Saturday, 22 August 1998.
Climber's Ranch, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Before I launch into my current tales, I neglected to inform y'all how much Mark's rescue cost. This information was obtained from the head climbing ranger at Grand Teton, Renny Jackson.
1400 - Climbing Rangers (Search & Rescue Team)
5400 - Helicopter
What Mark's portion will be wasn't known. The National Park service will cover the complete climbing rangers cost. The NPS and the US Forest Service charter a helicopter for the summer at a cost of $4k/day. Hopefully this will offset the $5400 helicopter charge. Sometimes the local sheriff or county picks up the rescue costs.
I'm proud to consider myself a climber. It isn't the incredible summits, airy moves, or movement over rock. Ok, well those things are a big piece of it. But the climbers I've meet on my trip have been an incredible group of people. Since returning from the Wind River range, I've been staying in the epicenter of climbing culture in Jackson Hole, the American Alpine Club's Climber's Ranch. Located in Grand Teton National Park, the Climber's Ranch is like a youth hostel for climbers. But inspite of the name, it really isn't a ranch. Several important traits of the Climber's Ranch appeal to climbers. First its cheap, at $6/person/night. Second there are hot showers included in the nightly stay. Bunk houses, a covered cooking area and a well stocked library complete the package. And the view of the Tetons is unbeatable!
The morning of Wednesday, August 19th, brought a very welcome change -- no rain. Ian and I were up early to wait in line for another set of camping permits for another attempt at the Grand. We got the last spot at the Lower Saddle (11,650 feet), the highest of the camping spots for attempting the Grand.
Permits in hand, we drove to the trailhead for Teewinot, 12325 feet. Climbing Teewinot falls somewhere between hiking and climbing. The official designation is Class 4 (where climbing begins at Class 5, hence 5.6, 5.10, etc.). Anyway you describe it, its a lot of steep hiking, with 5600 feet of elevation gain. Once past two pinnacles, The Worshiper and the Idol, the more technical terrain begins. We used our ice axes to cross the snow field before heading up the talus slopes. For about a 200 foot section, easy climbing moves got us through the toughest section. You can't see the summit until you're nearly there, but the trip is definitely worth it. An airy perch provides incredible views of the entire mountain range, including our future objective the Grand Teton. Upon reaching the summit, the outing wasn't over, since we still had to down climb some interesting moves. We had packed a rope and a few pieces of rock gear, but didn't need to pull them out.
On the way up Teewinot we ran into three climbers, Mattie, Trevor and Tommy. Mattie and Trevor are from Oregon and guess which climbing ranger they know? Sure enough, our man on the rescue team, Andy. We hung out on the summit together and swapped group photo ops.
Having hiked Teewinot, up and back in eight hours wasn't enough for Ian and I to call it a day. Ian had made plans for us to go out with a few women he had meet in Jackson previously (including Charlotte). We had a light snack of pizza and beer before returning to the climber's ranch. The pizza place is located inside the park at Moose and the roof top deck has incredible views of the Teton range.
A bunch of us meet for dinner at the Snake River Brewery, then we headed over to the Shady Lady Saloon. The blues band, Tribal Boundaries was jamming and we had a good time dancing the night away until closing time. Yes, the band is named after the climb in the City of Rocks.
After our night on the town, we didn't get an alpine start for heading up to the Grand. We left the ranch at 1 PM, and made our way up the 7 miles and 4800 feet. Hiking up the trail, I encountered a few other climbers who had been staying at the ranch. As I'd pass or see climbers returning I'd ask where they were headed. Anything to keep your mind off of the approach. As we approached the Meadows (one of the camping areas) the typical afternoon thunderstorm hit. We toughed it out for a while longer, but when we found a huge rock shelter we headed in. We weren't the only ones seeking shelter. Lisa and Jess, from Salt Lake City had ducked in just as the storm had started. They too were going to attempt the Direct Exum, but they were going to be starting from the Meadows which would make for a much longer day. The storm raged for nearly an hour, with most of the rain falling nearly horizontal.
Once the storm started to taper off, we resumed our approach. The toughest section is from the Meadows up to the Lower Saddle. The steepest section surmounts the headwall of the glacial valley. To assist climbers in hiking up and down the often wet rock a knotted rope as been strung. I pulled heartily, not pretending to be interested in soloing the wet rock. By 7:15, the good camping spots had been taken, so I took the best that was available and started setting up camp. Ian arrived a little bit later and we started dinner. We wolfed down dinner while watching a glorious sunset, then hit the sack at 9 PM. The wind was howling all night and my little tent buffeted back and for all night long. Neither of us slept that well.
We awoke at 4 AM and it was very dark. Unlike our alpine start in the Cirque of the Towers, we were working with a new moon. One of the guides was supposed to be guiding our route, the Direct Exum Ridge, but we didn't see any headlamps heading over to the start. By the time we left the Lower Saddle at 5 AM, there were plenty of lights from guided parties high up on the mountain making their approaches.
This was a first, but we had gotten too early of a start. In the dark we couldn't find the start of the route. Even once dawn started breaking we couldn't find it, until some arriving climbers pointed us the correct direction. (They were going to attempt the Direct Exum, but did something else). We scrambled up the approach and got to a point where roped climbing would be prudent. At this point about three other parties arrived right on our heels. Our plan had been for Ian to lead the first two pitches, but he gave me the lead to speed things along. I blasted out the first approach pitch, eager to be climbing. We reached the base of the first "real" pitch, a 5.6 chimney. As I belayed Ian up, we got a few sprinkles and watched a few ugly clouds head our way. We hemmed and hawed, not wanting to get stormed on. The next party arrived. Their leader, Joshua, said it won't rain. Are you an expert or an optimist? Deciding to go for it, I lead the next pitch. I attempted to squirm under the chock stone rather than face climb around it. On Pingora, Ian and I had carried one, big heavy pack. This time each of us carried a pack with just our personal gear. Well sure enough, like Pooh, I got stuck. I was able to step down a move, and remove my pack. Trailing my pack, I fit through the squeeze.
The guide book says the fifth pitch, the Black Face is the crux pitch. I thought the third pitch was harder, but most of that was because my hands were very cold. The morning was cold and blustery. At this point the route was still in the shade. Not stopping for anything other than a quick sip of water, we started putting some distance between us and the parties below. We topped out at Wall Street (the name of a prominent ledge) at noon. What an awesome climb! Good rock, nice moves and incredible exposure. Leading with a light pack wasn't a big deal, I barely noticed it. After a quick snack, I changed into my approach shoes and Ian took over the leading for the Upper Exum. The Direct Exum is made up of two routes, the Lower and the Upper. Ian had climbed the Upper a few years ago, thus could speed us along. We simul-climbed most of the route, only belaying a few more difficult pitches. We topped out to a clear and beautiful summit about three. We couldn't linger long, since to our west were a set of nasty storm clouds. A typical traffic jam on the rappel, placed us at the Upper Saddle at 5 PM. At this point, a storm was imminent. But not from the storm clouds we had seen to our west, but a different set from the south. Regardless of their origin, we got hammered on by hail. Pea sized hail hurts exposed skin! Luckily we were tucked in behind a local party who knew the descent pretty well. Even still two inches of fresh hail in places made for slippery going.
Back at our campsite, the storm had blown over. We decided to scarf down some food, then start hiking out. The trail from the climber's ranch is pretty hard to follow in the day time, and had lots of sign of bear activity. Knowing we'd be returning well after dark, we asked the climbing team who followed us up the Exum Direct for a ride. Ashley was staying up for another night, but Josh was going down and offered us a ride. One the descent, we ran into Lisa. It had taken them longer than planed to reach the start of the Lower Exum from their camp in the Meadows. As a result, they bailed out halfway up when they noticed the storm clouds. We finished the tough hiking through the boulder fields before dark. The rest of the hike out was long, but manageable via headlamp. Once again we didn't return to camp until 10:30 PM. Tired, but not as beat this time.
Today, Saturday, is an officially designated rest day. Ian and I headed into town for breakfast. After a quick splurge at a climbing gear sale, Ian was on the road for Colorado. I'm planning on staying a few more days in Jackson, hopefully I'll find suitable climbing partners interested in some of the other summits in the park.