Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Cascade Canyon Trail - Grand Teton Nat'l Park

By the first weekend in October Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have just about closed all of their commercial interest for the season. Most of the ranger stations are boarded up, as are the restaurants and goodie shops. I visited Jackson Hole with a buddy to enjoy the solitude of fall.

It was our second day in the area when we decided to hike Cascade Canyon. The ferry across Jenny Lake had stopped service on September 30th, so we had to add 4.5-miles to the planned 9-mile hike. The forecast was for snow showers, but the sun was out and the Ranger said you could never tell what the weather would do. After parking at the trailhead at South Jenny Lake, we started our adventure. Within 1.5-miles of the trailhead, on the west side of Jenny Lake it started to snow heavily. By the time we reached Hidden Falls we were covered in snow.

The climb from the falls to Inspiration Point was the most memorable segment of the trip. Cut into the side of a granite mountain, this section of the trail entailed a significant change in elevation, with Inspiration Point being at 7,200 ft. There was mountain on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other, reminding me of a mountain goat trail. The view from Inspiration Point was a panorama of Jenny Lake, the Jackson Hole Plain and the mountains to the east. The falling snow obscured some of the vividness of the vista, but it was still breath taking.
From Inspiration Point the trail descends slightly into Cascade Canyon. At his point we had traveled 2.5-miles, the last hour in a snowstorm. As we entered the canyon the snow stopped and we were treated with sunshine for a brief time. A stream, Cascade Creek, runs the length of the canyon. The mountains to the south were tree covered and included the Grand Teton, Teewinot, and Mt. Owen. The mountains to the north of the canyon consisted of sheer craggy cliffs, with Symmetry Spire and the Jaw being the most significant peaks. The canyon trail was relatively level, gaining just 1,000 ft. of elevation over 4.5-miles, with a large share of that gain coming just prior to the fork.

On and off throughout the day, we encountered snow at differing levels of intensity. We were stopping so often to take pictures that we couldn’t make any time so decided to dead-end it to the fork. The weather was really socking us in and we were concerned the snow and potential fog would trap us in the canyon, but we were determined to make our turnaround point. It took three hours and fifteen minutes to cover the seven-miles to the fork, where the trail splits into north and south loops going into other canyons. We rested at the foot of a bridge that spans Cascade Creek, about five-minutes from the fork. Here we changed into dry clothes, checked our feet for blisters, and ate what we had brought, getting ready for the return trip down the canyon to Jenny Lake. This break at the bridge lasted more than 30-minutes and the snow intensified as we rested.

We dead-ended back to Inspiration Point were we took more photos. Once we hit the lake trail it was academic that we would make it back to the car before nightfall. With a mile to go, I ‘hit the wall’, slowing my pace measurably, and sauntering back to the trailhead. Ice was blowing in off the lake as we took the final west-to-east leg of the lake trail, and it was almost dusk before we got back to our vehicle.

On the way out of GTNP we saw a large herd of elk just as the sun was setting. Several cars were pulled over enjoying the spectacle. Giving them a brief glance, we headed for the motel.

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