Lake Taminah Campsite to Taggart Lake Parking Area
Light began to filter into the tent around 6 am, and I peered outside anxiously hoping for clearing weather and a nice day ahead. Light drizzle had fallen throughout the night, but now it seemed to have stopped. Encouraged by this, I pulled on my boots which were still soaked from yesterday, left the tent, and tentatively surveyed the situation. To the left of our front door (east) was the lip of the glacial stairstep which impounded Lake Taminah, and beyond this lip the canyon dropped away into a sea of white clouds topped by thin mist. Clouds filled the valley of Jackson's Hole and mists swirled upward to the edge of the step, evaporating into the thin air at our elevation of 9,600'. The sun was still beneath the horizon of clouds, but the thin veil of light spreading up the canyon and over the peaks to our west spoke of its inevitable rise.
Jim would surely want to see the sunrise, so a few words spoken through the tent flap was all it took to rouse him from his cozy nest inside his sleeping bag. While he made ready to leave the tent, I hurried with my camera to the south of our sheltered grove of trees, and out onto the polished slabs of granite gneiss where unobstructed views of Lake Taminah and Mount Wister to the southwest greeted me. The sky above was cloudless and a dark blue and the day promised to be a good one.
Back at the campsite Jim was out and about with his camera, and we both prepared for the moment when the sun would burst above the blanket of clouds in the valley. When it did, the sight was spectacular, and the entire canyon was soon bathed in the soft golden morning alpenglow that greets the sun and the human intruders in this high alpine sanctuary. Mount Wister was especially dramatic as the sun bathed its east face in the glow of its reflection.
When we finally turned our attention back to the valley, the sun had risen above the clouds and we could see a sea of white extending far to the east, covering all of Jackson's Hole and the Gros Ventres Mountains to the east. Only the Wind River Range nearly 75 miles east rose above the blanket. It's on days like this when a first-time visitor to the Tetons would drive down U.S. 26 from Moran Junction and wonder what all the fuss over the alpine beauty of the Teton Range was all about. After all, there aren't any mountains to speak of, just this valley filled with gray gloomy clouds. But Jim and I reveled in the joy that hikers in the high country feel when they stand high above the clouds and are one with the high peaks surrounding them on all sides.
In the midst of our excitement over the new dawn and the promise of better weather, we had forgotten that all of our gear was soaked from the day before, and that we still had the challenge of picking our way down through the headwall that lay beyond the edge of our world at the outlet of Lake Taminah. Shoshoko Falls tumble down that sheer face. We had studied the headwall and the falls from the valley floor the previous Thursday afternoon, and determined that the best route to follow would be one that contoured north from our campsite, away from the falls, to intersect the high talus fields just beneath the cliffs of Nez Perce. Then we would make our way east and then southeast down through the steep talus to the floor of Avalanche Canyon. We were told by rangers at park headquarters in Moose that there was a faint trail marked by cairns through this talus. So, we returned to the tent, removed all our wet gear from inside, and spread it out on the rocks to let the sun dry it out.
While the gear was drying, we returned to the outlet of Lake Taminah for more pictures, now that the sun was higher above the horizon and the familiar "Teton blue"color of the sky created a spectacular backdrop for the alpine scenery. Details of our route around the headwall above Taminah and below Snowdrift were etched clearly in the topography by the low-angle morning light, and a lively discussion ensued between us regarding just where the route lay, did we follow the best course, etc.
Soon we returned to the campsite and snacked on beef jerky, string cheese and granola bars, and washed it down with lemonade. Then we began the task of taking down the tent and packing up our gear. It was 8:00 and time to go, as we were apprehensive about finding the route down the last headwall of the canyon. It was going to be a difficult task, because the canyon below us was still filled with a thick cloudbank, and mist swirled up around us, generally evaporating at our elevation, but threatening to engulf us nonetheless.
There was cleft in the rocks at the eastern edge of our campsite, and I explored it as a potential route down while Jim finished packing, It looked promising, so we hoisted our packs on our backs and threaded our way across the still wet rocks, down through the chute. There was a stand of tall spruce directly ahead and below us, and we reasoned that the slopes must be negotiable there. So we headed off toward the trees. But upon arriving in the grove, it was apparent that the trees were growing at the edge of a vertical cliff with a relief of about 300'.
Shoshoko Falls, shrouded in clouds and mist, blocked our way to the right, so we contoured left (north) and up through wet grass and deadfall in order to gain the rocks and talus that might provide a route down. It was necessary to scramble up about 75' in order to avoid the cliffs, now below us and to our right, and the rocks and talus were slippery. But soon we arrived at the head of a long talus cone which stretched all the way down the steep slope to the southwest. And there was a faint trail marked by a cairn that appeared to lead down through the gravel. Unlike the talus west of Taminah, this talus deposit was finer-grained and supported boot marks, so the trail wasn't too hard to follow. Hiking down the steep scree, we were moving through mist and thin clouds which formed, evaporated, and reformed. We lost the trail from time to time, but always seemed to return to the path.
Lower in the talus field there were ridges of larger boulders leading downslope, with furrows between them about 15' deep. Taller grasses and bushes were growing in these wet furrows, making the trail more difficult to follow. We chose a route that led into the deepest notch of the lowermost part of the talus, and there we finally found the animal trail that led down the axis of Avalanche Canyon. We were soaked by this time, not so much from the misty drizzle, but from the water which clung to the bushes and trees. And the animal trail in the bottom of the canyon was very muddy. So we expected that the rest of the hike would be done in wet boot and wet clothes, even though we were pretty well rainproofed.
Avalanche Canyon was a peaceful place amidst the mist and the wet and the quiet. Stands of very old evergreens along Avalanche Creek, rising high into the clouds, gave a feeling of antiquity to the place. Because this is a trailless canyon, few people venture here. There was abundant evidence of bear, including scat and many boulders which were turned over in a search for grubs. And we fully expected to surprise a moose or two, as the habitat was marshy and seemed to favor these solitary animals. But we never saw a bear or a moose, or any other mammals for that matter. The animal trail was blocked in many places by deadfall, and we had to clamber over many a tree trunk, some of which were almost two feet in diameter. One of my water bottles dislodged from the webbing at the back of my pack during one of these scrambles, and was lost.
The faint trail alternately followed the marshy bottom of the canyon and drier stretches that were higher on the north side of the creek. Eventually we angled farther north and upslope, and gained a bench in polished bedrock at the mouth of the canyon. Avalanche Creek was now below us to our right (south) and we had a welcome view of Taggart Lake to the east and below us about 500'. We paused for some lunch, then resumed our hike in the knowledge that we would soon be resting at the trailhead, then returning to our room at the Pony Express Motel in Jackson to dry out, then going to the Jackson Drug for chocolate shakes, and then to Calico Pizza for something other than beef jerky, string cheese and granola bars.
Soon we were at the junction of the animal trail and the well worn trail that leads northwest from Taggart Lake up across the lateral moraine to Bradley Lake. We began to encounter hikers who were exploring this stretch of the Valley Trail. At the east end of Taggart, we took off some of our rain gear which was thoroughly soaked, took some pictures across Taggart Lake up Avalanche Canyon, then briskly hiked through the Taggart burn and back to the trailhead at the Taggart parking area. Jim rested while I arranged for a ride back to Jenny Lake where we had left our car three days before. By 2:00 the adventure was over, and we would now bask in a feeling of accomplishment and go over and over together the experiences we shared.
February 10, 1997
More photos from Avalanche Canyon Hike by J.R. Meyers
Take part 1 of the Avalanche Canyon hike
Take part 2 of the Avalanche Canyon hike
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