GTNP – Alaska Basin via Death Canyon and Static Divide
Julia and I took a trip last week with her brother, Ethan, who is in town visiting from Switzerland. He’s fresh off a 12th place overall finish in the Tour Divide MTB race from Banff to the border of Mexico – so here’s a big congrats to him for a great effort. A quick look a the numbers should put this somewhat into perspective: ~2800 miles/4400km and over 200,000′ elevation gain in 20 days. Nice one is the least I can say!
So after some R&R we showed Ethan around the GYE, spending some time in many of the surrounding mountain ranges and National Parks. On a trip through Yellowstone and GTNP, we snuck in a quick 25 mile Teton overnighter. Nearly every backcountry site was reserved within the park so we had to resort to an alternative plan, which entails hiking through some miles of the park into National Forest, beyond NPS regulations. Despite this logistical setback, we still had an itinerary that entailed high alpine passes above 10K with multiple peaks and mountains as a backdrop to sub-alpine streams and meadows.
The route took us past Albright Peak (10,552′), Static Peak (11,303′), and Buck Mountain (11,938′) in the GTNP en route to Alaska Basin in the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness. The wildflower display was absolutely stunning. No joke. Hopefully the pictures will help tell the story, as both Julia and I took our NEX-5 and NEX-6 in attempt to capture some of the scenery. We’ve been trying to take our mirrorless cameras more often on backcountry trips, as the photo quality and manual control is hard to beat. The little waterproof P&S has now been largely relegated to climbing, the occasional long run, and other like scenarios.
We set off from the Stewart Draw TH of Phelps Lake and headed up Death Canyon towards our switchbacked fate to Static Divide (10,790′). Just under ten miles at this point, we traversed over a mile to the west side of Static Pk and Buck Mtn. A couple more miles took us down into Alaska Basin and to the Mirror Lake area of the Targhee NF and the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness. We had not previously spent time in this section of the Tetons, and it was a treat to see what was over each highpoint and around the next bend. Our night and subsequent morning at camp in the basin was one for the books, with a pastel sunset & sunrise, and an overall aesthetic that is to be experienced.
The usual suspects for wildlife were encountered, but no big predators this time. We did see a young bull moose slightly off-trail in the aspen on our return, as well as a fair share of marmots and our favorite rabbit-cousin, the pika. Nothing too exciting, but that is quite alright with me when in griz country. The excitement really came from the variety, vibrancy, and frequency of the wildflowers along the route. Not too mention the great companionship in such a splendid setting. We were back at the TH a day and a few hours later, ready for Pica’s margaritas and guacamole. As usual, it never tasted so good.