Hiking The Alaska Basin / Teton Shelf Loop Trail From Teton Canyon

By Marc Bowen

Teton Canyon

This is the third time in a month that I have driven up this canyon. I grow to love and appreciate this area more every time I come here. Its beautiful. It’s easy to get to and some of the best hikes in this part of the country are just steps away from the parking lot at the end of Teton Canyon Road.

Getting to this parking lot as I said is not difficult. From Driggs Idaho drive east about seven miles on Ski Hill Road then turn right on the 4-plus mile, mostly gravel, Teton Canyon Road. Drive to the end of the road to the parking area. Parking lot includes restrooms and two trailheads.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

I’ve been in this parking lot two other times in the past month. Four weeks ago in June I hiked from this trailhead about three miles up the South Teton Trail to the Teton Shelf Trail and another mile to the Devil’s Stairs (see my Devil’s Stairs Trail blog post for more about that hike). About three weeks ago I hiked up the Face Trail (which takes off just to the left of the restroom) to the summit of Table Mountain (see my Hiking Table Mountain’s Face Trail blog post to read more about that hike).

Today’s Hike Details

  • Distance (Loop trail) – 17.3 miles
  • Trailhead elevation – 6950 feet
  • Elevation gain – 3018 feet
  • Highest elevation – 9968
  • Difficulty level – very strenuous

My plan this morning was to hike into the Alaska Basin area and scout the lakes there as a possible backpacking destination for me and my son in a few weeks. There are two different routes into the basin from this trailhead. One option is to take the South Teton Trail, which follows South Fork Teton Creek, all the way into Basin Lakes. The other option is to hike 2.7 miles up South Teton Trail, take the right fork onto Teton Shelf Trail continue up Devil’s Stairs and at the top continue to follow Teton Shelf Trail until it connects with Teton Crest Trail. Then take the left fork into the basin.

I had never been any farther up the South Teton Trail than the fork to the Teton Shelf. My only experience with the Shelf Trail was hiking to the top of Devil’s Stairs and then a little farther up the shelf until I was forced to turn back because of deep snow.

I knew that just going into the Basin Lakes and back out using the main trail would take most of the day and I wasn’t sure how much time taking the loop-trail would add to my hike. Since my plans didn’t include a night on the mountain I would need to give myself plenty of time to get off the mountain before dark.

So I decided to just take the main trail into Alaska Basin with the option of returning by way of the shelf-trail if there was time to do so. I headed out on the trail about 6:45am at a brisk pace, feeling good and looking forward to seeing some new country.

A short distance from the trailhead the trail almost immediately enters the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The trail eventually crosses Teton Creek through some fairly dense forest broken up by aspen groves.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

The morning was cool and the sound of the creek was very noticeable from the left side of the trail. There was no wind and the foliage was very lush and wet from the previous nights rain.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

For gear I carried my trekking poles and wore my 45-liter Teton Sports backpack with food, extra clothing and emergency gear as well as a tripod for my camera. The camera I carry clipped to my shoulder strap.

On this hike I chose not to include my water bladder but took two 24oz bottles of a water/electrolyte mix and a 24oz Life Straw bottle prefilled with purified water. I also brought a Sawyer mini-filtration system. I didn’t want the added weight of my 3.5-liter water bladder and knew there were plenty of water sources along the way.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

After about a mile and a half the canyon started to open up and I could see the Teton Shelf, a point of rock called The Wedge, Mt. Meek and Mt. Jedediah Smith.

When I came up this trail three weeks ago everything was green with many plants growing and some flowers just starting to bloom. Plants then were 6-12 inches high.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Wildflowers 3-5 feet tall!

In three weeks time those plants were now 3-5 FEET high, blooming and the trail was practically overgrown with the plants. It would be difficult to get off trail and walk through them although I’m sure it wouldn’t slow down a moose or a bear hidden amongst the flowers.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

The first three miles of this hike is a mild grade and an absolutely beautiful stroll up the canyon. I was able to keep a pretty good pace when I wasn’t stopping to take pictures.

I’m liking my new GPS app (GAIA). I can use it offline. It has been great, providing me with info on my speed (when recording)(approx 2-5 mph) and audibly notifying me of my distance traveled every mile (it took me awhile to figure out what the tiny voice was coming from my pocket). Also it gives me my current altitude, altitude gain and loss and average pace. I can set waypoints and label them with different icons and titles.

Anyway it was great to have until the app quit working about 13-14 miles into the hike. My phone was going to die so I plugged into my portable charger and put the phone back in my pocket. I checked the app a little later and couldn’t find it. It was no longer on my phone. Got bumped and the app deleted while in my pocket maybe? Once deleted there is no way to get it back without service. Bummer because if caught out on the trail after dark the app would help me immensely.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Trailhead  for Teton-Shelf Trail and Devils Stairs

I saw lots of people on the trail during the first three miles. Some I saw turn onto the Devils Stairs /Teton-Shelf Trail at the first fork (above photo). I stayed on the main trail which follows Teton Creek most of the way up the canyon. The trail got a little steeper from here as it headed up through thick brush and dense forest.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

To my left the stream was beautiful with many small waterfalls (above photo). I carefully rock-hopped out into the stream and found a big flat rock to lay belly down on and line up the above shot. The light was beautiful and the water clear and cold.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

As the trail climbed higher there were some clearings and I could occasionally see some open slopes and ridge lines and I watched for wildlife during rest stops. I didn’t see very many hikers along this stretch. Made me wonder if some hikers were taking the other route into the basin.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

The trail just about always follows the water course up the canyon and the forest and brush were again pretty lush and thick.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

All through this area the trail crosses many small tributaries made by melting snow from the higher elevations but so far nothing deep and wide enough that I couldn’t stay dry crossing.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Buck Mountain in the distance

As the trail steepened and entered a few open meadows I could see Buck Mountain to the east.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Battle Mountain

I could also see Battle Mountain (elev. 10,610) to the North.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

At this point in the hike the trail zigzags up the slope and crosses the main stream of Teton Creek a couple of times so careful rock-hopping was necessary. It was beautiful in this area. Lots of water and multiple small waterfalls.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

The only thing resembling a bridge during this part of the hike was this one (above photo).

Photo by: Marc Bowen

This area was about five miles in and very lovely with more water-falls, clear ice-cold pools of water and sunlight filtering through the trees.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

At almost six miles the trail levels out a little and enters a very rocky area.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

The trail crossed bare rock in some areas and was hard to follow for a short way. It did have some rock cairns and lines of loose rock pointing the way so really wasn’t a problem navigating.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – The Wedge and Teton Shelf

From this part of the trail looking back to my right I had a good view across the canyon of a large rock formation called The Wedge, its shape easy to pick-out from the ridge-line.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

As the trail climbed up the head of Teton Canyon, I stepped off the trail a short distance to enjoy the sight of Teton Creek carving its way down into the canyon from the lakes above.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

At approximately 6.5 miles the trail enters a long high meadow. I stopped and turned to look back down the trail and captured the above image. There are some amazing views from here of Mt. Meek, The Wedge and Teton-Shelf.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

At this point the trail got pretty steep again and I was getting tired. I thought shoot If I’m getting this tired maybe I should turn around so I have enough energy to get back. Not like I was going to spend the night at one of the lakes. I wondered how my son would like this trail. This will be his first long hike this year and if I’m struggling he will too and I don’t want him to struggle so much he doesn’t enjoy the journey. Then I thought I’ve put this much effort into getting this far I’m not going back until I’ve seen what I came to see so I kept going, resting when I needed too.

The altitude here was about 9000 feet. I was feeling the altitude and my lungs were starting to burn as I tried to catch my breath. I had practiced this past week a high altitude breathing technique which I started to apply at this point and I have to say it did help me get my breathing under control every time I applied it.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

There was still a lot of water in this stream and made it difficult to cross without getting wet. I did not want wet feet so if I thought I couldn’t cross and keep my feet dry I took some time to walk upstream or downstream looking for a better place to cross. In the photo above I wasn’t sure I could cross and stay dry so I walked upstream a ways.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

This (above photo) is what it looked like up-stream. Very pretty! but the water was moving too fast and the rocks were too slick to be hopping around on. Downstream wasn’t much better so I figured that where the trail crossed was still the best option. Using my trekking poles and planning each step, I made it across without getting my boots wet.

This whole end of the canyon was just stunning! Lots of rock formations and waterfalls.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

At eight miles I reached the top of the climb and as I entered the Alaska Basin area a stunningly beautiful view of the basin unfolded before me. Buck Mountain ( elevation 11,938) was just ahead to the left and is the most prominent peak in this area. Peak #11094 (un-named) is on the right.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Here the Alaska Basin trail or Teton Creek Trail becomes the Teton Crest Trail. It took me six hours to get to this point mostly because I stopped a lot along the way to admire the scenery and take a lot of pics but also because I was struggling a little physically.

This basin is about 9500 feet in elevation. Probably only been a week, maybe two since the snow melted off. The wild flowers up here have just begun to grow. The air was so clean and crisp and still cool. Smelled great! A slight breeze and the stream were making pleasant sounds as they moved through this meadow.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Looking back up the trail (above photo) where it forks and goes over Hurricane Pass and down into Cascade Canyon and Jenny Lake. The Alaska Basin sits on the west slopes of the Teton mountain range and is just on the outside of Grand Teton National Park which means that dogs are allowed to join hikers and you can camp here without a permit.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Another stream crossing

Photo by: Marc Bowen

It is so beautiful up here in these alpine meadows! Lots of green grass and wildflowers just starting to bloom.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

When I arrived at the Mirror Lake / Meek Pass fork my GPS said I had come 9 miles. At the fork I went left into the Basin Lakes area.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

First of the Basin Lakes (above photo). These are just small lakes or ponds. The water wasn’t real clear and a little bit brown in color. Maybe because it was still under ice a few weeks ago.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

The second basin lake is just a few hundred yards away.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

This lake is not much bigger than the first and didn’t impress me much.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Just over a low ridge from the basin lakes is Mirror Lake (above photo). It was more of a blue/green in color and beautiful. There was a little bit of a breeze otherwise a great reflection would have shown why its called Mirror Lake. Mt. Meek can be seen a few miles away on the other side of the lake to the far right of the ridge.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

I ate lunch, rested, scouted possible future camp-sites and then headed back out to the Teton Crest Trail. There is another lake just down that trail with two small islands on it.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

It was at this point that I made the decision to continue southwest on the Teton Crest Trail and connect eventually with the Teton Shelf trail. I wanted to finish the loop rather than retrace my steps down the canyon. Hiking the loop would require me to climb to almost 10,000 feet before heading down the shelf. I wasn’t looking forward to any more climbing. My legs were telling me NO WAY. But heading back down the steep canyon trail would be just about as hard on my legs (especially my joints) as climbing up the trail and the shelf trail is a nice gradual descent with the exception of Devil’s Stairs. BESIDES… If given the choice I prefer to return by a different route whenever possible so I can see different country.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Still patches of snow through here.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

(above photo) The last of the Basin Lakes and this one’s a beauty!

Photo by: Marc Bowen

From here another stunning view of Buck Mountain (elev. 11,939) looming over the basin.

Still no service on my phone at this point. Would have liked to notify my wife that I would be taking a different route back. Surprisingly there are a lot of places in the Tetons that I have had decent reception and have received phone calls, some at high altitude. Mostly the east side of the Teton range though. By this time it was after 4:00pm and I knew it might be pushing dark before I got back to my car.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Looking back down the trail (above photo). In this area the ground is almost all rock and there would be no indication of a trail except for the smaller rocks outlining the path.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

The trail (above) crosses another area of flat rock and then turns right and heads down the slope to cross the head waters of Teton Creek. Normally this wouldn’t be too much trouble to cross. But today the stream was overflowing with snow melt. Where the trail disappeared under the water the stream was very wide but not very deep. I watched two hikers take their boots off and carefully and painfully wade across. Then dry their feet the best they could before quickly putting boots and socks back on. If I’d had more time I might have done the same but also taken the time to let my feet completely dry before putting any foot-gear back on. I knew I had about eight more miles of hiking to do and my feet were already tired and a little sore. Wet feet would make things a lot worse.

So I ranged down the stream a ways looking for other possible crossings. But the stream became narrower, deeper and faster as it lost altitude. I did find a spot where I thought about taking a running leap over the stream but worried I wouldn’t make it with the weight of my backpack. I measured off what I thought the width of the stream was at this point and did a couple of practice jumps, but staggered badly whenever I landed.  I probably would have resorted to throwing my pack over to the other side of the stream first if I didn’t have a camera and gear strapped to it. There was a good-sized rock on my side that I could run and launch from and hopefully land on a flat rock on the other side. Hanging over that rock was a stand of willows that I hoped would break my fall if I fell or overshot the rock. I eventually jumped over the stream into the willows on the other side and fell into them with a bad cramp in my calf but didn’t get wet or break anything. Should have taken a photo but was so preoccupied trying to get across that I forgot.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

After crossing the stream the trail begins a gradual climb with views of Teton Canyon.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Battleship Mountain

(Above photo) Battleship Mountain to my right across Teton Canyon.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

(above) Looking back down the trail toward the Alaska Basin and Buck Mountain.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Just up ahead (above photo) the trail begins to switch-back up a 400 foot ridge toward Mt. Meek Pass.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Teton Shelf

From the bend in the first switch-back. A view (above photo) of The Wedge on the far left. The line of cliffs across the middle of the scene is the edge of the Teton Shelf.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Alaska Basin

(above) About halfway up the ridge looking back at Buck Mountain. The trail I’m on can be seen below coming from the basin.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Looking back (above photo) at the trail switch-backing up the ridge.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Another view (above) of the basin from farther up the ridge.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Another view (above photo) of Battleship Mountain across the canyon. I could also see, to the right of Battleship Mountain and in the far distance the flat-top peak of Table Mountain (elev. 11,106) where I was three weeks ago.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Getting close to the top of the Teton Shelf and closer to The Wedge

Photo by: Marc Bowen

The trail (above photo) breaks out onto the top and heads toward Mt. Meek pass just to left of Mt. Meek (elev. 10,682).

Almost to the pass the trail forks right and the Teton-Shelf Trail begins.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

I saw several groups of hikers coming up this trail. One group was a family with two dogs and the dogs were packing their own food on their backs. I thought that was kind of cool. Everyone including the dogs carrying their own provisions.

The Teton Shelf is up high, wide open and beautiful! The mountains are magnificent, and the views are too. Young plants everywhere haven’t bloomed much yet but when they do in a week or two it will be wild-flowers as far as the eye can see.

My feet had been bothering me for a while now and I knew that the many hours of hiking were starting to produce blisters. My feet and toes were really starting to hurt.  I wouldn’t be able to hike the remaining six miles without doing something about my foot issues.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – The Wedge

I stopped, took my boots and socks off and let the air get at my feet for about ten minutes. Then I put hydro-sealed bandages on the areas starting to blister and abrade. These bandages are great. Much better than moleskin in my opinion. They are like a thick second skin and have to be peeled off like skin when they have served their purpose. I also took the time to fill my Life-Straw bottle from the ice-cold stream coming off the snow.

As I started hiking again my feet felt much better so I picked up the pace a little. I was worried about getting down Devil’s Stairs before it got too dark.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

I was moving pretty good, making good time, and enjoying the gorgeous views and the evening breeze when I was suddenly brought to my knees with back spasms. I crawled over under a tree until I could catch my breath then prayed earnestly for divine aid. Being alone and not having seen another person for several hours I was worried. With this kind of pain I knew I wasnt getting down off the mountain without help. The back pain was so bad that I couldn’t even stand let alone walk. My wife and I have talked many times about the possibility of me being stuck on the mountain overnight on one of my hikes. For that reason I always pack a small sleeping bag and waterproof bivy. I also have a large heavy-duty poncho that doubles as a tarp tent with my trekking poles used as tent poles. Also included in my backpack is a light-weight hoody, a fleece jacket, a water-resistant outer shell, gloves, warm knit hat, parachute cord, knife, first aid kit, wind/rain proof lighter, headlamp, flashlight, food, water, bear spray, and more to survive at least one night. Even though we talked about this possibility she would still wonder what happened and she would have no way of knowing I was on a different trail then the one she would expect me to be on.

It was getting late and the sun would be dropping behind the ridge soon. As I knelt there on the side of the trail asking God and his angels to help me get off the mountain safely, asking specifically for the back spasms to be taken away…the spasms stopped. Nearly crying with relief I fervently thanked God for his love and mercy, then stood up, took inventory so I didn’t leave anything behind and headed out. I was a little weak and shaky but otherwise walking.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Toward the end of the shelf and near the top of Devil’s Stairs I stopped, thinking this scene in front of me (above photo) looked familiar and recognized that I had been here before, coming from the other direction a month ago. But it looked a little different back then (below photo).

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Same place (above photo) One month ago.

I made it to the top of the stairs just before the sun went down behind the ridge.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Soon I was heading down Devil’s Stairs. Very tired but being extremely careful. Definitely did not want to stumble, slip or fall here!

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Looking back up the canyon (above photo) I could see the basin in the distance. Buck Mountain is in the upper left corner of the photo.

As I got down to the bottom of Devil’s Stairs I slipped and fell. Needless to say If that had happened anywhere on the stairs my hike may well have been over. I fell on my back, my fall cushioned somewhat by my backpack, ended up wearing some more dirt but that was about all.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

I continued to descend carefully into the canyon. It’s about 1000 feet from the top of the stairs to the main trail below. Even though I was exhausted it didn’t keep me from admiring all the wildflowers covering some of the slopes on the way down.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Made it down safely. Rested with pack off (almost fell forward after wearing my backpack for so long). I drank lots of water, snacked on Hammer Gel which is a high carb quick energy gel that I squeeze into my mouth. Then I headed out with about three miles to go to get to the parking lot. It was getting pretty dark down in the canyon.

I initially was able to move at a fast pace maybe 5-6 mph. My feet and back were pretty much numb with pain by then but I kept moving forward. As it got darker I kept hearing noises in the thick brush both sides of the trail. Thought about bears in the brush. Several times I thought I saw movement in my peripheral vision. I didn’t really care and wasn’t worried. God had helped me get this far. I just needed to keep my legs moving and leave everything else up to Him. I moved fast as long as I could, then stopped and rested for one minute looking around. It wasn’t completely dark yet, more like twilight. I decided I could still see better without my headlamp so didn’t turn it on. By this time I was so exhausted my thoughts were drifting and unclear. I really don’t remember a whole lot about this part of the hike. I just put one foot in front of the other and wouldn’t be surprised if unseen hands held me upright as I certainly felt like I couldn’t go any farther on my own.

I reached the bridge that is one mile out from the parking lot and had another back spasm. It didn’t last long. One last rest, water, gel with pack off. Wanted to ditch my backpack at this point but didn’t. Just kept going, dragging my trekking poles across the rocks to make plenty of noise. As I staggered into the parking lot and loaded my gear in the car my first thought was how greatful I was to Him who carried me off the mountain. My second thought was that my son and I would probably not be backpacking this trail in two weeks.

This was another tough hike for me. Easier in some ways than Table Mountain. But all the miles just totally beat me into the ground. Any gas I had left in the tank evaporated with the back spasms. Even so… I have no regrets. I love to hike. Walking new trails. Exploring new country and oh… the views from the high places.

I look forward to hiking the next trail and climbing the next mountain.



Grand Teton NP Summer Photo Shoot

By Marc Bowen

My friend Scott and I decided to spend three days in Grand Teton National Park and just travel around the area stopping anywhere we felt like shooting, all hours of the day and/or night. We would not purchase lodging anywhere but would sleep in Scott’s truck (when and if we took time to sleep). We would take enough food and water with us to allow us the freedom of driving into town only if it became necessary.

We left my house about 7:00am and drove to Jackson Wyoming by way of Ririe, Swan Valley and Victor. We rolled into Jackson at 9:00am, parked and checked out the Thomas Mangelsen Photography Studio, for inspiration? To ‘focus’ on our objective? (pun intended, sorry) I think we were just excited about what we were here for and wanted to admire another photographer’s photos of this area. We then headed out to the park to scout possible sites in which to photograph sunsets, sunrises and the Milky-Way.

Mormon Row

Our first stop was Mormon Row, a historical district with the remains of old homesteads built by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1900s. It’s located in what’s known as Antelope Flats east of the Jackson-Moran highway.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Mormon Row

The two barns in this area are two of the most photographed barns in the country. Both of us have probably filled up lots of memory cards with images of these barns over the years but there seems to be this need to improve and get better and make each captured image better than the last. I used to stress over that aspect of my photography but have since tried to be more relaxed, more patient and enjoy my surroundings, trying not to be disappointed if I don’t capture an image in the way I had hoped.

Today the clouds were great so we couldn’t resist spending an hour here seeing what we might capture.

Photo by: Marc Bowen –  Scott shooting the John Moulton Barn

My favorite type of photography is landscape/nature photography. I do like to put people in my shots on occasion. Especially people I know. When shooting with Scott or my daughter Nicole (also a photographer) It’s easy to ‘include’ them in the shot even when they are unaware. Scott (in above photo) is a master at landscape photography and brilliantly puts his own stamp on often-shot scenes.

After about an hour of watching the clouds and light play we moved on up the highway to another popular and often-shot scene.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Snake River Overlook (day one)

At the Snake River Overlook we watched some awesome cloud formations over the Teton range. The light which was attempting to break through the clouds created all the right conditions for a black and white. I wanted the focus of this image (above photo) to be on the light rather than the colors in the scene.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Snake River Overlook

But this scene looks good in color too.

We decided to head back down the highway and drop off the hill down to the river and another very popular location.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Schwabacher Landing (day one)

Schwabacher Landing

Located on the Snake River and not too far off the highway is Schwabacher Landing. Just like Mormon Row I’ve been here many times. Even so, it never gets old. Each time is a little different. Different seasons. Different animals present (or not). Different weather. Different cloud formations. Different company. I love this place, the sights, sounds, smell and general ‘feel’ of this area. It’s like something special is going to happen and I’m going to miss it if I’m not here…

Lucky for us because of the cloud formations (above photo) the light was still good late morning at Schwabacher Landing and we had a few ducks posing for us as well.

In order for us to decide where we would be shooting sunset and the Milky-Way that night we decided to scout some more locations. We drove out to Oxbow Bend, Colter Bay, Jenny Lake and Signal Mountain. We checked out Oxbow Bend for a possible sunrise or sunset shoot. Colter Bay on Jackson Lake provides some possibilities for photographing the Milky-Way with interesting foreground.

I have an app named SKY GUIDE that shows me where in the night sky the Milky-Way galaxy or any planet is going to be and what time it will be there. It’s a must-have for astrophotography.

We drove to the top of Signal Mountain, checked the future location of the Milky-Way using the  SKY GUIDE app and decided that this would be the location from which we would shoot the Milky-Way on this first night in the park.

Other then driving through Jackson in the morning we never made it back to town the rest of the day and would spend the night on Signal Mountain. We had plenty of snacks to eat throughout the day. Protein bars, Kind Bars, breakfast bars, apple chips, dried fruit, trail mix, almonds, V8 Fusion Energy drinks and plenty of water.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Oxbow Bend

One of the most photographed locations in Grand Teton National Park is Oxbow Bend. It’s such a beautiful area in any season. The bend of the Snake River with majestic Mt. Moran in the background is a breathtaking sight. No matter how many times I have photographed this scene I can’t drive through here without stopping and taking some shots. It’s almost guaranteed that dozens of other photographers will be there right at my elbow.

We decided to use this location for our first sunset shoot. We got here a few hours early, picked our spot, set up cameras, tripods and camp chairs and waited, taking a few shots here and there as the light changed. It was hot! I had already soaked-up plenty of sunshine throughout the day. Mosquitos harassed us but we saw herons, beaver and pelicans while we waited. As we sat there other people came. Some stopped to take photos, others fished or glassed the area with binoculars for wildlife. Many, like us, stayed for the sunset.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Oxbow Bend sunset 9:05pm

Sunsets always seem more colorful here. Maybe it’s because the landscape is so awesome that any extra color just accentuates the scene. Having some clouds in the sky can make a sunset even more interesting by scattering the light and color in beautiful displays across the sky and water.

After sunset we headed over to the Colter Bay area on Jackson Lake for some ‘Blue Hour’ shots.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Colter Bay twilight

Colter Bay – The BLUE hour.

My friend Scott showed me just how beautiful the blue-hour can be. That 45-60 minute period after the sun goes down is a great time to capture some long-exposure shots.

Scott suggested we get some images here (Colter Bay) to possibly use as foreground for the Milky-Way shots we would capture from Signal Mountain that night. We stood on this beach in the dark, cameras on tripods as we tried to capture the image we wanted. The photo (above) is deceptive in that it appears to still be fairly light out which is what happens with a long-exposure shot. In fact it was almost too dark for me to see the stump in front of me without my headlamp.

A few minutes later we drove south and then west along Jackson Lake and just past Signal Mountain lodge turned left on Signal Mountain Road. It’s about a five-mile, 20 minute, 1000 foot climb of switchbacks to an observation area at the top of the mountain. Set far apart from any other mountain peak Signal Mountain provides some breathtaking views of the Teton mountain range, Jackson Lake and the flat glacial plains below. There is a parking lot with restrooms and picnic table. From there we had a short climb up the trail using our flashlights to navigate by as we entered the observation area. Using headlamps we set up our camera equipment and camp chairs.

We started shooting just after 11:00pm facing south with the Milky-Way arching across the sky from the north (behind us) over the top of us with the thicker part of the formation above and in front of us to the south.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Signal Mountain observation area (elev. 7900ft)

(above photo) Night view from the top of Signal Mountain. You can barely see the wooden rail that surrounds the viewing area. The lights from the Jackson area are in the distance and lights from traffic on the Jackson-Moran highway stretch for miles. We saw falling stars, bright planets (Mars and Saturn) and aircraft moving across the sky. It was cold up here at almost 8000 feet even though I had several layers of clothing on (long sleeve t-shirt, light weight hoodie, fleece jacket and wind breaker) I was wishing I had brought my down coat.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Milky-Way with a bright Mars shining to the left of Milky-Way

I brought two cameras with me on this trip. A Nikon D610 with Nikon 14×24 wide-angle lens that I brought for my long-exposure shots and a Sony A7II with 28×70 lens that I prefer using for my daylight landscapes (personal preference because of the smaller size and weight). I didn’t know until I got home that I shot all my night shots in .jpg format instead of raw format. I was mystified at first because I never shoot in .jpg with either camera but figured out that while fumbling around with settings in the dark on the beach at Colter Bay I must have bumped the ‘quality’ button. Because of the compressed format of these images there’s not much I can do with them in post-processing especially if I want to combine one of these Milky-Way shots with one of the Colter Bay blue-hour images. Just glad I used the Sony camera (which was set for raw format) for all my other images.

We shot the Milky-Way until about 2:00am. Those who haven’t shot the Milky-Way as it moves across the night sky should try it sometime. I’m a novice but was lucky to have the opportunity to stand beside and learn from an expert. Three hours of shooting in the dark on top of a mountain can be a wonderful experience. The sound of the wind blowing through the trees. The smells of the forest, mountains and rivers in the night air and good conversation while looking up at the spinning celestial wonders above is one of those things in life that shouldn’t be missed.

At 2:00am we packed up our equipment, climbed into Scott’s truck, kicked the seats back and got a few hours sleep. We left Signal Mountain about 4:45 am and drove back to Mormon Row to shoot the blue-hour and sunrise.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Mormon Row blue-hour 

Back to Mormon Row. arrived at 5:30 am. Not as many clouds in the sky this morning so we weren’t sure what kind of sunrise we would get. A few other photographers showed up as we waited for the sunrise. Sunrise happened around 6:00am.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – John Moulton Barn (second day)

(Above photo) I always enjoy watching the first light of the morning sun hit the tops of the Tetons and warm up the surrounding area. The mountains are a perfect back-drop for the old barn. John Moulton’s barn is built of logs and was built sometime between 1908 and 1916.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – John Moulton House

John Moulton’s house sits just to the south of the barn on the homestead and has pink-tinted stucco walls. It was built around 1938 and replaced the original house. I enjoyed the play of warm light filtering through the trees onto the front of the house. Turned the pink to almost a peach-color.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Thomas Alma Moulton barn

Farther to the south is John Moulton’s brother’s homestead. This is another popular barn to photograph. The Mormon Row area is so popular that the historical district put a restroom near by to accommodate the needs of the thousands of photographers and tourists that flock to this site every year.

After some shots of this barn we drove over to Black Tail Ponds located on the opposite side of the highway from Antelope Flats.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Black Tail Ponds overlook

Black Tail Ponds overlook is just west of the Highway. It’s on a bench overlooking a lush area of trees, grass, willows and beaver ponds. Prime habitat for wildlife. I have seen Elk, Moose and bear in this location. There are several companys that run wildlife safari’s out of Jackson. One of them was at this location letting there clients take turns looking through a spotting scope they had setup. The scope has an attachment that fits your mobile phone and enables you to take photos using the powerful lens of the spotting scope. While we were there we watched a young bull moose chasing a cow moose out of the tree line and through the willows and ponds.

We then went north a short drive up the highway to Schwabacher Landing where we were the day before.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Schwabacher Landing (second day)

Very little in the way of clouds gives the scenes a slightly different look then the shots from yesterday. This scene (above) is several hundred yards from the parking area. There is a path from here that leads to a beaver pond that is also very scenic.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Beaver pond (second day)

Got some good mountain reflection in the water this day and the few clouds moving through added interest to the scene.

From Schwabacher Landing we got back out on the highway drove south and turned to go through the unincorporated town of Moose Wyoming and through the south entrance into Grand Teton National Park.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Just past the entrance to the park we turned right to check out the Chapel of the Transfiguration. I have shot this beautiful little chapel many times in every season. It is quite picturesque with the back drop of the Teton mountains and has lots of history. Always worth stopping here when in the area.

We drove on to Jenny Lake but with its popularity and all the renovation construction going on, it’s almost impossible to find parking during mid-day. Today was no exception so we decided to head into Jackson to grab some lunch. By now, because of lack of sleep we were getting very tired and pulled over into a rest-area near the Taggart/Bradley lakes trailhead. We found some shade and with windows open to get a nice cross-breeze napped for a while.

After our nap we drove to Jackson via Teton Park Road, then Moose-Wilson Road, saw some deer and then a young grizzly wearing a tracking collar crossed the road in front of us. We also checked out the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve.

In Jackson after grabbing a bite to eat we took some time and walked through four of the many art galleries. When finished with this inspirational tour, Scott bought us some ice cream at Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream. Their Key-Lime ice-cream is fantastic!

After leaving Jackson, Scott asked me if I knew about the old homestead used as one of the ranches in the movie ‘Shane’. I hadn’t so we drove out to Kelly and then up the hill to check out what was left of the ranch. We explored further up the road and stopped at a turnout and an overlook.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Lower Slide Lake

Lower Slide Lake (above photo) sits in this little valley and is a natural made reservoir. It was created when the Gros Ventre landslide of 1925 dammed the Gros Ventre River. It’s hard to miss the beautiful colors of the Red Hills overlooking the lake.

With plenty of time still on our hands we drove back out towards Moran and took a look at the old Cunningham Cabin. At this point we were growing tired again so found some shade down on the Snake River at a put-in point used by rafting companies and slept some more. Nothing better than being lulled to sleep by the breezes rustling the leaves in the trees and the sound of rushing waters from the river. We drove from there to Colter Bay, checked out the marina and surrounding area then hiked a trail which took us around the shores of the bay. Then on to Jenny Lake / Leigh Lake area. On the way there we stopped at the Mountain View Turnout which has a view looking south down the valley and the Cathedral Group of the Tetons. We decided this would be the place we would shoot the Milky-Way from this night. A photographer we had met at Mormon Row that morning joined us while we shot the Milky-Way as it moved from left to right on the horizon (our perspective – earth is turning to the left).

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Milky-Way from the Mountain View turnout.

Again it was beautiful but cold as we all stood together visiting, wearing head lamps, layered clothing and snacking. We shot the night sky from about 10:30pm to around 12:30am.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Milky-Way over the edge of the Cathedral Group of Tetons.

Then Scott and I loaded up, said goodbye to the other photographer and headed back to Mormon Row to rest for a few hours with the intention of shooting the sunrise at Schwabacher Landing.

This second day was a good day, fun although a day with very few clouds. Great for shooting milky-way astrophotography but not so much for sunrises/sunsets. When we arrived at Mormon Row we climbed in the back of Scott’s pickup this time and stretched out on mattress’ in our sleeping bags. Went to sleep shortly after 1:30am hoping the next day would dawn with some clouds in the sky.

We awakened about 4:30am to the sound of rain drops on the camper-shell roof and the first thing Scott said was, ‘We got our clouds!’

We quickly got our gear together and drove over toward Schwabacher Landing. The clouds were looking pretty darn awesome over the mountains, no light on them yet. At the last-minute Scott suggested we stop at Glacier View Turnout first, set up and see what happens. And then…magic happened! What we experienced next took our breath away!!


Photo by: Marc Bowen – Teton sunrise

A glorious Teton Sunrise! This was such a special and magical moment. As we stood there and watched the light hit the tops of the mountains the colors were soft and subtle in the beginning but then the yellows and the oranges started appearing in the clouds above and mountains below and the view just kept getting better and better.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Flaming skies

It looked to me as if the sky was on fire. We were amazed and humbled by the sight of so much majesty!

After about 10-15 minutes of shooting from Glacier View Turnout we quickly loaded back up in the truck and drove down the hill to Schwabacher Landing. There were dozens of photographers on the river just as amazed by the sight we had beheld as we were. As we were unloading our gear and heading out along the river a good share of the photographers were leaving allowing us to set up with no one in front of us.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Schwabacher Landing (third day)

The clouds were still amazing even after the orange color had faded away.

As we were standing there with this scene in front of us I visited with a photographer who had come up and setup his camera and tripod next to me. He said he travels here from Texas every year to photograph this area and told me that one time as he stood here a few years back, a rainbow appeared and he was able to get some awesome shots. A short time later while we talked it started to rain a little and then he said excitedly, “Here comes the rainbow!”

Photo by: Marc Bowen

And that’s when God painted a rainbow for me to photograph. It was there between me and the mountain only for a few moments but the timing and placement was perfect. More magic!

After the rainbow disappeared Scott and I walked over to the beaver ponds.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Beaver Pond (third day)

Here the water was calm, there being no wind, creating another beautiful reflection of the mountains on the surface of the water.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Beaver pond and beaver lodge

We finished up here and headed down the highway to the Snake River overlook to see how things looked from there.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Snake River overlook (third day)

The bits of sunlight filtering through the rain clouds gave us another great photo opportunity.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Ansel Adams was here

This scene (above) made famous by Ansel Adams.

I learned a lot on this trip. I learned that fun times can be had photographing most of the day and night with little thought of food or sleep. I learned that ‘Blue Hour’ is basically the twilight hour before sunrise and after sunset and that the Milky-Way is an exceptionally beautiful thing to watch over a period of several hours as our planet spins within it. Makes me think about all those other planets and solar systems out there and how we mortals on this planet and those on other planets in other solar systems are staring with wonderful awe up into this same Milky-Way. Makes a person’s problems seem very small and opens the mind to some wondrous possibilities. If a night or two on top of a mountain under the stars can expand the mind and bring peace as well as wonder to the soul, who wouldn’t love it. I for one, am better for the experience.




Hiking Table Mountain’s Face Trail

By Marc Bowen


Hike to Table Mountain summit using the Face Trail

  • Distance: (from trailhead to summit and back) 9.2 miles R/T
  • Trailhead elevation: 6963 ft
  • Summit elevation: 11,106 ft
  • Elevation gain: 4143 ft
  • Difficulty: very strenuous


So there is a background story for this hike. My daughter is one of the leaders at her girls camp this year and every year they split up the girls into different groups, each group doing a different hike. These hikes have varying degrees of difficulty. One group hikes Lower Palisades Lake Trail (easy), another group hikes up Darby Canyon (moderate), another Devils Stairs (strenuous) and another Table Mountain (very strenuous). My daughter was one of the leaders for the group heading up Table Mountain and asked me if I would help. She had been to the top of Table Mountain several years ago but this would be my first time and I was excited to go.


Getting to the Table Mountain Trailhead

From the town of Driggs Idaho drive about seven miles up Ski Hill Road then turn right on Teton Canyon Road. This road is unpaved most of its four-plus miles. I’ve driven up this road multiple times and it always has its share of wash-boards and pot-holes but it is a wide two-lane road and definitely drivable in a car. There are several camp grounds and a Boy Scout camp along the way. The road crosses two bridges. The first bridge is within the first mile up the canyon. About four miles in and just before the second bridge is the trailhead for the Huckleberry Trail which follows the North Fork of Teton Creek most of the way to Table Mountain.

The Huckleberry Trail is the longer route, a little over 7 miles out to the summit as opposed to the Face Trail, 4.6 miles. It may be the longer route but it is considered an easier hike because of the gradual increase in elevation.

So it turned out that the Huckleberry Trail was closed because of washouts and deep snow. As a result we were all to meet at the Face Trail trailhead at 6:30am.  To get to the Face Trail trailhead you keep driving and almost immediately around the next bend you cross a one-lane bridge to a parking lot and restroom. Teton Canyon Road ends here. There are two trailheads off this parking area. The main one to the right of the restroom is hard to miss. The large sign declares this as the South Teton Trail and leads to Devils Stairs and Alaska Basin (See photo below).

Photo by: Marc Bowen

This (above photo) is the trail I used a week ago to get to the Devil’s Stairs trail. For more info on that hike go to Devil’s Stairs Trail

The Face Trail sign is small and not easily seen and takes off just to the left of the restroom (see below).

Photo credit: copyright Annes Travels, 2012

I didn’t get a photo of this sign (above) so I posted Anne’s.


Huckleberry Trail or Face Trail?

Before making a decision as to which trail to use there are a few things to consider. The Forest service posted a sign not recommending the Face Trail. The Huckleberry Trail is a maintained trail and a less strenuous hike. So if you’re content hiking 14 miles round trip on a moderately strenuous trail then that would be a good choice. You could take the Huckleberry Trail out and the Face Trail back but I guarantee that your joints, feet and toes will hate coming down that way. This trail is extremely steep, with loose rock and dirt much of the time. This creates the perfect scenario for losing your footing. My trekking poles saved me many times from falling and I saw more than one hiker hit the ground hard. My choice would be to go up the Face Trail and return on the Huckleberry trail. Taking that route you would have different scenery out and back, shorten the hike from 14 miles to a little over 11 miles AND get the hardest part of the hike out of the way first. But on this day, because of the Huckleberry Trail closure we didn’t have but one choice. Face Trail all the way.

We started our hike about 7am and just a few yards in we immediately entered a dense area of vegetation with trees, grass and brush encroaching the trail on both sides. This is bear country so I had my bear spray and we made plenty of noise. Within a few 100 yards the trail begins to climb very steeply.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

On one of many rest stops I took the above photo. The trailhead and Teton Creek campground were almost directly below us. I could also see Driggs and the Teton Valley in the distance.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Besides being really steep the trail is very rocky, some of it loose rock. The wild flowers were blooming on this lower portion of the trail.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

About a mile up the trail I took the above photo from a view-point just off the trail. This is looking up the canyon along South Teton Creek. The Alaska Basin Trail follows this creek up the canyon and eventually into the Basin Lakes. In the far distance I could see the Devil’s Stairs area and the beginnings of what is called The Teton Shelf. The rock formation called The Wedge can be seen just slightly above and right of the middle of the photo. Also Mt. Meek is the triangle-shaped peak just left of the middle of the photo.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

There are a few pockets of aspen in a few areas where the slopes are not quite as steep.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

It was a nice change of pace to walk into this beautiful grove of aspens where the trail leveled out for a few hundred yards.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

One last push up steep trail before the easier slopes of the meadows. In the photo above you can see the change in elevation. The Driggs area was plain to see from this perspective and Teton Canyon Road coming in from the valley.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – looking back down the trail

A little over two miles up the trail and about 8200 feet in elevation we entered the meadows area.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Teton Shelf in the distance

Where the snow has melted there were masses of wild flowers growing. These meadows will be full of color in a few weeks.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – View (left to right) of Table Mountain, Middle and South Tetons

The views are absolutely breathtaking in these open meadows but we really got excited when we could finally see our destination in the distance. Top left corner of the above photo is Table Mountain (elev. 11,106 ft). It’s name pretty obvious from its shape. We could also see the Middle Teton (elev. 12,805) and the South Teton (elev. 12,514)  looming up over the ridge to the right of Table Mountain.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

At about three miles from the trailhead the trail forks. Left takes you down the Huckleberry Trail. Right takes you on up the trail to Table Mountain. There were large snow fields in this area with the trail buried under 6-8 inches of snow.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – some deep snow covering large areas of trail

There was a stretch where we couldn’t even see the trail because of the deep snow. We knew what direction we needed to go so could guess about where the trail had to be. A few days before this hike I downloaded a new app to my phone called GAIA GPS. GPS apps work offline as long as your phone has a charge. It was my first hike using this app and I was able to see on the map where the trail was under the snow and where my position was in relation to the trail. Then I could choose whether to follow the trail across the snow or skirt the snow fields knowing I could get back onto the trail when there was better footing.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – view of Table Mountain, The Grand and Middle Teton

Finally above tree-line there is a long shelf about a mile long leading up to Table Mountain.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

To the left of the shelf you can see down into the North Teton Creek drainage and the area where the Huckleberry Trail switchbacks up and over the ridge in the middle distance.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

To the right of the shelf I could see back towards Driggs and down into Teton Canyon.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Another view (above) looking back down the trail and shelf. We chose to rest and eat our lunch at this point. Everyone but me chose to leave their packs here at this spot. It’s nice not to be carrying any more weight then necessary when making the last steep scramble to the summit. I chose to keep my pack on only because I have a Capture-Pro clip attached to my backpack strap which holds my camera securely and allows me to have both hands free to use trekking poles or use hand holds on a rock face while bouldering or climbing.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

Another view (above photo) looking down the trail just before making the final climb to the summit.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

From this position (above photo) near the top I could see Battleship Mountain (upper left corner), elevation 10,679 and Mt. Jedediah Smith above and behind, elevation 10,610.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

In the above photo part of Buck Mountain (elev. 11,939) can be seen in the upper left corner and in the upper right corner are Mt. Meek, Mt. Jedediah Smith and Battleship Mountain. As you can see there is still plenty of snow up this high.

Photo by: Marc Bowen – Summit!

From the summit of Table Mountain I could see a LOT of country! Looking east (above photo) towards Driggs and in the distance the St. Anthony Sand Dunes and on the far horizon over 150 miles away is the Lost River mountain range. Also I could see hikers headed back down the trail (lower left corner of above photo).

                              Photo by: Marc Bowen – Upper reaches of Cascade Canyon                                                   

There were absolutely gorgeous views (above photo) looking northeast down into the top of Cascade Canyon. I could even see out into the Jenny Lake area in Grand Teton National Park. Mount St. John (elev. 11,430) can be seen on the far side of the canyon and Mount Owen (elev. 12,927) on the near right side.


Photo by: Marc Bowen 

It was bright and sunny on top but the wind was blowing so hard up there at times it felt like it would blow us off the mountain top.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

My daughter posed in front of The Grand when the wind wasn’t blowing quite so hard. While standing on a mountain summit there is certainly a feeling of not only being on top of the world but a sense of freedom too.

Photo by: Nicole Klingler

I handed my camera to my daughter for her to take this photo of me standing on the summit looking at the massive face of The Grand (elev. 13,776)  seems so close (actually about a mile away).

The hike back was anticlimactic and despite the steep hike back down the Face Trail (which I would never recommend), and the repurcussions, i.e., sore body, aching joints, blistered feet, bruised toes and lost toenail, I look at this experience as one I will never regret. Some may ask me why I would put my body through that much stress to climb to the top of a mountain and I might answer, because the views are better up there. Why would I push my body to utter exaustion from hiking to the end of a long trail? I might also answer, to see where it goes. (Actually there are many answers and many reasons. I could and should probably write a blog post about those reasons someday). And Maybe I do these things just to feel the way a marathon runner or triathlete feels when they cross the finish line.  OR  famous mountaineer George Mallory’s reason for climbing the highest mountain in the world…. Continue reading “Hiking Table Mountain’s Face Trail”