Friday, September 11, 2015

Death Canyon Hike and Phelps Lake Overlook

Saturday Aug 29th – This would be our last day with Rebekah and Brian and our last day at Grand Teton. We decided to do a hike that Rebekah and Brian had looked up that started on the east side of the park, closer to Moose Junction. This side of the park was less popular and we hoped to avoid the crowds that we had encountered on our last hike.

The hike would start at the Death Canyon Trailhead – Gotta love the names of these canyons! To get to the trailhead, we would have to drive several miles down a rough gravel road. No problem in the truck,  though once or twice I wondered just how much rougher the road would get!

We had read the description of the trail ahead of time. The trail would climb about 450 feet in elevation over 1 mile to the Phelps Lake Overlook. Then the trail drops down almost to Phelps Lake before starting a steady climb into Death Canyon. If one were to hike to the ranger’s cabin along the Death Canyon trail - a convenient turnaround point- and back, the total miles hiked would be around 7.9 with a total elevation climbed of around 2,000 feet – counting all ascents.

This hike would be an out and back hike, which works great to allow us to go as far as we wanted before turning around and hiking back. Fred and I had decided to hike with Brian and Bekah up to the overlook, then let them hike on  while we hiked at our pace, turning around when we felt like we had enough.


The trail up to the overlook was straightforward and easy and Phelps Lake was beautiful.


From the overlook, the trail started a gradual descent as it followed around the lake with wonderful views all along.


Fred and I enjoyed taking our time, stopping to take pictures of whatever caught our eye. This little chipmunk was enjoying a snack of some ripe, red berries.


The cliffs of Death Canyon were impressive!

As Fred and I reached the lower level of the trail that followed along a stream, we found a nice flat granite outcropping about 20 feet off the trail, overlooking the stream. We decided to stop and have a snack and enjoy the view. As we were sitting there finishing our granola bars, I heard a noise and turned around……

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“It’s a bear!” I said (rather calmly) There was this momma black bear and her cub munching on berry bushes just about 50 feet up the hill from us!

The momma bear noticed us – no doubt about it. She was looking directly at me! She looked…..I looked……not sure if what I was seeing was real. I stood up slowly, picking up my day pack and putting it on. Fred stood up……and picked up the camera! (And he accuses me of just wanting to get the shot!)

There was not much of an option for us to back away, as the trail was between us and the bear, and the creek on the other side. As we stood facing the bear, day packs on and hiking sticks in our hands, we did as we had been instructed to do on so many of those bear safety talks. We raised our arms over our heads, moving them in a sort of wave, and calmly and non-threateningly spoke to the bear to let her know that we were people.

The momma and cub took a couple of steps down the hill in our direction, then calmly walked away. They were heading parallel and about 25 feet up hill from the trail.We turned and decided to start hiking back the way we had come and away from the bear!

As we hiked back, we passed the word about our bear encounter to the other hikers. I must mention here that the trail description included the notation that one should carry bear spray and know how to use it. We had given Brian and Bekah our bear spray and had instructed them on proper ‘bear etiquette’.  However, we had kept the marine flare that we usually carry for bear protection, and had had it out and ready to use if necessary when we had encountered this bear.Fortunately, we did not need to use our flare!

This was as close an encounter with a bear as we had ever had that was not on a guided bear watching adventure, and I have to confess that I was scared! Not fight or flight scared…..or terrorized…..more just immobilized. Seeing a bear in it’s natural habitat, where you are the encroacher, feels pretty intimidating. I was very proud of Fred and I for remaining calm and doing just as we had been taught.


We hiked back to Phelps Lake overlook, where we had arranged to meet up with Brian and Rebekah when they finished their hike.


Our total hike time up to this point had been about 3 hours, and we expected that Brian and Rebekah would be about another hour, so we had a nice leisurely lunch and a nice rest.

As expected, Brian and Rebekah were about an hour behind us.  They had a wonderful hike up Death Canyon and had turned around at the ranger cabin as they had planned – hiking the 7.9 miles total in about 4.5 hours. Boy do they hike fast!

When they showed up, Brian and Rebekah had their own tale to tell. They had seen the momma bear and her cub further on up the trail, but they were farther away and did not feel at all threatened. They did get a picture, too!T

Before today, we had been disappointed that we had not seen a bear. Having each had a bear encounter on the trail really made the hike. And then just as we were driving out that gravel road……


We spotted another bear!


This bear was just meandering along the roadside…..before she stopped and crossed the road just in front of us


I took these pictures hanging out the window from the safety of our truck, What an eventful day!

Sunday, we would say goodbye to Brian and Rebekah, as they had a 7 am flight home leaving  out of Jackson, Wyoming. Fred and I would be driving to Stanley, Idaho to embark on our next adventure – 6 days rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with ROW Adventures.

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