GET OUT: Hiking Highs
Trading thoughts of winter for gold and crimson trail.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – Some people have acquiesced to it, but I’m not giving in just yet. Random conversations with acquaintances who ask about new ski gear I want to buy, things I want to do come winter, have ensued. But for me, their words sound more like the indecipherable chatter of Charlie Brown’s teacher.
The days, while growing shorter, still offer moments of warmth. Yes, I intend to soak up every morsel of late summer (read: not fall) while I can. On one such Saturday, a friend and I decided to do the Death-to-Death loop. Actually, I decided to do the loop and he blindly followed, knowing only that it would be a long walk.
This venture, though straightforward, resembles that of a lollipop. One hikes up Death Canyon to Fox Creek Pass, follows the trail to the Death Canyon Shelf, then comes out via Buck Mountain Pass, down to Static Peak Divide. In all, it’s 20 some miles. (When I learn the ins and outs of iPhoning, I will update you, dear reader, with an exact distance.)
We began at Death Canyon trailhead after driving the crater riddled road. Walking up to the overlook led to views of a placid Phelps Lake. From there, we rolled back down, then up again, on the switchbacks into Death Canyon. Typically, walking these switchbacks is a scorching hot experience as there is no shade or coverage from the sun. But the crisp morning air combined with a few glints of morning sun made the hiking temperature perfect. After passing the Death Canyon Patrol Cabin, we walked up the canyon to get to Fox Creek Pass. I began to appreciate the expansiveness of a canyon with such a narrow opening.
Upon arriving to the Death Canyon Shelf, we glimpsed tiny peaks. The trail then dropped drastically into the Alaska Basin. Small patches of yellow wildflowers greeted us while red leaves of the whortleberry signaled that winter is indeed on its way. The weather did the same; we donned our puffy coats as clouds cloaked the sun.
Each step became the ultimate adventure and surprise. The Alaska Basin hosts a series of lakes that look like small delicate gems. With each turn of the trail, another lake popped up, uniquely beholding its own version of perfection. As the vegetation became drier and the air brisker, we seemed to be approaching Buck Mountain Pass. You see, when mountain walks are enjoyable, it is easy to forget that one is actually walking. We made our way under the giant face of Buck Mountain and stopped to reflect on how small we really are. (Upon returning to society, we learned that the very moment we were under Buck an earthquake had rattled Jackson.)
We continued up to my favorite section of trail in the entire park, a trail blasted out of a steep rocky face. Large walls built by the Civilian Conservation Corps kept the path from morphing into a sheer drop. Once back on the familiar Static Divide, we noted the presence of other humans. Down past Albright in a grove of whitebark pines, the clarks nutcracker bopped around chirping their brains out and stashing seeds on cliffs. These smart birds drowned out the sounds of humans whooping and hollering from the top of Static Peak.
Further down, the light changed to a beaming shade of yellow. The day warmed our backs, but the light felt soft. Hiking out of the canyon, we watched as the hue of the sun reflected with the yellow and green leaves made everything a shade of blue green algae. The air felt crisp like it did that morning.
I know of few months where one can hike with a fanny pack, avoid bugs and go on a long and snowless adventure in the Tetons. Although many may feel the pull of winter, this time of year is just about right for me. PJH