GET OUT: Autumn dance atop the Tetons

By on October 29, 2014

The sun shines its first rays in Avalanche Canyon. Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – I slept in so long I felt guilty. It was 11 in the morning as I downed waffles from the comfort of my home and looked at the Tetons. The air was still crisp and while the sun beckoned me outdoors, the coffee and woodstove emitted comforts only autumn could offer. I knew if I didn’t make my move now, I would be suckered indoors for the rest of the day baking cookies. Running clothes and fanny pack in tow, I shut my door and headed for the hills.

As I hopped in my truck, I knew I had made the right decision. From the Taggart Lake trailhead, I began to run. The air was cool on my hands and though it was high noon, the fall light mirrored a dim and beautiful world. Along Taggart Lake, I veered west on a social trail up Avalanche Canyon.

This section of my whimsical “run” quickly transformed into technical tree hopping and navigation. Slides from this past winter wiped out a majority of the once defined social trail. I stuck close to the creek and eventually ventured into the boulder field just north of Shosoko Falls. I stuck close to the creek and boulder-hopped north of the waterfall to get to my first destination, Lake Taminah.

My legs were a bit bloody from various branches encountered in the canyon. The fact that my running shorts offered little protection through the bushwacking made the prospect of a loop that much more desirable. Staying north along the drainages, I traveled up past Snowdrift and Kit lakes. It was open, high-alpine terrain with a few moves of exposed scrambling on rocks.


Looking down from the divide onto Kit Lake. Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos.



Snowdrift Lake, one of the three lakes in Avalanche Canyon. Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos.

From here, the wind picked up and I made my way up to Avalanche Divide. At this point, I began my trot down the wonderful trail of the south fork of Cascade Canyon. I took a snack break at a monumental wall about two miles down from the divide. Constructed in the last few years, this wall exemplifies classic dry stone masonry created in team effort with the sweat and blood of the trail crew. After contemplating the beauty of this hand-built wall, I continued my way along the gentle downhill of Cascade Canyon.

One of the most picturesque walls in the Tetons. Photo: Djamal Zermani.

One of the most picturesque walls in the Tetons. Photo: Djamal Zermani.

A huff on the hillside broke me out of my meditative stride. A big bull moose surrounded by a few cows appeared agitated at my presence in the peaceful canyon. Guilty of ruining his love life, I hiked up and around the hazard with bear spray in hand. In minutes, I was a safe distance away, my heartbeat slowed as I continued to the forks.

The Cathedral Group served as a great backdrop for the last stretch of my journey.  I stopped at my favorite spring and filled up. In all, I saw four people. In the evening light, I heard a couple bickering about the length of the canyon. It was evident that a couple extra granola bars would leave them content to enjoy the rest of their walk out of the hills. I had my mind on things other than chatting, and wanted to avoid the “hanger” myself, so I snuck by them and continued to soak in the scene.

I passed a beautifully empty Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point and, eventually, made my way to the parking lot. From here, I called Dornan’s, ordered a carryout pizza, then stuck my thumb out and hoped for a ride. The first car picked me up and took me back to the Taggart Trailhead. Excited about my time efficiency, I happily picked up my pizza, and drove through a herd of elk to arrive at my house. The air temperature was dropping fast, but I had a hot pizza to top off the night. Darkness may come early this time of year, but taking advantage of the sunny days allows for a fantastic autumn experience.

Info: 19 miles, 5,536 feet of elevation gain. No maintained trail from Taggart Lake to the top of Avalanche Divide, off trail navigation of dense marsh and vegetation as well as steep scree and boulder fields required.

About Elizabeth Koutrelakos

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