July 16, 2017
Distance: 11.42 mi (18.4 km)
Elevation Gain: 2164 ft (659 m)
Highest Point: 7852 ft (2393 m)
Today we stepped up the distance a bit and hiked the Death Canyon Trail between Albright Peak (to the north) and Prospectors Mountain (to the south). We started our hike around 11:45am in 75° weather and brought 1.5L of water each.
The beginning of the trail was a 1-mile uphill hike to the Phelps Lake Overlook (7200 ft), which was a great place to stop and chat with other hikers and take pictures.
From there, we started downhill toward the Phelps Lake Junction and elected for the Death Canyon Trail instead. We got really lucky with a close up view of a female moose grazing near the junction.
We walked downhill for a bit and realized the weather was starting to turn. For the majority of the trail, we’d been in the bright sun with rising 80° temperatures, but the clouds started rolling in with distant thunder.
We continued reached the mouth of the canyon, where we started on a strenuous uphill hike through rocky debris, which took us from 6500 feet to 7850 feet in about 2 miles. As if the elevation gain on the scree-covered trail wasn’t enough, the weather took a turn for the worse. The temperature dropped to ~50° and it started hailing on us pretty hard for about 20 minutes.
When the hail turned into rain, we continued on the uphill hike and stopped periodically to seek shelter under boulders when it got heavy. The route follows the Death Canyon Creek, which provided us with some seriously cool waterfall views. The valley views were equally spectacular.
A bit higher up on the north face of Prospector Mountain, ice patches hung on for dear life on the nearly vertical cliffs. From those ice patches, distant waterfalls trailed into the creek.
About an hour of less than ideal weather and we finally reached the upper portion of the canyon where the incline became much more level and the hike became much easier. At that point, the temperature rose back up to 80° – bummer.
At about the 4-mile mark, we reached the Death Canyon Patrol Cabin, built in 1935. The cabin was originally a military outpost, but was converted to a ranger station in 1945 and is currently respected as a national historic place.
At the Cabin, there’s another junction, which heads northeast to the Alaska Basin trail, or northwest toward the Death Canyon Shelf. At first, we thought we’d turn around to head back down the canyon, but two other hikers, Ryan and Claudio, convinced us to walk another mile or so to the shelf to look for a bull moose in an open field. About half a mile more up the trial, we spotted a female moose with two moose calves.
Another half mile up the trail, we found the bull moose, barely visible above the alpine grasses.
From there, we turned back to descend down the canyon, which was a fairly nice walk in the cooler 65° weather. We’d each gone through our 1.5L of water, so we stopped to refill our water bottles in the creek and enjoyed the very cold water through our LifeStraws. (As a side note, the LifeStraws filter nearly all bacteria and protozoa, but don’t filer viruses.)
We got lucky with a few encounters with smaller wildlife including a very proud marmot sitting atop a boulder, a talkative pika, and plenty of chipmunks and ground squirrels.
On the way back, we got one last view of a bull moose near the trail end. I’ve never seen so many moose on a single trail, and I’ve never seen them so close either.
We got lucky again with gorgeous views of wildflowers on the way back, which was a total gift on the otherwise draining trudge back up to the Overlook.
We got one last great view of Phelps Lake at the Overlook on the brutal walk back up the final switchback.
By the end of the hike, I was exhausted. Our highest elevation was at about 7852 feet, which meant effective oxygen dropped to about 15.5%. (We’re used to 21% at sea level, so…rock on, body.) Our total elevation gain was about 2100 feet, which took place over just a few miles of the trail.