Summer in the Tetons

People who travel have discovered why Wyoming’s Jackson Hole is their choice to stay close to home and enjoy a complete package of summer activities – tolerant to the young yet challenging to older travelers who are intrigued by the history of this magnificent wonder.

For the young at heart and those who stand in amazement, the landscape seems to suddenly and abruptly appear from nowhere as jagged 13,000-foot high peaks composed of hardcore rock attract talented and famous mountain climbers from around the world. They come in droves to practice, tone their muscles and sharpen their skills for the tough ones, such as Mt. Everest and the Matterhorn.

In the late 1920s, a quiet but talented music teacher and saxophone player named Glenn Exum, from Pocatello, Idaho, changed forever the beauty of climbing in Jackson Hole and the wildness of Grand Teton National Park.

He developed the Glenn Exum School of Climbing, now located at the base of the famous Teton range on the edge of Jenny Lake. Visitors there can enjoy the history of climbing at the museum, touch base with a park ranger and sign up for a lesson in climbing. The more skilled can register at the climber’s shack to do some serious climbing. Only the most advanced and skilled climbers are allowed to climb the more treachous pitches of sheer ice and slippery rock.

From the valley floor, you can scan the north face of the Grand Teton, with verticals, drops and pitches of 2,000 feet. It requires the utmost skill to reach the summit.

It is here that you can hear the tales of the great climbers who carved and pioneered climbing routes in ascending these great peaks. And, to those who come to the valley and follow in their footsteps, the many giants of climbing such as Paul Petzoldt, Michael Corbett and Yvon Chouinard, need no introduction.

Although climbing may attract the more daring, the Teton mountain range has over 150 miles of canyon trails, lake and moraine trails and national forests that surround the park’s boundary.

Beginning at the valley floor at 5,500 feet elevation, there are three special hikes for the casual visitor to enjoy – Amphitheatre, Solitude and Holly Lake.

The Amphitheatre Lake trail sits on the face of Teewinot Mountain and has an eastern exposure to the sun, so it’s warmer as you tackle the 22 switchbacks on your way to Surprise and Amphitheatre Lake and to your destination of about about 5 miles. The gradient, or slope, is demanding but gradual as the trail winds upward through a garden of wildflowers to the lakes.

The Solitude Lake Trail, a gradually ascending, all-day hike of about 20 miles (round trip), probably is the most popular. As you make your way upward in the deeply carved, U-shaped glacier canyon to an elevation of 10,500 feet at the lake, the visual geologic evidence will take you back in time and tell you the complete story. Scour marks on the canyon walls to your left and right give a clue of the height of ancient glaciers that preceded us 10,000 years ago.

Not to be outdone, the canyon puts on a show of plant succession, from the valley floor upward, of flowers and plant life during the summer months of June, July and August that have no equal in North America. Each blossoms and dies quickly in a frost-free season that could be less than 30 days long.

Small uncrowded camp sites are available for visitors who plan overnights and longer two-day trips. Carry a rainproof slicker and an extra warm sweater because the cirque-formed lakes of glaciers still may be frozen in ice and snow through the short summer months.

Three- and four-day pack trips into the vast wilderness areas that border the park and the thoroughfare country in Yellowstone to the north is a prize trip for the young and those who desire to explore by horseback. That’s native cutthroat country so be sure to include your favorite fly rod.

There are great float trips that allow the visitor to enjoy the waterways when visiting the Hole. The visitor can chose to use a commercial guided float trip or bring their own canoe, rubber raft or personal equipment.

From the northern launch site at the east gate and Moran to Moose is about six hours by floating and then you see the entire range. For more thrills and whitewater, head south of the town of Jackson and downstream on the Hoback River, which is in a class all of its own.