Death Canyon near Jackson Hole in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA.
On the drive to the trail-head, the Grand Teton Range consumes the view and early morning sunrise lends a pink-orange glow to the summits of the tall mountains.
Today's hike targets Death Canyon at the south end of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, USA. The last mile to the trail-head is rugged road where 4-wheel drive would have been helpful but careful circumnavigation of massive ruts and boulders leads to a hiking start of 7:30 AM on a clear and brisk morning.
A kilometer later (⅝ miles), after a gradual gain in elevation on rustic trail, the hike reaches the overlook for Phelps Lake. The lake is pristine in the morning sun with mist rising from the surface in cool air. The hike proceeds through a dry meadow of sagebrush and chokecherry bushes before descent on a series of switchbacks which drop into a heavily forested valley before performing a traverse above and around Phelps Lake.
Past Phelps Lake, the trail begins to climb aggressively, again on switchbacks, to regain and exceed all the elevation just given away. The day is bright, sunny and warming up rapidly. Layering down is required to stay comfortable. The trail is rugged but spectacular as the sun enters the canyon and reflects off silver, mica and pyrite particles that sparkle like diamonds underfoot.
On the approach into the narrow opening between sheer rock walls, the creek running through the canyon hosts a series of small cascading waterfalls that create an ambiance of direct and reflected sound. Trail side at 7,800 ft (2,377 m) is thick with wild raspberry bushes so dining and hiking combine.
Altitude continues to increase and on the approach to the Death Canyon Wilderness Campground, the trail actually improves and at 9,000 ft. (2,743 m) the trail passes through a massive grove of giant Engelmann Spruce trees.
At the Death Canyon patrol cabin which is 3¾ miles (5⅞ km) from the trail-head, at the junction of the Alaska Basin Trail, the surrounding features provide an excellent reason to enjoy a rest stop before continuing.
Back on the trail, canyon walls begin to narrow as the route exits the impressive forest and progresses into open areas resplendently appointed with fall-colored shrubbery and wild flowers. Ahead, the massive Death Canyon Shelf dominates the view. Mid-day is very hot in the low 90's under bright sun at 9,500 ft (2,896 m) of elevation.
About 8 miles (13 KM) into the hike, the chosen lunch spot occupies a large expanse of surface rock surrounded by absolutely awesome scenery. Lunch in solitude is thoroughly enjoyable, sitting in the sun surrounded by dramatic canyon walls.
Trails continue on for miles but the first hike of the tour justifies the decision to head back after lunch. There is a lot to achieve over the next two weeks and there is a need to acclimatize to higher elevations.
There is no obvious explanation for the developing situation. The illness is probably a combination of heat, effort and altitude, but fairly serious hypothermia develops on the return hike. By the time we reach the super-heated car (the Park Pass in the windshield has melted), reading a map, or even speaking coherently is beyond physical and mental capability.
My hiking partner assumes control and drives directly to a local general store where re-hydration and electrolyte replenishment can begin. Back at the motel in Jackson Hole, the next 14 hours are spent sleeping. The itinerary for the following day is modified from hiking up the Grand Teton for a more modest lower altitude effort at nearby Jenny Lake.