| A Grand Memory In the Tetons (Exum Direct)
The Grand Teton has been on my list for a long time. Its one of the most photographed mountains in North America. I have been attracted to the North Face which is the most classic north face climb in North America along with the Black Ice couloir, a ice and mixed classic alpine climb. Last year, I got shot down heading there two times in a row with fickle weather.
Welcome to the Tetons
The north face of the Grand Teton is very hard to nail. You have to hit the right year, right time, and right weather. So far it has not worked out for me. The Tetons are 6 weeks behind schedule as far as snow so that face was drenched. The Black Ice couloir is also very hard to nail. It has not been “in” for quite a few years, maybe since I was born. It came in this year but with warming temperatures, the objective hazard of rockfall would have been worse then the Eiger North Face. That was out, so Shawn and I chose the Exum direct. (Lower and Upper Exum) It’s one of the 50 classic climbs in North America so I had no problem doing it. It looked great and moderate with 1200 feet of climbing up to 5.7.
The Exum Direct follows the whole ridge in the center for 1200 ft
Before my trip, I had been hitting it hard by red pointing my hardest route yet but also being humbled and bailing on Longs Peak. I packed a lot and was of course ready for the unexpected. It had been a few weeks since my last “vacation” so I was ready.
Down we go, bailing off of Longs
We drove straight to Jackson and Shawn showed me a free camping spot that was simply one of the most amazing views I’ve witnessed. An amazing sunset unfolded the first night. The next two days were spent getting ready along with cragging at Blacktail Butte in which all the routes were pretty stoudt for sport climbing. We were waiting for a weather window. When bad weather hit, it hit bad. Much worse then anything I’ve experienced or seen on a Colorado 14’er. Camping down low, very high winds and rain along with lightning went crazy. I couldn’t imagine being up there right now.
Great limestone cragging with a view
Check this sunset out
Seeing all the gear from the lightning accident last year in the Jenny Ranger Station was also intense. All of it was burnt to crisp, and a hole was spotted in one of the ice axes. The mountain was full so we had to camp at the meadows, far below the lower saddle.
It ended up working well carrying a 60 pound pack only 5 miles and almost 3000 feet up. The elevation gain is big as well with about 7200 feet and 20 miles round trip. We experienced no storms and went to sleep early.
Home sweet home
Back up at 3 a.m. we were, I just seem to not get along with alpine starts. We headed off at 3:30 and got on the trail. We encountered a couple parties. They kept asking us what we were doing, so I played dumb. I told them we were doing the Owen Spalding. I didn’t want it to be one of those things where we both feel like were in a race to get there first. We were afraid of a traffic jam on the route and being stuck behind a really slow party or something. There were a lot of people on the mountain but luckily we ended up being the only ones on the Lower Exum the whole day. By sunrise, we were at the lower saddle and soon traversed to the first pitch.
Middle Teton and the Lower Saddle
Finally we can start climbing. Pitch 1
I admit I was not to excited leading so I asked Shawn if he wanted the first pitch. He denied so I got ready to lead. I was not excited because it was very cold, in the 30 degree range. My hands and feet, well I could not feel them. I led about a full length of a 5.6 chimney that was kind of grungy. Shawn, to make matters worse, was carrying a few pounds in his back. Quite a few pounds which made the chimneying and offwidth virtually impossible. I heard him cursing his way up.
The belay with the view
He told me he was not in it mentally to lead since it had been a couple months on the rock. I understood and took the next lead which was so cold as well with a 5.6 crack. This climb was feeling a lot harder being cold. Shawn joined me again and didn’t seem like he was enjoying it. I’ll admit, it was way more suffering then fun. I went on and led by combining the next two pitches at 5.7. The first half was great until I got into a dihedral/offwidth. I don’t even know what to call it but I had no big gear left so running it out was the only option. I finally got a .3 C4 about ˝ way up it and continued up to a chockstone. I surmounted it and built a belay. I knew Shawn would hate his life more then ever on this pitch. He did indeed, cursing his way up.
When he got to the belay, I got the gear and set off on the Black Face. This lead was my favorite 5.7 I’ve ever done. Steep, exposed, but still only 5.7! And it was on the Grand Teton way up above all the other mountains around. I was telling Shawn over and over leading how good the climbing was. My mood totally changed getting to the belay. I was super stoked on that pitch. Shawn joined me and really liked it as well. I set off on the last pitch of 5.7 to Wall Street or the end of the Lower Exum, just another good pitch.
Shawn following the "Black Face" Pitch 5
The weather was looking great as this was our last chance to bail fast really. We were looking to simul climb the Upper Exum at 5.5 but that was kind of no fun to be honest. That’s like simul climbing the 1rst Flatiron. We opted to just put the rope away and solo it. We made it to the top and summit passing several parties that were belaying everything even the flat parts. I wanted to get out of here. The Grand Teton is not a place to hang out for a while. The summit was amazing and a dream come true.
I had climbed the Grand Teton. Wait, no I hadn’t, I had to get down. We did a couple rappels and were soon at the Upper Saddle. The descent was very hard. It’s very easy to get cliffed out, you have to descend the right gully, and it’s just confusing and all really loose if you have never been up it. Finally, we got to the lower saddle and eventually our campsite and then power walked back to the car. Our time? 17 hours and 53 minutes.
Climbing the Grand Teton is meaningless to most people as you suffer just to get to the summit and spend maybe 5 or 10 minutes on top and then head back down for more suffering. To me though, it means the world. I would trade nothing else for those moments. Those memories will always be there. I’ll see where the road takes me next.
By the way, if anyone finds a .3 C4 Black Diamond Cam on Pitch 4 please send me a private message and a reward will be given.
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