Grand Teton 13,700ft (attempt)
August 14-15, 2009
Loren Miller and I made a quick road trip out to Jackson, Wyoming to pick up a picture that Kim and I bought when we were out in July, and of course we had to do some climbing when were in town.
We left Seattle a little after 2am Thursday morning with the intent of reaching the Jenny Lake Ranger Station before 5pm to pick up our permits. We forgot about the time change, otherwise we would have made it. We rolled into Jackson at 5pm and went straight to Jeff and Tracy's. Tracy was out of town on business, but Jeff met us and after cleaning up we went out to the Snake River brewpub for some dinner. There we met Jeff's friend Drew, his girlfriend, and some other friends of Jeff's who were out visiting from Boulder. It was fun hanging out and talking mountains in such a fun place. The pub was full of townies, climbers, cowboys, and tourists; everyone having a good time. Loren and I left early as we were pretty wiped out from our drive and we needed to get up early the next morning to drive out to the ranger station to pick up our permits.
The next morning we packed up and drove up to the park and checked in with the Ranger Station. Jeff had told us the weather was predicted to have 80% T-Storms on Friday with 0% on Sunday. The forecasts at the Ranger Station said the same. We were planning to climb up to the lower saddle Friday and summit via the upper Exum Ridge Saturday, then drive home Sunday. We debated whether or not to try to extend our trip another day in hopes of better weather, but in the end we decided to just chance the weather and stick to our original dates.
We left the Lupine Meadows trailhead around 11 am and made our way up the great trail to the Morainal Camp, below the lower saddle. The upper saddle was our original destination, but we thought that with the winds and weather that was predicted to come in, we would get a better nights sleep in our bivy sacks in the more sheltered Morainal Camp. We found a fairly level camp site with nice stone walls protecting it, and set up camp. After dinner we crawled into our bivy sacks and tried to get some sleep. Several times I thought I was going to become a human sail and get blown off the mountain. Even in the shelter of the camp, gusts of wind would blow in and fill our bivy sacks up with air! Eventually the winds died down, the clouds departed and the stars came out. At one point I opened up the zipper so I could get a better view to look at the stars. The Milky Way was stretched out across the sky and I was able to see three shooting stars, probably a few leftovers from the Perseids.
Loren's alarm on his watch went off at 3:30am and since neither of us had much sleep we decided to sleep for another hour. Around 4:30am we got up and saw lights of climbers heading up to the lower saddle. After a quick breakfast of hot chocolate and oatmeal we loaded up our packs and made our way up the trail. At the headwall below the saddle we found the fixed rope by headlamp and made our way up. The sky was beginning to get light as we reached the lower saddle. We took a short break to fill up our water bottles before continuing up the ridge towards the black dike.
We had made the decision to hike in our boots with the idea that if the Exum didn't go, we could climb the Owens Spalding route in our crampons. Early in the week a snow storm had dumped about 6 inches of snow on the upper mountain, creating winter like conditions. Loren had used his boots to summit Mt Rainier a few weeks earlier, but hiking on snow versus scree and boulders is much different. His feet were killing him. In hindsight we should have just worn our approach shoes and committed to the Exum. We took a long break just below the Needle around 12,500' and then made the decision to head back down. A weather front was predicted to be coming in later that afternoon and we were moving too slow to give ourselves a good chance at summiting before it hit.
Once back down at our camp we crawled back into our bivy sacks to get a little more rest before making the long hike out. We were awakened suddenly by shouts of "Rock, rock, rock!" We sat up and peered over the rock wall to see a large boulder tumbling down from the lower saddle headwall. Loren had thought he saw a climber tumbling down with it, so I quickly packed up my sleeping bag, pad, and a few first aid items and hurried up the trail to see if anyone was hurt. As it turned out, everyone was fine and the rock had not fallen near the climbers.
We were wide awake after the commotion so we packed up camps and made our way down. Loren's feet were still hurting him, so we took our time hiking out and made it down to Dornan's at 3:30pm only to learn that they close at 3pm! Doh! So we drove back into town and had a late lunch at The Merry Piglets.