Maple and I had planned to backpack the Teton Crest Trail since before we made our backcountry reservations in January, but a late June heavy snow made our plans all but impossible. Two Park Rangers in GTNP informed us that residual ice and snow made the higher passes treacherous and that hikers were turning back because they could not make out the path. The rangers suggested alternative routes.
The first such route that we managed to secure was an overnight in Death Canyon. Athough terribly disappointed, at first, in our change of plans, I must admit that this hike proved to be both challenging and rewarding.
Not having a 4-wheel drive vehicle, we had to park our car where the pavement ended and begin our backpacking venture a mile before the trail officially began.The trail, once begun, was uphill, and would remain uphill most of the way. The only significant downhill was from Phelps Lake Overlook to where the Death Canyon Trail splits off from the Phelps Lake Trail. All told, we climbed 2,000 feet in elevation, despite the downhill section. Definitely, the hardest section is the ascent up to Death Canyon itself. Once inside the canyon, the ascent becomes more moderate until one reaches Fox Creek Pass, and we made our camp under Fox Creek Pass.
Maple and I crossed over water numerous times, usually on halved logs, that had their sawed, flat side facing up. Once, we had to take off our boots and socks, roll up our pants, and wade across the stream. Even the deepest water that we had to walk over was so clean that we could clearly see the bottom.
Death Canyon has nothing in common with Death Valley. In July, it is green, lush, filled with foliage and wild flowers. We saw many marmots. One, after we set up camp, came quite close to us and checked out our gear. On the return trip, on the second day, we saw two moose, eating close to the trail. One surprised us as he crossed the trail 8 to 10 yards ahead of us.
Before we set up our camp, in the upper reaches of Death Canyon, it began to rain. Maple and I knew that we were approaching our chosen tent site, so we kept going. We were fortunate. No sooner had we set up our tent, than our gentle rain turned into a downpour, a thunder storm and a hail storm. An hour and a half later, the sun was out again, and we laid out our gear to dry.
Death Canyon was awesome. Behind our camp was a racing stream, and in front of us were wide open spaces, with clusters of pine trees and boulders, hemmed in by tall cliffs, down which poured run-off from the snow. No other person was in sight, and it seemed that we had the whole canyon to ourselves.