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Climbing Grand Teton - Day 1

This is the third entry of four chronicling a recent tip to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming to climb Grand Teton, the highest peak in the Teton Range, at 13,770-feet. My climbing partners were Chaz Wendling and Alison Calderara. We hired Exum Mountain Guides to train us and take us on the climb. They require that their clients pass 2 days of Mountain School before being guided on the "Grand". Our plan was to do the 2 days of Mountain School, take a rest day, then climb the next 2 days.

Also, be sure to check out lots of photos from the climb.

Check out Alison's photos as well.

July 21:

First day of the climb up Grand Teton. We got up around 7am and had breakfast at The Chuckwagon Resturant at Colter Bay. Got to the Exum office at Jenny Lake at 9:30 and were told that an Exum guide, George Gardner, had been killed 2 days prior while soloing on the Lower Exum ridge. We were hoping ot climb the upper Exum ridge, both being a short hike away from the Exum hut on the lower saddle. We saw Amy Bullard, our guide from day 2 of Mountain School, she told us that George was a good friend of hers and she was (understandably) upset about his death and told us she wouldn't be going up into the mountains for a while.

We met our guides, Pat Ormond and Calvin Hebert. Pat was a tall guy who could be easily confused with a surfer instead of a climber. When we first met him, he was wearing shorts with an Hawaiian print and flip-flops. Calvin was a no-nonsense guy with a dry sense of humor with an apparent love of potato chips (evidenced by the large bag he carried to the lower saddle strapped to the outside of his pack). He made it quite clear early on that he didn't like to talk about how far we've gone or how far we had to go. From then on, Chaz kept his GPS readouts to himself. It later became a running joke that regardless of what the GPS said, Calvin was right. Both were really nice guys. Once we filled out the required Exum waivers, we waited for the rest of our climbing party to assemble. It was now about 15 minutes past our scheduled meet-up time, at which Pat informed us that 2 of the people in our party had made it a habit of being a bit behind schedule. They arrived shortly thereafter, and we all headed out to the trailhead.

We arrived at the trailhead about 10:15am. We all used the restroom and waited for the rest of the group to assemble. Other than Pat, Calvin, Alison, Chaz, and myself, there were three other clients. Josh was an easy-going 35-year old college English professor from the San Francisco Bay area. Stewart and Preston were brothers from Idaho, 21 and 18 years old, respectively. We found out that their grandfather owned one of the barns on "Mormon Row" in Grand Teton National Park, a historic site where a community of Mormons settled in the early 1900s. We all rolled our eyes when Stewart informed us that he and Preston neglected to fill up their water bottles at the Exum office, and they had to run back to do so.

We left the trailhead at 10:45am. The trail started out in the woods on the valley floor. We started from the Lupine Meadows trailhead and followed the Valley Trail to the junction for Garnet Canyon and Ampitheater Lake. There were a couple of breaks in the trees where we could see the summit of the Grand, Calvin informed us to take a look (while still moving, because he had no intention of stopping there), because it would be the last night we'd be able to see it until we summitted due to the geography of the area. The first couple hours of the hike were mainly in the woods and on beautiful wildflower switchbacks with a moderate incline. Our first rest came about an hour into the hike, near the site of a spring.

Our friend Rich, who we had met in the first day of Mountain School was on his way up the Grand that day as well; he and his friend Martin were with a private guide. We crossed paths with them several times on the way up as we had rest breaks at different times.

Once we turned the corner into Garnet Canyon, everything changed. From the lush forest and wildflowers, we now found ourselves surrounded by mainly rocks and large snow fields with a couple bits of tiny flowers and the Garnet Creek tumbling its way down the canyon. We had to traverse at least six snowfields - some that were just a few steps and one that was probably over 100 yards wide. The temperature started dropping as we moved higher, and we could see the headwall of the canyon, on top of which sat our desitnation, the Exum hut. Our second rest stop came at the Petzl Caves, the old "high camp" due to it being the last place where wood was available for fuel, as well as the safety of several caves large enough to escape inclement weather. We were able to eat some lunch and refill our water bottles from a nearby spring. Above this point, the hiking became steeper, and the terrain was comprised mainly of boulders, snow, and scree slopes.

For the most part, while we were in Garnet Canyon, the weather was overcast and cool (and it kept getting cooler as we hiked higher). Our overall elevation gain for the day was to be about 5,000 feet (the valley floor is at about 6,900 feet and the Exum hut is at 11,600 feet).

Unfortunately, it started raining as we reached the headwall at the top of the canyon. Pat and Calvin had us moving at a good pace by this point, as they wanted to get us to the hut before the rain set in. There was a short climb at the base of headwall, a very easy scramble, but since it had some exposure (and we were all tired and carrying heavy packs) we all took turns getting belayed. Above the belay point, there was only a couple hundred feet of vertical left with a moderate slope to reach the hut. Pat and Calvin had us put on our rain gear, and then we moved as quickly as we could to the shelter of the hut.

When we arrived shortly before 5pm, the hut was packed - 16 clients plus 5 guides. 2 of the clients (Rich and Martin) were on a private trip with a single guide, they were provided with a private text next to the hut. The hut was rectangular (about 10x20ft) with a semi-circular half-section. It was made with a metal frame upon a wooden floor with a heavy material (canvas?) covering. There were sleeping pads and sleeping bags for everybody along with a large cook stove (for boiling water) sitting upon a wooden shelf filled with various supplies. There was a single door at one end, and the metal frame provided plenty of places for us to hang our helmets and other gear. As we entered the hut, we were told to find a place to sit, and get our dinner going. The guides would make the rounds with the hot water kettles as needed. Needless to say, despite the cold, rainy weather outside, the hut was pretty warm with all the hot bodies inside.

For dinner, I had ramen noodles and some pre-cooked rice that Chaz convinced me to get. After throughly enjoying the ramen noodles, the rice was terrible. Instead of finishing it, I decided to stick it back in my pack and hike it back down. We had to carry all of our trash back down - including any solid waste generated by our bodies. Luckily I had more than enough food, and rounded out my dinner with a peanut butter wrap and some cheese. Friends of ours, Robert and Susan suggested that we bring individually wrapped Gouda cheese wheels with us on the climb. They were right on with their suggestion, the cheese was the perfect snack throughout the trip.

It rained for about 2 hours while we ate and got to know our "hut neighbors" better. For the most part, everyone was very amicable. But then again, out of 21 people, it's no surprise that there's at least one person who doesn't mesh with the rest. For our group, his name was Adam. While at his core, he's probably a good person, he didn't appear to have the social skills to know when to stop talking. On the upside, we all learned about "high pointing", Spanish cheeses, and early mountaineering meals on Anconcagua (port wine and hard-boiled eggs, apparently).

Bathroom facilities at the hut were located on the Idaho side of the saddle ("going to Idaho" has a new meaning to me now). Going #1 was relatively straight-forward, the guides pointed us to the proper rocks to go behind and once you accounted for the wind, there was really nothing to it. Going #2 involved utilizing a solid-waste bag that Exum provided and going to a roofless wooden structure being a large boulder. The facilities had 2 "rooms", each one had only a toilet seat on an open wooden frame with a place to attach your solid-waste bag. Once finished, you were to seal up your bag and carry it back to the trailhead for disposal.

When the rain finally let up, we had an opportunity to go outside and repack our gear ("repacking" became a running joke for us as Chaz and I took turns repacking our backpacks throughout the trip). We needed to load up our smaller summit backpacks with only what we needed for the ascent (food, water, clothes) as well as have only our breakfast and the stuff we needed to sleep with in the hut. Anything with batteries needed to stay in our sleeping bags with us to ensure the batteries stayed warm and didn't die in the cold. The remainder of our gear was to stay in our backpacks in a weatherproof box outside the hut. I ended up bringing some extra clothing into the hut for the night to use as a pillow along with my video camera, iPhone, and contact lens stuff. Most people placed their climbing shoes under their sleeping pad to use as a pillow, and we were instructed to hang our helmets and climbing harnesses above our sleeping bag with our breakfast food in the helmet. The sleeping pads were laid out in two rows of seven immediately adjacent to each other. Once everyone was set, it was lights-out at about 8:30pm. It rained periodically throughout the night, as well as several periods of heavy wind that ruffled the covering of the hut. For the most part, everyone slept on-and-off through the night.

For me, the night would have been perfectly fine except for the fact that I had to pee right from the start. I had a good position in the hut - in a back corner. This allowed me to be far from the open door (required for ventilation - I suppose both from everybody exhaling as well as the propane gas stove) and I only had a single "neighbor". When I woke up and realized I had to pee, I looked at my watch: 12:38am. Oh no. There were two reasons why I wasn't getting up to pee: the weather and fear of disturbing anyone else in the hut. While my position was ideal for sleeping, it would have required that I step on several other people's sleeping pads. I somehow managed to get back to sleep on-and-off for a couple more hours, but as soon as the guides lit the stove, I was up and peeing with the wind at my back.

Submitted by michael on Thu, 07/31/2008 - 10:25am
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