Amen to that! I could have wandered around the basin today for hours, if I'd
had the time.
In the last entry I showed views of the western side of Grand Teton and Middle
Teton mountains from our campsite in Teton Canyon. Although Jim and I have
been running and hiking on various parts of the Grand Teton Race (GTR) course,
I've been itching to return to the trails heading up into the Tetons and the
Jedediah Smith Wilderness from the valley. Today I got my chance while Jim was
tapering for his race on Saturday.
South Teton Creek is pretty small near its source in the
Exactly two years
ago I really enjoyed running on South Teton Trail 027 from its
trailhead at the end of Forest Road 009 out 2.7 miles to its juncture with
several other trails and back. It's an easy trail through beautiful pine
forests and open meadows between wide cliffs. Click
here to see some additional photos of this
Scenes from the lower section of South Teton Creek Trail
I will show only a few more photos of that particular section
today because I've got even better scenery to show you now!
This time I wanted to go farther and explore one of the trails leading up
into the high country.
I totally lucked out with my choice of the trail to
Alaska Basin; it was just what I needed to distract me from some sad
family news and help me sort out my feelings. I didn't have time this week to locate any good trail maps of the
western side of the Tetons (internet time is severely limited) and I
haven't talked to anyone who has been up this particular trail. I only knew the
distance from the signage at the trailhead:
And the only map I had (below) was from that information board. Here's the
relevant section of the wilderness I'd be hiking; but even in a more readable
size it doesn't show the location of Alaska Basin:
The arrow in the middle (above) was my starting point. I followed the South
Teton Creek Canyon Trail south and east to Alaska Basin. Grand Targhee Resort,
the location of Jim's race, is the red dot above the arrow. The road that
switchbacks up to it is Ski Hill Road.
You can see the trail route to Alaska Basin more clearly on the map below, which I found
my trek up to the basin.
(Ah! So that's where I went!). I found the map, some photos, and a good
description of the trails in this area in the
Greater Yellowstone Resource Guide:
I figured I could hike up 7.7 miles in less than three hours and run
back down in less than two.
I was wrong. My GPS measured the distance a little longer than that, the
trail was rockier than I expected, I took even more photos than I usually do
(almost 200), and my knees hurt coming back down, limiting how much I could
run. And I'm just plain getting slower!
One of the ponds in Alaska Basin
I had to cut my lollygagging time up in the basin -- I could have
wandered around up there for hours -- and really push to get back down
to the trailhead so Jim didn't have to wait and worry too long. As it was, it
took me an hour longer to do this run/hike than I estimated, a total of 5:50 hours
for 15.6 miles.
Of course he worried about me! I need to start overestimating
the time I think it will take me to complete any run/hike in unfamiliar
territory. I thought I learned that lesson on the Appalachian Trail.
Jim let Cody and me off at the trailhead at the end of FR 009 at an
elevation of 7,000 feet. The entire 7.8-mile climb is pretty gradual,
with a few little descents so it isn't all relentlessly uphill. The first 2.7
miles to the trail juncture are very runnable, even for a klutz like me. Then the trail gets
a little steeper and more rocky (photo above), but some of it is
really smooth (photo below).
I topped out at 9,546 feet where I turned around at the junction with the
Teton Crest Trail in Alaska Basin. The
descent is fast for someone more agile and with younger legs than mine. Without
taking photos, Jim could easily do this in less than four hours.
When I got to the Devil's Staircase/Alaska Basin trail juncture (below) at 2.7
miles I turned left to go up to Alaska Basin. I
figured if I was ahead of schedule, I could add in some mileage toward
Hurricane Pass. That didn't happen, of course.
I wasn't sure whether it would be safe to take Cody up to the basin with me
today. Two years ago when he was with me we arrived at this juncture right
after a black bear tried to mooch some food from a couple who were taking a
break. Although we couldn't see the bear, Cody's whole demeanor changed and I
could tell he smelled it.
There are still signs at the trailhead warning hikers and equestrians about
both black and grizzly bears in the wilderness area. Our campground hosts also
verified their presence on the equally-popular trail to Table Mountain on the
nearby North Teton Creek Trail.
Oh, look -- there's a little black bear!
Naw . . . it's just Cody-Bear sniffing
around in the flowers.
Three local trail
volunteers with a dog were gathering up their equipment from their vehicles in
the parking area and were preparing to hit the trail. I asked them if they knew of any current bear activity.
They hadn't heard of any recent grizzly sightings and weren't much concerned
about the black bears. Black bears are common in this area and are used to people on
the lower part of the trail. I had so much fun seeing black bears on the
Appalachian Trail several years ago that I was secretly hoping I'd spot one
here. (But don't tell Jim. He already worries too much about me!)
I'm glad we decided it'd be OK for Cody to go with me; we didn't see any bears
(just some scat) and he was great company on the remote miles between the
junction and basin.
Cody scouts out the trail ahead of us.
The only folks I saw on the way up were those those three volunteers and two
others who were doing trail work in the first three miles. There was also a
lone male hiker coming back down about half a mile from the basin. I was glad
to see him because he verified that I was on the right trail. There weren't any
"confidence" signs after the main junction and I wasn't sure I was still on the
correct trail to Alaska Basin. I just kept going on the main trail and didn't
take any side trails except to see some views.
A side trail leads to this scenic
camping area for equestrians and their horses.
However, I was having so much fun and seeing such great mountain scenery
that I could have been going totally the wrong way and it really wouldn't have
mattered! The views on this trail are magnificent. They became increasingly
distracting, and panoramic, as I gained altitude. Here are some more shots in
the last mile before reaching the basin:
There are lots of interesting rock formations and convenient outcroppings,
some of which make great vantage points for photos back down to the valley or
up toward the peaks in the Teton Range.
The trail is 99% dirt but goes over and around several large expanses of
rock that were smoothed by glaciers. Here are two views of the largest area of
scoured rock that the South Teton Trail crosses:
The trail to Alaska Basin follows South Teton Creek most of the way up to the basin,
on one side or another. There are several places to ford the creek and its
tributaries, as well as bridges and boardwalks across areas that are wet after
storms or spring snowmelt. Today the areas around the boardwalks were dry:
you have as much trouble balancing on a log as I do, you might get your feet
wet at this crossing about half way up:
When I come to one of those, I just walk through the water and don't take
the risk of falling off! Cody followed me through the creek on the way up but
he crossed the log by himself on the descent. In the spring that part of the
creek might be too deep to safely ford.
Most of the feeder streams were quite dry today but South Teton Creek provided
plenty of water for Cody to drink and some pools deep enough for him to swim.
Above and below: Cody is all Lab! He likes to swim as
much as he likes to run.
There are several interesting waterfalls along the way, too. They aren't
real dramatic this time of year when the water is low but they are pretty and
make soothing sounds. This series of cascades is about
five miles up from the trailhead, on either side of the pool shown above:
The flowers were beautiful today. I saw many of the same kinds I've
been seeing all summer in the Rockies farther south of here. That didn't stop
me from taking more photographs of them however.
Cody patiently waits while I take yet another picture . .
I was captivated
on this date two years ago by the fluffy
along the valley trail but they weren't that far into autumn mode this time.
There are already a few touches of fall, however, such as this brightly
colored plant growing along the trail through the valley. In some places it
covers large areas and almost looks like flowers blooming.
As you can see in the photo above, the aspen leaves haven't begun to turn their
beautiful golden color yet. I'd like to see what this trail looks like in two
or three weeks.
Cody and I had great weather today, mostly sunny and in the 40s-60s F.
Halfway back down we ran into a few minutes of sleet. At that point I was warm
enough from running that I didn't need to get out any of the warm clothes I was
carrying in my Camelbak HAWG. Pretty soon it was sunny again, and quite warm at
the trailhead and our campground down the road a bit.
My choice of shoes was good today: Montrail Highlines with grippy
soles and mesh that drains water well. Too bad I'm on my last pair and they aren't made any more.
in the upper ten miles of trail would have been too punishing on my feet in my
lighter weight Asics 2130
trail shoes, although they would probably be adequate for Jim to wear.
SO MANY TRAILS, SO LITTLE TIME . . .
I really enjoyed this trail. The terrain and plant life are very diverse,
the scenery is gorgeous on a nice day, and the trail isn't overly challenging for
my deteriorating knees. My only regret is that I didn't have more time to spend
wandering around the basin.
On future hikes I want to go another three
miles to Hurricane Pass on the
Teton Crest Trail. I'd also like to talk Jim
into going up there with me. The views are almost
as magnificent as those in the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado, our country's
best answer to the Alps.
There are some additional photos of this run-hike on our
Picasa photo-sharing site ("Grand Teton Western Slope")..
Next entry: training runs + photos of the Grand Teton
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil