Route: Darby Canyon Headwaters Traverse

Submitted by Evan Matthews on Mon, 07/24/2023 - 01:17pm
Wyoming, US
14.5 mi
Vertical Gain
6,000 ft

This is a beautiful, roughly 50% off-trail backcountry adventure on the west side of the Tetons!  On this route you tag 5 summits!  They are:

  1. Fossil Mountain (10,916 ft)
  2. Peak 10,612 (10,612 ft)
  3. Mount Bannon (10,971 ft)
  4. Mount Jedediah Smith (10,615 ft)
  5. Mount Meek (10,686 ft)

These are all the peaks at the head of Darby Canyon, on top of the Death Canyon Shelf.

You begin by heading up the Darby Canyon Wind Cave trail, then about 100ft before the hard right turn which crosses the creek bed (toward the cave) you will take a faint trail on the left which will head up-canyon toward Fossil Mountain.  This trail is easy to follow for about half a mile, then becomes overland off-trail travel until you reach the saddle on the southwest side of Fossil Mountain.  Slog up the south ridge of Fossil to the summit (faint trail here), then turn around and backtrack until you feel comfortable scrambling around to the East side of the mountain (we found a class 4 downclimb, but you could also go further back down the ridge to where you could traverse on class 2/3 terrain). 

Once on the east side of Fossil, you will see then next 4 summits laid out before you stretching to the northeast.  From here, the travel is all off-trail along the boundary of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and Grand Teton National Park, up and down each of the next 4 summits until you reach the saddle between Mount Meek and The Wedge.  At this point, you will wander northwest to the base of the Wedge until you pick up the trail leading west back down the canyon (this is easy to follow from here).  

I stopped the route at the point where you re-join the Darby Canyon Wind Cave trail, because soaking the feet in Darby Creek (which will be right in front of you) almost seems like a requirement.  If you want to finish back to the car, it is a flat quarter-mile.  This was a beautiful outing with incredible views, and extreme solitude.  You definitely want to be competent (and confident) in backcountry travel to attempt this route!