Ask Me: Advice on Backpacking in Grand Teton National Park
Do you think Paintbrush Divide would be passable in late June… around June 23rd? Would snow equipment like crampons or ice axes be required?
Vince (submitted as a comment on the story at thebigoutside.com/american-classic-the-teton-crest-trail)
I would expect snow at Paintbrush Divide into early July, unless there’s an unusually low snowpack and warm temps right before your trip. It may still be passable, depending on how firmly frozen the snow is and whether there’s a cornice at the pass. The Paintbrush Canyon side of the pass is very steep; you’d want an ice axe at minimum, and crampons if the snow is hard. I wouldn’t attempt it on frozen snow without good ice axe and self-belay skills, because there’s potential for taking a very bad slide. If there’s snow, no cornice, and it’s warm enough to soften the snow, it may be relatively easy to safely kick good steps up the snow, but I wouldn’t advise doing that with people inexperienced at it. The Cascade Canyon side of Paintbrush Divide is not as steep. Call the park’s backcountry desk right before your trip and ask about current conditions at the divide; they will typically have a recent report.
Vince, if you go and need crampons, I’d recommend a lightweight pair that aren’t fully technical but designed for this kind of situation, like the Kahtoola Microspikes: thebigoutside.com/gear-review-kahtoola-microspikes-traction-device.
Thanks, Michael. This is beyond our skill and equipment level…I’m glad I asked! Can you think of a 3 day, 2 night backpacking route in the Tetons, say 15-20 miles, in late June that would not require snow/ice equipment and skills? Or should we wait to do this trip when we can do late summer?
You could hike the Paintbrush-Cascade loop (18 miles) by mid-July, possibly earlier, so that depends on your schedule. It’s very popular, and as I detail in my story, May 15 was the deadline to reserve a permit. You could get one first-come, but show up at a backcountry office to wait in line at least an hour before it opens the day before or day you want to start that hike.
If you don’t get that permit, make a 3-day loop from Death Canyon Trailhead, up Death Canyon, north over Death Canyon Shelf, through Alaska Basin, then loop back via Static Peak Divide to Death Canyon and back to the trailhead. Without checking the distance, I’ll ballpark it at around 20 miles. Beautiful alpine terrain and hardly any people, really an under-appreciated area of the park. Check with the backcountry office, but I imagine there’s snow up there into July.
If you really want to go in late June, I’d backpack out-and-back from Jenny Lake up Cascade Canyon, and spend two nights out: one in North Fork Cascade, one in South Fork Cascade. You’ll do some backtracking, and eventually hit snow, but those are beautiful canyons with great campsites. And snow levels won’t stop your trip, they will just dictate how far up each canyon you can hike.
[In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at email@example.com or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission.]