The Grand Tetons are some of the most dramatic peaks out there, rising more than 7,000 feet above Jackson Hole without any foothills whatsoever. With all the awesome mountain ranges there are in Colorado it can be easy to forget about the wild beauty of Wyoming, so I had never really been able to explore the Tetons before. This September, I decided to head out there and see them for myself.
The Tetons are well know for their epic beauty, endless reflecting lakes and ponds, and long-lasting sunrises with amazing hues of pink and purple. These traits have brought people here for decades, by the bus load. Since I hadn't had the opportunity to explore the Tetons before I still enjoyed the roadside vistas (let's face in the views really are outstanding along the highway), but I also wanted to take the opportunity to get away from the crowds and the beeping sounds of 2-second timers that come with modern cameras.
With that idea in mind, my friend Lance and I decided to get a permit and hike into the backcountry to spend the night. I chose Lake Solitude as our destination, because it looked like it would give a good view around the back of the peaks and it was near the Cascade Canyon backcountry zone where we could camp. The hike is just under 10 miles, but we decided to take the Jenny Lake shuttle and save 2 miles. For me that still makes for a good day's hike when loaded with cameras and camping gear. Right away I noticed I was breathing easier because the elevations here were a little lower than the hikes I'm used to in Colorado. Lake Solitude is only at 9,000 feet, which is lower than most starting points for the trailheads that I'm used to.
One of the special things about this hike is that the views are downright amazing the whole way! I feel like many hikes I take are in the forest the whole time until you reach a lake or treeline, but this hike takes you through a sparsely vegetated canyon with epic views of the Grand Tetons the whole way.
Even at the backcountry campsite the views were still awesome. This has to be the best view from a tent I've ever had. We ended up making the hike with plenty of time to get up to the lake for sunset, so we set up camp and continued on. Lake Solitude is about a mile from the campsites.
The late summer tundra around the lake was a mix of green and reds. Soon this place will be covered in feet of snow and won't be seen again until next summer. There were a lot of interesting white granite boulders scattered about. After watching the Grand Tetons soak up the last of the day's sun, we headed back to camp. I left the shutter open most the night for this star trail image.
We awoke a couple hours before sunrise and hiked back up to the lake. The air was as still as could be, and we were even lucky enough to be treated to some clouds in the sky and get a beautiful sunrise! This came as quite a pleasant surprise as the forecast said we wouldn't have a cloud for days. We even had some off and on rain falling throughout the sunrise. Gentile droplets pattering away on the perfectly calm lake, it was a special experience.
A while after sunrise, bands of clouds started to move in and fill the sky. The lake was still perfectly calm and the reflection was outstanding. The Tetons catch a very interesting light in these late summer mornings. The sun rises too far south to light them directly, but the still seem to glow from reflected light coming through the canyon. As a photographic note, I want to mention that one particular lens focal length really seemed to come in handy for the entire trip: 35mm (on full frame cameras). Whether I was on the roadside or in the wilderness, that seemed to be the equivalent focal length I was using the whole time. With how tall these peaks are, it surprised me that I wasn't using a wider lens. If you come to the Tetons, you may want to bring a lens around 35mm with you!
After such an awesome sunrise and backpacking experience, I didn't want to go. I spent some time just enjoying the views from the lake, laying in the grass. I will have to spend a lot more time in the Teton backcountry!
The hike down was a pleasant trip through the amazing scenery. Once we were about a mile from Jenny Lake, the crowds started to become apparent again. It made me very happy to get out there and away from them. As is typical with National Parks, most people will only venture up to a mile away from a trailhead. If you're willing to put in a little sweat equity and hike further, you can almost always have the place to yourself. On the way out of the park the next day, we caught a sunrise at Oxbow Bend. It's no doubt a very popular place but with good reason. Standing on the shore watching the sunrise go on and change colors for nearly an hour was fantastic. The sunrises really seem to last forever in the Tetons, changing from shades of pink and red to purple and blue. It seems as if the winds die down completely every morning as well, just to make these perfect reflections. I exposed sheets of film throughout the sunrise, but something about this light on the trees that only lasted a minute really struck me.
I will certainly be returning to the Tetons again!
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