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GET OUT: Alaska meets Wyoming at Basin Lakes
It’s disorienting to view the Tetons from the wrong side. Everything looks different approaching from the west.
It’s all backwards. There is a great deal to do up here, from a moderate hike and picture taking, to a pass-through into Grand Teton National Park, to a highline circuit in the heart of the Teton Range.
Let’s start with getting there. Drive to Alta. Then head for Targhee. Instead of Ski Hill Road, take Teton Canyon. It’s five miles to Teton Campground. You’ll pass Bear Canyon, Eddington Canyon and Treasure Lake. At the parking area you have the choice of going right (that’s the South Fork Teton Canyon) or left (North Fork). We’ll go right. Left takes you to the popular Table Mountain – a 5.5-mile jaunt with almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain. At eleven-and-change, this peak is already socked in so bring your snowshoes.
On the South Fork, hike 2.8 miles. You’ll see a trail heading off to the right. Jump on that and head up the switchbacks. This little trail is called the Devil’s Stairs. You’ll see why. You come up a thousand feet in well under a mile. It doesn’t feel too bad with the switches, though.
Once you top out you will be headed straight for a formation called The Wedge. That’s Mount Meek further out and Meek Pass, which, once you are over the saddle, drops you into Death Canyon on other side and into the Park.
Once on this plateau, it really opens up. Wildflowers are everywhere, even late in the summer. Snow remains in patches pretty much all year long. As you trudge down the trail you will notice the nose of a mountain you might mistake for the Grand just to the left of Meek. That’s Buck Mountain (11,938 feet). The Tetons are at 10 o’clock as you center up Buck at midnight. South Teton, Middle, and Grand are layered front to back in that order as you view them.
Step off trail to the left and look down on Alaska Basin. Battleship Mountain is off to the northeast on the far side of the basin. It’s unmistakable how it got its name when you look at it. Below, in the basin, you will see Sunset Lake directly in a straight-line path as you look at the Grand. To the right is a cluster of lakes simply called Basin Lakes.
This whole area is tundra and wildflowers, reminding many of the terrain of Alaska; hence the name.
Had you remained on the South Fork trail without coming up Devil’s Stairs, you would be headed toward Battleship Mountain and Hurricane Pass. Hurricane Pass takes you straight over the top of Schoolroom Glacier. You could drop into the south fork of Cascade Canyon here and pop out at Jenny Lake. Or head up to Lake Solitude with the Wigwams and Petersen Glacier on your left the whole way.
Grizzly can be encountered in Alaska Basin. Bring pepper spray. I’ve not seen much else way up here but I have only gone at the beginning and end of the summer season.
It’s about 20 miles through to Jenny Lake. It’s about 13 miles to White Grass Ranger Station via Death Canyon. Of course, neither route is technically open while the federal government is busy getting its ducks in a row. The easiest option is the Devil’s Stair hike – a total of 12 miles roundtrip if you went all the way to Meeks Pass and turn back at the Teton Crest Trail intersection there.