The trek to the Static Peak divide is an incredibly strenuous 8-10 hour hike that gains about a mile in elevation by the time you’ve reached the summit. It starts at the popular Death Canyon trailhead, so start early if you want to grab a parking spot that doesn’t add an additional mile to your long day. You’ll begin with an easy 1.6 mi stretch of forest, which will likely be mildly busy with other people visiting the placid lake shore. If you stay quiet, you’ll probably glimpse several forest friends eating a morning meal.
In no time, you’ll reach a nice vista overlooking Phelps Lake. From here, it’s a short descent to the trail divide. Staying left will take you down the edge of the lake, so head to the right and up into Death Canyon. Only 2.2 miles to the Death Canyon ranger hut!
After a short stretch of meadow, you enter the forest again. Keep an eye on the piles of rocks fallen from the cliffs above, this is where Pika love to hang out and are usually very busy gathering grass for the winter.
When you come out of the trees, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the peaks towering above you. In a few short hours, you’ll be high above these little guys.
You’ll hear the rushing water long before you see the falls, but once you see them, it’s only a few quick switchbacks to the ranger hut. There’s a nice shady stream that makes a perfect place to stop and take a quick break.
Enjoy your snack and the level ground, it’s the last you’ll see for the next few hours. You’re technically at the halfway point on your way to the top, but you’ve barely covered a quarter of the total elevation gain left on this hike. The rest of today will be switchback after switchback, and they will be steep.
Fortunately, most of your fellow hiking crowd won’t be following you up slopes of Albright Peak. The Death Canyon Trail continues on, but here we turn onto Alaska Basin Trail. There’s very little traffic through here, so the only folks you should see for the rest of the day are the smug morning people who woke up at 4 am just so they can smile at you on their way back down and talk about what a beautiful day it is as you’re huffing and puffing up the mountainside. Those people are dead inside, so let them have their victory. In the end, you still have your humanity.
To the credit of the National Park Service, the trail is impeccable. I’ve never had a trail with such a steep drop beside it appear so untouched by any erosion or rockfall damage. Another feature I appreciated was the openness of the trail. You are constantly treated to beautiful views of the steep mountain meadow and the canyon below. It’s easy to judge your progress–just look up at Albright and then down to the foot of Prospector’s to gauge how far you’ve come and how far you have to go.
Still, it’s five of the world’s longest switchbacks until you get to a stream crossing that signals you’re about halfway up the side of Albright, and another six or seven until you finally reach the saddle between Albright and Static Peaks.
Most hikes we’ve done would have ended here, a nice view at the end of an already spectacular hike. But we’re not done yet. No, you’re only at 10,200 feet. Static Peak is another 1,000 yet. Don’t let yourself sit here too long, the top is even better.
For me, this is where the hike gets easier. Being able to see Static Peak looming in the distance for the first time all day is motivation enough to push up these last few switchbacks, and you’ve got a brand-new view of the plains below the Grand Tetons to keep you busy. Before you know it, you’re already above Albright Peak and, shortly after, you’ll have made the summit.
We could see the main highway from here, so we made a note to stop on the way home and point out where in the mountain range we were (you can find that picture at the end of this post). The view from the top is an incredible panoramic view of not only Prospector’s Mountain and Death Canyon, but neighboring Buck Mountain and the Alaska Basin as well.
Jackie’s Trail Tip:
Bring a water filter with you. They aren’t heavy, and I needed more than the 2.5 liters I packed with me. You can fill up at the stream on your way back down.
Brandon’s Trail Tip:
Remember sunscreen or a hat. You are climbing above the treeline.