Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Grand Teton

I apologize for not finishing up our story earlier, The past week has been quite busy with five of the ACC climbers in Alpine Rescue Training for the county during the past four days.

I was awakened by my cell phone alarm at 2:00am. I ignored the ringing for a few short moments and then slid myself out of my sleeping bag, quickly put on my down jacket and stood, staring blankly at the back of my car for five minutes. I wanted to take some ibuprofen and go back to bed. Instead, I knocked on the front door of the car, where molly was sleeping, and started to stumble around camp muttering to people to get up. Everyone else was just as excited about day three as I was and it took me fifteen minutes to rouse everyone.

Pop tarts and Gatorade on the tailgate of my car for breakfast, threw some sandwiches and chocolate in my backpack, along with my helmet, harness, and a fleece and climbed into the back of jers jeep for the 30 min drive across the valley to the trail head. I decided to leave my down jacket behind today as I figured i didn't really need it. oops.

We met Tom Carter, Trav and Logan (who had slept at a different campsite), along with Mark Feddes at the trail head and at 3:00 am we departed from Lupine Meadows trail head, a large group of eleven climbers. As we made our way towards garnet canyon, we settled into a steady pace and slowly made our way up switchback after switchback, gaining elevation very quickly. By 5:00 am we had entered garnet canyon, crossed a rock field of huge boulders and were stopped by a stream to take a short break and put more clothes on. It had gotten quite cold and in the moonlit night we could see that there was still huge snowfields hanging down into the canyon from the base of the Middle and South Teton. We crossed through a meadow and began another series of switchbacks that would take us higher into the Glacial moraine at the base of the Middle Teton glacier.

We were into the moraine by 6:00 am and as we made our way across large piles of boulders and along sandy ridges of dirt and scree, the sun made its way down the east face of the middle Teton to meet us at the base of the Glacier. The sunshine warmed us for a few short minutes before we were back in the shade of a ridge.

From the moraine, we ascended the saddle between the Middle and Grand Teton. It is a steep and wet section of loose rock that leads up to the Exum Mountain Guides base camp. We all scrambled up and over the head wall of the saddle and stopped for another short break in the saddle, with a wonderful view down into Idaho to the west and back down Garnet canyon to the east. above us, now veiled in clouds, was the Grand Teton. Starting here, we would be scrambling and climbing up rock for over 2,oooft.

After departing from the lower saddle, our group of eleven started to spread out and disappear in the rocks and clouds above. I brought up the rear with Joe, Tom, and Lena. We slowly made our way up into the clouds above us and towards the upper saddle (the point at which the technical climbing begins).

The temperature by now was in the low 30's with a wind of 10-12 mph in exposed areas. As we climbed higher, we began to encounter frozen pools of water and icicles hanging from rocks. It was getting very cold for a guy wearing running shorts and a t-shirt!

By the time we had reached the upper saddle,we had caught up with many of the other climbers on the Grand Teton that day. There were guided parties, private parties, people climbing alone, just lots of people in general. When we arrived at the start of the technical climbing section, where I would need to rope up Tom for about 300ft, there was a line of about ten people ahead of us waiting to climb, but the rest of our climbing party was no where to be seen. They had been moving ahead of us and apparently climbed through the technical section without leaving the rope that I would need for Tom.

After waiting for 20 min. and weighing our options, a couple from Utah, climbing to celebrate their 8th anniversary, offered to let Tom rope up with them, while the rest of us soloed the route unroped. We finally started the technical section and traversed out into the west face of the Grand along the Owen-Spawlding route. It is a short traverse that requires hand over hand climbing, easy climbing, but if you loose your footing or a hand slips, it is a vertical fall for thousands of feet. I climbed first, followed by Tom and the couple from Utah. I helped them along the way and assisted them with their rope. We made slow progress behind a pair of climbers that was moving very very slowly and probably should not have been climbing by themselves. After a 30 min wait. in a very dangerous and very cold rock chimney, we finally climbed over a ledge and onto the summit slope. Above us, still hidden in clouds lay the summit, 300ft away. During our wait in the chimney, Brandon and Casey had caught up with as and after talking for a few minutes, they continued on above us.

After coiling the rope and stopping for a breath, we pushed on over the last few hundred feet to the summit and arrived on top around 11:30am. As we stood in the clouds, we watched as they started to clear and a beautiful few of the surrounding mountains and valleys opened up in front of us. We paused on the summit for about 15 minutes, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the view that had just opened up before us.

After a few photos and eating the last of our food, we bundled up in our jackets again and began our descent down into the shadowy west side of the Grand and towards the rappel that would take us back to the upper saddle. After waiting in line again for a rappel, we finally were back in the upper saddle as the clouds started to clear again, but this time for good. We took off our climbing harnesses and jackets and made a long, slow, descent down wet and slippery rocks to the lower saddle. There, we stopped and drank water and some energy gu before starting the seven mile descent back to the car.

By the time we were back at the meadows, it was late afternoon and the sun was starting to sink towards the horizon behind us. It was a beautiful and peaceful walk out. I distanced myself from Lena and Tom and made quick time through the boulder fields and along streams and waterfalls towards the last section of switchbacks that would put be back at Lupine Meadows Trail head. Waiting there for me was a huge plate of amazing spaghetti, made my the girls, and a pair of flip-flops for my tired and sore feet.

It was finished, we had done it! Three Peaks, Three Days. Everyone had survived, unharmed and alive. It felt great. We sat in the parking lot of the trail head for a short while, talked about the past three days and all that had happened. At some point, while tired, dirty, and very very sore, I heard someone say "when we do this next year......." We will have to wait and see.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Day Two, Mount Cowen

My posting of our adventures on Mount Cowen was interrupted by something quite coincidental, four of us that took part in The Alpine Triple Crown were on the Alpine Rescue team sent to rescue an injured climber on Mount Cowen Sunday night. The operation started on Sunday night at 7 pm and continued until noon on Monday when we were flown off of Cowen after successfully assisting with the helicopter evacuation of an injured climber who had fallen on the route we had climbed Thursday. I am now back at my computer and can continue with our account of Mount Cowen on Thursday the 14th. for more details of the incident, visit

After leaving the trail head of Granite Peak, we drove to Livingston and had our second dinner of the night at Yellowstone Pizza, stocked up on odds and ends at Albertsons and drove to the Cowen trail head, arriving at approx. 10:30pm. 4o mins. later everyone else caught up with us and we were all asleep by 11:30pm.

After sleeping through our alarms set for 3:00am, we woke up at 4:45am and quickly got our packs ready for our day. Due to exhaustion from the previous day, three members of the team would not be joining us. Travis, Tom Carter, and Logan King, slept in while Joe Wagner, Ross Lynn and myself took off up the trail at a stout pace at 5:00am. By 7am, Ross and Joe had taken off ahead of me and I was lagging behind due to sharp pain in my left knee. I slowly made my way towards Elbow lake. I eventually caught up with the other two after deciding i was going to turn back. After a quick pep talk and a large dose of Ibuprofen, Ross convinced me to keep going. We concluded that it was tendinitis of the IT band, which is extremely painful but shouldn't have any long term complications if i climbed through the pain. We continued on, at a somewhat slower pace and made it to the lake three hours after leaving the trail head. From there we started the scramble up towards the summit, 3,oooft above us. Mount Cowen is made up of a number of pinnacles and towers and is referred to as a cirque. As we made our way up into the cirque of rock towers, towards the highest one, we passed stepping waterfalls, large boulder fields, steep mountain side meadows of wildflowers, and finally reached the top of the first large ledge that put us into the center of the cirque, directly at the base of Cowen and next to a frozen, glaciated lake. After seeing the lake and the surrounding terrain we knew that this was going to be the most difficult part of the climb. In order to stay on our route to the summit, we would have to cross a 200ft section of glacial ice and snow on a steep slope. If we fell during the traverse, we would slide the 400ft down into the frozen lake. We would be doing this in tennis shoes, without any ice climbing gear.

It was a tense 20 minutes, but all three of us successfully crossed the snow field and were back on route moving towards the summit, up the approach gully where the rescue took place three days later. We moved safely up the gully and while Joe and Ross climbed the South Ridge, I climbed the West Face, which was slightly easier terrain and safer with my painful knee.

We reached the summit five hours after leaving the trail head, the exact time it had taken me a year earlier, without an injured knee. We spent twenty minutes alone on the summit with a beautiful view and after a quick snack of electrolyte pills, gu, and water, started our descent.

We took a significant amount of time descending as we were being very careful down climbing the loose and dangerous gully. After getting clear of the gully and safely crossing the snow field again, we took off down and out of the cirque, passing the lake and steadily making our way back towards the trail head.

On our way out, we met Brandon and Casey, on their way up the mountain. We stopped for a few short minutes to describe the route to them and chat and then continued out.

We were back at the trail head by mid afternoon and after a quick meal of spaghetti cooked up by the girls, we loaded up in our convoy, stopped for dinner number two in Gardiner and headed to the boiling river for an hour of hot water. It felt amazing. By 7:00pm we were back on the road and all of the climbers were sound asleep as Molly and the girls drove through the park, watching the sun set and a beautiful full moon rise in front of us.

By 11:30 pm, our first car had arrived at the campsite across the valley from the Grand Teton and we were asleep at midnight, with only two hours of sleep ahead of us before we would awake for our attempt of our final mountain.