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.