Posted by: runuphill | August 24, 2009

Open-Avalanche Loop

Mount Wister as seen from Taminah Lake (photo from Summitpost)

Mount Wister as seen from Taminah Lake (photo from Summitpost)

August is a good time to have an addiction for the Tetons.  And, what I’ve learned is that your choice of activity is dictated by the weather.  As indicated in my recent blog posting the weather in the Tetons has been strange this August and especially on Saturday/Sunday, when most of my “weekend warrior” skills are ready to be unleashed.  My motivation for a fast Grand Traverse time was severely dampened when Ryan and I went up to the Middle-South saddle 2 weekends ago and found quite a bit of snow and ice.  So, it was time to run rather than climb.

Based on 2 fantastic experiences I had last year on a loop that Matt Hart “created”, which started/finished @ Lupine Meadows, cruised up Cascade, to Hurricane Pass, over to Buck Mtn Pass, down Death Canyon, and then back to Lupine via the Valley Trail (~34 miles, ~7k of vert), it wasn’t hard to sell Mindy on it.  She quickly recruited friends John Coulter and Nancy Russell.  Given that I had done it twice already I decided to avoid the all-too-standard ultra-running tendency of repeating things.  So, I cracked open my a map, opened Google Earth and went to town.  Within a 1/2 hr I had what I thought was a pretty darn good route and within 2 seconds had my buddy Ryan talked into it.

For logistical simplicity it made sense to alter the starting point of Mindy/John/Nancy’s loop to be the same as where Ryan and I would start, the Death Canyon TH.  The loop I had devised for Ryan and I took off heading south on the Valley Trail up and over to Phelps Lake.  It continued South for a bit before taking a right (west-bound) and climbing up Open Canyon to Mt. Hunt Pass.  Ryan and I stayed together until Open Canyon at which point we split up as we were both wanting a run at our own pace.  Once on top of Mt. Hunt Pass the route then contoured to the west and eventually hooked up with the main trail in Granite Canyon.  Several miles later and a bit of climbing was Marion Lake, which was the first of several spectacular swims.  This lake was absolutely stellar!  A few miles later was the top of Death Canyon, a stellar position with jaw-dropping views in all directions.  The Grand Teton is a long ways away and the trail has you staring at it for the next ~8 miles as you run along the Death Shelf Trail.  One very unique thing about this section were all the small streams that were rushing down the mountain side only to immediately drop into sink-holes and vanish.  I pulled water straight from these streams and it was so tasty.


Overview Map. Route is Clockwise. Starting/Finish @ Death Canyon TH. 36 miles, 10,500' gain

Eventually the route dropped into Alaska Basin which is stunning any way you look at it.  Running across it was especially cool.  Then one small climb up to Sunset Lake, followed by another climb up to Hurricane Pass.  It was here that I ran into John and Nancy, studying their map intently and hoping they were on route.  But, no Mindy!  Turns out that the knee injury Mindy had sustained the prior weekend at El Vaquero Loco was really bothering her and she played it safe and decided to cut the run short given that she’ll be doing the Grand Teton 50 in 2 weeks.  She still busted out 19 miles with her usual smile and optimism.  John, Nancy and I chatted for a bit and then went our separate ways.  It was great to see them and they looked to be having fun.  This would also be John’s longest run ever!

Snowdrift Lake, "The Wall" in the background.  (from

Snowdrift Lake, "The Wall" in the background. (from

I dropped down the north side of Hurricane Pass and then left the main trail vectoring directly towards Avalanche Pass.  Avalanche Canyon was a mystery to me at this point, but I was excited for the adventure and knew that I was in for a good time.  And boy was I right!  The view from the pass was amazing with the oh-so-stunning Snowdrift Lake and “The Wall” defining the western side of the canyon.  A bit of boulder hopping and scree and I was at the lake.  I couldn’t resist a swim.  It was amazingly peaceful and you could tell that very few people visit the lake given the long approach.  No sport climbers here!  🙂  Another big descent and I was at Taminah Lake with the beautiful Shoshoko Falls below.  The entire time decending my eyes were drawn up at Wister Peak a beautiful granite formation dominating the southern ridge of the canyon.  I will be back to climb it, guaranteed!

At the top of Shoshoko Falls I spotted a tent and a lone man who was visibly startled to see another person in this remote area.  I made a quizzical look to convey that I was wondering if he had any advice on the proper decent route.  He motioned for me to head to the far northern side of the canyon.  Great advice!  I actually picked up a series of cairns which lead to a small downclimb (5.2? – could have been avoided if necessary) and then more talus & boulder hopping.  It’s a good thing that I love talus!

Eventually I picked up a small trail which got better and better on the long run out to Taggart Lake.  I jumped in the lake to cool off, then kicked it into high gear for the remaining ~5 miles back to the parking lot.  I had a smile on my face the entire day and saw quite a bit of new terrain.  This journey had everything I could hope for in a mountain adventure run.  Days like this make me realize what I really love about running: simplicity, natural beauty, and movement.

Run Details:

To top it all off, Mindy was hanging at the car when I finished and excited to see us all (Nancy and John had just finished as well), and after sharing stories of our experiences of the day we went into Dornans for some tasty food and watched the sun drop behind the peaks.  Ryan showed up and shared equal enthusiasm for the route.  We camped that night at Gros Ventre and then woke up the next morning, grabbed our paddles and made the best of a rainy Sunday by kayaking down the “Alpine section” of the Snake.  The flow was low, but Burrito Hole couldn’t have been more perfect for surfing. 

Yes, our lives are blessed.


  1. 36 miles is just incredible! I could not even lift my fat and lazy body off the couch for such a long walk

  2. […] Teton “Open-Avalanche” Loop Run Pics – Story […]

  3. Ohhhhhh MAN! That trail set the bar way too high. Can’t wait for the next adventure with you Jared. You have a good nose for the jewels!

  4. cool adventure man, see you in a couple of weeks.

    • o.k. so now that I’m feeling great again I want to go back!! That was my longest run as well and the most fun by far!! Thanks for the info, map, etc. It is definitely a great life when you get to be in such beautiful places!!!

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