Teton Circumnavigation

Miles 34
Time 8 hours elapsed (6:15 am - 2:15 am)
Shoes Salomon Speedcross (Brennan & Alexis)
Pack Nathan Intensity (Brennan & Alexis)
92°/64°F High/Low in Jackson, WY, scattered clouds, no precipitation
Date Saturday 09/26/2015

Route Overview

Our initial plan was to run the Teton Crest Trail (via Phillips Canyon Trail) from South to North.  After difficulty in arranging a shuttle between the termination points, we decided to run a loop route instead.

As the name implies, the Teton Circumnavigation route is a wide loop around several peaks in the Teton Mountain Range.  It seemed that most have run the route counter-clockwise from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead.  This places the (mostly flat) 8 miles in the valley, between Jenny Lake and Death Canyon, at the end of the run.  On a warm day, like ours, those 8 miles would end up in the early afternoon, and seemed like a miserable closing memory to finish with.  Competent parties have bailed at the Death Canyon Trailhead, to hitch a ride back to the start, skipping these 8 miles.

We decided to run clockwise, with the (flat) 8 miles at the start.  This is the best strategy in my mind!  For several reasons (route finding, Google Earth nuances, landmarks...), I broke the route into 14 sections.

Teton Curcumnavigation  route overview, with a pin locating the Lupine Meadows Trailhead (the standard start).

Teton Curcumnavigation route overview, with a pin locating the Lupine Meadows Trailhead (the standard start).

Route - Section 1 (Lupine Meadows Trailhead to Death Canyon Trailhead)

Section 1: A dark 6:15a start at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead brought us to Bradley Lake (mile 2.8) in pre-sunrise light.  As we approached Taggart Lake (mile 3.9), at the crack of sunrise, we encountered a bull elk bugling through the dew fog, with 10 cow elk around.  This was the most remarkable event on the run (another strong reason to run the flat 8 miles early in the morning).  We enjoyed the remaining miles to the Death Canyon Trailhead (mile 8.6), and took the right turn

Route - Sections 2-6 (Death Canyon Trailhead to Static Peak)

Section 2: The trail leads quickly up to a ridge overlooking Phelp's Lake, then drops to the mouth of Death Canyon (mile 10.2).  Section 3: Stay right to head up into Death Canyon.  After several switchbacks, the trail will level out into the flat valley, pass through some tree patches, to a brown cabin (on left) which is also the Alaska Basin Trail Junction (mile 12.4), where we turned right.  We filtered water from the stream behind the brown log cabin.

Section 4: The right turn onto the Alaska Basin Trail switchbacks up the steep draw, with amazing views up Death Canyon (the Death Canyon shelf of the Teton Crest Trail is obvious to see up canyon), to the major ridge where a nice vista of the Jackson valley appears (mile 15).  I counted down the switchbacks to maintain sanity (there are 11 sharp corners, the stretch between 5-6 & 6-7 are the longest).  Section 5: The trail then traverses the west slope just below Albright Peak (immediately on runner's right side) to the ridge/saddle beyond Albright (mile 15.6).

Section 6: Nice exposure on the east slope of the ridge, through several tight switchbacks, toward Static Peak, arrives at the high-point of the route (10,820 ft elev., mile 16.5) which is basically the half-way point as well.

Teton Circumnavigation Brenn after switchbacks of Death Canyon as trail levels out, just before the log cabin.

Teton Circumnavigation Alexis in Death Canyon just after the log cabin, with the Death Canyon shelf (of the Teton Crest Trail) far in the background.

Teton Circumnavigation Brenn looks out over Death Canyon (from switchback 6). Rimrock Lake is almost visible in the high crater below the main peak in the center). Death Canyon shelf (of the Teton Crest Trail) is far in the background on the right).

Route - Sections 7-9 (Static Peak to Teton Crest Trail Junction to Hurricane Pass to Glacier)

Section 7: The trail drops into the minor basin beneath the imposing and gnarly Buck Mountain (directly forward)

There was opportunity for melt-off water beneath Buck Moutain, but we were not even close to needing it yet.

It then exits the minor basin, crossing the Static Divide (mile 17.6), then dropping into the very top of the large Alaska Basin.  It continues to a trail junction (mile 18).  Turn right at junction!

Teton Circumnavigation Brennan at Static Divide, with Alaska Basin in the background, to the right.

Teton Circumnavigation view from the north bench of the Alaska Basin. Junction with Teton Crest Trail is far in background on the right.

Teton Circumnavigation Alexis embracing the Tetons from Hurricane Pass.

Section 8:  The Basin Lakes can be seen on Runner's left. There are countless opportunities to filter water along this section (maybe every 500 feet or so). The trail stays on the north (runner's right) shelf of the Alaska Basin until it intersects the Teton Crest Trail at an obvious trail junction (mile 20) with trail markers on a post.  Turn right at this junction (toward Sunset Lake) on the Teton Crest Trail!

Section 9:  The trail drops down to Sunset Lake, then consistently gains elevation (through basin, then through switchbacks, then up up up).  This trail feels like it is constantly about to crest, but it never does, until BAM!  All of a sudden, it's at Hurricane Pass (mile 21.9, 10,540 ft).  The Tetons and Mt. Owen are in full-on view to the north-east.

Teton Circumnavigation Brennan stands at the crest (finally) of Hurricane Pass, Tetons in background on right.

Drop into the canyon via switchbacks (mile 22.7) and end up by the turquoise colored lake (at the base of Schoolroom Glacier).

Teton Circumnavigation Brennan heading down the switchbacks toward the lake (on right) by Schoolroom Glacier. The Tetons are obvious in the background. Cascade Canyon is the first canyon in the background to the left of the Grand Teton.

A very short trail leads to the outlet of the lake, if one wishes to see it up close (highly recommended).

Teton Circumnavigation the turquoise-color lake at the base of Schoolroom Glacier, dammed/encircled by a beautifully symmetric natural berm, with a weakness at the outlet (point of photograph).

Route - Sections 10-14 (Schoolroom Glacier through Cascade Canyon)

Teton Circumnavigation Brennan running toward Cascade Canyon. Cascade Creek is downhill to the runner's right.

Section 10:  From here on, there are countless opportunities for filtering water from Cascade Creek (on runner's right).  But, obviously, water is much cleaner higher, near the source.  Fill up early in this section, and it should definitely last to the finish.  The trail drops 1,200 feet over 4.6 miles to the trail junction at the top of Cascade Canyon (mile 27.3).

Section 11:  Head right at trail junction (down Cascade Canyon) where tourist density will increase dramatically on the trail across the 4.1 miles to the mouth of Cascade Canyon (mile 31.4).

Section 12:  Take your pick of trails (depending on which are open/closed) down to Jenny Lake (mile 31.6).

Section 13:  A trail heads south, along the west shore of Jenny lake OR a higher trail heads south from Hidden Falls to where they converge (mile 32.8), at the SW tip of Jenny Lake).

Section 14:  Do NOT take any trails to Moose Pond!  Trail options continue to the Lupine Meadows Rd, which obviously leads back to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead, the finish (mile 34).  There is a trail in the meadow just west of the road, which is nice to avoid the dust from cars.


Remarks on Possible Variations

  • Run the same loop counter-clockwise: Even if I were to run the loop counter-clockwise, I would do so from the Death Canyon Trailhead so that the 8 miles were at the start.

  • Adds 2-3 miles: At the end of Section 3, one could continue all the way up (then west) Death Canyon, then take switchbacks up to Death Canyon Bench, then take the Teton Crest Trail (on bench), to Alaska Basin. Resume at Section 9-14. While only slightly longer, this variation would completely skip the high-point, Buck Mountain, and the Static Divide. You might as well just do the whole Teton Crest Trail instead of this variation (unless you are wanting to do most of the Teton Crest Trail, and have to make it a loop for car-shuttling reasons like we did).

  • Adds 5-7 miles: At the end of Section 10, a left turn at junction, up canyon would present a significant climb into Paintbrush Canyon, which could be run out to Leigh Lake, then south to Jenny Lake, finishing with the same Sections 13-14.