Paintbrush Canyon/Cascade Canyon 21M Loop, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

Max Elevation:  10720'     Elevation Gain:  4900'

Scrolling Photographs of our Hike          Alexandra's Panoramas
July 23, 2014 -  Of all my adventures this year, this was THE BEST, without a doubt.
A grand day hike into the heart of the Tetons often left me breathless and thinking
WOW.  A climb to the highest divide offered us a panorama of mountains I don't
think I have ever witnessed before - ever - with all my climbing and summits.  It is
a place I cannot wait to return to, and we're already planning a return next year via
the Teton Crest Trail and a guided climb of the might Grand Teton.

I had the great pleasure of the company of my dear friend Alexandra on this one.
We set out from the trailhead at String Lake above Jenny Lake in Grand Teton
National Park at about 0630 under mild cloud cover and a salmon-colored sunrise.
The climb up Paintbrush Canyon was steady, but gained altitude quickly as we
passed some returning hikers.  Armed with pepper spray we were prepared for every
contingency in the way of moose or bear encounters, but our endless conversation
guaranteed that anything wild would make tracks and leave the mountains all to
ourselves.  Aside from a possible ungulate on the divide and some marmots and a 
pika we were the wildest things moving up there on this day.

The clouds cleared as we climbed up across snowfield after snowfield.  Neither of us
brought an axe, but it would have been a good thing as some of the slopes were
of such a gradient that a mistep could have led to a long quick slide down into talus
at the bottom.  The snow was just rotten enough that we could make good purchase
without much concern for slipping.  The trail was well defined but we occasionally
circumvented lingering snow to avoid extra effort and risk.  Near the divide we 
needed to scramble around a steep remaining field of snow on some crumbling 
terrain to reach the top.  Anyone in a hurry would miss some great shots, so we
paused often to preserve the inspiring scenery with our cameras, as you see with
the scrolling photos above.

It took six hours to climb and four to descend back to the start.  I would like to have
remained longer, set up a tent amid the cushion flowers, and just absorbed the
views into my soul.  But alas, it was a hike afterall.  We descended into the head
of the cirque of Cascade Canyon along a long engineered series of switchbacks
down to Lake Solitude.  Alex and I both were shocked with the extreme amount of 
trail construction that went into blasting out a path on this boulder-strewn steep 
terrain.  It gives me all the more motivation to contribute to trail construction and 
maintenance needs back home.

At the lake were quite a few tourists that had hiked or were guided up the canyon
to taste the high country.  From this venue we could clearly view the back side
of the Grand Teton and its supporting entourage of Mount Owen and Teewinot
Mountain.  Every turn stopped me to take another picture.  The views were so
magnificent and in your face that you couldn't help but stop to marvel.  There were
a few slide areas where avalanches had slid across Cascade Creek to destroy
trees on the opposite side of the creek.  One could only imagine the force and
magnitude of these slides when stopping to look at the fractured trees, some 
over two feet through, that were shattered and strewn atop the deep snow that 
remained. An extremely impressive show of force.

The hike down Cascade was steady, passing literally hundreds of tourists using the
trails to create memories of their own of this beautiful place.  Most had arrived at 
the trailhead in shuttle boats across Jenny Lake to pursue varying degrees of 
effort on the trail up to the lake.  Alex and I walked a mile and a half along Jenny
Lake to return to where we began at String Lake, through an area that had felt the
wrath of a fire in the forest.  One of the boatsmen alerted us to look for an osprey
nest in one of the snags, which we found and were able to watch momma osprey 
feeding her fledgling chicks a bit before we concluded our hike.

It was a grand day, a most memorable adventure. I am energized to fill more of
my recreational pursuits with this type of adventure - with Alexandra and other of
my friends of the same spirit.  Ahhhh....

Specific Details of the Hike
Backpacker Magazine's Number 9 of the ten hardest dayhikes in America.
The Paintbrush Divide trail makes up the first part of a great loop hike that carries you across the Divide (10,720 feet), passing Lake Solitude as it winds back down to the Cascade Canyon. It's best to go up the Paintbrush Canyon first because it allows turning around if the ice/snow at the divide is a problem. Also, it is steeper which is more pleasant to go up than down, and gets the hard part over with while you are still fresh. A snowfield makes the trail a bit tricky as you cross the Divide until early August. After August it is easily traversed without an ice axe; trekking poles are always useful on extreme day hikes and make the small snow excursions even easier but it might not hurt to have an ice axe along if you go earlier than August.

In Cascade and Paintbrush Canyons you will see boulder fields and subalpine forests of Douglas Fir, Engelmann Spruce, Limber and White Bark Pines; Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels, American Pikas, and Yellow-bellied Marmots may be seen in the area. Higher up you’ll find the alpine country, with its talus slopes, glaciers, and globe flowers, Glacier Lilies, and Alpine Forget-me-nots, the park flower.

Thunderstorms are common in the afternoon for most of the summer. For that reason, it's advisable to get an early start and try to cross the open divide by noon, the top of a mountain is not a place to be in a Teton thunderstorm.

From the parking lot take the east side of the String Lake forest trail and cross the bridge between String and Leigh Lakes. At 1.6 miles in you will turn right on the Paintbrush Canyon Trail and begin a moderate climb of 4.6 miles where you will pass Holly Lake.

Along the way, the spectacular views of the steep canyon walls will frame the panoramic views below of Leigh and Jackson Lakes. Small meadows contain many wildflowers including the Indian Paintbrush, the namesake for the canyon,

Paintbrush Divide, elevation 10,645 ft, is 2.4 miles above Holly Lake. The views from the pass are breath taking, Mt Moran to the north, and the rock needles of Cathedral Group to the south is a sight to behold.

The west side of the pass the trail winds down 2.4 miles and drops 1,700 foot of elevation and can be extremely dangerous early in the year due slow melting of the snow. You traverse broad switchbacks to reach Lake Solitude at elevation 9035 ft. Lake Solitude is a small alpine lake perched in the steep-walled basin forming the upper end of Cascade Canyon. Lake Solitude is a beautiful spot to spend some time if you have any.

The trail from Lake Solitude down to the Cascade Canyon provides beautiful views of the Grand Teton and the surrounding mountains. From Lake Solitude, you'll walk 7.2 miles, dropping 2,250 ft. along the way to the bottom of Cascade Canyon. Heading down through this classic glacial valley provide views of Mt Owen (12,928 ft), the Grand Teton (13,770 ft), Teewinot Mountain (12,325 ft), that are inspiring. The trail gently drops through meadows, forest, and ponds while cascading streams flow from the canyon sides, this area is a great place to spot a moose, in August, wild raspberries and thimble berries grow.

Just before Inspiration Point overlooking Jenny lake, a trail to the left, not shown on some maps, will lead straight to the String Lake parking lot, bypassing the Jenny Lake boat dock and the most popular hiking destination spot in Grand Teton Park, Hidden Falls. However, many hikers and backpackers like to take the boat ride across Jenny Lake and spare themselves a couple miles of hiking.

If you choose to complete the loop by hiking the trail around the northwest shore of Jenny Lake that leads back to the String Lake parking area. This portion of the trail is gently rolling, and about 2 miles long. If you plan on taking the boat be sure to check to see how late the boat will be making pickups at Cascade Canyon before you start your hike.

This 21-mile-hike, is up one neat steep canyon to a mountain divide, down to an alpine lake nestled with views of the three Tetons, then further down a stream-riveted canyon back to the beginning. Not only is this the best scenery in the park, but also, this hike is one of the best rigorous day hike loops anywhere

This great hiking loop will take most experienced hikers about 7-10 hours, assuming acclimation to altitude and reasonable physical conditioning. Plan, use caution, bring layered clothing, and get advanced information about snow/ice on the divide, thunderstorm activity, and bears.