Westward adventures – Death Canyon Hike

Monday morning, I got up, dealt with my wet tent and headed back to Jackson to continue hiking in the Tetons since Pinedale wasn’t going to work out. On my way down on Sunday, I passed through lots of little towns, sometimes with populations less than 100 people. I got to see cows on the road and migrating antelope making their way up towards Jackson.

Since it was still fairly early in the day and there had been so much moisture overnight, there were clouds hanging in the mountains as I made my way back through some of the small towns, including Bondurant (population: 93).

The Death Canyon trail that I had planned to hike (originally a 3-day trip) was still on my list for a day hike, so after stopping in Jackson to pick up some more hand warmers (for future reference, you may need to look behind the gun counter to find these at Kmart), I was on my way to the trailhead. The road to the trailhead was mostly one-lane, very bumpy at times and seemed to go on forever, but eventually I got to the trailhead, right around noon. The first big site was the Phelps Lake Overlook at 7200′. 

From Phelps Lake, the trail became more and more rocky and also more steep…

but you could see so high into the mountains – it was amazing! 

This is definitely the type of trail I was hoping for when I started planning my hikes out west. 

There were also lots of small waterfalls randomly coming out of the mountainsides. 

After hiking for awhile, the trail switchbacks up the mountain beside a huge stream with lots of rushing water.

I did come across some snow on the trail, and it was a lot easier to go across the first time (heading uphill) than heading back later in the day, but the snow was still hard packed and I had my hiking poles, so that made things a lot easier.

Eventually, the trail leveled out and got closer to the water. 

When I made it to the Patrol Cabin, I decided to keep going (mostly because I didn’t remember my map correctly and was thinking I could make it to the Death Canyon Shelf). I hiked for another couple of miles before realizing that I probably wasn’t going to make it to the shelf before I would need to head back to the trailhead. These miles were mostly in the woods and provided some relief from the sun that was beating down on the previously rocky trail. On my way back to the trailhead, I came across a moose who had found some good grass to eat beside the trail a hundred yards or so ahead of me. 

Luckily, I saw him and was able to snap a couple of pictures before he decided he wanted to come a little closer and continue eating grass along the trail. This is when I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to just take the trail around him (he was now standing on the trail), so I crossed the stream on a log and started to make my way down stream to get beyond him. 

As I did this, he found a new spot to eat grass and I had to re-cross the water to get back to the trail. I took off my shoes and the water came up to my knees and was really cold (snow runoff), but it wasn’t too far, maybe 8-10 feet, to get across and then when I got to the other side, I dried off my feet while keeping an eye on the moose who was continuing to eat, but keeping watch on what I was doing as well. After I got my shoes back on, I snapped another few pictures and headed on my way to leave the moose to his foraging. 

On my way back, I got to meet another trail friend – a marmot who I thought was going to come right up to me to greet me. He saw me coming down the trail, stopped and then when I stopped, he came up the rocks beside me and when I didn’t move, he just looked at me for a minute and then scampered off.

The hike back was mostly downhill until I got back to the Phelps Lake campground turnoff, so it was a much easier hike back. I was also able to see the sun start to go behind the mountains, creating fun shadows around the rocks, trees and water.

Going this direction also let me see more of Phelps Lake. 

It was probably around 6:30 or 7:00 when I finished hiking that night and since I didn’t have any other plans, I drove up to the Colter Bay campground to stay for the night. It ended up being a great place to camp because I could drive my car right to the campsite and get everything situated for the rest of the week. 

Next up: Colter Bay, Swan Lake, Heron Pond and my first night at Trapper Lake.

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