Jackson Hole Days Five & Six: Summiting The Grand Teton

Day One

The four of us arrived in the Exum Mountain Guides parking lot to meet up with our guides: Lynne Wolfe, Andy “Tank" Tankersly, and Zahan “Z" Billimoria. After a quick gear review and signing of our forms, we drove to the Lupine Meadows trailhead and began our hike up to the Lower Saddle camp.  At 7 miles long and with a 5,000 feet elevation increase, the trail afforded us great views of the ground we had covered as the day went on.  Even after an hour of switchbacks, we had fantastic views of Taggart and Bradley Lakes and Mt. Teewinot.

We continued our hike up into Garnet Canyon past a few boulder fields and had lunch at a nice spot on some boulders with a creek and meadow and a great view of Middle Teton.  Lynne explained some of the geology of the Teton range to us and we continued up the canyon further.

Lynn explaining the geology of the Teton range

Approaching the Lower Saddle (11,600 ft.) through the moraine of Garnet Canyon, the sky started to look a bit more ominous.  As we ascended the fixed rope section past a glacier and up to the saddle, it began to rain and then hail just as we arrived at camp.  We changed into some dry clothes and rode the storm out for an hour or so until the sky cleared and left us with a beautiful rainbow (alas, not a double rainbow) and view of the canyon below.

Me posing with the rainbow after the storm

Around dinner time, we heard (and saw) a rock slide off the mountain which we later learned may have been connected to an earthquake that occurred along the Teton fault that afternoon.  Following dinner and quick briefing on the next morning’s schedule with the Exum guides, we wandered around the Lower Saddle and enjoyed the sunset and scenery before retiring for the night.

Posing for a photo at the Lower Saddle the night before our attempt at the summit

Watching the sunset at the Lower Saddle

Douglas watching the sunset from the Lower Saddle

Day Two

Given the amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins the first night, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I slept about a total of 15 minutes before getting up at 3am for our summit run.   After some breakfast & gear checks, we left camp at 4am with headlamps, helmets and harnesses on to begin our ascent up through the black rock dike to the Upper Saddle.  Unfortunately, I started feeling the effects of the altitude (dizziness, headache, heavy breathing) as we approached the Upper Saddle. Lynne’s reassurance, tough love and knowledge of how to contol breathing and lessen the effects of the altitude were instrumental in helping me get my act together and make it to the Upper Saddle. We arrived at Upper Saddle as the sun started to rise and proceeded to the west side of the mountain to try our hand at the Owen-Spalding route.

Jordan on his way to the Upper Saddle before sunrise

The first major technical pitch of the Owen-Spalding route was the Belly Roll.  Jordan and I are both very comfortable with technical climbing on routes rated 5.9 or so in climbing gyms, but something about wearing a backpack, being over 13,000 feet above sea level (3,000 of which is a vertical cliff), wearing approach shoes instead of climbing shoes and combating wind, fatigue, and cold weather makes a 5.5 pitch seem significantly more difficult than a standard gym route.  Whatever the case, the technical climbing on the Owen-Spalding route was exhilarating and just plain fun. After the Belly Roll, we approached The Crawl, a small section of jagged rock with about 3,000 feet of air underneath it.  I had the luxury of cleaning this route, but I was so focused on removing the quickdraw and cam that Lynne placed on the route that I didn’t notice the exposure as much as I should have.

Douglas @ The Crawl

Douglas ascending the double chimney

After most of the technical pitches were complete,  Z diverted from the group to help a father and daughter tandem that spent the night high up on the mountain after being caught in the hailstorm from the night before and losing their way to the rappel station.

Me ascending one of the final pitches before the summit

We arrived at the summit around 7:10 am.  I’m fairly certain we could see for about 100 miles, since to the north we noticed what looked like Old Faithful (or perhaps another geyser in Yellowstone) erupting.  At that time of morning, the mountain cast a shadow that was probably at least 15 miles long.

Finally at the summit!

We spent about 20 minutes enjoying the view on the summit (and even took a quick bathroom break) and then began the long down-climb & rappel back to the Lower Saddle.

Upon reaching the Lower Saddle, we wolfed down some Clif bars (I don’t think I’ll be eating any more of these for a while after this trip), changed clothes and climbed back down into the moraine and Garnet Canyon. Arriving at the parking lot after being awake for 36 hours or so was such a feeling of relief, but I can’t stop thinking about how our time on the Grand Teton seems too short in retrospect.  We were very fortunate that the mountain gave us good weather and safe passage for our ascent to the summit.  Every guide we met at Exum was personable and passionate about mountaineering and I know all of us are thankful that Lynne, Andy and Z got us up and down the mountain safely.  Learning about the science of mountaineering and the geology behind the Teton range added a layer of depth to the trip that made it even more special. I’m incredibly thankful for this trip to the Tetons and for the friends and family I’ve been able to share this experience with. Climbing The Grand Teton was a physical, emotional, and intellectual challenge that will be with me forever.  There’s something special about these mountains and something very deeply satisfying about accomplishing a goal that the four of us set as a team back in February. Although we’ve left the Tetons for now, I have a feeling we’ll be back…

Click here for more photos from our trip.