Last Friday I sent the following text message to Krista from 13,770 feet up, at the top of the Grand Teton.
Summit. 7:01am, 20th July ’12. Great views, not too cold. BRILLIANT climbing on the way up. Not too hard, but enough exposure to make it exciting. On my way back to you now 🙂
The response I got back was not what I’d hope for.
Requested facility not implemented.
Gotta love cellular communications…
Climbing the Grand Teton via the Owen-Spalding or Upper Exum Ridge route isn’t especially hard in climbing terms (around 5.4 on the YDS scale), but you need to move quickly and efficiently in order to get up and down safely. Consequently, Exum Guides require that inexperienced climbers take 2 days of training in movement over rock, belaying on moderate terrain and rappelling prior to the climb, so they can take an active part in the climb. Although I’ve done a reasonable amount of climbing and rappelling before, the time was well spent and I picked up a lot of tips for covering easy ground quickly. Plus the Hidden Falls crag where the training is conducting is by far the prettiest “classroom” I’ve studied in.
On day 3, we hiked up to Exum Guides’ high camp at the Lower Saddle. As they have a semi-permanent camp at 11,300 feet you don’t need to lug any sleeping bags, pads, stoves or technical climbing gear – just food and clothing. It’s still a long approach from the 6,700 foot trailhead though, and it took us 5 hours 45. We got there about 4pm, so had plenty of time to study the route, chase marmots, eat dinner and enjoy the sunset over Idaho.
On summit day, the guides woke us up at 3am, and we were fed, watered, dressed and on the trail by 3:45am. The route starts with 20 mins of easy hiking, followed by an hour of scrambling. We knew the weather above us wasn’t great, and we got rained on a bit on the way up. I was prepared for the fact that we may have to bail once we got to the Upper Saddle if there was any sign on lightning, but as the sun came up it looked like it was just regular rainclouds rather than a thunderstorm. After a quick consultation between the guides, the decision was made to go for the top but quickly, no time-wasting, no mistakes. So off we went, roped up in a caterpillar-style team of 5, fast as we could. Being in a rush was probably a good thing, cos it gave me zero to time to think about the 2000 feet or so of fresh air beneath me as I traversed the belly crawl pitch and up the chimneys. Honestly, the climbing isn’t hard but trying to do it quickly and safely, with a pack on my back, in approach shoes, on wet rock did have me panting a bit.
The upper pitches were a blur of shouting, flailing limbs, flapping Goretex and tangled ropes, but at 7:01am we scrambled up onto the summit. 3 hours 16 from hut to summit is pretty good for a group of beginners. Cue high-fives all round, photos, phone calls, failed text messages etc.
And then back down. Fast. Before the weather loses its patience with us. On the way down I was struck my how incredibly easy it would be to get profoundly lost up here. I was leading, and our guide Silas had to direct me literally every 10 paces to keep me on route. Gladly the trickiest climbing can be bypassed on the way down with a single 110 foot rappel. Which is great, if you like rappelling. Which I don’t. Or at least I never have in the past. Today I had a bit of a breakthrough, and launched backwards off the ledge in complete control of my fear, and whistled down the rope pausing just once, a third of the way down, to take a good look around.
By 9:40am we were back at camp. Eat, drink, pack up, and then hike 4 1/2 hours back to the trailhead. Done. Time for bed…