Climbing Grand Teton - August 20-23, 2009

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Introduction note: I (Joe) had been included in plans to climb Grand Teton (13,770') for over a year and a half, and this weekend brought the realization of those plans. My friend, Kirk Moushegian, had spent many childhood summers vacationing in Jackson Hole, and had long thought that he would someday like to summit The Grand. Another close friend, Marco Cortes, summited the Grand with his wife in 2007. Marco agreed to lead Kirk and me up The Grand, provided that we learn and practice our climbing skills throughout the summer. The fourth member of our party was Stephanie Newsom, another climbing friend who has had two previous unsuccessful attempts at climbing The Grand, and she really felt strongly about finally bagging this summit. Kirk and I were the climbing novices while Marco and Stephanie are quite experienced and proficient climbers. Kirk took the first steps of this adventure back in January when he made camping reservations for us in The Moraine for this weekend. Since then, Kirk and I have had many climbing outings where we have developed the technical climbing skills to be confident in this endeavor.

Grand Teton is the tallest peak in the Grand Tetons Mountains running along the Wyoming-Idaho border. It is a classic climbing mountain with many different routes to the summit. We chose the Upper Exum route, one of the easier climbing routes to the summit. While there were four of us, and we stuck together on the climb, we were really two separate teams of two. Marco would lead Kirk, and Stephanie would lead me. We all met up Thursday night at a B&B in Tetonia, Idaho owned by Kirk's mother, Carol. We were treated to a great breakfast Friday before driving back over Teton Pass to the Grand Teton National Park to pick up our permit and begin our approach.

Stephanie, Kirk, Joe, & Marco on the Summit of Grand Teton (13,770').

Friday, August 21 - We started our hike from the Lupine Meadows parking lot (6762'). The trail was wide and smooth for the first four miles into Garnet Canyon. Once we hit the first boulder field, it became more difficult. We passed through The Meadow (9200'), an established camping area, before beginning the hot exposed grind of a climb up past Spalding Falls to The Moraine (10,800') where we camped for the night. The six-mile hike in involved 4000' of elevation gain. We ate a hot dinner and then got all our gear organized for the climb to the summit. We set our alarms for 4:00 AM with plans to be hiking by headlamp no later than 5:00 AM. We all got some restless sleep with the sounds of rock-fall echoing through The Moraine.

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Last minute gear preparation in Lupine Meadows (6762').
Looking southeast into Jackson Hole--Bradley & Taggart Lakes.
Stephanie heading up Garnet Canyon. Nez Perce peak (11,901') on left.
Joe entering the first boulder scramble.
The trail heads west over the boulders toward Middle Teton (12,804'). Our campsite is in The Moraine beyond the saddle to the right of Middle Teton.
Many hikers & climbers ascending from The Meadow (9200').
Farther above The Meadow...
... and farther still.
A large group (red dots in middle of photo) relaxes at the start of The Moraine.
Joe takes ANOTHER rest in The Moraine.
Eating dinner at our campsite in The Moraine (10,800'). My grey tent blended in.
Marco's yellow tent was easy to see from far above.


Saturday, August 22 - We woke to a calm and comfortably warm morning at 4:00 AM. I boiled some water for coffee and breakfast, and then we were on our way at 4:50AM under the illumination of our headlamps. We found our way up the fixed ropes on the Headwall, and we reached the Lower Saddle by 6:00 AM. We only carried day-packs that contained food and water for the summit round trip, and all our gear. We each had helmets, headlamps, climbing harnesses, and rain jackets. Each climbing pair carried a 60 meter rope and a rack of cams and nuts (temporary anchors to protect against a fall). By 6:30 AM we were able to walk up the rocky trail without using our headlamps. The darkness gave way to a muted glow announcing the fresh dawn of a new clear day on the mountain. Our weather forecast was very good, ensuring a clear morning and only a slight chance of bad weather moving in after noon.

Our initial climbing mostly involved scrambling up and over knobby walls of rock and boulders as we tried to stay on an unmarked route. We nearly ended our summit attempt before 7:00 AM when Stephanie dislodged a large boulder that then rolled onto her left leg. She initially thought her tibia and/or fibula were broken. Kirk bloodied his knuckles just getting the boulder off her leg. Inspection of Stephanie's shin revealed a 5" long vertical gash that had torn deeply through her skin and flesh. She would definitely be needing some stitches. All three of us are trained in wilderness medicine, so we set to dressing the wound. Normal protocol for such a deep and wide laceration would have been to pack the wound moist to dry, then wrap it thoroughly, however, Stephanie wanted a dressing that would allow her to continue climbing. After cleaning the wound we ended up pinching it shut with some steri-strips, then taping and wrapping it tightly enough to inhibit bleeding. Stephanie tested her leg to make sure it would bear her weight. She took some Tylenol and then decided to proceed with the climb. We made it clear to her that we were prepared to abandon the climb, but she was not.

We continued our climb now in the broad light of morning. Marco led as we went up Wall Street, a large wide ramp at 12,400' that announces the beginning of the technical Upper Exum route. The end of Wall Street involves spanning a gap with your legs, providing a view straight down for well over a thousand feet. Most people don't even look. From the end of Wall Street to the summit, we broke up the remaining 1400 vertical feet with several pitches that involved belaying or simul-climbing. Up the Golden Stair, through the Wind Tunnel, several scrambles to the Friction Pitch, back on the crest of Exum Ridge, left up the V-Pitch to the summit scramble, and finally the very summit at 12:30. We spent over half an hour at the summit taking pictures and meeting some other summit parties.

Joe & Stephanie climbing in the early morning light of summit day.
7:00 AM: Marco & Joe tend to a severe gash in Stephanie's shin when a large boulder came loose under her step and then rolled onto her leg.
Stephanie, Kirk & Marco.
Stephanie with Wall Street above (slanted ramp that angles up and to the right).
Marco & Kirk roped together to start up Wall Street.
Kirk & Marco ascending Wall Street.
Wall street narrows and steepens...
until it ends with a gap revealing a 1500' cliff. Lower Saddle below.
Kirk & Stephanie.
Kirk belaying Marco from below.
Joe taking a photo.
Joe (blue helmet) on the Golden Stair.
Stephanie, Kirk & Marco in the Wind Tunnel.
Joe in the Wind Tunnel.
Stephanie & Joe at the Friction Pitch.
Marco leading the Friction Pitch with Kirk belaying.
Joe climbing the Exum Ridge.
Marco belaying Kirk (out of view) from above.
Joe belaying Stephanie (out of view) from below.
Marco & Kirk approach the V-pitch.
The Moraine leads to The Meadow far below, Jackson Hole in the distance.
Marco in the V-Pitch.
Marco & Joe near the summit.
Our team on the summit.
Climbing pair of Marco & Kirk.
Climbing pair of Joe & Stephanie.
Stephanie & Kirk on the final rappel coming down.
Descending the Owen-Spalding route back to the Lower Saddle.
Lower Saddle, notice two guide shelters (brown).
Descending to The Headwall with Moraine field below.
Fixed ropes for ascending and descending The Headwall.
The Headwall is rock face directly above snow bank.
Heading back toward camp. Small yellow dot is Marco's tent.

Descending from the summit involved a couple long rappels requiring both of our 60 meter ropes to be tied together. There were many other climbers on the mountain this day without adequate rope for the rappels. I was appalled at how they knowingly climbed a route where they would need to rely on the kindness of more prepared climbers, like ourselves. Accommodating these less prepared climbers caused unnecessary delays in our effort to get off the mountain. We hiked down the Owen-Spalding route to the Lower Saddle, down-climbed The Headwall and reached our campsite at 4:30. We packed up all our camping gear and made the exhausting hike back to our cars in Lupine Meadow, reaching the trailhead parking lot at 9:00 PM.

Stephanie's husband Marc was there to take her to the Jackson Emergency Room for some stitches. The rest of us went back to Kirk's B&B in Tetonia. Our drives back home on Sunday were accompanied by ongoing rain storms. We had timed our summit perfectly the day before. It was a great adventure of a classic climb.


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