The Tetons run north-south along the western edge of Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone National park. During past times of colder climates, glaciers forming on the crest of the peaks flowed downhill gorging enormous parallel east-west u-shaped canyons. Lying under the Grand Teton, Middle Teton, and Nez Perce, Garnet Canyon is one of the most spectacular canyons in the park. Reaching the canyon, however, requires some serious effort. Knowing we had a relatively big day, our group got an early start for the trailhead.
Since we were in Jackson relatively early in the season (early July), we decided to stop by the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to get some information on route conditions. Originally, we had intended on a different hike–into Hanging Canyon–but the rangers said their would be more snow than our group could handle. Instead, they suggested Garnet Canyon.
A five minute drive from the ranger station put us on the gravel road to the Lupine Meadows trailhead. We threw on our backpacks and started the climb.
The hike began in a small forest where the meadows met the base of the mountains. About a half mile through the woods we reached the base of a ridge and began to gain elevation. Even after spending so many days in Jackson, we all felt the elevation as the trial led us mercilessly uphill.
We reached our first junction a few miles from the trailhead. One trail led further south (and downhill) towards Taggart and Bradley lakes–more on those in a future post. Our route, though, continued uphill. We climbing multiple switchbacks as the view of the valley grew more and more impressive. Wildflower patches thickened as we gained altitude into more agreeable climate, and the cooler air was welcomed warmly.
Eventually, we reached our second trail junction and turned south towards the entrance to Garnet Canyon. About 10 minutes later we turned a righthand corner and caught our first views of the canyon and the peaks surrounding it. Almost instantaneously we seemed to be in a different world. Grasses and plants of the lower elevations were replaced with rocks and lots of them.
As we made our way up into Garnet Canyon we got better and better views of Middle Teton and its famous black dike–a 20 to 40 foot wide black column that looks like an exposed elevator shaft. The trail also passed some interesting land features including a drainage that crossed the trail. We had to tread carefully to keep our boots dry.
Finally, after gaining about 2500 feet of elevation and traveling about 4.5 miles, we reached the snow line. The rangers had advised us that the snow was perfectly safe, as long as we were careful. So we traversed about 200 yards of snow fields and settled down on some rocks for lunch.
After refueling we began the long trek home. Since the route back was downhill, we expected that it would take less time. When a thunderstorm rose over the mountains behind us, we picked up the pace, nearly running for much of the way. The trip down took MUCH less time.
When we reached our cars mostly dry, we decided it was time to celebrate and made our way to the local hangout, Dornans, for well-deserved pizza and beer on the roof deck.