shortening days had brought with them a reduction in thermal mass, meaning that the ground and air were very chilly in the early mornings. As such, we didn’t really feel like hiking in the dark.
We arrived at 0724 and got out of the car to temperatures appreciably below freezing, which made utilizing the privy at the trailhead unpleasant. After leaving the trailhead, we stopped at the bridge by Jenny Lake and took a bunch of pictures. The fall colors were phenomenal, and my crappy photos can’t do the scene justice. I was personally amused that the Helly Hansen down jacket I’d gotten mom was really camo for this time of year. We left at 0744 and an older couple stopped at the bridge to get photos as we had. We had both taken only our day packs, and mine was very light, with my Canon, an extra lens, some jerky and other trail food, a battery pack, and of course our Sawyer filtering supplies. Mom’s was basically empty at this point, and she’d only brought it to store her gloves, hat, and coat.
The trail around Jenny Lake is easy and pleasant enough, though also boring to a degree that makes the ferry a worthwhile expense during its running season.
As we tromped along it slowly got warmer; we passed a slower, larger couple who seemed a bit bushed (we were impressed at their willingness to be out burning the calories at such a time in the morning) for only being about 1/2 mile in, and then began the climb up to the overlook trail, which avoids some of the ups-and-downs closer to the shore in favor of remaining around 300′ higher than the lake. Because the trail doesn’t really lose that elevation, it’s worth taking in my opinion.
Towards the top it had warmed up enough that we stopped and put on some of my homemade anti-chafing cream. I took off my coat, but mom kept hers on. I always dislike when it’s freezing in the shadows and baking in the sun, and it seemed that it would be so for a while. As we approached the rockpiles (well engineered) the sun starting getting to mom, so she took off her coat and stowed it. I laughed and sent myself into a coughing fit. The little cloud over the lake was at least beautiful!
We arrived at the Hidden Falls trail intersection at 0849 and I made some dumb comments about a prank wherein a sign in the style of the National Park ones would be placed in the area warning against flash photography so as not to disturb the native fish. Mom was not amused, which is really the correct reaction, but I do think that my fever-addled mind produces some rather unique dumb ideas. I mean dumb, yes, but also pretty rare, and perhaps in that way still of interest. Turns out that mom doesn’t agree.
After crossing the bridge we climbed the switchbacks to Inspiration Point and then enjoyed the relatively flat section of the journey, which, if you’re unaware, is also quite scenic. It’s no Central Park, and it can’t hold a candle to the Riverwalk in San Antonio, but it’s decent enough. We stopped where the river first comes close to the trail and filled up with water, which was a bone-chilling experience for the fingers. Although thirsty, the temperature of the water was rather unpleasant. As we filled up, two separate sets of couples passed us.
The trail remains relatively flat until about 6.3 miles in and we found ourselves making great time even with all the picture taking. The lighting was really very decent for the time of day.
We entered the forest just before the beginning of the trail’s steeper ascent and encountered a group of people stopped and point at something. I videoed the something…or somethings. Turns out it was a group of moose. When I realized that we quickly left the other folks behind and zipped up the hill and away from the critters.
Just prior to the trail splitting to Solitude Lake a mom, father, and kid passed us going downhill. The kid was maybe 7 years old. As soon as they got downhill of us I recognized that they were a local family who had emailed me some information previously. Specifically, they’d read one of my posts about another mountain range and done the trip themselves with their then 5 year-old kid. The family dynamics were unique and I was bummed that I hadn’t recognized them in time to stop and introduce myself. Still, it was a blessing to see them out camping!
At 1100 we began the long trek up toward Hurricane Pass, stopping to get water at 8100 feet but otherwise keeping a relatively steady pace. The views are pretty nice though not truly spectacular until the Schoolroom Glacier area. A couple of major switchbacks just below 8500 feet provide some real depth, but once you’re beyond them it’s relatively mundane uphill travel through intermittent forests. We didn’t stop again until mile 9, right at 9000 feet, where a small creek crossed the trail and provided a good opportunity to get water. We consumed some of my homemade jerky and not-so-homemade chips. As is her wont, mom ate nuts. I find them a heavy snack to carry. Anyway, the area reminds me of the Sierra Nevadas. Tom Woods kept our minds off the climb thanks to a very interesting interview with Gerard Casey, professor emeritus of philosophy at University College, Dublin, who joined him to discuss the transgender movement, which has ossified into orthodoxy in record time.
Beyond some more switchbacks at 9400 feet we broke out into a flat area where we shortly had an opportunity to take the trail over toward Kit Lake and Avalanche Divide. I’d like to do that one day, but today we didn’t have time for the extra 5 miles or whatever it is. Rather we took a large switchback and then went up an improbable gully, entering a final flat section just before Schoolroom Glacier. A use-trail leads to the associated glacial lake, and we stopped by to check it out. It was truly remarkable.
A quick jaunt 300 feet up along the trail brought us to the use trail to the glacier. Coming down the mountain was a marvelous woman made entirely of vigor and muscle and topped with a massive dashing of good cheer. Oh, and she was DASHING down the switchbacks, but slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt to tell us, with the largest smile I’ve ever seen, what a grand day it was, that she couldn’t believe the weather, and that it was lovely to see us. I tried to avoid my horrible, wet, hacking cough, as well as any feelings of resentment due to the absolute Spartan nature of this beast. She really was fun and memorable. Before she departed she told us that we might encounter some other folks behind her and that I was to tell them, “She went running down the trail and will meet you later! YOU CAN DO IT!” Then the gal bounded off.
Mom and I made our way to the glacier. As long as you have legs that aren’t broken, the very brief walk there is pretty easy, and the views are worth it. We took a number of pictures and and I saw a plane circling piloted by a man who has caused some amount of trouble with his piloting “technique.” Also circling the Grand was a Cessna I recognized as being from Driggs. As we took photos, we saw the lollygaggers that the running gal had mentioned, but they were too far away for us to interact with.
As you can see in the photos above, at this point we were right at the lip of the pass, so we bounded up and…mom got cell service and started working. Terrible, terrible mother! Thankfully she was done quickly enough and ready to examine the landscape. I pointed out Grand Targhee (my kid LOVES Screaming Cheetah) and some other features, then we took the sharp left toward Alaska Basin. It really is evident from the top of the pass just how small this little island range is.
A short climb brought us to our high point for the hike where we met a young man who said he was about to do the hike down and had stayed the night in Alaska Basin. He said he was happy to soon be heading downhill. SO SAY WE ALL!
Hiking from Hurricane Pass toward Alaska Basin is beautiful if barren, taking one through a massive, treeless area filled with Karst topography. We reached a set of switchbacks just under a mile from the actual pass and had a great view of Sunset Lake. The trail zig and zagged toward Sunset Lake, avoiding a direct line in favor of less ups and downs. We were surprised to see no one there.