Moose Basin, Ortenburger Lake, Glacier Lakes Northern Grand Teton NP 6 Day Trip


walking somewhere
Apr 1, 2014
This trip took place in mid July, 2014, in the northern section of Grand Teton National Park. We started along the Grassy Lake Road, hiked in to Moose Basin, and then traveled off trail thru the Glacier Lakes area, into Snowshoe Canyon, over to Ortenburger Lake and Moran Canyon, and then over to Leigh Canyon. We bush whacked down Leigh Canyon, and connected with the Paintbrush trail to finish the trip. We did the trip in 6 days, 5 nights, spending the majority of time off trail, and didn't see any people except for the trailed sections of our first and last days of hiking. Hiking with me were Chuck Wolfe and Matt Wagner, both from Michigan. Chuck has been backpacking in the Tetons several times annually for the last 15 years, but this was his first trip into this section of the park. Same for Matt.

Day 1, Thursday, July 17th
We started our trip around noon at the Glades Creek Trailhead along Grassy Lake Road, a few miles in from Flagg Ranch. The trail starts off in the forest, before breaking out into meadows around the Snake River. Soon we reached a junction with the Berry Creek Trail, and began heading west thru beautiful meadows. After cresting a ridge, we dropped down to Berry Creek, which we had to ford. There was another trail junction here, and we headed south, climbing up over another small ridge, before dropping down to Owl Creek. We ran into a solo female hiker who was lost. She knew her way back, but didn't know where she was on the map. Turns out she canoed across the lake, and took the wrong trail. Also of note she was loosely clothed. This is the last person we would see until the late afternoon of our last day. We headed west up Owl Creek, slowly beginning to see the snow covered mountains along the Crest. We settle on a campsite with a decent view of Forellen Ridge, and get camp set up before thunderstorms moved in. We spent an hour staring at a dark tree alone in the meadows, hoping it would turn into a bear. No such luck. I think our total mileage for the day was around 14 miles, all on trail. Moral was high.


A few miles into our trip, in the meadows around the Snake River


Matt crossing Berry Creek


Camp our first night, along Owl Creek Trail

Day 2, Friday, July 18th
I slept great the first night, and woke up to Chuck dropping my bear canister outside my tent. Either Chuck or Matt would do this every morning, bring my canister over for me. Pretty awesome guys, and great hiking partners. We hit the trail soon, excited to get out of the woods and into the high alpine country. But the trail here is not often maintained, and we ran into lots of down trees at first. We also had over 2000 feet of elevation to climb, so our pace slowed down quite a bit from the first day. Eventually the trees gave way to open meadows, and views of Red Mountain. It was mid afternoon by the time we reached Moose Basin Divide. Most of the trail was still covered in snow up high, but the divide was beautiful. We took lots of pictures, checked out our future route, and the other 2 called their wives to check in.

At Moose Basin Divide


Looking south along the higher sections of Moose Basin. To the far right, you see a green ridge, followed by a snow bank ridge, then Glacier Peak. That is the direction we are heading


Another view, now the lower section of Moose Basin.

A 360 degree view from Moose Basin Divide

From Moose Basin Divide, the trail drops down a few hundred feet, before turning sharply toward the east, and heading down towards Moose Creek and Webb Canyon. This is the spot we left the trail at. I had climbed down these cliffs the year before, but just wasn't sure how easy the others would find it. It turned out to be no problem. The Basin looked like a golf course, beautiful green slopes, with white patches of snow similar to sand traps, and small islands of tree strands. Wildflowers were blooming, and I slowed down to take quite a few video clips. Chuck had picked out a strand of trees farthest out in the basin, and that was our goal for camp. Those guys were ready to eat, and booked it. Turned out to be a great spot up on a small knob, with spectacular views in all directions. We got camp set up, and again wasted 30 minutes staring at another lonely tree in the distance, hoping it would move into a bear. Never happened. After dinner the wind picked up and whipped our tents pretty good, but I managed to fall asleep quickly.


Heading for the farthest strand of trees to camp for the night


Looking back towards Moose Basin Divide from our 2nd camp


Me cooking dinner at camp

Day 3, Saturday, July 19th
I was up early, and smoke off in the distance to the east created a cool looking sunrise. We started off heading south, crossing a few open drainages, making our way towards Glacier Peak. We scrambled up to a ridge, and reached the park boundary, and also the state line between Idaho and Wyoming. Camp Lake was below us. Our pace was slow, as we constantly had to route find. I had done this route previously, and we were almost spot on the same path. We soon found ourselves on snow, and would be for the rest of the day. We continued south below a snow covered flat ridge, before reaching what I call Glacier Lakes Pass, right below Glacier Peak. Its an easy climb up to Glacier Peak from here, but that wasn't part of our plan this trip. We took a break overlooking upper Glacier Lake, and the huge cirque wall attached to Glacier Peak. Then we headed down, giving us a wonderful view of the lower Glacier Lake, and its turquoise colored water. There is a great camp site here on a ledge that overlooks both lakes. Next, we got to put our crampons on, and cross our first snow slope of the trip. Nothing to it as we headed over to the upper lake, which was still partly frozen over. We spent some time here, as its a beautiful place, and one of the prettiest spots in the park. Not many people, if any, come here during the year. One of the backcountry patrol rangers saw a lynx here a few years back. There is more great camping sites next to the lake on a small hill.


Chuck and Matt filtering water along the Idaho/Wyoming border


Chuck route finding


Chuck and Matt heading towards what I have named Glacier Lakes Pass. Glacier Peak is in front of them.


Me with the Glacier Lakes area behind me. A sliver of the upper lake is visible above my shoulder


Lower Glacier Lake. My camera is fogged up here.


Upper Glacier Lake


Matt, Me, and Chuck at the lake

Click the HD button when watching the video (sorry, not an expert on video stuff)

After taking in the scene, we start working our way up towards Rolling Thunder Mountain. We climbed up several cliff bands, and it gets very steep here, with lots of snow. When we finally reach the ridge and round the corner, we see the saddle we have to cross over to get to Snowshoe Canyon. It was very intimidating, and moral took a huge hit. The cirque is completely snow covered, with steep slopes leading directly into a tarn that is starting to crack open. Last year I had looked at this as I headed towards the Talus Lake drainage, and thought this was an easy way into Snowshoe. This time I wasn't so sure. The other guys aren't sure about it either. We work our way across the small drainage to the other side of the cirque, and soon realize its not nearly as steep as it looked. We easily work our way up to the saddle, and are rewarded with an amazing view of the south fork of Snowshoe Canyon, surrounded by rugged snowy mountains. Moral is back to an extreme high. We work our way down easy snowfields at first, and halfway down reach great campsites overlooking the canyon. Our plan is to hike down, and then back up into Moran Canyon to find our next camp. But soon I overhear talk of possibly staying down in this canyon for the night.


Looking at the saddle between Rolling Thunder Mountain and Glacier Peak. We crossed over here to get into the upper reaches of Snowshoe Canyon (south fork)


Matt (left) and Chuck (right) looking south into Snowshoe Canyon from the saddle. The following morning, we will climb the ridge (above Matt's head), then follow it a ways (to just past Chuck's head), before dropping down a ways into another cirque and climbing back up the farther, higher ridge. We have all agreed that if we did it again, we would just go straight up the long ski slope on the right side.

Click the HD button when watching. Approaching the saddle between Moose Basin and Snowshoe Canyon

We reach some small but steeply pitched snow slopes. Chuck had just made the comment about how the only thing so far he hadn't needed was his ice axe. Well, what typically happens after someone says that? You guessed it. Chuck decided to slide down the slope, with his crampons on (and his ice axe still in his backpack), then do a complete summer sault front flip before landing on the dirt. He briefly paused, looking at Matt and I, actually giving us a smile, before tumbling down the slope more, until he was able to latch onto a tree shortly before a cliff. Thankfully, he turned out ok, with only a few scratches. We carefully worked our way down into Snowshoe canyon, and decided to call it a day. We found a small boulder to camp near, and had another beautiful, calm night.


Camp our third night


Another view of camp, looking down into Snowshoe Canyon

Day 4, Sunday, July 20th
This was another beautiful, sunny day, but there was no easing our way into the hike. We started off immediately having to ford the creek, and then climbed straight up the snow covered ridge several hundred feet. At the top of the ridge, we slowly worked our way along boulders and rocky cliffs west, between Snowshoe canyon and another cirque. Soon we reached a spot where some of us were no longer comfortable. After scouting things out, we decided to drop down a steep talus field to the south. After spending several hours on the ridge, it was a big letdown to drop back down the elevation. We took a long break on some large boulders, and it was the first time there was talk of bailing on our route. Mentally we were all beat. We decide to make one more try at it. We climbed up a large snowfield, and then about 200 yards nearly straight up vertically on a scree field. It worked.

This little stream was deep enough to have to take off boots. Near our camp.


Chuck and Matt climbing up to the first ridge


Matt scrambling on boulders along the first ridge. The saddle we came over the day before is visible in the background, along with Rolling Thunder Mountain.


Chuck climbing up towards the second ridge


Chuck and Matt almost to the top

Click the HD button when watching.

Reaching the saddle between Snowshoe and Moran Canyon, overlooking Ortenburger Lake

At the top, we had the grandest view of our trip. Below us was Ortenburger Lake, and to the south was rugged mountains everywhere. There was no doubt about it, we were going to camp at the lake that night. It was too beautiful of a place to pass up. At the saddle, it was extremely windy, blowing my hat off and down. We carefully worked our way down loose rock and talus, before reaching a safe snowfield to walk down. The view was just breathtaking. We found a flat area to set up camp overlooking the lake. A small creek ran next to us, and worked its way thru colorful wildflowers before dropping over a cliff, becoming a beautiful waterfall above the lake. The backdrop was numerous mountains and peaks, with the Grand hovering in the distant background, almost centered directly over the lake. I would say this is the one of the most spectacular campsites I've ever had. We stared at the lake until it was too dark to see, and then retired to our tents.


Me at the saddle, with Ortenburger Lake below me

A view of Cirque Lake, across Moran Canyon. I haven't made it to this lake yet. I tried to get there a few days ago on a different trip form the back right hand side, but didn't make it.


Dropping down to Ortenburger Lake


Still working our way down to the lake.


Camp at Ortenburger Lake


Me, Matt, and Chuck later in the evening


Camp the following morning

Click the HD button when watching. A behind the scenes look at Ortenburger Lake. Chuck is on the rock.

Day 5, Monday, July 21st
After 4 days of great weather, rain came during the night. It was so windy I had to get out of my tent and re stake my guy lines. It stopped at dawn, thankfully, but dark clouds continued to fly by above us. We hiked around the lake, and headed west towards the end of Moran Canyon. We worked our way along the side of a steeply sloped ridge, with loose rocks and dirt, making it a tedious hike. It took us several hours to reach the western end of the canyon, and the park boundary. At this point we decided to drop down to the Idaho side (near dry ridge mountain), and use the trail to head south several miles. We were now short on time, and had only one more day to get out of the mountains. At first, we were a little bit hesitant to climb down into Idaho, due to it being a full on scramble. But eventually we did it, and it proved much easier than it looked. We found the trail, and booked it south, as a massive thunderstorm hit the range. Thankfully most of it was east of us, and we didn't get rained on that much. We hiked past Green Lakes, Green Mountain, and up the trail toward Granite Basin, before ditching the trail and heading straight up towards the crest, above Leigh Canyon. This area of the Idaho side is very scenic and colorful. Lots of lakes. We crossed over the crest and carefully dropped into Leigh Canyon, setting up camp almost in the dark. Lots of fresh grizzly scat, but we had no choice but to camp there.


Looking back at Ortenburger Lake


Chuck and Matt working there way west above Moran Canyon. Cleaver Peak is the spikey peak to the right


Matt along the hillside. the low saddle right of the high peak in the middle is our destination


Looking east down Moran Canyon, with Mount Moran to the left


Chuck and Matt coming down into Idaho, on the north side of what I think is called Dry Ridge Mountain


Hiking south along the trail in Idaho, with storms looming

Click the HD button. Coming down into Idaho from Moran Canyon

A short clip from above Leigh Canyon

Day 6, Tuesday, July 22nd
Our last day, we were excited to get out of the woods. Talk of burgers and onion rings and nachos and ice cream was non stop. Little did we know it would take us all day to get down the trail less canyon. At first it wasn't too bad, as we passed Mink Lake. But soon we reached avalanche paths filled with down trees and debris. Our pace was slow. The lower we got in the canyon, the thicker the trees and vegetation. The creek soon became a river, and we had to cross it a few times. There is an old trail running thru here, possibly an old human trail, but its hard to find until the lower reaches of the canyon. We finally got a view of Leigh Lake, and dropped down a boulder field (almost identical to the boulder field going up to death canyon) to reach Leigh Lake. The next stretch was probably the most difficult of the entire trip. We had to bush whack thru dense vegetation straight uphill to the paintbrush trail. Something like 600 feet straight up. After what seemed like forever, we reached the trail around 7ish, and saw our first people since day 1. Chuck was so excited he threw up right there on the trail. Actually, it probably had to do with all the coffee and Skoal dehydrating him at high elevation over the last 6 days. We rambled down a few miles to the trailhead, and after a few small hiccups in locating our ride, we made it to the Hatchet for dinner and a shower.


Camp on our final morning


We finally see a bear, although just a black one. Just below the large boulder


An unnamed lake near the mouth of Leigh Canyon


Looking back up Leigh Canyon


Another black bear at the String Lake Trail Head

Overall this was an awesome trip. The northern section of Grand Teton NP is spectacular, rugged, and seldom seen. There are some amazing lakes and canyons. There are also several peaks you can scramble up that rarely get climbed, and offer wonderful vistas. No registers to be found.
Special thanks to both Chuck and Matt, who are just awesome people, and their personalities made this trip so much more exciting. The End!
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Nice....... We looked at part of your route when we went but decided on doing mostly the Old Highline trail from Grassy to Teton Pass. Looked pretty rough on Google Earth from about Moose Basin to Ortenburger Lk area. Nice to see actual pics. Looks like I may need to create another route for a trip ....
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Well done, Utah. Perhaps I could add a few video's/pics to this thread in the next few days.

The only thing I would do different on this trip (had the in coming storm not been present day 5) would have been to stay up high rather than to drop down into Leigh Canyon. Then hike out via the cirque behind Lake Solitude and down the North Fork. About 10 or so years earlier I had hiked in and out of Leigh Canyon and don't remember it being as tough as it turned out being.

For the record, I enjoy puking.
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Nice....... We looked at part of your route when we went but decided on doing mostly the Old Highline trail from Grassy to Teton Pass. Looked pretty rough on Google Earth from about Moose Basin to Ortenburger Lk area. Nice to see actual pics. Looks like I may need to create another route for a trip ....
This place is definitely worth visiting. It is rough country, but nothing technical. I'll have a video trip report of this in a few months, and it will have a lot more footage.

Also, when you did your trip, didn't you come straight down from Lake of the Woods to Jackass pass? How was it off trailing thru there? Is it similar to Yellowstone, or is there a lot of underbrush vegetation? I'm always looking for new ways to get into Moose Basin. Its a long haul thru the woods from Glades Creek.
Piece of cake hike, not much thick underbrush. Kinda why we didn't get into Moose Basin, Glade TH woulda added to much time to our total hike.
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