The Hanging Canyon Coupon
Last Fathers Day my daughter Christy and her husband Matt, who are on a very tight budget, gave me a home-made coupon book with things like a car wash or lawn mowing – and a hike in any canyon. Little did they know I have wanted to hike Hanging Canyon to Lake of the Crags ever since I noticed it on a Grand Teton National Park topo decades ago. There is a trail but it’s not maintained and rarely shown on maps and seldom mentioned in guide books.
Hiking Hanging Canyon to Lake of the Crags
Route to Hanging Canyon
Rob: On August 1, 2008 we caught the 8:00 a.m. Jenny Lake shuttle that deposited us at the west dock around 8:15. From there we headed north following the shoreline trail toward String Lake. After about 0.5 miles we came to a series of wood bridges that cross the stream flowing down from Hanging Canyon. Between the forth and fifth bridge we found the unmarked path leading left through the lush undergrowth. It was about 8:25 and we were cruising up switchbacks and I was thinking, “it doesn’t get much better than this."
The Cathedral Group A few minutes above Jenny Lake
Christy: The coupon was my idea and at this point I’m feeling like a genius. A nice trip to the Tetons with three nights at the Jackson Lake Lodge. How sweet is that?
Rob: The hike up the lower slopes has taken us briefly into forests but is mostly on the open slopes. Not much shade in the direct morning sun. As we near the top of Ribbon Cascade the trail becomes steeper and a bit more ambiguous as it winds upward through the brush and occasional granite slabs. In this zone the trail splits. I failed to notice the junction so we continued up the north slope route that is probably the route of choice early in the summer when the main canyon is snow covered. The other option generally parallels the stream as it climbs into the first glacial stair-step and the small basin where Arrowhead Pool is located.
Christy: I’m loving this! A good workout – a nice place to stay and look at the view. Sure beats Gold’s Gym in Salt Lake. I figure this is what heaven must look like.
Route options below Ramshead Lake
Matt: After a meticulous look at the map I figure we should be coming up on Ramshead Lake – that is if we aren’t lost. Hmmm? Oh well – no better place to find yourself stranded. I could do without the sun though.
Christy: Pretty sure I didn’t sign up for this – I hope this is worth it. I really don’t think we are on a trail anymore. Next year I’m going to insist we tackle Lake Solitude instead. That feels like a breeze compared to this straight up climb.
Approach to Ramshead Lake
Looking back at Ramshead Lake
Rob: Using either trail option, the hike to Ramshead Lake is no “stroll” but rather a hike you can really get your teeth into. With little shade from the August sun and thinning air I’m understanding why I couldn’t talk anyone into doing Hanging Canyon earlier. But once atop the second stair-step suddenly a sense of vindication as we spot Ramshead Lake through the trees.
Approach to 9,565 foot Lake of the Crags
Rob: Hiking around Ramshead and up the snowfield to the top of the final stair-step was pure pleasure. The air was cooler and the views in all directions spectacular. We reached Lake of the Crags at 10:50 a.m. or about 2.5 hours since we left the shores of Jenny Lake. Without hesitation Matt and Christy headed up the northern slope in search of a lunch spot that afforded a view of the western end of the lake.
Early August columbine were still stunted from the effects of the late spring. Lunch at Lake of the Crags
Christy: Okay – this is totally worth it. Amazing! Who would have thought 2,800 feet of elevation gain would put you on top of the world. We can see the western ridgeline, the square shaped 10,895 foot Rock of Ages – not to mention Canine Tooth, The Jaw, Camels Head, Needles Eye Spire and Mount St John.
Matt: Hey – not bad names for the dogs we are getting …The Jaw, Rock of Ages and Mount St. John….
Christy: No dogs remember!? Honestly!
Rock of Ages dominates the western ridge beyond Lake of the Crags
Rob: Lots of snow and ice flows for early August – a welcome contrast from recent years.
Christy: I love the view of Jackson Lake. This is the fullest I remember seeing it. I did hear that the Tetons were hit with the heaviest winter in 18 years. Seems to have paid off. I can only imagine what this valley must have looked like if there is still this much snow. Nothing like a good snowball fight in August.
Matt: This is the ideal temperature – perfect!
Finally at Lake of the Crags
Rob: I’m a happy guy, not only a goal accomplished but in excellent company.
Christy: I find it ironic that my Dad is bugged about the heat. Look at him – he’s dressed for a business lunch not a day hike in the Tetons. Who wears a dress shirt on a hike? I guess that’s what working in an office will do to a person. Very sad…
Rob: Around noon we left the lake (far too soon) and started the decent to Jenny Lake. For the return trip we followed the trail that heads down the floor of the canyon with the stream to our right. As it was getting hot, the nearby cold water came in handy for frequent “hat dipping.” Although steep, this route seems less arduous than the route up the northern slope.
Heading down toward Arrowhead Pool with Jenny Lake in the background.
Christy: Ah – so this is the trail. This would definitely have been an easier climb up – oh well – too late now. I’m just happy we’re going down instead of up.
Matt: Amen sister!
Looking northeast toward Jackson Lake as the trail descends below Arrowhead Pool.
Rob: As is often the case, the hike down is less fun than the climb up. For me this was especially true as I wasn’t used to the heat (I may possibly have been a bit over dressed). Nevertheless, it was an incredibly beautiful decent. We arrived at the shores of Jenny Lake two hours after leaving Lake of the Crags.
Hanging Canyon from the Snake River Overlook
Chris: Oh my gosh, the line at the boat dock looked like airport security at Thanksgiving. I could hike back to the car faster than this boat could get me there. After waiting around a half hour we finally got on one of the boats. Lucky us – we got the slowest one on the water.
Matt: I’m just happy to be sitting down. It’s only 3:00 – just enough time to get a good nap in before dinner.
Rob: One beautiful day for hiking and photography. We used a Pentax SLR K10D digital with an 18-55mm lens. Although, far from doing a climb up the Grand, for me it was a pretty serious hike but Christy was un-phased. As she mentioned above, she wanted to walk back to the parking lot rather than wait for the shuttle boat… Matt and I loved the boat ride.