DAY FOUR - The Grand Day: The original plan was to climb the Complete Exum route up the Grand. This route makes for a very long day and with the questionable weather forecast for the day and the rest of the week we decided to climb the upper half of the climb (the Exum Ridge.) Will wanted to be sure we reached the summit of the Grand. We were not familiar with the approach to Wall Street, the ramp that leads up to the start of the climb. We were going to follow another group up and they planned to leave at 1am. Just before the alarm went off we were awakened by thunder, sleet and high wind. I reset the clock for 2:00am. Although it was quite windy we grabbed out gear, switched on headlamps and started off after the people we were going to try to follow. By then they were about 200 yards ahead of us. That is a long way when you are traversing up the steep, rocky trail up to the north end of the saddle.
We almost caught the group ahead when we reached a spot where you felt we needed to rope up. By the time we reached the place where you cross a gully over to Wall Street we could not figure out where to go. We could see several lights moving up the ramp but all I could see between them and us was a ledge that dropped off into a dark abyss. We decided there must be another route further up so we started looking for it. We spotted another group heading up in the dark and found our way to the trail they were on. After following them several hundred feet, we realized we were far above where we wanted to be. Another group was coming up behind us so we stopped for a snack and waited. As I suspected we were on the Owen-Spalding route and almost to the upper saddle. Will wanted to go on this way. Mostly, he wanted to get to the top.
We reached the upper saddle (where it is necessary to rope up) and found ourselves at the back of a queue of about 20 people. We were being blasted by the wind and there was no shelter. After about twenty miserable minutes there were still two or three groups in front of us. We considered climbing Emerson Chimney or Pownall-Gilkey but without guidebook the climb would have been difficult. Will informed me that he was freezing and wanted to go down. In an effort to save weight, he left his polartek thermals, hat and gloves at the bottom in the car. We went down and I took a lot of pictures. You can see what Will did! The day was cold and windy and by late afternoon clouds were blowing over the summits of the Tetons.
DAY FIVE - The Middle day: We decided to climb the North East Ridge route of the Middle. That was the climb we had started on day two. Since the Middle is 12,804 feet (almost 1000 feet lower than the Grand) maybe it would be a little warmer. We did not sleep very well that night because the wind was so strong. Some of the gusts had to be close to 100 mph. Fortunately the tents on the saddle are somewhat sheltered. We woke up about first light to see clouds blowing over the saddle at seventy or eighty miles per hour and occasional sleet or snow. By the time we finished breakfast the Exum Guide groups were making their way back down. They all had a blank stair and their westward facing sides were WHITE (snow and sleet.) No one made it to the top that morning. Will and I packed up and headed down to the Meadows, did a little bouldering and took it easy the rest of the day. Tomorrow, we are going to climb Irene!
DAY SIX - Irene Day: We started out at first light following our neighbors from camp what were going to climb the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial route (I think.) Anyway we could follow them to the approach to Irene's Arete. This approach is listed as Class III. We roped up four times on the approach. We were convinced we had gone the wrong way. We had not. Maybe it is because we live in Alabama where a hard approach is a scramble where a slip or fall will result in a bruised elbow or skinned knee. On this approach a slip could result in a two or three hundred-foot fall and your body finally coming to a stop in the Meadows. Anyway, the approach took twice as long as planned, but we got there. Will wanted the first lead so around the edge of the Arete and up he went. He called me on the radio when he reached the first belay and told me to look over at the Middle. Of course! Black clouds were pouring over the Tetons headed in out direction. Will slung the flake at the belay and came back down. Since the rope was there and the storm was not on us yet, I went up on top rope. After all the work to get here, I wanted to climb something. It was only sleeting a little as I went up. We make our way back down, packed our gear for the last time and headed down the Garnet Canyon trail for the last time. We reached the car just before dark and headed into town for REAL FOOD.
Will and me on the Grand somewhere near the upper saddle
How Will spent much of the rest of the day. He did finally wake up. He is visible in the next picture.
Look close and you can see Will, risen form the dead. Note the size of climbers and tents for perspective.
This marmot at our campsite didn't seem to care about the weather.
The Grand would not be a pleasant place right now. The winds were probably 60 or 80 mph.
The approach to Irene may be the scariest thing we did in six days of climbing.
Looking down Garnet Canyon at Irene's Arete form the Caves
Looking off the North Face of the Grand from the Upper Saddle at first light.
Climbing in the Tetons 2001
In June of 2001 Will and I made our first trip to climb in the Tetons. We knew June was very early however Will was already in Denver so that was when we went. Our plan was to climb the "Grand" via the "Complete Exum" route. A few days before we arrived conditions looked great. The weather had been warm and most of the snow was melting off the route. The complete Exum faces southeast so it gets a lot of sun. Upon arriving at the "Climbers Ranch" we learned that two feet of snow had fallen a couple of days before. Everyone seemed to think our planned route would be wet at best and possibly mixed. ( We don't get much mixed climbing experience in north east Alabama.) We decided to climb the Middle.
We hiked up to the Meadows and set up camp. Next day we headed up the "Southwest Couloir" Route to the top of the Middle climbing up 3,000 feet of snow. The steepest part of the route is probably no more than 50 degrees (a good solid black ski run) and I ski stuff much steeper. (I love "double black" ski runs) Somehow that 50 degrees was much more intimidating that mostdouble blacksI have skied, and I had an ice axe. We only had three days in the mountains so here are a few pictures.
Camp in the Meadows at 9,200 feet
Looking up at the 3,000 foot snow climb ahead of us form the Meadows.