Grand Teton
Elevation 13770'
August 1, 2012
43.7412°N / 110.8028°W
Grand Teton

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The Grand Teton is a classic American mountaineering objective. It attracts climbers from across the country and around the world. It is the highest peak in Wyoming’s Teton Range, and second highest mountain in the state. The Grand Teton is a massive peak that towers above the valley floor over seven thousand feet below. There are a number of routes that can be used to reach the summit. The easiest of which is the Owen Spalding route, and even that is a Grade II, 5.4.

Sean had locked in permits back in January and extended an invite. With no technical climbing experience, I was worried that I was over my head, but I just couldn’t turn down an offer like this. During the drive over, we finalized plans. Our overnight backcountry permit was for 2 nights at the Meadows camping zone. We’d start from the Lupine Meadows trailhead, then hike in and set-up camp in the Meadows. The plan for day one would be for Sean and Chris to climb the classic Direct Exum Ridge, while Alan and I would take the Owen Spalding route. The following day we’d have a few options to choose from. I planned on scrambling Middle Teton and South Teton, and then head back to the trailhead.

Day 1 – Hike to The Meadows
Garnet Canyon.After a seven-hour drive from Boise, we picked up the permits from the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, and hit the trial from Lupine Meadows. The closest parking lot was full, so we got to hike an extra half-mile of dusty road to get to the trailhead. Once on the trail, the pace was brisk, and I was the slow man of the group. The trail starts out in the forest, then the views got increasingly better as we climbed the switchbacks up and out of the valley. Once into Garnet Canyon, we had a great view of Middle Teton in front of us. It took us about 2 hours to cover the 5 miles to our campsite at The Meadows. There were a few other groups already there, but we were able to find a good spot next to a boulder near one of the bear boxes. We set up camp, ate dinner, and watched other climbers coming and going along the steep trail leading to the upper camps.

Day 2 – Grand Teton Attempt
Morning Scene.We had set the alarm for 4 am and were on the trail by 5am. It had seemed like a chilly morning, but it wasn’t long before we were peeling off layers while climbing the steep trail. And the trail is even steeper if you accidentally cut a switchback heading uphill in the dark. Up we went, crossing the creek near the caves, and trying to navigate in low light through the boulder field below the moraine. Soon enough we came up alongside the glacier and reached at the headwall. The snow had melted out for the year, so we made a dry climb up the fixed ropes, and then to the lower saddle by 7am. We were making decent time, but Alan didn’t feel like he was at his best.

First time at Upper Saddle.From the lower saddle, Sean and Chris contoured around to the base of the Direct Exum route, while Alan and I headed up the main gully toward the Owen Spalding route. The gully was pretty good rock in general, but there were a lot of other climbers, so falling rock was a concern. We tried to take a direct route up the gully, but lost almost an hour after hitting a couple dead ends. Eventually we made our way up the right (east) side of the gully along with some other climbers. By around 10 am were made it to the upper saddle, just in time to see the guided groups starting their rappels off the summit block. Some folks looked more comfortable than others. Once at the base of the technical climb (~13300’), Alan announced that he couldn’t go on. I initially tried to convince him that he may feel better after an extended break, but I had to admit his breathing didn’t sound good at all. We watched other climbers coming and going for a bit, and then decided to descend to see if his breathing would improve lower down.

View down to The Meadows.So back down the gully we went. We kept an eye on which way to guided groups were going to find the easiest route. As we got lower, Alan’s breathing got better, so he had something altitude related, which was somewhat surprising since he’d been on some very big mountains (Aconcagua, Orizaba, Gannett, etc.). We took a leisurely pace back down, following the guided groups down the east side of the gully, and down through the eye of the needle. We stopped for a very scenic lunch break at the bottom of the gully, taking in the views of Table Mountain and Dartmouth Basin. We were in no hurry since we knew Sean and Chris would be back late. So our mode was slow hiking with frequent stops to take in the views. The weather had been great all day, but the clouds started rolling in during the early afternoon. With gray skies to the west, Alan and I hustled back down the switchbacks to our campsite, and jumped in the tent by about 3pm when the rain started falling.

The rain came and went, and we spent time trying to catch a nap and watching climbers coming down the trail, trying to spot our partners. Chris and Sean finally came into view at about 7pm. In spite of being slowed by climbers in front of them, and some nasty snowy weather on the summit, they had completed the Direct Exum route, one of the fifty classic climbs of North America. Way to go guys!

During dinner we debated about what the plan should be for the next day. Both Sean and Chris offered to lead me up the Owen Spalding route. I wondered if they offered out of pity, but they assured me that climbing the Grand Teton on consecutive days by different routes was a worthy goal for them.

Day 3 – Grand Teton summit day
Waiting out the storm.We were up by 4am again. During the night, Alan decided he’d prefer to hike back out and get a rental car to get home instead of hanging around camp all day. Sean decided to hike down with him, and back up to base camp later to meet us. So Chris and I headed up the trail. I took a 15-minute head start to warm up at a slower pace, but Chris caught up about half an hour later, just in time for some light rain showers. The skies were dark ahead of us, but we agreed to continue upward and see what happened. We passed a few guided groups, already making their way down due to lightning higher on the mountain. But we kept marching up the trail, through the moraine, up the fixed line, and to the lower saddle. Once there, we found that all the guided groups were in the process of heading down, but there were other climbers waiting for the weather to settle. There was one ominous bank of black clouds rolling through, so we huddled behind rocks waiting for the storm to pass. About an hour later, the rain and grapple snow stopped. There were still more clouds coming, but they weren’t as dark and seemed to be blowing mostly north of the summit. So up we went, leaving the lower saddle at about 8am, along with about eight or ten other climbers.

Climbers roping up at the Upper Saddle.Having scouted the route up the gully the prior day, I had a pretty good idea of the easiest way to go. Up the ridge to the base of the main gully, then take a hard right up the obvious chockstone couloir, over the chockstone, up through the eye of the needle, then along the east side ledges to the top of the gully. We reached the upper saddle by about 10 am, and fell in line behind the other climbers who were in the process of roping up for the Owen Spalding route. It was cold and windy, so we layered up while waiting our turn to start. First a group of two, next a group of three, and then it was our turn.

Belly Crawl pitch.The first pitch is called the belly roll. The moves aren’t difficult, but Chris placed a couple pieces of protection for me since a slip here would result in a quick 2000-foot drop into Valhalla Canyon far below. Next was the belly crawl, which was again pretty easy, but still a ton of exposure. I hadn’t made any conscious decision ahead of time, but I never looked down during this part of the climb. The next pitch was the double chimney. We took the second chimney, which I felt was one of the harder sections of the climb. The first challenge was getting up off the ledge into the chimney, made easier by a rock that someone had stacked on top of a pile of snow. Higher up was a second awkward move over small angled crack and slab. By this point, my nervousness was going away and I was able to start enjoying the climbing. We let another group pass us who had taken the other chimney. The next pitch was the Owen Chimney. This had arguably the crux move of the entire climb, which was a long reaching pull up an over a short vertical section. Sargent's Chimney.Beyond that, it was basically a very steep scramble up the chimney to a large belay area below Sargent’s Chimney. We watched the group in front of us climb up and to the left. Once we had a good view from the base of the pitch, it looked pretty easy so we ended up scrambling up and then exiting on the left. To the right, the early group had already summitted and was preparing to rappel. Once above Sargent’s Chimney, there were a lot of route options up various slabs and ledges. Most folks angle to the left toward the summit, but we angled to the right, and ended up circling around to the south side of the peak before reaching the highpoint.

Grand Teton summit.Once on the summit, the weather was foggy but calm. We took photos, sorted gear, and even had time for a PB&J. It was a very rewarding feeling to be standing on top of such an amazing peak. But the clock was ticking so we started the climb down toward the top of Sargent’s Chimney. Chris set up our single rope rappel from a sling at the top of the chimney, and led the way down. Next it was my turn. After a few tentative steps backward, I started getting in the rhythm and made my way down the chimney. After pulling the rope, we angled to the left across the slabs to the top of the second rappel. There were several choices for where to start the rappel, and we eventually found the sling that Chris and Sean had used for a single rope rappel the prior day. It is just to the left of the chains used by the guided groups. Chris again went first, and I heard a big WHEEEEE as he dropped through the overhanging free rappel section. Next it was my turn.

The second rappel was quite a bit longer than the first one, and much steeper. I was again tentative backing into the rappel, but got in the rhythm pretty quick and was enjoying the easy descent. Then I reached the overhanging section, and let out my own WHEEEEE! It was a blast! We were now back at the upper saddle, feeling very good about how the day had gone. We changed shoes and layered down for the descent. We pretty much just retraced our ascent route down the east side of the gully, through the eye of the needle, then back to the lower saddle. We filled up our water bottles there, and made the hike back to camp by about 4pm. Sean had been there for a while, and had already done most of the packing. So after a short break and sorting out some gear, we were on the trail heading back to the car. Along the way we told stories about out day and checked out the wildlife including marmots, deer, and even a mamma bear and her cub.

What an awesome climb and fantastic experience. I am very appreciative of Sean and Chris for making this one possible. I don’t usually make a habit of re-climbing mountains, but I could definitely see climbing the Grand Teton again some day.

Map of the route, 16 miles round trip with 7000 elevation gain. Throw in another 5 miles and 4500 gain if you want to make a second trip from the meadows to the upper saddle.
Map of the route, 16 miles round trip with 7000 feet of gain. Throw in another 5 miles & 4500 gain if you want to make a second trip from the meadows to the upper saddle.
Hiking up the Garnet Canyon trail.
Hiking up the Garnet Canyon trail.
Chris above his sweet tent, Spalding Falls in the background.
Chris above his sweet tent, Spalding Falls in the background.
Beautiful morning scene, sunrise above Nez Perce.
Beautiful morning scene, sunrise above Nez Perce.
Hiking up the moraine toward the lower saddle.
Hiking up the moraine toward the lower saddle.
View of The Needle from just above the lower saddle. OS Couloir to the left, Upper Exum Ridge to the right.
View of The Needle from just above the lower saddle. OS Couloir to the left, Upper Exum Ridge to the right.
West face of Grand Teton from just below the upper saddle.
West face of Grand Teton from just below the upper saddle.
Looking down on Wall Street, from just below the upper saddle.
Looking down on Wall Street, from just below the upper saddle.
View after passing through the Eye of the Needle. The easiest ascent route up the gully is the ledges to the right.
View from just above the Eye of the Needle. The easiest ascent route up the gully is the ledges to the right.
Panoramic view to the west of Table Mountain, from just above The Needle.
Panoramic view to the west of Table Mountain, from just above The Needle.
Using the fixed rope to descend the headwall below the Lower Saddle.
Alan using the fixed rope to descend the headwall below the Lower Saddle.
View into Garnet Canyon and The Meadows camping zone, from the edge of the moraine.
View into Garnet Canyon and The Meadows camping zone, from the edge of the moraine.
Chris and Dave waiting out the storm at the lower saddle. The Exum guide huts are in the background.
Chris and Dave waiting out the storm at the lower saddle. The Exum guide huts are in the background.
Unsettled weather to the west, over Table Mountain and Dartmouth Basin.
Unsettled weather to the west, over Table Mountain and Dartmouth Basin.
Chris going through the Eye of the Needle.
Chris going through the Eye of the Needle.
Climbers roping up at the base of the Owen Spalding route.
Climbers roping up at the base of the Owen Spalding route.
Start of the Owen Spalding route, just before the belly roll pitch.
Start of the Owen Spalding route, just before the belly roll pitch.
Dave finishing up the belly crawl. ChrisR photo.
Dave finishing up the belly crawl. ChrisR photo.
Climber in the Owen Chimney.
Climber in the Owen Chimney.
Looking down from the base of Sargent's Chimney at a climber belaying at the top of the Owen Chimney.
Looking down from the base of Sargent's Chimney at a climber belaying at the top of the Owen Chimney.
Looking up Sargent's Chimney. There is a climber on the left, and another preparing to rappel on the right.
Looking up Sargent's Chimney. There is a climber on the left, and another preparing to rappel on the right.
Dave scrambling up Sargent's Chimney.
Dave scrambling up Sargent's Chimney.
We took the scenic route around the south side to reach the summit.
We took the scenic route around the south side to reach the summit.
Dave and Chris on the summit of the Grand Teton.
Dave and Chris on the summit of the Grand Teton.
Tebowing on the Grand Teton summit.
Tebowing on the Grand Teton summit.
Chris rappelling down Sargent's Chimney.
Chris rappelling down Sargent's Chimney.
Dave on the final rappel.
Dave on the final rappel.
The free rappel was a blast.
The free rappel was a blast.
Looking down the descent gully, Middle Teton in the background.
Looking down the descent gully, Middle Teton in the background.
Chris in the descent gully, Table Mountain in the background.
Chris in the descent gully, Table Mountain in the background.
Dave entering the Eye of the Needle. ChrisR photo.
Dave entering the Eye of the Needle. ChrisR photo.
Spalding Falls up close from the trail.
Spalding Falls up close from the trail.
Garnet Canyon during the hike out.
Garnet Canyon during the hike out.
Black bear near the trail about a mile from the trailhead.
Black bear near the trail about a mile from the trailhead.
Mysterious wildlife.
Mysterious wildlife.

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