About midway down the steep, 1,000-foot gully we had chosen to descend from the rim of Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National Park, we heard a loud crash of falling rock and a yelp from our companion, Joe Groberg. I turned to see him sliding down a rock ledge on his fanny and coming to a stop at the edge of a nasty looking drop of perhaps 6 feet or more.
“You all right?” I yelled.
“I’m OK,” he said. “That was the biggest rock I stepped on, and it just moved out from under me.”
“I think you’ll have a few bruises tomorrow,” I told him.
Some sections of the steep gully is a talus field — suitcase- to refrigerator-sized granite boulders piled everywhere on a steep slant. As we danced across the acres of rocks clinging to the side of the canyon, we made comments about Aron Ralston, the guy caught in a deep Utah canyon by a shifting boulder — he escaped by cutting off his arm with a dull multitool knife. I had my own Ralston moment when a rock moved underneath me and dropped me to my hands and knees. Fortunately, I only skinned a hand a bit.
Later, when Joe caught up with us at the bottom of the canyon near Lake Solitude, we inspected the seat of his pants. There were large, gaping rips.
“I’m feeling embarrassed by the tears in my pants,” Joe said. Luke Ramseth, the other member of our group, found some safety pins in his pack, and I pulled the bigger sections of his pants back together.
I recently took my annual adventure hike from the west side of the Tetons to the east. We weren’t able to organize a pickup on the east side, so we drove a vehicle around, dropped it off at the Jenny Lake parking lot and drove back to Grand Targhee. It caused us to get a late hiking start.
From Grand Targhee, we hiked up the cat track, then to the top of Peaked Mountain. From there, we followed the ridgeline east toward the top of Cascade Canyon. This ridge forms the north side of the Huckleberry Canyon that is popular with people hiking up Table Rock Mountain. On the north side of the ridge is South Leigh Canyon. The nice thing about starting from Grand Targhee is that a big chunk of the elevation gain is done in your car. After a few ups and downs and boulder-hopping sections (about 6 miles), the ridge ends at the east rim of Cascade Canyon.
The views on this ridge are stunning. I especially like looking down the cliffs above the Petersen Glacier and Mica Lake at the terminus of the glacier. This small glacier and lake can’t be seen from the Cascade Canyon trail at the bottom of the canyon. There is a gully that drops down into the bowl formed by the glacier, but be warned that it is Class 4 climbing and not to be taken lightly.
We continued north along the rim of the canyon looking for a way down. I hoped to hike all the way around to the north end of the canyon to a mellow ramp/gully that drops down to the canyon floor, but we opted for the sake of time to drop down a gully on the northwest corner. In retrospect, the slow-going route we chose didn’t save much time, but it was an adventure.
“That was my favorite part of the hike,” Joe said later. Even if he did rip his pants.
At the bottom of the canyon, we paused for snacks and water near Lake Solitude before making the 7-mile hike to Jenny Lake. From Jenny Lake, it’s another couple of miles around the lake to the parking lot. We were held up for 10 minutes or so partway around the lake by a trio of moose — a bull, cow and calf — that seemed perturbed by humans. The bull apparently chased one couple just before we arrived. We ended up hiking far off the trail to avoid the beasts. We arrived at Jenny Lake parking lot just after dark, at about 8 p.m.
It is roughly 7 miles from Grand Targhee to the rim of Cascade Canyon and down to the north end of Lake Solitude via the route we took. About two-thirds of this section is off trail (some class 3+). From Lake Solitude, you pick up the Cascade Canyon Trail and hike back to the Jenny Lake parking lot — close to 10 miles. This year, the distance is a bit more because the trail detours along the horse trail to avoid the Inspiration Point Trail, which is under reconstruction.