The Tetons – Paintbrush Divide
Posted by pdittman on September 27th, 2014 in '14 - Grand Tetons/Yellowstone, US, Hiking/Trekking, Vacations

This hike stands out as one of our all-time greats – easily in the top-5. We knew it’d be massive – 17+miles. What we didn’t know and didn’t expect was the beauty, the variety of terrain, the shear awesomeness.

Today’s hike plan was our most ambitious of the week – Paintbrush Divide – a 20 mile loop that followed Paintbrush Canyon deep into the Teton range, crossed over Paintbrush Divide (at 10,700 feet elevation), then followed Cascade Canyon to exit the range, back where we started.   Even though we’d done another near-20 miler earlier in the season, it was ambitious, both for the length, and also for the elevation gain, over 4,200 feet.

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Above the treeline

We got an early start at 7:30 am, with the temperature at just 32 degrees.   Yes, we had to run the defroster in September to clear the windshield!    The Tetons are on the western edge of the timezone, so sunrise/sunset are shifted later (compared to New England).  So, after stopping for a few sunrise photos, we arrived at the trailhead beside Leigh Lake.

Without delay, we packed up and were off on the trail and were treated to an early glimpse of wildlife as we saw a half dozen deer grazing in the woods to the right of the trail. They seemed unfazed by our presence.   Not much later, we heard some branches crunching in the woods, and looked up to see a large buck or moose loudly galloping through the woods alongside the trail!  No doubt a bit more startled than the deer.

Our first big waypoint was Holly Lake, at roughly 9,000 feet, sitting at the foot of a peak and bordering the treeline – above which, not much was growing.    From the lake, it was a steady hike upward, crossing a stretch of trodden-snow and then following a very pebbly, cliff side trail as it made its way up the mountain with numerous switchbacks.    At one point we nearly lost the trail at a switchback and attempted an upward scramble before another hiker pointed out the pinpoint turn we had missed.   Before long we reached Paintbrush Divide, a ridge walk with views of canyons on either side.

Ridge walk before the descent to Lake Solitude

With about 1/3 of the hike behind us, the balance of the hike was a long gradual walk down. A rocky cliff side descent with more switchbacks brought us to Lake Solitude, where we stopped for a lunch break. From there we followed the Lake Solitude trail to the Cascade Canyon trail, which brought us “out of the range” through the Cascade Canyon to Jenny Lake via a long steady woods walk with a gradual descent the entire 5+ miles.

Headed toward Jenny Lake via Cascade Canyon trail

The final few miles followed the shoreline of both Jenny Lake and String Lake, trails that were reminiscent of our treks in Cinque Terre.

The books had talked about this hike as being one of the premier hikes in the park.   We had a stunning day for weather, an ideal temperature for hiking, and crystal clear skies.    In all, we logged over 19 miles and, according to Jeanne’s Fitbit, over 47,000 steps in 9 hours.   We limped back to the car giving some second thoughts to our hike plans for the following day, though definitely satisfied with the day’s accomplishment!


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