Grand Teton

Report by Steve Knapp:

Grand Teton (13,770 ft.) - 9/13/2009

16 miles RT, 7200’ gain, 13 hours

Owens Spalding route (5.4)

From Lupine Meadows trailhead (6,732 ft) – Grand Teton National Park, WY

Partner: Brian Kalet

The Grand Teton is an awe-inspiring jagged mountain rising prominently over 7000 vertical feet from the valley floor just a couple miles to the east. The peak has an incredible history of mountaineering with many fine routes, and is the second highest peak in Wyoming. When I first laid eyes on it over ten years ago, I knew I would have to return someday to stand on the summit. Recently I’ve been discussing climbing some peaks with Brian and he suggested the idea. It didn’t take long to convince me it was possible. In the interest of time and efficiency (and no permit required), we would attempt the peak in one day.

I met Brian at his place in Fort Collins at noon on Saturday. We proceeded up 287 to Laramie and onto I-80 west to Rock Springs. From there we took Hwy 191 north to Pinedale and eventually Jackson where we had some dinner. The drive is a long one (about 7 hours from Ft. Collins) but went quickly with the typical mountain conversation and the great scenery of the Wind Rivers and other ranges of western Wyoming. The weather improved the further west we went, this was encouraging as most of Colorado and eastern Wyoming would have a wet weekend. After dinner we drove a few miles north of the park entrance in Moose and camped free on national forest land just to the east. There was a lot of smoke in the area from a couple of prescribed burns, which didn’t help my breathing as I was already hacking and coughing from a cold.

We were up at 3:00 a.m. Sunday after a few short hours of sleep. The drive into the National Park went quickly and we passed through the toll gates without needing to pay the $25 fee. We parked at the partially full Lupine Meadows Trailhead and started out under headlamps at 4:00. Brian carried our 60m rope and I carried a light rack of gear for the technical pitches we would encounter. The rope weighed a bit more than the gear, I was hoping this would slow Brian down enough for me to keep up! He’s quite a bit younger than me and gets out hiking nearly every day. It was a mild night for mid-September in this area, 39 degrees at the trailhead, calm and clear.

The first three miles are on a great trail and winds through the forest climbing steadily through a couple of well-signed trail intersections. Then the trail gets rockier as it bends to the west and enters Garnett Canyon. There is a section of huge boulders where we lost the trail briefly, and not long after that the tough hiking began as we climbed through the many switchbacks toward the lower saddle. We passed the Meadows and then the Moraine camping areas as the skies lightened and the sun rose on the Middle Teton glacier. 

Sunrise on the Middle Teton Glacier:

Moraine camping area with the valley far below:

Fixed ropes below Lower Saddle:

We hustled up the rocky cliffs below the lower saddle, where fixed ropes are available for anyone needing them. We arrived at the 11,660 lower saddle at 7:45, over 5,000 vertical feet gained already but still a long way to go. Here the wind was howling from the west at least 30 mph and we put on most of the layers we had. The cold wind would accompany us through most of the remaining route, making for a chilly excursion.

The Grand Teton from Lower Saddle:

From the lower saddle we headed up to the Black Dyke and continued straight up until we ran into the cliffs. Left from there we picked our way through complicated terrain surrounding the Needle. We never did find the Eye of the Needle on the way up, though we did go through it on the descent. It’s a very cool tunnel through the rocks. A couple of 5.0 type moves got us through the complications and we reached the 13,200 upper saddle at 9:15 a.m.

Belly Roll and Belly Crawl (horizontal ledge system) from below on the Upper Saddle:

This is where the Owens Spalding route begins and where all the technical sections are. The route goes left (north) and begins with the Belly Roll. We roped up here as the exposure is immense. I led through the Belly Roll and then the Belly Crawl, placing a few pieces of gear to prevent a pendulum if either of us fell. The moves are fairly easy and exciting with thousands of feet of air underneath the feet. The crawl is best handled with a leg over either side of the edge, no need to actually crawl. The end of the belly section traverse is met with a cliff to the left and short steep climb above. Once above that there is room to breathe and then the Owen Chimney begins.

This chimney is a lot of fun, a nice moderate lead with nothing more than 5.4 or 5.5 moves. There was some ice in it though, possibly still left from last winter but more likely from late summer storms. The route gets little if any sun all year and I can see how this would be a much harder climb with significant snow/ice on the route. It was cold and windy enough that I had to wear gloves, making it a bit spicy. But it was easy enough that I never felt over my head, even in mountaineering boots. With that climb done, I brought Brian up and he led the next short chimney without placing any gear. From there we scrambled up more third class terrain and found Sargents Chimney, the last technical pitch on the route. Sargents Chimney starts easy and gets steep near the top. I didn’t place any gear for at least 50 feet, then three pieces right before the top. I was glad to see the rap slings at the top of the chimney, finally confident that we were on the correct route. We ran into other climbers there that were descending from the summit. There were several parties that had done the Upper Exum ridge, and we got some good beta from them on the remaining route. We stashed our rope there to reclaim on the descent.

It was a quick 10-15 minute scramble to the top from there, with the route crossing around under the east face to finish. It was 11:30 a.m., 7.5 hours after starting. We had the summit to ourselves, likely the highest two people in the entire state at that moment (Gannet is probably rarely climbed in Sept). The wind was still howling and it may have only been 35 degrees. We enjoyed the great views, took a few pics and ate some food. But it was clouding up and we had a long way to get down so we didn’t linger long.

The summit view north to Jackson Lake:

Valley floor over 7,000 feet below:

The first rappel is down Sargents Chimney and can be done with one rope. When we got to it the last party of four was just leaving. After this rap we worked our way down and to the left where the next rap station is. There are bolts there marked “40m rappel” as well as some slings. I knew we’d have to do two additional raps with our single rope, but preferred to do it in one to save time. Just as I’d hoped, the party of four offered the use of their two ropes they’d tied together for a single rap. This rappel is sweet and takes you all the way down to the upper saddle, overhanging and free for the last 50 feet. With all the rappels done, we hustled down the difficult 3rd and 4th class terrain all the way back to the lower saddle at 1:30 p.m.

Brian on the second (two rope) rappel:

At the lower saddle I talked to some of the guides who were dismantling their climber huts for the season. They’ll still climb the peak more this year but will no longer use the saddle as a camping/staging area. The hike out was long and tedious. It snowed on us briefly between the lower saddle and the moraine, then got nice again with the sun out. I was down to shorts and a t-shirt by the time we hit Garnett Canyon. Brian got ahead of me eventually and finished 30 minutes sooner. I took my time and nursed my sore legs and knees, even stopping to nibble on the raspberries in Garnett Canyon. It was a relief to hit the smooth dirt trail and switchbacks again, and beautiful with all the flowers and fall foliage along the trail. I slowly and painfully covered the last three miles in just over an hour and staggered to Brian’s car about 5:00 p.m. We had done the Grand Teton car-to-car in 13 hours. What a fantastic day it had been! It was great to get this peak climbed before the fall snows soon bury the Teton Range.

Looking back up Garnett Canyon towards Middle and South Teton:


Brian was a great partner for this peak. Climbing it in one day takes a special mix of fitness, technical climbing abilities, and solid determination. Along with good weather, which we were fortunate to have. Most people use at least one night out as a high camp. Even though our one-day climb was a bit painful in the end, I cherished my light pack as I saw others humping 50-pound loads up the trail in the afternoon. I had a great time on this mountain, and would gladly return someday. Hopefully next time I’ll experience the thrill of the full Exum ridge. While we thought we made good time, we later read that the speed record on the Grand RT from Lupine Meadows is 3:06 set by Bryce Thatcher in 1983. Whoa, we only missed his time by ten hours! 

The return to Colorado was long and tiring after our long and tiring day. After a couple of moose traffic jams and a Subway sandwich in Jackson, we high-tailed it across the dark Wyoming plains like a hot knife in butter. Brian only drives one speed – fast. We hit the lights of Laramie by 11 and Fort Collins just after midnight. I was home in bed by 1:30 a.m., 39 hours after leaving the house and thrilled to have climbed this magnificent peak. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a special mountaineering challenge.