The stats on the climb: two days, 7000+ feet of vertical ascent (including 1000 feet of technical climbing), 15+ miles round trip, rain, hail, leaking tent, sleeping on rocks, seeing a bear, moose, elk and fox! What a memorable climb.
The Grand Teton is an unbelievably beautiful mountain that is 13,775 feet (4,199 m) above see level. It is the tallest of the mountain in the Teton range and these are some of the newest, sharpest mountains in the world. They are so striking because there is a fault-line on the eastern side of the range which means there are no foothills and lends to their striking rise of 7000 feet above the flat valley floor.
On the peak of the Grand Teton you have just over half the level of oxygen available as you do at sea level (57%). So we needed to acclimatize a few days to let our bodies try to adjust. We spent a few days hiking and climbing and sleeping at higher elevations. We especially loved the American Alpine Club’s Climber’s Ranch. We climbed to the top Corbet’s Couloir 10,436 feet (known as the world’s hardest ski run (if you want to see this place in winter and what people do, check this out).
In order to get to the climbing routes, we needed to hike ~7-8 miles in distance with about mile of elevation gain. We decided to do it in two days that meant we had to pack our tent, food and climbing gear up those 5000 feet. It was a long arduous 4 hours and there just isn’t a good way to train for this in places where you don’t have mountains.
The Route we chose to climb is called the Upper Exum Route.
It was famously climbed by a teenager Glenn Exum in 1931. He was working for a guiding company and his boss, Paul Petzoldt, suggested he go check out the southwest ridge by following a large ledge later named Wall Street. Paul continued up the normal route, called the Owen-Spaulding, with his clients and the young Exum dutifully set off to see if the route was possible. When he came to the edge of Wall Street, he found that it tapered to a terrifying corner that you had to step around with thousands of feet of air below him. He famously leapt from the safety of the wide ledge onto the ridgeline that later was named after him, not knowing if he’d be able to get back to safety.
With our hearts beating fast, I wondered if it makes any sense for a father and surgeon to be taking his two sons on such an exposed route? We had to be alert and attentive because a fall or mistake could be fatal. I remembered the people we were climbing for and their courage to face cancer and tried not to look down, but looked up and focused on the next step to reach the summit.
The next several hours we climbed over this beautiful route taking in spectacular views, feeling cold, then hot, then tired and then exhilarated. Mountaineering is full of extremes.
Finally we reached the summit! It was an exhilarating climb. We saw no one else on the Exum route (there were loads of people on the Owen-Spaulding) and we had the summit all to ourselves for about 20 minutes. We celebrated, snapped some photos, ate some Ghost pepper chips in celebration.
Now we needed to get down safely we had to do two rapels down the technical area of the western face. We didn’t take any photos here so again I’m using photos from the Wyoming Whiskey website.
We started the morning at 3 am, and made it back to the car at 630 pm, after breaking down our camp. The last few miles were hard, every part of our bodies hurt, we were extremely thirsty and hot. But after getting a cool refreshing drink, showering, eating dinner we turned in a slept deeply.
When we got down off the mountain and got cell phone reception, we found that Janessa, one of the heroes we’d been climbing for, had died almost the very moment we made it to the summit. It was a stark reminder of how far we have to go still to keep cancer from affecting so many people. Our condolences to Janessa and her family and friends. Here’s a link to her obituary