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Climbing Grand Teton - Day 2

This is the fourth 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. (I just added several new photos to page 5 of the album.)

Check out Alison's photos as well.

July 22:

The plan was for the guides to come into the hut around 2:45am and start boiling water for breakfast. A couple of the guides slept in a tent next to the hut while the remainder slept outside under some rock overhangs. At 3am, they lit the lantern in the hut and told us to start moving. We needed to get our breakfast ready and get our clothing and gear ready for the climb. I had some green tea, oatmeal, and split pea soup (which seemed to just sit in my stomach and soak up any water I drank for hours).

All told, there were 4 climbing parties going up, so we needed to stagger our departures by about 10 minutes to avoid getting backed-up at various bottlenecks on the climb. Rich and Martin and their guide were among the first to leave, departing before 4am. Our group was the last to leave, turning our backs on the hut around 4:15am. Alison decided not to go, she didn't feel she had it in her to make it to the top and was scared that she would slow everyone else down. Chaz and I tried to convince her to come, but she dismissed us quickly.

The sky was clearing, with close to a full moon and temperatures in the 40s as we departed. There was a steady wind, probably around 15mph. The first part of the climb immediately above the hut was brutal (we dubbed it the "trail from hell"). The hut was located on the lowest part of the saddle, so the first hour of the climb was up the countless switchbacks of the saddle through boulder and scree fields. It was a horrible way to start the day, as we were all tired from the previous day and a bit out of sorts at being on the move at that hour. Since the moon was out, we were able to climb without headlamps, which was nice. I managed to make it through the first hour by refusing to make any changes to my "25-steps, 5-breath rest" plan. Once we reached the first belay point we had to stop to wait our turn and were able to catch our breath.

Our first goal was the "upper saddle", and then onto the Owens-Spaulding route to the summit. Once we got through the "trail from hell" the rest of the way to the upper saddle comprised of mainly rock scambling with several short pitches of belayed climbing (3rd and 4th class, I would guess). As we reached the upper saddle through some easily climbed chimneys, the sun was rising and everyone started feeling better.

While the Owens-Spaulding route is easier than the Exum Ridge route we had hoped to climb, it was spectacular and fun nonetheless. It is ultimately up to the guides to determine the route - they base their decision on the weather, route conditions, and the climbers the morning of ascent. While Chaz and I were cleared for the Exum ridge route by our Mountain School guides, the weather forced the guides to choose the Owens-Spaulding route (at least that's what we keep telling ourselves). As we climbed higher, the temperature dropped, and the wind fluxtuated depending on which side of the mountain we were on. There were spots were it was virtually non-existent, and spots where it was a sustained 30+mph. I had 4 layers of clothing on my upper body, and that was marginal. I was a bit cold, but was determined not to sweat an ounce. I had a single layer on my legs which were again, cold, but not terribly so. I wore a pair of thin fleece gloves on my hands (none of the climbing was so technical that it required me to remove them). Under my climbing helment, I wore a ski hat that kept me head and ears toasty.

The climb from the upper saddle to the summit was great fun. There were parts where we were able to scramble and parts where we needed to belay each other to protect against a fall. None of the climbing was anything more than a 5.5, but there were several places where there was some interesting exposure of several hundred (if not more) feet. No one in our party (as far as I know) required the belayer to catch them at any point, which kept things moving at a nice pace. One section of note was just above the upper saddle, we had a belayed traverse about 30 feet across a section of rock that was at about a 60-degree slope with an overhanging rock above it. This forced us to move with our feet lower than desired - luckily there were generous handholds the whole way.

About 30 minutes before we summitted, we saw Rich and Martin on their way down. They had summitted at 7am - being a party of only 3 enabled them to make really good time. Rich joked with us that the Starbucks at the top was open. We congratualted him, he wished us well, and went on his way. After a couple more pitches and rock-hopping, we were getting close. The last 30 vertical feet or so was just a scramble up some rocks (it was at this point that Calvin decided to talk about how close we were, mentioning that we were 700 vertical feet and "less than an hour" from the top with his dry wit).

Then, all of a sudden, we were there, on the summit at 13,770ft. It was 8am, and the view was spectacular looking west into Idaho and clouded-over looking east toward Jackson Hole. We had a great view looking north toward Crystal Canyon as well. The summit was larger than I expected, easily enough from 20-30 people seated. Chaz and I managed to snag the rock that had the USGS benchmark on it, along with the names of the first people to climb the mountain still carved in the rock. We took out the cell phone (5 bars, sweet!) and made a few calls, then took out the cameras for some pics. After a quick snack and drink, we started down.

The trip down followed most of the route we took up, with one exception: a 130-foot rappel that bypassed some of the climbing above the upper saddle. About half of the rappel was over a lip - just as we had practiced a couple days earlier in Mountain School. It was phenominal.

Once at the upper saddle, we down-climbed back to the "trail from hell", including several belayed sections. Once back on the trail, Chaz and I discovered it sucked just as much going down as it did going up. We made it back to the hut about 11:15am. I had a raging headache at this point, probably from a bit of dehydration, but a couple of Advil and a liter of water quickly did its job.

We spent 45 minutes repacking (of course), eating lunch, and complaining about the "trail from hell" to Alison, who was able to sleep for a couple extra hours in the now empty hut while we were suffering. The weather at this point was wonderful - clear and cool. Great weather for hiking with a heavy pack. Once everybody was ready to go we loaded up and headed down. We were belayed down the headwall by Calvin, who was remaining at the hut for the next day, so we shook hands and gave him our thanks.

Once back in the canyon, the brothers Stewart and Preston showed us how old we all were. The bounded down the canyon at a rapid pace, while Alison, Chaz, Josh, and myself kept a steady pace, but unable to keep up. Pat the guide had them wait for us to regroup at resonable intervals, but after each time we did, they continued their rapid descent and we cursed their young legs.

Our route down was identical to the route up, so there was nothing new as far as scenery was concerned so we made rapid progress. None of us really wanted to stop for any extended breaks, save for a stop at Petzl Caves to refill water bottles, we hiked non-stop back to the trailhead, arriving at 3:45pm - less than 4 hours from the time we left the hut, a very respectable time.

We all converged back at the Exum office for a picture, to return some borrowed gear, and to receive our summit certificates. We thanked and tipped Pat for his service and left a tip for Calvin at the office. Dornan's was our first stop, as instructed by our friends Robert and Susan from our climbing gym. Pasta, pizza, water and beer was on our menu, and we all had our fill. Rich and Martin were at Dornan's as well - we swapped stories and said goodbye.

Back in our cabin at Colter Bay around 6:30pm, we took turns showering 2 days of sweat and dirt off our bodies. Chaz almost immediately fell asleep around 7:30 without unpacking his backpack while I packed my suitcase for the flight home the next day. I read for a bit when I was done before crashing about 9pm.

Submitted by michael on Thu, 07/31/2008 - 10:27am
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