A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Tyson planned out one day to hike high up into the mountains. The trip would be about 11 miles and involve a 3,000 ft climb to just shy of 10,000 ft. He had us pack the night before and go to bed early. We left the condo a little after 7 AM and reached the trailhead at 8AM. The last of the mountaineers headed up to summit the Tetons as we laced up our boots. Since Tyson had picked the long trip, he felt obliged to carry Isaac all the way up.

The trail began with a leisurely warm up in the valley. Then it turned west and started a steady climb up a lateral moraine. This was also a popular trail, but at least most of the people were reasonably equipped hikers rather than milling tourists like on Monday. One large disorganized group passed us while Isaac was hiking, and then we had trouble getting past them again after putting Isaac in the carrier.

Where the moraine joined the mountain, the trail started switchbacking in wide arcs up the mountainside. It maintained a steady grade that was actually quite reasonable. The first few switchbacks crossed steep open meadows with great views down to the tiny trees and cars in the valley. After the turn off to Garnet Canyon, we turned back into the woods. The switchbacks became progressively shorter as we headed up into a ravine. We counted all eighteen switchbacks listed in the guidebook. At the seventeenth, we rested and I started carrying Isaac. It flattened out almost immediately afterward and we arrived at Surprise Lake.

We stopped for lunch there. It was windy enough that we all bundled up. The guidebook said there was a great view if you scrambled up Lake Surprise Pinnacle off trail. We headed over to the other side of the lake to try it. I was surprised to find the ground dropped off in a shear cliff just beyond the lake. We scrambled up. It was a little difficult and a little nerve wracking every time I looked left and saw the thousand foot drop off. The faint erosion from feet split near the top, some went to an easier false peak, and some continued to the real peak. We decided the false peak was good enough and looked much easier. The top a couple rock climbing moves. Actually, we didn’t get all the way to the top of our false peak. That was a narrow rock jutting up and out over empty space. We stopped where we could all sit down without anyone feeling too close to a cliff. We admired the views, took pictures, read the maps and GPS to figure out how high we were (9920′), and realized we had climbed the wrong peak. Surprise Lake Pinnacle was below us, and looked like a much easier scramble requiring no rock climbing skills.

From there we down climbed a ways and traversed over to Amphitheater Lake. We snacked, refilled our water bladders and rested. We glissaded on an old patch of snow which Isaac loved. A bunch of pikas scurried in and out of the boulders around the lake. Next we followed the guide book’s advice to climb to another saddle for a view. This one worked out, though we could only see the terminal moraine from Teton Glacier, not the glacier itself.

We spent four hours up there exploring everything before we decided it was time to head down. Almost everyone else had already gone home or camped for the day, so we had the trails mostly to ourselves. Tyson carried Isaac part way down, then I carried him for a while. Looking down from the top of the switchbacks, the valley looked impossibly far down. Between switchback 6 and 7 Isaac decided he wanted to hike. He kept hiking, which meant we took a long while to hike down. Because there weren’t many people around, we saw several ptarmigan, a deer and lots of other birds. We were less than a mile from the car when Isaac’s legs gave out.