Armed with new maps and guidebooks we chose the Death Canyon trail. We had high hopes of reaching a high saddle, but we settled for enjoying the valley floor.
My parents had memories of this trail from forty years ago, but it was completely new to Tyson and I. First we hiked up and over a low ridge. The forest blocked out most of the views. We saw different flowers here than in the sunny meadows yesterday, more larkspur, large purple thistles, and bunches of white flowers that I could not identify. Isaac walked about three quarters of a mile, and my Dad forgot his camera at the car, so he ran back to get it and just barely caught up before we put Isaac back in the carrier.
At the top of the ridge, all the hikers on the trail stopped to take photos of the first good view of Phelps Lake. I pointed out, perhaps a bit too sarcastically that they aught to point their cameras behind them. Not a one of them had seen the deer standing behind a few bushes.
From there the trail switchbacked down towards the lake with increasingly awesome views of the canyon portal and the peaks to either side. Tyson took a picture at every view.
The valley trail turned off to the left and we started the long climb up death canyon trail to the canyon. The valley floor was filled with big old conifers and cotton wood trees. We heard flocks of jays screeching at each other in the conifers, but they stayed hidden. We hiked up and our of the river bottom forest into steep rock slides. Eventually the trail zigzaged back towards the stream. Each corner brought us new cascades.
And finally we made it to the top. The portal of Death Canyon is a pinch point in the river formed by a hard layer of rock. Behind that it flattens out. For such a mild day, the wind really blew out of the canyon. Now the trail meandered through shoulder high meadows following the stream meanders. I was surprised at how quickly we arrived at the ranger’s cabin. There we had to decide whether to climb up the ridge on the Alaska Basin Trail or to continue along Death Canyon. The ranger said that we would have to climb up 2000′ to get good views, so we decided to continue along the canyon.
We passed the thousand foot cascades from Rimrock Lake and finally stopped where the trail crossed the stream. Since we hadn’t killed ourselves hiking up to the ridge, we found a sunny gravel bar to relax on and let Isaac play in the stream. He decided it was far too cold to play in. Instead he threw rocks in the water from a distance.
We returned to the car the same way as we hiked in. We spent much less time admiring the scenery, partly because we were tired, partly because we had seen so many impressive mountains already. Tyson saw some sort of weasel. We saw several more pikas and one even posed for a photo.
We arrived back at the car just as a thunderstorm rolled over the mountains. According to the guidebook, 400′ of elevation for the first ridge, 1050′ back up to the canyon and 8 miles. Our GPS said more like 9 miles.