Our third morning on the Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming started with the sunrise at our campsite on Sunset Lake. We weren’t in a huge hurry and took our time striking our campsite. This day was scheduled to be one of our easiest days with about 4 miles total on the TCT with an added 3.5 miles up to Avalanche Divide. While it is important to get over Hurricane Pass if inclement weather is even a slight possibility, it is better if you can wait until the early afternoon light is on the west side of the Teton peaks. We had great weather forecasted for our third day of exploring the Teton Crest Trail and wanted to make the most of it.
Exploring the Teton Crest Trail
This is the 3rd day of our backpacking trip exploring the Teton Crest Trail. If you missed the first day or second day get caught up before reading on. If you are wanting details for planning your own trip check out the Teton Crest Trail Guide.
Day 3 – Exploring the Teton Crest Trail
Once we did hit the trail we began the day with a 900’ climb up to Hurricane Pass. The trail is steep but on rested legs, it felt almost easy when compared with the last 300’ climb up to Sunset Lake the night before.
Climbing Out Of The Alaskan Basin
Looking at the terrain from the lakeside I thought perhaps the path went over the saddle to the northwest that allowed for views of the tip of the Grand Teton Peak. But instead the Teton Crest Trail climbs up to the shelf to the north of the lake (west of the saddle). Here we climbed through a set of tight switchbacks that climbs up a narrow boulder channel. Once at the top of the channel there are amazing views of the entire Alaskan Basin including Sunset Lake and all the way back to Mount Meek in the distance.
The path then ventures away from the cliff-face and traverses a rolling alpine meadow before arriving at Hurricane Pass and crossing back into Grand Teton National Park for the final time. Hurricane Pass for us held true to its name as the wind was blistering as it attempted to push us over the ledge. Regardless of the wind, this view is perhaps the best in the park and one of the best in the entire National Park System.
The Best View on the TCT
The view from Hurricane Pass overlooks the South Fork of the Cascade Canyon and its upper basin which lies to the north along the backside of the central Teton peaks. The canyon was cut by the steep and fast-flowing Cascade Creek. The upper basin above the canyon is dotted with beautiful lakes including the glacial-fed Emerald Lake (pictured above) that sits just below Hurricane Pass. The massive peaks of the Teton Range still rose well above our heads as we stood on the 10,338’ pass. This vantage point of the big three; South Teton (12,514’), Middle Teton (12,804’), and the Grand Teton Peak (13,770’) is perhaps the best in the park and is a view worthy of the entire journey.
Traversing the Pass
The trail across Hurricane Pass gets a little narrow, especially when the wind threatens to lift you off the ground and throw you over the edge. We cautiously crossed the short pass and started our descent as the trail switchbacked down into the upper basin above Cascade Canyon. The hurricane-like winds quickly subsided as soon as we dropped below the ridge of the pass.
3rd Recommended Campsite – Cascade South Fork Zone
At just over 3-miles on the day’s journey (24-miles on the TCT) we dropped back into the treeline just below a cascading waterfall and simultaneously entered the Cascade South Fork camping zone. Here at the very top of the zone are several labeled campsites. These would make great sites for watching the sunset on Grand Teton Peak and is our recommended camping area for the third night when you are planning your own backpacking trip on the Teton Crest Trail. If the weather is bad and you can’t make it over Hurricane Pass you can always stop at Sunset Lake without a permit.
Avalanche Divide Trail (3.2 miles total)
Shortly after entering the Cascade South Fork camping zone, the trail comes to the Avalanche Divide intersection and the only side trip that we highly recommend doing when exploring the Teton Crest Trail. The intersection sits at 9,657’ so we had descended more than 650’ from Hurricane Pass. The journey to Avalanche Divide isn’t easy as the trail climbs more than 1,000′ to an elevation 300′ higher than Hurricane Pass in just over 1.5 miles (one-way) but the views are more than worth the effort.
Stashing Our Backpacks
We took the right turn off the Teton Crest Trail and headed due south towards Avalanche Divide. Shortly after making the turn, there are several clusters of trees and we decided to stash our backpacks there and continue on this side journey with our backpacking day pack. It made the climb much easier than lugging our full backpacks up there. Before we continued toward the divide we first had lunch. Afterwards we made sure that all our food was back in our bear canister (required on the TCT) before leaving the bags.
The Initial Climb
Without the packs, we made good time as we climbed back out of the upper basin. First, the trail traverses the basin on a moderate traverse before climbing swiftly through a set of switchbacks up to a smaller meadow above. Here, the creek running off of the snowpack above flows gently by and made for a great spot to filter some water for the remainder of the climb.
The Upper Climb
The path returns to a steep grade as it ascends a bouldery area before climbing into an upper rocky meadow with a few small tarns and the creek (much smaller now) flowing across the trail. In the final push up to Avalanche Divide, the path narrows and skirts a scree field. It is more moderate than the majority of the climb but as it is completely exposed to the western winds we once again found ourselves doing our best not to be blown off the path.
The 10,680′ Avalanche Divide is a saddle for South Teton Peak. The views from the divide back over Cascade Canyon are stunning. But the reason to climb up the divide is to peek into Avalanche Canyon. The views into the secluded canyon rival those found at the top of Hurricane Pass. The remote alpine lakes known as Kit and Snowdrift, which sit in the basin above Avalanche Canyon, are two of the most gorgeous that we found while in Grand Teton National Park. The Divide is where the trail ends so after taking in the beauty we headed back the way we came.
Hidden Iceflow Lake
Before we left the high country and returned to our packs in the basin I wanted to try to find Iceflow Lake. I had seen images of the lake sitting below Middle Teton and my map showed a trail. In reality, there is not a trail. Through good route finding, I did manage to make it to the shores of the hidden lake but it isn’t a journey I can recommend. It involves crawling over massive boulders and climbing over loose scree in a truly remote area of the park.
While the lake is gorgeous the seemingly perpetual snowpack prevented me from getting too close. Enjoy the photos I have here and skip seeking it out unless you are prepared for rough terrain. Don’t attempt this one alone either as it didn’t appear to have many visitors. I saw no one else along the way and there were no footprints in the substantial amount of snow.
One More Mile – Exploring the Teton Crest Trail
After gathering our backpacks and returning to the Teton Crest Trail we wanted to gain another mile or so on the trail before we made camp in order to make our fourth day of exploring the Teton Crest Trail shorter. This was a good idea as our fourth day was even longer than we expected.
TCT Along Cascade Creek
We hiked another mile descending quickly 500’ as the trail followed the steep flow of Cascade Creek. This section of the Teton Crest Trail is beautiful with several waterfalls crashing down into the canyon flowing from the steep mountain peaks above and adding to the volume of the creek. The trail and creek eventually drop into a flat boggy area where several marked campsites are located. This is about 25 miles in on the main trail from where we had started at the Phillip’s Pass Trailhead.
Camping in Grand Teton National Park
We picked out a campsite that was out of view from the Teton Crest Trail. This turned out to be unnecessary as we were the only ones who ended up camping in the area. Even though this was our third night camping while exploring the Teton Crest Trail, it was our first night inside Grand Teton National Park. There are more established campsites than permits in each Grand Teton National Park camping zone. However, don’t get any ideas as rangers do patrol the area looking for permits. The extra sites help to prevent overuse of just a few.
Camping in the Cascade South Fork Zone
Our site was about halfway through the Cascade South Fork Camping Zone. It was a nice spot to camp with a decent view for the setting sunlight on the mountains. But it wasn’t as good as other spots higher up the canyon. This was the first campsite where in late August there were still lingering mosquitos. On a whole our journey had very few bugs.
A Windy Night
Luckily our campsite had a large boulder that we set up our tent adjacent to. The wind picked up during the night and at times I thought the trees around us might topple over. Many people fear bears in the backcountry but I have a serious phobia of being crushed by a dead tree. The boulder blocked the majority of the wind and our tent escaped the worst of it.