Friday, June 14, 2002

Climbing the Grand Teton

The Grand Teton is deceptive. Close to Jackson Hole, a beautiful town featuring stylish garments behind shiny retail windows, the rocky buttresses and glacial shoulders of the Grand look like part of the attractions. The frozen panorama of jagged peaks in the sky almost makes you feel warm. It's like the witch of Narnia, pulling you in with Turkish Delight.
We took our time getting our permits for the Lower Saddle. We cooked pancakes on a double-burner stove and ate them with lots of peanut butter and honey. We distributed all the gear. The fishing stuff stayed behind this time. One of the ropes too. But we would have to bring more climbing gear since we were going to be climbing in two separate teams. Half the cams went on one sling, half on the other. Half the nuts on one, half the other. We were planning on climbing the Complete Exum Ridge, a link-up of the six-pitch Lower Exum and the long, technical scrambling of the Upper Exum. In all, we would be roped up for 2500’ of climbing.
Hiking up Garnet Canyon, we quickly exchanged the comforts of the valley for the unpredictable world of the mountain but we stayed confident. We had pushed our limits in the Cirque and came out okay. The Grand couldn’t be more difficult than that, we thought.
Maybe it was a sign when we realized we had forgotten our webbing for the climb. Josh ran a mile back to the van to get it. At 4:30 p.m., our pace was brought to a near standstill by thunderous winds coming over the lower saddle. The climb was steep and rocky, and a strong gusts sent us to our knees. I weighted myself against the wind for each step from boulder to boulder. When the wind would stop, I sprawled forward.
We got to the cliff below the saddle two hours later. The snow chute on the left is too steep, especially with wind. A fixed rope to the right looked doable. We take off our gloves and plunged our Gore-Tex boots into the cascading snowmelt. The thick brown rope led up and over to a camp on the Lower Saddle.
We summitted the next day, but only by trading the lower half of the climb for an easier hike to its side. Even then, we were stopping for breathers every hour. On the descent, I tried to glissade down the slot next to the fixed brown rope and ended up taking a 200' head-first slide into a crevasse of sorts between the snow and side of the Middle Teton. I fell 10', and almost fell further, when I landed on a ledge and got buried in the snow I had unleashed.
We made it safely back to the car, but felt a bit chastised.

No comments: