Teton Crest Trail, Day 4: Kit Lake to Alaska Basin, 7 miles

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.

Eleonora Duse
Sunset on the glacier-polished granite slabs at Alaska Basin.
Sunset on the glacially-polished granite slabs at Alaska Basin.

The wind was wild last night. You could hear it flying off the wall like a train barreling towards me at high speed. The alicoop2 flapped and shook, but held strong. I found it an accomplishment to ignore it mostly, and just go to sleep. 

It was surprisingly warm and at one point, I stuck my head out of the tent and just rested in the springy grass and looked at the stars, the two strands of the Milky Way so clear as if I could focus on individual stars. 

I had no visitors, even if the wind sometimes sounded like scratching and grunting. I stored my bear bag under my head. There was nowhere to hang it and I didn’t want to leave it on the ground as it’s designed for. I’m really high and no big creatures come here – at least not last night. 

I did dream I used the bear spray and it failed. Then I sprayed it on myself, and that too failed. At first I interpret that to mean I’ve lost my power, but as I sit on my favorite rock eating breakfast and watching the birds swoop above the water, I decide it’s more a metaphor for any poison in me losing its grip. I like that better. 

It’s chilly this morning and smoky. Looking down into the canyon is an abyss of white. I’ve always wanted to hike to a remote alpine lake and camp all alone and I did. Now to rewind and work my way up and out of here. 

It’s really pretty easy, walking next to the stunted trees and colorful leafy plants above the lake, then along a humpy moraine and up near bright pink flowers and finally straight up to the top. It takes all of 20 minutes, even taking pictures. 

The Tetons are still on display, sharp, pointy and high and I practically skip down the well-worn path. I’m feeling good, even if I had a bloody nose this morning, so decide to take another side-trip to Icefloe Lake. 

Alexis pointed out the cut off yesterday when I met the trail runner, but I never saw a sign. I look for a trail, but never see that either. When I come to a turn in the trail in the obviously wrong direction, I check the GPS. 300 feet back up the trail. 

Kit Lake lies below the trail about 250 feet.
Kit Lake lies below the trail about 250 feet.
Alpine Bistort
Alpine Bistort
Icefloe Lake, glacier and falls below Middle Teton.
Icefloe Lake, glacier and falls below Middle Teton.
Autumn color.
Autumn color.
The smoke gave everything a softer, almost sepia tone.
The smoke gave everything a softer, almost sepia tone.

At first I figure I’ll skip it, but something pulls me up there. A sense of adventure, enjoying all this to myself and a bit of curiosity why I have a trail but see none. 

Well that’s because there is none. I walk across a rocky area, interspersed with grasses towards a wall of rocks. Looking in vain, I decide maybe I can carefully work my way up. It’s not a steep slope, but neither is it solid like walking down to Kit Lake. 

I step carefully, looking for solid rocks and humpy grass that’s less likely to move. Using my sticks, I gradually push up, certain this is the moraine holding the lake in place. 

No such luck. At the top, it’s more rock. The map shows the lake further to the north, tucked under the middle Teton. It’s flat up here, so I pick my way over until I’m stopped by massive boulders. 

First of all, how did they get here? I look at the jagged peaks rising thousands of feet above, not entirely solid, rather with eroded sections fanning out all the way to my feet. 

No way am I climbing that! I snap a picture of the obstacle in my path, then notice just to the left there’s a grassy area with smaller rocks. A way through! 

I pick past the boulders, careful of the edge to my left which is straight down and reach a more rolling bit of moraine – and the lake! It’s all rock and ice here, except for tough plants clinging tight and low, now turning colors in early Autumn. To my right is a thick glacier seeping towards it and draining into a waterfall that works its way all the way down the canyon. 

I pick my way close, grateful for this lake, its water nourishing my walk yesterday, then turn to go back, unsure how I’ll make it back down. Smoke makes for pink light on the granite slabs below, tiny lakes reflecting cliffs above. Birds dive and soar, eating insects attracted to the flowers. I’m startled to see flowers still in bloom. The air smells like smoke. 

I take a few unsteady steps, then decide skidding down on my butt is the safest bet. Besides, my hiking pants only cost $3.99 at the thrift store. I laugh the whole way, curious if anyone else is headed my way and witnessing this indignity. Only a fat marmot with a black tail runs by, shockingly fast with all that blubber. 

My walk out is easy and so lovely in this canyon of glacially shaped granite, scree piled and solid walls of ancient fossilized seabeds. I stop at the same stream where I met Alexis and camel up for the climb over Hurricane Pass. I was slightly higher at the lake, but have lost all my altitude and now have to rewind. 

Ice at the lake.
Ice at the lake.
Blissful heading to Hurricane Pass above Avalanche Divide.
Blissful heading to Hurricane Pass above Avalanche Divide.
The neatly stacked moraine below Schoolhouse Glacier.
The neatly stacked moraine below Schoolhouse Glacier.
Massive crevasses opening wider by the day.
Massive crevasses opening wider by the day.

The trail works its way up next to a waterfall. The engineering of this path is remarkable. It always cracks me up how self-satisfied we hikers feel hauling our bodies up a trail when all we’re doing is walking. The real skill is the superb building. And don’t I know after two big scrambles today. 

About halfway up I meet two hikers who tell me they work remotely, so travel a whole lot. When we discuss where we’ll camp tonight, they tell me Kit Lake! I’m surprised they chose it too, and I’m glad we’ll have it on different nights. 

I give them beta on the approach and then head up, first through a flat section of granite, trees and water. There’s a side trail to Schoolroom Glacier, a massive sheet of ice cracking into myriad crevasses and sagging towards a lake in a color I like to call ‘chaqua.’  As I return to the trail and approach the final switchbacks taking me up the wall, a weasel, black and sleek, scurries past. 

From a distance, this trail is obvious – a long ramp finding one chink in the armor of this seemingly impenetrable wall. Yet again, there’s a side trail. This time right at the glacier. i of course, have to go closer. 

I know I’m on solid rock, flat and compressed. Yet it’s unnerving looking straight down to the lake, the moraine so neatly piled, it appears made by machine. I look into long cracks, then one huge, evil tunnel, exposing and opening that could swallow you up deep inside the ice. 

I don’t linger long. 

It’s not far to the top, where two men sit and look at the three Tetons right directly in front of us. Hurricane Pass is aptly named, the wind whipping strong causing me to put a hood on over my hat. 

The guys tell me about their cool site by a waterfall and that they built a fire. I remind them fire’s are prohibited, mainly by suggesting it would really be awful if you were the one that started a forest fire. They appear oblivious to the fact that wildfires are causing this haze. 

They’re nice enough and I try not to be a jerk, but I struggle with ignorance on this subject. We wish each other well, then I head down seeing three of their friends coming up the steep pass. “Your friends told me to tell you they ate all the chocolate and drank the booze.” The guys laugh and ask how much farther.   

More backpackers come up the pass. I’m really happy I took my side adventure all alone. On this side, it’s more flat topped walls, but mostly in haze. I reach a steep drop off with tight switchbacks. Sunset Lake shimmers in the distance through bright red foliage. 

Sunset Lake below Hurricane Pass.
Sunset Lake below Hurricane Pass.
Blissful of the Tetons.
Blissful of the Tetons.
The soulful site at one of the basin lakes.
The soulful site at one of the basin lakes.

I find shade at the beautiful lake for a snack, but it’s crowded and I really want to see this site with the waterfall. I head steeply up, then down straight into a Sierra-like rock garden of granite, lakes and pine trees. 

High above are barren walks and pointy peaks, but here is a lush garden. The guys said to follow the trail to Mirror Lake and right away I find the falls. I head up next to them and see a large, open space with a fire ring right in the center. It’s filled with half burnt logs and garbage – big cans I really can’t carry out. 

It’s really not my kind of place, so I continue on, breaking off trail to look for the little lakes. Two days ago, four guys told me about a lake with islands in it and how they had an entire veranda of rock. I stumble around looking, finding a few ponds, Mirror Lake itself with a ‘no camping’ sign, a few passable spots, and finally the lovely lake itself. 

Even here, it takes wandering around to find the spot they were talking about – on grass with a huge slab of rock down to water.  I set up, do chores, then simply hang out on my massive front porch, white rock with an orange patina chipping away. 

It reminds me of a trip years ago on Lake Kabatogama in Voyageurs National Park when our camp sites spread out to a veranda, where my box wine was shared by the whole group. No wine this time, but good food and nice neighbors, four guys from LA who camp quietly on the other side. 

Behind me faces west and the land drops down, so I finally have a long, drawn out sunset. It’s bright magenta, glistening on the granite slabs. My lake is a jewel surrounded by high peaks. One island has a large gray trunk skeleton, birds picking a branch, then fluttering away. 

The wind has completely died, only a stream rustles in the distance. I think taking shorter days is breaking the spell and I’m feeling less anxious about hiking. Long distance trails demand long days, but shorter ones allow for time to take side trips, search for the perfect site, and thoroughly soak it all in. This trail feels just right. And who knows, maybe a little shake up was what I needed to not take the whole thru-hiking business so seriously. I’m strong and feel good, but I have no need to prove anything, just to enjoy each surprise. 

Sunset over Idaho. Can you see the alicoop2 in the center of the photograph?
Sunset over Idaho. Can you see the alicoop2 in the center of the photograph?

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Some of the most stunning pictures you’ve ever posted! Or perhaps it’s the fact that I visited the area with the whole family in 2000, when we were the guests of a friend from Houston playing for the summer at TMF. Didn’t get too much hiking in with three boys of 10, 8, and 6, but the oldest and I did climb up to the Cascade trail heading west from Jenny Lake and hiked up the canyon for a bit. Utterly gorgeous! I am so envious!

    1. that is SO cool! Every step of this place is magic. I had the weird nervous moment once I left Cascade Canyon to head south because I’d never been there before. It was, of course, sensational.

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