The Tetons, August 2006
Richard Doucette, Tom Boydston, Pablo Acosta, Ramona Filipi
Friday August 4
Long travel day. We arrived at the Climbers Ranch, north of Jackson WY around 1030pm and they actually found space for us. It,s the perfect spot for a stay in the Tetons, almost under the shadow of South, Middle and Grand Teton. Les Trios Tetons ¶that means three breasts ¶those French fur trappers had been in the woods way too long ¶
The Teton Range is amazing the way it jumps out of the landscape about 7,000 feet above the valley floor. Movement along the Teton fault once resulted in almost 30,000 feet of vertical displacement between valley floor and mountaintop. Glaciation and river deposition have filled in 18,000 feet of the valley with rock and sediment. Those forces, combined with the unending process of erosion, have brought us the landscape we see today.
The Ranch had 3 beds available and one spot on a porch. Tom lost the coin toss and I got the bed. They had some sort of celebration going on and half the crowd was shit-faced. The keg was getting a lot of use. A pair of twins, who had never met, was celebrating their reunion at the Climbers Ranch. The Ranch consists of a small administration building and several cabins, surrounding a large pavilion/cook shelter.
Saturday August 5
One of the minor attractions for me to this place is the boat approach Ě across Jenny Lake. For some reason I am attracted to an intermodal approach to a climb. Either I am lazy, or I just like boats. This will be my 3rd such boat approach.
I,ve done Mt Conness in Yosemite (via Saddlebag Lake) and The Curecanti Needle (via the Gunnison River) upriver of the Black Canyon. The boat approach across Jenny Lake (approximately 6,772 ft above sea level) is quite civilized. Our boatman Dan dutifully recited his rote speech about lifejackets and whatever, and soon we were whisked across the lake to the trailhead.
After less than an hour hike we were at Baxter Pinnacle (approx. 8,000ft). It was one of the shortest approaches to a relatively short climb we could find. There are plenty of death marches in The Tetons to choose from, but few that are easy to get to. Part of the route was an impressive ar√É¬™te. The first few pitches went fast; Pablo doing a very exposed pitch on the left-hand ar√É¬™te while I opted for the security of a chimney. The route is all 5.6ish except if you do the logical finish Ě. That,s what Engberg called it ¶logical finish ¶I shoulda known that meant kinda hard. A guide was happily dragging his 3 clients up it. So I figured if mom/dad/shortkid could scuffle there way up this 5.9, then so could I. Tom and Ramona both did a fine job leading it. We managed not to kill the guided party with any rockfall down the rock-strewn descent gully.
Sunday August 6
What the heck, lets do another boat approach. Looking for a slightly longer approach/climb, we settled on the Guide,s Wall. I was initially put off by the very boring name Guide,s Wall Ě, but it had come highly recommended and was the right size/distance/difficulty for us on day 2. It is a route that finishes below the summit of Storm Point (10,054ft). We boated across Jenny Lake and hiked 1.7 miles along the main stream channel. I remember little of the climb ¶except that the clouds were moving in more and more with each pitch. Pablo and Ramona headed up first, Ramona finding a hard/awkward start that I avoided; experience having its rewards. The two starts soon joined at some dihedrals, where I was stymied. I kept looking for the 5.7 when I finally realized it was right in front of me and I just had to do it and stop wandering around looking for an easier route.
The route is 5.8 but I knew there was a 5.9 hand crack variation on about the 6th pitch that Tom would be all excited about. We got within sight of that just as the thunder could be heard and a few sprinkles felt. Pablo and Ramona had been ahead of us, but now were nowhere to be found. At first I thought they were moving quite fast, then a retreating party indicated our friends had retreated due to approaching weather. I mentioned the deteriorating weather to Tom and half-heartedly suggested that we retreat also. But he had caught sight of the hand crack and was acting like a dog about to roll around on a dead fish ¶unable to control himself.
Hey, if you want to go up the thing with lightening approaching go ahead ¶just give me a sheltered space to hide. Just as the hand crack finished the rainwater was pooling up on the ledges, Tom downclimbed off a nut and we rapped. The skies cleared somewhat as we hiked back to the boat, but we were happy to be back down in the relative security of the valley.
Monday August 7
Again looking for a little longer climb and approach, we chose Symmetry Spire (10,560ft) as our objective. It,s located in Cascade Canyon, the same area as our previous days climbs, but its much higher up Symmetry Couloir on Mt. Saint John. Off we go across Jenny Lake and then on a very a long steep trail. This is the day (or was it the day before) I founded a new climbing organization √Ę‚ā¨‚Äú Team Slow. We had humble beginnings ¶just me ¶but Pablo signed on pretty quickly as vice chair. Tom and Ramona scurried off up the trail as Team Slow took up the rear.
It was about a 3 hr hike up past a snow patch whose melt waters feed a lush meadow full of columbine, monkeyflower and all kinds of grasses. The scenery helped ease the pain. It,s as tired as I had been in years. We were feeling the fact that we live at sea level. At least I will blame that, and not any lack of fitness on my part. It,s a convenient excuse. As we roped up after the death march, the skies darkened and the thunder echoed through the canyon. We retreated after less than 1 pitch. At least we got in a worthy acclimatization hike.
Tuesday August 8
OK. Today,s the big day. It took way too long to pack for 3 days up on The Grand ¶trying to figure out how much crap I could hang off the outside of my pack. Why didn,t I bring the bigger pack, I kept asking myself. No good answer forthcoming. Morning showers delayed our departure from The Ranch. We left Lupine Meadows (6,800ft?) under improving skies and headed into Garnet Canyon. The Meadows Ě Campsite (9,300ft) is about 4.7 miles up. The trail is open to horses most of the way and is well graded. The last section is hopping through large boulders in a stream crossing. We made it to the campsite I around 4 hrs, with a half hour lunch stop at the stream. We enjoyed a fine freeze-dried dinner. Beware of the Italian Beef with Pasta Ě, as it can be quite gaseous. No open flames should be allowed in the tent ¶
Wednesday August 9
A relatively early rise (4am I think?) was required today, so we could do Irene,s on Disappointment Peak (11,618ft) and still have time to move the camp up to the Lower Saddle (11,600ft) to be in position for The Grand on the next day. Seemed like a good plan, but in retrospect it would have been good to have a rest day between Irene,s and The Grand. On paper Irene,s looked like the Whitney-Gilman Ridge, just a little harder. But it turned out to be harder still. First we had to pack up and move camp up a thousand feet or so. The trail got quite steep and we bogged down a bit carrying our loads. After an hour or less we dropped the loads and headed over to the ar√É¬™te, which is very impressive. The climbing was not easy; the 5.7 pitches felt like 5.8s, and the 8s felt like 9s. The two teams stayed in touch with each other, which was good, as the route finding was trickier than one would expect on a ridge climb. The crux pitch was particularly long and hard, such that we thought Ramona had inadvertently strung 2 pitches together or done a harder variation, but that was not the case. It went for 7 pitches or so, but felt longer. On the last pitch, an Eastern European dude soloed past me, handing me a piece of gear I had unknowingly dropped. He and his buddy had soloed The Grand earlier in the day, and would make it back to the road long before we were done with our day. How people can be so fast and fit, I cannot imagine.
After the climb we found our packs and headed off through the endless moraine to the headwall Ě. That,s not a word you look forward to when you are very tired and carrying a heavy load. This one steep bedrock section is scary enough they have installed massive fixed ropes so that we could haul ourselves up. My guess is, more than a few tired people have toppled off the headwall prior to the installation of the fixed ropes.
We made camp within a boulder wall windbreak and cooked up some yummy freeze-dried food just before dark. It got cold rather fast at 11,600 ft. We had arrived in time to scope out the route a bit. The Exum Ridge is the sun-drenched ar√É¬™te in the middle of the photo. To its right is the Petzoldt Ridge; right of that is the Underhill Ridge. We planned to do the Upper Exum Ridge. The approach is up the rocky alluvial fan on the left-hand side of the photo, then it diagonals up/right in the shadows above the pointy crags, drops into the gully, and traverses in along the west face, where it meets the ridge. The route thus avoids the lower half (or more) of the full ridge. Climbing the entire ridge is known as the Complete Exum Ě, which is not often done.
Thursday August 10
The big day dawned warm and clear. It had been calm enough during the night that I had gotten some sleep. Things were looking up. The full moon shone as we geared up. We left camp at 415am and were surprised not to see any guided parties; but they soon appeared. This was not unwelcome, as we planned to draft Ě behind them to help with route finding. The terrain is complex, and while the crowd might slow us down it would probably save us time in the long run. We had no desire to find the Carey-Balukonis memorial bivy/rap station that night.
The moon was bright and I could negotiate much of the approach without a headlamp. The guided parties quickly caught up at our first obstacle, a short steep slab. As we negotiated this tricky section, the capable clients moved easily with their guides. At least one group stopped and I heard someone retching below. They headed back to the high camp.
Soon came the most significant route finding obstacle on the approach, a feature known as the eye of the needle Ě. I wonder how many mountains have a feature by that name? It must exist in a few dozen languages, along with lemon squeeze Ě, dragons (or giants) tooth Ě, and a few other oft-used names for mountain features. It looked more like a breeching whale to me, but whatever you call it we made it through a small notch into a gully over to the right. Now we traversed into a long wide ramp called Wall Street Ě (which is a name I have never heard in the mtns). This ramp traverses the west side of the mountain from left-to-right, and brings us to the Exum Ridge about halfway up the full ridge. The Complete Exum would be a very long day. We Eastern Bedwetters just didn,t have the fitness or acclimatization to try it ¶not this trip anyway.
The initial step-around to the ridge was a cold, windy and a bit hairy, as we had been in approach mode for a couple of hours, with bigger shoes and sleepy heads. I put on my rock shoes before the step-around, seeking greater security once on the ridge. The shadow of The Grand on the distant Idaho landscape was pretty amazing. The mountain was so big it seemed to cast a shadow on the clouds!
I was amazed to see the guided parties nowhere in sight after the logjam at the end of Wall Street. They were moving smoothly and efficiently. Tom was anxious to keep them in sight, so we tried to stagger ourselves so he could catch a glimpse of them while I lagged behind to give Pablo and Ramona a sense of where we were headed. I knew that could be a calming influence on them, and I remembered vividly how it helped me on one of my first mountain routes √Ę‚ā¨‚Äú Le Petit Chamoz √Ę‚ā¨‚Äú outside Chamonix.
We mostly swung leads, the climbing being fun and relatively easy at 5.6. Tom and Pablo completed the whole route in approach shoes. I had my rock shoes on for the middle 5 or 6 pitches. We stopped and belayed a number of pitches but simul-climbed a few others with no pro. A couple of times we thought we were at the summit, but as usual the summit tends to be farther than you thought. It,s a big mountain. The climbing was easy, but if you tried to string a few climbing moves together you would feel the altitude and begin to suck wind.
Before noon we were on the summit of Le Grand Teton (13,770,) with a number of other tired and happy climbers. There were almost no clouds, and we had really lucked out with two perfect weather days. We found 2 rappels to speed up the descent, and managed not to knock anything large down on other parties. We were reminded of the mountain climate as we rapped past some icicles clinging to the wall near the Owen-Spaulding route. Our route was 6√ā¬Ĺ hrs up and 2√ā¬ĺ hrs down from the Lower Saddle, but it was still many hours back to the road. We were back at camp with our feet in the air before 2pm. The view from the top was quite good. The car is somewhere up and left of the two lakes, almost 7,000 ft. below.
We packed up and headed down, somehow managing to stuff everything back into our packs even though our loads seemed to have grown. Our folding/rolling/stuffing technique was degenerating. Half way down the trail I lost part of my load and had to stop and retie. The going was slow down the headwall and through the moraine. Once past the big boulders and on real dirt, we almost ran for the car. We all looked forward to sitting and doing nothing.
Luckily, Pablo and Ramona had scoped-out a great local BBQ place immediately outside the park entrance. They had huge vats of food cooking over an open flame. It was the one and only time I have seen Tom out eaten. Pablo was up to the task that day.
Friday August 11
Rest day in Yellowstone National Park. After gaining a total of about 10,000 ft over the previous 6 days, we were happy to use our newfound acclimatization sitting on our assess sight-seeing. We make a few grueling hikes a hundred yards or so to look at boiling paint pots, geysers and plodding buffalo.
Saturday August 12
The rest of the party went crag climbing south of Jackson at a place called the Hoback Shield. I took a drive around Grant Teton National Park to see the historic sites and take pictures. I learned about the early settlement of the area, and that it was one of the last places settled in the lower 48 states (not till the 1880s) due to its inhospitable climate, which provides no more than 60 frost-free days per year. Producing enough crops to sustain a family or a heard of cattle was very challenging indeed. I met up in town with the rest of the party and we had our end-of-trip dinner at a place that specializes in local game. We couldn,t quite agree on whether the buffalo was better than the elk, but all agreed that the quail was yummy.
Sunday August 13
The last day began with a big breakfast at The Bunnery Ě in Jackson WY ¶then the long drive to Salt Lake and the flight home. We were all back home in bed around 2am Monday morning. Only a few hours till rush hour ¶