Grand Teton Crest Trail First time Hike Advice

5:50 p.m. on May 10, 2015 (EDT)
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Looking for some sound advice on hiking the Crest Trail for the first time.  We have book camping sites for the 2nd week in July.  We are flying into Jackson Hole on Monday and plan on beginning hike on Wed morning, by starting out at the tram.  We have planned on 4 days and 3 nights. Does that sound reasonable? Also,what is the hardest part of the trip as far as actual elevation is concerned?  We have been told that there may still be ice and will need picks..?  Just like to hear back from someone who has hiked this time of the year and any suggestions.  Also have an older person with us, so want to be realistic.

Thanks

8:55 p.m. on May 10, 2015 (EDT)
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What do you mean by "picks"? If you mean ice axes, then unless you are experienced in using them (meaning having been trained in how to use an ice ax), if the trail conditions are bad enough to need an ice ax and by extension crampons, you probably should not be on it. However, depending on your experience and the trail conditions, good trekking poles and "creepers" (attachments for your boots that have small spikes) would be sufficient. But "creepers" are not necessarily sufficient for the conditions, in which case you should turn around and avoid that trail.

Second question is how much experience do you have in hiking at altitude on rough trails and in conditions involving snow and ice (I mean on trails, not mountaineering). If you have lots of experience in those conditions, fine. But if you have never previously hiked on trails covered with snow (compacted and/or icy), think twice. IIRC, the highest altitude is close to 10,500 to 11,000 ft.

When you are starting from "the tram", which tram? I assume you mean the bus from Jackson to Teton Village which is close to the Granite Canyon trailhead, not one of the tramways for skiers. My guess is that you mean south (Teton Village Granite Canyon) to north (Leigh Lake trailhead, close to jenny Lake Lodge). There is a tram (bus) from there back to Jackson and the airport.

You didn't say where you are from. Whether you start at the south end or north end, you will get to altitude quickly. You are not allowing any time for acclimatization. Whichever end you choose, you get to altitude quickly and spend a lot of time at altitudes above 7000-8000 ft (from Teton Village you go from 6700 ft to 9700 ft in a bit over 9 miles - that's really fast if you aren't acclimatized). Lots of people have trouble by going up over 8000 ft quickly. The trail is 37 miles, which would be pushing it fast to come in unacclimatized and do the 37 miles in 4 hiking days. Most people take more like 6-7 days (the scenery is fantastic and you should spend a lot of time taking photos - and posting them here on Trailspace when you get back). Jackson is at about 6500 ft. One night would just barely start you acclimatizing. It takes most people 3 or 4 days to move stepwise up to 10,000 ft, and some people don't ever fully adjust to altitudes over 9000 ft (about 10% of the population)

OTOH, since you are planning on July, the snow and ice should be minimal and the trail doable, IF you are careful, even with only good trekking poles.

I suggest contacting the Park Service for Grand Teton about 2 weeks before you are to arrive, plus Exum Guides and/or Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, to be sure what the current conditions are. The conditions change enough year to year (and particularly with the unusual conditions this year so far) that it is hard to give an assessment based on past years, UNLESS you are talking to someone on the ground knowledgeable in detail about the specific trail. Although the guide services I mentioned are primarily climbing guides, they are happy to provide information on hiking conditions (they might be the ones who have to come out to rescue you if you get in over your heads).

In my experience, the Crest trail is easy. But then, I have done a lot of technical climbing in the Tetons.

9:26 a.m. on May 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Thanks for the info.  Sorry I did not give more information. Yes, we are starting from the Teton Village.    

As far as hiking in the snow and ice, no very little experience.  We are from Tn and hike alot in the Smoky's but nothing like out west.   Elevations in our area are not comparabale to moutains out west.   We have hiked  a little in COlorado and Montana, but nothing like the Crest in Teton.  I guess I am a little concerned after reading your reply.  

You sound very savvy in this area so I would appreciate your assessment of our potential path.  

Leaving Teton Village:  1st campsite that night- Alaskan Basin, 2nd night- Cascade and 3rd night- Paintbrush.  

Any suggestions or comments that may help us?  Also, what areas of "rough" that you mentioned would be in this hiking schedule that we have planned?

I appreciate your candidness and time.

JM

9:36 a.m. on May 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Good comments by Bill. Elevation is something people from the East do not readily account for.  It makes 37 miles a lot longer.  It is probably too early for the inexperienced to be in the high mountains. In addition, the weather can be cold and wet that time of year. There can be lots of insects, and predators are around. I would rethink the timing and length of time allowed for the trip. It would be more reasonable to plan a hike lower in elevation later in the year.

11:26 a.m. on May 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Generally in July any ice is just on top of any snow left un-melted, but settled and refroze during the nights. But generally in early July there is little or no snow left on the trail. 

If you are starting from Teton Village, are you hiking up Granite Creek or taking the Tram to Rendezvous then following the trail up and over into East, Middle and North Granite Creeks and up to Lake Marion? Either way you are going north to Paintbrush Divide and down to north Jenny Lake.

The highest passes are Meeks, Hurricane and Paintbrush all over 11,000 feet. 

After Marion Lake you will hike along Death Canyon Shelf, Meeks Pass, then down to Alaskan Basin,Sunset Lakes, Hurricane Pass, then down South Cascade Canyon to the jct and up North Cascade Canyon to Lake Solitude, then up and over Paintbrush Divide and down to May Lakes and on down to North Jenny Lake and back to the trail head at South Jenny Lake Ranger Station.

The last time I hiked the TCT was in the summer (August) of 2008. The winter of 07/08 had 650+ inches of total snow fall. I had to use crampons to get down from Hurricane Pass to South Cascade Canyon.

But this year last winter was way below normal snow pack and the snow here is already melting away quite quickly. 

Jackson Hole has been my summer home almost every year since 1982, this is my 32nd summer season coming. To see the current snow conditions in pictures and video see http://www.seejh.com/cat/webcams/  You can see daily images of the snow on the mountains. For daily weather and snow reports see  http://www.jacksonhole.com/weather-snow-report.html 

Do contact the GTNP Ranger station for more information and weather and snow conditions. Just about any kind of weather can fall on the Tetons, as we get snow,hail,sleet and heavy rains all summer long. And the Exum Guides that Bill mentioned can update you on the current snow/ice conditions daily. They take tourist climbers up the Grand Teton every day all summer.

BTW The trail is not that difficult, at least nothing like mountaineering as Bill pointed out. The trails can be steep but all are switch backed. If you take the Skier Tram which in summer is a tourist Tram, I highly recommend it if you have never been in the Tetons , the view is great! You will have just a few other glimpses of either side of the Tetons down into Jackson Hole and Lewis's Hole on the Idaho side. It will save you the long hike from Teton Village up Granite 12 miles to Marion Lake, but that is not all that hard as it follows the creek most of the way and the only switch backs are near Marion Lake and only about a 200 foot climb in elevation. 

After Marion the trail is fairly level along the Death Canyon Shelf, then climbs a little to Meeks Pass, then drops 600 feet into the Alaska Basin and Sunset Lakes. Then it climbs gradually to Hurricane Pass, then drops to South Cascade Canyon down the Schoolroom Glacier section, just the tongue of an ancient ice mass with a beautiful lake surrounded by a curved terminal moraine.

The route down South Cascade Canyon is easy as is the walk up North Cascade Canyon to the NC Camp zone. Then there are some easy switch backs to Lake Solitude, then more switch backs to Paintbrush Divide. Then the trail drops fast down switch backs to May lakes and Jenny Lake.

If you are not used to elevation, Jackson is just over 6000 feet, take your time. 

The START http://www.startbus.com/rider-info shuttle bus from Jackson to the Teton Village area is $3 one way each. From Jenny Lake there is a shuttle back to Jackson, but I am not sure the cost. It runs daily. Its 20 miles from Jenny Lake back to Jackson.

Be sure to either use the bear boxes or hang your food, the bears are not the only animals that will get at your unprotected food, porcupines, squirrels,chipmonks,marmots, Ravens and rodents.

At the North Cascade Camp Zone I had a bothersome porcupine keep returning to my camp about every 15 minutes. I even had sprayed it with bear spray, but it did not seem to affect it at all.  Many animals are used to the fact that some people leave food in their tents and will come looking anyway. Even perfumes and other things like soaps and anything with a smell should be put in the bear boxes. Most backcountry sites now have them. But sometime they get filled by the number of other hikers, so take a rope and know how to hang your food away from the animals.

Not to scare you away, but if you encounter any bears, especially mothers with cubs, and they approach you, back away slowly, talk to the bears in a calming voice ,don't turn and run as bears can run very fast even through the thickest forest. Generally they will nor pursue you if you are going away. Be sure to buy bear spray, one cannister for all in your group or couple. Keep it handy and test it before hand so you know its limits. Most will spray about 5 good feet but are effective about 10 as the mist goes away from you. Be careful if you do use it, the spray is worse (I think) than the standard stuff in mace that people in cities use.

Be sure to use a water purifier when you collect water. There will be many streams all over the backcountry. Or boil at least 5 minutes before drinking or cooking in it.

2:35 p.m. on May 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Jackie,

I don't mean to scare you off. By "rough trails", I mean that the trails in Western mountains are not smooth, wide trails free of rocks, roots, and obstacles. If you have hiked much in the Smokys, you have probably hiked on trails that are as rough. One difference between Eastern and Western trails is how those trails were first built. In the East, most trails originated as "get there the shortest path", hence go pretty much straight up the slopes. In the West, most trails originated with use of pack animals, hence have a lot of switchbacks and are lesser in grade. Western mountain trails often have a lot of rocks, though not as much in the way of protruding roots as Eastern mountain trails (OTOH, the trail I was on last week on Shasta had a lot of protruding roots where you weren't on snow and ice). If you have done a lot of hiking in the Smokys, you are good for the Crest .... except for the altitude question. The Smokys have plenty of "critters" including black bears (though not grizzly, which the Tetons have - different "personalities"), chipmunks, marmot, and other rodents that love to get into tents and packs (consider taking a bear container to keep the rodents and ravens out of your food).

The info you got from Gary is excellent, based on many years of working summers in the Tetons. The big questions are acclimatization and remaining snow on the trail. I won't make a generalization about snow on the trail - that varies too much from year to year. Contact the NPS and guide services for what this year's conditions on the trail are. If they say there will still be snow and ice on the trail, consider an alternate route. But do consider modifying your time schedule to allow for acclimatization. Going from an altitude of a couple thousand feet in TN to close to 10,000 ft in the Tetons within a 24-48 hour time span is asking for at least a mild bout of AMS with a splitting headache and a bit of nausea. ppine, Gary, and I have all 3 made the same suggestion - take your time. 4 hiking days and 3 nights is too fast for someone not used to altitudes of 8000 to 11,000 ft. Do a bit of reading on the web about AMS.

A suggestion with some rough distances and altitudes  - According to your plan, in Jackson, you will be at about 6200 ft. Teton Village is about 6600 ft. at 9 miles you are already at 9700 ft elevation. Alaska Basin (your nominal 1st night) is 15 miles and about 9800 ft with a fair amount of up and down. You will have climbed 3200 ft in the 15 miles. Using the "standard formula", the time to do this is 10+ hours. That's a lot of climbing with heavy packs at altitude for the first day. At 17 miles or so, you will cross Hurricane Pass at 10,500 ft after a bit of up and down, then on down to Cascade Creek to camp at about the 21 mile mark and 7900 ft. Next day on your schedule, you head up over Paintbrush Divide at 25 miles and 10,600 ft to camp somewhere in Paintbrush Canyon at some altitude (31 mile mark??? 7500 ft?? where in Paintbrush???). then a short day to Jenny Lake to catch the bus back to Jackson.

For someone not acclimatized, your first 2 days are brutal to say the least. Maybe you are going UL and are really fit. But I really would suggest splitting that first day into 2 days (maybe camp in the vicinity of Marion Lake?) and maybe add another day in there somewhere.

At the very least be flexible, check the trail conditions with the NPS, and carry more like a week's worth of food (although, if you get AMS, the 4 day's worth might just last you 10 days).

4:53 p.m. on May 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Hi Jackie,

 

I'm a fellow Tennessean and I did the TCT last year. Great information above; I've been travelling out west about once a year for the last several years to backpack and I discovered the "climb high - sleep low" axiom when researching AMS myself.

This suggestion will cost more money but if you have the time you could ride the aerial tram from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain which gains over 4100 feet in about 15 minutes. Spend the afternoon (or as long as you can) perusing the area and views then descend to sleep in the village; not exactly a slow climb high but perhaps the principle is still applied. In any case the views are awesome.

I discovered that altitude adjustment is not something you can really prepare for; it doesn't matter how fit you are. You won't know until you go.

Regarding your route, IMO that is too fast to enjoy it. I do 20 miles days just for fun and exercise in the areas I'm familiar with but I suggest savoring that trip as much as you can. I would aim for no more than 10 miles per day if you have the time (less is preferable). Buy hey, hike your own hike.

PS While there is the wild card of altitude adjustment, gaining 4000 feet over five miles is just as hard in the east as it is in the west. But even so, pay close attention to the topo maps and use that data along side the mileage to plan your days output.

4:58 p.m. on May 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Oh and if you are a Smokies hiker and have never considered a comparison: Baxter Creek Trail gains 4200 in about 6 miles from the Big Creek Parking lot to the summit of Mt Sterling. This may or may not help you as a measuring stick when considering a days plan but you get the idea.

 

 

5:31 p.m. on May 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Also, I found this video from Dr. Judith Klein at the University of California to have an easy to digest segment on Acute Mountain Sickness.

PS Everyone is different but personally I don't notice any difference at all until I get over 10,000 in elevation.

 

Skip ahead to 31:08 for that section:

8:39 p.m. on May 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Jackie, you mentioned the "older person" in your group and taking it easy. Actually, older people tend to take it slower on the trail, which results in their having less problem with altitude than the youngsters.

Pat, the AMS part of the talk is good, but a bit oversimplified. The statement about "less oxygen in the air" is wrong, however. The air is about 21% oxygen at all altitudes. So if you breathe in a lungful of air, whether at sea level or on top of Everest, it is still 21% oxygen.  However, the density of the air decreases with altitude. So the air in your lungs at 18,000 ft is only half as dense as at sea level, meaning your lungs have half as much air in them, with the result that you are getting half as much oxygen (and half as much nitrogen, which isn't helping you). Yes, that's getting a bit technical. But what it means is that even if you feel like you are taking in deep breaths, the higher you go, the less oxygen you are getting into your lungs, which means your red blood cells (the carriers of the oxygen) have a progressively smaller supply available. Which is why many people get AMS.

If you were to carry a pulse-ox meter with you, until you acclimatize your oxygen saturation measures typically 98% at sea level, 68% at 10,000 ft (2/3 as much oxygen to the rest of your body), 55% at 15,000 ft, and 50% or less at 18,000 ft. In the winter camping course I give, we check people's O2 saturation just to give them an idea. They are usually astounded at how much less O2 they have in their blood the first night they arrive at the campsite. But the body adjusts and starts absorbing more of the oxygen into the blood over the next few days.

The Gamow bag shown in the slides is just a pressure chamber. The air is pumped into the bag and pressurized, which means more O2 is available to be absorbed. Diamox (Acetylzolamide) helps oxygen absorption by changing the blood's alkalinity. It is a prescription drug. OTOH, research over at Stanford (a few blocks from me) has shown that about 60% of people are helped by ibuprofen.

But the main thing as repeated in this thread many times is "Climb High, Sleep Low", increase your sleeping altitude by no more than 1000 ft a day over 7000 or 8000 feet, take it easy and don't push too hard to make the miles.

8:42 a.m. on May 12, 2015 (EDT)
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Wow, thanks so much for all of the helpful advice and recommendations!!! 

As this is my first time to hike the Crest, I am unfamiliar with the different campsites locations, etc, but did speak with a park employee yesterday and would be curious to know if you guys agree with this suggestion.  

We will take the tram from the Teton Village to the top of the ridge, then begin our hike to the Fox Creek Pass area for our first night.  (approximately 8.5 miles). Then on our second day, we will hike to the South Fork Cascasde area for our campsite (10 miles).   Third day will hike to the Paintbrush Divide area for our final night (9 miles) and then will hike to the Jenny Lake Ranger station on the 4th day.  (not sure how many miles this is??)

The mileage is what was estimated by the park employee who states she has hiked this trail many time. Not that I second guess her suggestion, just curious to know if this makes sense to more than one person....

Once again, thank you for your input.  

JM

2:40 p.m. on May 12, 2015 (EDT)
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Jackie,

As of right now, it looks like I am going to be hiking a similar hike as you (Paintbrush Canyon to Paintbrush Divide to Cascade Canyon) about a week before you. If you send me a PM to remind me before you leave, I'll gladly update you on the conditions I encounter.

Thanks,

Ashleigh

 

8:39 p.m. on May 12, 2015 (EDT)
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Ashleigh,

That would be great.  I would be interested to hear the conditions and any suggestions you may have.  Are you hiking with a group?  Ever hiked it before?

Jackie

12:41 p.m. on May 13, 2015 (EDT)
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Also, at the end of the hike when we reach Jenny Lake area, are there any forms of transporation other than taxis to get from there to the hotel?  Suggestions?

7:06 p.m. on May 13, 2015 (EDT)
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What hotel? There is a shuttle that goes back and forth between Jenny Lake and Jackson. You will have to inquire about it when you get your permits at the Jenny Lake Backcountry Office BCO on the south end of the lake. From where you'll come out Paintbrush Canyon its a couple more miles to the south end of Jenny Lake and the BCO.

6:35 a.m. on June 18, 2015 (EDT)
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Bill S makes it sound like crossing Antarctica in his first response way above. Its not that hard of a route.  And in reading your first post, how old is your'e older hiker? I am 59 and still hike the trail. 

The tram has gotten expenses in my 30+year of coming to Jackson opinion. Its nearly $40 and for a one way trip to hike thats an expensive 10 minute ride. Worth it though t save you quite a few thousand foot elevation gain to the trail at Marion Lake. Be sure to get a $5 off coupon for each of your group from a daily copy of the free Jackson Hole Guide Newspaper before you go to save a bit.

8:21 a.m. on June 18, 2015 (EDT)
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Thanks Gary.  We are about the same age and from what I have heard, read and talked with others about, the hike is mostly level with several exceptions of elevation gain at the Cascades and Paintbrush.  All the consensus is to take it slow more because of the scenery and all of the things to see.  One other question, out of curiosity, what do you think the temps will be in mid July?  From what I see the current temps are running around 60-65 during the day and the high 30s or low 40s at night.  Just thinking about packing and not wanting to bring more than we wil need.  Appreciate all of your suggestions and input!!

9:52 a.m. on June 18, 2015 (EDT)
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Take shorts and tshirts for days and a set of long underwear for nights. Days will be around 60 -80 on the trail, could be down to freezing at night especially at the higher elevations.

I wear my long johns under my hiking shorts and tshirt on the cooler days. 

12:21 p.m. on June 18, 2015 (EDT)
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GaryPalmer said:

Bill S makes it sound like crossing Antarctica in his first response way above. Its not that hard of a route.  And in reading your first post, how old is your'e older hiker? I am 59 and still hike the trail. 

 Gary, that was in response to the OP question about taking "picks". My comment was mainly to say if you are really in conditions that require technical ice tools, and you have as little experience as the OP indicated, you better think twice. It was not about how hard the trail would be.

I suspect that this year, thanks to the western US drought, the trail will be pretty dry except for the usual summer thunderstorms (and maybe not even any of those this year). And in that case, trekking poles are just fine with no foot spikes needed. Besides, we are now almost into July. When I have been climbing in the Tetons at this time of year, there is virtually no snow or ice except the very few glaciers on the high peaks.

But they are coming from pretty low altitude and planning to head up to the 10,000 ft level very quickly after arrival by air from Tennessee, meaning no acclimatization plus a good likelihood of altitude sickness - headaches and loss of appetite at the least. Aside from the cost of the tram ($40?? Wow!), doing the hike from the bottom and maybe adding an extra day to the hike at the start would help a lot with acclimatization.

8:15 a.m. on June 19, 2015 (EDT)
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Bill, Thanks for the input.   We are flying in on Monday, but will not start the hike till Wednesday and plan on spending some time at higher altitude on Tuesday to help acclimate.  We had that issue once a few months ago hiking in the Rockies where we flew in one afternoon and began a hike the very next morning.  Won't do that again!!  Any other suggestions are certainly appreciated.

11:22 a.m. on June 19, 2015 (EDT)
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What elevation do you live at? Jackson is 6234 feet above sea level. Other than being on the trail there is few places to acclimate higher unless you camped in the Gros Ventre (grow vont) mountains at Curtis Canyon

. If you hike up Granite Canyon from Teton Village instead of taking the tram you could camp part way up it and then acclimate as you go in on Wednesday. It would save you a lot of money via the tram prices. Its $32  for the tram see: http://www.jacksonholewy.net/summer_recreation/chairlift_gondola_rides.php Even with a $5 discount that will be over $100 for 4 people.

Look at this link to see a topographical map of the trail from Teton Village to Granite Creek http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?ll=43.604098,-110.828447&z=14&t=t4 The elevation from T.V. to the canyon mouth is only 200 feet at the beginning then drops back to the same elevation as the village. Then going up the canyon it changes about 200 feet per 1/5 mile. At the point where the south,middle and north forks separate the elevation is about 1600 feet higher than the mouth of the canyon. You can drag the map to see the maps western area(s).

From the canyon split the elevation changes 1200 more feet. If you camped at the place the 3 canyons split you could acclimate there overnight and continue on to Marion Lake the next day.

10:08 a.m. on July 9, 2015 (EDT)
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I don't think you will have much ice and or snow. It was very hot the last week of June and the first week of July now has been very rainy. Paintbrush and Hurricane Passes are your highest areas along the trail at over 11,000 feet. 

Contact the Back Country Office at http://www.nps.gov/grte/contacts.htm or at (307) 739-3300 for up to date conditions.

You can also go to http://www.seejh.com/cat/webcams/ to see various webcams around the area to see current live views updated every 15 minutes.  At the one Grand Teton Webcams there are many fibe views of the Teton Range.

Under Snow King Webcams look at the Town View to see the view from the top of Snow King looking north to see various views all day long. Such as this current view taken at 8:17 am  7/9/15 


townofjackson-2-.jpg

The town of Jackson is in the lower middle of the frame, Flat creek is see flowing across the Elk Refuge above town , the clouds hanging in the middle are over the Gros Ventre Buttes and the Teton Range is on the upper left horizon. Yellowstone is far (60 miles) to the north on the upper right of the picture. Image is taken from the top of Snow King Mountain from about 1700 feet above Jackson 

8:22 a.m. on July 10, 2015 (EDT)
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Thanks Gary, pretty cool stuff.

In your experience, what is the actual temp difference from say the Teton Village weather forecast temps to the temps up on the trail?  I have been looking this week to determine clothing to bring and it looks to be a little cooler that I had hoped, these temps being in the Village area.  My sleeping bag is rated to 40 degrees and it may be pushing that considerably.  

8:22 p.m. on July 10, 2015 (EDT)
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Temps could be between 40-and 70 in Teton Village while 40-50 during the day on the TCT. Nights could see any kind of weather, rain,snow,etc. I stayed at the Sunset Lakes area in the Alaska Basin between Meeks Pass and Hurricane Pass once in late July and woke to 6 inches of snow. It had to break trail up to Meeks Pass, by mid afternoon the snow had mostly melted away and the next day it was gone.

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