Grand Teton: Death Canyon/ Granite Canyon Loop

I’ve been very bad about blogging about my hikes this past month in Yosemite – mostly for lack of time and lack of sleep (you all know how much I love my sleep). So, there’s a chance I’ll go back and blog about some of those hikes (we wound up covering about 150 miles of trail in Yosemite while we were there), but in the meantime I’m going to blog about our most recent hike in the Tetons.

John and I went to the wilderness permitting office in order to get a backpacking permit. We had a loop in mind that would go through Owl canyon and Webb Canyon, but the ranger convinced us that this route would be unsafe due to high stream crossings that could sweep us away. So, we asked her what the safest route would be given that we didn’t have our ice axes (we were told snow was abundant above 9,500ft).

The safest option, she told us, was Death Canyon. Sounded promising.

We got our permit and the next day after work we headed up Death Canyon.

The Canyon was beautiful. Full of wildflowers, and quite rocky. Since we didn’t start hiking until late afternoon, we got to hike through the evening, which is our favorite time to be out. This is when the animals start becoming active.

We parked at Granite Canyon trail head, and hiked past Phelps Lake and up into Death Canyon.

We saw several marmots scurrying around, some of which looked quite a bit smaller than the ones I was used to from the Sierras.

Then, from a hole in a rock right on the trail in front of us, the most adorable animal of all animals living in Grand Teton emerged, peered at us, and scuttled back into its hole, only to reemerge to take another look at us. This animal is called a pika. It’s in the rabbit family, but it looks more like a large and very rotund mouse with very round ears. It lives only in high elevation areas because it likes cooler temperatures. Climate change is threatening this species and pushing them further and further up into very limited habitat ranges.

This particular pika allowed me to get quite close to it and I snapped a few pictures.

We continued up the canyon into the camping zone that out permit allowed us to camp in, and found a spot to call home.

After we set up the tent and ate dinner while swatting at mosquitos, we moved our bear canister with all our food in it far away from us, and crawled into the tent.

John left the tent to go pee one last time when I heard him yell: “Whoooooa my god!!!!”

For a split second I thought he had seen a grizzly bear.

“I almost tripped over a porcupine!” He shouted.

I jumped out of the tent and ran over to where he was since after all these years, I had never actually seen a porcupine. It was much bigger than I had expected, and like all national park animals, not very afraid of us. It took an annoyed look at me, and it mades a few murmuring noises before shuffling off.

I was quite excited – making seen my first porcupine, a pika, several marmots and earlier in the day while I was working a fox had ran past me. There was certainly a lot of wildlife!

I was tired, and ready to sleep, so I closed my eyes and was just starting to doze off when John yelled right in my ear, causing me to jump and yell as well. I heard a rustle next to my head, and turned my headlamp on. There was the porcupine, right next to the tent, trying to make off with our trekking pole. Now I was annoyed.

I took everything that was outside the tent, and brought it in. I was groggy and just wanted to sleep.

I rolled over and fell asleep again. Maybe another hour passed, and once more the porcupine visited our tent. By this time, it was about 11pm, and I yelled at it loudly: “I just want to sleep!!! Leave us alone stupid porcupine!!”

John laughed, but I didn’t find it funny. “You’ll find it funny tomorrow.” He promised.

The porcupine must have noticed that there was nothing left for him to steal, and left us alone for the rest of the night.

I woke up tired. I decided that we could probably hike the rest of the loop in one day, and make it back to a bed indoors, which would hopefully mean a better night’s sleep. I figured it was probably less than 20 miles back to the car, and if we couldn’t hike that amount, then that would be a good test for another loop we were considering doing in a day that was probably slightly longer and harder.

We hiked up towards Fox Creek Pass, and the wild flowers were unbelievable. There were columbines everywhere- white, yellow and slightly purple ones, along with big purple lupines, darker blue larkspur and bright yellow asters of some sort.

But that wasn’t all, there were new flowers to be seen in each creek bed and each meadow that we passed. I was very excited when we saw a flower I had seen in our wildflower book called elephant head, which is a stalk with many little pinkish flowers on it that look just like little elephant heads.

The scenery wasn’t shabby either. As we climbed, we could see the pointy Tetons in the distance, and small patches of snow started to appear.

The trail was easy, and Fox Creek Pass was probably one of the easiest passes in the park. Almost no snow, and not a steep climb. Before we knew it we were on the other side, and passing Marion lake.

Heading down from here, we started passing quite a few day hikers. It turns out that there is an Aerial Tramway you can take that climbs more than 3,000 feet up from the valley floor, making the high country accessible to those who don’t want to hike uphill 3,000ft.

We headed down Granite Canyon, which I thought was less beautiful than Death Canyon. The miles went by much faster than I had even anticipated, and we were back at the car about 24 hours after we had left.

6 thoughts on “Grand Teton: Death Canyon/ Granite Canyon Loop

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