By Jessi Loerch
We had two choices to start our recent backpack trip in the Tetons. We could walk up a service road, gaining 4,139 feet over more than 6 miles. Or we could take the tram and be standing at 10,450 feet in 15 minutes.
I bet you can guess which route we took.
I had, shockingly, never been to the Tetons. I visited recently with my family. Thanks to my parents, my husband and I took our first solo backpack since our daughter was born.
We only had one night, so we chose carefully.
We settled on a trip to Marion Lake, a popular backcountry camping spot. There are three sites at the lake and the permits go fast. We showed up before the ranger station opened at 8 a.m. to make sure we’d get one. It was a good thing we did. We learned later that all three spots were gone by 8:20 a.m.
If you find yourself in Teton, I can’t recommend this hike enough. It’s stunning, it’s mostly downhill (so it won’t matter too much if you live at sea level) and you could easily extend to trip into a much longer adventure.
The fun starts at the Jackson Hole ski area. Buy your ticket for the tram online to save $6.
The tram is fun. On the way up, you get an excellent view of Corbet’s Couloir, the signature run at Jackson Hole. It’s for experts only. For good reason. The tram operator told us it’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists. And, for some, once they stand at the top and stare down, it just stays on the list.
(Skip ahead to 3:20 if you just want to see crazy skiers.)
An aside: If I were to put Corbet’s Couloir on my bucket list, it would have to be the last item. I would either die of fright while staring down the run, or die of ineptitude on my way down. I’m not cut out for extreme skiing.
Ahem. Back to the hike.
Once you reach the top, the view is stunning. There’s no denying Jackson is a gorgeous place.
The trail to Marion is mostly downhill. There are a few climbs, none too steep. But at 10,000 feet while carrying a pack, they left me puffing.
We wandered the trail slowly. We only had a bit over 6 miles to go, so we had plenty of time for photos. We hiked with a woman from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, swapping stories about our various travels and favorite trails.
The trail offers wide, sweeping views and chances to see lots of wildlife. The first day, we saw marmots, martens and many hawks, including red-tails, rough-legged and several I couldn’t identify. I saw many hawks soaring below me — that happens so rarely I’m not really good at identifying hawks from that angle.
Come to think of it, that’s a big advertisement for this hike. You’re up so high, even the hawks are below you.
We reached the lake well before sunset. We set up our tent and ate dinner on a rock looking into the heart of Granite Canyon, our route out for the following day.
With lots of time left after dinner, we hiked up beyond the lake. The short climb, maybe half a mile or so, was well worth it. Beyond the lake, you reach a park-like setting. The area is wild and wide, with excellent views north to several Teton peaks.
We stayed to watch the sun set before wandering back to camp. On our trip down, we watched a group of doe, who seemed as fascinated by us as we were by them.
We woke next morning to find another set of deer, bucks this time, wandering by our camp. They were completely unconcerned by our presence.
The morning was crystal clear. After a few more photos, we headed down the trail. We took a different route than we’d come in. We could have hiked back to the tram, but we preferred to tread a new trail.
So we hiked down Granite Canyon, about an 11-mile trip (give or take, the maps, books and signs don’t agree) back to Teton Village and our car.
The trail is easy. It’s mostly downhill and well tread. It’s also used by stock, so we did have to dodge some horse poop.
The stream starts out as a trickle and is nearing river status by the bottom.
Near the end of the canyon, we were delayed for a long time by a moose and her adorable baby. Neither of them were at all concerned by our presence. I know better than to walk between a mama moose and her baby, so we waited until they headed down the trail before heading on.
We never saw a bear on our hike, but talked to several other hikers who had.
It was fun to watch the end of the canyon draw nearer and nearer, although by the end I was getting pretty bored with going downhill. After a small climb and another couple miles, we finally reached Teton Village. Happily, there are a ton of options there for food. We had Thai. I can highly recommend it. Try the cucumber and gin mixed drink. Although, full disclosure, I’m sure my taste buds were influenced by the full day of hiking and fresh mountain air.
We only had one day for backpacking this trip. That was not nearly enough. We’re already planning a trip — hopefully next year — to spend four or five days. The Teton Crest trail sounds fabulous. Maybe we’ll see a bear this time. From a nice safe distance. We have bear spray, of course, but I hope to never have to use it.
Also, I cannot resist using that tram again. When I’m hiking, I always joke with my hiking companions about the need for an escalator. Well, I finally found something that’s even better.
Correction, Sept. 20, 2013: The cutline on the ridge photo originally incorrectly stated the name of the lake.