Friday, August 12, 2011

The Grand Recursion (AKA the Grand Excursion 2)

Fifteen hours of driving is a long way to travel to climb one route. Yet Cory and I found ourselves making such a drive for an ascent of the ultra-classic Exum Ridge of the Grand Teton in Wyoming. Ready and excited about our new adventure, we left Amarillo at 5:40 and began our long drive north. 

The stretch to Denver went quickly and before long we were entering the vast state of Wyoming. Neither of us had ventured that far and the new scenery was a welcome sight. After many hours of driving, we came around a turn through the hills and were confronted by the astounding Teton range. We made our way to the American Alpine Club Climbers Ranch where we payed premium prices to spend the night in our car ($28 to be exact), but the atmosphere and history of the Climbers Ranch made it worth it. 

We woke up early and raced to the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, hoping to snag a camping permit at the Lower Saddle that day. (The Lower Saddle is just below the south face of the Grand Teton.) The ranger station opened at 8 and our 6:30 arrival meant that we were first in line, barely. A friendly couple, Devon and Crystal, from Utah arrived a few minutes later and we chatted with them for a bit about climbing and such.
        The much awaited rangers arrived right on time and we got our permits. Unfortunately we were unable to get permits at the Lower Saddle and had to settle for the Meadows, though we were able to get permits for the Lower Saddle the next day. Since the Meadows area is several thousand feet lower than the Lower Saddle, we decide to spend the day hiking to Meadows and ascend to the Lower Saddle the next day to be ready to assault the Grand from the best possible position. 

Devon and Crystal were also forced to camp at the Meadows. They asked if we could lend them some extra ice axes and we readily agreed. After all, we didn't want our axes to get too lonely just sitting in the car. Devon and Crystal were kind enough to wait for us at the trailhead where they gave us some Rokit Fuel energy bars in exchange for borrowing some extra ice axes. (BTW, Rokit Fuel rocks, check it out!) We hiked with them and struggled to keep up with their strong mountain legs. As we hiked, we passed many climbers who were on their way down after climbing the Grand. The good reports and big smiles they had only helped fuel our excitement for the next days adventure.

We made it to the Meadows at about 1:30 and set up camp on the snow. The area was filled with climbers who we had seen at the permit office and many were planning on climbing the Grand. We found out that Devon and Crystal were panning on starting early and pushing for the summit the next day. We thought about it, and decided that they had the right idea. The ranger had told us that a wake up time of about 4:30 would probably work from the Meadows. So went to bed early and set our alarms for three o'clock. (We figured our non-mountain legs would need an extra hour to reach the Lower Saddle.)

We woke up and wasted no time hiking up the steep snow slope at 3:40. We were quickly thankful that we had brought crampons and ice axes. The snow had refrozen during the night and provided a stable way to ascend the several thousand feet to the Lower Saddle. It took us nearly three hours, almost a full hour longer than the rangers estimate, so it was a good thing we started early. We looked up at the full Exum ridge and surveyed our route, picking out key features so that we could identify them on the climb. We scrambled across to a small, exposed ledge that provided access to the Lower Exum ridge, a variation that adds six pitches of 5.7 climbing to the standard Upper Exum. 

Upon reaching the base of the first chimney, we quickly racked up and I began leading. We flew through the next couple pitches and I climbed the wrong chimney that was probably like a 5.8, but hey, it got us where we needed to go! After this fun variation, we reached the crux Black Face pitch. Although the climbing directly above the belay looked easy, everyone we talked to said to stay on the right side of the Black Face. So I traversed with marginal pro until I reach an awesome crack with pitons here and there. The climbing from there was the best of the trip and perhaps the best of any trip. We finished the pitch and ascended another pitch until we reached the start of the Upper Exum ridge. 

A group of climbers passed us after also climbing the Lower Exum. They were in great shape and we were humbled to find out that they had led their car an hour AFTER we left the Meadows. Still, we figured two hours for six pitches of climbing wasn't too bad. We tried to keep up with the other climbers and soloed behind them as far as far as we could over the incredibly easy terrain. We reached the base of the friction pitch and pulled the rope out so that we could pass this exposed section with a degree of safety. We simul-climbed the rest of the ridge and stopped on the V Pitch to take pictures. We saw Devon and Crystal ahead of us and waved. We reached the summit at about 2:15 and took mandatory summit pictures. 

We scrambled down to the first rappel where we met Devon and Crystal along with some other climbers who had traversed the Wallstreet ledge and climbed the Upper Exum. After the first rappel we made our way to the second set of anchors where Devon and I joined ropes for a long overhanging rappel. The other climbers slid down the rope first and quickly hiked down and out. We stuck with Devon and Crystal and followed them back to the Lower Saddle. 

We stopped for a bit of a beak while they hiked back the Meadows. A climber that we had seen at the ranger station started talking to us and asked us about our climb. It turned out that I had met him last winter at the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. We talked about climbing in Oklahoma until Cory and I were ready to descend to the Meadows. 

Fortunately, we were able to glissade (a fancy word for "to slide down snow") most of the way. We starts packing our tent and the rest of our gear. Devon and Crystal waited for us and we all began the long walk down the the car. We walked talking about our experiences on the climb and, since this was grizzly country, we shared bear stories. Theirs were defiantly better than ours. We reached the car at about 10:30 nearly three hours after leaving the Meadows and nineteen hours after starting the day. We were tired. Not wanting to drive an hour to get out of the National Park to find free camping, we once again found ourselves paying $28 to sleep in the car at the climbers ranch. 

We woke up the next morning, sorted our gear, took showers, and washed our clothes. We drove to moose for lunch and watched clouds move in over the Tetons. Had we not met Devon and Crystal we probably would have waited an extra day and been rained on during the climb. 

I'll skip though the next bit as pictures speak louder than words, but basically we spent the day driving though Yellowstone. Though it was pretty cool, it wasn't nearly as grand as the Grand.

We drove back to Grand Teton National Park and found free camping. We once again spent the night in the back of the car. We woke up accompanied by about 20 mosquitos who had also crashed in our vehicle for the evening (we had left the windows cracked so that we wouldn't suffocate). Unfortunately, I have a strict "no mosquito" policy in my car so we asked them to leave. When the refused to go we were forced to execute them one by one. We left no survivors, mosquitos beware. We spent the rest of the day driving to Boulder where we were able to crash at friends apartment for the night. Also, we drove through a pretty big storm.

       Cory and I decided that we hadn't done enough climbing and that a quick ascent of the Third Flatiron sounded like a good idea. We awoke at 5 and made our way to the flatirons. I won't bore you with the details, but we made it to the top of the 8 pitch climb in 2.5 hours from the car simul-climbing the entire route. We returned to the car, ordered a pizza for pick up in Colorado Springs, and began the long drive home after an excellent trip. 

The Aspen Pack Trip

About a month ago, my sister Elizabeth and I went on a backpacking trip near Aspen, CO. We started at the Snowmass trailhead and spent the first night just above the log jam. The next day, we continued hiking until we went over buckskin pass. We camped on the other side. Then we headed over another pass into a nice alpine meadow. Then we toped another pass be for hiking down the trail back to the car. This was a great loop and it was absolutely beautiful.

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I love life and aspire to be all I can be in everything that I do.