North Fork Cascade Canyon to String Lake Trailhead (11 miles)
We scrambled up onto a large boulder overlooking our campsite and ate breakfast. We packed the remaining food into our now almost empty bear can, just enough for our final day in this awesome backcountry.
Chris’s altitude headaches and fatigue from previous days were completely gone. He was thankful to be back to normal.
A storm loomed in the forecast, so we packed up a little earlier than usual. We wanted to make sure to cross Paintbrush Divide, our high point for the day, before the storm broke loose. Marmots basked in the sunlight as we set off.
Lake Solitude, though early in our day’s walk, was so nice that we opted to stop and and enjoy the view for a while. The water was clear enough to watch fish moving in its depths.
Leaving Lake Solitude behind, we started our biggest climb of the trip, 1600 feet up to Paintbrush Divide.
Several pika had homes near the trail. We had fun watching one call. It hunched its body back, then lunged forward, belting out an “Eeeep”. It’s amazing that so much sound can come from such a small creature.
We continued to trek upwards. Our higher vantage point revealed spectacular views of the Tetons and the valley from which we’d climbed. The trail work, complete with with rock steps and walls, was impressive.
The higher we got, the stronger the winds blew. We watched our footsteps closely as the gusts were fierce enough to knock us off balance. Our climbing eventually brought us to Paintbrush Divide. From there we looked down into pools of snowmelt and Paintbrush Canyon.
We took some pictures but couldn’t stay long. The clouds were gathering and looking more ominous.
Once over the pass, the trail switchbacked steeply down through talus. A rock slide had wiped out a short piece of trail, so we had to carefully maneuver down that section using both hands and feet.
Soon after, a strong hiker with a small pack approached uphill towards us. We chatted for a bit, and were excited to learn that he was a fellow Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker, trail name Puppeteer. He’d thru hiked the PCT a year after us, in 2013, going southbound from Canada to Mexico. Thunder rumbled in the distance, so we parted ways. We wanted to get to lower elevation before the storm and its lightning got any closer.
We took wide strides across a snowfield.
We continued descending quickly. Soon after reaching treeline, it started to drizzle, and we pulled out our rain jackets. The whole area became very peaceful. Moody clouds hung low over the peaks. The wind calmed down. Animals grew quiet. Our footsteps were the loudest sounds.
The calm didn’t last. Fierce wind gusts ripped through the canyon. We stopped to eat a quick lunch in a sheltered area. Out of nowhere, there was a massive thud and a tremor jarred the earth beneath us. Scenarios flipped instantly through our minds, one after the other: Earthquake? Avalanche? Rock slide? Adrenaline rushing, we scanned the area for the cause, in case we needed to move ourselves out of harm’s way. But nothing was amiss. We still don’t know the source of the shaking. Our guess is a large boulder falling.
We continued hiking down Paintbrush Canyon, passing the beautiful Holly Lake. Leigh Lake and String Lake (where we would end the day) were visible far in the distance.
The forest grew denser as we descended. It rained on and off. Hail even pelted us for a bit. The rain brought out a pleasingly pungent smell, one we hadn’t experienced since hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington State. We couldn’t pinpoint the source, but the scent immediately brought back strong memories of our PCT thru hike.
We mostly kept our cameras stowed in waterproof bags to protect them from the rain. Mile after mile, the trail took us lower and lower. We swapped stories with friendly hikers we encountered along the way.
The last mile of trail was beautiful and tranquil, tracing the shore of String Lake. We had this stunning place all to ourselves. Crazy bird calls echoed out of the silence. The sound resembled honking and laughing both at once. We’d never heard anything like it. Anna set to work figuring out the type of bird, deciding this was Nancy Drew Mystery #285.
The mountains were reflected in truly pristine water. It was an ideal end our Teton Crest Trail honeymoon hike.
Note: This hike occurred in late August.