Do you ever wonder how mountains acquire such strange names? Some are named after the first people to summit, some for their location, some for their unique features, some for their stories. So disappointment peak?!…What was the story here?
As the tale goes, when some climbers headed out for the summit of Grand Teton in 1925, they found themselves atop a peak that halted their expedition. Atop this peak they were not only a far distance from the summit of the Grand, but the terrain between the two summits was impassable. Disappointed, the group thought they were en route to the summit of the Grand, while they were actually atop of what would then adopt the name… Disappointment peak.
As I prepared for my trip to Wyoming and the Tetons, I researched some interesting summit hikes that would fit into my timeline and abilities. Disappointment peak had caught my eye but I was truthfully skeptical; would I be as disappointed with Disappointment peak as the lost climbers of 1925? The name seemed a bit… off-putting.
Disappointment peak is located in the heart of the Teton range in Grand Teton National Park. The summit itself is overshadowed by the Grand Teton in size and popularity, but for me would be the perfect mix of “effort for reward” that fit in my hectic schedule during my trip to the Tetons. I needed a solid day hike that would provide some good distance, take in some landscapes the Tetons were famous for, involve some technical scrambling or climbing and put me on top of a sweet summit with vast views over the Teton Range. It was a tall order, but the staff at Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (JHMG) ensured me that Disappointment peak was the ticket for my adventure dreams.
I arrived in the Tetons the night before this adventure and stayed at the Grand Teton Climbers Ranch (American Alpine Club) Bonus: This location was really close to the trailhead for the next morning. The ranch is more than just a place to stay, it is a community of adventurers and climbers. I met so many great people in my evening here; all who were undertaking a wide array of trips from day hikes, to summiting the Grand Teton, or doing some rock climbing. The facility is smack dab in the middle of the Teton range, has amazing views and is close to some of the best hiking trails in the park. The dorm-style bunk houses give you a roof over your head, a place to crash and a hot shower. You bring your own sleeping pad and mat and a camp stove to prepare your food.
A few miles down the road I met my JHMG guide at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead while the sun was just popping up over the horizon. It was a perfect crisp morning to start the ascent of Disappointment peak. I decided to use a guide for this hike for a couple of reasons. I wanted to get off the beaten path and try some challenging and possibly technical climbing that I would otherwise not feel comfortable doing on my own. Since this was a solo trip for me, it made sense have some company in grizzly country and with someone who knows the trails well.
The hike starts out pretty gentle but quickly starts to gain some significant elevation as you climb up the long switchbacks. We passed a couple of bears foraging along the trail, minding their business and going about their day. We saw very few hikers along the way and stopped for a mid morning picnic along the bank of Surprise lake. This small peaceful lake is in a slight depression, protected by mountains and slopes all around. The water was perfectly still, ice-cold and crystal clear; it was beautiful. A small deer passed us by while we were quietly enjoying a bite to eat.
Just a short slice of trail ahead, we came upon another, much more spectacular lake that was postcard perfect; Amphitheater lake. No questions as to how this lake got its name. The rock faces surrounding the lake stand tall and mighty, echoing back each sound. This is the first time you get a view of your goal for the day; the summit of Disappointment, standing at 11,618 ft tall. At this point we had already gained about 3000 ft in elevation from the trailhead in 4.8 miles. The remainder of the hike up would be pretty steep, completing the last 2000 ft of elevation to the summit in 1.2 miles.
Beyond Amphitheater lake, the trail becomes far more technical and difficult; better for people who have some experience navigating and are comfortable with steep drops and fancy footwork on rock slopes. You can follow a worn but not very well-marked path up the rocky slope above the lakes.
Certain sections above the lakes are class 3 and class 4 scrambles. Picking the right path here is critical to avoid a difficult day. Thankfully my guide was well versed with the area and on board with my objective to try out some basic climbing moves during the hike. Sizing up some easy climbing routes for me, we made quick work of of the large rock outcroppings and steeper sections.
High up on the ledges above Amphitheater lake, the trees give way to rock fields and stubby shrubs, providing a clear sight line to the landscape below. The terrain below me looked like it was divided into levels; first looking at Amphitheatre and Surprise lakes, and beyond that to Taggart and Bradley lakes where I had hiked the day before.
On the other hand, looking up, it was all business; huge mountain summits, rock and ice. The final push to the summit was quite exposed and my guide had me rope in for safety but it didn’t require any fancy climbing skills, just a bit of hand and foot scrambles and a few deep breaths. Once I caught my breath and looked off from the summit, I was breathless again…. this time because the views were out of this world.
On one side were huge snow-covered peaks as far as the eye could see. Looking back to where I came were the chains of lakes I passed to reach my destination. Behind me, the Grand Teton itself. It felt close to me as I stood on the summit, dominating the entire backdrop of my photos.
The sheer drops off from Disappointment peak confirmed what the hikers in 1925 found, the Grand was unreachable from this point. Having the peak all to ourselves, we found a small patch of flat ground tucked out of the wind just below the summit, and had a long lunch and a good rest; a reward for a tough climb and a moment of solitude to enjoy the surroundings.
My awesome guide took me on some fun rock faces on the way down to try my rock climbing skills again. I had been doing a good amount of gym climbing in the months leading up to this, but this was my first outdoor, “real world” rock climbing experience. It’s a heck of a lot tougher in real life vs the comfort of the rock gym! But it certainly made me want to try it more and step it up for the next adventure.
Of course the trip wouldn’t have been complete without a lake swim and I was stoked that my guide was all about it. We stopped off at Surprise lake for a quick jump in the frigid water to cool off on the hot sunny day. On each adventure I take, no matter how short or long, I make it a point to stop and enjoy the places where I roam (and a mountain swim tops out on my list of favorite things to do while hiking). I was so glad that my guide embraced this same mentality and enjoyed the entire day to the fullest with me!
I cannot say enough great things about this hike and the Jackson Hole Mountain guides for the adventure they encouraged me to undertake. It was a full and fulfilling day for me… and I was certainly NOT disappointed with any of it 🙂 I made the most of my short trip to the Tetons… and Disappointment peak was the highlight of my trip. But I’m not done with it yet! Like the adventurers of 1925, I plan to get back to conquer the Grandest of Grand Tetons and complete my journey in the Tetons.