Climbing Grand Teton

As darkness overtook Jackson Hole valley, and a cool evening breeze descended from the towering peaks of the Cathedral Group, we pulled into the Climber’s Ranch, exhausted from our day-long drive through the torrid and tiresome terrain between the Bighorn Mountains and Teton Range.  The sprawling collection of huts and cabins that makes up the Ranch is operated by the American Alpine Club and was the perfect base camp for the 3 nights we spent in Grand Teton National Park.  It was among the formidable peaks found in this park that we undertook our most technically challenging excursion of our road-trip: an attempted one-day-blitz up the Grand Teton.

At 4,199 metres, the Grand Teton towers above the other mountains of the Teton Range and its steep slopes require class 5 climbing to reach the summit.  Due to our lack of familiarity with the area and inexperience with altitude multi-pitch climbing, we decided to attempt the ascent of “The Grand” with Exum Mountain Guides which included a one multi-pitch climbing course.

Our prep day of climbing adjacent to Jenny Lake was both entertaining and insightful.  We brushed up on knots, anchors, and general climbing etiquette, in addition to practicing hip-belaying and route-cleaning.  After a swim in Jenny Lake and some serious carb loading at dinner, we went to bed early in anticipation of our 2 am rendezvous with our guide, Eric, at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead for the big ascent the next day.

The morning of our climb was refreshingly cool and crisp as we wound our way up switchbacks cut into the steep grassy slopes rising from the valley floor.  Our rhythmic strides soon carried us into Garnet Canyon, where precipitous talus slopes and bouldery terrain forced us to be more cautious and deliberate with our steps.  The sound of a nearby cascading creek concealed the sounds of our footsteps and breathing as we continued to gain elevation in the darkness that blanketed our surroundings.  The sun began to rise as we crested the lower saddle and got our first glimpses of the Teton Valley in the neighboring state of Idaho.  At this point, we took a water break and picked up ropes from a hut operated by Exum.

Our guide’s experience really began to pay off as we continued upward and passed numerous slower parties that had stayed the previous night in the huts at the lower saddle.  Our traverse of the notorious “Belly Roll” was especially noteworthy owing to the fact that Eric insisted on leap-frogging slower climbers as they awkwardly clung to an exposed 2,000 foot rock face. We summited Grand Teton at 7:45am and soaked up the sweeping views of the surrounding canyons, lakes and valleys.

Our descent went smoothly and the hike out offered us the chance to admire the scenery we had passed in the blackness of night.  By the time we regained the parking lot at 2pm, it was swelteringly hot and we were exhausted. We took a dip in Jenny Lake before crawling into bed for a much-needed rest.

The following day, our bodies felt like monstrous wrecks, but we still hauled our tired selves into the town of Jackson to check out some art galleries, shops and some really fun artificial climbing boulders. That night, we socialized with other climbers at the Ranch and enjoyed some delicious beer from nearby microbreweries.

The people we encountered at the Ranch were extremely engaging and we are happy to have met such great people.  Our two cabin-mates and a trio of friends from Illinois were particularly amicable and we all shared stories of our daily activities and previous treks and travels.  Chris was also jokingly referred to as “Lord of Thunder Bay”, a nickname that was clamored by our new friends. Overall, our time spent in Grand Teton National Park was truly gratifying and inspiring.  A few climbers told us to be prepared for hoards of tourists as we headed to our next destination: Yellowstone National Park.

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