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686 Paintbrush Canyon Loop 2012-08-06

hikers on the Paintbrush divide

On Saturday, July 21, we started hiking at 0600 from Leigh Lake Trailhead (near the String Lake Picnic Area in the Tetons). We were going to attempt to hike the 21 mile Paintbrush Canyon Loop Trail. A few years back we hiked the loop, so we knew what we were getting into, but our memories always seem to underestimate the difficulties.

Waking early, we waited on the sun to rise before leaving the trailhead. Bears seemed to be very active in the Tetons in 2012 and we had seen our quota of bears for the season. We were not anxious for a night time encounter, so we waited for the sun.

Morning at Jenny Lake

Leaving the trailhead we walked south along String Lake's east shore to the outlet stream. Crossing the stream we continued in a southerly direction to join the northwest shore of Jenny Lake.

Hidden Falls

At 6 in the morning there was not much activity on the lake. We were alone on the trail from the boat dock to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.

trail to Inspiration Point

Leaving Inspiration Point we continued up Cascade Canyon with great views of the Cathedral Group of mountains (Teewinot, Owen, and Grand) to our south.

Cascade Canyon

At the junction, we went north on the Solitude Lake Trail. The North Fork of the Cascade Creek, kept us company as we walked up the valley floor.

Lake Solitude

By the time we reached Lake Solitude it was raining. We took shelter under a clump of trees to eat and drink a little and make wardrobe changes. Soon another hiker joined us. I guess the lake might not be a place for solitude! The hiker was a nice guy, hiking alone, who just wanted someone to talk to.

North Fork from above

The trail leaves the lake and begins to climb to Paintbrush Divide. It is a gradual climb, but we were full in the sun. We wished it would start raining again. A really long switchback leads across the slope and close to the Divide. The trail then contours around a high cirque. There are outstanding views in all directions. The divide itself is a dramatic, narrow ridge (the top of the ridge was actually quite wide, only narrow in that there was a steep drop off on both sides).

Trail Below the divide

For the first 12.5 miles of trail from String Lake to the Divide the trail was in great shape. The Upper Paintbrush Trail is not (in great shape or for that matter much of a trail :-). The path descends through scree for a few hundred steep feet. Snow accumulates and is slow to melt from the area. The snow was a non-factor on this hike, but on our other hike of the Loop we recalled there being much more snow. Check with the Rangers for a current report of trail conditions before leaving the trailhead. Neither the snow nor the scree were difficult for us. We mentioned both because the difficult terrain possibly changed the grade of the upper trail from a Class 1 to a Class 2 route.

Upper Paintbrush Canyon

Continuing down Paintbrush Canyon we met our friends Jon and Laura at Holly Lake. A few years back we visited Holly Lake together and attempted to climb Mount Woodring. It was an event!

Lakes below Paintbrush Canyon

After a brief stop we were on our way down the Canyon. We were moving well, but were still very hot. After arriving at the trailhead, Amy jumped in the water to try and cool off a bit.

String Lake

The unseasonable heat made the long hike even more difficult. We would have liked to have started earlier in the morning, but were trying to be bear shy (avoidance). You can hike the loop in either direction. We liked going up Paintbrush Canyon (steeper climb) first and then down the more gentle Cascade Canyon. The hikes to Lake Solitude and Holly Lake are both very worthy out and back hikes, but the Divide is a special place. You will earn the right to gain the vistas from the Divide!

Happy Paintbrush Loop trails




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