A shorter approach to Cascade Canyon

Julie Painter takes in the view of the stream flowing into the north end of Jenny Lake from String Lake in Grand Teton National Park on Saturday. (Jerry Painter photo)

Kelly Painter of Idaho Falls nears the top of Baxter's Pinnacle in Grand Teton National Park on Saturday. The pinnacle is on the north side of Cascade Canyon about a half mile from Jenny Lake and offers five pitches of moderate rock climbing and outstanding views. (Photo by Jerry Painter)

As a family, we decided to hike up Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National Park on Saturday. Instead of taking the hugely popular trail around the south end of Jenny Lake, we hiked in from the north side.

This trail crosses the outlet of String Lake on a foot bridge and follows the stream south for perhaps a third of a mile where it pours into Jenny Lake. String Lake is a shallow lake and is great for swimming and cooling off on hot days because it is not as cold as other bodies of water in the park. There are a couple of pools in the stream before it dumps into Jenny Lake that look particularly inviting. Another thing that adds to the urge to jump in the water is the trail along the northwest side of Jenny Lake passes through an old burn area, offering little shade for hikers. But fewer trees means wide, expansive views that are a treat for the eyes.

The trail from the String Lake parking area is somewhat shorter than the more popular southern route, a half mile to a full mile shorter depending on your destination on the west side. The trail to Hidden Falls is currently closed due to trail work and traffic is routed to the Horse Trail up Cascade Canyon.

Our main goal was not just to hike — we had rock climbing on our agenda. From the junction of the lake trail and the Horse Trail you hike about half a mile up the canyon and look for a small use trail on the right that heads up into a talus field basically up the right (north) side of the canyon wall. This climber’s trail leads to the base of Baxter’s Pinnacle. The more enthusiastic climbers in the family like to climb this short 5-pitch subject every few years. If you’re in a hurry, it makes a half-day outing. If you take your time, maybe two-thirds of the day.

There were three in our climbing party, so we brought two skinny (8-millimeter) ropes and had the lead climber belay two people at once from above. This system works almost as fast as the traditional two-climbers routine.

My son Sam wanted to lead some of the pitches, so we traded off leads. In the past, I’ve always led the final pitch, which has a stout first move and requires some puzzling out. It’s fortunate that there’s a fixed piton to protect the move. What adds to the challenge is that the ridge you’re on pinches down to a narrow 3- to 4-foot passage with giant dropoffs on both sides. It’s an awesome mind game. Sam led the pitch and puzzled it out. Above the hard move, the climbing is great fun, but you arrive at the top too quickly.

From the top of Baxter’s Pinnacle, there are chain anchors to rappel 75 feet to a notch below on the northwest side. From the notch area, we used a second rappel off a tree down a steep gully full of loose rock. From here, we down-climbed back to the base of the pinnacle. Hiking back down the Horse Trail was like being in Grand Central Station.

Interestingly, we met a trio from Israel and welcomed them to America. They wondered why all the accommodations were full wherever they went, until the learned that there was a total eclipse coming up. On the hike back past the String Lake outlet, we observed people splashing in the water. I thought about joining them, but we had food on our mind.

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Congrats to Ken Simpson of Idaho Falls who just finished a tour bike trip through Spain, France, Germany, Denmark and Iceland. Should we do a story on his journey?

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