For all you endurance geeks out there (myself included), Matt Hart has set the standard for a new trail running challenge in Grand Teton National Park. Seems just running up the Grand Teton just isn’t enough anymore.
I recently moved here to Driggs from Seattle to work with DreamChasers and ultra legend, Lisa Smith-Batchen. I’m helping them run training camps, coaching athletes and we’re opening an endurance house. The day I got here I started looking at maps for a route to run around the Tetons. It just sounded like an awesome thing to do and quite honestly I was expecting to hear about an established route that all the hardcore sect run. If there is one, I haven’t heard or read anything about it.
So I sat down with Jay Batchen, the race director for the Grand Teton Races to figure out a logical and fun loop. Originally we planned to run this on July 4th. But the snow level would have made it more of a slog than a run. It was now a waiting game. When will that snow melt enough!? I was leaving for pretty much the whole month of August for other adventures (joining a friend for 281 miles of the Appalachian Trail during his speed record attempt and the Transrockies 6 day staged race through Colorado). So my time was limited and I had actually sort of written it off. That is until I got a good look at the snow in Alaska Basin from the saddle between Peaked Mountain and Mary’s Nipple. My mind started racing again. should I do this solo? The Tetons are rugged terrain that I was very unfamiliar with, plus there are big bears out there. But the draw of the Tetons outweighed logical thought process I suppose. A Saturday run up Table Mountain gave me that final view into the basin… it was ready to be run. The table run also solidified my crew for the recon run I talked them into doing the very next day.
The scouting run on Sunday went well and the true loop was solidified. With String Lake being the easiest access, you basically hike or walk the few miles of trail to the real loop at the north west corner of Jenny Lake. This photo shows where it hits the loop, basically where the Valley Trail joins with Cascade Canyon Trail. Right uphill is Hidden Falls and up a bit more is Inspiration Point. The route heads up Cascade Canyon to Hurricane Pass. It then drops you down into Alaska Basin for another climb up to Buck Mountain Pass. Out to Static Divide and down into Death Canyon to the Valley Trail, that spits you out the road at Lupine Meadows parking lot. It then picks up the Valley View Trail again after about a mile of dirt road all the way back along the west side of Jenny Lake to where you started.
After the first run which we did in 9hrs 10mins I made these notes in my head:
- 9.8 miles to hurricane pass – in under 2hrs?
- 13.4 miles buck pass – in under 3hrs?
- 17.88 miles death canyon patrol cabin
- 30.31 to lupine parking lot
- 33.67 total w/8,165 feet of gain
After this scouting run I had just 2 days until I left for the Appalachian Trail. I went back and forth on whether this would be stupid to try and do fast. I wasn’t rested, I was less than a week from running 281 miles in 6 days and I had a few ‘niggles’ that were bothering me too.
4am wakeup alarm. I almost didn’t get out of bed. Now I had bears on my mind too. I had mountain biked the Aspen Trail the day before with Lisa and her surgeon friend who sees a lot of the accidents that happen in the Tetons. She told Lisa, “make sure he takes bear spray”. This was running through my mind over and over again. after calling myself some nasty names I was up and by 6:20am I was walking from the String Lake parking lot. My inpatients made me run a lot of this “approach”. When I got there I started the watch and took this photo – 6:52:04 on the watch. I ran up past Inspiration Point and into Cascade Canyon towards my destination – Hurricane Pass in under 2hrs. It took us 2hrs 45min two days prior. I ran steady but it’s hard to sing and run I think. I was jumpy about the bears still but figured once I got up to Hurricane I wouldn’t have to worry about it again… well until maybe Death Canyon.
I stayed steady, not pushing too hard on my way up to Hurricane. The altitude still gets me over 8,000ft (I moved here from Seattle sea level). As I was getting closer I realized I could make it to the pass in under 2hrs. I ran pretty much all the last few switchbacks just to assure I would. I made it to the 10,300 foot pass in 1hr 58mins. I was on track and motivated now. I love running up that high. It’s a good type of pain.
Now some fun downhill! The loop then drops into Alaska Basin. It’s so beautiful in there. However the snow makes it tough and slow going at times. On the scouting run we had taken 1hr 17mins to get to Buck Mountain Pass from Hurricane. I figured an hour would be good. Running on the snow cups I pulled the camera out and pointed it backwards as you can see in the video – right after I hit the stop button in front of that rock…I fell in up to my waist. I was lucky not to get hurt. The risks of running in remote terrain alone ran through my head, but I though “enough of that, just run”. It’s best if you are going for time to just focus on the running anyway, but I’m a dork and I wanted some vid and photos of the effort. This section was very snowy. I dropped too low into Alaska Basin a few times because the trail was simply covered and I could not see it.
The climb around Static is one of the best parts of this amazing run. It’s rugged and rocky and drops off to Death, literally, to Death Canyon to the south. I reached the patrol cabin in 3hrs 40mins. It was starting to get hot. Out of Death Canyon and on to my least favorite part of this loop – the Valley Trail to Taggart Lake. To make matters worse I was starting to feel very dehydrated as I wasn’t drinking my Nuun.
Cruising north on Valley View, Bradley to Garnett and Lupine Meadows parking lot. Yuck, it’s about a mile of dirt road out Lupine, then back onto Valley View. I cruised in from there in about 25:51 to the finish dodging many a tourist on the west side of Jenny Lake. Not knowing the area I thought I had finished at a trail junction that was the wrong one. I ran up and down the trail twice. I wasted a bit more time talking to myself and then continued on eventually finding the same starting point arriving at 1:21pm. Lisa had guessed 7hrs 45min, so I was stoked to be done 6hrs 29mins; non-stop clock, self supported with no drops. Now…Teton psychos and superfreak athletes – beat that time!
Next I might put together a bigger loop extending further north and south… but we’ll see. First I have to keep up the the Wasatch speed goat for a week!
Matt Hart’s Blog