Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Grand Teton (13,770 feet)

A summit photo taken with my ancient cellphone.
Grand Teton from the west
               The Rocky Mountains run through the western half of Wyoming and form The Teton range. They rise out of the landscape abruptly and are home to year round snow fields, glaciers and unpredictable rock. The peaks are craggy and rugged and have substantial vertical relief. These characteristics are what give nearby Jackson Hole ski resort some of the best lift access ski terrain in the country. I spent last winter here in Jackson and there wasn't a single day that passed where I didn't look at The Grand and think about standing on top. The first ascent history is vague in that no one is quite certain who climbed the peak first. Most people will recognize William O. Owen along with Franklin Spalding, Frank Peterson, and John Shive as making the first ascent in 1898, however the peak saw earlier attempts. Note (although Owen gets credit, Spalding was the rope gun for this party). In 1872  James Stevenson and Nathaniel Longford claimed to have climbed The Grand, yet by their description and sketches, they most likely climbed the nearby Enclosure peak. It is often said that The Grand Teton strongly resembles Europe's Matterhorn. I had a weather window in the thunder storms that often plague the Tetons and decided to make an attempt. Good thing because it's now snowing above 9,000ft. I planned to solo climb via the Owen-Spalding route. The route traverses north around the west face and then goes up to the summit block. It is described as being exposed in places and gets the rating of 5.4. The guidebook however, lists a few pitches as being 5.5. It is not uncommon to find ice on the route in august.  I got up at 3:30am and put in my Ipod. I spent the morning hours with my thoughts considering my solo and working myself into a state of focus. When I reached the base of the route I took time out to read the topo. There were two guys roping up that eyed me cautiously, and asked me if I wanted to pass and if I was alone. I told them yes and thanked them while moving out onto the west face. The first section was spectacular, as the whole mountain dropped out below me. Moving smoothly across these exposed traversing sections, I reveled in the freedom and commitment of being ropeless. I soon found myself at the base of the Owen chimney. As I started up, I found that a lot of the rock was choked with ice. This made my situation even more delicate. A slip here would have extreme consequences. I moved surgically, checking twice that every hand and foot hold was secure and ice free. As I moved upward passing old petons and layers of ice I felt energized with the thought of standing on top. Easy sections of 3rd and 4th class rock brought me to the summit blocks, and before I knew it I was standing on top. I sat on top for a while and let my mind go blank as I looked out over the Tetons. I uncoiled the rope I had been carrying on my back and began the rappels down. This had indeed been one of the most magical summits of my summer and being alone allowed me to fully appreciate my place in the mountains. 
Sunset behind the Tetons

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