The Tetons are amazing and all, but did you know there are half a dozen other mountain ranges easily accessible from Jackson? Combined these other ranges likely don’t get 1/10th of the recreationists the Tetons do.
After a recent trip to Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, my boyfriend, Derek, and I wanted a mountain adventure we didn’t have to share with anyone. The Dolomites are stunning. They’re even more fake-looking than the Tetons. But you’re more likely to meet a unicorn than have one of the range’s summits to yourself.
Whenever Derek and I seek an adventure without crowds, we turn to local author and explorer Tom Turiano’s 2003 book, “Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone: A Mountaineering History & Guide.”
You’d think a guidebook would be a weird place to go when looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, but that’s part of the genius of Turiano’s skills as a curator, and perhaps a statement about people’s willingness to actually get off the beaten path.
We were open to any adventure in “Select Peaks” that was less than a two-hour drive from Jackson. Derek opened the book to the Salt River Range section. He read through the descriptions of several peaks before getting to Virginia Peak:
“Arguably the Salt River’s most precipitous and spectacular mountain, Virginia Peak rules over Greys River Valley rising over 3,600 vertical feet in just over three miles,” Turiano wrote. “Resembling the Maroon Bells of Colorado’s Elk Range, two thousand feet of this relief is concentrated in its mile-and-a-half wide crumbling limestone east face.”
If that wasn’t enticing enough, Turiano went on to write that Virginia Peak and its neighbor to the north, Man Peak (10,326 feet), were the queen and king of the northern Salt River Range. Man and Virginia are the two highest peaks north of Strawberry Creek.
As perfect as Virginia Peak sounded, I know better than to commit to a non-ski summit attempt on a “Select Peaks” peak — many of the peaks are much better ski mountaineering objectives than hiking objectives — before reading Turiano’s description of how to access it. Of Virginia Peak he wrote, “Despite its proximity to Greys River Road, [it] is a difficult peak to access. Not only are there no trails that climb to any of its three main ridges, but only one of its three main aspects allows an ascent over reasonable terrain.”
But one route with reasonable terrain is all you need.
The next morning we left our house in Jackson around 7, made a quick stop at Persephone for lunch treats and a cookie to enjoy when we made it to Virginia Peak’s 10,141-foot summit and headed south. In Alpine we turned onto Greys River Road and followed it for about 29 miles to the Meadow Creek Trailhead. While no trail leads to any of Virginia Peak’s main ridges, the Meadow Creek Trail ( No. 81) allows easy travel to the point at which you must start bushwhacking.
We stayed on the Meadow Creek Trail, which was inches thick with dust from horse and dirt bike traffic, for a little more than 3 miles. After a particularly damaged section of trail (deep with loose softball-size rocks), we left it to begin wrapping around Sherman Peak. Our goal was a cirque on its northeast side, and we reached it about 1 mile and, with a snack stop, about an hour after leaving the trail.
From that cirque it was easy bushwhacking with little route-finding to a wildflower-y basin from which we could finally see Virginia Peak’s south face. That south face was the one aspect that Turiano wrote offered reasonable access to the summit. Eight hundred feet above and about 30 minutes after leaving the basin, we were on Virginia Peak’s summit ridge. Another 10 minutes of easy walking brought us to the summit, which we had to ourselves.
After soaking up summit solitude and enjoying our oatmeal cranberry Persephone cookie, we retraced our route back to the Meadow Creek Trail and followed it back to the parking lot. Total mileage was 12, and the whole adventure took us about 8 1/2 hours. Derek and I agreed that this is a great adventure for hikers who are interested in an off-trail experience but don’t have that much experience bushwhacking. After leaving the trail, the route to the Sherman Peak cirque and then to the basin below Virginia Peak’s south face is fairly obvious.
For details about the peak and route, read about it in Turiano’s “Select Peaks,” a copy of which is in the Teton County Library’s reference section.