Our third day in the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park wins the prize for “most scenic”! We got up-close and personal with the Peaks, we experienced a Hurricane, we saw some of the most breathtaking scenery, and we fell head-over-heels in love with Cascade Canyon. ♥ This day of hiking involved walking uphill for about three hours to cross over a very windy and narrow pass, then rewarded us with a blessed four hours of downhill [yay!] ♥ and then a final two hours of rocky ascent.
Sunset Lake and Alaska Basin Thoughts
Sleeping in Alaska Basin near Sunset Lake last night was not great.
There were two major things we did not anticipate:
- How rocky, marshy, and overall inhospitable the Alaska Basin wilderness is. Is it a stunning remote wilderness? Indeed! And it definitely puts the “Rough” in roughing-it!
- How limited the available camping spots are [especially when it gets crowded].
By “crowded” I mean that we eventually counted 10 dispersed tents when we arrived. They were each cleverly nestled around one of the very sparse clumps of trees in the area that provide necessary windbreak. It was clear that early arrivals had claimed any of the “best spaces”. So, Jeff and I wandered around for at least a half hour feeling very dejected and cranky looking for somewhere left to pitch our tent with a modicum of privacy and passable ground [Mind you, we had been hiking for over 12 hours at that point, so we were brain-dead and hangry]. Eventually, with only minutes to spare before nightfall, we gave up and wedged our tent into a tiny space between a rock and a tree near a ledge about a quarter mile away from the lake, hoping for the best. Alas, that rock found a way to wedge itself under my back all night, and the little tree acted more like a funnel than a break to the continual gusts of howling wind!
Overall, we give camping at Sunset Lake three thumbs down. We are reserving one hopeful thumbs-up for those seeking an “authentic wilderness experience”, or anyone who manages to snag a better spot than we did, and/or all impervious to pain. 🙂
Did we mention that Sunset Lake was swarming with cute little tadpoles? Several gummed up one of our water filters. Hot tip: Avoid the lake! Be sure to use one of the running streams nearby for your water source!
Guess what? None of that mattered! Our life and our trek went sailing right along, and it was all part of the grand adventure! I really did NOT expect a five-star camping experience! Hey, we even scored an early start! Because, when you can’t sleep, why not just get up and hike? We began our ascent out of Alaska Basin before the sun, and were halfway up to Hurricane Pass while the rest of our Sunset Lake neighbors were just beginning to emerge. 😉
Hurricane and Cascades
This was an AMAZING day on trail! Every time we turned there was a new view and a new vista! This is the day I wished I had a “real” camera. Although photos and videos cannot ever compensate for being there, that doesn’t mean I didn’t keep trying to capture it all!
Sadly a lot of wildfire smoke blew in from California today. It seemed to be much worse in the early morning and late evening. Although the haze was ever-present, it could never diminish the majesty of the mountain peaks, nor destroy the magic of such a heavenly place!
Hurricane Pass definitely lived up to its name! WOW! It nearly blew us over the edge. We were very glad to be crossing during a perfect day. I cannot imagine what it’s like during inclement weather! However, I will say this was by far the least treacherous mountain crossing during our 4 days. And the views were glorious.
Cascade Canyon is aptly named – every where we turned there was another stunning waterfall! The canyon is filled with the glorious music of dripping, flowing, trickling, rushing, gushing, gurgling water. HALLELUJIA!
The views of the glacial lakes and peaks from Upper South Cascade were absolutely stunning! It was fun to see some fall colors peeking through, too. We can imagine in about another week how the yellow, orange and reds will be painting the hill. Of course, it was an extra treat today to be able to walk DOWNHILL the majority of our day! But, I would climb up that canyon again without complaint just to experience all of it’s beauty. Jeff and I absolutely loved this day. We both agree that Cascade Canyon wins, hands down, for our favorite. If we had only two days to hike in Grand Teton National Park, then Cascade Canyon – particularly Upper South – is definitely where we would want to go!
After we set up camp in our North Cascade camp area [by our count, site #10] we walked over to it’s sister-site [site #11] and took advantage of its stunning view by the river, and a chance to prepare our meal away from our sleeping area. Just then a late hiker came in and began setting up her tent. We apologized profusely when we saw her! But, her reaction was pure delight to have us for company. How wonderful! We all sat by the river, cooking in our little pots, enjoying our meals together and having a wonderful chat. Gosh, I’d completely forgotten how awesome it is meeting new people, and how special to break bread together. My soul hungers and thirsts for all these special kind of connections! For a few moments in the wilderness we could just breathe and laugh and enjoy life again.
This delightful young woman – named Geneva – was visiting with family from her home state of New Hampshire. She decided to do a one-night solo loop up Paintbrush Canyon and down Cascade. We learned that she is an avid backpacker, and completed the entire 2,190 mile [3525 kilometer] Appalachian Trail [AT] in 2013. Her trail name is “Prism” because of the bright colors she loves to wear, and her bright personality. It was such a treat to hear her share stories of her six-month thru-hike experience! She walked the first 600 miles with her dog. She was part of a very special “Tramily” [trail family] who met on the way and hiked the entire journey together – often taking multiple excursions together “off trail” in various States to see the sights, and then heading back to the trail again! What a priceless experience to have as a young person! Prism is preparing to hike the Pacific Crest Trail [PCT] next year [our dream trail!]. We wish her well!
Being in company with such a trail expert, we were eager to learn from her! But, there was one thing she was learning for the first time – carrying a bear can! On the AT, everyone just keeps their food in a ‘bear bag’ and swing it high up in tree. So, we got to play ‘teacher’ and proudly show her our “cave method“! 🙂
Here is today’s video. Enjoy! Love, Holly & Jeff
This post is Part 3 of our Four-Part Grand Teton Loop series:
- Day 1: South Jenny Lake to Phelps Lake
- Day 2: Phelps Lake to Sunset Lake, via Static Peak Divide and Alaska Basin
- Day 3: Sunset Lake to Upper North Cascade via Hurricane Pass and South Cascade Canyon
- Day 4: Lake Solitude to Jenny Lake via Paintbrush Pass and Paintbrush Canyon
Jeff and I are hiking and climbing this month in support of the 46 Climbs organization. They raise funds annually for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. For more information, or to join this year’s outdoor challenge please visit their website, Facebook page, or Instagram account! I’ve pledged to hike 1 mile for every 1 dollar. Want to add a mile and donate? My fundraising page is here.