It is hard to leave this place.
Alaska Basin is one of
my Top Twenty favorite places to hike -- and I've run or
hiked in a lot of beautiful places around the USA.
This entry is three pages long. It describes the
area I hiked today in Alaska Basin and Teton Canyon and is accompanied
by photos to illustrate the text.
I have uploaded two photo albums with these and additional pictures from the canyon and basin on our
Picasa site. One album has photos of
the canyon trail and the other, the basin trails. Those
pictures are larger so you can see them better.
One of several lakes in Alaska Basin
I took a gazillion photos and I want to share a bunch of them in
a virtual tour because so few people (relatively speaking) will ever see
this place close up.
The only way to get there is on foot. Bikes aren't allowed in the
wilderness. Horses can go up through the canyon but not into the basin.
I suppose you could fly over Alaska Basin in an airplane but it's not the
same as hiking or running through it and experiencing it close up.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the tour! If you enjoy hiking in the
mountains maybe these pictures will entice you to visit the "back side"
of the Tetons.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Alaska Basin is located in
the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area of the Caribou-Targhee National
Forest just outside the western boundary of Grand Teton National Park in
Wyoming. It is very close to the Idaho border.
This high alpine basin got its name because it resembles areas of
tundra in Alaska. We haven't been to Alaska yet (that's our grand
adventure for 2012) so I can't vouch for the comparison.
Scene from the upper basin
If you like great scenery and wilderness, Alaska Basin and the lower
canyon have it all:
- cold, clear alpine lakes, creeks, and waterfalls,
- colorful rocks and rock formations,
- a profusion of wildflowers from May to September,
- aspens and conifers at the lower elevations,
- awesome views from the higher elevations,
- great hiking trails,
- peaceful backcountry camping,
- and lots of wildlife including moose, elk, and bears.
Another alpine pond in the
Basin Lakes area (a lower level of the basin)
Alaska Basin and Teton Canyon are surrounded by a rim of high
peaks -- Battleship Mountain (10,679 feet) to
the north, South Teton Peak (12,514 feet) to the northeast, Veiled Peak
(11,330 feet) and Buck Mountain (11,938 feet) to the east, an unnamed
11,094-foot peak and Mount Meek (10,681 feet) to the south, and an
interesting peak called The Wedge (9,830 feet) to the west.
Alaska Basin has multiple levels.
This view looks down at one
of the mid-levels from about 10,400
Alaska Basin and its lower canyon were formed by the action of glaciers.
Although several glaciers remain on the eastern side of the Teton Range
in the national park there are no permanent ice fields on the western side where Alaska Basin
Last winter's snow pack was so deep, however, that quite a bit of snow
remains in the western basins of this mountain range even now at the end of
That made for some beautiful scenery today but it also presented
some hiking challenges:
Am I going to fall through the snow and get wet? Will I be able to find the trail
on the other side? And why is this snow PINK??
I seriously doubt all of the snow in Alaska Basin will melt before more
snow starts falling again soon.
Last year several inches of fresh snow fell in the basin on August
30-31. On earlier hikes that month the basin was virtually snow-free. I
hiked all the way up there two days after the snowfall just so Cody and
I could play in it! [At the time I'm writing this entry I haven't posted
that one from September 2, 2010.]
ACCESSING ALASKA BASIN
There are several well-established trails in and near Alaska Basin.
You can reach it from either the east or west side of the Teton Range,
as well as the ridgeline from the north or south.
The shortest way up (almost eight miles to the lower part of the
basin, ten+ to reach the upper levels) is from the trailhead at
the end of Teton Canyon Road. It is called the South Teton Creek Canyon Trail on the simplified
On my detailed National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of the Tetons
the same thing is called the Alaska Basin Trail ( #027). I usually just
call it the Teton Canyon Trail because it leads to more than just
Alaska Basin. Not all the trails are shown on that diagram.
I marked today's 21Ĺ-mile route
in yellow on the diagram above.
Above and below: scenes
from the lower canyon
I've hiked up to Alaska Basin on the Teton Canyon
Trail at least a dozen times since we started camping at Reunion
Flat in 2007. All of those hikes have been out-and-back, never to the
other side of the mountain range.
Some of those times I turned around once I got into the lower
basin or the lakes and went back down for a total of about 16-18
miles. Other times I've gone north from the lower basin on the Teton
Crest Trail to Sunset Lake and Hurricane Pass for a total of 20-22 miles.
Above and below: just into
the lower basin from the Teton Canyon Trail
Two or three times I've gone past the basin lakes up to the higher reaches of Alaska
Basin on the western flank of Buck Mountain and back, hiking just the lower half of the loop shown in the diagram
above. That's 20-21 miles total.
Looking toward Buck Mountain Pass from the Alaska
Basin Shelf Trail
What I haven't done before is to continue another half mile to Buck Mountain
Pass at the edge of the national park or to complete the basin loop on the
Alaska Basin Shelf Trail (#026) toward Sunset Lake and back on the Teton
Crest Trail (#006) to the Canyon Trail.
I decided to remedy that today. I did a complete loop in the basin
but did not go up to Buck Mountain Pass because I didn't have time. I'll
do that on another hike.
There are a couple other trails I haven't hiked previously on this
side of the Tetons that I want to explore this year, too. Stay tuned for
reports about those.
My goal today was pretty ambitious, considering my training this
summer. I've been to higher elevations than this but I haven't gone as far
since last year.
Arrow marks the trail; I can see
it on the other side of the snow near the point.
Long story short, it took me 10Ĺ hours
to hike 21Ĺ miles with an elevation gain of over 3,600 feet and the
same amount of elevation loss
(~6,800 feet at the trailhead to ~10,400 feet in the upper basin, plus
lots of ups and downs along the way).
The time included plowing through or
detouring around lots
of snow, trying to find the trail on the other side of several long snow
banks, fording streams, stopping for snacks, talking to other people,
gawking at interesting scenery, inspecting flowers and other things that
caught my eye, and taking a personal record-setting number of pictures.
One of the basin lakes, with part of the Teton Range in the background
This is one of the most fun hikes
I've ever done. Cody seconds that. He did great, considering it's the
longest hike he's done in a year, too.
I'm just sorry Jim couldn't enjoy it
with us. His knee simply won't allow him to do much walking. He
compensated by riding his bike a total of 23 miles down in the valley while I was playing
in the mountains.
South Teton Creek pours through
a rocky chute about five miles above the trailhead.
I drove a couple miles from our campground to the very end of Teton
Canyon Road (FSR 9) and parked at the trailhead about 7 this morning.
Temperatures were in the 50s when I started out. I was chilly the
first couple miles in the lower canyon until the sun popped up over the
The weather was good all day Ė sunny in the morning, lots of clouds late
morning/early afternoon, then more sunny by mid-afternoon.
Gray clouds over The Wedge and
nearby peaks as I climbed up the Teton Crest Trail
I had just gotten up to the tree line when gray clouds appeared to the southwest
but I didnít see much rain falling from them and I couldnít hear thunder so I
just kept going.
That worked out OK Ė this time!
Even with all the
clouds it was warm in the
basin during the mid-afternoon and rather hot through the lower canyon
later in the day.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
There was no rain from the sky but there was plenty of water underfoot
today. Water even ran down the trails in many places, turning them
into temporary streams:
Teton Canyon Trail about six miles
up from the trailhead
If I'd realized how much water would be available along most of the
route today I wouldn't have made Cody wear his pack. I dumped most of
his water out when we were up in the basin.
There was convenient water everywhere except a couple miles out and back
through the lower canyon.
In fact, I saw water today where Iíve never seen water before on these
Above and below: soggy conditions in the
Since the Tetons got more snow than usual last winter, like most of the Rockies,
thereís a bunch of it still up there. Every day some more of it melts
and either pools in low spots or runs down the slopes.
Feeder streams that were dry in 2007, 2009, and 2010 when Iíve been up there
were full of water today. The creeks Iíve forded previously were higher
than ever Ė some knee-deep that I've never seen more than ankle- or
The waterfalls were more spectacular and I even saw a couple falls Iíve
never seen before. The next two falls probably flow all year, though:
Falls along the Teton Crest Trail
And the snow -- wow. When you see pictures of deep snow in
the basin, remember it's late August.
One of many falls on South Teton Creek through the
I took plenty of photos of snow where I
havenít seen it before because I may never see that much up there
again at the end of summer when we like to visit the area.
Well below tree line, before the horse camp, I ran into snow on and near
the trail in very shady spots That was about 9,600 feet elevation, as I
In the morning Cody just slid off the hard-packed snow when he tried to roll
around in it. That's what he's doing in the next picture, where I highlighted him with his head and
shoulders on the dirty snow:
By afternoon the snow had softened up enough for him to dig and roll
around in it:
He did that repeatedly. He had more than enough snow to play in when we got up to the upper
reaches of Alaska Basin.
next page . . . sub-alpine flowers and the first part of
the basin loop
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil